I’m a sucker for urban legends. Ghost stories, haunted houses, monsters, you name it. So when the chance came along to visit a somewhat famous “haunted” cemetery touted as a portal to Hell frequented by THE DEVIL HIMSELF, I jumped at it.
Stull Cemetery is located in the postage stamp-sized town of Stull, Kansas–approximately 10 minutes from Lawrence, home to the University of Kansas, and a half hour from Kansas City, though it could be pretty much anywhere; acres and acres of farmland, scenic as it may be, tends to be interchangeable after a while, lending a sense of desolation as you wind your way along Highway 40.
Stories of Stull Cemetery abound on the internet, most sticking to the same handful of “facts”: Tales are documented going back to at least the ’70s, when a professor at KU regaled his students with tales of a speck of haunted land outside town where witchcraft was practiced in abundance going back as far as the 1850s, the witches were hung from trees in the churchyard, and, to top it off, Satan himself made a personal appearance every Halloween at midnight (or Spring equinox, depending on the version you find) to dance with all who had succumbed to violent deaths in the previous year. There was also a hidden staircase if you looked close enough around the foundation of the decaying, vacant church that led straight to Hell—a staircase which, upon descending, there was no return.
Over the years, more incidences were added to the legend—the crumbling brick church was mysteriously leveled, supposedly to stop trespassers from trampling graves and vandalizing the cemetery, though no one in town would admit to knowing who did it; a tree that grew up through a tombstone, splitting it in two, (and was allegedly one of those used to hang witches) was cut down in the (possibly futile?) hopes of eliminating some of the stigma surrounding the property; rain allegedly never falling inside the walls of the church before it was razed (after its roof had fallen in); and perhaps most famously, Pope John Paul II reportedly once refusing to fly over Kansas, citing his desire to fly around the oft-called flyover state due to not wanting to pass over the “unholy ground” of Stull Cemetery. Playing a major role in Season 5 finale of the show Supernatural only added to the Stull legend.
So it was with great anticipation that I pulled off the highway and onto the supposedly unholy final resting place of perhaps a few dozen dearly departed, judging by a rough look at the markers. I was struck by something right away, before even getting out of the car. Something I couldn’t shake. Something that immediately unnerved me to my very core: it was so…pretty. Portals to Hell should be dilapidated, grungy, dark, gray, decaying places, wouldn’t you think? Instead of finding rotting headstones and being flooded with a sense of overwhelming dread, I was greeted by rows upon rows of green grass and well-maintained tombstones adorned with flowers and wreaths. It probably didn’t help that it was also Memorial Day, so the small lot was actually full of visitors paying their respects. Lush, green grass, flowers everywhere—it barely seemed unholy at all. A travesty, if you ask me.
And such began my dilemma, which I debated right up to the moment I started typing this: do I tell the truth—that it is, by all appearances, just a plain old (very old) run-of-the-mill cemetery—or feed you all a few little white lies to keep the legend of Stull Cemetery alive and kicking? I considered writing a mostly fictional recap of my visit, but decided against it.
Instead, I’m planning on a return trip later in the year. October, maybe. When the grass has gone dormant, the leaves have mostly fallen from the trees, there are no visitors, and everything seems a little less…alive. Maybe on that visit I’ll be overcome by the creepiness, the unease—maybe something supernatural will actually happen!—the grounds possess, and when I tell you about it I won’t have to make anything up. So as of right now, I’m considering this unfinished business.