Keep the Hell Out of Stull!
November 8, 2010
Like many others before me, I had come to Stull looking for answers to a mysterious question. But the answer I found made me sad for the people who make Stull their home and have to put up with such nonsense.
There is not a gate to hell in the cemetery in Stull, Kansas. There’s more to this story, but I want to get that out there in the beginning, right up front. Don’t go to Stull, Kansas, looking for a hell gate. You won’t find one. There isn’t one there. And the people of Stull have suffered enough from drunken idiots who, disappointed at the lack of supernatural activity, have proceeded to do a little evil of their own. That having been said, let me tell you how it is that I came to this conclusion.
CSI Senior Research Fellow Joe Nickell once told me that everywhere he travels he looks for any paranormal mysteries at his destination that are worthy of research and might produce an article. I have found that to be an excellent model to follow, and when I had the opportunity to travel to Overland Park, Kansas, in June I decided to follow Joe’s lead.
I used Meetup.com to contact the Midwest Skeptics about local paranormal mysteries. I’d heard of the group because I know one of its organizers, Karyn Wittmeyer, through the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe message boards. The group’s current organizer is Cole Morgan, who saw to it that I had some fantastic Kansas-style hospitality by way of an excellent dinner with him and a bunch of other friendly freethinkers at The Cactus Grill. I was pretty well loaded up on fajitas when I sprang my question on the group: “What’s the biggest paranormal spot around these parts? The biggest mystery, ghost house, monster legend, what have you?”
Everyone seemed a bit disappointed that they couldn’t think of any really good legends, but then Karyn remembered one: “There’s one of the gates to hell in Stull,” she said. I had to admit that as far as legends go, that sounded like a doozy.
According to local legend, an old church in a cemetery in Stull, Kansas, was actually built on top of a gate to hell. It is supposedly one of seven gates in total. I wrote this down to do a little Internet research after dinner.
Stull is a tiny town—not even really a town, just a collection of a few houses, a church, and a graveyard. The Internet revealed some strange tales about the place. According to the legend, the gate to hell is either under or next to the little church in the cemetery. In urban legends tied to the place, it is claimed that when the pope flew over the U.S. he had his plane diverted around Kansas to avoid flying over unhallowed ground. Allegedly on Halloween night Satan himself appears in the cemetery (although it was nowhere near Halloween when the pope flew over). That seems like a pretty easily tested claim—had anyone checked it out? More on that later…
The next evening, after my day’s work was done, I hopped in the rental car and drove out to Stull. It was a longer drive from Overland Park than I’d counted on, and I was racing against sunset. I arrived just before night fell and parked across from the cemetery. As I walked back up the street toward the cemetery gates, I saw that some teenagers had driven into the cemetery. A man driving a big truck approached the teens, gesturing politely—but firmly—toward the entrance, and the teens got back in their car and left. Obviously it was closing time at the cemetery. When the driver was leaving, he stopped to close and lock the gates. I flagged him down, and he agreed to give me a short interview about the cemetery.
The driver of the truck, Danny Rake, is one of the locals in Stull who has to deal with the fallout from the hell-gate legend. Danny told me a story much sadder than the spooky nonsense I’d read on the web.
Back in the 1950s, apparently a professor at the University of Kansas (located about a dozen miles from Stull) deliberately made up the story of the gate to hell as an urban legend. It grew as he repeated the story each year to his students. This continued without much effect until someone wrote the story up in the University newspaper in 1972. It then became the hip thing to go to Stull on Halloween night and try to be brave enough to wait for Satan to appear. Only Satan never would appear because—among other things—the story was completely made up.
So the made up urban legend produced a bad formula: take a bunch of college kids sitting around in a cemetery drinking beer and liquor, add in waiting for a spectacular paranormal event that will never happen, and the result is often vandalism. Some kids would steal things to show they’d been there, and some kids would break things out of boredom or meanness.
In 1978, it was estimated that 150 college kids were in the cemetery on Halloween night. In 1988, nearly 500 kids turned up. The sheriff’s department turned them away the next year, but the damage had already been done: vandalism and theft had done serious harm to the cemetery—and more importantly, to the families of the people who were buried there. The living residents of Stull were the victims most affected.
The Stull cemetery story even made it onto the TV show Supernatural, where during one season’s finale a battle was fought at the gate to hell in Stull. This depiction was not helpful to the residents of Stull in any way.
Right now, in 2010, the cemetery has thirteen broken headstones; eleven more are actually missing altogether, stolen by thrill-seeking paranormal enthusiasts who wanted to know: does Satan appear in the Stull cemetery on Halloween night? As I said before, the answer is unequivocally “No!” Like many others before me, I had come to Stull looking for answers to a mysterious question. But the answer I found made me sad for the people who make Stull their home and have to put up with such nonsense. So, as a service to the good folk of Stull—and to Danny Rake who was kind enough to share his story with me—please take this advice: Help keep the hell out of Stull!
Stull is a beautiful little town, and everyone I met there was friendly—but please don’t bother them. If you want to be scared on Halloween, go to a professional haunted house, go see a movie, or read a scary book. Let the people of Stull (the living and the dead) rest in peace.
more information about the Stull hell-gate legend, check out www.washburn.edu/cas/art/