I love a good urban legend.
No seriously. I love a good urban legend so much that I actually love the movie Urban Legend despite its wonderfully apparent flaws. They are the folklore of the 20th century and beyond and I have been studying them since I knew what they were. I love the universality of the themes and the way that they evolve regionally.
That’s why they work. That’s why people still sit around campfires and tell stories of a man with a hook for a hand or a babysitter trapped inside a house with a cold-blooded killer. That’s why I decided to write this spooky little travelogue covering a terrifying urban legend from each of the 50 states.
Alabama: Hell’s Gate Bridge
In Oxford Alabama stands the Hell’s Gate Bridge where, according to legend, long ago a young couple lost their lives when their car went off the side. As the story goes, if you drive onto the bridge and stop, one of them will sneak into your car and leave a wet stain on the seat. Furthermore, it’s said if you look through your back glass while parked on the bridge, you’ll see the fiery gates of Hell behind you.
Sadly, the bridge is in such disrepair today that cars are no longer allowed to drive onto it for fear of collapse, but that doesn’t stop the stories which remain a part of local lore and legend to this day.
Alaska: The Alaska Triangle
Lots of people know about the Bermuda Triangle but did you know that in Alaska, there is a similar area where an estimated 20,000 people and no few airplanes have gone missing?
The points of this particular triangle are made up of Juneau, Anchorage, and Barrow, and no one knows why people and planes seem to vanish in this area.
According to the Tlingit, an indigenous tribe, the disappearances are the work of evil spirits. The Inuit people point to the keelut, a dark spirit that resembles a hairless dog with the ability to disappear thus rendering its prey unable to see its approach. Still, some believe that it is the work of extraterrestrials and more than one plane has spotted UFOs in the area including a Japanese plane in 1986 which was reportedly followed by three unidentified aircraft for more than 400 miles through the triangle. One of them was reportedly twice the size of an aircraft carrier.
No matter the cause, no trace has ever been left behind after a disappearance and locals are extremely careful when traveling through the area.
Arizona: The Lost Patrolman
Like any good legend, the origins of the Lost Patrolman are…hazy. In all my research, I was able to narrow down two possibilities for this creepy figure’s story that stand out and show up most frequently.
The first hails from an incident involving General Crook of the U.S. Cavalry which had been involved–let’s be real they initiated–in a series of conflicts with the Indigenous Apache of the area. Crook remarked in his journal that “A patrol of ten returned with only two, with misfortune no small part of their reports. One man was hung for his crimes.” It was abrupt at best and purposefully vague.
Ryan Bohl of Medium, however, reports that in a letter that followed the incident, a private stationed under Crook had this to say:
“Ten men led by Corporal Johnstone endured a horror that has me absconding from any patrol I can. Of the ten men, one, a trooper with a clean shooting eye and a reputation for sober living, was hung upon returning home with a barely-alive Buffalo Soldier. The court martial was held before the officers alone but rumor had it that the sharpshooter had overseen the ruin of the patrol and had consumed the flesh of his companions, leaving the Buffalo Soldier barely alive in a ploy to trick us into believing the patrol had died in a freak blizzard.”
Bohl went on to share a possible second explanation involving a different soldier who, after being wounded, set upon two Apache and killed them. After finding no other food, he chopped up their bodies and ate them. Fearing retaliation from others in the tribe who might be nearby, the patrolman set fire to the woods around him to drive them back. Under cover of the fires, he escaped back to his unit covered in blood and ash.
Regardless of the Lost Patrolman’s origins, however, the story just gets more terrifying from there. From the early 20th century firemen reported seeing a mysterious patrolman standing in the middle of the hottest and most out of controls fires that have burned through the state.
It isn’t only fires, however, that draw the figure. Numerous hikers and explorers have returned to camp with tales of a mysterious apparition and his appearance is almost always leads to trouble.
In 1957, Brian Whitaker of Phoenix, Arizona was put on trial for murdering his wife. However, in his defense, Whitaker explained that he had not meant to shoot his wife. Instead, he had been tricked by the nefarious Patrolman into committing the murder. The spirit had followed them for days on their hike along the Rim Road. Whitaker never once said he did not pull the trigger, but throughout the trial, he insisted he had actually been shooting at a man dressed in the garb of the old U.S. Cavalry when he shot. He believed the Patrolman had captured his wife.
There are numerous stories about the Lost Patrolman from Arizona and each is more chilling than the last. I’ll just say, be careful if you decide to take a hike out there!
Arkansas: Mama Lou at Faulkner Lake
Mama Lou’s story seems to be a variation on a sad tale told and retold throughout the U.S and beyond. It seems that a woman named Lou was driving across the Wolf Bayou Bridge on Faulkner Lake many years ago when her car went off the side of the bridge killing both her an her infant child.
The old bridge has been replaced by a new one, but locals say if you go out to the lake and call out, “Mama Lou, I’ve got your baby!” three times, she will appear.
What comes next?
Some say her body floats up to the surface of the lake. Others warn that she will reach out of the lake and attempt to drown you! Either way, the locals believe the legend and only the brave dare try it.
California: The Lady in White at the Hollywood Sign
In the early days of Hollywood, Peg Entwistle took her own life by leaping from the giant H in the Hollywood sign. She was reportedly in deep despair over reviews from a film in which she had appeared and just knew that her hopes and dreams of becoming a famous actress were destroyed.
Since her tragic death, numerous visitors to the area have reportedly seen the vision of a woman in white. No longer beautiful, Peg appears with a skeletal face and emaciated body and it’s said if you are hiking alone, she will tempt you to share her fate.
It is worth noting that numerous people have taken their own lives in the area over the years. Furthermore, in 2012, a man’s decapitated as well as his mutilated corpse were found on almost the exact same spot where the actress was found almost a century before.
Were you familiar with these tales? Do you have another urban legend from these states you’d like to share? Be sure to leave them in the comments and check back next week for the next installment in this series!