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The Legend of Stull Cemetery
The Abandoned Church in the "Haunted" Cemetery
Experiencing the Legend
I live approximately ten miles from a famous cemetery in the small town of Stull, Kansas. With Halloween approaching, it seemed appropriate to describe a bit of the legend of Stull Cemetery. The place may or may not be haunted, but it is a truly eerie place, and one can get some pretty strange “vibes” wandering among the old tombstones there. I took the photograph of the abandoned church on this property atop Stull’s Emmanuel Hill over twenty five years ago. The church is gone, but the legend of Stull Cemetery remains.
For decades, stories of ghosts and supernatural happenings have surrounded the old graveyard, and it is a place some claim to be one of the “seven gateways to Hell”. According to a November 1974 article in the University Daily Kansan (KU’s student newspaper), the cemetery is one of two places on Earth the devil appears in person. The story was picked up by the Kansas City Times in 1980, where it was reported that the Devil chose two places to appear on Earth every Halloween. One was Stull, Kansas and the other was someplace on the “desolate plains of India.” From these sites, according to the article, Satan gathers all the people who died violent deaths over the past year for a dance around the Earth at the witching hour. The article added that he appeared in Stull because of an event that took place in the 1850’s, 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 was later gutted by fire. A decaying wooden crucifix that hung from one wall was thought to sometimes turn upside-down when passersby stepped into the building at midnight...”
It was rumored that Pope John Paul II instructed his private plane to fly around Kansas so he would not fly over “unholy ground”. Other tales involved visitors to the cemetery experiencing memory loss, being “grabbed” on the arm by someone or something, strong winds holding visitors motionless, and losing time. One of the most common stories told us that rain would not strike the floor of the church (when it was still there), even though it had no roof.
An intriguing rumor was reported by Author Lisa Hefner Heitz, who has collected numerous legends that have added to the mythology of Stull Cemetery. This tale asserts that the Devil appears at Stull on the last night of winter or the first night of spring to visit a witch that is buried there. A tombstone bearing the name “Wittich” is located close to where the old church stood. Other rumors claim an old tree in the graveyard was once used as a gallows for condemned witches. A grave in the cemetery is purported to hold the bones of a “child of Satan”, born of the Devil and a witch. The child was so deformed he only lived a few days, and the body was buried in Stull. Some say his ghost walks there, as a photo was supposedly once taken that showed a “werewolf-like boy” peering out from behind a tree.
These are common tales that can be found on numerous web sites, so why do I mention them here? I have a story of my own involving the cemetery at Stull. My tale takes place 33 years ago, when I was a freshman in college in 1976. My friends and I had heard the stories about Stull Cemetery, but the hysteria surrounding it hadn’t yet grown. One night in October (but not Halloween), three friends and I drove to the cemetery to see what we could see.
We arrived after dark and parked my old Mercury Cougar along one of the rock roads which circled the cemetery. Shortly after we climbed out of the car, we were engulfed by an enormous wind. It wasn’t strong enough to prevent us from moving but was still an impressive, sustained gust that prompted us to clutch our jackets in response. After ten or fifteen seconds, the wind subsided as quickly as it approached, and we were left to prowl the grounds in search of the unexplainable. (It is important to remember that this occurred well before it was fashionable for college students to come to the cemetery in search of thrills. The fences were not yet in place, and police patrols were not regular occurrences.) We split into pairs, and as we meandered through the sea of tombstones, I found myself awestruck by their age. I wondered about the men and women that died over a hundred years earlier—what type of people were they? How did they live and, ultimately, die?
We inspected graves awhile longer, and then heard a sound. A small bell was ringing softly, melodically. After a few moments of searching, we found the bell tied to the branch of a large tree. My friend wondered why we didn’t hear the bell as the windswept through. There was nothing protecting it from the windstorm, and it should have shaken violently in the midst of the tremendous gusts that passed through only minutes before. We inspected the bell and saw it was attached to the tree with simple kite string—certainly nothing strong enough to hold it in place while the wind swept through. Who placed the bell there, and why?
After another moment, the two of our party separated from us cried out in unison, “Look!” We hurried toward them and asked what was wrong. They said they saw someone. A man was standing near the church. The biggest and strongest of our group asked where he was, and we cautiously followed a short distance behind as he searched for evidence we were not alone. We determined that whoever our friends saw was no longer there, and asked them to describe our guest. They explained that a very tall man stood next to the church. He wore a cloak (or some type of bulky outer-garment) and boots. When he realized he was spotted, he moved behind the church wall with great speed for someone so large. The odd aspect of what they observed was that the darkness didn’t seem to envelope him as it did us—while we stood shrouded in the shadows of the night, to them he appeared as if in daylight. They saw the colors of his clothes and his long gray hair, tied back into a ponytail. And then, he was gone. Having seen enough to be sufficiently spooked, we decided to depart as well. We hastened to our car and sped back to Lawrence. No one spoke much on the way back to town—we were processing what we saw.
The simplest interpretation of our experience that night was: we stood in a strong wind, heard a bell, and thought we saw someone. Two of my companions convinced themselves this was the sum total of our experience, but my other friend wasn’t so sure. He remained convinced something odd “happened” that night, and was certain the man our friends spotted was a ghost or some other type of paranormal entity.
Is my tale diabolical? Not really. Does it suggest we had an encounter with the supernatural? Not in any definitive way. Was it weird, and in keeping with the strange tales of Stull Cemetery? Very much so, especially when compared with other stories recounted over the years. I recorded the events of that night in my journal and always wondered what else was there to be seen that night, if only we knew where to look, in Stull Cemetery.
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CW Television Series Supernatural Update
The fifth-season finale for the CW Network’s hit series Supernatural took brothers Sam and Dean Winchester to Stull Cemetery, just outside their childhood home of Lawrence, Kansas. In this episode, Michael and Lucifer met to do battle. Lucifer used Sam as his vessel and Adam Milligan was Michael’s human host. Dean arrived but Michael informed him it was no longer his fight. The angel Castiel temporarily banished Michael with Holy Oil, leaving an opportunity for Lucifer to attack Dean. Before Dean could be killed, however, Sam regained control of his body and opened Lucifer’s Cage. Michael reappeared and tried to stop him before being dragged into the cage, as well.
The cemetery depicted in this episode was not really Stull, but the dramatic story of a conflict between good and evil was certainly in keeping with the legends surrounding this small, isolated cemetery. This episode did nothing to dispel the notion that Stull Cemetery is a significant location for the forces of good and evil alike.