Welcome back, readers, to our fun and admittedly creepy travelogue documenting the strangest, most bone-chilling urban legend from each of the 50 states. We’re down to the final 20, and there are still surprises in store! Check out the next five below!
New Mexico: La Mala Hora
You thought I was going to write something about Roswell, didn’t you? While I find the lore surrounding aliens in New Mexico absolutely fascinating, I’ve never personally found it creepy. I approach the subject, instead, with a sense of wonder and possibility. Instead, let’s turn our attention to a dark spirit known locally as La Mala Hora.
Literally translated, La Mala Hora means “the bad hour,” and references when this particular spirit might be seen.
It is said in New Mexico if you are traveling late at night, you might find yourself face to face with La Mala Hora, a dark spirit shaped like a woman dressed all in black. She may appear anywhere, but drivers are warned that if they see her at a crossroads or a fork in the road, someone they know–possibly themselves–will soon die.
Of course, everyone knows someone who has seen the spirit, but there is one tale that is repeated throughout the state so much so that it has become the “standardized tale.” In the story, a woman named Isabella receives a call from her best friend saying that she is getting a divorce and is not doing well. Isabella, of course, wants to comfort her friend so she calls her husband who is away on business to inform him that she’s driving to Santa Fe for a couple of days to make sure her friend is okay.
As she makes the long drive, the moon rises and upon reaching a fork in the road, she takes the left only to find a woman dressed in all black standing in the road. Isabella slams on her brakes only to discover the woman has disappeared. Terrified and trying to catch her breath, she looks to her left to find the woman now staring in the driver’s side window with glowing red eyes and cracked skin.
Isabella floors the gas pedal and does not stop driving until she reaches her friend’s home. She runs inside and her friend does her best to comfort her, but tells her that what she saw was a terrible omen.
The following day, they decide to drive back to Isabella’s home but upon arriving, they find police cars in the driveway. It seems that her husband had been mugged on his business trip and had been found dead in the very moment that La Mala Hora had appeared to Isabella on the road.
What I find even more fascinating is that tales of La Mala Hora originated in Mexico and made their way up in the United States, changing along the way. One early version of her tale involves a spirit who appears as a beautiful woman and lures handsome young men to their deaths. It’s these little similarities that make this urban legend fascinating to me!
New York: Cropsey
Of the many urban legends that are a part of New York’s long history, few have been as pervasive as the legend of Cropsey in the last century. The (sometimes) hook-handed killer is a staple story around summer camp fires, and parents have warned their children for years to behave themselves and follow the rules or Cropsey might take them away.
But where did the story come from? Well, that’s where things get tricky. The surname Cropsey has been a part of New York since colonizers first came to this country. It seems apparent from some of the lore that exists and has been recorded that Cropsey took on the form of an urban legend beginning sometime in the late 1800s/early 1900s. I retold one of the legends of the famed killer a few years ago during my 31 Scary Story Nights series. You can find that story HERE.
However, in the 1970s, the legend took on an entirely more horrific face when children began disappearing on Staten Island. Over the course of 15 years several children went missing from the area. The last, in 1987, was a 12 year old girl with Down Syndrome who went out for a walk and never returned. After an extensive search, including the area around Willowbrook State School, a former school for children with learning disabilities that had been investigated numerous times for abuse, her remains were found.
They found the girl’s body on the school property near what appeared to be a small campsite that would later be identified as one of the places former employee Frank Rushan aka Andre Rand, now homeless, would sleep. Rand had previously been investigated for attempted rape and kidnapping. His victims were predominantly children, and for the public, this was an open and shut case.
In the end, he was convicted of two murders and sentenced to 50 years in prison, but some say, he was the wrong man.
Regardless, the tales of Cropsey is an urban legend that won’t soon disappear. It has served as the inspiration for numerous films and books including 1981’s The Burning, a film that combined various origins for the story and moved the action to a summer camp.
North Carolina: The Devil’s Tramping Ground
In Bear Creek, North Carolina near Harper’s Crossroads lies a nearly perfect circle with a 40-foot diameter known as the Devil’s Tramping Ground.
According to local legend, it is on this spot that the Devil himself often comes to pace in a circle dreaming up knew ways to torment humanity, and locals are warned to stay away from the area at all costs.
There are many strange stories about the tramping ground. Some say that if you leave an item in the circle, it will disappear overnight, never to be seen again. Others say that nothing grows right in the circle, leaving it with a barren, desolate look.
Upon occasion, a brave soul will camp in the circle in defiance of the legends. No one has ever disappeared there, but those who brave the tramping ground often speak afterward of a strange, oppressive presence within the circle late at night as well as the sounds of heavy footsteps.
Fans of horror author Poppy Z. Brite will recognize the location. It was mentioned in two of the author’s books: Lost Souls and Drawing Blood, both of which take place in the fictional town of Missing Mile, North Carolina.
North Dakota: White Lady Lane
White Lady Lane in Walhalla, North Dakota is a place that fascinates me as a paranormal investigator and as a lifelong student of folklore. In many ways, the stories connected to the location are almost too perfectly on-the-nose for an urban legend. A lonely spirit tied to a general warning for young women about the dangers of men is a common theme that we see across the country and around the world where these tales are concerned.
There are two specific origin stories that we should take a look at where White Lady Lane is concerned.
In the first, a young woman named Anna Story was pursued by a Syrian peddler named Sam Kalil. Her mother, a shrewd woman, told Sam if he would let her have her pick of his wares she would let Anna marry him after she turned 16 years old. Kalil agreed and returned after the girl’s birthday at which time, the mother refused to allow him to marry Anna.
Enraged, Kalil entered the home and shot Anna who was still wearing her white flannel nightgown. The girl died on the spot and Kalil was later arrested and imprisoned for her murder. Anna’s spirit is now seen on the lane, late at night, still wearing her flowing white gown.
In the second, a young woman’s parents are enraged to find she is pregnant out of wedlock and force the girl to marry after the baby’s birth. Upon returning from the wedding, still clad in her white gown, the woman discovers her baby has died. Grieved by the loss of her child and over the fact that she was forcefully married to a man she didn’t love, she walked out into the snow and hanged herself from a bridge. Some claim they have seen the despondent woman’s body hanging from the bridge, still wearing her white wedding gown.
As with so many urban legends, the different version of these tales warn women against the dangers of men, though I would also argue that Anna’s story also includes a healthy dose of racism and distrust of “foreigners.” It is interesting to note the newspaper article show above that actually speaks to a story similar to Anna’s from 1921.
No matter which tale you land on, however, the locals agree that White Lady Lane is a haunted place and one must be careful while driving late at night. Some motorists have reported seeing the young woman in white on the side of the road while others say that after driving by her, she appears in the back seat of her car, perhaps attempting to flee from the area.
Ohio: Walhalla Road
In north Columbus lies lonely Walhalla Road, a location with numerous variations on a tried and trued urban legend trope.
It seems that in the 1950s, a man–reportedly named Mooney–snapped one night and attacked his wife with an axe in the attic of their home. The man panicked after he came to his senses and realizing what he had done, he went out to a nearby bridge and hanged himself.
This is one of many variations of this particular tale. You can read more on the WierdUS website.
According to legend, since that time Mr. Mooney reenacts the murder every night and motorists who find themselves on the road late at night have reportedly experienced numerous paranormal incidents from witnessing the murder to seeing the man’s body hanging from the bridge, not unlike the White Lady in Walhalla, North Dakota.
This commonality of stories in places with the same name is one of the many reasons why I love urban legends! Could one have influenced the other? Did the story travel, shifting to another lost soul? It’s hard to say, but it is definitely interesting!