Your Local Legends
April 27, 2018 4:35 AM   Subscribe

I love local legends! What were some in your town, neighborhood, or community growing up?

Inspired by picking up some back issues of Weird NJ, I've been really enjoying reading about weird regional urban legends. While I also love the more well-known conspiracy theories and paranormal stories, it seems like only a handful of weird local legends reach beyond the borders of small towns or are mostly forgotten by adulthood.

So did you have any interesting rumors or stories in your area growing up that were talked about in hushed voices amongst school kids? Many places have a forbidden area just outside of town where half-human inbreds lived, or satanists performing ceremonies in various places. How about you? Was the government performing strange tests in that brutalist building outside of town? Did a cryptid live in the quarry nearby? Did a mysterious old man live the derailed train car in the woods? Did the strange guy with the mullet who lived near your school have a strange and bizarre backstory? Was your town going to be the first to go when the Soviets dropped the bomb, and your friend Carl knew why? Anything, really!
posted by gregoryg to Society & Culture (39 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Pittsburgh - in 1956 a military plane (story varies, a B25 or a B52) crashed into the Monongahela river, and was *spooky noises* never found *spooky noises*. Every once in awhile there will be enough interest in the story that folks will start to look again, to no avail. Rumors are that the military swooped in and took it before anyone could find it, that it's still there, or that our (once) horrible rivers have dissolved it. But I still love the idea that it's down there, I mean come on, the rivers aren't _that_ big.
posted by librarianamy at 4:50 AM on April 27, 2018

The street without a name. The Inner West, Sydney, Australia.
It is actually a really pleasant place nowadays, with lots of families and people playing sport etc. But I would not want to be there alone, after dark.
posted by robotot at 4:55 AM on April 27, 2018

Midgetville. There are several. Fairfax VA is the one I'm familiar with from having lived in the area for 20 years.
posted by COD at 5:05 AM on April 27, 2018

At Michigan State in the early 90s there were a couple of local legends that popped to mind. One was Ernie the Can Man who rode a 10-speed, had a giant ratty beard and collected empty cans ($.10 for returns in MI). Turns out he was a degreed loner from Austria.

The other was Spartan super-fan "John Spirit," who would paint his face, legs and torso green with a white S across his chest even on non-gamedays. I remember randomly watching Olympic swimming (Barcelona? Atlanta?) one year and cut to the crowd and there's John Spirit with his Spartan body paint for no good reason at all.
posted by GamblingBlues at 5:14 AM on April 27, 2018

Hamilton legend Evelyn Dick

I lived kiddie-corner to her infamous house! :)
posted by Dressed to Kill at 5:19 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Freddie the waver. A Nova Scotian treasure. <3
posted by crawfo at 5:25 AM on April 27, 2018

The deepest part of Lake Tahoe contains one or more of A) a giant sea creature ("Tahoe Tessie"); B) underground river connection to Pyramid Lake; C) perfectly preserved bodies of 1930s mob victims with the concrete bucket feet and all that; and D) something weeeeeeird enough that it creeped out Jacques Cousteau.

Tessie was just a loch ness knockoff for the tourists, complete with vague tie-in to local native american lore; and the underground river legend appears to be solely transmitted via lists of weird local legends, never heard that in real life. The gangster graveyard was generally accepted on the playground as factual, though.
posted by ook at 5:26 AM on April 27, 2018

Loving these so far, thanks! If all the answers continued to be this good, I'd be a very happy man. I would like to say, however, that I'm especially interested in the sort of urban legends that can't be linked to anywhere and that never made it into the wider record. As much playground rumors (or a story your friend's grandmother probably made up) as beloved and celebrated legends.
posted by gregoryg at 5:33 AM on April 27, 2018

The witch buried at Loon Lake
posted by sanka at 5:46 AM on April 27, 2018

When I was a child in Springfield, Illinois, the legend was that Mary Todd Lincoln had been buried alive and you could hear her scratching on her coffin at Lincoln’s tomb. That was in the 1960s, so maybe it was believable then - at least by fifth graders.
posted by FencingGal at 6:04 AM on April 27, 2018

The Pope Lick Monster is really huge here, except I climbed the bridge when I was 13 and didn't meet him. :(.
posted by Young Kullervo at 6:05 AM on April 27, 2018

The Satan House is locally-famous.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:08 AM on April 27, 2018

Not quite in my town, but nearby: the Black Donnellys.
posted by synecdoche at 6:41 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

I grew up an hour south of Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH, which was a part of Project Blue Book in the 1950s. So before I'd ever heard of Roswell, NM I grew up hearing rumors that Wright Patt had a top secret hangar with a crashed alien spacecraft and live/dead alien specimens.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:44 AM on April 27, 2018

(Postscript: A few years ago, I took a tour of Wright Patt's Air Force Museum restoration hangar -- the facility where they store antique aircraft before they spruce them up for display -- and saw this little number rusting away in a corner. One wonders if it might have been the origin of some of those rumors...)
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:52 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Koch Hospital in south St. Louis County was opened in the mid-1800s as a quarantine hospital. It was closed in the early '80s, and sat abandoned until it was razed in 1989. Records were lost in a fire, but it's estimated that 15,000+ were buried there in mass graves. There were (are?) some grave markers scattered around on the grounds.

It was set back in the woods and you had to know where you were going to get there on your bike. Every kid in our town *knew* from playground stories that it was an old haunted insane asylum and that there were tunnels underneath that connected everything and that there were Satanists that came out every weekend and had bonfires and devil-worshipping sacrifices and stuff.
posted by AgentRocket at 7:05 AM on April 27, 2018

We had the Melonheads, on "Dracula Drive".

Also, Hannah Cranna, a local witch who actually sounds like she was pretty badass to an adult, terrifying as she was at childhood slumber parties.
posted by camyram at 7:13 AM on April 27, 2018

All the teenagers in my medium-sized town were wary of the "cult" community that was set up in a rural development on the outskirts of our large school district. "All the houses are identical! They have a watchtower! My mom told me to stay away from that place!" etc.

It got big enough that it turned into a regional teen phenomenon reported in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

It, uh, turns out the cult isn't actually a cult, unless being wealthy enough to afford award-winning modern architecture in a planned neighborhood equals cult membership.
posted by castlebravo at 7:29 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Midgetville. There are several. Fairfax VA is the one I'm familiar with from having lived in the area for 20 years.

We had one of those too. I was relieved to learn that in this particular case it wasn't actually a community of little people being harassed by local yokels, but I still feel bad for the property owners all the same.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:45 AM on April 27, 2018

There was a rumour in our small town in new Zealand that there was a panther living in the hills outside of town. A zoo escape or something. Lots of people thought they'd seen it.

I think that sort of story is pretty common lots of places.
posted by lollusc at 8:05 AM on April 27, 2018

We have Fingernail Freddie, a reclusive old man with long fingernails who will kill you. Interestingly, the urban legend predates Freddy Krueger by about thirty years.
posted by Ruki at 8:09 AM on April 27, 2018

I have a few from San Francisco and San Diego.

San Francisco:

When I was in high school (around 1999) there was an urban legend or two about the corner of Lincoln street and 19th avenue.

First urban legend was about the building on the South West corner. It was notoriously always empty and businesses did not last very long. The rumour was that someone had laid a curse on the building many years ago over some money dispute. It was a chinese restaurant for a while and supposedly those owners had done some sort of cleansing of the building. It looks like it's currently some sort of church so maybe they ran an exorcism.

Second legend is about the intersection into the park. Supposedly, if you stand in the middle divider and face west, you can see the shadow of a headless person against buses that pass by. The story is that it's the ghost of someone who was hit by a car and decapitated. We tried it and I can't say I saw it, but we freaked out with the first bus and almost got hit ourselves (it's a very busy corner! We were idiots.)

San Diego:

First urban legend is about the third floor of the Geisel library (named after Dr. Seuss) on the campus of UCSD. My own heard version of the story was some weird guy living on the floor, kind of like our version of the hunchback of Notre Dame.

Second urban legend is that there is a system of underground tunnels connecting all the campuses of the university (we had five when I attended, I think they might be up to 7 by now) so that the government can dispatch security in the event of violent protests. This was also chalked up as the reason why all the campuses were so far from each other (so that it would be difficult for students to mobilise quickly). True to the nature of most urban legends, this was also sensationalised by the 'fact' that UCSD was founded around the time of the Berkeley riots and so the planners took that experience into account.

Last urban legend from San Diego, which is the fuzziest of my memory. There is a certain street corner in maybe Chula Vista(??) where the street goes downhill but if you park your car in neutral at the corner, it slowly gets pushed uphill. The story is that there was a terrible accident involving a school bus full of kids so if you stop there without your breaks, it's the little kids trying to push your car out of harm's way. We tried this, and from what I recall, the car didn't go uphill, but it didn't go downhill either like we expected. I think it has something to do with the perspective of the road compared to the landscape of the shoulder so that it looks like it's got a downhill grade but it doesn't. Anyway, it was good fun and freaked us out!
posted by like_neon at 8:10 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

We had a story in Napa, California when I was growing up about flying monkey creatures called Rebobs (very wizard of oz inspired) that lived in the hills out on the far end of a street in town that had a hiking trailhead. The street, called Partrick Road, also had a (probably artist co-op/farm) creepy compound/cult that nobody knew much about across from the trailhead that helped fuel the scare factor of the Rebob story. The Rebobs were known to chase people off the trail while screeching. Recently there has been community controversy surrounding the removing of Napa High School’s Indian mascot. As you can guess plenty of people had strong desire to keep the racist mascot even after much explanation and education by the local Indigenous Tribes group. The board unanimously voted to remove the mascot. Now there is a funny campaign to replace the Indian with a Rebob as the mascot.
posted by Swisstine at 8:21 AM on April 27, 2018

In Listowel, Ontario, where I lived for three years as a teenager, a 13-year-old girl named Jessie Keith was murdered in 1894. Jessie is buried in Listowel cemetery, and her grave is marked by a large tombstone with an idealized statue of a young girl on top. There's a local legend that sometimes the eyes of the statue glow at night.
posted by orange swan at 8:34 AM on April 27, 2018

The Bunnyman Bridge.
posted by whitewall at 8:37 AM on April 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've got a bit of a gross one. Beware, murder follows.

There's a paper mill in the Panama City area in northwest Florida. Just down the road from the mill, near the railroad crossing, there's a house-- two storey, I think. It's been a bit since I went down that way. People called it after the family that allegedly lived there, but I don't remember their name. Anyhow, there's a pond in the yard out back, and a sort of pole sticking out from the top storey of the house just outside a window. It was probably a flag pole, or something a sign or light was hung on in older times. But when I was a kid, the story went that the man who lived in that house hung his wife and kids to death from that pole, cut up their bodies and put the pieces in the pond to hide the evidence.

I lived in that part of town when I was small. It's very gloomy. Stink from the mill and accompanying chemical plant, smog, grinding poverty, empty shop fronts. Never mind that the side of the house with the pole, and the pond, were both clearly visible from the street, and hanging a whole family would take quite some time-- back then it was easy to believe that someone living so close to the mill could go crazy like that.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 9:27 AM on April 27, 2018

My tiny hometown in the Hudson Valley has a local legend that locals knew about Lincoln's assassination before it happened, or at least immediately after (before news could have arrived). It pops up repeatedly in articles like this but seems to have been thoroughly explored in a 1963 article, The Rumor At Pine Bush in the journal New York History (sorry, it's a JStor link, probably paywalled for most).
posted by gyusan at 9:53 AM on April 27, 2018

When I was growing up in Boulder, CO there was an apartment complex downtown that had a strange message hidden under the paint on the address sign out front. I don't know how anyone discovered it, because it was incredibly subtle. If you got really, really close to the sign you could see that a piece of paper with the words "KILL YOURSELF" printed on it had been affixed to the wood before it was painted. A friend showed it to me once, and I took several other friends to see it over the years. I still wonder why/who/wtf??
posted by GoldenEel at 10:12 AM on April 27, 2018

My hometown in Connecticut had "The Great Bullfrog Battle", an event that has been commemorated in architecture, epic poetry, and even an operetta.

An old inn is also said to be haunted by the ghost of a girl who was hanged for killing her baby; she is supposed to have been the first person hanged in town, and evidence against her was pretty circumstantial.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:26 AM on April 27, 2018

There's a "ghost light" road very near where I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida.

The legend as I heard it is that a motorcyclist had crashed on the road at some point a long time ago, and now you'll see a single light (like a motorcycle headlight) far in the distance either in front of or behind you when you're driving...The light will blink out, then reappear, then blink out again, etc...But you'll never meet a motorcycle no matter how far down the road you go.

My friend and I think we actually figured out what causes it...Or rather "caused" (the road has been completely paved now, it only really worked when it was dirt for the majority of it). It's a very long -- a few miles -- and completely straight stretch of road, which has some very subtle, gentle inclines/declines that you might not quite notice are happening.

We drove on it when it was mostly dirt, and you couldn't really go much faster than maybe 25-30 mph at the most without decent shocks. After a short time we saw what looked like a single light way in the distance...As we drove toward it, it blinked out...Then a minute or so later it came back on...Then off, then back on...We weren't scared, just fascinated that something was actually happening similar to what the legend said would happen!

But then shortly after that we passed another car coming toward us, and it occurred to us that the "single motorcycle headlight" was actually the two headlights of the approaching car, farther away than it had seemed, coming toward us while both their car and our car were gently rising up and down with the inclines/declines of the road which was briefly cutting off our view of their lights.

As far as I've seen driving on the road lately since it's been paved, the effect doesn't happen anymore...The paving probably corrected the sloping, the speed limit is too high now to be far from another oncoming car long enough to mistake for anything but what it is, and I'm sure dirt getting kicked up into the air did some helpful obscuring of the source of the light/atmospheric effects on the light itself.

(Not saying there's not a ghoulish flame-skulled Ghost Rider guy there too, but we didn't experience that.)
posted by doctornecessiter at 10:54 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Queens, NY. Crazy Ivan was a bespectacled, knife-wielding teenaged maniac. He liked to stab girls you-know-where, and his tender age meant he was in and out of juvie rather than jail. There were frequent rumors that he'd been released for good behavior, and was on the prowl again.

Also, Satanists held rituals in 500-acre Forest Park. (In the late 1980s, per the Z Morning Zoo radio program, a park jogger stumbled over a decapitated head, but I don't remember hearing more about it.) All manner of cultists and mental institution escapees lived deep in the woods. On a hike with my uncle, my cousins and I once found a cluster of sturdy, linked shelters, with hammocks outside and cots and small furniture inside. He wouldn't let us disturb anything and led us away, saying that a group of homeless people probably camped there and we needed to respect their belongings.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:25 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

This one doesn't really have an actual legend attached to it, but pop-culturally I think it's relevant: As kid I went to a summer camp on a Crystal Lake, and on the property of the camp there was the grave of a child who'd died in the area (though not in the lake, according to that write-up).

The structure you can see in the background of one of those pictures of the grave is one of the cabins where kids stay, about 15 feet from the headstone. Sleep tight, everyone.
posted by doctornecessiter at 11:50 AM on April 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Not my examples, but you want the "Your Urban Legends" episodes of Spirits Podcast. This is usually a podcast about mythology (and drinking?) but every so often they devote an episode to these sorts of things.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:36 PM on April 27, 2018

We have a restaurant that used to be a brothel and supposedly the upstairs is haunted by a woman who was murdered there. That's not really a kid story though.

The one we talked about growing up was based on something that really happened though. 10 years before I was born, a guy broke into a family's house while they were gone and hid in the house until everyone came home and was asleep. Then he kidnapped the girl and hid her for several WEEKS (maybe months? I can't remember) in the attic of a church. She was finally found after she left notes in the building when he let her down at night to use the bathroom and steal food.

Anyway, the legend part (that I think wasn't true) was that he had tons of keys to girls' houses all over the city, labeled with their name and address. So in high school whenever someone lost their keys, or they were stolen, this is what we were all terrified was going to happen to us.
posted by raspberrE at 3:19 PM on April 27, 2018

The Blue Mountains west of Sydney have the famous Panther. Everyone I know has stories about either seeing something weird or have had friends who have DEFINITELY seen a big cat out there.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:05 PM on April 27, 2018

Just north of Austin, in Round Rock Texas there is a Hairy Man Road. Named after a boy that, after falling off of a pioneer wagon in the 1820s, grew up wild and as was seen lurking around the area for years. There has been a Hairy Man Festival as well as the aforementioned Hairy Man Road.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 6:26 PM on April 27, 2018

I assume you know of the Jersey Devil.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:42 AM on April 28, 2018

Rhinelander, Wisconsin has the hodag.
posted by abeja bicicleta at 4:04 AM on April 28, 2018

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