Call it folklore or a legend, but certain scary stories have been told for generations. These are told around campfires, at sleepovers, by parents trying to keep their kids in line, or by locals about the spooky house down the street. They're whispered around campfires and passed down from generation to generation.
Ranging from a disfigured man lurking in a tunnel and a creepy clown stalking children to a ghost ship on the river and haunted hotels, these stories have most certainly sparked fear even in the most courageous person. Or, at the very least, made you look twice before walking into a room or under a bridge.
Some of these cautionary tales are pure fiction (at least we think), while others are rooted in the truth, making them that much creepier. A local tragedy or weird next-door neighbor becomes a haunting or warning. Regardless, each time they're told, the terror continues, and the legend lives on.
While almost every country, city, and town has its own legend to be told, some have gained a bit more notoriety than others. Some have even landed in recent news making headlines for their creepiness factor; others inspired movies and TV shows. This list of 25 urban legends from across the country will undoubtedly have you sleeping with the light on tonight.
Cropsey of Staten Island
There are stories like this in nearly every part of the world: a mysterious man who hides in the dark and snatches up children. Often parents would use these tales to keep their kids from misbehaving and running off. Unfortunately, the legend of Cropsey in Staten Island is based on some truth. The story goes that an escaped mental asylum patient with a hook hand hid in the abandoned Willowbrook State School waiting for lost kids to kill. In reality, a janitor named Andre Rand who worked at the school before it closed in 1987 was suspected of actually kidnapping children and was found guilty of the crime in 1988 and in 2004.
Scan by NYPL/Wikimedia Commons
The Dog Boy
The story is simple but terrifying. Word around Arkansas was that a part-werewolf, part-man was wandering the streets of the town of Quitman. The truth is actually scarier. In the 1950s there was a boy named Gerald Bettis who was thought to torture stray animals. When he got older, he turned his cruel behavior to his parents, and his father was found dead in 1981. The mother was then kept as a prisoner in the home until she was saved and later testified against him in court. The legend goes that his ghost still wanders around on all fours and looks like a hairy dog.
A disfigured man lurking in a tunnel is what nightmares are made of. And that was the urban legend told in the millennial-friendly city of Pittsburgh. The tale was that a man with a severely burned face (hence Charlie No-Face) would set up shop in an abandoned train tunnel and make the electricity go wild with his very presence. Well, the story is kind of true, but not so scary. In actuality, there was a man named Raymond Robinson who did suffer a nasty burn from an electrical line and only came out at night. But he was rather friendly and would take pictures with local curious teenagers.
This story is creepy on many levels. While there's no particular origin or truthful tale behind it, the story still gets told around the campfire. Basically, a girl received a dog as a gift, and it would sleep with her each night. She would often put her hand down and feel the dog lick. Then, one night while her parents were away she heard a dripping noise and went into the bathroom to turn off the tap. When she returned to bed, she felt her dog lick her hand. This happened several times until the girl investigated more and found her dog hanging dead in the cupboard with a note reading "Humans can lick too."
If you're currently living with a roommate, you might want to stop reading. The legend goes that there were two college dorm mates. One went to a party while the other stayed home to study. When the one girl returned home after a night of drinking, she saw her roommate lying in bed and fell asleep thinking nothing was out of the norm. When she woke up the next day she saw her roommate covered in blood with her throat slit. To make it worse, above her bed, the words "Aren't you glad you didn't turn on the light?" were scribbled in blood.
The Black-Eyed Kids
A journalist named Brian Bethel first told this story in the 1990s claiming it was true, but it has since become an unsubstantiated legend. He said that when he got in his car after a late night of shopping, two children appeared at his window asking for a ride home. He almost agreed until he noticed that their eyes were completely black and had no pupils or irises. He quickly drove off, and since then other people have claimed to have encountered the black-eyed kids.
The Slender Man
This legend of a tall man who hides in the woods waiting to snatch his victims actually made the news. It's not because there actually is someone who lurks around at night looking for young children, but instead because a 12-year-old girl actually stabbed her classmate, blaming it on the Slender Man. She said she committed the act to impress the fictional character (believing he was real) so he wouldn't harm her family. Luckily, the other girl lived, but the crime makes the legend that much freakier.
The Clown Statue
Bottom line: Clowns are creepy. And this legend doesn't help. The story goes that a babysitter of a wealthy family was told to watch TV in a specific room after the children went to sleep. While there, she got creeped out by a clown statue and called the parents to ask if she could move rooms. They instructed her to grab the kids, leave the house, and call the police. Why? Well, the kids had been complaining of a clown watching them in the middle of the night, and the parents thought it was just nightmares. It turns out it was a little person dressed as a clown stalking them. Good news? There's no proof this story is true.
The Vanishing Hitchhiker
Part sweet and part scary, the tale of the vanishing hitchhiker has been told for years. Two boys are driving to a school dance when they encounter a young girl on the side of the road hitchhiking. She asks for a ride home, and they invite her to dance. One of the boys lends her a coat because she is cold. She then asks to be driven home at the end of the night, and the boys oblige only to realize they she kept the coat. When they returned to the house the next morning, the girl's mother greeted them and explained her daughter had died on the corner where they picked her up 12 years earlier. Sure enough, the coat was found in the cemetery where she was buried, draped over her gravestone.
Killer In the Backseat
A woman was driving on an empty highway late one night only to have the car behind her flash his brights for miles. She got scared, so she drove as fast as she could, with the other car following her dangerously close and flashing his lights the whole way. She made it to her driveway, and the man from the car followed her, saying to lock the door and call the police. It turned out he was trying to save her because he saw a man in the backseat getting ready to stab her. Even though the tale is not true, it might make you check twice before getting in your car.
One of those most famous legends of all time has to be the one about Bloody Mary - and not the drink. If you say "Bloody Mary" in the mirror three times in a dark room only lit by a candle, you can summon her spirit. If done properly, you will see a ghost or woman covered in blood in the mirror. Some say she will then reach through the mirror and drag you into the underworld. While this scenario is not plausible, Bloody Mary is based on a real person. It's just up to debate as to who it is. Some argue it's Mary Worth from the Salem Witch Trials and others believe it's Queen Mary I of England.
The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs
Babysitters seem to have no luck. In this legend, a girl is watching TV after putting the children to sleep and waiting for the parents to get home. The phone rings, and she answers, but there's no one on the other end. It rings again a few minutes later, and a man asks, "Have you checked the children?" and hangs up. The babysitter ignores the call, thinking it's the father. Then the phone rings again, and the man asks the same question. So, the babysitter calls the police, who trace the call and say it's coming from inside the house. The girl runs upstairs to get the kids only to find a man covered in blood and all three children dead. Babysitters, beware.
The Many Horrors of Turnbull Canyon
The 49,000-acre canyon is a real location with a lot of urban legends associated with it. Located near the popular vacation destination of Los Angeles, the area was once called "Hutukngna," aka the place of the devil, by Native Americans. Then it was said to be the spot where witches and Satan worshipers would sacrifice children. Those spirits now haunt the canyon. Those ghosts, of course, were joined by the spirits of 21 other children who died in a plane crash, although there's no record of one. And there are other tales of cults and aliens here, too. Whatever you're scared of, it lurks in these hills.
Riverdale Road in Colorado is 11 miles of sheer terror. For years, people have told tales of cars getting attacked by the ghost of a jogger and a phantom car driving up and down the road. The most popular story was that of the Gates of Hell. These gates blocked the entrance to an abandoned mansion where a man once burned his wife and children alive. The physical property and gates are now gone, but some believe this spot is still the portal to hell. Perhaps find a different route if your GPS is suggesting Riverdale Road.
The man-made lake in Georgia became a hot spot for urban legends because it's the site where many horrifying things happened. It's known for a high number of boating accidents and drownings. The skeleton of a woman was found at the bottom still trapped in her car after she went missing in 1958. Her spirit is now said to haunt the lake and its shores. Then some homicides occurred there. Monstrous catfish also apparently swim at the bottom. People blame the fact that it's a party lake on the number of deaths, but it still hasn't stopped some from believing there's something more sinister swimming around.
The Phantom Jogger of Canyon Hill
To see if this legend is true, you have to follow some pretty specific instructions. Idaho's Canyon Hill is home to a Midnight Jogger (an apparition, of course). To see her, you have to park between two specific trees in the Canyon Hill cemetery at night. If you do so, a legless spirit will knock on your window and then continue running. Luckily, she seems to be a friendly ghost who just wants to make her presence known and get on with her workout.
Villisca Ax Murder House
Yes, this house in Iowa is real, and it's said to be the most haunted place in the state. Back in 1912 six members of the Moore family and two other guests were killed with an ax here. The crimes were never solved, but legend has it that the home is still haunted. It's considered one of the most haunted places in the world, and you can actually spend the night there to find out yourself. Although the ghosts seem to make people go a little crazy, like the ghost hunter who oddly stabbed himself here in 2014.
Flickr/Jennifer Kirkland/CC BY 2.0
Stull's Gateway to Hell
Who knew there were so many gateways to hell? This one is apparently in Kansas. According to legend, the devil himself uses a roofless church as a portal to get to hell and comes out on Halloween and the vernal equinox. The reason they say he chose this spot is that it was the site of witch hangings, while the other theory is that the graves are that of Lucifer's children. The truth? There was a hanging tree here, but it was torn down in 1998. It hasn't stopped people from coming to find the devil, though.
While this legend is newer than most, it's pretty creepy. After a family moved into a mansion in Westfield, New Jersey, in 2015, they started to get letters signed by "The Watcher." In the notes, the mysterious person explained that he was tasked with watching over the house. He then started to write creepier notes like, "Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested?" and "Who has the bedrooms facing the street?" The scariest part? This actually happened and is still under investigation.
The Montauk Project
The Montauk Project is a legend so famous, it served as the inspiration for "Stranger Things." Back in the 1980s, a series of government experiments were supposedly conducted in the famous surf town of Montauk, Long Island. Some claim that children weren't experimented on here and there were portals to other dimensions. It seems part of it might be true after a parapsychologist and electrical engineer named Peter B. Nichols wrote a book about his "repressed memories" from his time working in Montauk. He described genetic experiments, children spies, and time warps.
The Platte River Ship of Death
Since 1892, people have reported seeing a ghost ship on the Platte River. It allegedly appears out of the fog, and you'll see the crew standing over a body. That body is the corpse of a loved one still alive. Then shortly after, that person will die. Leon Weber first told this story and saw his girlfriend in the vision. She died soon after. In 1903, a lumberjack lost his friend after seeing the same phantom ship. Perhaps avoid the river if you notice some fog rolling in, just to be safe.
The 13 Steps to Hell
The Maltby Cemetery in Washington was rumored to be the resting places of a weird wealthy family. To access the tomb, you had to climb down 13 steps. That descent later became deemed the entryway to hell for damned souls. The steps have since been removed, but people still head to the spot and claim to have experienced paranormal activity, like being greeted by ghosts. It looks like there's more than one way to get to hell in this country.
The Bunny Man Bridge
In Virginia, you might want to steer clear of Fairfax Bridge at night. Why? Well, it was given the nickname of the "Bunny Man Bridge" for a folklore tale saying that a man wearing white and bunny ears holds an ax under the bridge. Some people reported the man even has thrown the ax. Also, dead rabbits have been spotted all around the nearby woods, making the legend even creepier. And one year, several teens were found murdered after visiting the bridge on Halloween... allegedly.
Flickr/Jack Parrott/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Hayden Family Curse
The curse began with William Hayden, who was a wealthy Vermont man. According to legend, he blew all of his mother's money and then poisoned her to death when she started to complain. On her deathbed, she allegedly said, "The Hayden name shall die in the third generation, and the last to bear the name shall die in poverty." For the next century, the family was struck with financial troubles and mysterious illnesses. Their mansion was also said to be home to a lot of paranormal activity and the dead mother-in-law. The house then turned out to be the epicenter of other heinous activity. A Canadian family later used it to smuggle Chinese immigrants for slave labor.
Body Under the Bed
There's nothing like checking into the honeymoon suite only to find that it stinks. According to the legend, that's what happened to one couple, and they complained to the front desk. When they were told the room was cleaned, they stayed another couple of nights until the smell became unbearable. After checking out, a maid looked under the bed to find a rotting corpse. Gross! It turns out something similar happened for real in Atlantic City in 1999 when a missing man was found in a motel room. Word to the wise: Don't stay in a stinky room, especially on your honeymoon, when you deserve a trip full of romance and luxury.