Is there anyone who can resist an offer to explore the Gates of Hell? Rumors and stories abound of such a location situated along High Street in Columbus. The small runoff stream that it accommodates is dry most of the time, but when it runs it roars through the concrete bore, often as sudden as a flash flood. The east end of the tunnel is kept obstruction-free by a wicked gate of rusted metal that extends from each side of the opening, tapering to a gap barely big enough to squeeze through.
The gate occupies a huge concrete basin with steep angled sides that make it a favorite hangout of campus-area skateboarders, many of whom have thoroughly spray painted the tunnel inside and out. The rusty obstruction, sudden rushes of water, and reputed tendency of dead bodies to wash up along with other debris inspired the skaters to give the Gates of Hell its other common name: the Blood Bowl.
There is a popular legend circulating throughout the US claiming there are secret gates of hell hidden away throughout the US. It is said that a special ritual must be performed in order to open each of these gates. What the purpose of these gates is varies depending on which version of the legend you hear. In some, versions, opening just one of these gates will allow you a passageway into hell while in others, all of the gates must be opened, which will unleash “hell on this Earth.” There’s also some disagreement as to how many of these gates exist and even their locations. And with a catchy, foreboding name like Gates of hell, it should be no surprise to find out there are alleged gates in almost every state in the US.
The story concerning Columbus’ gate, however, is different from the popular gate of hell stories. In fact, there is hardly anything that connects the two. There really isn’t any back story to the Columbus location and we’ve yet to hear any reference to there being a hidden porthole that needs to be opened. It appears that in the case of the Columbus gate, it’s merely a name. And truth be told, these gates of hell are nothing more than a section of a drainage culvert that runs under High Street as the water winds its way to the Olentangy River. About the only truly scary aspect of the gates themselves is that the tunnel passes underneath BOTH a Tim Horton’s and a White Castle.
Why they are called the Gates of Hell is clear to see when you look at the area from a distance. As a drainage culvert, there are several metal fence-like partitions in place to keep large pieces of debris from clogging the tunnel itself. The first is several hundred feet upstream from the tunnel and aside from the graffiti on it, it’s rather ordinary. The second fence is more imposing and is arranged in a V-shape and connects with the sides of the tunnel. There is a small door-shaped section at the front of the “v”, which has the appearance of being a doorway or gate, even though it’s nothing more than a space between beams.
Rather, halfway down the tunnel, there is a 90-degree turn, which is followed by another 90-degree turn before it continues on its way. If that wasn’t enough, the tunnel ceiling drops down sharply to only a few feet. Taking into consideration that someone would be attempting to navigate this in the dark and with water flowing through it, it’s not hard to imagine a very bloody ending.
Though not impossibly long, the tunnel is very dark and can be difficult to traverse, thanks to a kink in the middle that makes two right turns before it comes out into a creek bed on the other side. After the first turn your flashlight will show a very startling man-sized silhouette spray painted on the far wall by a local skater and graffiti artist named Bones. Further in, the tunnel changes from circular to rectangular and the ceiling lowers. There are no offshoots, and alas, there is no descent into a fiery underworld.