Legend Has It: Stull Cemetery
Stull is a sleepy little town about 12 miles outside of Lawrence, Kansas. Calling it a town might even be generous. If you’ve ever heard of Stull, it’s likely only due to the urban legend tied to its Cemetery. According to the tall tale, the Devil comes to visit.
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on the legend, because it has absolutely no credible basis and it has been nothing but harmful to the Stull community. But in order to examine the consequences of the tale, we have to talk about it. The legend began small – simply that the Devil visits Stull Cemetery each Spring Equinox and Halloween. I know the Devil doesn’t sound small, but the legend has gotten so enormous that two visits from the Devil are the least of Stull’s worries. Some variations of the legend say that the Devil visits through a literal portal to hell in the Cemetery to visit his bride, or his son, or a witch he was once fond of.
The Gateway to hell has become known as the Hellmouth. The portal is said to have been housed in the Emmanuel Church, which was an old stone building on Cemetery property. That structure no longer stands today. Allegedly, prior to the land being used as a cemetery, a large tree next to the church was used to hang witches, effectively staining the soil and creating a fountain of negative energy. All of these factors allowed demonic energy to take root in the Cemetery, despite it being consecrated ground. This energy is also said to have attracted Satanists, Cults, and Witches to practice their rituals in the remains of the Emmanuel Church.
Or so the stories say.
The legend of Stull Cemetery seems to stem from a student newspaper published in 1974. This article claimed that the devil himself visited Stull two times every year – once on the spring equinox, and one on Halloween. There were no historical references or significance referenced as proof for this claim, but it was salacious enough to set Stull Cemetery on track to becoming one of Kansas’s most prolific urban legends.
After the publication of the University Daily Kansan, the story seemed to snowball out of control, making it nearly impossible to pin down how details of the story emerged. I suspect that it evolved much like other urban legends – a little hysteria and little creativity go a long way. Rumors spread quickly, and those spreading them often have tenuous links to the storyteller, if any at all. It’s always I know someone whose cousin’s best friend’s aunt blah blah blah. The details added on were accepted without question by most, though historians and residents refute all claims of the supernatural. Some of the more egregious examples of added details are 1) the Pope diverted his flight to avoid passing over the Cemetery and 2) the death of Stull’s mayor in 1850 is the source of the haunting, or what drew the energy there. Except there’s no proof of the Pope claim, and Stull did not have a mayor. Despite the facts to refute the claims, people still believe the legend.
Pop culture has also played a hand in reinforcing the legend. It was heavily featured in the fifth season of the popular TV show Supernatural. The show’s creator has also stated that the protagonists were tied to Lawrence due to its proximity to Stull and the infamous Cemetery, and cemented the brothers’ ties to the demonic and the supernatural. Beyond this, several bands have incorporated Stull and its legends into their songs and artwork.
First of all, the decades of thrill-seekers and investigators have worn on the town. Every Halloween, the police are tied up with keeping watch over the cemetery. This is clearly an issue as Halloween can be the cause of many emergencies (drunk driving, bar fights, etc) that actually require police presence to resolve. The droves of tourists (which are mostly high school and college students, for what it is worth) tie up already scant resources – and why? So someone can get a spike of adrenaline from seeing a shadow? I may sound cynical, but this baseless legend is so beyond damaging for this town. I’m mad for them. None of the residents of Stull should be subjected to this fanfare.
The Cemetery itself has also suffered from the influx of popularity. Not only are trespassers not allowed, but the persistence of onlookers has led to the skeletal chapel being completely leveled. The structure is totally gone now, because people care about about some clearly false legend than established history. To be frank, it’s infuriating. I can’t blame Stull for being overprotective of where their dead are buried. It’s incredibly disrespectful to put make-believe above that. It’s clear that there is absolutely nothing to back up the legend, and absolutely no reason to keep harassing the town and its residents in pursuit of the thrill of trying to see it for yourself.
Bottom line: do not go to Stull. There are no Satanists, no occult rituals. No Devil. Just a small-town resting place. The dead deserve the respect of being left alone.