Seven Gates of Hell in Hellam Township, Pennsylvania
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Legend has it that the entrance to Hell lies somewhere in Pennsylvania, near the banks of the Susquehanna River. Precisely where that entrance might be, though, no one really knows.
Oh, wait. There it is.
If anyone from That Book Club is reading this, you may recognize "Susquehanna," and you won't want to miss the first bullet point of the Relevant & Related section at the bottom. You know who you are.
The Legend(s) of the Seven Gates of Hell
On the outskirts of Hellam Township, there used to be an old asylum off a place called Toad Road. The asylum was built in a rural area to separate its patients from the rest of the world. At some point, a fire broke out in the asylum, and because it was so far out of town, the entire place burned to the ground, with many of the patients still inside. A search party went out to locate the patients who escaped the fire. The search party erected seven gates in the area and used them to trap the patients, who the search party then beat to death.
I did say "search" party, not "search and rescue."
Also, the asylum may never have existed. Instead, maybe it was an eccentric doctor who owned property off Toad Road and put up seven fences along a mysterious path that led deep into the forest.
An asylum that burned to the ground and a search party out for blood? An eccentric doctor who put up gates on a hiking trail? They're both essentially the same thing. I don't know about you, but if I saw one or another of those sitting at a restaurant, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference.
Anyway, the seven gates LEAD STRAIGHT TO HELL! (But only if you go through all seven of them.)
The tricky thing about these gates is that only the first of the seven can be seen during the day. Not only that, but no one has ever made it past the fifth gate. (Please ignore the fact that if no one has made it past gate five, then, logically, no one should know that there are seven in total.)
At this point, you may be wondering what exactly a gate straight to Hell looks like. I've linked to photos and videos down below so you can see the first gate for yourself, but, I must warn you, it is quite shocking. To save your eyeballs from liquefying and oozing out onto your lap, I'll show you a very similar gate that isn't one of the seven gates in Hellam Township that leads straight to Hell.
The truth is, not much is known about the Seven Gates of Hell—aside from that, there are obscure, unverifiable legends surrounding it and a few purported photos/videos showing the first gate. It is one hell of a legend, though, right? Stories like this always make me want to take a trip and see if I can find out for myself.
If you're thinking about booking a plane ticket or grabbing the keys to your car right now—not so fast.
Hellam Township's Official Stance on the Seven Gates of Hell
Usually, with urban legends, local officials take no stance and make no comments. But Hellam Township vehemently denies anything involving the Seven Gates of Hell exists. The Hellam Township website even has an official page denying it all. However, they do say that the "area in question is a wooded area off Trout Run Road in the northwestern part of the Township" and "this area is private property. Trespassers will be prosecuted."
Just as there seems to be no truth to the rumors about the "Seven Gates of Hell" (no asylum ever existed there, and the local doctor had only one gate and that was to keep out trespassers), there is also no truth to the story that Hellam Township was named for 'hell'! The fact is that our Township's name is a corruption of the name 'Hallam', named for Hallam, England.
— Seven Gates of Hell - Hellam Township website
"a corruption of the name 'Hallam'"?
That's an interesting choice of words. While it is technically correct, when "corruption" is paired with the idea of Hell, the word assumes a bit of an evil nuance it might otherwise not have.
In fact, Toad Road did exist until 1972, when Hurricane Agnes destroyed it. And there was a doctor who lived right where the legend says, named Harold Belknap, who worked at a West Side Sanitarium—a twenty-minute drive from old Toad Road. The sanitarium building still exists; it never burned down. But, there are ruins of an old flint mill in the woods around old Toad Road. A few stories from locals say that the doctor put up gargoyles with toad features in the area and on the gate to his property and left threatening signs to potential trespassers.
So, what does all this mean? Is this just a collection of coincidences that resulted in urban legend, and there isn't an entrance (or exit?) to Hell in Pennsylvania?
Who the hell knows?
Since I don't have immediate plans to hop on a plane and risk prosecution for trespassing, I took a very scientific approach to confirm that Hellam Township has an actual entrance to Hell: I ran a bunch of phrases through a numerology calculator. After an unspecified (but long) period of time, I stumbled across irrefutable proof that this legend is, in fact, 100% true. I don't mean to shock you, but you may want to sit down for this, and if you're already sitting, you may want to lie down. If you're already lying down, you should dig your fingers into whatever you can get ahold of because your entire perception of reality, truth, and legend is about to implode.
If you run the phrase "Hellam Township Pennsylvania United States of America" through a numerology calculator, you get the number 6. #facts
I've never been to Hellam Township, and I've never looked for the Seven Gates of Hell. But, having grown up in a rural part of the US, I can tell you two things with absolute certainty: 1) there's some strange stuff out there in the country, especially in the woods—so you never know; maybe the Seven Gates of Hell exist and are exactly as the legends say and 2) if you go exploring private property to find them, you might get shot for trespassing.
Relevant & Related
- A book about the Susquehanna Santa, Harry's Trees by Jon Cohen, is set in the nearby Endless Mountains. You know, Santa is an anagram of Satan. 🧐 I bet you think I'm crazy, right? Santa wears red. Satan is red. Both Satan and Santa have pointy-eared minions. Santa is "Saint Nick." Satan is also known as "Old Nick." Some Catholics celebrate Christmas by eating a Christmas communion wafer. By way of a corruption of that tradition, Santa demands a cookie. Don't even get me started on the symbolism of chimneys. Interested in reading more? Check out The vast Satanic Conspiracy.
- Take a trip with author Timothy Renner around Pennsylvania in the book Beyond the Seventh Gate: Exploring Toad Road, the Seven Gates of Hell, and Other Strangeness in York, Lancaster, and Adams Counties.
- When we're looking at states in America, there's probably a Weird Travel Guide. Pennsylvania is no exception with Weird Pennsylvania: Your Travel Guide to Pennsylvania's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets by Matt Lake.
- The book fun doesn't stop there because Mark Nesbitt published the Big Book of Pennsylvania Ghost Stories in 2008.
- Want to see more photos of the Seven Gates of Hell? Here's a great photo album on Flickr of the first gate.
- An indie horror thriller, Toad Road, is about the legend of the Seven Gates of Hell in Hellam Township. Check out the trailer here, and the entire film is available for free on YouTube at Toad Road | AWARD WINNING | Horror | Scary Movie on YouTube | Full Length. The film has heavy drug use, and the two main characters drop some acid (LSD) and go hunting for the Seven Gates of Hell. I won't spoil any more of the movie. The lead actress, Sara Anne Jones, died of a heroin overdose shortly after the film premiered, and there are some intriguing parallels between the story in the movie and the actress's real life.
- York County, Pennsylvania, isn't the only place with gates to Hell. There's another supposed set of gates over in Uniontown, and even farther than that are the Seven Gates of Hell in Collinsville, Illinois. Who knows how many Seven Gates of Hell are out there, just waiting for us to travel into accidentally?