These portals have always been interesting, if not fascinating, to me because they represent escapes from everydayness or, in other words, opportunities for adventure that is truly out of this world.
Cemeteries, houses, islands, lakes, mines, prisons, walls--these and many others have been openings to other places, sacred and horrific alike.
One of these portals is supposedly Stull Cemetery, near the Kansas city for which the graveyard takes its name. According to Stull Cemetery: Gate to Hell in Kansas?, a website dedicated to this allegedly unhallowed ground, “Some claim it an evil place; a frightening and even dangerous place--a place with a hidden stairway to hell--a place where Satan comes to visit the grave of his child.” A truly horrifying legend is associated with this burial ground. Another website paints a suitably macabre portrait of the place:
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 tiny village, save for a few houses, the newer church and about twenty residents. However, the population of the place allegedly contains a number of residents that are from beyond this earth! In addition to its human inhabitants, the town is also home to a number of 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” (Haunted Kansas: “Stull Cemetery”).
The method by which the legends about Stull seem to have developed is a study, as it were, for aspiring horror writers in how to create a spooky place that seems to be rooted both in history and in the supernatural.
First, the unusual features of the locale and the odd facts concerning it should be identified:
- The church that once stood on the site was abandoned long ago.
- The church was finally demolished.
- The name “Stull” sounds like the more macabre word “skull.”
- The devil allegedly appears in Stull each Halloween.
- A headstone in the cemetery bears the name “Wittich.”
- The few townspeople who continue to live in Stull are taciturn and unwelcoming.
This same two-step process can work for any place concerning which there are a few unusual features:
- Identify the unusual features of the locale and the odd facts concerning it. (Do a little research concerning the point of interest or recall some of the eerier and odder features of your own neighborhood, past or present.)
- Using falsehoods, exaggertions, and half-truths (or simple invention from nothing more than one’s own thoughts and proclivities), imagine alternative causes for these events, situations, and conditions that are more otherworldly. (Extrapolate and brainstorm.)
In addition, we recommend a third step:
Use loosely connected alternate “explanations” that are open ended, allowing for the accumulation of still more “legends” based upon falsehoods, half-truths, or creations ex nihilo. These additions can enrich and extend the mythos, allowing for longer works or, indeed a whole series of new stories. For example, Stull Cemetery is said to be one of seven portals, or gateways, to hell. Where are the others? They allow at least that many more stories about these portals and what they may unleash upon the world.
Horror writers do this all the time. Remember the crop circles in Signs? They weren’t mere crop circles; they were signaling devices for extraterrestrials, just as, some say, Stonehenge and the Peruvian Nasca Lines are. How about the chance alignments of towns and landscape features over wide ranges of the countryside? They’re mystical ley lines, some contend. What happened to the lost colony of Roanoke? Historians seem to believe that the colonists either died of starvation and exposure or were absorbed by the local native American tribe. The lunatic fringe, whose ranks the horror writer should consider joining, attributes their disappearance to alien abduction, the same incident that The X-Files’ FBI agent Fox Mulder believes took his sister from him.