Daniel Fishel/Thrillist
Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

The Creepiest Urban Legend in Every State

Welcome to Urban Legends, a collection of articles dissecting persistent myths, unexplained phenomena, shared nightmares, and tales so bizarre they can't possibly be true... or can they?

They’re whispered around campfires and passed down from generation to generation. They spark fear in the hearts and minds of children and adults alike. Their subjects take many shapes, be they bloodthirsty creatures of the night, vengeance-seeking ghouls, or sinister vortices. And each time they are told, the terror spreads.

America is a country rich in folklore, a place where cautionary tales have always been mixed into the pot and sprinkled into our collective nightmares. Yet some of our nation's eeriest and most persistent stories, whether because they're rooted in community lore or used as means to synthesize local tragedy, don't travel far. Never fear (or actually, please do fear): we've tracked down the creepiest urban legends in all 50 states and the macabre bunch of stories is certain to freak you out, no matter where you live.

Alabama: Dead Children's Playground

Why it's creepy: This eerie playground adjacent to Maple Hill, Huntsville's oldest cemetery, doesn't just have an eerie nickname for fun. The playground was presumably designed to entertain kids while their parents visited the graves of loved ones. Legend has it, though, that the spirits of children who've been buried in the cemetery since the first grave was dug there in 1822 come out to play at night. The living have observed orbs of light going down the slide, seen swings moving on their own, and even heard giggling. Creepier still, some say the spirits include victims of a rash of child murders that happened in the '60s, when bodies were rumored to have been found in the area that now houses the playground.
Where it came from: The playground itself wasn't opened until 1985, so you can imagine how much pent-up energy the tiny spirits had after 163 years without a slide. In 2007, the city tried to raze the park to make more room for graves and removed the slides and swings overnight. After public outcry, it was replaced with more modern equipment, making it slightly less creepy to look at, and also probably resulting in some happier ghosts. -- Andy Kryza

Alaska: The Alaska Triangle

Why it's creepy: Encompassing an area ranging from near Juneau in the southeast to the northern Barrow region to the western metropolis of Anchorage, Alaska's answer to the Bermuda Triangle is comprised some of the most barren wilderness in the US -- and it apparently craves souls. More than 20,000 people have gone missing without a trace in the area during the past half-century alone. Are they being consumed by mythological beings like the beastly Keelut or the ghoulish kidnapper Qalupalik, lost on extreme hikes, or simply vanishing into a dark vortex? Nobody knows, though it's not for lack of trying: When the government lost House Majority Leader Hale Boggs’ Cessna to the Triangle in 1972, a massive search turned up tons of conspiracy theories, but no bodies.
Where it came from: The area has been associated with evil spirits, and Tlingit lore for centuries attributed trickster demons for luring people to an icy death. Others believe the area exists amid an electromagnetically influenced “vile vortex.” Still others think it’s a Darwinian result of explorers taking on nature. Regardless, the area continues to claim people, and underneath that massive blanket of snow and rock likely lies one of the largest and best-preserved mass graves in the world. -- AK

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Arizona: Skinwalkers

Why it's creepy: It's easy to feel uneasy while driving through the desolate desert roads of Arizona, especially at night, and particularly so when you hear a short burst of taps on your window while cruising at 60 mph and turn to see the shapeshifting, mutilated, half-human creature responsible for the high-speed interruption. Relax -- it's only trying to rip the flesh off your bones. This legend is so ingrained in Arizona culture that, when a Navajo woman was found brutally murdered in Flagstaff, the accused killer's defense in court was that the attack could have only been perpetrated by a Skinwalker. There's even a defined and well-documented portion of the state known as Skinwalker Ranch where you are most likely to see one of the creatures. Not that you'd actually want to.
Where it came from: The Skinwalkers, like so many ancient American urban legends, have roots in Native American folklore. While it's fairly hard to gather specific details -- as speaking of potentially sinister legends is seriously taboo in Navajo culture -- it is understood that what non-Navajos refer to as "skinwalkers" are witch doctors who have become an evil reflection of everything the Navajo nation values. Basically, they are men who've transformed into malevolent, murderous creatures that have no qualms using their spiritual powers to kill. Navajo medicine men are trained to learn both good and evil aspects of their power, and Skinwalkers are those who have turned to the Dark Side. It's all very Star Wars. And, frankly, still terrifying. -- Wil Fulton

Arkansas: The Dog Boy

Why it's creepy: The name sounds kind of goofy, or actually even kind of like Goofy. But if you find yourself at 65 Mulberry Street, in the middle of the minuscule Arkansas town of Quitman, you won't laugh if you see the hulking outline of a 300-pound half man, half beast -- complete with glowing animal eyes -- glaring out of the windows. Walk quickly, as he has been known to chase people down his street, biting at their heels -- kind of like a dog, actually.
Where it came from: This is actually the rare urban legend where the story behind the story ends up being even creepier than the folklore. Gerald Bettis, the only son of the Bettis family of 65 Mulberry, was always a problem child. But not in the cute, Junior Healy way. Bettis would "collect" and torture animals (hence the "dog boy" moniker), before turning his sociopathic focus to his elderly parents, allegedly imprisoning them in their own home and potentially even murdering his father. Eventually, Bettis would be imprisoned for growing marijuana on his back porch and would die in a state penitentiary in 1988 of a drug overdose. -- WF

California: The Many Horrors of Turnbull Canyon

Why it's creepy: Located near LA between Whittier and City of Industry, Turnbull is a 49,000-acre smorgasbord of nightmare fuel set amid the the scenic hills. You want your scares rooted in American history? The natives called it “Hutukngna,” or the place of the Devil, where the ghosts of those slain for not converting to Christianity dwell alongside witches AND satanists, who reportedly used the place to sacrifice children, whose spirits now walk the canyon and dangle from trees. They’re joined by the ghosts of 21 kids who perished in a plane crash back in ’52... allegedly, as there’s no existing record of it. Then there’s the remains of the old insane asylum that came back to life to kill a teen in the ‘60s via a long-dormant electrical wire. There are cults, alien encounters, gravity hills... It goes on and on. Basically, if it’s something that gets under your skin, there’s a story about it happening in this seemingly cursed canyon.
Where it came from: The place’s evil vibes date back centuries, though it wasn’t until the site was established as a fur-trapping site in 1845 that things started getting really intense, with word of the site’s terrors traveling far and wide and making it a place visited as much for its beauty as morbid curiosity. -- AK

Colorado: Riverdale Road

Why it's creepy: For 11 horrifying miles, Riverdale Road near Thornton, Colorado is crammed with enough horrifying legends to bring even the bravest paranormal investigator to his knees, from a ghostly runner attacking parked cars on Jogger’s Hill to various demons and even a phantom Camaro revving up and down the winding road. But the Gates of Hell seems the epicenter. The physical iron gates are now gone, but what remains is the partial shell of an old mansion where a madman supposedly burned his wife and children alive. Left behind are the barren, charred plot of land and a white-clad woman who wanders the area. She’s joined by the ghosts of slaves supposedly hanged from the now-charred tree. Go ahead and run away when you see something creepy like an ethereal pack of dogs... you’re probably just going to bump into something worse, possibly Hell, a portal to which some believe is here. That maybe explains why so many demons were conjured in a weird underground chicken coop near a set of underground tunnels.
Where it came from: It’s unknown when things got really hairy, though given the spirits of ghost slaves, it’s safe to assume terrible things have been happening on Riverdale Road since the 1850s. And each time something terrible happened over the decades, it just kind of got stacked onto this nesting doll of a horror show. -- AK

Connecticut: Dudleytown

Why it's creepy: Often cited as a “dark vortex,” rumor has it that any visitor that steals an artifact from Dudleytown will have a curse put on them and their family. Dudleytown forest visitors report seeing just about every kind of paranormal phenomena you could think of: People describe an unnerving lack of wildlife in the area as well as floating orbs of light and sinister “wolf-like” black shadows, murmurs and disembodied voices, as well as a feeling of general dread. Add on the fact that there’s a mysterious group called “the Dark Forest Association” that polices the grounds with militant force and you’ve got yourself a serious case of the what the hell is really going on here?
Where it came from: The curse of the ill-fated Dudleys began back in jolly ol’ England, where Edmund Dudley was beheaded for conspiring against King Henry VII. This treacherous act apparently unleashed a curse on the rest of the Dudley clan, which emigrated from Guilford, England to Cornwall, Connecticut in 1748. They helped establish a community centered around the town’s then-thriving iron industry before a series of untimely disasters befell the family. These calamities included a series of mysterious deaths which, in turn, inspired madness and suicide among the Dudleys, several of whom disappeared into the woods never to be seen again. The remaining residents very sensibly ditched the town, which has been abandoned ever since. -- Janelle Albukhari

Delaware: Mr. Chew

Why it's creepy:Samuel Chew was a respected man, a Chief Justice in the state back in the Colonial days. Still, even in Colonial America, bullies latched onto his name, constantly proclaiming “ah, Chew” as if sneezing. He apparently hated it so much that his spirit still stalks those who mock him, showing up in his robes and powdered wig to scare the ever-loving crap out of people who can’t resist the easy joke at the expense of a centuries-dead legislator.
Where it came from:Chew was very much a real man, serving as Chief Justice of the Three Lower Counties until he died in 1743. Things got so unsettling that people eventually held a “funeral” for the ghost in Dover’s Green, laying his spirit to rest in an ornate grave. He seemed to be placated, though he’s still known to mess with smartasses who sneeze at the mention of his name. -- AK

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Florida: The Skunk Ape

Why it's creepy: The Everglades are filled with array of terrifying creatures: man-eating alligators, man-eating snakes, men-eating roadkill. However, one humanlike figure has been spotted enough times to warrant elevated levels of concern: the Skunk Ape. A relative of Bigfoot, a fully-grown Skunk Ape stands anywhere from 5 to 7 feet tall and weighs approximately 450 pounds. They can be detected by a horrific odor that's been described as "sun-baked animal carcass" and "rotting garbage." They mostly eat berries and small animals, but from time to time they've been known to ravage farms and tear wild boars to shreds. Recently, a Skunk Ape HQ has popped up in the Everglades where you can book tours out into the swamp or reserve a spot on a hunting expedition to finally prove the hairy beast is real once and for all.
Where it came from: No one can say for sure. But because its lineage can be traced back to Bigfoot, many believe it migrated south from the mountains and found refuge in the swamplands, an environment safe from humans with ample sustenance and room to roam. Others believe it's just lore, a tale pioneers created in order to scare people off their lands and preserve the wilderness. Whatever you believe, should you find yourself camping in the Everglades and you smell something foul, take caution. It could be the Skunk Ape. -- Alex Robinson

Georgia: The Curse of Lake Lanier

Why it's creepy: The massive man-made lake north of Atlanta is unnerving on multiple fronts, with a reputation for tragic and sometimes mysterious deaths, from a disproportionately high frequency of boating accidents and drownings to unexplained homicides. A construction crew discovered the skeleton of a woman who disappeared in 1958, still trapped in her car at the bottom of the lake more than 30 years later, and since then people have reported sightings of a ghostly female figure on the lake's waters. There are even reports of malevolent catfish lurking on the bottom that's large enough to swallow a dog or even drown a diver.
Where it came from: There were numerous issues with the construction of the lake, not the least of which included the displacement of families, businesses, and even cemeteries occupying the land the Army Corps of Engineers sought to develop. The vestiges of some of these structures still have a ghostly presence at the bottom of the lake, which some point to as a source of Lanier's haunted reputation. Others point to the simple "water + alcohol = accidents" formula to explain the tragedies (Lanier IS a notorious party lake). But, as noted above, many of the deaths go beyond simple boating accidents, leading some to believe there's something more sinister at work. -- Matt Lynch

Hawaii: The Night Marchers

Why it's creepy: Picture yourself on a scenic Hawaiian beach at night. Imagine a full moon, and a cool breeze running across the sand. Dreamy. But, if you hear the faint sounds of drums pounding in the distance, or see a barrage of torches out on the horizon, it could be your worst nightmare. These spirits of ancient Hawaiian warriors, dedicated to protecting the islands from all outside threats, will only spare your life if you -- reportedly -- lay face down, pee on yourself in submission, or if (miraculously) share a bloodline with one of the warriors. Good luck peeing on yourself, tourist!
Where it came from: The first alleged "encounter" with The Night Marches, known as Huaka’I po in Hawaiian, was recorded when Captain Cook arrived on Hawaiian shores in 1778. In Hawaiian tradition, the night marchers' role in life was to protect sacred members of the community. In modern times, their spirits have been reported all throughout the islands, mainly at the sites of sacrificial temples and other sacred grounds. Oh, and the decidedly corporate Davies Pacific Center building in downtown Honolulu. Apparently, they still protect the island from outsiders -- and if you buy into the legend, they always will. -- WF

Idaho: The Phantom Jogger of Canyon Hill

Why it’s creepy: There are rumors of many hauntings in Caldwell, Idaho’s centuries-old Canyon Hill Cemetery, but the one that gets the most attention is the Midnight Jogger. As with many of the best urban legends, you have to do your part to get her attention: In this case it involves parking between certain trees in the cemetery at night. Do it right, and the legless apparition will knock on your window to let you know she’s there, then continue on her route. It’s creepy as hell, though now it’s only the second-worst image conjured when you think of sinister joggers.
Where it came from: The origins are unknown, though considering there’s another conspiratorial legend that the entire state of Idaho doesn’t actually exist, perhaps the jogger is just a creation of a deranged and deceptive government. -- AK

Illinois: The Italian Bride

Why it's creepy: An elaborate marble statue of a woman in a wedding dress is bound to stand out in a cemetery as it is, but that's not what's driven The Italian Bride to be a subject of local fascination. Upon closer inspection, there is an actual photo plaque on the gravesite of a woman in a casket, looking perfectly preserved even though, as an inscription notes, the photo was taken six years after burial after the body was exhumed. Reports of unusual activity cover everything from the smell of fresh flowers near the gravesite in the dead of winter to the ghostly figure of a woman in white roaming the cemetery (or the halls of nearby Proviso West High School) in the dead of night.
Where it came from: In 1921, recently married Julia Buccola Petta died in childbirth and was buried in her wedding dress. Legend has it her mother immediately began experiencing nightmares that Julia was demanding her grave be reopened. The source of the distress varies depending on the storyteller, often relating to some sort of discontent with Julia's new husband, but what isn't in dispute is that six years later the mother got her wish and Julia's pristine condition inspired her to raise funds for the statue that's been creeping out generations ever since. -- ML

Indiana: Diana of the Dunes

Why it's creepy: Along the shores of Lake Michigan, fishermen, vacationers, and other passersby have reported sightings of Diana, a ghostly nude female apparition floating along the shoreline and eventually disappearing into the water without a trace.
Where it came from: Fishermen first started reporting the sightings of a woman skinny dipping in the waters off Indiana's Lake Michigan coastline in 1916 -- and that's because Alice Gray, the source of the Diana legend, was still very much alive at that point. The exact circumstances that caused her to live a reclusive life in a lakeside shack aren't entirely clear, but the years that followed saw her marry a man who later became a murder suspect, and then die an early death, allegedly from uremic poisoning. Her ghostly presence has been a subject of local lore ever since. -- ML

Iowa: Villisca Ax Murder House

Why it's creepy: Umm, what part of "ax murder house" don't you understand?
Where it came from: So, the murders themselves are very much NOT an urban legend. They happened. And they remain unsolved. Sometime between the evening of June 9,1912 and the morning that followed, six members of the Moore family and two houseguests were brutally murdered, with each victim having suffered an axe wound to the head. One suspect was tried twice and never convicted. Surprising no one, the somehow still standing house is the subject of numerous rumors, legends, and reports of paranormal activity. You can find out for yourself, because you can actually stay there, just like the ghost hunter who mysteriously stabbed himself in the chest there in 2014. -- ML

Kansas: Stull's Gateway to Hell

Why it's creepy: The tiny town of Stull has counted very few residents since it was founded in 1856. The most famous is rumored to be Lucifer himself, who some say appears at the town cemetery on Halloween and spring equinox. They say he uses the site where a roofless church once stood as a portal to and from Hell. Some say that he's drawn to the site of frequent witch-hangings. Others believe one of the graves actually contains Satan’s own child. Either way, new graves continue to be dug, despite signs warning against trespassers, perhaps referring directly to the Prince of Darkness himself or the cults that are rumored to flock to the grounds.
Where it came from: The first published article about the horrors are traced back to a 1974 article in the University Daily Kansan, though whispers about evil have persisted since 1900 or so. In 1998, the "hanging tree" was torn down to stop people from visiting. It hasn’t lessened the need for the small town to bolster an annual police presence to deter visitors looking for a glimpse of the Devil himself. --AK

Kentucky: The Witch Girl of Pilot's Knob

Why it's creepy: Just looking at the pictures of young Mary Evelyn Ford's grave feels a bit unnerving, with a series of interlocking white crosses forming a fence around a pit of gravel and the bars appearing unnaturally bent in some places. Then you hear the alleged backstory -- a mother and daughter both accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake in 1916, with the mothers charred remains being carried to a far-off location while the daughter was buried in a steel-lined coffin covered in stone and encased in crosses to prevent her escape. Some have claimed to witness tiny footprints appearing in the gravel, or even a young ghostly figure trying to escape the gravesite. Kid ghosts, as we know, are the creepiest ghosts.
Where it came from: While stories about the gravesite go back decades, and naturally increased in detail with the growth of the internet, there's not much evidence that anyone was burned at the stake for witchcraft in the area in 1916: even back then, that was generally big news. Mary Evelyn Ford really did die a tragic young death, but the stated cause of death is peritonitis, an inflammation of the stomach lining. It's amazing what a truly unnerving gravesite can do for the imagination -- we still wouldn't want to be near it at night. -- ML

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Louisiana: The Vampire Comte de Saint Germain

Why it's creepy: As far as spooky shit goes, Louisiana does not rely solely on voodoo/hoodoo, ghosts and Woody Harrelson's accent from True Detective. Like any debonair bloodsucker male vampire worth his garlic, Jacques Saint Germain's hobby is seducing attractive young females in New Orleans, only to promptly drink their blood. By some accounts, he was born in the early 1700s. In others, he has been alive since Christ. After "dying" in 1783, he was spotted all over Europe before reappearing to terrorize New Orleans 1902. He's still on his blood-drinking binge in the French Quarter today, though now he just goes by "Jack." Nice rebrand.
Where it came from: Comte de Saint Germain was certainly a real person, alchemist, and all-round high-society snob who befriended a laundry list of famous 18th-century luminaries. He ran with crews including King Louis XV, Catherine the Great, and the philosopher Voltaire, who said he was “a man who never dies, and who knows everything.” He has been tied to several local murders, and in the 1970s a French psuedo-celeb named Richard Chanfray publicly claimed to be the infamous Saint Germain. But then, he died of a drug overdose in 1983. Or... did he? Well, he probably did. -- WF

Maine: Wood Island Light

Why it's creepy: Instead of providing useful light to help ships navigate, the lighthouse on Wood Island reportedly provides a space for strange moans, unexplained shadows, and other indicators of paranormal activity commonly attributed to a murder-suicide that took place there decades ago.
Where it came from: Howard Hobbs, a local fisherman and drifter, really did murder his landlord, Fred Milliken, on the Wood Island in 1896. Hobbs had been drinking and, after shooting Milliken, left the scene and turned his rifle on himself. You can read about the events of that day in all their 19th-century newspaper glory here. From ghost experts who weigh in on such things, Hobbs is generally considered the likeliest candidate to still be haunting the lighthouse. -- ML

Maryland: The Goatman

Why it's creepy: Maryland's infamous Goatman allegedly does all the things you would expect a deranged half-goat/half man to do: kill teenagers, eat dogs, scream like a goat, etc. But the most terrifying aspect is just how deep the lore goes. The USDA was even forced, at one point, to publicly deny accidentally creating the beast in their Beltsville agricultural research center. Another tale revolves around a goat farmer who, after realizing a group of rowdy teens had killed his tribe, went totally crazy and turned into a teen-slaying goat monster.
Where it came from: Though the lore had been around for a while, the first recorded media mentions of the Goatman occurred in 1971, courtesy of writer Karen Hosler of the Prince George’s County News. The first was a deep dive into Maryland folklore, followed by an actual news item about a family blaming the brutal decapitation of their puppy on the Goatman... which they may or may not have just heard about via the County News. One month later The Washington Post ran a national feature detailing the legend of the Goatman. Ultimately, the Goatman has become one of America's most persistent and well-known urban legends, with claimed sightings still occurring with regularity and cheesy fictionalizations still creepin' out the Old Line State. -- WF

Massachusetts: The Curse of Giles Corey

Why it's creepy: The Salem Witch Trials were creepy enough to begin with (go read The Crucible again if you don't believe it!), but the story of Giles Corey, who was slowly pressed to death under a series of progressively heavier rocks in an effort to extract a confession, is particularly unsettling.
Where it came from: Legend has it he uttered a curse against Salem right before his dying breath (you could understand why he'd have some ill will). For generations, his apparition has allegedly appeared in the cemetery before something terrible is about to happen, including a 1914 fire that burned down a sizable proportion of the city. There has also been a series of tragedies that have hit the Salem sheriff's office (starting with the 1696 heart attack that killed George Corwin four years after he presided over the trials). -- ML

Michigan: Hell's Bridge

Why it's creepy: The Nain Rouge and Dogmen? They’ve got nothing on the tale of Elias Friske, a deranged old preacher who, according to blood-curdling lore, pied-pipered a group of tethered children into the woods near what is now Algoma Township. He slaughtered them one by one, casting them into Cedar Creek before being caught by their parents and hanged, but not before saying he was possessed by demons. In its current form, Hell’s Bridge is a creaky, narrow metal footbridge in the middle of the woods, where those brave enough to cross at night claim to hear the voices and screams of children, and are sometimes greeted by a black figure with glowing eyes as they traverse it.
Where it came from: There is no record of an Elias Friske in the area, though there was a prominent Friske family beginning in the 1910s. Still, despite the lack of hard facts, anyone who’s visited the bridge will attest that there’s something out there, and it usually makes its presence known as you’re teetering on a shaky metal bridge in the moonlight. -- AK

Minnesota: The Hairy Man of Vergas Trail

Why it's creepy: What’s not to be creeped out about? An 8-foot, musty-smelling, barefoot man with a reputation for being unnaturally aggressive is a hell of a thing to consider encountering in the woods. Some reported sightings were just that: sightings. However, reports like Ken Zitzow’s made the Hairy Man more than an apparition, but something to fear. Zitzow returned from driving in the woods with dents all over his car hood and said the Hairy Man jumped onto the road and began pounding the hood.
Where it came from: Nobody really knows. Sightings trace back to the '60s, had a significant increase in the '70s, and still happen from time to time. Some say it’s a legend. Some say there was an old hermit living in the woods who wasn’t too keen on your rascally kids wandering his land. Others say the Hairy Man is real and point to a mysterious skull discovered in the Vergas Trail area that is human-like, but not hominid. It was discovered by a private citizen who didn’t turn it over, so no one knows if it’s human, Bigfoot, animal, or hoax. -- Dustin Nelson

Mississippi: The Three-Legged Lady of Nash Road

Why it’s creepy: Whenever a strange person starts chasing your car as you drive down a dark, unfamiliar road, it’s unsettling. When she bangs on your hood, it’s even worse. But when she has three legs -- and one seems to be a rotting limb she sewed to her body -- that’s just the worst. But that’s what generations of Mississippians have said about the stretch of Nash Road near Columbus where the Lady does her thing.
Where it came from: From Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Yazoo Witch, many ghost stories in Mississippi persist, but the Three-Legged Lady gets points for changing to suit what scares you. Some say that extra leg was removed from a dead lover and attached to her body. Some believe she's the ghost of a mother who got lost searching for her dismembered daughter after all she could find was a severed leg. Some say she wants to race you across a nearby bridge. Either way, turn off your headlights on a stretch of the road and don’t be surprised if you’re forced to confront the specter yourself. -- AK

Missouri: Zombie Road

Why it's creepy: The dark, canopied trail running through Wildwood, Missouri, just outside St. Louis, has been a hotbed of creepy tales for ages, often revolving around shadowy human figures following and frightening those along the trail.
Where it came from: Originally built as an access road for the gravel quarries along the Meramec River, the road fell into disuse and disrepair in the '70s and saw an increase in teenagers flocking to the area to party/scare the crap out of each other. The origin stories of the trail's haunting varies widely, from the kind of plausible (railway accidents, executed Civil War spies) to the more sensational (sadistic children's hospital). Several years ago the pathway was paved so it might be used as a bike path, but that hasn't done much to slow the legend. The police are doing their best, however. -- ML

Montana: The Hitchhiker of Black Horse Lake

Why it's creepy: Usually, when you see a hitchhiker on a particularly desolate stretch of highway -- which Highway 87 certainly can be -- it gives you the willies. On this particular stretch near Great Falls, it’s compounded by the fact that the namesake lake is seasonal, and dry most seasons. Regardless, the end result of the body of a native-American man -- clad in jeans with jet-black hair -- slamming into your windshield as you’re driving is sheer terror. Legend has it those who encounter the hitcher suddenly find his body bouncing off the front of their car. When they stop to help, there’s nothing there and no damage to the windshield. The hitcher, meanwhile, repeats the cycle endlessly, trapped in his own personal hell as he repeats his moment of death with whichever driver happens to be cruising down the road at the wrong time.
Where it came from: Folklorists have traced the whole “vanishing hitchhiker” phenomenon back to the 19th century, though given the presence of denim reported by most who encounter the hitcher, we’re going to guess he met his demise in the ‘60s if he was real. Legends of wandering spirits of Native Americans are pretty prevalent in this part of the country, too, so chances are the hitcher lore and the native stuff just mated logically. -- AK

Nebraska: Seven Sisters Road

Why it's creepy: There's no shortage of "creepy road where creepy things happen" stories, but Nebraska's Seven Sisters Road is particularly unsettling, with the legend telling of a young man who, following a dispute with his family, led each of his sisters out to seven different hills and hung them from a different tree.
Where it came from: The precise origins of the legend are unclear (sometimes it's the father rather than the brother, depending on who's telling the story) but it goes back long enough and is ingrained well enough in the local culture that it's taken into account when making highway construction plans. -- ML

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Nevada: Area 51

Why it's creepy: Area 51 lore has been satirized, remixed, and riffed on so much in popular culture, sometimes it's hard to remember how creepy this whole deal was/is in the first place. But secret government cover ups, dead aliens, and playing God in the middle of the desolate Nevada desert is creepier than probing Randy Quaid. It's been said that everything from time travel, genetic experiments, and alien autopsies are commonplace at Area 51. Frankly, no one outside of high government knows what goes on in there.
Where it came from: First off, Area 51 is a real, highly classified military base in the southern portion of Nevada; its purpose is publicly unknown. But in the early 1950s, in the infant stages of the Cold War, President Eisenhower approved plans to build the U-2 stealth plane and created Area 51 to house the development labs and test field. When reports of the -- admittedly, spacecraft-looking -- plane floated through the public and media, theories spread, and the conjecture around Roswell's "alien crash" site only fanned the flames of speculation. From there, it's been the epicenter for all US government suspicion. -- WF

New Hampshire: The Cursed Isles of Shoals

Why it's creepy: The charming archipelago of Isles of Shoals off New Hampshire's eastern shore is the perfect destination for a seaside picnic... or you know, a series of brutal murders. Two young women were horrifically butchered via the particularly creepy maniac-with-an-axe method in the late 1870s, and apparently you can still hear them screaming, often late at night, which is just objectively unsettling. This specific Island, Smuttynose, is said to be haunted by these ghosts, the axe murderer himself, pirates, and a gang of other poltergeists. And c'mon, have you ever seen an abandoned old lighthouse in the fog?
Where it came from: The islands have a history longer than the country they are in. Blackbeard himself was rumored to use the islands as a honeymoon destination and gold depository in the early 18th century -- and naturally he killed some people there along the way. By the time Louis Wagner murdered the women living on Smuttynose, there were already ghost stories about the haunting chain of islands. With history, pirates, and of course, axe murders, come creepy tales. And again, the abandoned lighthouses don't help. -- WF

New Jersey: The Watcher

Why it's creepy: Let's be real: The average NJ Devil's fanboy is scarier than the obviously bullshit legend of the Jersey Devil. And the Watcher -- a legend that creeped its way to viral fame in 2015 -- is like a David Fincher movie breathed into horrifying life. If you don't know the details, in the summer of 2015 a young family moved into a million dollar house in Westfield, New Jersey. Soon after, they started getting letters signed by someone only ID'ing themselves as "The Watcher" claiming it was his duty to "watch over" the house -- while also spouting crazy lines like "Do you need to fill the house with the young blood I requested?" and "Who has the bedrooms facing the street?" Holy shit.
Where it came from: Is this a prank based off a weirdly accepted local legend? A media hoax? A way to drive down real-estate prices? It's impossible to know, but I feel very weird. And somebody is still sending letters to inhabitants of the house. The debate and skepticism still burn in the creepiest corners of the internet, and while it's a fairly "new" legend, it's probably one of the scariest entries on this list, no matter what you believe. -- WF

New Mexico: Chupacabra

Why it's creepy: Simply put: It's a rabid beast that may or may not be the size of a bear but definitely has spikes on its back and glowing eyes. It can fly if it wants, but it will definitely suck the blood out of your pets and family. And a TON of people think it's real. Which is almost scarier.
Where it came from: Anyone who grew up in the Southwest knows about the legend of the Chupacabra -- down there, it's as big as Bigfoot, even if people can't agree on what it looks like exactly. The first "sighting" happened in 1995 in Puerto Rico, and "eyewitness" accounts of "the goatsucker" have been a steady trope across Central America, reaching a heat in Mexico and the Southwest over the past two decades. New Mexico, in particular, has been the source of some notable Chupa-sightings. As recently as this summer, a treasure hunter claimed he found a genuine chupacabra skull in Las Vegas, NM. -- WF

New York: The Montauk Project

Why it's creepy: The Montauk Project -- a series of (alleged!) government experiments conducted in Montauk, Long Island in the early ‘80s -- reportedly served as one of the Duffer brothers' main inspirations for Stranger Things (the original working title of the show was even Montauk). So, we're talking about psychological warfare, experimenting on children, opening portals to other dimensions, and various other nefarious, government-funded creepiness. Hey, you've probably seen the show.
Where it came from: While there were rumors circulating around shady government activity on the Southeastern tip of Long Island for nearly a decade prior, the legend wasn't fully baked until the early 1990s, when Peter B. Nichols -- a parapsychologist and electrical engineer -- helped pen The Montauk Project: Experiments in Time, which detailed a slew of salacious "repressed memories" from his days working in Montauk, corroborated by other "colleagues." The book detailed time warps to Mars, genetic experiments, and Eleven-esque psychic child spies. The Montauk Project itself is said to be a piece of a larger psychological warfare conspiracy called The Philadelphia Experiment, which naturally, inspired its own film too. -- WF

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

North Carolina: The Beast of Bladenboro

Why it's creepy: Because it's a large possibly vampiric cat-beast that might also be part bear and will brutally murder your pets and/or livestock (and maybe you?) when you aren't looking.
Where it came from: In 1954 a string of mysterious, gruesome deaths began to hit animals in and around Bladenboro, North Carolina -- broken jaws, crushed heads, and even reports of blood completely drained from bodies. Eyewitness accounts varied, but seemed to point to something vaguely feline in nature, but also larger and more powerful. The story made the national news, and there were multiple hunting parties that attempted to catch the beast. They never did, but the killings eventually stopped. At least for now. -- ML

North Dakota: The Gates of Hell

Why it’s creepy: Abandoned towns are generally creepy, and North Dakota has an abundance of settlements that were all but abandoned after the railroad boom. Tagus, though, takes the cake due to the little fact that people believe that it once housed a Lutheran church that doubled as a hotbed for Satan worship. Legend is, it burned down, but if you stand in just the right place, you can hear the screams of the damned bubbling up from hell itself. There are also reports of hellhounds, glowing gravestones, and a ghost train. Vandals and revelers have made the few people who call Tagus home very wary of visitors, and lord knows that the combination of a rumored portal to hell and extremely unwelcoming locals in a small town is boilerplate horror-movie fodder.
Where came from: The Satanism business dates back to the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s, though Tagus been spooky since its founding in 1900, and ever since the late ‘80s -- when hundreds of high-schoolers turned up for a vandalism-intensive Halloween party were run out of the ghost town -- visitors have been met with extreme skepticism. The city's last church burned to the ground in 2001. -- AK

Ohio: Melonheads

Why it's creepy: It sounds like something stale your granny might keep in her candy dish, but is actually a legend about pale, sickly, genetically altered children with giant heads and razor sharp teeth that simply love killing babies (and also you, in some variances). So, yeah, much worse.
Where it came from: Riffs on the tale also exist in Michigan and Connecticut, but the Ohioan case is particularly compelling. These Melonheads haunt the woods of Kirkland, and are apparently the adopted children of a unscrupulous doctor who used the pre-Melonheads to test new medical and surgical methods... with not-so-great results. In some versions of the tale, the kids are more likely to scurry away like chipmunks than bite your face off. In others, they are just ghosts of the kids. One thing is certain: They definitely inspired one very campy, hyper-local horror movie. -- WF

Oklahoma: The Skirvin Hotel

Why it’s creepy: Because the place is basically Oklahoma's equivalent to the hotel from The Shining, a luxury hotel whose permanent residents include eternally crying babies, a ghost that likes to grope people in the shower, spirits that slam doors, and the ghost of the original owner’s mistress, who allegedly died along with his illegitimate child... and who still walks the halls with a stroller. It’s so prevalent that even the toughest of NBA players -- who stay at the posh hotel when in OKC -- often find themselves seeking alternate accommodations. And that’s before the bedbugs start biting.
Where it came from: The place was built in 1911, and shortly thereafter original owner Fred Scheruble was shot to death, but not before allegedly impregnating a maid who perished on the 10th floor. It’s been downhill from there... even a renovation in the early ‘90s didn’t scrub the supernatural from the most haunted hotel in Oklahoma. -- AK

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Oregon: The Bandage Man of Cannon Beach

Why it’s creepy: Far from the rooted-in-history scares of Portland’s Shanghai Tunnels, the Bandage Man haunts a lonely patch of decommissioned highway near the idyllic coast town of Cannon Beach. Like many slightly pervy ghosts, he likes to mess with randy teenagers making out in their cars, though more sinister legends have him eating dogs, wandering the wind-swept roadside, and even jumping in the back of pickups and sedans, filling the car with the scent of rotting flesh.
Where it came from: The Bandage Man -- most popularly a logger hacked up at the nearby mill -- made his earliest documented appearance in the ‘50s, and he was likely a spook story told around beach bonfires by teens weaned on monster movies (thus, the silly mummy-like roots). Still, after hearing that tale late at night then retiring to the confines of a secluded road for a little third-base action, it’s a story that carries enough creepy weight to seriously kill the mood, which is why it’s persisted for decades. -- AK

Pennsylvania: Charlie No-Face

Why it's creepy: According to legend, after a tragic childhood accident, Charlie No-Face -- aka the Glowing Green Man -- lost his face and turned radioactive, literally glowing a toxic green as he stalks Western Pennsylvanian highways at night. His main haunt is Piney Fork Tunnel, an abandoned freight tunnel in Hillsville. But if you seek him out, keep your foot on the accelerator: If he even manages to touch your car, it might stall out. Then you'll be hanging out with Charlie No-Face for the rest of your (probably short) life.
Where it came from: Ray Robinson was a real man. As a child in 1919, he was severely electrocuted by a trolly wire while peering into a bird's nest, which practically melted and disfigured his entire face. As an adult, Robinson walked Western Pennsylvanian highways (Route 351 to be exact), but only at night, as his shocking visage garnered unwanted attention. His "glowing" appearance is likely due to the petroleum jelly he needed to coat his damaged skin. Those who know him claim he was incredibly sweet, though profoundly isolated. And no, he has nothing to do with Pennsylvania's OTHER "Green Man." -- WF

Rhode Island: Mercy Brown

Why it’s creepy: Rhode Island’s home to many a haunted house -- including the one that inspired The Conjuring -- but one legend you can experience without trespassing is the tale of Mercy Brown. It seemed that back in the day Rhode Island was in the midst of a vampire panic, and its most famous victim was 19-year-old Mercy Brown. After her mother and sister died, Mercy succumbed to tuberculosis as well. Due to the panic, villagers presumed something supernatural was afoot. When they exhumed Mercy, he body was remarkably well preserved... so they removed her heart and liver, burned them down to ashes, and fed them to her sick brother. He died two months later. They say the spirit of Mercy, though, still haunts the cemetery of Exeter, where her gravesite remains a place where morbid tourists flock and where a chill hangs perpetually in the air.
Where it came from: Historical fact... Mercy Brown died on January 17, 1892, and her cremated heart was force-fed to her brother. Her story is the most famous of many similarly gruesome tales that stoke the fires of Rhode Island’s haunted landscape. -- AK

South Carolina: Boo Hags

Why it’s creepy: Boo hags basically make traditional vampires seem like Robert Pattinson vampires: They’re skinless beings that creep into people’s homes in the lowcountry, climb on their chests for a "ride," and gain vitality by sucking out your breath. They also have a nasty habit of tearing off a victim’s skin and wearing it to keep themselves warm, though they’ll usually just leave you short of breath and tired.
Where it came from: Boo hags are a fixture of Gullah or Geechee culture prevalent in coastal lowcountry areas populated by African-American descendants of slavery. The creatures are among the most horrifying and unsettling among a rich folkloric history, yet seem tame when compared to the true atrocities of the region that birthed them. -- AK

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

South Dakota: Walking Sam

Why it's creepy: A wave of suicides -- 103 attempts as of December 2014 -- on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota is being attributed to the presence of the Walking Sam figure. Teenagers claim a slender, shadow-like spirit dubbed Walking Sam appears before them and commands them to kill themselves (sound familiar?). The first wave occurred in 2013 when five members of the Oglala Sioux tribe killed themselves, and continued to spiral until Oglala Sioux tribe Vice President Thomas Poor Bear discovered photos on Facebook in 2015 depicting nooses hanging from trees, revealing plans behind a teenage group suicide.
Where it came from: The specter archetype that Walking Sam is based on has roots starting with the good old-fashioned boogeyman and working all the way down to the ‘Slender Man told me to do it’ folklore of 2008. The idea of shadow people is also a pretty old-school urban legend going back further than history can care to track. However, the character of Walking Sam himself has existed among the Lakota and Dakota Native American tribes for some time now, with a record of him being described in Peter Matthiessen’s In the Spirit of Crazy Horse back in 1980. Sometimes known as “Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot” or “Taku-he”, the character’s been spotted by South Dakota Sioux and Little Eagle tribes as far back as 1974. -- JA

Tennessee: The Bell Witch

Why it’s creepy: Essentially a real-life horror movie, the hauntings of one Tennessee family by some sort of spirit believed to be a witch ultimately attracted the attention and subsequent visit by soon-to-be president Andrew Jackson. And while Jackson, who allegedly was spoken to by the witch, got the heck out of Dodge, a cave near the site believed to a be a portal for the witch remains a major tourist attraction in Adams, Tennessee today.
Where it came from: Probably hell, but more factually, the haunting of the Bell family began in 1817 after the father, John Bell, witnessed some sort of rabbit-headed dog in his field and tried to shoot it. From that night on the family experienced tappings on the doors and windows, sheets slowly being pulled off beds, and eventually the voice of a woman named Kate who was dead set on destroying the family. After years of torment, John Bell died in 1820, after which the family found a small vial of liquid near his deathbed. Kate, the Bell Witch, proudly proclaimed she gave John the poison that finished him off. -- Tanner Saunders

Texas: Black-Eyed Children

Why it’s creepy: Scary movies constantly have people fearing old country back roads, abandoned homes, and kids popping out of corn fields, but the Black-Eyed Children are known to be seen wandering around totally normal, non-threatening locales like Wal-Mart parking lots and Sonic Drive-Ins. And worst, they’re rumored to put their victims in a tight situation by starting out asking for something totally unsuspecting like a ride home or some petty cash.
Where it came from: The first documented case of the Black-Eye Children came in 1996 from reporter Brian Bethel, who had pulled his car into the parking lot of an Abilene movie theater to use the bright marquee light to write a check. While filling out the check, two young kids who Bethel claims were between 9-12 approached the car, knocked on the window and asked for a ride home to grab cash to come back for movie. The children, who totally unnerved Bethel, claimed they didn’t have a gun (weird, right?) before making eye contact and revealing coal-black eyes that Bethel later described as “the sort of eyes one sees these days on aliens or bargain-basement vampires on late night television." -- TS

Utah: Escalante Petrified Forest Curse

Why it's creepy: Utah's legend is particularly troubling for tourists, as they might be taking the horror home with them, even if they escape the forest. With shocking regularity, visitors who have stolen chunks of petrified wood from Escalante Petrified Forest State Park will mail back their lifted souvenirs. All their letters detail series of unfortunate events, from broken collarbones, arms, and ribs to mysterious illnesses, horrific accidents, and financial ruin. The one thing they have in common? They all occurred AFTER the victim illegally stole a piece of the forest.
Where it came from: Many people have -- and still do -- mail back cursed pieces of the petrified wood, and the park even displays the letters and samples openly as an attraction. Apparently, there have been cases of stolen wood turning to bad luck since the 1930s, though it's unclear the actual root of the curse. Maybe it's the burden of moral ambiguity affecting other areas of life? Maybe it's just coincidence? Either way, it's not worth risking your collarbone. -- WF

Vermont: The Hayden Family Curse

Why it's creepy: You know a curse is serious when it takes down an entire lineage and still manages to bother people after everyone else is dead. William Hayden was a wealthy landowner in Albany, Vermont in the early 1800s, but he never repaid his even wealthier mother-in-law for loaning him some major funds over the years. After much complaining, she became mysteriously ill, accused William of poisoning her, and with her dying breath said “The Hayden name shall die in the third generation and the last to bear the name shall die in poverty.” The Hayden family barely made it another 100 years after being plagued with financial catastrophes and illnesses. Phantom music, mysterious lights, and other assorted paranormal activity is said to haunt their estate in Albany -- along with the ghost of vengeful mother-in-law, too. She is really mad at this guy.
Where it came from: In some versions, William Hayden was a Gatsby-esque party boy who quite knowingly blew all his mother-in-law's funds on lavish parties and ornate decorations for his home, building the family's local fame and infamy... which probably just fueled the rumor mill. And when all the Haydens died, a wealthy Canadian family moved in their mansion and allegedly used the home for bootlegging and smuggling Chinese immigrants for slave labor. So yeah, even if the curse ISN'T real, the house itself still has some dark history. -- WF

Daniel Fishel/Thrillist

Virginia: The Bunny Man Bridge

Why it's creepy: The legend is fun to repeat at campfires, but the real sightings beyond the legend are some to give you nightmares. In 1970, there were numerous police reports of people who had been threatened by a man holding an axe wearing a white suit with bunny ears. A few individuals reported that the man in the suit actually threw the axe at them for trespassing. To this day, there have been many sightings of dead rabbits appearing in the woods surrounding Fairfax Bridge, now known as “The Bunny Man Bridge,” as well as a white figure appearing late at night underneath the bridge.
Where it came from: Legend says that in 1904, a group of convicts were piled onto a bus to be transported from an asylum in Clifton, Virginia to a nearby prison. En route, one of the buses crashed, the convicts managed to escape, and the police were able to round up all but one of the convicts. As their search went on, they began to find skinned, half-eaten bunnies in the woods and hanging from the overpass of Fairfax Bridge, now known as “The Bunny Man Bridge.” A year later, on Halloween Night, several teens went to hang out under the bridge: Come morning they were all found dead. It is said that if you hang out under the bridge on Halloween Night, you will meet the same fate as the rabbits and the teenagers. -- Sylvie Borschel

Washington: The 13 Steps to Hell

Why it’s creepy: Basically the opposite of the Zeppelin song, the Maltby Cemetery -- itself the subject of rumors associating it with satanism -- is rumored to include a subterranean tomb for a really creepy rich family that could be accessed by 13 steps that led to their final resting place. Or the final resting place of every damned soul in history, as legend has it that descending the entire staircase led you to glimpse hell itself.
Where it came from: The cemetery’s been around since 1901, though the crypt itself’s date has been lost to time... as have the stairs themselves, which have been bulldozed and covered in concrete. That hasn’t stopped curious paranormal masochists from trespassing on the secluded private property, allegedly showing up at the cemetery at night eager to unearth it via nocturnal excavation missions… and being greeted by the cemetery’s other apparitions. -- AK

West Virginia: Mothman

Why It's creepy: The Mothman was introduced to West Virginia in 1966 with the best newspaper headline ever: "Couples See Man-Sized Bird... Creature... Something." From there, residents all over West Virginia reported seeing the winged, human-like, red-eyed creature around the state, unsure if it was a demon, alien, or genetic experiment gone wrong. Even as recently as 2016, Mothman sightings have made the news. Yes, like the actual news.
Where it came from: The myth dates back to that initial newspaper piece, but the legend has been long propagated in pop culture -- inspiring a horror novel and the subsequent Richard Gere film adaptation. In Point Pleasant, where the original incident was recorded, there's a Mothman museum, a Mothman Festival, and a sizable statue. The Mothman has become big business, and if nothing else, he clearly paved the way for tabloid darling, the Bat Child. -- WF

Wisconsin: The Rhinelander Hodag

Why it’s creepy: The hodag is a small creature that is simultaneously a frightening demon and comically covered in spikes. It’s often portrayed as being dog-sized, but early reports said it could grow to six-feet long. A 1928 legend describes the hodag as having the head of a frog, saber-tooth tiger-like fangs, thick legs with large claws, the back of a plated dinosaur, and a long tail with spears on the end. Despite its hellspawn swagger, it was never that much of a threat to humans, outside of its powerful “skunk perfume” stench.
Where it came from: The green devil was ”discovered” in 1893 by developer Eugene Shepard and almost instantly became a fixture of north Wisconsin folklore. Three years later, Shepard claimed he caught another and put it on display at the 1896 Oneida County Fair. He had knocked it out with chloroform so, of course, it was sleeping. But he had wires hooked up to the fake animal to make it move occasionally. Word spread fast and the Smithsonian sent a reporter to look into the hodag. Shepard quickly admitted it was a fraud. Rhinelander never let go, though. It’s the high school mascot and there are multiple statues of the beast around town. -- DN

Wyoming: The Platte River Ship of Death

Why it's creepy: There are endless creepy tales in the wilds of Wyoming, among them a headless woman who haunts the lodge at Old Faithful. But the creepiest is also the most overlooked: A ghost ship that materialized out of a spectral fog on the Platte River. The cursed crew huddles on the deck of the old sailboat, surround a body. If the onlooker persists in looking, the corpse is revealed to be that of a still-living loved one, who will then die soon afterward.
Where it came from: The ship was first reportedly spotted in 1892 by a trapper named Leon Weber, whose girlfriend died shortly after he envisioned her on the cursed deck. Legend has it that the last documented sighting claimed the life of a lumberjack's friend back in 1903. There have been no "official" sightings since, though you could forgive people for getting the hell away from the river as soon as the fog rolls in.  

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Janelle Albukhari, Sylvie Borschel, Wil FultonAndy Kryza, Matt LynchDustin Nelson, Tanner Saunders, and Alex Robinson contributed to this story.