‘Helloween’ Postcard from Hell

By Chaitram Aklu

When someone tells you, go to hell, you can actually take them up on it.

I took a family road trip from New York City to Hell, Michigan via Ontario Canada. Hell is located 40 miles west of Detroit, in Livingston County, or 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor. This hamlet is the only place in the U.S. with the name of the devil’s homeland. There is only one other place in this hemisphere with this dreaded name. It is located in Curacao, one of the ABC islands in the Caribbean.

According to John Colone, the self-appointed Mayor of Hell, the little hamlet owed its name to John Reeves a businessman who moved there from the Catskill Mountains in New York and operated a gristmill and general store, in the 1930s. It was incorporated on October 13, 1841. Some records state that it is unincorporated. The men went to the store and stayed for hours imbibing whiskey. Their wives, when asked where their husbands were, would say their husbands went to hell. So When Reeves was asked to name his town, he reportedly said, “I don’t care. You can name it Hell for all I care. Everybody else does.” Colone who makes himself available to visitors told me. No wonder he says “the town’s mission is to make people laugh.”

It was Colone’s background that probably makes him so uniquely suitable to be Mayor of Hell. He is a Vietnam Veteran. While in Vietnam in 1968, he was shot five times and pronounced dead, tagged, and placed in a body bag, and piled up on other bodies at the morgue. He ‘rolled off’ the pile twice before it was noticed that he was not dead. After twenty three months in hospital, he recovered and operated a car dealership in the area. When the dealership business folded, he turned to developing the town to attract visitors.

He created ghoulish souvenir sites where you can take photos. At the Screams Souvenir Shop you can purchase devilish costumes and get a letter postmarked at the Hell Postal substation and see the ‘preserved hand’ of the last shoplifter in a jar. Then you can enjoy “Screams” ice cream at the Creamatory ice cream shop.

Souvenir: ‘Hand of the last shoplifter.’ (Photo by C. Aklu) 

The prospect as a tourist destination looks good. It is being promoted. For 06/06/06 (666). Colone organized the event that got it into the Guinness Book of World Records. He threw out an invitation for everyone to go to the town on June 6, that year. As a result some 24 000 visitors showed up, including 51 hearses which made history as the largest parade of hearses that sent it straight into the record book! The town has a population of less than 300. There is no official count.

Besides enjoying Screams ice cream, you can also enjoy Witches pizzas and Satan hot dogs at the restaurant.  And you can check the temperature on site at the official Hell U.S. weather observation station.

Surprisingly, there is also a place of worship in Hell. The tiny six–seat Hell Chapel of Love located on the site caters for legal marriages. It is safe. It also has a question mark on its steeple. The blue painted doors keep evil spirits at bay! In 2019, there were nearly 100 marriages in the Hell’s Chapel. “A Marriage that starts in Hell has nowhere to go but up.”

As proof that you have been to Hell and were allowed to leave, you will be issued an exit stamp.

On reentering the U.S. at the Thousand Island border crossing, I told the Agent I went to Hell – Michigan when asked where I was coming from. Her reply was, “That’s not nice.” She had never heard of a place named Hell!

Finally, after the trip a teacher colleague had asked me to allow one of her disruptive students to travel with a parallel class I taught, for a few days. Devin, she said was out of control and needed a time-out. In this class, he had no friends and felt isolated so by the second day he tried to disrupt and when no one supported him, he stormed out of the room shouting “Go to hell.” I promptly followed with, “I’ve been there. I met some people who know you.” With that a new student nudged another student and whispered, “He said he went to Hell.” The nudged student calmly said, “Yes, he showed us the pictures.”

This Halloween you can actually spend a night in Hell for less than $50.00 with meals included if you are lucky.