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Archive for Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Saints, sinners can all go to Hell (Mich.)

October 31, 2000

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— It's downright spooky how many bad puns can spill out of one town like an overfilled trick-or-treat bag.

For the record: It does get really hot in town in the summer. In the winter, this place has been known to freeze over. A billboard on a local roadway advertises "a little town on its way up" and does indeed direct travelers to go straight here. Visitors love to say they've been here and back.

At this time of year more than any other, the perennial litany of ghoulish one-liners seems particularly fitting.

This minuscule burg in southeast Michigan is trying desperately to live up to its name.

"We're going to turn Hell into Halloween all year round," said local businessman John Colone, who is leading the efforts. "We all have a little hell in us," Colone said confidentially, tucking in his chin and looking over his glasses. "Halloween allows you to be someone else for a moment, and everybody needs that little escape once in a while."

Colone, 55, sold his car dealership in a nearby town last summer to devote his energies fulltime to pursuing his longheld dream of transforming this rustic, remote spot into a tourist destination for families looking to have a little devilish fun. He and other locals are capitalizing on the macabre and legal name given in 1841 to this tiny patch of land bordered by rolling hills and winding roads that attract cyclists and hikers.

Hundreds of people have been finding their way here this month for "Helluva Halloweekends" to buy elaborate masks at a stall just outside Colone's Hell Country Store and Spirits and to tour the "Devil's Passage," a haunted house run at Tom Davis' Hell Creek Ranch.

The most commonly cited version of how Hell got its name is that it was hastily dubbed that by early settler George Reeves, who ran a saw mill, flour mill and distillery. Eventually, Reeves built a general store near his farm and had seven houses occupied by people who worked for him. When asked what he planned to call his town, he replied, "I don't care, call it Hell if you want to."

Colone and others are trying to ensure the town's dark humor spreads well past Halloween. So far, it seems everyone likes the gag, with marathons and motorcycle rides alike making it a point to wind through Hell on their travels. In April, about 200 people drove to Hell's post office substation to mail their tax returns with a postmark from the heart.

Last week, Sandy and Bill Rooker took a drive from their home about 30 miles away to visit Hell.

"We were looking for the festivities, wondering if they were doing anything for Halloween," said Bill Rooker, 68, a retired veterinarian. "We heard they were changing things here, and they have spiffed it up a lot."

"If people came here," said Sandy Rooker, 53, "they would realize Hell's not all that bad."

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