Keelan Shilling and New York’s “Gates of Hell”

Beyond the hustle and bustle of the Melting Pot of the World lies a bizarre underground maze shrouded in fearful mystery and urban legends. Photographer Kealan Shilling and his friends dare to wander around the Gates of Hell for a bold yet memorable adventure.

Hi Kealan! Firstly, what made you and your friends go to the ‘Gates of Hell’ in New York?

We were just trying to come up with something cool to do to get out of the city for a day. Burton gave us some products to go on adventure and shoot, and that place looked pretty wild.

Describe to us the place. What intrigued you about visiting the site?

The Gates of Hell is actually a maze and series of connecting drain tunnels and ditches that goes deep underground and is said to contain the entrance to hell. It’s pretty wild if you look up the history. Supposedly the tunnels were used during the prohibition era to smuggle booze, and have been a sacrificial site for occultism and satanic worship practices.

There’s also a lot of rumors/scary stories surrounding it. Do you believe them? Which of the stories amused you?

I won’t lie, I was a little freaked out to venture down there… You can’t help but be a little sketched when you read those kind of things and walk into some tunnels in the pitch black… It ended up being a beautiful spring day outside though, and I was with positive friends, so it made the atmosphere less scary when we actually entered the tunnels.

What was your first impression upon reaching the place? What did you think/feel when you saw the site?

It was really cool, way cooler then I had seen in pictures online. Approaching the main entrance is really creepy. All the other tunnels have water rushing out of them, and the main entrance is bone dry. There’s a creepy stillness and silence, and a cold breeze coming from the tunnel. It’s spooky for sure to look in, and consider going down there.

Can you share us the most interesting part of your trip when going there?

The most interested part was just seeing the structure of it person. The most enjoyable part was sitting around outside the tunnels in the afternoon sun with friends, hanging and drinking beers. It’s a nice break to do that anywhere.

What was the hardest/most challenging part in getting to the site?

Well you have to find it, and then you have to walk down a steep hillside that’s covered in leaves and brush, and then once you climb down to the tunnels, you have to get into the ditches, with the water running, they’re pretty slippery. We all slipped once or twice, and came pretty close to falling in the water, which you don’t want to do.

Did you have any trouble in photographing the place as well?

No, long as you have a flash for inside the tunnel. Just be careful where you park & walking in, cause you can definitely get a trespassing ticket if you get caught down there.

What’s your favorite photograph of the place?

Hard to say… so many good ones from that day. I have great friends, so it makes it easy to capture awesome moments.

Do you think the place should be renovated? Why or why not?

No way! Too many treasures like that are being renovated, torn down, remodeled or blocked off. It’s rare to go any place left these days that makes you feel the excitement of being a kid exploring again.

Now, the place is marked as one of New York’s obscure yet unique landmarks. How do you think your photography will help in making this place as a cultural heritage site? Do you think it should be considered as one?

I don’t know, It’s definitely a piece of history, but it’s not the type of place you could mandate, or allow people to visit safely in the current condition, and changing the place to support visitation would take away the magic, and most likely change the structure. I prefer to see things like that stay natural. It’s tough because you want to share places like that, and at that same time, there’s a part of you that argues maybe you should help keep it a secret and shouldn’t expose the area more.

Lastly, what’s next for you? Do you have any place in mind for your next photowalk/travel photography?

I just drove my van across the country through the south, and went on some cool adventures. I’ll be posting a few of them on Monster Children’s site, and will post the full journal from my trip on my blog: if you want to follow along. Thanks for getting in touch!

Visit Kealan’s website or Instagram for more of his works. All images used are with permission from Kealan Shilling.

Written by Ciel Hernandez. Originally published at

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