Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Gateway to Hell

On behalf of the people of Stull, Kansas, I wish to say that none of this story is true, in any way shape or form. Okay, let's begin...

In the small town of Stull, Kansas, there is an old cemetery that contains one of the seven gateways to Hell* known to be on Earth. It is one of two spots - the other being an isolated spot in India, where Satan himself appears at midnight on Halloween to gather those who died violent deaths to have a final cavort across the surface of Earth. Some say that Satan again appears in Stull on the first day of Spring to visit a witch buried in the cemetery.

People have visited the burial ground for decades, waiting to see the Devil appear. Although nobody has reported a visit by the Father of Lies, many people have reported strange happenings, including a malevolent force that manifests as a strong wind that can knock a grown man down and keep him on the ground, as well as unattended vehicles moving from where their drivers parked them. Other reported incidents include mysterious voices, and invisible hands clutching at trespassers.

Rumor holds that Satanists routinely meet in the cemetery, especially near the ruins of an old church - which is said to be the precise location of the gateway to Hell - in order to carry out their rituals. And sometimes demons, even Satan himself, will come to these gatherings of the evil faithful to sanctify (or diabolize) their rites.

Commentary: The town of Stull, Kansas is a small settlement in an unincorporated part of Douglas County. The town was, like so many rural towns throughout the U.S., a pleasant place for the residents, but uninteresting to most people passing through (that is not an insult, merely an observation, and I say this as someone who came from just such a rural, unincorporated town). That changed in 1974, when the student newspaper at the University of Kansas in Lawrence published an article describing weird cult activity at the cemetery. After that, legend trippers began to visit the cemetery, looking for an encounter with the supernatural. These visitors have engaged in a good deal of vandalism, and as a result the local residents and law enforcement are keen to keep visitors away.

The local antipathy towards tourists creates a weird sort of dynamic. People who have visited and been chased away have described that they feel as if the locals have something to hide. The locals, on the other hand, have nothing to hide but simply are tired of outsiders coming in and doing damage. As a result, the story has probably gotten more inadvertent fals confirmation than it should, and the locals have to deal with idiots and vandals.

The question that I would like to have answered is what is the deal with this being one of the seven gateways to Hell? Despite a good deal of searching on the internet and in libraries, I have never been able to figure out where the other six gateways are. Apparently one is in some isolated location in India, never specifically named by anyone who mentions it. But there are no answers as to where the other ones are. I wonder if the "seven gateways" got attached to this story so that it seemed somehow more ominous.

Videos: Sometimes it seems like Hometown Tales has a video for every occasion...

Sources: Wikipedia, Prairie Ghosts, Internet, Hometown Tales (see video embedded above), Internet

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Hookerman Lights, Morris County, N.J.

According to legend...

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, railroads employed "hookermen" who used hooks to grab lanterns, mail, and other such items from poles along the side of the railroad tracks*. One night, somewhere along the rails in Morris County, New Jersey, the hookerman was thrown off balance and fell off of the train. He was knocked unconscious, and his arm was severed when the train ran over it. Some say that he died then and there of blood loss, others that he survived but had a hook put in place of his missing limb. Either way, the accident and the loss of his arm linked him permanently to that stretch of track.

Since then, people walking the railroad tracks at night have reported strange balls of light that appear above the track, and move along the track, changing color as they go. These lights are said to the the ghostly lantern of the unfortunate hookerman, looking for his lost arm.

Sometimes witnesses claim to approach the light only to see it move away from them, as if controlled by an intelligence. Even the removal of the tracks in the late 70's didn't result in the end of the lights. To this day, if one wanders the old route of the railroad through Morris County, there is a chance that you'll see the hookerman's spectral lantern.

* I have no idea if this is true. I have tried doing internet searches to find out, but my web-fu is doubt there's a sixteen year-old reading this who got an answer in a matter of minutes.

Commentary: This is a classic urban legend, variations of which can be found all over North America, but one of the best known versions is from Morris County, New Jersey. There are a few variations on the story even within Morris County, with some claiming that the hookerman was on the train, others that he was a railroad employee walking the line who was struck by the train. Some versions have him living through the incident, but having an arm replaced with a hook, while others hold that he had used a hook on a pole as part of his job and was killed by the train.

So, there's a few different things to talk about here. First off there's the fantastic urban legend nature of the story itself. Unlike most non-urban legend accounts of hauntings, the hookerman is given a goal: to find his arm. This is classic Urban Legend stuff, the ghost has a goal and is restless because that goal can never be reached. Then there is the fact that the legend has some very wide and strange variations - did the hookerman live or die? Is the hookerman called that because he worked with a hook or because his arm was replaced with one? - that is also class ic urban legends stuff. And, of course, there is a place given where one can go and see the ghost, which leads invairably to legend-tripping. This is a great story for these reasons alone.

But then you get the fact that, ghost story aside, there is a class of reported phenomonon known as "ghost lights", "spirit lights", "will-o-the wisps", or "spooklights" into which this can plainly be put. These spirit lights are widespread and include the Marfa Lights in Texas, and the Brown Mountain Lights of North Carolina, and the Min Min Lights of Australia. The causes of the lights are variable. The classic Will-o-the wisp appears in swamplands or marshes, and is likely due to nothing more than combustible gasses in the swamps. The other lights may be similar natural features, or may also be lights from mundane sources (automobiles, campfires, etc.) that are rendered unidentifiable due to atmospheric oddities (such as the movement of differentially heated air as the ground cools at night) or have simply been mis-identified by witnesses due to unfamiliarity with the landscape. Many people claim that these lights are caused by the Piezoelectric effect - wherein minerals such as quartz release electricity when struck.

I think that invoking the piezoelectric effect is overkill, as there are many other potential light sources available where most of the spooklights are reported, and they tend to be dismissed with little scrutiny by most paranormal researchers. However, it is interesting that even within the paranormal believer community, one is far more likely to hear a naturalistic explanation - even if it is a far-fetched naturalistic explanation - for these types of lights than to hear a supernatural one. What that means, if anything, I haven't a clue. But I find it interesting.

One other thing worth mentioning: most famous hauntings have completely subjective experiences - someone sees an apparition or hears a sound when nobody else is around, someone gets a "feeling of being watched", or someone notices that they are getting cold for no reason. These things are damn near impossible ot verify or test. What's cool about the spooklight phenomenon is that they are a visible, observable, testable phenomenon (which is perhaps why even many paranormal enthusiasts prefer naturalistic explanations), which means that A( if they are real, they can be shown to be real (at least hypothetically), and B) if they are found to be real, they can be studied.

And that is really damn cool.

Special Stuff: I loves me some Hometown Tales videos:

...and because you can never have enough videos:

Sources: Urban Legend, Local Folklore, Hometown Tales Podcast, Weird N. J., Horrorfind Weekend, Associated Content, Internet, Internet Forum, Another Internet Forum