This week, urban legends! Two plates of hell-adjacent stories circulated by teenagers for teenagers…hellmouths, cryptids, and one dangerous poem. But first, random chatter.
As always, two of the three hosts are dedicated to making The Dispatchist the best possible “Sandman” fan podcast we can. So when we found ourselves distracted by a possible appearance of Morpheus’s Dreamstone in Wonder Woman 1984. In the DC film universe, it seems more likely that this particular version of the Dreamstone is something more Norse/Greek in origin. In the Sandman continuity, the Dreamstone was an artifact that contained a large portion of the power of Morpheus, the king of dreams, and is the central McGuffin in what has to be a contender for darkest single-issue comic ever: Sandman #6, “24 Hours.” Fun bonus content: there was a very impressive fan film based on “24 Hours,” called “24 Hour Diner.” It’s very true to the original and quite impressive for a fan product! (Trailer, full film)
A few video games caught our eye this week…If you’re a fan of cute, infernal 2 on 2 team play games, this is likely to be your best pick for 2021. It may in fact be a genre-defining game for you. This isn’t saying much. Basic plot seems to be “hell became overpopulated so the leadership turned to media-driven entertainment to deal with several problems at once. Trailer here, January 2021 release!
So far as Shin Megami Tensei Liberation Dx2, Jacob thinks he looked upon the full, NSFW glory of Tyrant Mara a little too soon. The franchise is definitely for mature audiences, but it’s a bit more than fighting sex demons, and has been around since 86 or so in different forms, with at least one anime movie. The Liberation Dx2 is a fighting monster game for portables, but most of the rest of the series seems to be Japanese style RPGs. The range of demons, gods, mythicals, and so on in the series is truly vast (and includes YHVH, Metatron, AND Demiurge, so that should cover your creator-of-all bases). We don’t have time for a deep dive into this strange world (yet?) but I definitely didn’t get a full sense of how much and how wide when I took a peek at it… – Jacob
Celebrating the morphing and sanguine nature of the urban legend, Victoria recommends a bloody mary…or three, in a dark room. In particular, she likes the zesty and chunky “Angry Red Planet” (with thanks to Unique Culinary Adventures). While it may be true that no one truly knows the origin of the Bloody Mary, it sounds like it originated as a Jazz Age combination of vodka and tomato juice in New York, and was refined into its current form in the 30s-40s (see Difford’s Guide on history and methods). My favorite “sounds fake but good story” is that a Chicago bartender named the drink the “bucket of blood,” after the color of the wastewater of mopping his floor, but it later became the Bloody Mary named after one of his waitresses. Satisfying, so probably false. Enjoy yours with egg yolk crackers for a synesthetic breakfast treat!
Kola Penisula Hole to Hell
This particular net.legend really was the inspiration for this episode, and it has a complicated history. There really IS 7.5-mile deep hole in Russia, the Kola Superdeep Borehole, dug from 1970-1992. Because of a number of factors (temperatures of 356 °F instead of 212 °F, a change in texture that made drilling much harder, and the collapse of the Soviet Union), drilling stopped in 1992 and the project ended.
Of course this wasn’t the end of the story. Around 1989 the stories of The Well to Hell began to circulate: the drill broke into an underground cavity, the temperature rose to 2,000 °F, and before the microphone melted, scientists heard the screaming of the damned. In some versions, gas poured out of the borehole, an apparition of a huge demon appeared, and the government wiped everyone’s memories of the event with some kind of mind-blanking sedative. Classic! The story broke in America on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, but other voices in Christian media debunked it. The story came and went and came and went again (Jacob read it in the Weekly World News, with the serial number filed off, in 1992 and again in 2008)
But the surge that carried the legend forward into its current form and current life was from Art Bell’s middle-of-the-night conspiracy and weirdness show, “Coast to Coast AM.” Bell may or may not have believed the weirdness presented by his guests, but gave them a platform and created a surreal “well, maybe?” theater. In 2002 a listener sent in a sample of the sounds of hell, allegedly from his uncle in Siberia. The entire story has been debunked a great many times (with thanks to the Skeptoid Podcast for much of the history here). But is factual accuracy the point?
Core sample fangirl callout from Victoria for “Going Deep with David Rees.” In this case the “going deep” is about making deep dives into very narrow topics, like “how to make toast” and “how to dig a hole.” “How to Make an Ice Cube” features an ice core from 16,000 years ago and 1400 meters deep. But I didn’t listen through it to see if this is the one with the “core ice tastes like ghosts” quote. I hope so.
You may just want to skip over to Kowabana and listen to Tara Devlin’s minipodcast about “Tomino’s Hell.” The show notes contain the poem itself and go into much more detail than we could…and for a short-and-simple urban legend, it seems to cover all the bases. The poem, “Tomino’s Hell,” was written in 1919 by Saijou Yaso in his collection, “Sakin.” In large part it seems to be an allegorical journey through hell, though what, exactly, it’s allegorizing is an open question…likely war, possibly an internal family struggle. The Tomino legend began to begin in 1974 in the Shuji Teryama film “Pastoral: To Die in the Country,” which took inspiration from “Tomino’s Hell.” The director did indeed die later, but solidly nine years later. 47 is a bit young, but hardly “cursed by a curse” young.
The “legend” bit sprouts up around 2004, when author/film historian Inuhiko Yomota describes the curse of Tomino’s Hell, “read it and suffer a terrible fate.” He may or may not have been taking a page from the “Ring” series (1998, English 2002, book 1991), it seems like the same sort of horror. It seems like this snowballed and became the Tomino’s Hell legend.
Victoria mentions the curse of The Exorcist, which was adjacent to something like nine deaths, a few injuries (relatives of the crew as well as crew), a fire on the set (followed by a breakdown of the fire prevention sprinklers), Pazuzu’s statue being temporarily lost in shipment, strange film ghosts…and one of the best bits, a Jesuit priest was called in to bless the production to help things move, which seemed to work, but the nearby Jesuit offices caught fire.
Jacob’s only allowing one cryptid for this string of episodes, and Jamin wants to spend it on the Jersey Devil, a flying, wyvern-like goat thing that’s been sighted on again off again since the 1700s. So far as “devils” go, this one seems pretty benign, it’s stolen some livestock and may have crashed into a trolley car, but otherwise hasn’t done much to make the news besides show up and be photographed (recently in this spectacularly bad “sighting” covered by ABC in 2015…)
Toad Road and the Hellam Hellmouth
There is…a lot of material on the Seven Gates of Hell in York County, Pennsylvania. The area is vaguely near the Hellam township, which of course makes it a prime target for hell-related legendry. In brief, there was either a nasty murder or fire in a mental asylum. The first of the seven gates of hell is just off Trout Run Road. People crossing through the gate may be able to find six more gates (particularly at night), and travelling through all seven will send you to hell. Or something along those lines. Hellam Township would like you to please stop trespassing, thanks.
There’s a great exploration of the story in three (four?) parts by Jim McClure, writing for the York Daily Record. (prelude, part 1, part 2, part 3). The series talks about the “toad road” gargoyles, the asylum (or lack thereof), and some related stories–including the movie “Toad Road.” While these posts aren’t much fun for people who want to believe in the supernatural, they do have a lot of details about the variations on this story, and are a good read.
Jacob: I did see the “Toad Road” movie, which was challenging for me, drugs are kind of a trigger for me and the movie was very solidly a film that began in drug culture and focused on drugs as a search for enlightenment. It’s not a horror film, although it seems like that’s how it’s been marketed, but more of a mental breakdown/psychodrama. It uses the idea of “seven gates” to suggest both a path to enlightenment and a descent into hell, with some ambiguity as to which is which (although the movie seems to come down on the “hell” side.) It’s experimental, unusual, and feels very real…since it’s only somewhat scripted and the actors in most cases are playing themselves, in a sense it is.
We should at some point do more about the connection of seven and hell. This one goes way back: in Mesopotamia, Inanna/Ishtaar passed through seven gateways to hell, and a number of urban legends picked this motif up. There are seven deadly sins (and seven layers of heaven), seven fires of hell in Islam (as well as seven doors to both heaven AND hell), seven hells in Jain mysticism…though in many cases it’s really 8 or 9 “rounded down” (you have to leave off acedia and vainglory to get to seven deadly sins, for instance.) This isn’t anything new, it’s just mildly interesting.
Jacob: I feel like I’ve talked about this one before, but maybe in some other non-podcast context…the Ao andon, or Blue Lantern Ghost, is sort of the spirit of the ghost story. It was the final prize of the game, “Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai” (“A gathering of 100 supernatural tales”)…the idea was that 99 candles were lit at night, possibly around a mirror, and players would take turns telling their best spooky stories, and extinguishing candles. The room grew darker and the stories fed upon the building mood of fear. When the hundredth candle was snuffed, the ao andon herself would appear, and, I don’t know, slaughter everyone playing. So it was a good idea to stop playing at 99 candles, if you got that far!
Jacob again…this episode is more heteronormative than usual! So if you’re desperately trying to match these show notes up to the episode (poor you), I’m going to add these two pictures which have been associated with the Pope Lick Monster now, even though he appears later in the episode. You don’t have to have your best girl with you in the pickup when the local cryptids are this hot. (though I think someone just recycled pictures from a web page on satyrs.)
More about the San Antonio haunted railroad tracks and games you can play with baby powder here. San Antonio has one of Texas’s great and bloody battles in it and is arguably the most haunted place in Texas, if you’re into ghost stories.
Wrapping up the York Hellgates with a brief aside on the Collinsville, Illinois gates to hell, which just seemed too similar to warrant a full discussion. The urban legend is some 40 years old, and is specifically one about driving the roads at night to find these gates. If you go through them in order, by midnight, and possibly in reverse (?), you can take a nice visit to hell. Some of the gates have their own unique stories (a suicide, satanic rituals, fatal acid trips.) Nice walk-through video here, but during the day…there are a few road trip videos through the gates at night, but predictably, the quality of the video is kind of murky…