Paranormal stories about New York City’s Hell Gate abound, from stories about a serial killer living inside the Hell Gate Bridge, to a tale of an encounter with the devil and a possible EVP that Chris just found in a recording from April.

Many of the stories of the Hell Gate center around the grand Hell Gate Bridge, so this episode dives into the bridge’s history, as well as accounts of people sneaking up onto the bridge and exploring it. The episode closes out with a recording that Chris did on the shore alongside the Hell Gate back in April 2020, which Chris thought was just a normal recording, but which maybe actually contains a couple somewhat terrifying EVPs? (Listen to the end for that.)

Highlights include:
• The best place to hide from zombies in NYC
• Other Hell Gates
• The Nazi plot to destroy the Hell Gate bridge
• A funny flaw in the Hell Gate’s paint job

Note: This episode includes brief mentions of suicide.

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Pictures of the Hell Gate Bridge

The Hell Gate Bridge, April 2020

Beneath the Hell Gate Bridge, April 2020

The Hell Gate Bridge, April 2020

The Triboro Bridge (left) and Hell Gate Bridge (right)

The underside of the Hell Gate Bridge, with its red lights, April 2020

The Triboro Bridge with the Hell Gate bridge behind it, April 2020

The Hell Gate Bridge seen from Astoria Park, April 2020

Plaque commemorating the General Slocum Disaster, April 2020

Triboro Bridge seen from near the Hell Gate Bridge, April 2020

The bottom of the Hell Gate bridge

The bottom of the Hell Gate bridge, November 2020

Hell Gate mural beneath the Hell Gate bridge in Astoria Park

Hell Gate mural beneath the Hell Gate bridge in Astoria Park, November 2020

The Hell Gate, with the RFK and Hell Gate Bridge in the distance

The Hell Gate, with the RFK and Hell Gate Bridge in the distance, November 2020

The Hell Gate and Hell Gate Bridge seen from Astoria Park

The Hell Gate and Hell Gate Bridge seen from Astoria Park, November 2020

 

Episode Script for The Haunted Hell Gate, New York City

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

“At first he thought that he might be dreaming, for Hell Gate was a place of such repute that one might readily have bad dreams there, and the legends of the spot passed quickly through his mind: the skeletons that lived in the wreck . . . and looked out at passing ships with blue lights in the eye-sockets of their skulls” -Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land by Charles M. Skinner (1896)

 

  • Sidenote, while I was googling stuff like “hell gate haunted” and “hell gate ghosts,” a bunch of other hell gates came up, including haunted houses, but also a few other interesting spots:
    • One is a cemetery in south Carolina called Oakwood Cemetery that’s been nicknamed Hells Gate. It began as a potters field for prisoners who were then relocated, leading to reports of paranormal activity. But then also in 2012, a caretaker found that someone had broken into a concrete vault and pried open a casket, stealing the head of a corpse. Then, a month later, the robbers dumped the head back into the cemetery (without returning it to the casket.)
    • There’s also a cemetery in Kentucky called Kasey Cemetery, which has been nicknamed The Gates of Hell, which has the run-of-the-mill haunting stories.
    • There’s also a ghost town called Huntsville, in Alabama, which has a that has a huge mansion with a creepy, heavy black gate that people have dubbed “Hell’s Gate,” and which sits at the base of  mountain. Supposedly if you drive up to it, a phantom car chases you off and then disappears. But if you get beyond the gate, you reach an area called  “Owens Cross Roads” which apparently is very spooky, and you’ll hear screams and people running around you, etc.
    • There’s also a Hell Gate bridge in Alabama, where a young couple supposedly ran their car off the side and drowned, and there’re stories about the couple materializing in your car, or of seeing a portal to hell full of flames, if you drive across it. The bridge is now is closed to cars and in a state of disrepair.
  • Well, another Hell Gate Bridge that’s closed to cars is our own Hell Gate Bridge right here in NYC. It’s a railroad bridge that was completed in 1916.
    • It was a big deal when in 1917, a Pennsylvania Railroad train went over the bridge, carrying passengers from Washington to Boston, because that was the first time there’s been uninterrupted train travel between the cities.
    • Construction of the bridge was very dangerous, especially since the bridge is over 1,000 feet high, but no one died during the project.
    • The bridge is extremely sturdy. Around 2017, one Astoria resident, who’d been inside the bottom part of the stone pier, told the New York Times that if zombies ever attack NYC, he’s going to the Hell Gate. To quote him: “It looks like an old castle. There’s a room that is seven, eight stories high…. And the view is fantastic.”
      • It’s been said that if humans were wiped out, the other NYC bridges would all crumble within 100-300 years without maintenance, whereas the Hell Gate would last for 1,000 years.
    • The bridge is an important part of rail travel in the Northeast Corridor, but during World War II, it was important for transporting weapons too.
      • Because of that, it was a target for the Nazis–they sent in a group of saboteurs via a U-boat that landed on Long Island in the middle of the night on June 13, 1942.
      • Luckily, a member of the coast guard saw them, but he was unarmed so had to just report them to the authorities. A manhunt began, but the group of saboteurs managed to catch the last train to the city and stay in a hotel near Penn Station for the night. However, one of the group’s leaders lost his nerve and turned himself in, and the FBI arrested the rest of the group, who were all electrocuted. The man who turned himself in was sent back to Germany, but since he was a traitor, the Germans wouldn’t allow him in, so he lived on the American side of the Berlin wall for pretty much the rest of his life, and died in 1992, when he was 89.
    • Nowadays the bridge is owned by Amtrak, and contains two Amtrak tracks and one freight track.
    • The bridge was repainted for the first time in the 1990s. They chose a rich red color, called “Hell gate Red,” but a flaw in the paint caused it to fade to a sort of splotchy pinkish color. The fading started before they were even done repainting.
    • There are some additional stories about the Hell Gate that I didn’t get to last week, so let’s get into those.
      • First, I read some stuff that I haven’t been able to confirm, but which is interesting so I’m gonna repeat it: supposedly, there are stories of British soldiers during the revolutionary war tying American prisoners to rocks in the Hell Gate and so that they drowned when the tide rose. Supposedly people hear their cries to this day.
      • There have also definitely been suicides in the Hell Gate area. I’ve walked across the RFK bridge, which is next to the Hell Gate Bridge, and there are tons of signs imploring people not to jump. It’s been years since I’ve been there but I also remember there being a telephone there that you could call for help from?
        • One sidenote, though, is that since COVID started, I’ve noticed some “please don’t kill yourself” signs that have been added to the Queensboro Bridge, which connects Queens and Manhattan and runs over Roosevelt Island. That’s definitely new.
        • But at any rate, anywhere where there’s been a lot of suicides, there’ll be a lot of ghost stories.
      • Supposedly there were also a bunch of mafia body drops around the bridge.
    • So let’s get into some of the Hell Gate’s ghost stories, which mostly center around the bridge:
      • In the 1970s, there was an urban legend among teenagers about a dangerous insane man living inside one of the bridge’s towers. People said that he set up a torture chamber in there to torment the children he kidnapped. People would dare each other to climb up the hellgate bridge.
        • One thing that kind of made me think about was the Staten Island urban legend, Cropsey, which has some similarities, so if you’re interested in that type of urban legend, there’s a pretty good documentary about that called Cropsey.
        • One thing that unites both the Hell Gate Bridge legends and Cropsey is that both locations are near insane asylums. When the Hell Gate Bridge was first built, people worried that insane patients from the asylum on Ward’s Island, which the bridge connects to Queens, would escape. The idea was that they’d hide out in the towers and attack residents of Astoria. They even reworked part of the plans for the bridge to make the towers harder to climb. So you can see where the urban legend came from.
      • People say they see orbs and lights near the bridge. The story is that they’re the souls of the  many people who’ve died there.
      • Urban explorers have climbed  up onto the bridge, which is of course both dangerous and illegal since it’s an active train line.
        • I read one website (https://www.vanshnookenraggen.com/) that said that the southern arch of the bridge was built to resemble a triumphal arch, like in Rome
        • They said that you could climb up into the arches and see the city from up top, from 7-8 stories high. They said that the spiral staircase inside the arch is pitch black, has a small iron staircase, and has some large slits like arrowslits in medieval castles. They also said that the air inside the arches is extremely heavy and full of particles, and that there’s tons of dirt all over the floors.
        • I wanted to read a bit of this urban explorer’s account:
          • On our way down we happened to catch sight of a light further below in the tower. Climbing down further we discovered that the tower itself was hollow and inside were four great halls, 7 stories tall each. . . . A stairwell led down under the floor to a locked door, one which was familiar to me from my many walks around the outside of the bridge in the day. This was the easy way, the less fun way, the practical way in.
        • I’ll link to the whole account in the shownotes, it’s accompanied by pictures and I really recommend you checking it out.
        • There are also some interesting comments on the post: A commenter named George Hall also had an interesting story about climbing up onto the bridge in the 70s:
          • “Kids used to climb up into the gridwork from the stone base attached to the park and see how far the could or dared to go out over the river. A long rope was somehow involved. The river was much more intimidating then. There were severe whirlpools under the bridge; occasionally smaller recreational craft would get stuck there. “
  • I also wanted to read a comment by an Alexander P:
    • Seeing your beautiful pics of The Hell Gate Bridge brings me back to my youth as a teenager growing up in Astoria in early 80’s.My brother Nick,myself and our friend Perry used to free climb the bridge all the time.We would start at the base of the bridge on the Astoria park side.We would free climb up the
    • Angled beams that ran to the railroad tracks on top.We became so proficient at it that we would have contests to see how fast we could make it to the top. Our fastest time was 68 seconds.We would challenge ourselves all the time by using different free climbing technics.We would even free climb in the rain.We used to climb up and go down the beams on the Randills Island side.When I think back on all the adventures we had on thar bridge I’m astounded as to how fearless and athletic we where,and Insanely stupid!!! we had a few near death incidents but that never stopped us.I sometimes now have dreams about climbing the bridge again,and in my dreams I’m terrified.One of my most precious life memories is sitting in the middle of the top arch on a cloudless warm summer day and looking at the breathtaking view.I was master of all I surveyed.
  • It’s hard to find specific stories of hauntings and ghosts around Hell Gate, even though there are many more vague legends, but I wanted to read this bit from a post on the Newtown Pentacle blog, which is a really cool blog that I recommend checking out:
    • Why the Amtrak people have never sprung for a lighting system for the Hell Gate Bridge, I cannot imagine. It’s like owning a luxury car and never washing or polishing it. Might have something to do with not disturbing those battrachian things, that cannot possibly exist, which live on the bottom of the Hell Gate section of the East River. Peter Stuyvesant is rumored to have left behind a message scrawled onto a piece of yellowed parchment, which every Mayor of NYC has received on their first day in office, advising that there are things in NY Harbor which are best left alone. The Lenape knew that it is best not to delve too deep, nor stare too long into the abyssal water hereabouts, lest that which dwells below takes notice.
    • Do you honestly believe that the United States Army Corps of Engineers set off the greatest explosion in human history here back in 1885, a detonation whose force was only exceeded after the emergence of the Atomic Bomb, merely to aid navigation? . . .
    • There wasn’t much movement in the water, but I was prepared to bolt just in case. I’ve heard tell of an orthodox priest named Kiriglou that would spend his evenings along this stretch of Hells Gate back in the early 1980’s. Rumors and stories, myths and legends, that’s what the native Astorians routinely offer in return for a shot of whisky. Supposedly this Kiriglou fellow would toss some kind of charm, attached to a stout cord, into the water and mutter words described to me as a rough sort of Cretan dialect, one which the teller believed to originate in the rugged Sfakia region of that ancient island. Nobody knew if Kiriglou was associated with one of the wholesome Orthodox churches frequented by the local Hellenic community, or was some sort of heretic or ascetic. What happened to him, and what he was doing with that charm, is just another Astoria story.
  • I’d never heard this story about Peter Stuyvesant’s note, but I love it. (Peter Stuyvesant was basically the last Dutch governor of NYC back in the 1600s) I’m also not sure how many of the story I just read is made up or a joke, but still, it’s evocative and interesting and I like it.
    • The Newtown Pentacle did turn me onto a 1896 book called Myths and Legends of Our Own Land, which had some stories I hadn’t seen elsewhere
    • First, it describes Peter Stuyvesant’s encounter with the devil:
      • “Satan appears to have troubled the early settlers in America almost as grievously as he did the German students. He came in many shapes to many people, and sometimes he met his match. Did he not try to stop old Peter Stuyvesant from rowing through Hell Gate one moonlight night, and did not that tough old soldier put something at his shoulder that Satan thought must be his wooden leg? But it wasn’t a leg: it was a gun, loaded with a silver bullet that had been charged home with prayer. Peter fired and the missile whistled off to Ward’s Island, where three boys found it afterward and swapped it for double handfuls of doughnuts and bulls’ eyes. Incidentally it passed between the devil’s ribs and the fiend exploded with a yell and a smell, the latter of sulphur, to Peter’s blended satisfaction and alarm.”
  • It describes the pirate spook, a person “who used to brattle around the tavern at Corlaer’s Hook, and who tumbled into the East River while trying to lug an iron chest aboard of a suspicious craft that had stolen in to shore in a fog. This . . . Bogy was often seen riding up Hell Gate a-straddle of that very chest, snapping his fingers at the stars and roaring Bacchanalian odes, just as skipper Onderdonk’s boatswain, who had been buried at sea without prayers, chased the ship for days, sitting on the waves, with his shroud for a sail, and shoving hills of water after the vessel with the plash of his hands.”
  • The most famous haunted story about hell Gate is this: Supposedly, if you hear a train stop on the bridge in the middle of the night, that means it’s letting out the ghosts of the people who drowned in the Hell Gate. Some people say it’s not a real train, but a ghost train.
  • Y’all know that I’m both very interested in but sceptical of urban legends. I think that vague urban legends are interesting because they hint at what people are anxious about or scared of, but I don’t think they hold much water in terms of likelihood of being real. For me, the more detailed and specific an urban legend or haunting story is, the more likely I am to think there could be something there.
    • So let’s talk about trains stopping in the middle of the night. I used to live in a weird part of Queens that was sort of a dead zone between the neighborhoods of Astoria, Woodside, East Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights. And my apartment happened to be smack-dab between two train lines:
      • The Amtrak ran right outside my bedroom window, so close that I had people tell me they saw me sitting at my desk. In fact, when we came back from Salem earlier this year, I was able to see into my old bedroom window and saw that the current tenant still has the ikea curtains I bought back in 2012.
      • Then, on the other side of the apartment, at the front of the house, you could see the highway, which I guess would have been the BQE, and another set of train tracks. This carried the freight train, or as I called it, the “trash train” because it often seemed like the cars were full of trash.
      • So you could go to bed to the sound of the passenger train, and then get up an eat breakfast and watch the trash train go by.
      • For the record, it was a huge, beautiful apartment–it was a 3-br, 2-bath with a dishwasher and balcony and my roommates and I had a whole floor, and our rent was really low.
      • But the reason why I bring this up is I can confirm two things, because since I used to sleep literally right next to the amtrak tracks: first, trains don’t really run late at night. Usually, if noise from the tracks woke me up at night, it was just construction workers fixing up the rails. And second, when trains do run, it wasn’t that unusual for the train to just sit for a while on the tracks. I wasn’t at a stop or anything; I was on basically the straightaway where the trains speed by between the suburbs of the city and the final stop in Manhattan. But it really was common for me to look out the window and just see a train full of passengers waiting on the tracks, I assume because of train traffic or delays at Penn Station. So I assume the same thing may happen on the Hell Gate Bridge when there’s traffic down the line.
      • So while I think the idea of the train stopping to let ghosts out on the bridge is very capital-R Romantic, I can say that it’s not strange at all that trains might stop on the bridge for a while. Though it is true that it’s not super common for trains to run late at night.
    • And finally, I will say that I’ve been to Astoria Park alone at night and it’s definitely creepy. I ventured there during the early days of the pandemic, on a rainy Friday night in April maybe, and it was pretty much empty and it was super creepy.
      • I actually did a recording of that trip to the part, so I’ll play us out on that audio–I’ll play three clips from that night where you can hear me getting really freaked out on the recording, after talking about some of the disasters that happened there, and then one where you can hear the waves, and one where you can hear the waves breaking on a beach of broken glass (put in audio for that)

Sources consulted RE: The Haunted Hell Gate

For more sources consulted, check out The General Slocum Disaster, Hell Gate, New York City.

Websites consulted RE: The Haunted Hell Gate

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