Why The Paranormal Legend Of Mel's Hole Just Won't Die

Some legends fascinate in a way that never ends, same as some human dreams never fade. Tales of heroes fighting monsters permeate myth across civilizations, from ancient (Gilgamesh, Herakles, Krishna, etc.) to modern (Marvel movies, anyone?). At the same time, stories of time travel and space flight, cryptids like Bigfoot, half-human beasts like werewolves and the Minotaur, and many, many more never fail to ignite the imagination. Maybe there's something universal in such stories that speak of shared, unconscious fears like the fear of losing oneself to crueler instincts, or the terror of time's march toward death. Maybe they're just spooky and cool in an atavistic, campfire kind of way.

There are even certain sub-genres of tales that keep getting circulated, especially in an era of internet-spread, Reddit subgroup-type sharing. As Intelligencer outlines, we've got the "creepy thing in the dark woods" variety, like Slenderman stories, itself presaged by found footage films like "The Blair Witch Project." We've got the "secret evil ritual" variety, "mysterious person who shows up before vanishing" variety," "experiment gone wrong" variety, "dangerous haunted place" variety, etc.

Even beyond such reliable storytelling tropes, there are fundamental narrative objects, locations, and formulas that never lose traction. The magic item that multiple characters hunt? That's been done a million times. The lethal cave or mountain trek? Very recognizable. And what about the idea of a bottomless pit? The kind where anything that falls inside falls forever. This is where we find the legend of Mel's Hole.

Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell

The tale of Mel's Hole comes to us through a single, original source: the radio show "Coast to Coast AM" with Art Bell. For the uninitiated, "Coast to Coast AM" was the singular most relevant hub and hotspot for all things paranormal, weird, unexplained, bizarre, etc., from its first 1988 airing till Bell stepped away from his show in 2007, per AM 790 News Talk WNIS. It aired at night into the early morning and centered on call-ins from the general public about whatever ghost, alien, monster, conspiracy, or similar tale folks had to tell. It was an open invitation to the American public to confess any and all wacky and creepy happenings they could, live and on the air. "Coast to Coast AM" took on mythical status and continues to live on after Bell's death, even becoming the subject of academic articles like those in the Historical Journal of Film, Radio, and Television

With such a pedigree, you would rightly expect that tons of awesome and absurd stories arose from caller conversations with Bell. This was the show's strength, and also its weakness — there was simply no way to verify any of the more sensational yarns that certain callers told. Such was the case with one of Bell's most famous callers, Mel Waters, who spun a tale that was familiar yet uniquely intriguing, all the way from 1997 to his final call in 2002, as Mysterious Universe describes. 

The bottomless Devil's Hole

Mel Waters — or whatever his real name was — wove quite a story about a hole in the ground on his property. As Mysterious Universe recounts, he said the hole was about 9 feet across and the subject of local legend. "Hand-placed bricks" lined the first 15 feet down. Those in the area called it "The Devil's Hole," and it had been there as long as folks could remember, before the area's first settlers came across it. Animals avoided the hole, and the region's "Native people" — whoever they were — said it was cursed. Also, radio transmissions got weird near the hole. Waters also claimed to live in Kittitas County, Washington, near Manastash Ridge between Seattle and Spokane.

Interestingly, Waters said that he used the hole as a garbage dump, but it never filled up. He tried shouting into it, but it didn't produce an echo. He also tried testing the depth of the hole one time in 1996 using a fishing line. By the time he was done with "spool after spool of line," he'd reached 80,000 feet deep. That's a wackily huge number considering that the world's deepest cave descends to 7,257 feet (per LatLong.net), a depth about six times deeper than the Empire State Building is tall. And Mel Water's hole? It would have been 64 times deeper. As the United States Geological Survey outlines, that's about a quarter of the way through the Earth's crust at its thickest. 

From believable to absurd

Even the most casual lover of sci-fi and the paranormal could spot plenty of familiar elements to Mel Waters' story. A bottomless pit that acts like a wormhole, funky radio transmissions, an ancient woodland curse, etc. It's an urban legend that could fit practically anywhere in rural America. Mel, however, added elements that resembled what folks might actually do if they found such a hole: throw trash inside, yell into it, and test the depth with a ready solution like a fishing line. Discounting for the moment that Mel would have needed an ungodly amount of fishing line, listeners tuning into "Coast to Coast AM" at the time of Mel's calls would have certainly enjoyed hearing his tale. Same goes for Art Bell, himself. 

Mel's initial call was in 1997. As History Daily tells us, he called back two more times, once in 2000 and again in 2002. That's far enough apart for discussion about Mel's Hole to percolate, and for Mel to not overstay his welcome. By calling back, however, Mel was forced to expound on further details. In turn, his story grew more elaborate and outlandish to the point of absurdity. As Mysterious Universe describes, later details include one of Mel's neighbors throwing a dead dog into the hole and the dog appearing alive on land sometime later. Mel also described a black beam of energy shooting out of the hole and said that metals brought near the hole spontaneously transmogrified into other metals.

Miracle birth and military interference

And so we get to the coup de grâce to Mel's believability, but not the legend of Mel's Hole. As Mysterious Universe recounts, Mel reported lowering more things into the hole. He lowered a bucket of ice down to 1,500 feet, and when he pulled it up, the ice was warm, but not melted. Then he lowered a living sheep into the hole as it kicked and screamed, and it came up cooked and dead. There was a moving lump under the sheep's skin, so Mel cut it open. Inside was a "fetal seal" that gazed at Mel with "intelligent, human-like eyes" and cured his cancer (per Mysterious Universe). The creature jumped into the hole but later appeared to those on land, radiating a "benevolent presence." And to top it off, Mel said the military got interested, co-opted his property, and paid him off, after which he moved to Australia, per History Daily

Okay, deep breath. How in the world could anybody believe this? Psychology Today has your answer. There's always going to be some segment of the population that believes something the more absurd it gets, often to resist the evidence of what it calls "so-called experts." This is how conspiracy theories take root. Such an attitude often scales with a lack of basic scientific literacy and the presence of strong cognitive biases. We would add: Folks who feel bored and aimless often, like Fox Mulder on "The X-Files," want to believe.  

A bottomless legacy

So what's the status of the Mel's Hole tale? Not only has the story not died, but it's continued to garner attention and tickle curiosity. In 2005, three years after Mel Waters' final call to "Coast to Coast AM," chat groups like those on Above Top Secret discussed the story and its believability. In 2007, folks like those on Sheffield Forum did the same. In 2008, as Mysterious Universe recounts, a "tribal medicine man" in Washington state, calling himself Gerald R. Osborne, or "Red Elk," kept the tale going. He attested to the truth of Mel's Hole and claimed — because of course — that he'd seen UFOs in the sky above it. A 2012 Facebook post by the Daily Record asked readers whether or not they believed Mel's Hole was real. In 2018, Reddit users shared coordinates of the possible location of Mel's Hole and tried to get a group together to find it. The 2022 podcast Astonishing Legends has an extensive list of links related to Mel's Hole hunts, details, trivia, research, and more. On and on it goes.

We could argue that none of these folks actually believe the whole Mel Hole's thing — they just think it's a nifty story. That being said, plenty of stories gain attention and vanish, while Mel's Hole remains. Is it as simple as the tale adhering to recognizable features plus a big dash of cognitive biases? Like Mel's Hole, and Mel himself, the ultimate truth remains a mystery.