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Archive for Saturday, October 31, 1998

CEMETERY LEFT PINING CENTURY-OLD TREE COMES DOWN IN STULL LANDMARK

October 31, 1998

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— Stull Cemetery stands unguarded after the giant pine tree at its entrance was cut down Friday.

The ancient guardian of Stull Cemetery went down Friday without a fight.

After more than a century, the pine tree that stood sentry just inside the gate died over the summer and had to be cut down, one great chunk at a time.

The tallest branch let loose of the gnarled trunk with a crack, reverberating as it hit the ground.

Bill Woodruff, whose tree service was doing the work, said he had heard the rumors that the cemetery was an entrance to hell.

"I guess that will get rid of the gates," Woodruff said, standing amid the branches, pine cones and sawdust that lay all around him.

The legend of Stull Cemetery being something more than an old cemetery -- that the devil had appeared there, that someone had been murdered there, that it was a gathering spot for witches -- has drawn countless fraternity pledges and juvenile fear seekers over the years.

The most dedicated chose Halloween night to make their dark pilgrimages. Evidence of their trips are in the names etched in the walls of a nearby abandoned church, in the broken bottles that litter the floor and in the damaged headstones in the cemetery.

This Halloween, as in years past, the Douglas County Sheriff's Department will be patrolling the cemetery, said Kenny Massey, undersheriff. Those caught on the grounds can look forward to misdemeanor arrests for criminal trespassing.

But if the rumors are true, there was no evidence to be found on a sunny Friday afternoon in Stull, which is 10 miles west of Lawrence.

No blood gushed from the severed limbs scattered around the tree's trunk.

The only screams were those of the revving chainsaws.

The only moaning was done by the hydraulic lift of the flatbed truck.

Steve Jansen, director of the Watkins Community Museum of History, estimated the spooky legend's creation not at the dawn of time but only the mid-1970s.

"It has become now fully mythologized," Jansen said. "I honestly have never found any historical reference to substantiate them."

But the history of the scenic cemetery, of the church on the hill above and of the tree is much, much longer, Jansen said.

The stone church was built by the mostly German residents of Deer Creek Community in 1867.

Perhaps the tree was planted at that time.

It is known that as the tree grew it engulfed a grave stone marking the final resting spot of Bettie and Frankie Thomas, both of whom died in 1879.

In 1899, the U.S. Post Office Department named the new post office, and therefore the town itself, after the first postmaster, Sylvester Stull.

The stone church was abandoned to the elements in 1922, when its congregation moved to a new building across the road, now housing Stull United Methodist Church.

For as long as anyone living can remember, the massive tree has been a part of the landscape, lording over the cemetery and the tiny community below.

"It was always just a nice, big, old tree you really hate to see go," said Jim Kelley, a retired teacher and member of the church. "It's going to look like something's missing for a while."

-- Kendrick Blackwood's phone message number is 832-7221. His e-mail address is kblackwood@ljworld.com.

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