THE LEGENDARY “GATEWAY TO HELL” IN KANSAS There are graveyards across America — places with names like Bachelor’s Grove and Stull Cemetery — that defy all definitions of a “haunted cemetery.“ They are places that go beyond the legends of merely being haunted and enter into the realm of the sinister. They are places said to be so terrifying that the Devil himself holds court with his worshipers there… and in the case of Stull Cemetery in Kansas, it is one of the “gateways to hell” itself! But just how terrifying are these places? While few of us would challenge the supernatural presence of a place like Bachelor’s Grove, some claim that Stull Cemetery does not deserve the blood-curdling reputation that it has gained over the years. A few years ago, it went beyond the realm of merely “haunted” and achieved the status of “gateway to hell.”
Stull Cemetery, and the abandoned church that rests next to it, is located in the tiny, nearly forgotten Kansas town of Stull. There is not much left of the small village, save for a few houses, the newer church and about twenty residents. However, the population of the place allegedly contains several residents that are from beyond this earth! In addition to its human inhabitants, the town is also home to several legends and strange tales that are linked to the crumbling old church and the overgrown cemetery that can be found atop Stull’s Emmanuel Hill. For years, stories of witchcraft, ghosts and supernatural happenings have surrounded the old graveyard. It is a place that some claim is one of the “seven gateways to hell.”
The legends say that these stories have been linked to Stull for more than 100 years, but none of them made it into print until the 1970s. In November 1974, an article appeared in the University of Kansas student newspaper that spoke of several strange occurrences in the Stull churchyard. According to the report, Stull was “haunted by legends of diabolical, supernatural happenings”. The legends asserted that the cemetery was one of the two places on earth where the devil appears in person two times each year. It said that the cemetery had been the source of many legends in the area, stories that had been told and re-told for over a century.
The piece also said that most students learned of Stull’s diabolical reputation from their grandparents and older individuals, but that many of them claimed first-hand encounters with things that could not explain. One student claimed to have been grabbed by the arm by something unseen, while others spoke of unexplained memory loss when visiting the place. Like many other locations of this type, the tales of devil worship and witchcraft also figured strongly into the article.
But were the stories true?
Not according to the residents of Stull, who claimed to have never even heard the stories before. They were bemused, annoyed and downright angered that such things were being said about their town. The new church pastor in Stull, located right across the road from the old one, indicated that he believed the stories to be the invention of students at the university.
But such stories have a stronghold on people, as evidenced by the reaction to the article that claimed that the devil would appear in Stull Cemetery on the night of the Spring Equinox and again on Halloween. On March 20, 1978, more than 150 people waited in the cemetery to arrive at the devil. The word also spread that the spirits of those who died violent deaths and were buried there would return from the grave. Unfortunately, the only shades that showed up that night came in bottles and cans… but this did not stop the stories from spreading.
All through the 1980s and up until today, stories have been told about Stull Cemetery, and as time has passed, most have grown more horrifying and hard to believe. The problem seems to be that the cemetery has a lack real, documented accounts of strange activity. The weird tales seem to be little more than “urban legends” and second-hand stories from teenagers and college students.
One story told of two young men visiting Stull Cemetery one night and became frightened when a strong wind began blowing out of nowhere. They ran back to their car, only to find that the vehicle had been moved to the other side of the highway and was now facing in the opposite direction. Another man claimed to experience this same anomalous wind, but inside the church rather than in the graveyard. He claimed that the sinister air current knocked him to the floor and would not allow him to move for some time. Incidentally, it is inside this same church where “witnesses” say that no rain will fall… even though the crumbling building has no roof!
The legends also say that the Devil has been appearing here since the 1850s and insist that the town’s original name was “Skull” and that the later corruption of that into “Stull” was to cover the fact that the area was steeped in black magic. It was said that the witchcraft-practising early settlers were so repentant about the past deeds that they changed the town’s name. In truth, the city was called “Deer Creek Community” until 1899, when the last name of the first postmaster, Sylvester Stull, was adopted as the village’s name. The post office closed down in 1903, but the name stuck.
In 1980, an article appeared in the Kansas City Times that added further fuel to the rumours about Stull Cemetery and the abandoned church. The report was quoted as saying that the Devil chose two places to appear on Earth every Halloween. One of them was the “tumbleweed hamlet” of Stull, Kansas, and the other, which co-occurs at midnight, is someplace on the “desolate plain of India.” From these sites, according to the article, the Devil gathers all the people who died violent deaths over the past year for a prance around the Earth at the witching hour.
But why in Stull? The article adds that he appears in Stull because of an event that took place in the 1850s, when “a stable hand allegedly stabbed the mayor to death in the cemetery’s old stone barn. Years later, the barn was converted into a church, which in turn was gutted by fire. A decaying wooden crucifix that still hands from one wall is thought sometimes to turn upside-down when passersby step into the building at midnight…” The story neglects to mention that, historically speaking, neither the Deer Creek Community nor Stull has ever had an official mayor.
Author Lisa Hefner Heitz has collected numerous legends that have added to the mythology of Stull Cemetery. Some of them include the “fact” that the Devil also appears at Stull on the last night of winter or the first night of spring. He comes to visit a witch that is buried there. Coincidentally, an old tombstone bearing the name “Wittich” is relatively close to the old church. It should also be mentioned that there are rumours that an old tree in the graveyard, which was cut down a year or so ago, was once used as a gallows for condemned witches. There is also a grave in the cemetery that holds the bones of a “child of Satan”, who was born of the Devil and a witch. The child was so deformed that he only lived for a few days, and the body was buried in Stull. Some say that his ghost may walk here, as there supposedly was a photo taken a few years ago that shows a “werewolf-like boy” peering out from behind a tree.
One of the strangest stories about Stull supposedly appeared in Time magazine (it didn’t) in either 1993 or 1995 (depending on the version you hear). This story claims that Pope John Paul II allegedly ordered his private plane to fly around eastern Kansas while on his way to a public appearance in Colorado. The reason for this, the story claims, was that the Pope did not want to fly over “unholy ground”.
The legends grew, and by 1989, the crowd at the graveyard on Halloween night had become so overwhelming that the Douglas County sheriff’s department had to station deputies outside to send people on their way. They handed out tickets for criminal trespass to anyone caught on the property. It was believed that nearly 500 people came to the cemetery on Halloween night of 1988, doing damage to the church and gravestones, prompting a police response the following year.
As time passed, the residents grew more irritated that vandals and trespassers were wreaking havoc in the cemetery where their loved ones and ancestors were buried. Finally, a chain link security fence was installed around the grounds, and although the area is still regularly patrolled, the visits have died down somewhat, at least outside of October. In addition, there have been signs posted against trespassing here, and locals have made it clear that visitors are not welcome.
So, what about the stories? Were they genuine or the work of some student writer’s imagination? Is the cemetery at Stull haunted…. or is the “haunting” merely the result of an “urban legend” gone berserk? That’s a tricky question to answer. Although undoubtedly the vast majority of the tales about the cemetery have been manufactured from horror fiction, they still beg that now-familiar question of how such stories got started in the first place? Is there a grain of truth to the dark tales? Did some isolated supernatural event take place here that led to embellishment over the years?
We have no idea, and residents are not talking. Strangely, although property owners have spoken out against both vandals and the macabre stories, they have done little to try and end the legends for good. For example, as so many of the paranormal events supposedly involve the ruin of the old church, why not tear it down? The building has been standing vacant since 1922, and it has been badly damaged by vandalism over the years. In 1996, the remnants of the roof blew off and once exposed to the elements, both weather and graffiti have damaged the interior walls. Recently, a large crack also opened in one stone wall after the church was struck by lightning. So why not tear it down before it falls on its own? Wouldn’t this bring an end to the demonic tales circulating about the place?
To make matters worse, why chase away those who come to the cemetery at midnight on Halloween to see the Devil appear? Why not simply “control the chaos” and allow the curiosity-seekers to see that no spirits will run rampant on that fateful night? On Halloween night of 1999, reporters from a local newspaper and a television news crew joined a group of onlookers at the cemetery. Sheriff’s deputies were on hand but did not ask anyone to leave until 11:30 pm. Why?
At precisely this moment, an unknown representative for the cemetery owners appeared and ordered everyone to leave the property. The officers had no choice but to go along with their wishes, and the reporters and spectators had to leave. As Stull Cemetery and the land around it is private property, there was no option but to comply. The owners stated, through the representative, that they did not want media attention brought to the graveyard because it attracts vandals. But couldn’t they have furthered their cause by allowing the camera crew to show that the Devil did not appear at midnight, thus debunking the legend forever? But that wasn’t the end of the story. On March 29, 2002, the old stone church in the cemetery was mysteriously demolished. A man named Major Weiss, who owned the property, along with two other people (who he declined to name), said that he did not authorise the abandoned church to be destroyed. Those who live nearby stated that they were also unaware of the demolition, although one of them did say that a wall of the church had collapsed about two weeks before. The spooky old church — so much a part of the legend — was no more.