A couple weeks ago Tony and I drove up to Newburyport. It's always a pleasure to visit Newburyport - so charming! so historic! - but we weren't looking for charm or history. We were looking for the GATES OF HELL. Cue the ominous music...
The gates of Hell are supposedly located in Maudslay State Park, 450 acres of woods, meadows and gardens situated on the banks of the winding Merrimack River. The park used to be the private estate of the Moseley family, and takes its name from the family's ancestral home in England. The grounds once included two mansions, a castle, greenhouses, stables, and other buildings. Most of these structures are now long gone.
The Moselelys sold their estate for $5 million dollars in 1985 to the state of Massachusetts, and the state turned it into a park. I've wandered through a lot of parks in eastern Massachusetts, and Maudslay is quite different than most. Most parks around here are woodsy and often quite rocky. That's not the case with Maudslay. Although parts of it are heavily wooded, the landscape is more manicured, with open fields and some ornamental gardens that are still maintained. We could definitely tell it used to be an estate. There are also some ruins scattered around as well.
It was a very pleasant park, even on a cold windy day. But according to local legends the gateway to Hell is said to be located there. I'm not sure why this is. There aren't any shocking scandals surrounding the Moseley family - no murders, no rumors of witchcraft, nothing. Nothing really creepy seems to have happened in the park either to caused these legends.
Two structures in Maudslay State Park are alleged to be the gate into Hell. The first is the formal gate that once led into the estate. This is located right on Curzon Mill Road, just past the parking area if you drive towards the river. People who pass by this gate at night report seeing severed heads stuck on the spikes. Yikes. I've heard that adventurous young folks will park by the gate late at night, hoping (dreading?) to see the apparitions. Not being young or adventurous, we went there during the daytime. Happily we did not see any ghostly heads. Some people also report seeing the ghosts of small children playing in the park.
Or is this the gateway to Hell?
The second structure that may be the gates of hell is a little spookier. Buried in the side of a small hillside is some kind of large underground room that was built in 1929. Was it a garage, perhaps? A large storage bunker? I don't know, but it's big, dark, and filled with graffiti. A large doorway, perhaps 15 - 20' high, leads into the underground room from the outside. It's definitely impressive, and maybe a little creepy. It was really dark inside, and very slippery since the floor was covered in ice. Again, happily we did not see any ghosts.
I'm not sure why either of these gates are the gates of Hell, instead of just being haunted gates. Do they lead to the underworld? Do demons come out at night? Or maybe the ghosts hang around before heading through the gates to the underworld? I just don't know. The legend is a little vague.
The legend about the gates of Hell seems to be pretty recent. The estate only became a park in 1985, so I'm guessing it only appeared since then. That's just speculation on my part. If you have any information about the history of this legend please share it.
I have noticed that anomalous or weird structures often attract equally strange legends. A house that looks like its sinking into the earth? Maybe it's because of Satanic rituals. A large iron cage around a grave? It must be intended to imprison a restless ghost. A cemetery gate that looks like spiders? Surely the cemetery must be haunted. I'll note that the Spider Gates cemetery may also contain a gateway to hell, so there are several convenient paths to Hell if you live in Massachusetts.
You get the idea. There are rational explanations for all these things, just as there are rational explanations for the two gates in Maudslay. With the estate long gone, the formal gates and the giant underground chamber now seem a little weird, though. Their original purpose has been forgotten, so people make up new legends to explain why they're there. At least I hope that's what's happening. Otherwise, we've got two gates to Hell in one small park, and that's not good.
I don't know anything about the Gates of Hell at Maudslay, but every October a local theatre company called Theatre in the Open holds Maudslay Is Haunted - an outdoor fundraising event where various spooky skits, written and performed by youth members, take place along a route that meanders throughout the park. It's well worth checking out!
Thank you for the comment K! I have heard that. It sounds like a great event!
There are also the remains of several “Indian mounds” in Maudslay.
I lived in Newburyport for the last 25 years, have been on a historical tour there as well as my husband knowing a lot of the history there. That underground "bunker" with the graffiti was used to store the Mosely's large potted plants and potted trees during the winter. It was never used as a garage. The carriage house was the only place that stored vehicles and it is still there today, just boarded up. From rumor, it was the teenagers partying by the large gates near the road that called them the "Gates Of Hell". The only ghost story that I have heard is that their is a "lady in white" who appears near the old foundation of the original house, on the hill that overlooks the river. If you follow the trail from the gates, it leads you right to the foundation.
Thank you for the comment Mary! That's helpful to know about the underground structure. They must have had a lot of plants and trees. It's enormous!
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