Estimated reading time: 14 minute(s)
I received a copy of Pokémon Red for Christmas in 1998, close to the peak of Pokémon’s initial (and still unsurpassed) popularity. Most of my classmates in a small, nine-person class, also played Pokémon. Pokémon myths and urban legends, fueled by incomplete information about the sequels that had been released in Japan, glitches in Pokémon Red and Blue, and general rumor mongering on the young internet had reached my small school. One of my classmates – with whom I shared a birthday – tended to be the source of the Pokémon myths for the class. When I did research years later, I discovered that none of the rumors that reached my class were entirely unique. However, my rumor-sharing classmate told me a version of what I learned much later was the broader Bill’s Secret Garden rumor that does seem to have been somewhat unique. What is Bill’s Secret Garden? What was the variation I was told? Read on to find out.
A General Introduction to Pokémon Red and Blue
Pokémon had originally been released in Japan in 1996. After it achieved success there, it came to the United States in the form of Pokémon Red and Blue in September 1998. The Pokémon games became wildly successful, single-handedly extending the lifespan of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color, dominating the best-seller charts, and launching what would become one of the best-selling game franchises of all time. While there is much to say about the Pokémon phenomenon in 1998 and 1999, I will focus on the games in this article.
Pokémon Red and Blue were successful in part because they appealed differently to different audiences. The games were simple enough that children as young as six could complete the main story (collect 8 gym badges and become champion) – albeit with some difficulty in the final stage of the main story where a degree of planning and foresight was required. However, and as I explained in my article on Pokémon stats in generation 1, there was plenty of content and depth for older players who were inclined to dig deeper into the game’s mechanics. Having already dated myself in my articles on a Pokémon April Fools joke from 1999 and on playing Pokémon Gold at launch in 2000, I write from the perspective of someone who was firmly in the elementary school camp in 1999.
On Pokémon Red and Blue Urban Legends
Pokémon Red and Blue were great games at the time – and they remain enjoyable today even though they are primitive compared to their sequels, Pokémon Gold and Silver, much less to later entries in the series. But Pokémon Red and Blue were not without flaws. The original Pokémon games have many glitches, including some game-breaking ones. Many of the glitches were discovered after 1999, but the most famous Pokémon glitch – Missingno – was known to many young players around my age.
The glitches were just one part of a perfect storm of factors that made Pokémon the subject of some strange urban legends in school cafeterias and playgrounds. I will offer my Reader’s Digest take on what happened:
- Pokémon Red and Blue were extraordinarily popular among elementary school students in 1998 and 1999.
- Although the presentation of Pokémon Red and Blue was very simple, its connection to the vivid world depicted in the anime series inspired kids to think about what was in reality a small sandbox as a sort of broader world.
- The glitches in Pokémon combined with knowledge of one Pokémon that was not obtainable in normal gameplay (Mew) created the perception that there were greater mysteries to be discovered if only you just knew how.
- The second generation Pokémon games, Gold and Silver, were slated for release in late 1999 and information about new Pokémon from those games reached the United States in incomplete forms.
- There was very little reliable information on the internet, but the internet at the time was a hotbed for spreading Pokémon urban legends.
- There was always that one kid who claimed to know all the secrets.
The Pokémon Red and Blue phenomenon was a phenomenon that was only possible in a specific time and place. Too much earlier and the internet would not have been a vector for urban legends. Too much later and there would have been more reliable information about the Pokémon state of affairs available. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the environment for all of the Pokémon urban legends on school-grounds was only possible in the precise time that Pokémon Red and Blue reached the United States.
Who is Bill?
Before I tell you about the urban legend relating to “Bill” – I ought to explain who Bill is.
Bill is a Pokémon researcher who is a character introduced in the first game. He is credited with inventing the Pokémon PC wherein players store Pokémon that they are not using (the player can only carry six Pokémon at one time). Bill’s actual role in Pokémon Red and Blue is minor. The player visits him at his cottage on Cerulean Cape relatively early in the Pokémon game (this can be accomplished before or after the player receives the second of eight gym badges). When encountered, Bill is a Pokémon after an accident with his Pokémon teleportation machine. The player helps Bill return to human form, and Bill rewards the player- character by giving him a ticket for the S.S. Anne cruise ship (which was the source of another famous Pokémon urban legend).
That was it for Bill. His role in the game was done.
The anime, which occurs in a different continuity than the games despite featuring many of the same characters, included Bill in a single episode. That episode featured a very large Dragonite – something to bear in mind as we continue.
The Bill Legend as I Heard It
Sometime during the spring of 1999, my class went to Manhattan’s Chinatown. After doing whatever it was that we had gone there for, we went to a Chinese restaurant. There, I sat next to the classmate of mine who always had the newest and truest Pokémon urban legend (to be sure, he had a tendency to exaggerate things on non-Pokémon matters as well).
There, he told me of a very true secret involving Bill’s seaside cottage. He told me that if the player went to the cottage with six very specific Pokémon before rescuing Bill from his Pokémon-transporter accident, the player would gain access to a secret cave. What were these six Pokémon? The list:
There are two lines of Pokémon here. Vaporeon, Jolteon, and Flareon are all evolutions of the popular and adorable Eevee. In the original games, these were the only evolutions of Eevee (today Eevee has seven evolutions). Moreover, Eevee was the only Pokémon in the original games that had different evolution possibilities.
The second trio of Pokémon is also an evolutionary line. Dratini evolves into Dragonair which evolves into Dragonite. This evolutionary line was unique because these three Pokémon were the only dragon-type Pokémon in the original games. To be sure, some aspects of Pokémon Red and Blue were a bit half-baked. Two types – Dragon and Ghost – each consisted entirely of three Pokémon that were part of an evolutionary line. There were only two Ghost-type moves and one Dragon-type move. Very neglected – but I digress.
According to my classmate, if you brought these six specific Pokémon to Bill’s sea cottage before rescuing Bill from his Pokémon accident, you would be able to access Bill’s Secret Cave. What would you find in Bill’s Secret Cave?
What was a Pokégod?
The concept of “Pokégods” was a consequence of incomplete information about new Pokémon that were being introduced in the sequel games reaching the United States. These Pokémon, some kids decided, were very powerful Pokégods that were already lurking somewhere in Pokémon Red and Blue, just waiting to be discovered. The most well-known of these Pokégods (in my experience at the time) was supposedly Pikablu, which turned out to be Marill, an ordinary first-stage water Pokémon and pre-evolution of Azumarill.
(Marill was introduced in the generation 2 games. While cute, it was nothing special – certainly not a Pikablu or Pokégod.)
Before continuing, let us recap the facts:
- Visit Bill’s cottage before rescuing Bill from his transporter accident
- Bring Vaporeon, Jolteon, Flareon, Dratini, Dragonair, and Dragonite in your party
- Gain access to Bill’s dungeon
- Catch Pokégods
I listened to the story, but I was fortunately smart enough to not try it (because it was patently absurd). I did respect the conviction with which my classmate told the story. Soon enough, he was telling me about amazing things related to The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I had not played that game, however, so I have no idea whether his points about it were nonsense.
But I again digress.
The Technical Aspects of My Classmate’s Story
When I covered Nintendo Power’s 1999 April Fools joke about obtaining Yoshi in Pokémon, I noted that the steps set out by Nintendo Power would have been a pain to complete. The same applies to my classmate’s proposal, although I rank it as less annoying provided that one had some cooperative friends or a willingness to bend the game’s rules.
In normal game play it is not possible to acquire any of the six Pokémon required for my classmate’s Bill trick prior to releasing Bill from his Pokémon state. While Pokémon Red and Blue gave players more freedom in choosing which order to do things than in any subsequent Pokémon game, the Bill event serves as an early blocker because there is a key item on the S.S. Anne (which Bill gives the player a ticket for) that is needed to advance into the second stage of the game.
Neither Eevee nor Dratini (their evolutions are only available by evolving them) are obtainable through game play before returning Bill to human form.
However, it is possible to trade Pokémon with another player. If someone really believed my classmate’s story, he or she could acquire the six needed Pokémon via trade before visiting Bill. However, even the trade method would be a bit annoying. In any single play-through, it is only possible to obtain one Eevee. Because Eevee can only evolve once, the result is that you can only obtain Vaporeon, Jolteon, or Flareon in a given run. Thus, the trading to acquire all three before meeting Bill would require a few steps.
Alternatively, one could exploit one of the many glitches in Pokémon Red and Blue or use a GameShark (a “cheating” device that made use of the game’s code) to easily acquire all six necessary Pokémon. To be sure, that would probably be the most practical method. (Note: Some of the technical aspects about how the glitches worked in Pokémon Red and Blue became better understood after 1999.)
Learning About Bill’s Garden
I did not use the internet much until I was in high school. At that time, I saw references to the Pokémon urban legends that I remembered fondly from 1998 and 1999. One by one, I found that all of the legends that I was familiar with had existed in schools across the country.
One that I did not immediately see referenced, however, was the Bill legend. To begin, please consult the far right side of the map of Cerulean Cape (Route 25) in Pokémon Red and Blue:
That building on the far right is Bill’s Cottage. Now, note that there appears what could be a path leading away from behind the cottage. That apparently made young Pokémon players wonder whether there was something there.
There was, of course, nothing behind Bill’s Cottage. The reason why there appears to be a path behind it likely had to do with the tilesets that the Pokémon team was working with. It is possible to use glitches to get behind Bill’s cottage, but what lies behind and next to Bill’s cottage are dead ends.
But back in my day, no one actually tested what was behind Bill’s cottage. They imagined that it must be something amazing. A secret garden unlike any seen before.
The Gaming Urban Legends Wiki provided a useful overview:
The hypothetical area to which the path [behind Bill’s cottage] led became known as ‘Bill’s secret garden’, and rumors spread that extremely rare Pokémon, including the game’s three otherwise uncatchable starting Pokémon, could be found there.
(I do not remember whether my classmate’s version of the area behind Bill’s house included being able to catch the three starter Pokémon in the wild. However, for reasons that I will explain later – I do not think that my classmate’s version included the starter Pokémon.)
Some pieces on Bill’s Jungle include references to Eevee. See, for example, a 2019 article from Pokéjungle
Accessing the Secret Garden itself was similarly cryptic. Suggestions to access it include bringing a specific Pokémon to the house or bringing a combination of Pokémon (like the Eevee-lutions), or accomplishing a difficult task (like completing the Pokédex). It is indeed possible to access the back of the Sea Cottage, either by means of a glitch or third-party device, but there is nothing of interest there, up to and including wild Pokémon encounters.
I made use of a Marginalia Search, a niche search engine for non-commercial projects, to find a near-original Bill’s Secret Garden tip relating to Pokémon Yellow (Yellow came out in the United States in 1999 and was effectively a remastered version of Red and Blue). The following tip was submitted to World of Nintendo by Mr. Bradford Milbrandt (link). It has no date, but this page was last updated in some form in 2003, and I will venture that Mr. Milbrandt offered his tip in late 1999 or early 2000 (note the site launched in 1996).
First you must go to the pond on the right in front of Bill’s house and swim around ten times then go to the old man in Viridian City Talk to him and say yes I am in a hurry then go back to Bill’s house Then go around Bill three times then go to the secret garden.
“The old man in Viridian City” was involved in the most well-known Pokémon glitch, Missingno. The Missingno glitch did not work the same way in Yellow as it did in Red and Blue – so kudos to Mr. Milbrandt for finding a way to work it into his method for accessing Bill’s Secret Garden. However, Mr. Milbrandt’s version of the Bill’s Secret Garden legend had the flaw of being too easy. The trigger condition is simple and any young player would have been able to quickly discover that it did not work.
Before continuing, the old World of Nintendo site reminded me of another trend in writing about the first generation Pokémon games in 1998 and 1999. Most of the Pokémon Yellow tips on the World of Nintendo page are completely ordinary notes about the game (albeit notes of questionable usefulness that were clearly submitted by children). It was not uncommon to find cases where content that accurately described the Pokémon games was mixed with the urban legends.
Before I return to my own story from 1999, I will link to an amusing Game FAQ thread from 2018 addressing how to access Bill’s Secret Garden in the modern Nintendo Switch quasi-remake of Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu. The responses to the question humorously referenced the classic Pokémon legends from the late 90s.
What Explains My Classmate’s Version?
To the best of my recollection, my classmate’s version of the Bill’s Secret Garden legend is the only example I recall of a somewhat unique Pokémon legend that I heard in 1999. All of the others that I remember are the well-known legends that one can learn about on YouTube or with some simple web searches.
How did my classmate come up with his version of Bill’s Secret Garden? Let us try to figure it out step-by-step.
A Cave Instead of a Garden?
I distinctly remember my classmate referring to a cave and dungeon, not a garden. On the surface, a garden makes more sense based on the fact that the legend came to be because of what appeared to be a path behind Bill’s house. However, I can deduce why my classmate had a version of the story with a cave instead of a garden.
Route 25, also known as Cerulean Cape, was just north of Pokémon’s Cerulean City, the third city that the player visits in the game. While Cerulean City appears early, it is also host to what we knew as the Unknown Dungeon (also called Cerulean Cave). The Unknown Dungeon was a completely normal, non-glitch location in Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow that was only accessible after completing the main game (beating the eight gym leaders, Elite Four, and Champion). It contained the highest level wild Pokémon in the game and, at its end, the most powerful Pokémon in generation 1, Mewtwo. This location featured prominently in Nintendo Power’s April Fools joke, which was published about the same time as I learned about Bill’s Cave.
Thus, there are two reasons that I can think of why the version of the legend that I heard had a cave instead of a garden. Firstly, neighboring Cerulean City is host to the Unknown Dungeon, which is a real-game location that features a legendary Pokémon. Secondly, if we look at it objectively, a secret cave or dungeon seems like a more likely place to encounter Pokégods than a garden.
The Required Pokémon
Where did my classmate come up with the specific configuration of six Pokémon that one needed to bring to Bill?
To start, remember that a trainer can carry a maximum of six Pokémon at any one time. In considering which Pokémon to use for the legend, it would make sense to fill all six spots. My classmate’s choices made thematic sense – at least insofar as anything involving Bill and Pokégods could make sense.
Bill’s cottage contains a computer that the player can interact with. If the player views the computer, he or she will see four pages about Eeevee, Vaporeon, Jolteon, and Flareon. Viewing these pages adds their data to the player’s Pokédex, although the player can only complete the Pokédex by actually acquiring them. This, combined with Bill’s being a Pokémon collector, made the inclusion of the Eevee-lutions make sense.
The choice of the latter three Pokémon is less obvious. For example, noting that some versions of the Bill’s Cottage rumor apparently focused on being able to encounter the game’s three starter Pokémon (Bulbasaur, Squirtle, and Charmander) in the wild, one could envision a version of the legend requiring the player to bring the three starter Pokémon (or their evolutions) along with the three Eevee evolutions. Why did my classmate insist on the Dragonite evolutionary line? I can think of two reasons. Firstly, Bill’s only appearance in the anime featured a giant Dragonite. (It is worth noting, however, that Pokémon Red and Blue were based on Pokémon Blue in Japan, and the original Pokémon games pre-dated the anime – although Yellow was informed in part by the anime series). Secondly, Dragonite was viewed as something akin to a quasi- or pseudo-legendary Pokémon because it was the only fully evolved dragon Pokémon, it was a bit of a pain to acquire, and it was kind of cool.
I noted earlier that my classmate suggested a convoluted process for obtaining entry into Bill’s Cave/Dungeon. This too can be explained.
Bill’s role in the original Pokémon games is done once the player helps him turn back into a person and receives the S.S. Anne ticket. That is, Bill exits the proverbial stage by giving the player a key item. It makes sense that a Bill Garden or Dungeon rumor should involve doing something before Bill’s practical purpose in the game is fulfilled.
The other reason for my classmate’s particular trigger conditions is that the Pokémon legends must be difficult to trigger. If the trigger conditions for accessing the realm of the Pokégods were simple, young Pokémon players would have had no trouble testing a method in an afternoon and determining that it did not work. Legends that had impossible, difficult, or annoying (my classmate’s suggestion falls in the latter camp) trigger conditions had just enough going for them to keep kids from actually putting the legends to the test.
Conversely, one reason that the Missingno glitch became well known was because its trigger condition was very simple once word got around about how it worked.
This concludes my trip down Pokémon urban legend memory lane. There is plenty of material about almost all of the Pokémon urban legends from 1999, but the version of the Bill’s Garden legend that I recall seems to be a bit unique. If anyone recalls a different version of Bill’s Secret Garden or has a different Pokémon Red and Blue legend to share, feel free to let me know – I may turn good tips into a follow-up article.