The Weirdest Urban Legend in Every State
From the fun and airy (Michigan) to the nightmare-inducing (Hawaii)
We’ve all heard the stories. Whether it’s a ghost “sighting” or monster “sighting” or some-other-fictional-creature “sighting”—or just a completely bonkers theory about gator-infested sewers—no matter where you go, you’re bound to come across an urban legend or two. And while some are fun and airy, like the yarn about a cereal guru importing a bunch of black-furred squirrels, many seem to be lifted straight from a pile of unused horror movie scripts. The by-far scariest part about these legends, though—and the thing the gives each tale a shred of credence—is the fact that no two states share the same one.
That’s right: among the urban legends of our land, you’ll find a different (generally terrifying) story around every corner. So without further ado, we’ve rounded up the strangest ones in every state—stories that have persisted and grown more and more twisted with every hushed re-telling. But fair warning: some of these tales can get pretty grizzly. That should be no surprise, though. After all, it’s only human nature to crave a touch of danger—or so the story goes. And for more on our nation’s best preserved legends, don’t miss The 40 Most Enduring Myths in American History.
Alabama: Dead Children’s Playground
Parents probably aren’t too keen to bring their kids to play on these monkey bars. In the playground adjacent to Alabama’s largest and oldest cemetery, those on their way to pay their respects to the dead have claimed to see swings moving on their own, and even the occasional ghost of a child playing. And for more skin-crawling locations across the U.S., be sure to check out the 15 Most Haunted Places in America.
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Alaska: The Alaska Triangle
Shrouded in enough mystery to rival the infamous Bermuda Triangle, the Triangle of the Last Frontier stretches between Juneau, Barrow, and Anchorage. More than 16,000 people have reportedly gone missing in the Alaska Triangle since 1988 (which The Manual reports to be a missing persons rate more than twice the national average). Notable disappearances include the 1972 vanishing of U.S. House Majority Leader Hale Boggs, when he and several of his staff members disappeared in the airspace above the Triangle, never to be found. And for some ideas on other scenic locations that might be a bit safer to explore, don’t miss The Greatest Hikes in the World.
A legend arising from the Navajo tribe, skinwalkers are believed to be normal people during the day, who then transform into animals and perform evil deeds (you know: like tormenting others) by night. Becoming a skinwalker supposedly involves committing one of the most heinous acts of all: murdering a close family member. The Navajo are still pretty tight-lipped about the legend, as they believe skinwalkers continue to exist among them. And for more bizarre state-related trivia, bone up on The Weirdest Summer Tradition in Every State.
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Arkansas: The Boggy Creek Monster
Alternatively known as the Fouke Monster, this beast is Arkansas’ unique spin on the legend of Sasquatch. A hulking monster reportedly seven or eight feet tall, the hairy creature has supposedly been roaming through Arkansas since 1834.
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California: The Hollywood Sign Haunting
Like many legends, this story is rooted in fact. An early 1900s starlet named Peg Entwhistle did commit suicide by hurling herself from the ‘H’ of the Hollywood sign after reading a nasty review from a film critic. The iffy part surfaces from the stories insisting that Entwhistle, who’s now referred to as the Lady in White, continues to haunt the sign and will occasionally appear as a ghastly, skeletal figure to hikers in the area.
Colorado: Denver International Airport’s Underground City
Reported to house subterranean bunkers, secret society meeting places, aliens, and even lizard people, Denver International Airport is always a focal point in Colorado’s rumor mill. DIA execs has happily capitalized on the marketing potential available from these outlandish legends, and has even gone so far as to hold a “conspiracy-themed costume party” and open a museum-style exhibit in 2016, featuring illustrations of some of the most ridiculous conspiracies. And for some insider frequent flyer tips, be sure to check out 13 Airports Pilots Hate Flying Into.
Connecticut: The House at the Bottom of the Lake
Resting in the murky depths of Salem’s Gardner Lake is a fully intact house; that much is confirmed—by the Hartford Courant, no less. Supposedly, the house sank beneath the surface when a family attempted to move it across the frozen lake in the midst of a 19th-century winter. The really eerie part is that, to this day, fishermen report hearing strained musical notes gurgling up to the surface of the lake, supposedly issuing from the parlor room piano.
Delaware: The Ghost of Justice Chew
Dover is allegedly home to the ghost of Samuel Chew, the Chief Justice of Delaware’s Supreme Court in the 1740s. Apparently, Chew wasn’t afforded the respect he deserved for this position, as he was often mocked for his unfortunate last name with a chorus fake sneezing sounds whenever he would walk by. (Ah-choo!) Legend has it that his ghost continues to haunt Dover, ready to mete out justice on anyone else who dares to poke fun at his surname.
Florida: Skunk Apes
Think Bigfoot, but smellier. Floridians fervently believe in the existence of this Everglades-haunting creature—in fact, one researcher has dedicated his life to trekking through the state’s swamps in search of the skunk ape, and has even opened a Skunk Ape Research Center in Ochopee.
Georgia: Lake Lanier’s Ghost Town
It seems that flooding an abandoned town with gallons of water to build a man-made lake just might have dire consequences. At least, that’s what’s believed to have happened with Lake Lanier. The lake has acquired a tragic reputation for the abnormally high number of accidental deaths and homicides that have occurred on and near its waters since an entire community, including a racetrack, was submerged by the lake-building project in the 1940s.
Hawaii: The Night Marchers
Said to be the spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors, the Huaka’ipo, or Night Marchers, are rumored to roam the island at night, marching in a single line while chanting and carrying torches and weapons. Legend has it that if, you witness the Night Marchers and do not lie facedown on the ground to demonstrate your respect, they just might kill you on the spot.
Idaho: The Water Babies
They might sound adorable, but the fact that this legend stems from a location called Massacre Rocks should lend a clue that these babies are scarier than they might seem. According to legend, the Shoshone tribe experienced a terrible famine several centuries ago, and distraught mothers drowned their children so they wouldn’t be forced to die an agonizing death by starvation. Some say that you can still hear infants wailing if you sit quietly by Massacre Rocks.
Illinois: The Vanishing Man
Board a bus at the stop in Egypt, Illinois, and you just might catch a glimpse of the vanishing man. You won’t know it when you first lay eyes on him, since he looks like a normal man, but without fail, he’ll mysteriously disappear once the bus passes under a bridge. Supposedly, he died on the bus many years ago, and his ghost continues to relive his final moments on earth.
Indiana: The 100 Steps Cemetery
Strange things happen in a remote county cemetery in Brazil, Indiana. Supposedly, if you ascend the cemetery steps, counting out loud as you climb, you’ll be greeted at the top by the ghoulish spirit of the graveyard’s very first undertaker, who will proceed to show you, via a vision, how you will meet your end. As you return down the cemetery steps, be sure to count out loud—if you arrive at the bottom on the same number as when you climbed up, the vision will be accurate. But if you reach the base of the steps at a different number, then the vision will not come true.
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Iowa: The Black Angel
The most bizarre aspect of this statue in Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery is the fact that she hasn’t always been black—she was originally cast in a golden bronze in 1912. She has since turned coal black, and the townspeople whisper that the evilness of the people buried beneath her seeped up and caused her to blacken. (In reality, the phenomenon can likely be chalked up to the process of oxidation.) Legend has it that if a pregnant woman walks underneath the statue, she will miscarry, while others hold that if someone touches or kisses the statue, they’ll be dead within six months.
Kansas: The Devil’s Chair
Contrary to what its name suggests, this icon of popular urban legend is actually not very chair-like. The story goes that someone pushed a farmer into his well in the late 1800s, and when a vile smell began to emanate from the well, the response was to simply board it up. Over time, the well, which now sits smack-dab in the middle of Alma Cemetery, was somehow saddled with the name of “The Devil’s Chair,” and it’s rumored that if someone makes the mistake of sitting on it, he is likely to never be seen again.
Kentucky: The Bluegrass Sleepy Hollow
True, no Headless Horsemen have been spotted here, but if you spend enough time on this two-mile stretch of road (aptly named Sleepy Hollow), you just might find yourself being driven off the road by a hearse that purportedly appears out of nowhere. And if you don’t know the legend of the original Sleepy Hollow, learn the true legend behind the Headless Horseman by boning up on the 50 Famous People Who Never Existed.
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Lousiana: The Grunch
Louisiana lore has it that an outcast band of dwarfs and albinos, collectively referred to as The Grunch, used to dwell on the fringes of what is now New Orleans. Some cautionary tales warn that to this day, the Grunch will try to lure you out of your vehicle by placing injured goats on the side of the road.
Maine: The Legend of Colonel Buck’s Tomb
It doesn’t take long to notice the oddly-shaped mark, resembling a leg, that stains the tomb of this former Justice of the Peace. Rumor has it that Colonel Buck ordered a witch burned at the stake. Allegedly, her leg rolled out of the fiery blaze, and, in retaliation, the witch put an eternal curse on Buck’s final resting place. The tombstone has reportedly been scrubbed thoroughly several times, but the leg-shaped stain continues to reappear, keeping the rumor alive.
Not to be confused with Bigfoot, the Goatman is a sinister creature who supposedly frequents Prince George’s County’s Lovers Lane, on the prowl for unsuspecting teenagers. As The Washingtonian reports, the most scandalous part of this story is the insistence that Goatman resulted from a series of cruel experiments at Beltsville’s USDA facility.
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Pukwudgies might sound adorable, but take heed: these tiny, swamp-lurking creatures could be dangerous. According to Wampanoag oral tradition, these knee-high devilish creatures have gray-colored skin and are known tricksters.
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Michigan: The Black Squirrels
The existence of these rare, jet black woodland creatures is irrefutable, but their origins in the Michigan area, as well as their possible possession of arcane powers (akin to black cats) remain a source of contention. The story goes that Kellogg’s cereal guru W.K. Kellogg imported the black squirrels in an effort to eradicate red squirrels, which he detested. And for more brain-melting trivia about these furry fellas, check out the 40 Most Amazing Animal Facts.
Minnesota: The Kensington Runestone
Discovered in 1898 by a Swedish farmer on his Minnesota farm, the Kensington Runestone is a tablet inscribed with cryptic runes, believed to be among the remnants of a Scandinavian exploration to North America in the 1300s. But is this even plausible? Does the tablet contain some crucial information the explorers wanted to convey to whoever recovered it? Until the code is cracked, the truth, like the meanings of the markings, remains a mystery—which means it’s fair game for much speculation.
Mississippi: The Mercritis Outbreak
What, you haven’t heard of mercritis, the disease where ingesting too much lead causes a hormonal secretion that causes women to devolve into delusional, homicidal maniacs? That’s because it probably doesn’t exist (if you take it from medical professionals today, that is). But supposedly, in the 1950s, some tiny, unnamed Mississippi town experienced an outbreak of this nonexistent disease.
Missouri: Zombie Road
Originally an access road for gravel quarries, this now-abandoned trail, shrouded in a dark canopy of trees, has become the perfect place to pin a number of haunting tales upon. The favored tale is that shadowy, humanlike figures will follow just behind those who dare to test their luck by traipsing across the trail.
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Montana: The Phantom Hitchhiker
A good rule of thumb: if you’re driving in Montana, you might want to detour around Highway 87—at least, if you want to avoid having a phantom hitchhiker roll across your windshield. Multiple drivers have claimed to be assailed by the body of a Native American man abruptly hitting their vehicle. Supposedly, this is the ghost of a hitchhiker who was hit by a car decades ago. The good(ish) news: the ghost doesn’t seem to leave any dents when he’s struck!
Nebraska: Mutant Radioactive Hornets—from Asia
After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, a spate of urban legends cropped up about the effects of radiation reaching all the way to the United States. For some Nebraskans, this manifested in an adamant belief that giant Asian hornets had not only been exposed to radiation and grown to four times their typical size, with venom 2,000 times stronger than regular hornets—but that these mutant insects had buzzed all the way over from Asia to the heart of the American Midwest. And for terror-inducing insects that actually exist, learn about the 30 Most Dangerous Bugs in America.
Nevada: Area 51
Need we say more?
New Hampshire: The Legend of Goody Cole
Throughout the New England witch trials, in the 17th century, only one woman in the entire state of New Hampshire was ever found guilty of “witchcraft”: Goody Cole. Unlike most convicted “witches,” she served several years in prison before dying a natural death. Even so, Cole’s ghost is said to haunt her hometown of Hampton. The townspeople blame her for every local mishap, and it’s said that she wanders the streets in the form of a phantom-like woman who asks where she can find a memorial for Goody Cole. And for more on New England witches, don’t miss 30 Crazy Facts That Will Change Your View of History.
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New Jersey: The Watcher
Right after a family purchased their dream home in Westfield, a stalker calling himself “The Watcher” barraged them with a series of letters, claiming, among other things, that his own family has “watched” the house for generations. The letters also inquired about when the family would be filling the house with “young blood.” While it’s unclear if there’s any truth to such scribble, it was enough to scare the parents and their three young children out of moving into the house.
New Mexico: Chupacabra
Rabid and snarling, with fiery glowing eyes and spikes protruding from his back—oh, and the abilities to both suck your blood and fly—the chupacabra is indeed a frightening, legendary beast. While many states in the Southwest have partaken in the legend of the chupacabra, New Mexico is unique in that it’s experienced the highest number of so-called chupacabra “sightings.”
New York: Sewer Alligators
Believe it or not, the idea of alligators roaming the sewers of New York once was not entirely implausible. In the early 1900s, wealthy New Yorkers brought baby Floridian alligators back to the Big Apple to keep as pets. When they decided their pets weren’t quite as cute as they’d hoped, they supposedly flushed them down the toilet. In fact, in 1932, the New York Times reported that a group of teenagers had witnessed a gator easing itself out of the Bronx River. Nowadays, though, it’s not nearly as likely that there’s a band of reptiles swimming through the sewage of eight million citizens. And yet, the legend persists.
North Carolina: The Beast of Bladenboro
After a slew of pets were slain and mutilated in the small town of Bladenboro in the 1950s, the townspeople were suspicious that the Chupacabra might have reached their little community. Then suddenly, the attacks stopped. For 50 years, all was well, until similar attacks began cropping up again in 2006. The conclusion: a strange, bloodsucking beast lurks in the woods surrounding Bladenboro.
North Dakota: The Legend of Riverside Cemetery
Riverside Cemetery is one of those places where the fabric separating our world from the spirit world is particularly thin, or so local legend has it. Supposedly, if you perch a recording device just right on one of the mausoleums, the sound of knocking will reverberate from within.
Ohio: The Summer Werewolf
In summertime of 1972, the townspeople of Defiance, Ohio, claimed that they witnessed a suspiciously manlike beast near the local railroad tracks over a series of nights. The beast was described as everything you would expect from a werewolf: hulking, covered in hair, and wearing tattered clothing. Apparently, the local police took the sightings seriously enough to even open a file to further investigate the reports. Though no eyewitness accounts have been reported since that long-ago August, the legend of the summer werewolf lives on.
Oklahoma: Cry Baby Bridge
Boggy Creek Bridge may no longer be serviceable, but if you dare to venture out to the site on Friday the 13th, you’re likely to hear the frantic sounds of a baby crying. That’s because on a particularly stormy night in the 1920s, a woman crossing the bridge lost control of her horse and carriage, inadvertently causing her infant to fall to its death in the seething river below.
Oregon: Polybius Video Game
Purportedly, in 1981, the government conducted a psychological experiment in the form of an arcade video game called Polybius, which was released in Portland for just shy of a month. As legend has it, the video game was similar to a drug, in that it induced debilitating hallucinations, all while allowing government officials to extract information about the players through the arcade machines.
Pennsylvania: Charlie No-Face
Sometimes, just a little bit of fact can be blown wildly out of proportion. In the early 1900s, a Hillsville boy was electrocuted by a trolley wire, resulting in lifelong disfigurement—specifically that most of his facial features melted away. Understandably, he became a recluse as an adult, but rumors about his strange nighttime activities abounded and continued to grow more and more preposterous. Today, the people of Pennsylvania insist that Charlie No-Face has become a radioactive, glowing Green Man-type figure who haunts an abandoned freight tunnel with the ability to stall any cars daring to trespass in his tunnel.
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Rhode Island: The Devil’s Footprint
If you peer closely enough at Devil’s Foot Rock in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, you can just make out the imprint of a human foot, with the print of a cloven hoof directly beside it. Legend has it that years ago in this very spot, a Native American woman fled after committing a murder. As she ran, the woman allegedly pled for the Devil to save her, and suddenly a man appeared. He introduced himself as the Devil before stomping his foot in the ground to reveal his cloven hoofprint, thereby proving his claim—and the evidence is cast in stone to this day (or so they say).
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South Carolina: The Blue Lady
The tumultuous hurricane of 1898 claimed the Hilton Head lighthouse keeper’s life, but his little girl, Caroline, young as she was, knew she had to keep the light burning. She continued to trudge up and down the treacherous stairs, adding more oil to the blaze at the top of the lighthouse, trying desperately to keep it lighted—until finally the waters claimed her, too. But that wasn’t the end of Caroline’s story. Today, her ghost is rumored to hover near the lighthouse, clad in a blue dress, searching for her father. At times, especially before hurricanes, it is said that you can hear her cries echoing out from the old lighthouse. And for ideas on a ghost-free lighthouse you definitely should visit, don’t miss 50 Destinations So Magical You Won’t Believe They’re in the U.S.
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South Dakota: Walking Sam
In a particularly disturbing manifestation of the Bogeyman, South Dakota’s “Walking Sam” is said to wreak actual havoc, especially among teenagers of the Sioux tribe. According to The Daily Dot, in 2014 alone, an alarming 103 teenage suicide attempts were attributed to Walking Sam, a shadowy, mouthless figure who lures young people into committing their own deaths by convincing them that they are worthless. While the actual cause of these suicide attempts can likely be linked to a range of factors, including cyberbullying, stories of Walking Sam’s influence continue to surface.
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Tennessee: Skinned Tom
Once, an unfortunate man named Tom was caught in the act of adultery—and the scorned husband apparently retaliated by skinning him alive. The skeleton of Skinned Tom is said to prowl Lovers’ Lane with a knife in hand, prepared to teach anyone else who steps out of line the same lesson he learned the hard way. And for more on jilted lovers, This Is the Age When Men Are Most Likely to Cheat and This Is the Age When Women Are Most Likely to Cheat.
Texas: The Candy Lady
Another urban legend rooted in a shred of truth, the Candy Lady was said to be a Terrell woman who went mad in the late 1800s after her daughter died at just five years old. She spent a stint of time in an insane asylum, but after her release, a number of local children went missing. Legend has it that the woman would build camaraderie with her child victims by leaving candy on their windowsills, eventually writing notes on the candy wrappers that would convince the children to come outside and “play.” If we had to guess, we’d say Texans have likely perpetuated the story of the Candy Lady as a sobering reminder to their children to never accept candy from strangers.
Utah: The Curse of the Petrified Wood Forest
There’s nothing wrong with visiting Utah’s petrified wood forest, per se. Just don’t break park rules and pocket a piece of wood to take home with you, or you might end up cursed. Deseret News reported that every year, Park Manager Kendall Farnsworth receives several packages containing shards of fossilized wood from the forest, accompanied by apologetic notes detailing how the senders’ lives have gone terribly wrong since bringing the wood back home with them. And if you’re planning a trip to see the forest for yourself, bone up on The 25 Best Wheels for Summer Road Trips.
Vermont: The Brunswick Springs Curse
The good news: the water at Brunswick Springs supposedly has healing powers, at least according to the Abenaki tribe. The bad news: if you try to profit off the springs, you’re probably doomed for massive failure. At least, that’s what four hotel fires and a string of bad luck have led the people of Vermont to believe.
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Virginia: The Woman in Black (X2)
Virginia abounds with enigmatic women clad in black, apparently. The state is home to not one, but two urban legends revolving around mysteriously noir-shrouded female figures. In 2014, a woman dressed in black from head to toe was spotted walking the highways, and a series of rumors mounted about what she could possibly be up to. The other legend can be traced back to the early 20th century, when the Roanoke Times published a series of articles reporting on the appearances of a ghostly woman clothed in black, who supposedly only appeared to married men.
Washington: Stairway to Hell
Just east of Seattle, a local cemetery once contained a set of thirteen stairs that led down to a subterranean tomb. Legend held that when you planted your feet on the thirteenth step, you would be struck by a vision of Hell so heart-stopping that it would cause you to drop to your knees out of sheer terror. The stairs in question have purportedly been bulldozed over (if they ever existed in the first place, that is), but curious people continue to scour the cemetery by night, searching for the stairway.
West Virginia: The Mothman
Mothman, a mythological mix of man and insect with frightening red eyes, is thought to have terrorized West Virginia since 1966, when two gravediggers first witnessed the startling creature. Since then, sightings of the Mothman have multiplied, but he doesn’t seem to have inflicted much damage over the decades. And to find out where else the legend of Mothman has cropped up, don’t miss 20 Famous Rumors We All Wish Were True.
Wisconsin: The Hodag
A cocktail of just about every animal imaginable (a frog’s head, a viper’s fangs, an elephant’s face, a stegosaurus’s spiked back, and, for good measure, thick green hair), the ferocious Hodag demands a strict diet of white bulldogs. The creature is rumored to roam the Wisconsin woods, and while good-naturedly acknowledged as fictional by most Wisconsin residents, the legend of the Hodag persists in various ways throughout the state, including several statues of its likeness and even as one high school’s mascot.
Wyoming: Big Nose George
Big Nose George might sound like an amiable, chummy guy, but he’s actually anything but. Hanged in the 1880s for being a raucous outlaw with a penchant for horse thievery, the really gruesome legends arise from what happened to George’s body after his death. Supposedly, a physician examining George’s brain to try to root out the cause of his criminal activity decided to use George’s skin for a number bizarre purposes—including making himself a new pair of shoes. After a whiskey barrel containing the remainder of the outlaw’s bones was discovered in 1950, speculation has continued to mount into legends revolving around just who Big Nose George actually was and what grisly horrors his body might have been subjected to by the physician.
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