This post in the second of a series on Halloween-themed folklore.
The Subterranean World of the Midwest
The Midwest of the United States is said to be “boring,” “flat,” and “uninteresting.” True, the area does not have many big cities of note, and the landscape doesn’t have the catch-your-eye features of Western mountains, canyons, and deserts. But then again, if you take the time to look, the more you will see.
The Midwest has an interesting geology: sitting atop limestone, the region has a myriad of underground caves and tunnels, stretching hundreds of miles, created when the limestone was eroded by acid in rotting vegetation. While living in Wichita, Kansas, I was astounded to learn that the small town of Hutchinson, just to the north of Wichita, had underground salt mines where the city records were kept safe, from corrosion, fire and flood. And the state of Missouri is known as the “Cave State.” One of the reasons St. Louis, Missouri, became a landmark town for beer brewing is because these caves provided ideal conditions for fermenting lager. Missouri alone in the Midwest has over 6,000 caves.
Clearly a large spanning subterranean network such as this would capture the imagination of the people living there. Mark Twain’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, has a famous cave that Twain mentioned in his tales of Tom Sawyer. This cave had actually been used in Twain’s lifetime as a laboratory by a local physician for dissecting corpses, and this physician also tried to mummify his dead daughter in the cave. In Alton, Illinois, just across the Missouri river from St. Louis, Missouri, is a limestone cave which legend says was once the lair of a dragon called the Piasa Bird. Alton is also the hometown of one of the few giants of historical times.
The Legend of Stull, Kansas
In this context, it is not surprising that a small, rural village, ten miles west of Lawrence, Kansas, should be regarded by legend as a portal to Hell. For decades, stories of ghosts and supernatural happenings have surrounded the old graveyard in this small hamlet, and it is a place some claim to be one of the “Seven Gateways to Hell”. (I have no idea where the other six are!)
Stull is a small town; it has a church and a cemetery from which legends have circulated for nearly 100 years. As the story goes, the devil appears in Stull cemetery twice a year: on the Spring Equinox and on Halloween. When he appears, he gathers all the spirits of the dead who have died a violent death over the past year into an all night revel. It is also said that a large tree that once stood in the graveyard was used to lynch accused witches, and that the Devil had had a love affair with a witch in town that had resulted in a child. This child was born deformed and died, and was buried in Stull cemetery.
I can’t help but notice that this legend bears a strong resemblance to the stage play “Dark Side of the Moon,” set in the countryside of Appalachia. Wikipedia describes the play this way:
This perennial favorite is based on the haunting folk ballad of “Barbara Allen.” Employing a large cast and imaginative settings in the Smoky Mountains, it recounts the story of John, a strange “witch boy” who upon first beholding the beautiful Barbara Allen immediately falls in love. He is given human form to woo and marry her on the condition that she remain true to him. The marriage is consummated and Barbara gives birth to a witch child whom the townspeople destroy in a superstitious frenzy. During a religious revival Barbara is led to betray John thus breaking their spell of love. As she dies, he returns forever to the world of the mountain witches.
Curiosity seekers still visit Stull cemetery on Halloween night at midnight in hopes of glimpsing the Devil or having any weird experiences.