Growing up on the southwestern edge of Philadelphia, in a proudly blue collar town of row homes and pizza joints, most of my childhood spook stories involved kidnappers in pit stained shirts offering candy from the back of an equally sullied white van or this one agoraphobic neighbor who only communicated with the world via misspelled signs taped to his front door and onto empty two liter bottles he surreptitiously left by the curb.
The oldest building around was the high school where my dad worked. Behind which was a patch of park with one or two dark crannies and across the street was a cemetery where a guy hung himself once. Besides the Toynbee Tiles (which, to be honest, were not well known outside the city proper), that was about the depth of the local aquifer for urban legends. So when I first heard about the haunted road way out in the history-drenched, horse-country enclave of Chadds Ford, a place near the Delaware border, home to the Wyeth family and host to the Brandywine Battlefield, it immediately seduced me with an air of legitimacy that nothing nearby could muster. One dark autumn night years later , when a friend and I finally drove down Devil’s Road (actually named Cossart Road) and it delivered almost everything I was promised, the place shot into my subconscious with a force and impact no daytime debunking could dislodge. There was the dangerously narrow and wickedly winding country lane lined with blighted trees that leaned away from the hillside as if petrified while trying to run away. There was the sylvan king among them, one supremely spooky tree in particular which really did seem to cradle a death’s head in its tentacled roots (beneath which the rumored cult was said to bury its child sacrifices). There was the mist that seemed to come from nowhere and erase the borders of this so-called Satanville. And there, just as we were nearing the end of our nervous tour, was the much-rumored but never actually believed phantom pickup truck tailgating us and blinding us with its high beams so that we never could determine if the driver was as faceless and murderous as everyone alleged.
That we never found the dreaded Cult House with the blacked out, inverted cross windows, said to be source of all this devilry, only deepened the mystery. The collectively written history of this elusive building is appropriately forked and ever shifting. One variant identifies it the secret unholy chapel of the DuPont family, where black sheep offspring, deformed by incestuous inbreeding, were sacrificed to the old gods of wealth and power. Another to an unnamed cult that took over the property when the last DuPont died or sold it off. A third that it was a dumping ground for murder victims. The thing about these particular bread crumbs so seductive is that they were all baked from as much real wheat as bogus chaff. A DuPont spinster did once own the mansion up the hill from Cossart Rd. Another member of the DuPont family was infamously secretive and eccentric, in addition to being insanely rich. Various owners of the houses around there have hired caretakers to drive off trespassers, though most of the vehicular stalkers are probably just fellow thrill seekers either accidentally or intentionally scaring each other. Five members of the Johnston Gang were murdered thereabouts in the 70s, and several of the bodies were buried in a nearby game preserve. Another property in (somewhat nearby) Bucks County owned by a local branch of Rosicrucians has enough weird architecture and occult decoration to explain the conflation.
Nowadays, Devil’s Road is much changed and even less welcoming, so I cannot in good conscience recommend a pilgrimage. New paving has stolen a little of its creepy vibe. Skull Tree, its root ball filled with rocks and mortar in the 90s to keep anyone from secreting any more nasty surprises for the next visitor, has now been cut down completely. All signs indicating Cossart Road’s existence have been removed by locals desperate for peace. After decades of teenage invasion, police and caretakers patrol the area and often drop the hammer on loiterers with a $1000 fine. None of which has fully dissuaded the current generation as the following video, shot in 2014, makes abundantly clear (short attention span folks can jump to the 10:50 mark for when they luck out and find the gate to a forbidden driveway open).