It was about 20 years ago that I was formally introduced to or indoctrinated into what you might today call the ‘Helltown Experience’. One cool, late-summer night I somehow managed to tag along with my sister and a few other older high school students on a joyride through “Butane Town”. Our guide that evening was three or four years my senior, one of the more popular guys in school who would pass me in the halls shouting, “Lima bean!” (For some reason, he decided that I “looked like a lima bean” and that became one of my strangest childhood nicknames.) I was a painfully shy, awkward freshman, so being invited for a backseat ride through our infamously creepy local ghost town both completely unexpected and the highlight of my year.
It was twilight when we reached the bottom of the winding road, passing the ‘satanic church’ with its eerie red basement glow and making a right turn on Stanford Road where the numerous tales were born. And so, our guide began telling the story of Butane Town, or Mutane Town, according to some folks. The name supposedly came from an accident involving a truck carrying fuel or a toxic waste dump or something along those lines. The toxic waste version resulted in rumors of mutated people hiding out in the woods (which is where the Mutane or Mutant Town names came into play).
We first passed the “slaughter house” on the corner with its blood-stained barn where more than pigs were said to have been massacred. Down the road further was the ‘witch’s house’ which seemed far from deserted with its interior lights on and the blue glow of a television visible through the window. At this point, the driver slowed down as we came upon the infamous school bus permanently parked on the side of the road. Dark, grimy, and foreboding, the rusting bus was said to be the scene of a killing spree where at least a dozen children were hacked to death. None of us saw the famed bloody handprints in the windows, but we didn’t get out to take a closer look.
As we approached the sharp turn at the hill, I scanned the dark, overgrown fields for the ‘invisible cemetery’ said to be visible only at night when the tombstones glowed, yet I saw nothing. But we were quickly approaching the highlight of the trip: the End of the World. As was the tradition of the time, the driver revved his engine and floored the gas pedal to reach the top of the hill. At its peak, the road appeared to vanish before us and the car was briefly airborne before slamming down on the steep downgrade on the other side. Before long, we passed the ‘crazy house’ and reached the end of our journey at Brandywine Falls.
Today, the modern Helltown that people visit is just a shadow of its former creepy self. While the stories continue to grow and evolve, many of the landmarks have faded away. The abandoned bus was towed away years ago, and Stanford Road is closed to vehicles between the steepest hill and Brandywine Falls. The few houses remaining are ether occupied by residents or owned by the National Park Service; few abandoned buildings remain. Yet this doesn’t stop autumn thrill-seekers from searching the area for robe-clad cult members and the infamous truck with one headlight. Perhaps this is partially due to the low-budget indie horror film June 9 based on the Helltown legend and filmed in the area.
One of the most comprehensive online resources for the truth behind Helltown has been written by James Willis on his Ghosts of Ohio website, detailing the many legends as well as the history of the area. Originally, this was the town of Boston which sprang up on the Ohio & Erie Canal in the early 1800s, but it has origins much older than that. Aside from the many native tribes who found this place inviting, a French trading post was situated at this point during the late 17th century. Today, the area has been absorbed by the village of Boston Heights. Boston itself is no longer an actual town.
Many of the legends of Helltown are either complete fictitious fabrication or fanciful explanations for mundane things. Remember that red glow in the church basement? It was caused by candles in red glass holders on an altar. And the witch’s house? It’s marked by a concrete post with a ‘W’ on it—something any railroader will laugh at while he explains it’s a stolen marker from the nearby tracks alerting engineers to blow their whistle. And the truck with one headlight was no phantom truck; it was a local homeowner trying to chase teenagers away from his private property.
But somewhere, tucked away behind the legends which sprang up from so many residents being evicted when the National Park Service claimed the town through eminent domain, there are truly mysterious incidents from Helltown which are rarely heard. Possibly the strangest is the story of Jim Brown, who was both a sheriff and a counterfeiter; after surviving being struck by lightning in a local tavern, Brown proclaimed that “even the Good Lord couldn’t strike him down.” Brown later died from a fall into a canal boat, but that’s not the real mystery. Years of counterfeiting led to a fast fortune in gold dust; exactly what happened to over $200,000 in gold dust (today worth over $4.3 million) is still uncertain.
Boston Cemetery may have some wild legends of deadly benches and moving trees, but some accounts from early residents claim that the graveyard was built on a native burial mound. Stories insist that human bones and artifacts were simply discarded when graves were dug, which could very well have led to some angered spirits. On top of that, there is one park-owned house and another private residence (which will soon be acquired by the National Park Service) where unexplained poltergeist activity has been reported by past renters. While I’ve been told of incidents at these structures by first-hand witnesses, I have never once heard of either building being mentioned in any of the dozens of variations on the urban legends attached to this town.
The lack of a backstory on both hauntings is somewhat perplexing, yet I am currently working on researching both locations for any possible explanation. The first building is a currently-vacant house on Stanford Road used for storage. The second is a larger structure on Boston Mills Road which was built after 1900 for one of the town’s largest businesses. The latter building seems to possess the most activity; cabinets and doors have been both heard and observed slamming from an unknown force. There are plans to renovate and restore the structure in the near future, and the effect of these changes may prove interesting on the amount of activity encountered here.
Although Helltown and its stories are still such popular parts of the mythos that is Ohio paranormal lore, the blossoming Cuyahoga Valley National Park has nearly erased all trace of the original 1970s atmosphere. Journeys similar my own high school experience are no longer a possibility; abandoned structures and quiet, desolate roads have been replaced by park-owned restored buildings and the constant traffic of hikers and cyclists. Yet while many of us lament the vanishing of the iconically-spooky (and abundantly fictional) Helltown, there are still many long-forgotten mysteries, weird tales, and unexplained happenings hiding behind freshly-painted doors and picturesque barns to allow for an evolution from urban legend to historically-creepy haunting ground.