NYC Urban Legends That’ll Keep You Up at Night

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Here are five NYC urban legends that will get you into the spooky season spirit.

The Legend of Cropsey

Beware, kiddos: if you don’t behave, you’ll be taken to Staten Island. Staten Islanders have long told tales of Cropsey, a bogeyman with a hook for a hand who kidnaps badly behaved children and takes them into the tunnels under the abandoned Seaview Hospital. The legend of Cropsey, concocted in the 1970s, was your typical creepy campfire story until 1987, when a Staten Island man was convicted of kidnapping and murdering a young child. That same man also had a long rap sheet of committing other crimes involving children and may be connected to other disappearances. Fortunately, this real-life Cropsey will remain in prison at least until 2037, if the bastard lives that long. To learn more about this Staten Island legend and the disturbing person who brought it to life, watch the Cropsey documentary by Staten Islanders Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio.

The Alligators in the Sewer Legend

Of all the NYC urban legends, the alligators in the sewer legend sounds the most made-up. But what if I told you that there is a bonafide report of an alligator being found in the city’s sewers? Back in February 1935, the New York Times reported that a few boys were shoveling snow into a manhole in East Harlem when they realized that an honest-to-God alligator was in the sewer beneath them. So logically, they got some rope, pulled the alligator out of the sewer, and… beat it to death. There are photos of this sewer alligator, and the New York Times report noted that there were neighborhood witnesses, leading us to believe that this scaly tale is true. There have even been several more alligator sightings in the city since then, with the most recent alligator sighting being in Manhattan in 2015. But do individual alligators sightings mean that there’s a whole colony of alligators wading in the toxic waters of our sewers? Probably not. The viability of such a colony thriving under those conditions is low. So what explains these reptilian run-ins? According to the New York Times, it was common to find ads in the paper advertising baby alligators for sale in the early 1900s and several people would sneak baby alligators the back to their homes in New York after vacationing in Florida, but when the reptiles inevitably got too big and unruly, people would release them into the sewers or into parks. It wouldn’t surprise me if our modern alligator sightings were the results of the same thing.

Hell Gate NYC urban legends

The Hell Gate Treasure Legend

Everyone knows about the treasure supposedly buried on Liberty Island, but did you know that there’s also treasure to be found in the East River, specifically at a spot in the river called Hell Gate? The aptly named Hell Gate is tidal strait where currents from the East River, the Harlem River, Long Island Sound, and New York Harbor all meet, creating treacherous, dare I say hellish, conditions for boats passing through. Historically, the water was so rough here that by the 1850s, one in 50 boats that went through Hell Gate were either damaged or sunk, and an average of 1,000 boats ran aground here each year. One of the ships that met its demise at Hell Gate was the HMS Hussar, a British Royal Navy ship that was purportedly carrying 960,000 pounds of gold when it crashed into one of the boulders in the water in 1780 and sank to the bottom of the river. The British did a search mission to recover any items from the shipwreck, but they denied that any gold was on board the ship at the time of the crash. Still, the rumor of riches at the bottom of the river lived on, with multiple attempts being made to find the legendary gold even as recent as 1985. Even if there was ever gold, it seems futile to search for it now, as in the late 1800s, the US army corps of engineers used 25 tons of explosives to blow Hell Gate’s rocks, reefs, and treasure to smithereens.

The Legend of the Staten Island Ferry Octopus Disaster 

In the early hours of the morning of November 22, 1963, every Staten Island ferry rider’s worst nightmare occurred: as the ferry was crossing New York Harbor, it was pulled underwater by a giant octopus, never to be seen again. The Staten Island Ferry Disaster Memorial Museum is the only tribute we have to this tragedy that never happened. Yeah, you read that correctly. The Staten Island ferry disaster, its monument, its website, and its museum is a hilarious elaborate hoax cooked up by Joseph Reginella, an artist and Staten Island resident. The next time you need a good April Fools’ prank, tell your friends that you’re going to take them to see the Staten Island Ferry Disaster Museum. It’s really just a comic book store located at 156 Stuyvesant Place with a very real monument to this very fake tragedy. 

City Hall NYC urban legends

The NYC Mayor Legend

Who would have thought that mayor of New York would be a dead-end job? People say that there’s a curse on hizzoner, as not a single person who has held this office in the past 100 years has been elected for a higher government position after being the city’s top executive. Former mayors have been denied roles as senators, Congress reps, and president. They can’t even win at becoming New York State governor. According to an article from NBC News, the last NYC mayor to become a governor was John T. Hoffman, who became New York state’s governor in 1869, and the last NYC mayor to make it into an elected federal role was Ardolph Loges Kline, who had a short run as mayor in 1913 and was able to snag a role as a congressman representing Brooklyn in 1921.

What are your favorite NYC urban legends? Share them in the comment section.

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One response to “NYC Urban Legends That’ll Keep You Up at Night”

  1. O T La Mothe Avatar
    O T La Mothe

    I am ashamed to say that although I have lived in New York for a very long time that I know very little regarding the legends mentioned in this blog. Once again thank you. This is most interesting

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