The Gateway to Hell in Tagus, North Dakota
Do a simple Google search on “gateway to hell” and you’ll be surprised at how many results you get. Some are sites of underground fires that keep on burning, such as a natural gas fire in Turkmenistan, or an underground coal fire in Centralia, Pennsylvania. Others are active volcanoes like Mount Osore in Japan or Mount Hekla in Iceland. Excuse me, but these are not portals to the netherworld, just damn hot places.
Others are a bit flashier. Fengdu Ghost City in Chongqing, China can boast a 2,000 year history of being a doorway to the afterlife where spirits judge and torment the newly dead before deciding how to reincarnate them. But the Chinese don’t have the same concept of hell as Christians do, so the story lacks the requisite bad guys: Satan, Beelzebub and the rest of the crew.
Going to Hell
St Patrick’s Purgatory is a monastery on Station Island in Ireland where St Patrick was subjected to disturbing visions of hell by no less a light than Christ himself. Okay, now we’re getting closer to the mark. But you have to travel all the way to Ireland to see it.
Closer to home, the Gates of Guinee in New Orleans promises admittance to the demons’ lair with a few conditions. First, you have to locate seven different gates, which are scattered throughout the city. Then you have to open them in the correct order. Which seems like a lot of work to me. Why Mephistopheles would want to make entry so difficult is puzzling when you consider that he’s usually trying to ensnare people against their wills.
A proper gateway to hell, it seems to me, ought to be easy to access, like the Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena, California. It sits smack in the middle of a community of 12 million people and is easily accessible from the Foothill Freeway. Or the abandoned storm tunnel in Clifton, New Jersey, which can be reached via commuter train from New York City in less than an hour.
Perforated Like a Pin Cushion
As one looks deeper into this phenomenon it begins to appear the planet is perforated like a pin cushion with gateways to the underworld. Some are easier to access than others, but all are a little difficult to get into once you’re there. Locked doors, sealed passageways and no trespassing signs appear to be the rule.
But one thing all these places have in common is that they’re creepy as hell, even if they fail to achieve the functionality of a simple turnstyle.
The gateway to hell in Tagus, North Dakota is no exception. A town that reached its peak population in 1940, Tagus was reduced to a ghost town in 1976 when the last business shut its doors. Today it’s a collection of eerie abandoned houses forty miles west of Minot. You can get there by exiting off of Highway 2 and traveling two miles north. No one will stop you.
The Gateway to Hell in Tagus, North Dakota
Once there, finding the gateway is a little more challenging. First, you must locate the foundation of the church that burned to the ground in 2001. The spot is marked by a square memorial built of brick with the name of St Olaf’s Lutheran Church inscribed on it.
According to legend, this church was home to a group of devil worshippers who conducted Satanic rituals in the 80’s and 90’s: human sacrifice, bestiality, cannibalism, infants on skewers, the wholesale slaughter of white kittens, the usual Satanic playbook. Many have claimed there was an upside-down cross painted on the door, and inside was a stairway that spiraled down into the earth, the stairway to hell.
The stairway is filled in now, the ground plowed over it, so it’s hard to say exactly where it was, but if you stand near the spot and listen carefully, you can hear the screams of the tormented—or so they say. I tried it but didn’t hear anything. Still, I can’t deny it was creepy. I could’ve stood around and tried for longer, but I got the willies and stepped away. I didn’t want to rouse any hellhounds.
Hellhounds and a Phantom Train
That’s another part of the legend, the hellhounds. Supposedly, they’re lying in wait, and if you’re not careful, they’ll appear out of nowhere, snarling and snapping and threatening to tear your heart out.
The abandoned houses are said to be haunted too. Weird sounds, weeping and moaning, and the occasional far off cry of an infant. I poked around and took some pictures, but I didn’t actually go into any of the houses. I’m no fool. You don’t know what you might stir up when you’re that close to a hell gate.
There’s supposedly a glowing tombstone and a phantom train that runs through the town from time to time, but I didn’t see either of those things. Instead, I came upon an automobile graveyard, which was spooky enough, the rusting hulks of old cars and trucks, discarded in this forsaken place, with not a soul around.
Messing with Fate
I visited Tagus early on a Saturday morning. It was winter on the Great Plains. A bleak pall had settled on the land. Somewhere deep inside I was feeling a simmering dread. If a door had slammed, I would’ve jumped out of my skin. I made one more circuit of the town and took some more shots. Then I got back into my car and drove a way, relief washing over me.
Skeptical as I am about such things, I had to admit the possibility that the legends could be true, in the same way that you realize a deep cavern is unlikely to collapse on you, but you know that earthquakes do happen from time to time. Going to the entrance of a hell gate is messing with fate, and testing your courage against it is like spending a night alone in a haunted house—and we all know how that turns out.
The two best things about visiting Tagus are the anticipation you feel before going there, and the relief you feel when you’re driving away. Both are delicious. But the time in between, the time spent flirting with the diabolical, is a tad unpleasant.
Maybe it’s best all these hell gates are so difficult to penetrate. If it were easy, people would be slipping away into the netherworld with alarming regularity. What with drug addiction, political outrage and abusive relationships we have plenty of ways of getting dragged down into the abyss without having to rely on geography. It’s just too bad we can’t get rid of those other passageways with a bulldozer, some dirt and a chain link fence.
Previous Stop on the Odyssey: Billings, MT
Next Stop on the Odyssey: Duluth, MN
My American Odyssey Route Map
All images by Malcolm Logan