Part of the USA Today Network

Insane-Asylum fire in the Hellam Hills

Location map with overlay of 1963 S. H. Smith note about Wild Cat Resorts (S. H. Smith, 2017)

During 1963, when I turned 14-years-old, while at an end-of-winter weekend at my Grandfather Smith’s bungalow near Accomac, I went on a walk exploring areas around Wild Cat Falls and up along Wild Cat Run that were normally off-limits. Old-timers from several other bungalows joined us; it was a walk filled with fascinating recollections that I was hearing for the first time.

A day after that 1963 walk, I wrote a sentence or two about each of those stories, thinking I could use them in my Junior High history class; however I never did. They remained dormant, for 54-years, until I discovered their hiding place this past summer. I explored a few of those memories in my talks at the York Daily Record’s Weird York event at DreamWrights on December 6th. This is the first of a series of posts exploring the remaining items that I penned in 1963.

The no-longer-existing resorts at Wild Cat Falls, in Hellam Township, York County, were filled with hundreds of visitors during each summer weekend in the late 1800s and early 1900s. What did they do for entertainment? Several of the older men on the walk told about all the ghost stories that were made up at those resorts. At that time, the details of the ghost stories did not interest me that much; since I only wrote in general, “A favorite resort pastime was making up ghost stories. The best ones usually poked fun at the locale and included a fire or falling tree.”

“The Seven Gates of Hell” urban legend, based on a fictional insane-asylum fire in a nearly section of Hellam Township, seems to match the type of ghost story that was hatched at the Wild Cat resorts, a century ago.

The location map shows the relative proximity of sites, plus I provided an overlay of my 1963 note. Click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustration in this post if details are cut off in the cropping of the illustration.

The Hellam Township web site contains a page explaining the urban legend: “Perhaps the most notorious of Hellam’s mysterious and spooky places is that part of the Township known as “The Seven Gates of Hell” … An insane asylum supposedly located there caught fire, allowing the inmates to escape, but seven gates surrounding the asylum trapped them and many were burned or were killed or lived on to stalk and murder.” There are also more gruesome variations of the ghost story; floating around on the Internet and in books of the day.

The legend persists because years ago a gate near Trout Run Road was dubbed the first gate in “The Seven Gates of Hell.” The remaining six gates are explained away as being invisible. I wonder how the originator storyteller would feel, knowing their ghost story has endured for more than a century.

Links to related posts include:

Reading the HEADLINES; A Quick Index to ALL YorksPast Posts