Destination America Ignores, Rewrites History with Helltown

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Note: This piece originally appeared in the December 2017 issue of The Ghosts Of Ohio Newsletter (subscribe here to start receiving your very own free issues). But as someone who has been wearing the moniker “The Man Who Debunked Hell Town” since the early 2000s, I have been bombarded with questions about the validity of Destination America’s recent program, Helltown. So much so that I felt the article needed to be reposted here. For it is my firm belief that if anyone expects to be taken seriously in the field of paranormal research, they must be willing to openly admit instances of BS when they come floating across our airwaves.

Helltown cover

When I first learned that Destination America was going to be running a 2-hour program on the truth about Hell Town, I immediately began planning to do a review of it for an upcoming newsletter. For the premiere, I even made sure that I had a notepad and laptop within reach so I could take notes, including references and different aspects of the legend that I needed to dig deeper into. I had snacks and beverages and had even turned the cell phone off. This was going to be fantastic: 2 hours of in-depth history on the legend of Hell Town. And then the show started.

For the next two hours, I sat there in stunned silence. Twenty minutes in, it began to dawn on me that the huge review article I had been planning could be boiled down to two simply words:

It’s fake.

That’s the short version, anyway. The full thought would be that Helltown was the most ridiculous piece of garbage that I have ever seen on the Destination America channel. And let’s be honest here: that’s saying a lot! In fact, the idea that Destination America would willingly put out this piece of work speaks volumes as to how low this channel has sunk. Yeah, I get it, they called it Helltown instead of using the more popular two-word title that most have come to know the area as. But this was 2 hours of the most bizarre and outlandish claims I have ever heard, which is again saying a lot. I could take up pages of this newsletter going scene by scene, pointing out the various inaccuracies, but since I found roughly 95% of what I saw to not only be inaccurate, but total fabrications, that would take forever. Plus, I’ll be honest with you: I don’t want to devote any more of my time and effort to this steaming pile than is absolutely necessary. So, let’s just get right at it and rip it apart as quickly as possible.

Let’s start with this: ALL of the people shown in Helltown are actors and actresses. Canadian ones, no less. I’m not going to list their real names because they are just trying to make a living here. But if you want to find their names, just wait until the end of the credits for Helltown and you’ll see them all there, right along with a good 3-4 screens’ worth of disclaimers about the so-called “facts” of the case and one screen, which flies by, that all but admits it’s all made up and that, among other things, actors were used as opposed to “actual persons”:

End Credits

Wait a second. Is this saying that every single person in Helltown is an actor and/or otherwise pretending to be someone they are not? Yes, that’s exactly what it’s saying.

What, you mean this guy, too? The one who was from the area and knew all about the local history, especially all about the reports of human sacrifices and cults in the area?

Paul Wyndham

It even says he’s a Professor of Folklore and Mythology at Cuyahoga Community College, so he has to be real, right? Nope, another Canadian actor. And one who couldn’t even pronounce “Cuyahoga” correctly, which is a little weird since, you know, it’s part of the name of the place where he works and all.

OK, but this guy, Conor Dwyer, has to be real.

Older Conor Dwyer

He’s even shown as a young man in that television special that ran back in the 1980s. He’s sitting with his grandfather on their front porch and the grandfather mentions that he doesn’t want to move his family out of the area because Conor is deaf and would have trouble in a new location.

Dwyers on porchHe’s fake, too. Plus, he’s a great example of how far Destination America was willing to go to mess with its audience. You see, For The Good Of All was indeed a special about the Boston Township area that ran in the 1980s. In Helltown, they make it appear as though they are playing a clip from that 80s special and are interviewing a local resident, who is not named. He talks about not wanting to move, especially because his grandson, Conor, is deaf and there are concerns about how he will be able to function outside of the only home he’s ever known.

The problem is that in For The Good Of All, the comments Helltown attributes (and shows) as belonging to Conor Dwyer’s grandfather were actually said by someone else: a man named Burrell Tonkin. And in the original, Tonkin is not talking about concerns over relocating his grandson, but rather his elderly mother.

I could continue, but let’s leave it with this guy—Terry Greenbaum, the big conspiracy theory guy who ran a website and posted conspiracy videos about Helltown and other locales. He’s the one who teams up with some weird video guy and they go off in search of those hidden tunnels under Helltown.

Terry GreenbaumYeah, he’s a Canadian actor, too. Don’t believe me? Just fast forward to the point where Greenbaum and his buddy are in the tunnels and they get scared—they both totally lose their fake accents and start sounding like a bad SCTV skit. Oh yeah, and none of his websites or videos exist, either.

As I’ve thoroughly documented, beginning as far back as 2001, the legends surrounding the area that would become known as Hell Town sprung up as a result of the US Government declaring eminent domain and pushing residents out in order to create and extend what is now known as Cuyahoga National Park. That’s it. It’s a sad, tragic story, but one that does not involve government conspiracies, satanic cults, slaughterhouses, or secret tunnels. And for God’s sake, please don’t go out there looking for any wendigo, either. I know, I know, it’s incredibly tempting because who wouldn’t want to meet a creature that Helltown depicts as being something straight off the back cover of a King Crimson album (BTW, I feel old just typing those three words):

Wendigo

To sum everything up, Destination America’s Helltown is about as truthful as Animal Planet’s Mermaids: The Body Found. Still, the most appalling thing about the presentation is how gullible Destination America must think their audience is. I’d like to give them credit and say that perhaps they were trying to create a thrilling mockumentary, but I can’t even do that. The acting is horrible, the plotline is incomprehensible, and it appears as though they went the “found footage/home movie” route to cover up the fact that no one on the crew appears capable of successfully framing a single shot. For these reasons, I would suggest you not walk, but run from your TV should this monstrosity appear on the screen. And if someone suggests that you watch it yourself, immediately make a mental note to remove said person from your holiday gift exchange list. For clearly, anyone who suggests Helltown to you is not a friend.

For more information about what really happened in the area known as Hell Town, please visit The Ghosts Of Ohio’s original 2001 article on the history of Hell Town.

 

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Central Ohio Legends & Lore

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Yeah, so this just happened.

71xEPsPbFHL

My latest endeavor hit Central Ohio bookshelves and online retailers everywhere on June 26th. And I have to admit it’s one that I am quite proud of.

For one, Central Ohio Legends & Lore gets me back a bit closer to my Weird Ohio roots that so many of you have been asking me to return turn. In other words, while this new book has some ghost stories in it, the vast majority of it centers on just plain ol’ weird stuff. You know, things like UFOs and the Ohio Grassman.

But what’s more, for this book, I made a conscious effort to focus on real weirdness: Stuff that sounds too weird to be true, but it is. Case in point, this pic from the cover of Central Ohio Legends & Lore:

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This picture is of a real mine fire in New Straitsville, Ohio. The fire was started in 1884 and still burns today. That’s right, there’s a 133-year-old fire burning right now under New Straitsville, Ohio.

I wanted to focus on real stories like that because I feel that with today’s paranormal reality shows, just uttering words like “ghost” or even “unexplained” can often cause the general public to react with cries of “BS” and “that’s not real”. Sadly, I think a lot of, in this case, Ohio folklore, is being abandoned and forgotten. I’m hoping to change that.

Of course, that’s not to say I abandoned the Ohio ghost story. Far from it. In fact, Central Ohio Legends & Lore contains some of my favorite Ohio ghost stories, including some that had yet to be included in any of my other books. In fact, I can honestly say that the research I did for one particular ghost story in the book, Thurber House, got me really, really excited.

It also led to an event being planned for this fall that is going to offer some lucky people the chance to stand at the crossroads where the paranormal and literary worlds meet. And who knows what will happen! Details on that event will be coming soon, so keep an eye on this blog. In the meantime, if you want a hint, go read James Thurber’s The Night The Ghost Got In.

Central Ohio Legends & Lore is available at most Central Ohio bookstores, as well as select grocery stores and even Walgreen’s. It’s also available at Amazon.com and all the other online retailers. It will also be available for purchase at all of my upcoming appearances and presentations. I’ve already started making the rounds on a bit of a mini-signing tour. At some of the locations, I will be giving brief talks about Central Ohio Legends & Lore. Come the fall, we launch into full-blown presentation mode, of which the new book will certainly be a large part. For a full list of upcoming appearances, click here.

Hope you have as much fun with the book as I had writing it!

Palmer Road Added To Ohio Crybaby Bridge Project

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Disembodied cries in the night. A ghostly figure darting across the road. Even the devil himself making an appearance. Must be time for another addition to the Ohio Crybaby Bridge Project!

As you’ll soon find out, while the Palmer Road Crybaby Bridge might be short on specifics, it more than makes up for it by somehow working Satan into the spooky tale. And while he hasn’t been spotted since he snatched up an entire family, there’s no telling just what still might be lurking out here in the shadows, waiting for someone foolish enough to venture out after dark!

So what are you waiting for? Have a look at the Palmer Road Crybaby Bridge’s entry in the database.  And as always, if this is your first visit to the Project, a good starting point for you will be the Project’s Home Page.

An Evening To Benefit The Humane Society Serving Clark County

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Over the years, I’ve given presentations at a wide variety of locations for an even wider variety of reasons. But the ones that are nearest and dearest to my heart are the ones that are done for a great cause. It’s a truly amazing and humbling experience to look out across an audience and know that we’ve all come together to share some strange and spooky stories and to help those less fortunate.

That’s why I’m so happy to announce my next appearance: The Strange & Spooky World of James A. Willis—An Evening to Benefit the Humane Society Serving Clark County.
HSSCC_Logo_4color_horizontal

This special, one night event will take place on Saturday, April 29th at The Heritage Center: 117 S Fountain Ave, Springfield, OH 45502. Proceeds to benefit the Humane Society Serving Clark County.

The schedule of events is as follows:

  • Doors open at 6:30 pm
  • Refreshments and Appetizers (by donation) from 6:30 pm until 7:45 pm
  • Presentation begins at 7:45 pm
  • Book signing and meet and greet following the presentation

Tickets are $25.00 each and can be purchased at the Humane Society front office, or by US Mail.

If ordering tickets through the mail, please send payment (cash or check only) to:

The Humane Society Serving Clark County
Attention: Event Department
5201 Urbana Rd.
Springfield, OH 45502

The deadline for mail order tickets is noon on Saturday, April 22nd. Please be sure to include your full name and mailing address with your order.

This will be a special evening in that I will be sharing my personal stories and experiences from my favorite strange and spooky locations that I have visited over the years. Plus, as if you needed any additional incentive, this will mark the very first time that I will be talking about some of the locations I visited for my upcoming book, Central Ohio Legends And Lore.
71xEPsPbFHL So what are you waiting for? Reserve your seats and let’s pack the Heritage Center!

For more information on the event, please click here.

Newton Falls Covered Bridge Added To Crybaby Bridge Project

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I can think of no stranger or spookier way to get this ol’ blog up and running again than by adding another location to the Ohio Crybaby Bridge Project.

The Newton Falls Covered Bridge holds a special place in my ghostly heart, too. The main reason for that is because its history is made up of that unique combination of historical facts and urban legends that I’ve come to know and love. So what this bridge lacks in facts regarding its ghost story, it more than makes up for with its rich history. Heck, not even a tornado could take this bridge down!

So go take a peek at this bridge’s entry in the Crybaby Bridge Project. And as always, if this is your first visit to the Project, a good starting point for you will be the Project’s Home Page.

I’m Baaaaaack!

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And you missed me, didn’t you?

Those of you who have been following this blog for a while know that it traditionally goes “dark” every October since I am usually out running all over Ohio with presentations and appearances. This year was no different, but the blog remained dark through November and December.

Why, you ask? Well, even if you didn’t ask, I’m going to tell you.

Simply put, I had an end-of-year deadline to submit the manuscript for my next book to the publisher. Yup, there will be another James A. Willis tome heading your way for 2017. What’s it about? Well, I’m supposed to keep it a secret for now. But I can tell you that the focus will be on central Ohio and will contain Weird Ohio-type stories that you all seem to love so much. In other words, I’ve spent the last few months chasing down leads on Central Ohio serial killers, legendary locations, and even a UFO or two. No worries, there’s a couple of ghost stories in there, too.

More on the book as it develops, but for now, here’s a couple of outtake photos from the book to whet your appetite:

path

“The Path”

leather

“The Memorial”

gates

“The Gate”

graves

“The Graves”

carriage

“The Carriage House”

tower

“The Tower”

So now that I’m back, what can you expect from this site? Well, for starters, we’re going to finally finish up the remaining Crybaby Bridge locations. I’ve got a whole mess of personal experiences about a bunch of the bridges that you’ve sent me, so those will start being added, too.

The Strange & Spooky Museum has gained quite a number of new pieces and those are in the process of being catalogued and photographed. Expect to start seeing those popping up on the site, too. There’s even a couple of pieces that are supposed to be so haunted that a mere glance at them will cause people to experience all sorts of bad luck. Not sure if that means you can’t even view them over the Internet, so perhaps I need to have everyone sign a Virtual Waiver before looking at these “cursed” objects!

Finally, I’m going to be embarking on something really strange and spooky this year and you’ll have the chance to come along. So get ready because in a few short months, we’re going monster hunting!

Stay tuned!

Create Your Very Own Loveland Frog Hoax For Under $20.00!

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I swear on my grandmother’s grave that this is the truth. I’m not sure whether it was a Frogman or just a giant frog. Either way, I’ve never seen anything like it.
–Loveland Frog witness Sam Jacobs

Let me start off by saying I have been fascinated with the legend of the Loveland Frog for decades. Not only is it a cryptid that is unique to Ohio, but the stories have grown and mutated over the years to include such things as police officers shooting at a 4-foot tall frog/man hybrid walking on two legs to witnesses continually changing their stories over the years. The legend had everything, it would seem, except for any photographs of the elusive creature. All that changed last week…or so some would have you believe.

According to an article on WCPO.com, a man and his girlfriend were playing Pokemon Go between Loveland-Madeira Road and Lake Isabella on the evening of Wednesday, August 3rd, when they encountered what they believed could have been the Loveland Frog.

According to the e-mail Sam Jacobs sent to WCPO, they “saw a huge frog near the water. Not in the game, this was an actual giant frog.” After snapping a few pictures and taking a video, “the thing stood up and walked on its hind legs.” Jacobs estimated the creature to be “about 4 foot tall.”

Jacobs supplied WCPO with several photographs which alleged to show the creature he and his girlfriend saw:

IMG_7454

–Via WCPO

IMG_7453

–Via WCPO

 

Jacobs also supplied the following video, which WCPO posted to YouTube:

To be honest, when I first saw the photos and video, I wasn’t impressed. The dimensions seemed way off: it looked way too small to be something that was supposed to be “4 foot tall”. And what was up with those high-beam eyes? But most of all, the whole thing screamed hoax because once again, when someone spots a cryptid, they never attempt to chase it, follow it, or do anything other than take a few dark, blurry photos and a shaky video. Didn’t make sense to me.

It all fell into place a few days later, when my wife, daughter, and I made a trip to a local Big Lots to pick out some Halloween decorations (sidebar: Big Lots has some killer Halloween props for 2016). As I’m wandering the aisles, I hear my wife say “you think this was their Loveland Frog?”.  I turned around to see my wife, smiling and proudly holding the Loveland Frog in her hands:

Solar+Powered+Frog

–Via Big Lots

OK, technically it wasn’t the Loveland Frog–it is officially known as the “Wilson & Fisher Solar Frog”. And I’m not saying this is the exact thing that appears in Sam Jacobs’ photos and video. But man, is it close!

Granted, it doesn’t look like much in broad daylight, but get it in dim enough light so that the solar eyes come on and it really starts to take shape. Check out this spooky pic I took of it in my pantry, of all places:

IMG_7423

I purposely didn’t kill all the lights so you could still see the frog (as well as the fact that we prefer organic Tostitos). But check out how, the way the statue’s eyes are positioned, the left eye appears larger that the right. Makes me wonder if perhaps the image from WCPO was flipped. Sort of seems that way when I flipped my pantry photo and put it next to one of Jacobs’ photo:

IMG_7423 flippedIMG_7454

Once I took the figure outside and waited for it to get dark, things really started to get interesting. Here’s the statue lurking in my front garden:

IMG_7456

Again, I flipped my image for this side-by-side comparison. Check out how you can make out the same crooked smile in both pics:

IMG_7456flippedIMG_7453

The only thing I had a problem with was getting the right angle so that you could see the gap between the eyes. I found this worked best if I took the photo from way back and then zoomed in afterwards. Here’s the statue hanging out on my front steps:

IMG_7475

For me the clincher was when I tried to recreate Jacobs’ video. I didn’t bother getting all Shaky Cam on you, but I did attempt to make the frog turn, as in Jacobs’ video. I even tried to do a little super-spooky thing where the frog disappears. How do you think I did?

Couple of things to point out about the videos. If you notice in Jacobs’ video, the eyes never blink. In fact, when the “creature” turns, both eyes still remain unchanged–no blinking or closing. They might look like they are moving, but it’s only because the entire thing is moving.

How did I get my figure to move? It was simple. The figure’s left leg made a perfect handle. During the video, which my wife shot, I was standing behind the figure. When I wanted it to “disappear”, I just bent down, grabbed the figure’s leg, and turned the whole thing towards me, blocking out the light from its eyes.

So does this solve the mystery? Not necessarily. As I mentioned, I’m not saying this was the EXACT statue that was used. To be fair, there were also solar-powered alligators and other critters at Big Lots. But you have to admit that it seems something more than mere coincidence that I was able to recreate alleged photos and video of the Loveland Frog with nothing more than $20.00 and in less than 20 minutes (BTW, it would have been 10, but I had to wait for the sun to set). Heck, I didn’t even try to cover up the statue’s cheesy pink lily pad/flower thing!

My point is, if you’re planning on hoaxing something like this, please put a little more time and effort into it. As a member of a subculture that’s willing to entertain the idea that there are things in this world we can’t explain,  it’s a little depressing to think there are people who think we would be so easily duped. Of course, the fact that my wife and I may have figured out this little mystery while randomly roaming through Big Lots seems a fitting end to this tale.

Now, can someone do me a favor and help me get this guy out of my recliner? Or at the very least, give up the remote?

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You can read the original WCPO.com article in its entirety by clicking here.

A subsequent WCPO.com article, in which one of the original witnesses from 1972 now claims the story is a hoax, can be read here.

For more information on the Loveland Frog legend, go here.

Want your very own Loveland Frog Hoax statue? They are on sale right now at Big Lots! Originally $30.00, you can get one for the low, low price of $15.00 with their whole Summer Clearance thing going on.

 

 

 

The Mysterious Mary Jane’s Bridge Added To Crybaby Bridge Project

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I have to admit something: The latest entry in the Ohio Crybaby Bridge Project is, so far, the most frustrating one I’ve tried to research. And when it comes to Crybaby Bridges in general, that’s saying a lot!

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Lefevre Road Added To Crybaby Bridge Project

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It is with great fanfare that I present to you the Lefevre Road Crybaby Bridge: Officially, the 20th Crybaby Bridge on the list!

Although, to be honest, Lefevre Road pales in comparison to most of the other bridges on the list. There’s really not much in the way of backstory or first-person accounts to really make this particular legend shine. But hey, it ended up being #20 when I put all the bridges in alphabetical order, so there you go! Anyway, the extreme lack of specifics means that it’s up to you guys to help fill in the details. So if you know anything about this bridge, let me know!

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Seeking Info On Two Possible Ohio Crybaby Bridges

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Not sure why (and I’m certainly not complaining), but the Ohio Crybaby Bridge Project has been getting a lot of traffic lately. Lots of people sharing their personal experiences, too, which is fantastic and will really help us build up not only the individual stories, but the timelines associated with each bridge…once I get all the stories up, that is.

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