There’s a small town in Kansas that is home to a rumor-riddled graveyard. But like the old 80s song asks, “How do rumors get started?” And further, who have those twisted tales attracted? What price does the town of Stull pay for its involuntary dark fandom?
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Stull Cemetery has many nicknames. Gateway to Hell. Devil’s Graveyard. Hellmouth in the Heart of Kansas. The rumors that fly around about the place are just as chilling. I grabbed a handful from the ethers. The Pope won’t allow his plane to fly over the cursed ground. The devil’s infant son is buried here, half-human, half-demon. There are steps that open up twice a year that lead you directly to Hell. An old tree was used to execute witches. The cemetery is one of seven portals to Hell.
It goes on and on.
I spent half a day researching the origins of the rumors and couldn’t find much concrete information – just third and fourth hand accounts. The most consistent story was that back in the 70s a university professor invented a story about Stull Cemetery to demonstrate the power and pervasiveness of urban legends. He concocted a rumor that Stull Cemetery was one of seven portals to Hell and detailed that the portal opened up two times a year, midnight on Halloween and at the Spring equinox. The story spread like wildfire and soon the fiction was recounted in blogs, on YouTube and in whispered conversations all over Kansas.
The urban legend took on a life of its own and pretty soon people forgot that the rumors were a work of fiction. But that’s how urban legend work, isn’t it? Eventually, everyone has a second cousin that’s had an encounter with a demon at Stull Cemetery.
The curious visited Stull Cemetery. Some performed dark rituals and others knocked down headstones. Though, most visitors did no harm, the city took action. The tree that allegedly witnessed witch hangings was cut down. Some stories say it was cut down without the owner’s permission the night before Halloween to dissuade thrill-seekers. I found other accounts from secondary sources that say the tree was taken down months prior because it’s roots were breaking apart tombstones.
There were rumblings about the stone church that stood on the site from 1867-2002, too. People said glass bottles would not break inside the church structure. And there was talk of upside down crosses and rituals. The church and tree were waypoints to find the alleged seven steps to Hell. Is that why both were eventually removed? The church had been roofless for decades, slowly succumbing to nature. But the fandom felt the church’s destruction was more nefarious. Google it. You’ll see what I mean.
Supernatural creator, Eric Kripke, grew up in Lawrence, Kansas, only a few miles away from Stull. He teethed on those urban legends and his wildly popular television show centers around two monster hunting brothers from Kansas. Kripke set a dramatic season finale at Stull Cemetery. That episode was about a battle between Archangel Michael and Satan. The episode called a whole new fandom through the gates of Stull Cemetery.
Pop star Ariana Grande visited Stull Cemetery in 2013. She spoke of it in an interview with the Kansas City Star. You can read the full interview here. On that day in November she sensed a negative energy inside the cemetery. As she drove through the property, her car filled with a putrid sulfur odor. As she was leaving, Grande rolled down her window and said, “We apologize. We didn’t mean to disrupt your peace.” Then she snapped a picture with her phone. She says she captured three demonic figures. She said that she tried and failed to text the image to her manager and received a message that the file was too big, 666MB. Afterwards, Grande felt unsettled in her home. She felt like someone was watching her as she slept so she deleted the picture and things returned to normal.
All this fame comes at a price. The cemetery is closed to everyone but mourners now and those that receive permission. The town holds its collective breath every evening and braces itself on Halloween. Enhanced police patrols help, but the fandom still comes uninvited.
It’s a shame.
The reason I write this blog is to inspire people to visit cemeteries. It’s primary source history. Tombstones are book covers and the graves hold the stories. Someone lived and struggled and tried and achieved and failed and inevitably died.
I’m not one for turning people away from cemeteries, but when the stories are no longer tethered to the truth, what’s the point? Those lies metastasize like a fast growing tumor. And then what? I guess then it’s best to keep people out? I’m not sure. Maybe barring people makes the rumors grow bigger faster?
It’s complicated, isn’t it? Let me know what you think in the comments!