In 1898, Brooklyn became the fifth borough to join the City of New York, and those past 119 years the Big Apple has evolved into not only the most populated city in the United States but also the financial and cultural epicenter of the entire planet. And yes, it may no longer be the same New York it once was (see the 1990 version of the Ninja Turtles for reference), but if you look past the privileged hipsters of Williamsburg, the briefcase-hauling yuppies of Manhattan, and the stuffy one percenters of the Upper East Side and you’ll find a history richer than any Park Avenue penthouse inhabitant.
It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get our real life version of Gotham to where it is now, and the journey has been filled to the brim with what (if you’re a skeptic) you could call “urban legends” or (if you’re a bit more open minded) you could call “possible truths.” As the famous journalist, Jimmy Breslin, used to say, “There are six million stories in the naked city…” and if you have just a few minutes, I’d very much like to share a few of the craziest. Here are 15 terrifying legends about New York City:
15. There Are Mole People Living Under the City
If you haven’t heard the tales surrounding New York City’s infamous underground dwellers, then you’re not up on your big city folklore because this one just scratches the surface (pun most certainly intended) of how weird this list gets. Supposedly, after the city shut down several of its subway tunnels in the 1950’s the growing homeless population saw it as an opportunity to make a new home… right beneath your feet. Rumor has it the inhabitants of the dark and dingy tunnels have created their very own society and culture, living underground 365 days of the year, surviving on rat meat, and have even separated into rival tribes. While some of these claims may very well be fabricated, there have been dozens of confirmed sightings of homeless men and women living in abandoned tunnels in almost every major American city, some even reportedly having electricity via illegal hookups. So, if the world turns its back on you, don’t think there’s no place to go. There’s a whole new life waiting for you beneath the pavement. Unless you like being tan, if that’s the case I advise you to sort out whatever it is you need to sort out in order to stay above ground.
14. The Sewers Are Filled With Alligators
Another one of the more famous legends surrounding the city is that of the New York sewer system being chock full of full-grown, blood-thirsty alligators. Our story begins in the early 1900s when rich parents supposedly would return from their Florida vacations with baby alligators as pets for their youngsters. Only problem was none of these geniuses expected the animals to grow so much so quickly and flushed the baby gators down the toilet before they developed into man-eating beasts resulting in colonies of alligators thriving in the New York City sewers for almost a century. Now, according to scientists, the frigid north-eastern winters are too much for cold-blooded reptiles, but what the hell do they know, right? Sightings of sewer gators have been reported for years, most famously in 1935 when two East Harlem teenagers claimed to spot a gator poking its snout out of a manhole. Still, there has never been any hard evidence to prove alligators reside below the city streets. However, officials have confirmed there are many snapping turtles living in the sewer system, but due to their lack of mutation, karate skills, and love of pizza, no one seems to care very much. But if you are a believer of sewage-swimming New York alligators and need some sort of evidence to throw in the face of skeptics, I’m happy to leave you with this little factoid – Parisian sewer workers found a Nile alligator living happily beneath the Pont Neuf Bridge in 1984, so it is possible.
13. Cropsey Is The Boogeyman And He WILL Find You
Nobody knows where the term “Cropsey” originated, but we do know it’s been a part of New York City’s vernacular for decades. It most likely started out as a stand-in term for any violent crime, but more often than not it’s a term used by parents to freak out their misbehaving children – “Be good or Cropsey will come and get you!” Problem was, Cropsey ended up being real, or so they say. That’s where Andre Rand (pictured above with the blankest stare ever to be stared) comes into the story. From the years 1972 to 1987 Rand was allegedly responsible for the disappearance of five children in Staten Island. He was convicted of the last one and is now serving 25 years to life in prison. Some people believe Rand was a Satanist, and used the children as sacrifice to his underworld god, others believe Rand was delivering the children to the groups of homeless and mentally disabled that lived in the abandoned tunnels of his former workplace, a school for the mentally challenged, a bold rumor that gives mole people an even more terrifying persona.
12. Cursed Penthouse
In 1927, Charles Brazelle and Edna Crawford purchased the penthouse at 57 West 57th Street in New York City… an investment that would prove to be the high point of their relationship because it went south pretty quick after that. The two were famous for their shouting fits that would last throughout the night, that is until Brazelle began holding Crawford hostage in the penthouse and eventually beat her to death with a telephone. The racket got the attention of Crawford’s bodyguards who then stormed into the room and tossed Brazelle out of the window. Subsequently, the apartment remained empty for quite some time, but it wasn’t until the following owner, Carlton Alsop, that the term “cursed” can really get brought up. Alsop claimed to hear Edna’s heels clicking up and down the halls at night as well as echoes of the couple’s violent arguments reverberating off of the walls. Shortly after moving in, Alsop’s wife split and his dogs had nervous breakdowns. Eventually, Alsop couldn’t handle the insanity any longer and had himself committed to the nuthouse.
11. Souls Of The Dead Crossing Hell Gate Bridge
This little bridge already had the creepiest name the county could think of so why not strap some folklore to it as well? Constructed in the early 1900s to link the Pennsylvania Railroad with the New Haven Railroad, the bridge crosses over a straight of the East River known as “hell gate” an appropriate name because, according to legend, if you stand on the tracks at night you’ll see the lights of a train speeding toward you until they mysteriously vanish just before they collide with your mortal body. Spooky, right? Well, it pales in comparison to what others claim to have seen. Apparently, if you look towards the bridge at the right moment, some nights you can actually see a rickety old train carrying the souls of the damned who lost their lives in the black water below. It chugs along the tracks until it passes into hell, not to be seen again until it makes its next journey. Yeah, now THAT IS a ghost story.
10. There Are Giant, Mutant Rats Thriving in the Sewers
Supposedly, there are more than 8 million worm-tailed little sewer dwellers rummaging through the trash of the city as is, making New York City the most rat infested place on the planet. To make matters worse, the rodents have evolved into giant beasts that make a typical sized rat look like one of those cute, fuzzy caterpillars. No, we’re not talking about Master Splinter here (that’s my third Ninja Turtle reference so far). People who have claimed to lay witness to such monstrosities say the rats can get up to 3-feet-high and live in colonies beneath the sewers, most likely, if you ask me, planning their takeover of first, New York City, and next – the world. The enormous rat pictured above, however, was not found in New York City but rather London, but it’s precisely what we’re talking about here, and if a rat the size of a small child can survive there, why not here in the states?
9. There Was A Time Traveler Spotted In Times Square
Ready for this one? Here it goes… back in 1950, a man dressed in 19th-century clothing appeared in Times Square out of thin air. According to witnesses, the man looked confused at first, then terrified as he took off on foot only to be nailed by a cab a few feet later. The collision killed him, and when police rifled through his pockets for identification they found 19th-century money and business cards with the name, Rudolph Fentz, written on them. If you thought that part was really strange then this part is going to be really, really strange – the police could only find record of one “Fentz” in the city and it wasn’t for Rudolph but rather for the widow of Rudolph Fentz Jr. The woman told the authorities her father-in-law went missing back in 1876 and no one had ever heard from him since. Was this mysterious dead man actually an accidental time traveler from the late 1800s? For the sake of this article and also for fun… yes… yes he was.
8. Ghost Ships In The Hudson
Before Sully was emergency Airbus A320 on the waters of the Hudson River, it was known for much more than being a makeshift runway. For instance, it was a major route for fur traders in the 1700s, it was nicknamed “America’s Rhine” due to its beauty rivaling Germany’s Rhine River, and it’s a frequent hangout for spooky ghost ship apparition to float on by. Legend has it that if you’re looking out onto the Hudson River on certain moonlit evenings you can see a mysterious old ship off in the distance. The story dates all the way back to when New York was still New Amsterdam and people on shore would still try to communicate with the anonymous ship, but of course, you can only get so close to a ghost ship before it vanishes. People believe the ship is manned by A: a crew of wart-covered hell goblins, or B: Henry Hudson (one being far more creative than the other). Regardless of who is raising the sails, a sighting of the ship always means one thing – nasty weather. Every time the ghost ship sails into the Hudson a nasty storm follows.
7. David Belasco’s Ghost Loves A Night At The Theater
The Belasco opened its doors in 1907 in Manhattan with murals by Everett Shinn on the walls and Tiffany glass in the windows. It was immediately an epicenter for New York City theater and theater types. Mostly due to its massive apartment built atop for the famed director/playwright/owner himself, David Belasco. But when Belasco died in 1931 the living space went to the highest bidder, or so they thought. Some say Belasco never left. Visitors claim to have heard eerie music being played. The theater itself isn’t safe either, apparently. Audience members say they see a shadowy figure hovering over the stage during live performances. Quietly watching from the best seat in the house and judging the performance of his actors from beyond the grave. Talk about melodramatic.
6. The Torturer Of Hell Gate
Want to hear something absolutely terrifying? Apparently, in the early 1900s there was a cautionary tale often told to people residing near Hell Gate Bridge. The story involved a man who wandered the bridge at night looking for little children, and if he was lucky enough to find one alone, he would lure the child back to a secret room he had somehow built into the foundation of the bridge itself. What happens in that room is never really described, but we know it may have involved torture or r*pe. Neither sound very appealing if you ask me. Supposedly, this myth, although thought to be true for many years, was eventually debunked after all, and thank god, because if a serial r*pist who’s whereabouts were publicly known went unchecked by the police for years, I don’t think anyone would have much faith in the law, now would they?
5. There Are Forgotten Tunnels Beneath The City
So far we’ve covered the likelihood of people living in abandoned subway tunnels and mutated rats and alligators colonizing the sewers, but we haven’t discussed the tunnels that were built for actual human usage. Supposedly, in the first half of the 20th-century, butchers were having trouble getting around the horrible traffic of the Meatpacking District and decided to build of series of underground tunnels to move cattle through. But since the industrial revolution pushed everything forward so quickly, the tunnels were only used for a few short years before being forgotten beneath the city. After some digging, it was in fact found (as seen in the blueprints above) that tunnels to [possibly] move cattle were built in the early 1930s beneath Twelfth Avenue, however, nobody knows if the tunnels still exist today or who may be using them if they are. No entrances can be found, so as for now this legend will remain buried.
4. Ghosts Frequently Go Ice Skating In Central Park
Autumn in New York really is something to see. Winter in New York can be beautiful too, but only before the snow turns brown and gets all slushy. Two women who can appreciate the tranquillity of the seasons changing would have been Janet and Rosetta Van Der Voort. The two sisters were raised in the city by their overprotective, wealthy father. He wouldn’t let them out of his sight without being accompanied by one of his associates. As a result, the sisters became dependent on each other, never married, and when one of them finally kicked the bucket in 1880, the other followed just a few months later. However, it seems like the sisters miss winter time in the city too much to cross over to the other side just yet. The pair have frequently been spotted throughout the years at various ponds in the park dressed in their Victorian best gliding across the water even when it’s not frozen.
3. There’s Buried Treasure Under The Statue Of Liberty
Looks like we finally have that plot for National Treasure 3! The story goes something like this: well before the French gifted us the glorious metal structure we all know now as a symbol of our freedom, Liberty Island is said to be the burial spot of Captain Kidd’s (a Scottish sailor and pirate who was famously hanged in 1701) treasure. But before you go hunting for an “X” you should know the supposed treasure doesn’t lay there unguarded. Two soldiers went looking for the buried treasure while they were stationed on the island some time in the 1700s. Rumor has it the two ended up finding the chest of bobbles, but were met by a small horned demon that rendered them unconscious before swiping the treasure away from them. And that’s where the treasure stayed, even when the Statue of Liberty was built in 1886, and many believe it’s still there to this day.
2. Engine Trouble Caused by the Empire State Building
People call it a “Bermuda car triangle” and the name is more than appropriate because for a five-block radius surrounding the Empire State Building, parked vehicles mysteriously just stop running. Reports have said the lights work, the horn works, the radio works, but they just refuse to start up. Could be anything, right? Well, Isaac Leviev, manager of Citywide Towing had this to say about the broken down cars: “We get about 10 to 15 cars stuck near there every day. You pull the car four or five blocks to the west or east and the car starts right up.” That’s the really strange part, once the cars are away from the E.S.B. they work just fine and nobody can explain it. We do know that RCA built some sort of experimental antenna back in the 1930s and refuse to disclose exactly what it does. And since 9/11 the E.S.B. has been the main broadcaster of radio and television in the city, so maybe it’s all those waves pouring out of the building that stop cars, or maybe it’s just bad luck, but either way these occurrences are very odd.
1. Being In The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time Can Get Your Head Chopped Off For 1 Cent
One of the most well-known legends about New York City and its most famous cloud touching skyscraper is also its most disputed. According to lore (and most seventh graders) if you drop a penny from the top of the Empire State Building, it will build up enough speed to slice through the skull of any unfortunate pedestrian that might be passing by on the sidewalk below. While this would actually be true if it wasn’t for other factors, pennies are too light in weight to travel straight down to the streets below without getting blown back against the building by the wind. The wind is so powerful, it’s even saved the lives of suicidal jumpers. In 1979, Elvita Adams jumped off the 86th floor observation deck only to have the wind blow her back through an 85th floor window. Freak accident you say? Well, the exact same thing happened again in 2013, so chew on that.
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