Hello readers! Welcome back to the fourth entry in our cross-country travelogue celebrating the creepiest urban legend from each of the 50 states. From cryptids to morality tales, the U.S. has them all, and I’m showcasing my favorites as we go.
Last week we learned that Idaho is an urban legend and I’m still shook up about it. What will we uncover this week?! Read on and find out!
Kansas: The Hamburger Man
Since the 1950s in Hutchinson, Kansas, hikers in the sand hills have been warned against wandering from the trails or they might find themselves captured by the Hamburger Man.
Who is the Hamburger Man? I’m so glad you asked!
The deformed man is said to live in a shack somewhere in the woods of Sand Hill State Park. He stalks the area for hikers who wander from the trail where he kills them using either a long, curved knife or a hook and takes them back to his cabin. There, he grinds their bodies into hamburger meat.
Locals can’t seem to agree whether this is/was a living man who was disfigured in some way or a ghost, though if the legends have been around since the 1950s, it’s highly likely Mr. Hamburger Man has passed on.
Still, the urban legend survives and thrives and will most likely go one for generations to come.
Kentucky: Sleepy Hollow Road
What is going on in Kentucky?! Seriously, there are a lot of states with a creepy urban legend or two, but Kentucky has so many it took a while for me to decide which one felt the creepiest. When I finally landed on Sleepy Hollow Road, I knew I’d found the one.
Located in Oldham County, Sleepy Hollow Road has nothing to do with Washington Irving’s classic ghost story, but don’t be dismayed. Sleepy Hollow is the kind of two-lane road perfect for a high school joyride with the windows down and music blaring. So, naturally, it lends itself to ghostly tales of its own.
One of the oldest and most enduring involves a phantom hearse that appears out of nowhere and has reportedly run more than one driver off the road out of sheer fright. Most likely, the accidents are actually caused by the countless blind curves in the road, but that hasn’t stopped the legend from prevailing.
And then there’s “Cry Baby Bridge.” Located at the bottom of the Hollow under the Sleepy Hollow Road, the bridge is now made of concrete, but it was once an old-fashioned covered bridge that was supposedly the location from which mothers would throw their unwanted children in the river to drown. Stories abound of women who took their children to the bridge for various reasons including deformities, the products of incest, and no few about enslaved women who took those children born of rape to be washed away in the river.
Curiously, some drivers have reported instances of time warps on Sleepy Hollow Road wherein they lost several hours with no explanation after driving onto the road.
It certainly sounds like a creepy place, and one that I’d definitely like to visit and see for myself!
Louisiana: The Rougarou
Louisiana is built on legends, some far older than the state itself, and some brought here by the many colonizers from France who settled in the area. For me, none is so interesting as the rougarou, the famed wolf-man of Louisiana.
Legends of the loup-garou trace back at least as far as Medieval France. While the rest of Europe was running around hanging and burning witches, the French became obsessed with the loup-garou, legendary werewolf type creatures who were blamed for everything from missing children to damaged property. The most famous of these beasts of course is the Beast of Gevaudan which terrorized the French countryside in the 1700s.
As the French made their way to the New World, they brought their legends with them, and as the Cajun dialect emerged, they “simplified” the pronunciation. Loup-garou became rougarou and a mystical beast was born. The rougarou supposedly lives in the swamps of the Greater New Orleans area and the Acadiana. Of its many appetites, the creature is said to hunt down those Catholics who do not follow the rules of Lent.
What I also find interesting is not only the mixture of cultures, but the mixture of legends. Some say you can ward off the rougarou by laying thirteen small objects on your doorstep. The creature will be compelled to count the objects, but he is unable to count beyond twelve and will become stumped, thus unable to move inside to attack the residents of the home.
This echoes closely much older legends about vampires and vampire-like creatures that were said to be obsessive in their need to count things–Sesame Street isn’t really that far off in this respect. Those legends often involved throwing handfuls of lentils onto the ground if a vampire was chasing you because the creature would be compelled to stop and count each and every one before he could move again. Another involved laying a knotted net over a supposed vampires grave. The vampire would be unable to rise until it could count and untie every knot in the netting.
Regardless how these stories began, the rougarou legend thrives and is still good for a scare or two, or to keep errant children in line.
Maine: The Sabbatus Well
When I think of Maine, I automatically think of Stephen King and I found an urban legend worthy of the storyteller himself.
According to the legend, there is an old well in the back of a cemetery in Sabattus, Maine. There were a lot of creepy stories about the well, and one day, a group of teenagers decided to get to the bottom of it–don’t hate me for that pun. They went out to the well and dared one of their comrades to let them lower him into the well’s dark depths.
After much teasing, the boy agreed, and his friends rigged up an old rubber tire on a rope in order for him to make his dark descent. They lowered him into the well until they could no longer see him, but after a while, they became concerned because their friend was unusually quiet.
As they pulled him up, they were shocked to find his hair had turned completely white. He was shaking uncontrollably and unable to form coherent sentences before dissolving into maniacal laughter.
No one knows what he saw down the well, and no one will dare go down to find out. They say you can still hear him screaming from the windows in the asylum where he spent the rest of his life.
Maryland: The Goatman
The Goatman of Maryland is a creepy tale that began a long, long time ago but found popularity in the 1970s when he was blamed for the death of several pets and also took his place as a cautionary tale, but we’ll get into that later.
There are many stories as to what and how the Goatman of Maryland came to be. My favorite says the was once a regular man, a scientist who was doing experiments on goats. When one of his experiments backfired, the scientist was mutated and became part-man himself. Driven mad by the change, he stalks the countryside with an ax and has been known to attack animals as well as passing cars.
He’s described as a tall man with the beard, horns, and hooves of a goat.
This particular type of story and this origin specifically is an excellent example of tales that warn against messing with nature and “playing God.” If the scientist hadn’t been doing something terribly unnatural, he wouldn’t have become the monster, after all. What’s even more interesting is that, in addition to stories about attacking pets and other animals, around the 1970s, the Goatman also began attacking teenagers out on various versions of Lover’s Lane, thus taking on a new facet and demonstrating how these stories grow and change.
The 1950s brought us plenty of stories, books, and movies, about the dangers of going “too far” with scientific experimentation. The creature-features of the 50s in particular warned of the fallout from experimentation in nuclear energy. We were barely out from under World War II when such weapons were used for the first time and had no idea what the long-term effects might be.
By the 70s, urban legends began taking on a different tone, however. More teenagers were driving and with that independence the worst fears of parents everywhere were brought to life. How better to warn youngsters away from dark corners and lovers’ lane than to invent or appropriate stories of fiendish killers bent on killing anyone who crossed their paths. It worked with the Hook Man. In Maryland, they just got more creative.