-GHOSTS OF THE PRAIRIE -
HAUNTED OHIO

 

The Truth About Hell TOWN
bY jIM wILLIS
American Ghost Society Rep & Founder of "Ghost of Ohio"

Editor's Note (by Troy Taylor):
As most ghost hunters, website hosts and researchers are well aware, many of the stories sent in from the general public often are little more than "warmed over" urban legends that are widely known around the country. I am often deluged with the stories of "Cry-Baby Bridges" and the railroad tracks and bridges were luckless teenagers met with an accident and now return to help passing cars make it to the other side of the bridge. With nearly every story like this that I receive, it becomes obvious that the person who contacted me had no idea that the stories were not true.

Such is the case for what has happened to Jim Willis, the founder of "Ghosts of Ohio" and an American Ghost Society Area Rep for Ohio. As you will soon see, Jim was bombarded with stories about a "haunted" place called "Hell Town", which had been unfairly targeted by teenagers and vandals. The stories had become so bad that Jim's group was actually asked to look into the stories and reveal them for what they really were! The following article was the result of his research.

I think we can all learn from what Jim has accomplished with his investigations. I have always felt that it us up to the legitimate researcher to reveal the hoaxes and legends for what they are... in this way, we can bring attention to the real stories that come along!

THE TRUTH ABOUT HELLTOWN BY JIM WILLIS

The Ghosts of Ohio had only been in operation a few months when we first began hearing the rumors Hell Town--a dark, foreboding place where ghosts, cults, and even a serial killer were said to lurk. Some even told us that the entire town was cursed, warning us that it was dangerous to be in the area after dark. Needless to say, we were intrigued and wanted to learn more.

Last summer, The Ghosts of Ohio made their first visit to the area known as Hell Town. . . and we were shocked at what we found there. In fact, even as this article is being written, we are still trying to come to terms with what we witnessed and learned.

THE LOCATION OF HELL TOWN

Suffice to say, you will not find Hell Town on any map of Ohio, for reasons that will become apparent as this article progresses. However, the areas most often associated with the Hell Town legends are Boston Township and Boston Village, as well as portions of Sagamore Hills and Northfield Center Townships, In most of the legends, all of these areas are condensed into one area, which is referred to as Boston Mills.

THE HISTORY

First settled in 1806, Boston stands as the oldest village in Summit County. The first mill was built in the village in the early 1820s. Several years later, the arrival of the Ohio & Erie Canal brought more people to Boston. And over the next few decades, mills began to flourish in the area, most notably a paper mill. When a railroad station was constructed in the town in the early 1880s, the station was named "Boston Mills" in reference to the aforementioned mill and the name stuck.

Over the years, little changed in the small town. However, beginning in the late 1960s, a nationwide movement began that expressed concern over our forests being destroyed in the name of progress. In 1974, in an effort to save the forests, President Gerald Ford signed legislation that enabled National Park Services to purchase land to be used to create national parks. Shortly after that, on December 27th, 1974, hundreds of acres, including land within the Township of Boston, were officially designated as a National Recreation Area.

"MASS EVACUATION"

What many did not realize until it was too late was that this legislation had a dark underside to it. It gave the federal government jurisdiction to literally buy houses and land right out from under the current owners in order to "clear the way" for the national park.

Almost immediately after the bill was passed, the government began acquiring houses throughout Boston Township and the surrounding area. And while residents could try to buy some time by haggling over the price the government was willing to pay them for their property, one thing was certain; once the government came calling, you were going to lose everything.

In what can only be described as a mass evacuation, residents began leaving in droves and entire townships began to be swallowed up by the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. These events were so tragic that they were featured in the 1983 PBS documentary "For The Good Of All." But perhaps the general feelings of the displaced homeowners were best summed up in a statement found scrawled across the wall of a vacated home: "Now we know how the Indians felt."

THE ORIGIN OF THE LEGENDS

Once a house was acquired and the owners left, it was quickly boarded up and plastered with US-issued "no trespassing" signs. It would then sit vacant until the government could arrange for it to be torn down. In some instances, houses were intentionally burned to serve as training exercises for local fire departments.

But with literally hundreds of homes being purchased, the government quickly fell behind and it was not uncommon to drive down a street and find several boarded-up houses sitting next to the burned-out remains of another house.

To a passing motorist unaware of the events taking place in the area, they most certainly would have thought they have stumbled into an episode of the X-Files, where an entire town simply disappears mysteriously into thin air. Undoubtedly, this is where the roots of all the Hell Town legends lie.

THE LEGENDS OF HELL TOWN

The stories currently circulating regarding Hell Town are so numerous that it is almost impossible to track them all. And in many cases, the stories often intermingle. But here are some of the more well-known legends, complete with the true story behind them:

Government Conspiracy
The Cemetery
The House in the Woods
The School Bus
The Church
The Hearse
End of the World
Highway to Hell
Dead-End Roads
The Slaughterhouse
The Funeral Home
Children of the Corn
Animal Mutilations
Figures in the Woods
"Satanic Activity" Warnings
Ghostly AAA

GOVERNMENT CONSPIRACY

Legend:
The government is attempting to cover up the fact that they spilled deadly chemicals in the area. These chemicals are said to have caused bizarre mutations to area residents and their children.

The Truth:
Stories regarding a government conspiracy refer to the area where the chemicals were spilled as either Butane Town, Mutane Town, or Mutant Town-the first two named after the chemical said to have been spilled and the latter describing the results of the spill.

But records show that there never was a chemical spill of any type in the area, by the government or anyone else. These stories were no doubt created out of the need to tell the "truth" behind the various US Government signs affixed to the abandoned buildings.

THE CEMETERY LEGEND:

"The local cemetery is haunted by a ghost that sits on a bench and stares blankly into creation."

The Truth:
To begin with, The Ghosts of Ohio have no idea what it means to stare "blankly into creation". But oddly enough, that is almost always the way the ghost is described. And despite receiving numerous e-mails and reviewing postings on the Internet, The Ghosts of Ohio have yet to come up with any further description of this alleged ghost other than it "stares blankly into creation." You would think that an eyewitness who was close enough to see a ghost's eyes would be able to give a better description.

There is also the fact that the "blankly into creation" quote appears on a popular ghost Web site. This leads The Ghosts of Ohio to believe that many visitors to the Web site are reading the legend and passing it along verbatim.

The home to this spirit is said to be Boston Cemetery. And while people still continue to report seeing this ghost sitting on a bench in the cemetery, there's one major problem: there are NO benches in Boston Cemetery.

Legend:

"The trees in the cemetery move"

The Truth:
This legend is another one that appears verbatim on a large number of Web sites. And again, no additional information is ever given. However, one e-mail The Ghosts of Ohio received said the trees were the work of a "Satanic cult" that caused the trees move in order to protect the cult's secrets.

Needless to say, there's nothing to this legend, although it did lend itself to a lot of sarcastic comments ("sure the trees move-whenever it's windy").

Legend:

The cemetery is a dark, foreboding place that sits atop a cliff:

•"The cemetery is possibly the creepiest place in northern Ohio."

•"The cemetery road winds along a cliff."

•"You could try to drive your car up there, but odds are you'd slide down the rocky cliff on the other side."

The Truth:
The vast majority of descriptions of the cemetery describe it as a spooky cemetery that sits alongside a "cliff" at the top of a huge hill. And while this is not necessarily paranormal in nature, it does add to the sense of foreboding that is said to permeate the cemetery.

Boston Cemetery does indeed sit atop a small hill. And the road is unpaved and does wind around the top of the hill. But on our last visit to the cemetery, The Ghosts of Ohio were able to make up this hill in a Honda without effort. And if we did slide off the side of the hill, we would have simply slid down through the grass. Granted, there are some trees at the bottom of the hill, but it is a far cry from the steep, rocky ravine some would have you believe.

Legend:
Boston Cemetery contains the graves of a large number of children who were all killed in a bus accident.

The Truth:
As with any cemetery, there are children's graves in Boston Cemetery. But none are the result of any bus crash. This legend was apparently started in an attempt to tie the cemetery to the legend of the school bus (see below).

**NOTE: Ohio cemeteries, gated or not, close at dusk. So if you are inside a cemetery after dark, you are trespassing. Due to the recent vandalism in Boston Cemetery, the area is now patrolled on a regular basis. If you are caught inside Boston Cemetery at night, you will be arrested. To put it another way: there is nothing inside Boston Cemetery worth going to jail for.

THE HOUSE IN THE WOODS

Legend:
"There is an abandoned house in the woods where one light always appears in the upstairs window."

The Truth:
Believe it or not, there is house in Boston Township where a light stays on all night. It's the local hostel-a lodging house for young travelers. The light stays on in since it functions as a boarding house that accepts guests 24 hours a day.

Saying that this house is "in the woods" is debatable. For while it does sit a bit off the road, there are several signs alerting you to the fact that you are approaching the hostel and one was even placed at the end of their driveway. It seems around the time of the signs being put in place, the story of the "light in the upstairs window" shifted away from the hostel and down the road a bit to the infamous "school bus house."

THE SCHOOL BUS

Legend:
A whole busload of children were slaughtered in the woods by (choose your favorite from the list below):

•A serial killer

•A band of serial killers

•An escaped mental patient

•Several escaped mental patients

•A group of Satanists or cult members

The bus is still there, although all the seats have been removed. But sometimes (again, choose your favorite):

•The bus fills up with the ghosts of the murdered children, each one sitting in their ghostly seats.

•The ghost of a man ("the killer") smoking a cigarette is seen at the back of the bus.

•Children's screams and/or laughter are heard coming from inside the bus.

Locals have tried to tow the "cursed" bus away, but each time they attempted to do so, some mishaps, which often resulted in injury and even death, resulted. As a result, they decided to leave the bus there.

The Truth:
Prior to the 1974 buyout, a family bought the house, which was in dire need of repairs. Since the house was not in livable condition, the family needed a place close by to stay while they made the repairs. Their solution was to bring an old school bus onto the property and they lived in there until repairs were completed. And while this is a bit odd, there is certainly nothing paranormal about it. It also explains why all the seats were removed from the bus. When the government bought the property, the family had no use for the old bus and it was left behind (note: this is also why there are abandoned cars, farm equipment, etc. scattered across the area-in most cases, non-working machinery was simply left behind as junk).

Now, before you go driving down there to see the bus for yourself and attempt to prove The Ghosts of Ohio wrong, you should know that the bus is no longer there. Locals complained of the large number of people running through the woods at night in search of the "cursed bus" and it was eventually towed away. . . without mishap. And why did the bus sit there for so long? Simple-when the land was purchased, the bus became government property, so it was up to the government to move it. Need we say more?

THE CHURCH

Legend:
Local churches are used as cover for evil cults:

•"A group of devil worshippers own the church."

•There is an evil man who lives in the basement and guards the church against outsiders. He refuses to let people see his face and hides if you try to look at him.

•"There are always candles burning in the church, even at night."

•"The church has upsidedown (sic) crosses all over it."

•The church is never open for mass, no matter what time you go there.

The Truth:
There are in fact two churches that these legends refer to: Boston Community and Mother of Sorrows. Of the two, Boston Community Church is the one that is more often the focus of the legends, particularly the ones involving the "man in the basement."

The basement of Boston Community Church houses nothing more than classrooms and offices. So chances are if an angry man was spotted in the basement, it was simply a church worker, understandably angered at having strangers peering in at him. And as far as him jumping out of the way when being spotted, ask yourself this question: you're working at the office late at night and you hear a noise. You look up and see a group of faces staring through the window at you. Wouldn't you jump?

The reference to seeing lit candles inside the church at night may indeed be true. Many religious centers allow members of their congregation to light candles in memory of departed loved ones. These candles are often permitted to continue burning ever after the ceremony.

Mother of Sorrows is the church alleged to have "upside down crosses" hanging from it. But these "crosses" are nothing more than design elements in the church's gingerbread trim, which occurs quite frequently in the gothic revival style of architecture.

For the record, both churches are listed in local directories. You can see the listing for Boston Community Church by clicking here. In addition, you can see a photo of Mother of Sorrows church by visiting Explore Peninsula and taking their virtual Heritage Tour. The link entitled "Main Street - South" is where you will find the photo of the church. . . complete with a large, "right side up" cross atop its bell tower. (And just to stop a rumor before it begins: Boston Community Church also prominently displays a cross hung in the traditional manner).

Now, if the leaders of these churches were somehow affiliated with some secret cult, do you really think they would put their phone numbers on signs outside their church or allow themselves to be listed in the local directory?

THE HEARSE

Legend:
If you go past the "Road Closed" signs, you will find a house that a creepy man (sometimes it's a family) lives in. The man drives a hearse and will chase you in it if you get too close to his house. Sometimes, he will even try to run you down in his hearse. In some versions of this legend, the hearse has only one headlight:

•"A hearse with one headlight chased us through town."

•"We tried to follow the hearse, but it vanished at the end of the road."

The Truth:
There is a bit of truth to this legend. According to Randy Bergdorf, curator/historian of the Peninsula Library and Historical Society, there was a Boston Township family that owned a hearse at one time. But they only used it for during Halloween. It appears as though someone took the story of a hearse in town and ran with it.

As for a hearse being able to drive down past the "Road Closed" signs, it is impossible to do so. The area is heavily wooded on both sides and there is even a creek running alongside the road. And the gates across the road are locked tight.

THE END OF THE WORLD

Legend:

Evil awaits all those who drive this road at night:

The road is possessed and there have been numerous fatal car crashes on it.

"An evil force will try to take control of your car and force you to crash."

If you drive to the End of the World at night, a group of robed Satanists will surround you car and form a "human chain" in an attempt to trap you there.

The Truth:
Not to be confused with the nearby Top O' the World house, the End of the World legend was born out of boredom. Essentially, motorists looking for a cheap thrill began driving up Stanford Road, a twisting road with a steep incline, at high rates of speed. Once at the top of the hill, there is a sudden, fast drop down the other side. As one's car crests the hill, the illusion of driving off a cliff is created. In other words, you had just driven off the end of the world.

Of course, since this was Hell Town, such a tame activity could not escape the paranormal. And since Stanford Road is one of the infamous "dead-end roads" (see below), it wasn't long before cults and murderers started being added to the End of the World legend.

Taking into consideration that these cars are driving at high rates of speed and in some cases literally launching themselves over the crest of the hill, it should not surprise anyone that there have been mishaps on this road. And one need not consult the paranormal world to find who or what is the cause of these accidents-just look behind the wheel of the car.

THE HIGHWAY TO HELL

Legend:
Evil-doing characters lie in wait along a lonely road:

•A serial killer with an ax has been butchering motorists who travel this road at night. Police are unable to apprehend him.

•"Don't drive down the Highway to Hell at night! There are crazy people who hide in the woods and will jump out at you!"

The Truth:
The road is question is the same one that takes motorists to the End of the World. The Highway to Hell legend is a classic example of how urban legends form: Start with a harmless story ("End of the World") and add in some tried-and-true horror elements such as serial killers and cult members. Give the road a foreboding name like "Highway to Hell" and presto-instant urban legend.

THE DEAD-END ROADS Legends:

•If you go past the road closed signs in Hell Town to the end of the dead-end street, you will find a creepy cemetery.

•There are two roads that dead-end for no reason. The roads both continue. The Satanists put up road closed signs up to keep you from going down to their hideouts.

The Truth:

Time has led to some confusion over these particular legends.

Boston Cemetery does indeed sit at the end of a dead-end street: Main Street-a paved road with no "Road Closed" signs on it. But far from being spooky, driving down Main Street towards the cemetery amounts to nothing more than if you were to come to the end of a street in a subdivision. The road simply ends and the entrance to the cemetery is right in front of you.

Where you will find the "Road Closed" signs is along Stanford Road. And as the photo above shows, the road does indeed continue past the sign. But neglect, not Satanists, was the cause for this.

When Stanford Road was in full operation, it cut through several townships. Over time, a portion of the road (the part now closed) became so bad that traveling on it was deemed unsafe. Sagamore Hills and Northfield Center Township, who each owned a portion of Stanford Road, were approached and asked to make repairs. But neither one was willing to bear the cost of bringing that portion of the road up to code or to shoulder the liability should someone get hurt on the road in its current condition. So the simplest solution was to close that portion of Stanford Road.

In order to successfully close the damaged section of Stanford Road, barricades and "Road Closed" signs were placed at both ends of the road, effectively creating two dead-end streets. The fact that there are TWO places where Stanford Road dead-ends into "Road Closed" signs, along with the aforementioned abandoned houses dotting the landscape, is the reason why it has been so easy for new versions of the story to spread.

THE SLAUGHTERHOUSE

Legend:
"You will see ghostly faces if you look inside the windows of the slaughterhouse."

NOTE: This photo was taken with a telephoto lens while standing in Boston Cemetery. Please do not trespass onto this owner's property.

The Truth:
Aside from a neighbor who might have offered to slaughter your livestock in order to make some extra money, there never was an official slaughterhouse in the Boston Mills area. Remember, this was not your average town-it was a mill town.

The building that is called the "old slaughterhouse" is nothing more than part of an old duplex built for tenants from the neighboring mill. The old building sits next to a more modern home, which certainly gives it a dark and gloomy appearance. And sitting right next to Boston Cemetery certainly doesn't help the house's reputation any. But the house has been acknowledged for its historical significance and is part of the National Historic District. In fact, it stands as being one of only two houses in the entire US that the Park Service has sold back to private ownership.

THE FUNERAL HOME

Legend:
There is an abandoned funeral home next to the cemetery. Candles are often seen burning in the windows at night and "cult members" will chase you away if you try and get to close to the building.

Truth:
The building some call the abandoned funeral home is the same one others say is the old slaughterhouse (see above). And while the property owners are not cult members, one could not blame them if they did decide to chase you. . . or call the police, for that matter. After all, you are trespassing on their property.

CHILDREN OF THE CORN

Legend:
There is some connection between Boston Township and the movie "Children of the Corn":

•The movie was filmed in Boston Township.

•"Satanic" props from the movie were left behind by the production crew and are now being used by area Satanists.

•The movie was based "on reallife (sic) events that took place in Hell Town".

The Truth:
The original Children of the Corn, released in 1984 by New World

Pictures, was filmed in Whiting, Iowa. Sequels to the film were shot at various locations throughout California, including Ventura.

By 1983, around the time the original Children of the Corn was being filmed, the National Park Service had already been acquiring land for almost nine years. As a result, it would have been next to impossible to film a movie in the area as special permission would have had to been granted by the Department of the Interior.

There is also no truth to the statement that the film was inspired by actual events that took place in Boston Township. The film was based on the Stephen King short story of the same name that appeared in his collection of short stories, "Night Shift." And in both the King story and the original film, the setting was Gatlin, Nebraska.

Subsequent movie releases were all set either within the town of Gatlin or in "nearby cities." Regardless, the settings were never outside Nebraska.

"SATANIC ACTIVITY" WARNINGS

Legend: Local authorities warn motorists not to travel through Boston Township at night due to "Satanic activity" in the area.

The Truth:
In an effort to curb the trespassing and vandalism that is taking place, Boston Township trustees have asked the Summit County Sheriff's Office Department to tell individuals to "move along" should they be found loitering in certain areas at night, including around the cemetery.

GHOSTLY AAA

Legend:
"There is a crybaby bridge there and it's said that if you bring an extra set of keys, park on the bridge, turn your car off, lock the doors and walk away with the keys just sitting inside when you come back the car will be covered in dust with little footprints all over it and the car will be running, but still locked."

The Truth:
The truth here is that if you chose to "test" this legend, you should probably not only believe in ghosts, but in miracles as well.

Sarcasm aside, this particular legend incorporates some classic ghost urban legend elements, most notably the references to a crybaby bridge and the prints left all over the car.

Crybaby bridges can be found throughout the US and in fact, The Ghosts of Ohio's database contains references to at least 18 such bridges in Ohio alone. And ghostly prints appearing on your car are also quite common. Ohio sites where this phenomenon has been reported include Gravity Hill and Gore Orphanage. Although The Ghosts of Ohio admit that this is the first time we have seen footprints mentioned. In all other cases, they are handprints.

CONCLUSIONS

Several months ago, when The Ghosts of Ohio began work on this piece, we were amazed at the stories we read on the Internet about Hell Town-amazed because we could not comprehend how anyone could even begin to think these stories are true.

The Ghosts of Ohio traditionally utilize equipment such as infrared video and film, electromagnetic field detectors, and non-contact thermometers during our investigations. And while we did incorporate some of this equipment during our investigation of "Hell Town", the vast majority of our fieldwork consisted of nothing more than library research and speaking with people from the area.

Everyone loves a good ghost story. And there is nothing better than giving your friends a good, old-fashioned scare. But keep this in mind: if you are sharing stories of Hell Town with others, you are no longer entertaining others. You are spreading lies that are causing individuals to trespass, vandalize, and disrespect people's general right to privacy.

And if you currently maintain a Web site that contains some of the above-mentioned stories, The Ghosts of Ohio appeal to you to consider removing them. As we have mentioned, the vast majority of these urban legends have been spread via the Internet. And sadly, a small segment of those who read the stories are not interested in the truth, only in thrill seeking. And their actions unfortunately become a reflection on everyone involved in the field of paranormal research.

I do agree with one thing: there is an odd feeling throughout Boston Township and the surrounding area. But it's not caused by anything supernatural. It's a certain sadness in thinking of how the residents of this area had to sit helplessly by while neighbors, friends, and in some cases family members, were forced to move. And if that wasn't enough, now they are being told they live in Hell Town. And that is why the senseless vandalism and trespassing needs to stop now.

Because while we can't change what has happened to these people in the past, we can offer them hope for the future.

Copyright 2001 by James Willis. All Rights Reserved.
Special thanks to Randy Bergdorf for his invaluable assistance with this article.

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Ghosts of the Prairie (C) Copyright 2002 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.