Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Seven Gates of Hell

The story of the "Seven Gates of Hell" in York County really has nothing to do with either the cryptozoological or zooform realms. In fact, it scarcely has anything to do with the paranormal realm. But it is a topic I'm semi-obsessed with, since we visited there a few years back, and writing about urban legend creatures in Maryland brought it back up to the surface.

It's a pretty famous urban legend in south-central Pennsylvania: a massive fire in an asylum on Toad Road, a bunch of dead inmates. Several inmates escaped and were killed in the woods surrounding the asylum by over-zealous locals. There was a path leading back to the asylum, and either the city of York or the original administrator of the facility - versions vary as to who it is - constructed seven gates along the path. Why the administrator would do this, I don't know. Story goes that the city did it to curb trespassers.

Supposedly, supernatural things happen as you pass each gate. The last gate is, variously, withing the asylum or right outside the asylum. A moot point, because nobody's ever made it past the fifth. So how they know there's seven is up in the air.

Some versions have it that the home of Nelson Rehmeyer (the tale of Rehmeyer's Hollow and the murder of Nelson in 1928 is one of the more famous tales of Pennsylvania's darker history, although the Hollow is, of course, changed in legend) was near the asylum.

A good story, but there's some problems. First of all, there is no Toad Road as mentioned in the tale, and never was. Second of all, the gate shown above is the only one. It's a plain red cattle gate off Trout Run Road. The stories will say that the gates are just invisible during the day, but then explain how I went out there at night and didn't see any other gates.

Some stories will tell you there's one of the dreaded phantom black SUVs that'll patrol the area. Well, having been there, I can vouch that there is an old man in a pick-up truck that tried to scare us off. I've later heard that the entire Seven Gates area is this old man's backyard - and there's a lot of modern houses in the woods, so he's not some creepy hermit-type.

To put a bit of a cryptozoological angle on it, there was a rumor that Bigfoot hunters at one time trampled through the woods here. Whether that's true or not, I don't know.

But like all good urban legends, it's based on something. Though how many people know it, I don't know.

When this region of York County was originally settled and the roads laid out, the road that would later become Trout Run Road continued north along the banks of Codorus Creek and eventually emerged to intersect what is now known as Furnace Road, right by Codorus Furnace, an old iron furnace dating to the Revolution. And at the intersection stood a house. The extension leading up to Furnace Road has been inaccessible for years.

It's no longer there, but I recall seeing it when my grandmother and I made trips up to the furnace in my younger years. The house in question stood at the curve leading up to the furnace and was a ramshackle wooden affair, the kind of place which looks like a fire waiting to happen. Probably not a coincidence, then, that it was indeed a fire which destroyed the house totally. In front of the house was a row of trees growing along the road, and every tree had one or more 'No Trespassing' signs on it. Some variants of the tale had it that the administrator of the asylum was paranoid and had signs posted.

I talked to various people from York County, and was able to determine that the asylum version of the tale seems to have appeared in the late 1960s or 1970s. My grandfather, who's been in York County since the 1950s, reminded me about this house and told me that back at that time it was home to an old hermit who he said had claimed that he was a doctor. My mother mentioned that there was a road kids would drive back along.

Given that, I've been wondering whether the hermit was the basis of the tale, whether Toad Road was the old extension of Trout Run, and whether the asylum of the story may have been a simple wooden house that was, despite the stories, still standing until a decade ago. I also have come to wonder whether the original version was merely kids driving the road when the extension was still accessible hassling the guy; after the hermit died in the 1970s, the story was confused with that of Rehmeyer's Hollow (many of the elements of the Hollow story, or the urban legend thereof rather than the true one, feature in the Gates story - a portal to Hell, a number of murders, a fire). I have seen pictures of the Rehmeyer house in 1928 and it was a similar wood-frame affair to the 'Hermit House'. It's possible that the similarity in the appearance of these two houses contributed to the confusion.

1 comment:

  1. so your saying that theres no such thing as the seven gates of hell ? there is only one and nothing else there and the other 6 are ghostly gates am i correct ?