Don’t go to Stull, Kansas. There is not a gate to hell in the cemetery! There’s more to this story, but I want to get that out here 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 drunk idiots who, disappointed at the lack of supernatural activity, proceed to do a little evil of their own.
That said, let me tell you how it is that I came to this conclusion.
Paranormal Investigator Joe Nickell once told me that whenever he travels he does some research and tries to find if there are any paranormal mysteries at his destination that are worthy of research and might produce an article. I found that to be excellent advice 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. I’d heard of the group because one of its organizers is Karyn Wittmeyer who I knew through theSkeptics Guide to the Universe message boards. The group’s current organizer is Cole Morgan and he saw to it that I had some fantastic Kansas-style hospitality by way of an excellent dinner with him and a bunch of 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?”
At the time everyone seemed a bit disappointed that they couldn’t think of any really good legends, but Karyn remembered one. “There’s one of the gates to hell in Stull,” she said. I had to admit, as legends go that sounded like a doozy.
It seems that, according to local legend, there was an old church in a cemetery in Stull and by some means the place was actually on top of a gate to hell. One of seven in total, apparently. I wrote this down and after dinner went to do a little Internet research.
Stull is a tiny little town – and not even really a town, just a collection of a few houses, a church and a graveyard. The Internet told some strange tales. According to the legend, the gate to hell was either under or next to the little church in the cemetery. Urban legends tied to the place said that when the Pope flew over the US he had his plane divert around Kansas to avoid flying over unhallowed ground. It was nowhere near Halloween, but allegedly on Halloween night Satan himself would appear. That seemed 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. From Overland Park it was a longer drive than I’d figured and I was racing against sunset. I arrived just before sunset and parked across from the cemetery. As I walked back up the street to the cemetery gates, I saw that some teenagers had driven into the cemetery and a big truck was racing towards the place. The driver of the truck approached the teens, gestured politely – but firmly – towards the entrance and they got back in their car and left. Obviously it was closing time at the cemetery. When the driver left, he stopped and closed the gates and locked them. I flagged him down and he drove me back to my car and agreed to do a short interview about the cemetery.
His name is Danny Rake and he’s 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.
Stull is about a dozen miles from the University of Kansas. Back in the 1950’s apparently a professor at the University made up the story of the gate to hell deliberately as an urban legend. It grew as he repeated the story each year to his students. This continued without exploding until someone wrote the story up in the University newspaper in 1972. Then it 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 made up.
So this was a bad formula – a bunch of college kids sitting around in a cemetery drinking beer and liquor, waiting for a spectacular paranormal event which would never happen. It led to 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 there 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.
The 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 was not helpful in any way.
Right now – in 2010 – the cemetery currently has 13 broken head stones and 11 which are actually missing, stolen by thrill-seeking paranormal enthusiasts who wanted to know – does Satan appear in the Stull cemetery on Halloween night? As I said before, right up at the top of this article, the answer is unequivocally, “No!” Meanwhile families find themselves with broken monuments to beloved family members, but unable to afford to pay for repairs or replacements.
Like many others, 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 go bother them. If you want to be scared on Halloween, go to a professional haunted house, or go see a movie, or read a scary book – but let the people of Stull (the living and the dead) rest in peace.
A version of this story appears at The Atlanta Skeptics blog.