There are countless holes in the ground. Some have water. Some are just open void and darkness. When we can’t readily discern the depth, the hole begets additional legendary characteristics, including that of being bottomless. Let’s check out the legends of bottomless holes.
The dark hole is universally scary. Whatever is down there is unknown but undoubtedly unpleasant. The light cannot penetrate far into the gloom so the bottom can’t be seen. Thus, people assume it has no bottom at all. Objects thrown into the hole aren’t recovered. The listener may hear no splash or crack of a stone hitting some surface below. As a folklore motif, the unfathomable hole is ancient. There are countless tales of bottomless lakes, pools, and bogs. These water bodies claim people (dead or alive), animals, treasure, transport vehicles, and many secrets. Like quicksand, the bottomless pit has also become a media horror trope. If you don’t die from the sheer bottomlessness of it all, you will encounter whatever nasty thing exists in the dark, forsaken void.
They are used as a handy disposal method, a perfect death trap, and sometimes, for the villain’s demise in a dramatic last scene. It’s impossible to discuss the bottomless pit or pool without its connection to hell. To fall into the “pit” is symbolic of the descent into hell and damnation.
Therefore, it might not be surprising to discover how often legendary bottomless holes have a demonstrated bottom that people simply chose to ignore. Having a bottom doesn’t necessarily make it less dangerous or negate its evil reputation that is mythologized via various themes. In this feature, I explore these folklore themes utilized widely for local holes, pools and lakes to mark their cultural significance. And, I try to connect them to their geological foundations.
In a practical sense, bottomless simply means someone tried to detect the bottom and couldn’t. Naturally, locals would be concerned about the depth of an open hole or pool that they might fall into. They would logically attempt to plumb it with an available oar or long tree branch or sapling. Others will try a weighted line. If those methods fail, then, seemingly by default, the opening is declared “bottomless”. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of openings and water bodies were said at one time or another to be “bottomless”. Legends live on even into modern times.
The bottomless pit is a well-known supernatural trope that frequently includes additional features such as having bizarre inhabitants, emitting strange sounds, or having supernatural properties.
William Corliss, a collector of anomalies wrote that the accounts of such pits “smack of sensationalism and must be taken with several grains of salt”. Mike Dash suggests that the widespread legend of bottomless holes and lakes was an indicator of “the limits of geographical mobility a century or more ago”. That is, people didn’t travel so their yardstick for a big hole was that one in their vicinity. Some water bodies eventually have dried up enough to lose the mystique.
More creatively, some people thought that a water body without a discernible depth had on its floor an outlet or tunnel to another water body, sometimes hundreds of miles away. Even if a lake had a measured floor, it was common to see mentioned a cave passage that existed somewhere within the perimeter that was where the true danger or mystery was. Swimmers were warned that an icy cold swell or sucking whirlpool would imperil them.
The term “bottomless” has been applied to open dry holes, and water-filled depressions like lakes, ponds, pools, or bogs. There must be thousands of examples of features around the world that have been at one time called “bottomless”. Their geological origins are diverse.
Mammoth cave in Kentucky has a “bottomless pit” that is 105 feet deep. It can be difficult to measure a true “bottom” if a cavern extends into a deeper karst system. Some caves or shafts are rumored to drop off into a huge cavern. That is usually more fiction than reality.
The Dozmary Pool in Bodmin Moor, Cornwall was said to have an outlet to the sea which was 10.5 miles (16.9 km) away. Dozmary Pool is important for migrating birds, native rare plants, and for its preservation of vegetation since the last ice age. But it was also claimed to possibly be the location where the legendary King Arthur received the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake. Several other tales are also associated with the pool including that it was the source of the winds on the moor. The lake dried up in 1866 and again in 1869 and 1976 proving that it was not bottomless but subject to drought conditions.
Vouliagmeni is a lake in Greece that was said to suck people in via a whirlpool, or they could be nabbed by the evil fairy folk living at the bottom. The lake had formed from a cavern roof collapse after an earthquake some 2000 years ago. No one had managed to sound the bottom because it was part of an extensive cave system that continued under the mountain. Some people trying to explore the underwater caves have perished. It’s possible that a strong current might have existed underwater at times, creating a visible swirling effect.
As with some of the “bottomless lakes” waterless chasms are often karst-related sinkholes or caves. Flagstaff, Arizona’s Bottomless Pit is a karst feature. As with many sinkholes, it connects to and drains into the underground openings. Filling a sinkhole often doesn’t work because the fill material collapses into a bigger opening. When the hole gets blocked it may temporarily hold water until the plug comes loose and the hole drains. There are many legends around this Flagstaff pit and it was once somewhat of a tourist attraction.
Bottomless Lakes State Park in New Mexico is over 1600 acres of land with eight lakes available to visitors. They acquired their name when local herdsmen could not discern the bottom via ropes. The green-blue color from algae makes the pools look tranquil and ultra-deep. Bottomless Lakes are the result of karst features, sinkholes that are perpetually filled with water because they extend below the water table. These features are called cenotes and are not uncommon. The legend of the lakes includes the idea that the lakes are connected to each other and to Carlsbad Caverns (90 miles away) or the Gulf of Mexico (600 miles away) through subterranean passages. While this is not technically impossible for a water pathway via a regional aquifer, it is NOT remotely plausible for objects of any size, like an animal or person. Again, we see the idea of a “sucking” current that could capture swimmers. The Bottomless Lakes has resident monsters described as giant turtles.
Spirits and monsters of the lake
Marie Bonaparte noted the idea of “unfathomable” was applied to still waters, not the ocean or rivers. The ocean, while clearly deeper, at least moved, ebbed, and flowed. Rivers also were moving and occasionally revealed their bottoms. But stagnant waters made us uneasy with their silence. She noted a correspondent told her of Welsh legends where the lakes had their own personalities and resented being measured.
The legend of Bale Lake in Wales tells of the voice of the lake crying out “Line cannot fathom me. Go, or I will swallow you up” and no one tried since. Bale Lake was also rumored to hold a dragon.
Michel Meurger wrote about the tradition of lake monsters in Europe and North America. Two qualities of a lake indicated the almost certain presence of a legendary monster – first, dark water, and secondly, it was deemed unfathomable. If bottomless represented the unknown, it’s a very small leap of thought to assume there were monsters in this abyss. We find many legends of bottomless lakes associated with a resident monster.
The bay of Djibouti Devil’s Island (East Africa) is supposedly the home of a sea monster or “sheytan”. There is a story that famous undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau saw it and never told anyone additional details. This is entirely unsubstantiated, and the bay is not bottomless but has a strong current that may have prevented accurate line measurements.
There are scores of examples of lakes in particular that, instead of a bottom, they have a monster. Glacial lakes can be particularly steep-sided and deep. The lakes of the Great Glen in Scotland are notable: Loch Ness has dark, peat-stained water as well. A depth of 745 feet is seriously impressive. Storytellers supposed that the loch bottom had hidden caverns that connected to the ocean to the northeast thus providing a passage for one of the world’s most famous lake monsters. Loch Morar, southwest of Ness, reaches 1017 feet. It also has a monster legend.
The characteristic of “bottomless” is associated with the idea that a lake does not “give up its dead”. This is suggestive of some evil entity or the lake itself as a living thing that takes sacrifices.
Lake Dulyn in Snowdonia, North Wales was commonly regarded not that many decades ago as a dangerous “bottomless” hole where evil creatures would reach up from the abyss and engulf people. There were many superstitions associated with the lake bolstered by real airplane crashes. The glacial cirque “black lake” bottoms out at about 190 feet (58 m). In The Mabinogion, translated by Lady Charlotte Guest  it was said that fish in the lake are deformed and odd and that birds do not visit it. This is likely not true as brown trout and char live in the lake. Lake birds may not be common because of the high cliffs surrounding the water making the lake feel very enclosed and isolated.
Knucker holes – home of dragons
Knucker or knacker holes are “bottomless” ponds that do not freeze or dry up. The term is used primarily in Europe. These legendary spots might hold healing waters or a dragon. The name comes from the old Saxon word “nicor” meaning water spirit or monster. It’s not clear if the knuckers made the holes or just found them convenient to occupy. They can be dangerous as the water is constantly cold and the sides may be steep making it hard to climb out. A knucker hole in Burgess’s Field, Binstead, Sussex, England was once pumped dry. The men saw the muddy bottom but simply assumed the monster was hiding under the mud. Water kept flowing in. Knucker holes are springs. They are usually around 20 feet across and remain at the same level suggesting a large or distant recharge area. There are famous knuckerholes at Lyminster, Lancing, Shoreham, Worthing, and other areas of the South Downs that are flat. In Sompting, local lore of the 1940s described a very dangerous bottomless hole that swallowed a cart — horse and all. Madonna pond was said to be haunted by the coach and horse that fell in, never to be retrieved. In Lyminster, people tried to find the bottom of the local hole by tying the six bell ropes of the church together. No luck. Divers eventually discovered it was about 30 feet deep but that didn’t squelch the more impressive rumor. It’s likely that attempting to feel the bottom fails because of either the upwelling water or the soft mud floor.
Haunted lakes and ponds
Lake Ronkonkoma is Long Island’s biggest and deepest lake. Natives thought the lake was bottomless because the bodies of those who drowned were not always recovered. Even though the lake is only at most 70 ft deep, this myth persists. Again, the lack of visibility in the lake is such that a person submerged 10 feet or more disappears from the view of the surface observer.
The “Dinglehole” is a tiny pond in Millis, MA, that also holds the “bottomless” attribution. Here, more surface occult activity supposedly occurs as this place is where the devil meets with his minions and a headless ghost circles the pond after being summoned by hobgoblins.
The unfathomable Mummelsee, in the northern Black Forest, Baden Baden, Germany was called the Lake of Miracles by the Romans. It supposedly would reject fish by throwing them out again. The lake has high peat content turning the water black and the pH to around 5, so it’s too low for fish. Any fish placed in it might have simply leaped out. The most famous legend was that of the King of the lake and his mermaid nymphs that lived there. The cirque lake, formed by glaciers, is a popular tourist location.
Groundwater can be found typically within 300 feet of the ground surface. So, holes that deep will often collect water. The water conceals the ultimate depth. In 1901, English Mechanic magazine reported on a seemingly bottomless hole at 171st St in New York City. The rumor was that the natives called the seemingly shallow pond the “black swamp” and considered it the home of evil spirits. Attempts to fill the hole failed. Earth was dumped into it with no effect. Animals were lost in it. It was filled only to be restored to its original condition the next day. It’s highly likely this was a glacial feature but without a detailed location, I can’t tell. The city is surrounded by water and before the 20th century, the northern portions were undeveloped. I wish I had more info on this citation from Corliss.
A movie/TV trope that creates sudden “bottomless” chasms as a handy dramatic device is that of earth fissures that suddenly open during a quake where living things and buildings slip in and are forever lost. Earthquakes don’t open giant cracks miles deep or with lava pools. Any fissures or small hole on the surface can look deceptively deep because a narrow space does not allow light to penetrate far, so it looks scary.
The earth occasionally does open up dramatically such as when huge sinkholes collapse. Craters forming in Siberia, in particular, look very much like a bottomless hole. The first of these craters were discovered in July 2014. The current explanation is that they are formed from the collapse of previously frozen ground. This melting of permafrost forms what’s called thermokarst. No one has seen one of these big craters form so it’s not clear if it happens explosively or gradually. The holes may also release a large volume of methane gas suddenly.
Haleakala volcano in Hawaii has its own Bottomless Pit. This is ten-foot-wide opening rimmed with splatter from lava. It’s a dangerous feature. No bottom can be seen but there is debris that chokes the hole about 65 feet down. Gases were once emitted from this vent during past eruptions. There was a legend here that parents disposed of their babies’ umbilical cords in this vent as a magical ritual to give the child positive qualities. Volcanic crater lakes often have the folkloric feature of being bottomless.
Kettles or kettle holes are glacial features that seem out of place and are fodder for legends. The Spruce Hole in New Hampshire is an ice age bog now recognized as unique by the National Park Service as a Natural Landmark. It was described in 1888 as a bowl-shaped feature with a dark pool in the center “said to be unfathomable”. There was a gruesome legend where a father killed his son and then also drowning himself. Supposedly, the bodies were never recovered. Soundings in 1896 found a bottom just 20 feet below, but the legend of the pool as supernaturally deep continued. Facts can’t ruin a good story.
Even Thoreau’s famous Walden Pond was rumored to be bottomless. He recognized the rumor as a folklore motif common in New England. He succeeded in measuring the depth himself at 102 feet. The locals ignored the finding.
Montezuma well in McGuireville Arizona is a collapsed carbonate pool 368 feet wide and 55 feet deep. In the early 1900s, the bottom was not accessible for measurement so it was commonly said to be bottomless.
Thor’s well is a spectacular feature along the Oregon coal near Yachats. The seemingly bottomless hole swallows all the seawater that flows in, appearing to drain the ocean! It’s only about 20 feet deep, the water is recirculated.
The term “blue hole” has been used to describe seemingly bottomless features of two types. First, a less formal connotation is used to describe a deep pond that seems out of place in the wildlands of southern New Jersey. And the second type is a tropical karst feature initially identified in the Bahamas.
The most famous “blue hole” of New Jersey is in Winslow, one of many pools that appear in the sandy Pine Barrens coastal plains. The Blue Hole has dark water and is said to be bottomless. Tales are told of swimmers pulled to their doom by whirlpools or some other underwater force. Quicksand is also an occasional hazard here. Its presence suggests the explanation for the pools – they are upwelling springs that emit cold water but never freeze. In the summer, the cold water under the warm surface can shock swimmers. Due to groundwater extraction, these spring-fed pools may eventually shrink or dry up.
Blue holes in a more geological context are karst features documented for over 100 years. They are named for the deep blue color and their depth may actually be difficult to discern as they are connected to carbonate solution cavities and fissures that extend below sea level. Formed during times when sea level lower, they were then flooded and may be isolated in inland areas or open to the existing marine environment. Divers enjoy exploring the blue holes but, as with any cave system, underwater caving can be treacherous. Hydrogen sulfide gas in the water is toxic and can cause dizziness and nausea, disorienting divers. The danger is personified in a monster called the Lusca, a shark-headed creature with an octopus body who was said to live in the deep blue holes.
It’s impossible to discuss bottomless pits without invoking the idea of gates to hell.
The “bottomless pit” or abyss is mentioned in Revelation 9 in the Bible. It’s the freeway to hell at the center of the earth. In Revelation 20, an angel throws Satan or the devil in the form of a serpent or dragon back into the pit and seals it.
The Youdig marshland of Yeun Elez in Brittany, France is loaded with legends and lore as a bottomless bog. It is said to be an entrance to hell that swallows damned souls. Priests were said to send the demons from exorcisms into black dogs which were subsequently drowned in the bog. Crossing the bog is dangerous as dry land can suddenly turn liquid. The Youdig also was home to ghost lights that may be a result of an unknown reaction of swamp gases, though locals thought of them as spirits or fairies that lured people to their doom. Gas release may also account for the tales of the swamp boiling and bubbling.
There are several examples of holes being associated with both the devil and the appearance of being bottomless. The best example would be Devil’s Hole in Death Valley which claimed the lives of two boys in 1965 and inspired Charles Manson. For more on that location, see a previous feature here.
The famous “well to hell” hoax came with a soundtrack of voices of the damned. Workers on a drilling project in an unnamed place in Siberia sunk a hole 14.4 kilometers (8.9 mi) deep before breaking through to a cavity from which they heard and recorded screaming voices and measured searing heat. The story was first published in Finland by a Pentecostal Christian journal. In 1989, religious network Trinity Broadcasting (TBN) reported the story framed as “Scientists Discover Hell”. In 1990, Rich Buhler, a radio host for Christianity Today, tracked the story back to the propaganda article that was based on a made-up story. The audiotape of the voices may have come from a horror movie.
Check out the video at the end of this post to hear the so-called screams from hell.
A famous bottomless pit that was said to have released demons and monsters was situated beneath Houska Castle in the Czech Republic. The castle was supposedly constructed in the middle 13th century to surround and cover the hole to hell that had spontaneously formed. Spirits and beasts from the underworld escaped to torment the locals. Of geological interest, the area here is limestone so we could speculate that a natural karst feature was the inspiration for the hole. There is mention in places that a natural crevasse existed at the site and people disappeared (Fallen in or dragged in? It depends on the storyteller.) Prisoners were lowered into the crevasse to see what was down there and were promised release if they exited safely. Exaggerated legends say that one who made it out was aged 30 years after only being in the hole for a short while. Little of the above information has much credibility and may all be just tall tales. The supposed hole at the castle is supposedly beneath the floor of the chapel. But the supernatural stories are used as a tourism ploy and mainly appeared after 1994.
The story of the hole at Houska castle sounds mighty similar to a more modern version – the wholly constructed legend of Mel’s Hole of Ellensburg, Washington. No modern discussion of weird bottomless holes would be complete without at least mentioning it. If you search for “bottomless hole” on the internet, you’ll find this crazy story incorporating the usual tropes with modern supernatural ideas.
A man calling himself “Mel Waters” appeared on Art Bell’s Coast to Coast AM radio show in February of 1997. He claimed to be the owner of a property seized by the U.S. government that was the location of a mysterious hole associated with very weird goings-on. He said locals knew of the hole and would throw garbage in it. It had a constructed stone wall around it. It was not water-filled. Waters said he used rolls of fishing line to measure it. He got to 80,000 feet and gave up. Considering this claim that he measured a depth to 15 miles, we know Waters is bluffing. No single person can hand-measure that depth – it’s entirely impractical as, at that length of line, you could not “feel” you’ve reached the bottom. The weight of the line (at least 40 pounds) would mask the feeling of a weighted end hitting bottom. I’ve tried using a well probe to test for depth and you start to lose that feeling of hitting bottom at about 300 feet. There is no way you could measure such a deep hole in this way. Not only will you have most certainly encountered groundwater somewhere along the way, but the geothermal gradient would make the temperature at this depth very hot and melt the line. As detailed below, the deepest hole ever made by humans was only half this depth.
There were other clear hoax indicators for this story. The location was never specified, and it was never found. Also, “Mel Waters” was a made-up name. Another person who claimed to know its location, a man who called himself by the assumed name “Red Elk” also never demonstrated any genuine evidence of the hole even though he said he had visited it for decades.
The additional features attributed to Mel’s Hole were bizarre. It was reported that a beam of black (can’t call it light) was seen emanating from the hole. There was an infamous story, frequently retold, that someone once threw a dog carcass into it and later the dog was seen alive. People said they picked up radio signals from the past originating from near the hole. There was even a claim of metals changing form in the hole. Eventually, the hole was characterized by its promoters as a top-secret government project involving an underground alien base.
Local geologist Jack Powell had heard the radio show. He knew the claims were ridiculous and figured that the story might be based on an old gold mine shaft in a field northwest of Ellensburg. A local paranormal group approached Jack for more information. When he told them the paranormal tales were nonsense but the real hole was a typical mine shaft, they ignored him.
The cool story became popular. As such popular stories go, some people naively assume it’s real. There is nothing about Mel’s Hole that is genuine. Unfortunately, or fortunately, it doesn’t exist as described.
Can bottomless holes exist?
There are a few reasons why bottomless holes or lakes can’t exist. For a start, how would a bottomless hole hold water?
A truly bottomless hole would go through the earth and come out the other side – an impossibility to create and a physical conundrum in terms of “falling” into it. The physics of such a hole is quite weird. After about 20 hrs of falling, you’d reach the center of the earth, but then get stuck in the core – trapped in the gravitational center. If there were no air in the hole, however, things would go MUCH faster.
Could we create a bottomless hole? No. We have a really hard time creating a super-deep hole because it needs to be reinforced and cooled. Eventually, equipment fails at the pressure and heat at about 12 kilometers. The Kola Superdeep Borehole is the deepest hole on earth at 40,230 feet. Started in 1970, the drilling of this hole in the Kola peninsula of Russia, near the Norway border was shut down in 1992. The goal was to study the lower crust. Interesting mineralogical and even biological data were collected. An oil well in Qatar achieved a longer borehole length at 40,320 feet (but did not exceed the Kola reach in depth below sea level) in 2008.
The deepest natural pits in the world include the Devil’s Sinkhole, Rocksprings, Texas at 400’ and Dean’s Blue Hole, Long Island, Bahamas at 650’. Mining created the Chuquicamata Copper Mine, in Chile at 2,790’, the Kimberley Mine in South Africa at 700’ and the Berkeley Pit, in Butte, Montana at 1700’. Lake Baikal in Russia is the world’s deepest lake. Located in a rift valley, the average depth is over 2000 feet with the maximum depth measured at 5,387 feet. The deepest spot in the ocean is 35,814 feet below sea level, part of the Mariana Trench between Guam and the Philippines called the Challenger Deep.
Bottomless holes as part of the enchanted landscape
Clearly, “bottomless” is not a term to be taken literally. It represents something dark, spooky, and unnatural.
There aren’t many explanations for the claims of bottomless holes. The most obvious is that people exaggerated the depth or outright lied about the claim. Encountering karst openings may have definitely led to people believing they found a bottomless hole. Even today, some people remain imaginative enough to think that they found some secret military project, an ancient city or even evidence of a Hollow Earth. More recently, mysterious holes are endowed with speculative suggestions that they are wormholes or entrances to another dimension. It’s also pretty fun to imagine they are the gaping mouth of a subterranean creature or that the earth itself is a living thing that would eat us. The bottomlessness of the various pits, lakes and bogs worldwide is not physically accurate but the concept of the unknown abyss is an essential feature of a mythological and enchanted landscape.
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