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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NBC4 Columbus Tries To Create Some Good Old-Fashioned Satanic Panic

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And it has been a while, by gum!

Seems that late Halloween night, some a**hole(s) vandalized the Church of the Resurrection in New Albany, Ohio. While they didn’t make it into the church itself, they still managed to cause a lot of damage to the building and even several vehicles that were parked in the church’s lot.

While one of the vehicles suffered damage from apparently being hit by a “cigarette butt collection container”, the bulk of the vandalism consisted of paint being thrown on the building and an assortment of graffiti being spray painted on the building and vehicles. Most of the graffiti consisted of the word “Trees (slang for marijuana)”, although there were random messages like “F**k God”, “God is dead” and “KYS (‘kill yourself’)”. Lovely.

(BTW, I’m not posting any of the photos of the vandalism here. Don’t want to give these imbeciles any more attention. If you’re dying to see the vandalism, though, NBC4 Columbus has posted them here).

When I watched the original broadcast of this report, I kind of shook my head at this senseless act. It sort of riled me up a bit, too, and I believe I may have even muttered my dad’s classic phrase that I “hope they catch them and string ’em up by their Buster Browns”. But that was nothing compared to my reaction when I read the online version of the article, starting with the headline:

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screen capture — via NBC4

What? “Vandalized with satanic worship”? Where the hell did that come from (pun intended)? And what does that even mean?

If you watch the original news broadcast, available here, you’ll see that several times, reporters point out that the act was more than likely caused by a group of local teens. Police told Candice Lee, who reported the original story, that the damage was “likely the work of Halloween pranksters” and “likely teenagers, up to no good”. In the report, Candice herself refers to the guilty party as “Halloween vandals”.

As far as the graffiti itself being satanic, none of that is even hinted at in the original report. Colleen Marshall introduces the original report by referring to the vandalism as “offensive graffiti (and) even profanity”. In fact, the report only mentions the devil once, although it’s to let him off the hook for this one:  “Unlikely the work of the devil, New Albany Police instead believe ghastly ghouls are guilty of desecrating this place of worship.”

So how did all this talk of satanic worship come into play? Well, you could say this is just a simple case of lazy reporting. And it is. But it goes beyond that because the author of the online article went out of their way to insert the phrase “satanic worship” into the piece twice, including the headline. BTW, that headline is my favorite because it doesn’t even make any sense. Seriously, how do you vandalize something with worship, satanic or otherwise?

The author also felt the need to point out that some of the graffiti featured “an upside down cross used in the practice of worshiping Satan.”

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–via NBC4

Um, OK. Not sure what that means, either, but I get the gist: satan’s disciples are running amuck in New Albany, Ohio.

Here’s my point: if the original new report doesn’t even mention the word “satanic”, why add it to the online version of what’s supposed to be the same report?

Why is this a big deal to me? Well, for starters, I don’t like it when people distort the facts. When it comes to throwing satan in the mix, by and large, “satanic activity” is nothing more than teenagers rebelling against society and trying to piss off and scare people in the process. And once we start doing anything more than arresting these punks and prosecuting them to the fullest extent of the law, we’re silently showing them they have succeeded in their plan. Think about it; can’t you see them out there, laughing, and telling each other “look, they’re all scared! They think we’re a satanic cult!”

Put another way, if Satanists really were planning to “worship” or even send a message, why would they end up doing nothing more than spray painting a couple of obscenities and “upside down crosses” on a church? And while they were at it, I guess they decided to throw in a couple of reference to pot, just to throw us all off the scent, huh?

This sort of irresponsible journalism also ends up impacting the community and, eventually, even their folklore and actual history. Case in point, how many of you over the age of 30 grew up hearing that there was a satanic cult lurking in the woods near your house? Or maybe they were hiding out in an old, abandoned mansion at the end of some lonely road. Now, ask yourselves (and be honest); how many times did those stories turn out to be true? Hell Town, anyone?

So let’s call this incident what it really was: a bunch of morons who need to be tracked down, arrested, and punished severely. But let’s leave Satan out of this one, OK? In case you haven’t picked up a newspaper lately, he’s clearly busy with other things.

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You can read the NBC4 online article in its entirety by clicking here. Link also contains the video of the original, non-satanic broadcast.

 

 

 

 

 

People.com’s Map Of Iconic Ghosts Completely Misses The Boat With Ohio

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Maps claiming to be able to show you which state likes/hates/eats what have long been a staple on Facebook. To be honest, I find them annoying, second only to those sponsored links that try to entice me to click on them because “what happens next will blow your mind! Number 7 on the list freaked me out!”

Anyway, this map sounded different. It claimed to “map out” all the “iconic ghosts” in the United States, listing the one that “most defines” each state. Interesting, right? And it was put out by People.com, so it had to be cool, right?

Yeah, not so much.

Ghostmap1-1024

–from People.com

Don’t get me wrong. It’s a cool-looking map. But once I started looking at each state and what People.com was calling “the most iconic” there, most left me scratching my head. For example,  they picked the Philadelphia Zoo to represent Pennsylvania as opposed to Gettysburg. Oh yeah, and there’s not even a ghost story associated with the location listed for Oklahoma, “just a lot of creepy feelings.”  Still, when I got to Ohio, I just had to blurt out, to no one in particular: “Akron Civic Theatre? Where did they pull that from?”

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 10.40.42 AM

OK, to be fair, I know where they pulled Akron Civic Theatre from since they included a link. Turns out it came from some book, Weird Ohio. You might have heard of it. So I’m honored they used my book. And the Akron Civic Theatre does have some spooky stories associated with it, including some ghosts that are said to wander around outside the building itself. But with all due respect to the Akron Civic Theatre, there’s no way it’s the ghost story that defines Ohio.

I should also point out that whoever put the list/map over at People.com together did give themselves an out when it comes to what they considered iconic. In fact, they sort of willingly admit the map isn’t really iconic at all. Here’s how they describe what ended up as each state’s ghostly representative:

“in some cases, it’s the “most famous” ghost in each state, in others, it’s the one we found the most interesting.”

So clearly, People.com phoned it in on this one. But it got me thinking: if someone really was going to put together a list of the most iconic haunting for each state, which location would I think should represent Ohio?

Since I moved to Ohio in 1999, I have been chronicling and cataloguing all reported hauntings in the state. I’ve even compiled a database of all said hauntings. Currently, my database has over 3500 entries, although roughly 60% of those are nothing more than vague teenage “some scary s**t went down in those woods” urban legend-type tales. I also field, on average, 5 to 10 requests a week for more information about a reported haunting in Ohio. The one location that I am asked about most often, and the one that gets the most hits on my web site is Hell Town. The numbers aren’t even close: Hell Town beats all the other pages on my site by an almost 3-1 margin.

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My “iconic” photo of the entrance to Hell Town. Please ask before you snatch it.

So you could certainly make the case that the legend of Hell Town is iconic. It’s not really a ghost story, though. It’s more of an amalgam of urban legends, the vast majority of which I debunked years ago. Plus, other than my photo (above) of the long-since removed Road Closed sign (you know the one: it’s probably the most “borrowed” photo I’ve ever placed on the Internet), there isn’t a lot of stuff to see in the area known as Hell Town anymore, even in person. So I don’t think Hell Town can make the cut because, for me, to be truly iconic, a location needs to have something that literally takes your breath away as soon as you set eyes upon it.

That’s why, in my book, there’s a tie for the most iconic Ohio haunting in Ohio. A tie between Franklin Castle and Mansfield Reformatory.

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Franklin Castle is one of the longest-standing haunted houses in the state of Ohio. Even before I moved to Ohio, it was on my radar and was the place I most wanted to visit when I got here. The ghost stories associated with the building go back decades and involve everything from murder victims to Nazi sympathizers. Oh yeah, and throw in a couple of secret passageways throughout the house while you’re at it. Even though it has been abandoned and in a state of disrepair for years now, ghost hunters from all across the US still stop by the house just to take pictures and stare up at the boarded-up windows.

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The ghosts at Mansfield Reformatory haven’t been known as long as those at Franklin Castle, at least not to the general public. But the place is said to be lousy with ghosts. Once the Preservation Society stepped in, saved the building from the wrecking ball, and opened it up for tours, people started whispering about the ghosts in the building. Then came the overnight ghost hunts and reality TV shows and the whole thing just exploded. The Reformatory’s overnight ghost hunts almost always sell out and the building usually sits atop many a ghost hunter’s Bucket List.

So what about you guys? What location would get your vote for Ohio’s Most Iconic Ghost Story? While you’re pondering that, feel free to check out the full version of the People.com map, along with descriptions of each state’s haunting. You can do that by clicking here.

 

 

Partial List Of Ohio Crybaby Bridges Released

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Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 9.52.14 AM

OK, so I know everyone is impatiently waiting for me to launch the Ohio Crybaby Bridge Project here. And it’s coming, I promise. But as I’ve started compiling the data, I’ve discovered something; nothing is right about these places! Directions are wrong, street names are wrong, and even the type of bridge is sometimes wrong (railroad trestle as opposed to a covered bridge, for example).

Now I know that since I’m dealing with urban legends and the Internet, I really shouldn’t be surprised that so much information is wrong, but I am!

Still, what I have so far is nothing short of amazing and soon, very soon, you will be able to visit this site and not only see a list of Ohio’s Crybaby Bridges, but also read the legend behind each one. Lots of pictures and even directions…although I’m wondering if it’s too early to start the obligatory “don’t trespass onto private property” messages yet. Perhaps I’ll wait.

Anyway, to thank you for your patience, I thought I would tease you just a little bit more by releasing a partial list of the Ohio Crybaby Bridges that will be part of the project. I’ve encountered more than a couple of bridges that were either gone or else the story was completely bogus. The following, however, will most certainly appear in the final version:

Abbeyville Road (Medina)
Alliance Crybaby Bridge (Stark)
Brubaker Road Covered Bridge (Preble)
Cable Train Trestle (Champaign)
Cleveland-Massillon Road (Summit)
Crybaby Bridge (Highland)
Crybaby Bridge (Shelby)
Crybaby Hill/Harris Jones Cemetery (Henry)
Crybaby Lane / Euler Road (Wood)
Crying Bridge (Richland)
Crying Bridge (Miami)
Crystal Springs Crybaby Bridge (Stark)
Egypt Road (Columbiana)
Fudge Road (Preble)
Ghormley Road (Highland)
Gore Orphanage Road (Lorain)
Greely Chapel Road (Allen)
Helltown (Summit)
Hyde Road (Greene)
LeFevre Road (Miami)
Mary Jane’s Bridge (Richland)
Myrtle Hill Road (Medina)
Newton Falls Covered Bridge (Trumbull)
Palmer Road (Mercer)
Pfeiffer Crybaby Bridge (Hardin)
Philo Crybaby Bridge (Muskingum)
Rogue’s Hollow (Wayne)
Screaming Bridge (Butler)
Schrader Road Crybaby Tunnel (Ross)
Stover Road (Thompson Road) Crybaby Bridge (Union)
Tindall Bridge (Sandusky)
Wisner Road (Lake)
 
So what do you think of the list so far? Have you been to any of these bridges in search of ghosts? Better yet, been to a bridge that’s not on this list? If the answer to either of those questions (or both of them) is “yes”, drop me a line at jim@strangeandspooky.com because I want to hear your story. Who knows? Your story might make it into the Ohio Crybaby Bridge Project, making you the envy of your family and friends!