It's clear to anyone who has spent even half a second on the internet that people really, really love reading about creepy urban legends. I love the paranormal and supernatural as much as anyone, but seriously, how many times can you read about some version of the Bloody Mary or Vanishing Hitchhiker myth before it feels like you've already heard them all? That's why, when I write these real-life horror pieces, I try to focus on the stories you may not have heard of, like last week's North American monsters article.
This week, I thought I'd take you on a tour of some chilling urban legends that are specific to one region of the country, and hopefully, not any that you've heard before.
Read to the end...and then feel free to add your own sinister local legend in the comments!
Green Man - Western Pennsylvania
This one I can vouch for myself. If you grew up in Western Pennsylvania - as I did - then you almost certainly remember hearing stories as a kid of a Boogeyman-like figure known as the "Green Man" or sometimes "Charlie No-Face". This terrifying legend was used as a warning to keep us kids staying out too late: "Be home by dark or the Green Man will get you." Or "If you walk alone on the roads at night, Charlie No-Face will come for you."
The story went like this: Some time ago (no one was sure exactly when; it was simply ago) the Green Man used to be a normal guy. But then something happened - some say that he got struck by lightning, others said it was a terrible accident at the power plant where he worked or maybe a tragic run-in with farm machinery. Whatever the case, after the accident, the Green Man was left a mangled monster with skin that glowed green, and he only came out at night to prey on people.
Legend had it that if you parked your car on a certain old bridge at midnight, Charlie No-Face would come for you (no one was sure what bridge it was, exactly, but it never seemed to matter in the dark). First, you'd see his faint glow out of the corner of your eye, and then he'd reach out and touch your car, and that's when the electrical equipment in your car would fail. The engine would turn off, the headlights would die, the locks would unlock...and you'd be trapped. Trapped with the Green Man. They said he wandered up and down the back roads after dark, and if you happened to be driving - or worse, walking - alone at night, you'd see him. Whenever someone disappeared in a backwoods area (and much of Western PA was and still is backwoods), inevitably there would be whispers among children and the elderly: The Green Man got him...
And the most terrifying, tragic thing about this story? The Green Man was real.
It wasn't until years later I learned the truth: Born in the tiny town of Koppel, PA in 1910, Raymond Robinson was in every way a normal, unremarkable boy - at least until he was 8 years old. Because it was when he was 8 years old that he was attempting to climb up onto a bridge to get a better look at a bird's nest when he slipped and fell, landing on the power lines that carried up to 22,000 volts for trolleys.
Miraculously, he survived, but he was horrifically mutilated, losing both eyes, his nose, one ear, and an arm. The pictures I posted above are not photoshopped - that was his actual face. Because of his mangled visage, Robinson rarely ventured out during daylight hours, preferring instead to take solitary walks at night, feeling his way around with his trusty cane. Naturally, people who were unfamiliar with his story would come upon him unexpectedly at night, and that was how his legend grew. Some were quite kind to him, others, like teenagers who sought him out and threw rocks and beer bottles at him, were cruel. More than once, he was hit by a car. But after living his quiet, secluded life to the age of 74, Robinson finally died in 1985, and his legend has grown ever since.
The Dog Boy - Quitman, Arkansas
Lizzie Borden may have murdered her parents with an axe, but at least she didn't do what the Dog Boy did.
Gerald Floyd Bettis was born in 1954 to Floyd and Alline Bettis, and from the start, there was just something...wrong about him. While his parents were kind, even almost timid, Gerald was cruel and manipulative with a malevolent air that unsettled those around him. As a boy, he would bring home stray cats and dogs to torture them, an act we now know is closely linked to psychopathology, particularly in serial killers.
But as Gerald grew older, he tired of torturing animals and moved on...to his parents.
According to local legend, Gerald kept his parents imprisoned in the upstairs part of the house. Frail and elderly as they were, they were no match for Gerald, who now stood 6'4" and a hulking 300 pounds. He would starve them, giving them food only when he decided they could eat, and physically and mentally abusing them. He even once threw his father out a window, and the elderly man hung onto the ledge until police arrived. In 1981, Floyd Bettis finally died of an illness, though it was whispered about among the locals that he had actually died of a broken neck by being pushed down the stairs. Not long after, Alline Bettis was taken away and placed in adult protective services. Gerald Bettis was later arrested because of this and on drug charges, and died in jail at the age of 34.
Ever since then, people have reported strange goings-on at the Bettis House (you know a home has had a dark history when it goes from being a house to a House): Lights turning on and off, pennies floating down the stairs then dropping to the floor, 2x4s suddenly standing on end, the apparition of a WWII soldier walking through the house, cold spot, animals and children who refuse to go inside the house...and the vengeful ghost of Gerald Floyd Bettis himself. He's been spotted by multiple people, with all describing his long hair, bulky frame, and weird, unsettling eyes.
Since then, realtors have tried and failed to sell the house, but no occupants will stay for more than a few years, with most moving out again after only a few months. Perhaps they got tired of Gerald Bettis' cold breath blowing, as many reports have said, on the backs of their necks.
Char-Man - Ojai Valley, California
If you are ever hiking or taking a Sunday drive through Camp Comfort Country Park in Ojai Valley, California, take care to never stop on the two-lane, concrete bridge over San Antonio Creek. Don't stop walking. Don't get out of your car. And definitely do not yell.
Because that's when the Char-Man comes for you. If you are brave enough, or foolish enough, the legend says, to get out of your car and yell for help on that bridge, look toward the forest. Soon, you'll see the Char-Man emerge from the trees and rush toward you, attacking you and clawing at your skin. He's burnt beyond recognition, with black, peeling skin and bandages that are little more than ash, and you'll smell the acrid scent of burning flesh and smoke just as he reaches you.
Like the best urban legends, no one knows how the Char-Man legend started, exactly, but the two best-known versions trace back to the deadly fires of 1948. Some say a young husband and wife were caught in the fire, and the husband was badly injured and burned. As he laid there, he heard his wife screaming, "Help me!" over and over again, but, unable to move because of his injuries, he could only listen to his wife burn to death. His spirit became the Char-Man. The second, even more gruesome story is that a camping father and son were caught in the same fire, and both were burnt beyond recognition. The father eventually died from his injuries, but what happened to the son was even worse: The horrific event and excruciating pain of his injuries drove him insane, and by the time rescue workers arrived, they found that the boy had skinned his father of all the burned skin and hung his corpse from a tree. He escaped into the forest and became the Char-Man.
No one knows who the Char-Man is or how he came to haunt Ojai Valley, but stories of the malevolent spirit still persist, with hikers and campers saying they've experienced attacks. Whatever the case, are you really brave enough to stop on that bridge and call for help, knowing the Char-Man might come...and try to take your skin for his own?
The Bus to Nowhere - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Every city has a bus system. Every day, dozens of buses pass by and citizens never think about it. It's just another part of public transport, sliding in and out of your mind as quickly as it passes in and out of your vision. But in Philadelphia there is a bus, they say, that is not marked on any route map. It's not a bus that belongs to the city - at least, not in a way that is recognized by the public transport authorities. Most people who have seen it call it the Wandering Bus, or sometimes the Zero, as it never shows a route or street or destination, but it's been spotted at points all around the city by the hopeless and the lost.
It's not a bus you'd ever wish to take, for it only appears, they say, when you are at the lowest point you've ever been. When you lose the baby...and then you learn your husband was having an affair with your best friend. When you gamble away your house, your children's college money, and your wife takes the kids and leaves. When you get into a fight with your parents and so you're not in the car when the drunk driver hits them and kills them and your baby sister. When you come home to find your beautiful wife has snapped and drowned your children, then killed herself. When there is nothing left inside but ashes and grief, shame and regret, loss and longing. That's when the bus will appear, right at the moment you just want to be...away. Not away to a destination in mind, but just...away. Away to anywhere, away to nowhere, gone. It will never pull right up for you, you'll have to run toward it - but it will always wait for you.
And you'll step on the bus, but you won't hear the normal voice overhead telling you a route destination. Instead, the disembodied voice will simply say, "Service to--" You won't know where. And the driver will never ask, and you'll never tell. Sometimes, if the need to be away, out of your own skin, is great enough, you won't even have to pay. The driver will just start to drive.
Where the bus takes you, you won't remember. You won't remember the face of the driver, or even if he had a face. You won't remember speaking to anyone else - it's quiet on the bus. Everyone is wrapped up in his or her own personal Hell, too lost in the miasma of their own minds to be aware of what's around them. And when, at some point, you finally rouse yourself from your fog and pull the cord to get off, you'll find you're close to where you somehow needed to be without knowing it. You won't remember a single face of a single person who was on the bus with you, or how long you were there, or what you saw or said.
But it's better to pull the cord and not remember any of it as but a dream than never pull the cord. For some people, they say, have been riding for years. And one day, the whispers go, the bus will disappear forever, taking its passengers with it. But where they will go, no one knows. No one has ever known. Only the driver knows...and he's not telling.
The Seven Gates to Hell - York, Pennsylvania
There is a small town in Pennsylvania called York, and it is quaint and unremarkable to the outside observer, but it's steeped in history, having been founded well before the Declaration of Independence was ever signed. It has historical buildings that date back to before the wars, both Civil and Revolutionary, four charming historical districts, and it boasts the country's oldest state fair.
But what locals don't like to talk about, perhaps, is the legend that there are seven hidden gates in the forest on the outskirts of town, seven gates that no one has ever been brave enough to pass completely through. Seven gates to Hell.
Legend has it that an area of the woods off Trout Run Road was once the scene of a tragic asylum fire. No one knows how the fire started, who - or what - set it, but the result was that many inmates and staff burned to death. And where those people burned so long ago, there now stands a gate. The gate is tucked back into the undergrowth, half-hidden by foliage, but it's there, an unremarkable wood and iron gate. There are, apparently, two other gates that are nearby on either side, but they're only decoys. The gate you want is the nondescript one in the middle.
During the day it is only that - a simple gate in the middle of nowhere, for the other six gates are invisible to the human eye during the light of day. But if you were to wait until nightfall and pass through that first gate and wander through the woods for a while, you'll come to the second gate. And then the third. Then the fourth...
If you make it past the seventh and final gate, it is said, it will open up directly into Hell, and you'll be dragged there for all eternity. But that's only what they say - no one has ever gotten past the fifth gate. If anyone has gotten all the way past the seventh gate, well...they have never come back from where it led them to tell us.