Philly Urban Legends: The Wandering Bus

nicholas mirra: blog

There is a bus in Philadelphia which SEPTA does not talk about.  It is not listed on the website.  It has neither schedule nor route.  It drives the city in a pattern known only to its driver, and perhaps not even to him.  Its electronic reader board never displays a number, only “SEPTA.”  People who know it call it the Zero, the Random Bus, the Wandering Bus, or just The Bus.  It is not a bus for people who know where they want to go.  It is a bus for departures.

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Zoinks…Scooby Doo and the Universities of Massachusetts

Urban legends can range from the scary to the profound to the plain confusing and unexplained.  With Massachusetts so entrenched in history and on the forefront of the future with its hospitals and colleges, it’s no wonder so many legends involve the Bay state.  Recently an older legend has come back around.  It’s not about haunted hitchhikers or deranged killers or college pranks.  It’s one of those stories where you just laugh, scratch your head and retell it without thinking.

To entire generations of cartoon watchers, Scooby Doo is a part of their childhood.  There may be a direct correlation between the show and the number of paranormal investigators out today, although very few of them spend their time ripping off masks and getting their dog out of trouble.  The show was the first of its kind, showing four friends and their four legged pet driving around with no means of incoming falling into well-conceived but poorly executed plots whenever they stopped for gas. 

scooby-doo-tv-01There has been a classic urban legend about the show has been around for years.  The five characters all represent the different type of drug users.  From cocaine to the secret ingredient in Scooby Snacks, these young adults run around looking for their next fix.  Any aspect of the show, from Daphne’s handkerchief to the unseen back of the Mystery Machine, is attacked.   

Another legend has come out lately involving the Scoobies that has less to do with drugs and more to do with the foundation of Massachusetts education system.  According to, the fearsome five-some has been compared to five local colleges.

Scooby, with his dopey lovable nature, is UMass.  Shaggy represents the typical stoner of Hampshire.  Fred, the coke fiend in other legends, is the ideal man seen as an Amherst man.  Daphne, many a young boy’s first crush, is the Mt. Holyoke girl that makes our heads turn.  Velma, many a young girl’s first crush, represents the questionable orientation gal which Smith has become notorious for.

There is never any mention of who Scrappy Doo or that little dude with the big hair might represent, but that is probably just an oversight. lists the urban legend as false, but most people that tell it find it more amusing than a statement of fact.  Like the drug legend, people just enjoy analyzing familiar things.  The same thing could be done with just about any popular icon and we always seen to be able to find the one element that proves our argument.  In the legend, the creator of the show is said to be from one of these colleges and he drew the idea from the show from his experiences with them.

The other appeal is feeling your school is special.  The legend is most popular with students from the five schools mentioned and other schools can claim any of the characters if the read it the right way.  Fred could easily be a Harvard man and stoners are seen in most colleges, from Emerson to Salem State.  Some of the girls from MIT are pretty scary too…

eccentric-hidden-passage-6-1The popularity of the Scooby Doo show breeds these comparisons.  Their antics have become part of our collected conscience and entrenched in our pop culture.  The characters in Buffy the Vampire Slayer referred to themselves as the Scoobies with no explanation needed and now people of that generation are beginning to pass their love of Scooby down to their children, causing a rebirth of the show.  Not to mention, many of those college students are ingesting their own Scooby Snacks and watching the reruns themselves late at night on Cartoon Network.

MILLERThe show was actually based on characters in several other radio and television shows that aired over the decades before its release.  It has no connection to the colleges or the stereotypes which really have their foundation after the premier of the show.  The urban legend is not true, but that doesn’t mean we still can’t debate it.

And what was that little dude with the funny hair’s name…

Vale End Cemetery

This is one of those locations that holds a special place in my heart, and one that always seems to get a response from the people who know it.  Much like Met State, it had its heyday years ago and became such a nuisance that police and town officials felt the need to close it at night and monitor it.  And much like Met State, no one seems to talk about it much anymore.
In addition to having two ghosts that sound more like urban legend than haunting, the cemetery seems to be one of the more aggressive pukwudgie stories on record.  I always cite it when talking about the evolution of modern pukwudgie lore.  The stories have changed over the years, but I’ve included links to some of the other stories, especially those of Fiona Broom. Broome first documented parts of the story on her site Hallow Hill, which has now moved to Encounter Ghosts.  Around the time of the story below, Broome had taken down her information because she was worried the pukwudgies in the cemetery were responsible for several attacks and the passing of a friend who had visited the location.

Listen to the location’s part in the changing story of the Pukwudgie.


Vale’s End Cemetery in Wilton, NH, is one of the most terrifying experiences I’ve ever had and one of the few times I feared for my safety.  We went there after visiting a few sites and not having much happen.  I had heard about it on the Internet and had been given warnings of what might be there. (Since, almost every site I’ve visited has posted a warning and has pulled directions and stories because people have been physically harmed there.)  There was supposed to be a documentary about it, but I have yet to find one or hear about it other than though interviews with the people of Wilton.  The cemetery is the home two ghosts and something else indefinable, although they can best be described as trolls or some type of physical demon that can take a solid and non-physical form.  The two ghost are what brought attention to the graveyard.


Not taken that night, but sent to me a few months after I posted the original story…also not a picture of ghosts.

The first is known as the “Blue Lady”, who in life was known as Mary Ritter.  She was buried and her husband remarried another Mary.  To save money, when the second one died, he buried her with the first one, and that might have angered the woman, although there is nothing in the records to say she has ever harmed anyone.  Her grave is known to glow blue and sometimes she appears with a blue glow around her.  Her grave has been studied, even to the point that pieces of the stone have been broken off, but there has been no logical reason why there should be a glow.

The second spirit is that of a man who buried his daughter in the graveyard.  She was married, and after her father’s death, her husband moved her grave to be with her.  The father is known to walk the rows studying the stones and looking confused.


Great picture…not a ghost…

We arrived in Wilton about ten o’clock and search by car for the sight.  I had no idea where it was, although I had spent every weekend in Wilton with friends for a few years.  Dennis suggested that we go to the police station to ask, but we all agreed that was a bad idea.  Instead we asked this group of teenagers in the square.  They were eager to tell us where it was, a sort of civil pride in the haunting expressed by everyone we talked to.  They gave us rough directions, but we got lost.  This car began to follow us, and then finally signaled us to stop.  They asked us if we were lost and then volunteered to drive us to the cemetery.  We reluctantly agreed, and when we got there, they talked more about some of the people who had come to make the documentary and investigate.

“Would you guys or your friends hide up there to scare people that went in?” asked Jenna.

“Hell no!  We would go up there if you paid us.”

vale (2)At the time the cemetery was open at night, although I believe that has since changed.  We entered and started on the path to the back where Mary’s grave is.  The temperature immediately dropped.  The cemetery has a straight path that then splits and blends into a circle.  We followed the circle around and eventually found her grave.  Nothing of interest happened, although we all tried to communicate with her.  There were unusual gusts of wind and fog, and one “cloud” (which we were able catch on tape) swarmed around us, stopped for a few seconds and then blew away.  Then the lights started.

As we made our way around the graveyard investigating all of it, we started to see little flickers of light accompanied by a rusting of leaves.  It was sometimes out of the corner of our eyes and sometimes as we looked straight on.  We would go to where we had just seen them, and they would appear a little further in to the cemetery, closer to the woods that surrounded it.  We would go to the next one and the next one, and I started to realize these things were leading us.  The feeling of being watched grew stronger, and it now started to feel like we were being surrounded.  I said it was time to go because I had heard of people being attacked, and it felt like we were outnumbered and helpless.

valeWe started back and got to the path.  Jill was interested in about six small headstones that all belonged to one family and we stopped to look at them.  Jenna heard the footsteps first, right in front of us, coming from the grass.  I looked up and saw a column of black and Jenna saw something more solid, like a flash of white light in the shape of a very tall, bulky, man.  I said it was time to go now and we walked very fast up the path to the entrance.  When we were out, the pressure on my chest stopped, and even Dennis, a true skeptic, said that something explainable and evil was behind those gates.

Spooky Story a Day…The Sacrifice

Old true stories that are meant to just give you a little chill as you go about your day…
Keep checking in to see the new one every day…
We’re going to start this week with a series of stories that all take place in an area of Woburn, Massachusetts, know as the Glen.  We already told one story that’s related to the neighborhood, and our story on Horn Pond has gotten some interesting feedback, but there are several more we’ve collected over the years.
It makes you wonder if certain places are more haunted for a reason, and what those reasons might be.
If you have a Woburn story or legend, contact us at



Di had experiences in her first marriage as well, adding to her belief that she is either blessed or cursed with an connection to those that have passed.  Unlike her other stories, she is on the outside of this one, watching that events happen, the only one who truly understands what happened.

Before she married her first husband, Frank, he was diagnosed with cancer.  He kept his hopes up, but it was not the first time he had faced the disease and the outcome did not look good.  The tumors continued to grow and his fate seemed to weaken.  Even more disturbed by the news was Frank’s mother, Eileen.

Frank was her only son, and she was close to giving up on herself and him.  She was a severe alcoholic who drank most of the day and was slightly sick herself with asthma.  She began to beg God to save her son.  “She would sit there and drink and cry all the time,” says Di.  “‘Just take me.  Let him live.'”

Then Eileen developed cancer herself.  The doctors told her it was not as dangerous as Frank’s and she needed to have a hysterectomy.  It was the fall before she could go in, and Di remembers the day perfectly.  As she opened the door to her house, the leaves began to swirl around her although there was no wind.  The sounds of the outside world seemed to fade away and she got an “eerie” feeling.  The phone was ringing inside.  “And I just knew it.”

Eileen had died in the recovery room of an asthma attack.

Some might put that up to coincidence and timing, but Eileen, who had never been known as a happy woman, made sure everyone knew what she had sacrificed for her only son.  Starting that day, there began to be a halo formed around her face on a picture of her and her husband they had taken for their 25th anniversary.  It was dull at first, but easily seen by funeral.  They tried to wash the frame and then clean the picture, but it continued to get darker and darker until it became bright orange-yellow.

Frank went into remission without chemo or any further treatment.  Since 1982 he has lived cancer-free and with no serious health problems

The Monsters Of Tennessee — Hondacsr

Like every state in the Union, Tennessee has its local legends, ranging from First Nations stories that predate the arrival of Europeans to the land to modern urban legends the likes of which reflect modern fears and unease. Among these legends are legends of local monsters. Given the centuries of human habitation in the state, […]

via The Monsters Of Tennessee — Hondacsr

Some interesting side stories to follow up on if we go to Tennessee…

Name That Symbol

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Here are some of the grave symbols we discovered while looking over the Manasota Memorial Gardens with the kids during our Tripping with Kids Episode.

We have searched for some, but still can’t figure out the meaning of some.  We’ve tried to focus on the ones that we are still in need of, especially the wax-like substance and its meaning and the three Freemason Chair set up.

Please keep in mind; we’re not only looking for who the symbol belongs to but what the markings actually mean.

You can send your feedback to

Listen to the episode here:

Story of the Singing River

The Singing the River Sings Back

Tripping on Kids

What’s Up, Doc: Being Rejected by the Professor

And here I thought I was doing it right all along.

I set nets and lobster traps out there.  I publish a story I hear in the hopes that a person keywording something they experienced or were told about will fall in and tell me their version of the story.  I then document what they experienced.  I go out to the places where things happen and try to experience it myself, maybe asking a few people nearby if they’ve heard about it.  I’ve been doing that for more than twenty years, since I first asked people what they had heard about my haunted dorm, Charlesgate.  If I’m looking at a place I don’t know, I send out e-mails to the gatekeepers of the tales; librarians, members of town history groups, professors at local colleges.  It’s my way of trying to get my hands on what Charles Johnson once called, “our human inheritance.”

Today I received a response back from a doctor of folklore studies from a university in Pennsylvania.  Nine words if you don’t count our names.

This is not the way to conduct folklore research.

Thanks, Doc.

Years ago Tim Weisberg from Spooky Southcoast gave me the label of Analytical Folklorist.  I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded official and important and close enough to what I do for me to embrace.  After all, I was slowly moving away from investigating the paranormal and had long held to the idea that the value in looking into the paranormal was in finding what it had to do with the people who experienced it and those who sought out their stories.  Tracking down a good ghost story was an exercise in recording oral and written history, and writing it down was capturing more about society than capturing a ghost (or a Ghost on Film).  I believed then that tales of the paranormal and supernatural were a major part of our modern folklore, and my work over the past three years has done nothing to change that.

It’s not that I think ghosts don’t exist.  There are unexplained things in this world, and those things will always remain that way.  The paranormal is our way of trying to make sense out of the unseen, and for every story where we see a possible reason for the ghost, there are ten more that only point at our existing ideas on ghosts or the growing new mythology we are creating concerning the unknown.   There is much folklore in how we look for ghosts, including the people who do it, as there is in the ghosts they look for.

But that’s a story for another day.

This is more about the Legends Project and its goal of searching out stories to trip this summer outside of Florida.

I had started the project a few years ago and restarted it about six months ago with the goal of traveling to sites I could trip and collect stories from.  The idea was to find places where the locals knew of a story, ghost or just off-center, and then go to the location and see what I could collect by talking to people and enacting any ritual connected to the story.

IMG_1978For example, you go to a cry-baby bridge.  You turn your lights out like the tale tells you to do.  Honk twice as instructed and be ready to see the bride appear before you with the dead baby in her arms.  Before that, you hit the Internet finding variations of the story and ask people about it when you get to the town.



Perhaps the best example of Tripping on Legends doing this would be the case of the Devil’s Tree in Port St. Lucie.  We searched the Net for hours, and when we got there we asked everyone we could find the stories they had heard about it.  We were able to record four or five variations of the story or little add-ons (the serial killer lived in a shack near the tree) and this led us to other mysteries, like what were the ruins near the tree and was the whole thing signal some kind of disturbance in the area where serial killers, sketchy asylum owners, and random acts of violence would find their way to the same spot.

To me, that’s what modern folklore is about.  Find a story, look into the story, try to connect the story.

TImage result for food for the deadhis is what I learned from reading the people who inspired me.  Food for the Dead was one of the most influential books to my early work because Michael Bell set out to find the stories and experience them himself, even though he never really thought there were vampires out there. Jan Harold Brunvand laid out similar methods in collecting as many versions of urban legends as he could.  The same could be said for Charles Robinson in prepping New England Ghost Files.  I would even say hearing Joseph Campbell describing connecting myths follows a similar pattern.

So what am I doing that’s wrong, Doc?

The logical first step is to find a story.  This is a copy of the e-mail I send out to get the pot stirred:

My name is Christopher Balzano, a folklorist living in Southwest Florida.

I am starting a new project looking to explore and celebrate the stories that have become the foundation for the rich oral and written tradition of this country.  I am looking for the folklore that has contributed to the development and tradition of America, and I am hoping for your help.

I believe the journey of a folklorist starts with asking a question to get the adventure started, so today I am asking you.

Is there a story in your area that your citizens view as folklore or local myth?

Having done this for more than two decade, I understand how difficult that question may be. It involves sifting through old stories and urban legends to try and sort things out.  I am not asking you to go that far, mainly because that’s where the love of the trip lies for me.  I’m just searching for whatever information you might have and perhaps a lead.

I am looking to document the more obscure stories, the hidden John Henry of your area.

The story may be familiar but region specific, creepy or spooky, or just plain entertaining or important.  Folklore, urban legends, or just regional legends are all fair game.

I am especially interested if you know of storytellers who make these tales come to life or know of local archived audio files of them.

I thank you for your time, and I hope to hear back from you.


I have sent this to countless libraries and historical societies.  I have sent it to paranormal investigators and professors.  It’s a feeler, and more often than not it gets ignored.  The goal is to have someone get the e-mail and remember a story, or be bored enough to look through their files and find something that might fit the bill.  Sometimes there is a near-forgotten story in a drawer somewhere, like the Haunted Schoolhouse case a few years ago.  The bigger hope is that I get into their mind, so when something comes along, they think of me and what I am doing and get back in touch.

img_1614Almost every legend trip I have done in the past six months was born of this letter.  A librarian told me about the Singing River.  A newspaper writer pointed me towards the Mini Lights.  A member of the historical society asked me if Talking Mary fit into what we were trying to do.

So what do I do differently, Doc?

I have since sent a return e-mail asking what more I need to do to warrant a moment of his time and a lead on a story, but when I look at what I do, I am confident I’m going about it the right way.  I do it with a love of the story and an eye to what it says about us.   I do it with respect and awe.  I do it with the hope of experiencing what people have claimed to be their town’s truth but with the realization that more often than not I’ll just be shouting into the wind.

The first paranormal story I can remember involved a retelling of a Devil’s Footprint in New Hampshire.  I was living there at the time (seven years old), and as I read how the town had created whole mythos around this imprint in stone, I became fascinated with what was the truth behind the story, especially after the writer gave several different account of the legend.  Then he put his socked foot into the print and it fit exactly.  I was hooked.  Years went by and the same idea of the Devil’s footprint kept coming up.

Maybe I’m not going about this the right way, but methods have to shift.  We do not tell our stories the same way, and we do not hear them like the days of old.  Smart phones are handheld campfires, and Reddit is your sketchy cousin letting you in on the haunted house down the street.  Folklore is happening as we live and changing as quickly as we can switch apps.  There is history in the ghost story.  There is societal knowledge in the cryptid still wandering in the woods.  The best way to hold this knowledge is to experience and squint and look for the strings.

Here’s hoping that’s good enough for you, Doc.