Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lend Me Your Light

I need to explain that I scheduled this trip a little over a month a ago when I wasn't sure how long the contract and info from Echelon Press was going to take. I figured that I would keep writing while things progressed on the publisher's side of things. The important thing was I didn't want to let anything get stale... writing wise. Well, after booking the trip I got the contract from Echelon and was assigned an editor. While this will put the Fallon series on hold, I figured I needed to go anyway and get one of my trips wrapped up. (You all should know I wanted to visit Stull for a while.)

My primary objective was to make it to Stull Kansas, where two major scenes happen in book one and book three of my horror trilogy. As you've seen me talk about before, Stull is a tiny town with nothing in it other than a few houses, a new church and an old graveyard. Despite the legal troubles of walking around there, it was on my list and I had to see it.

Kansas City
I flew into Kansas City where I rented a car and drove around to some pre-researched locations. The Savoy Hotel, the Elmwood Cemetery and as unglamorous as it is... the Greyhound bus station. I needed to see it in all of it's glory to get a good description. I spent about three hours in Elmwood, where I at first just wandered around in the hot sun looking at the graves, dates, and names. For some reason I like this. There is wonderful feeling of history walking through these places. I had a short list of graves that I wanted to find and I thought it may be best to knock on the door of the office. A nice man came and let me in where we talked about the names. He was helpful but suspicious. He asked me about the book and I told him... well, part of it. He was a little paranoid about the whole thing and I got the feeling that he was itching to kick me out. Let me say that the office was so hot, I thought I was going to pass out. Really, it was like an oven. The room had to be at least a hundred degrees. Sweat poured from the sides of my face and this guy didn't have a bead of perspiration! Yeah... I don't get it either. I'm sure that the sweat looked like I was nervous. Truth be told, I wasn't there to wreck these people's good names, and I wasn't there to "ghost hunt". I was just there to collect feelings, stories and share in the odd almost muffling feeling that cemeteries tend to have. After explaining "steampunk" to the caretaker, he eased up a little and helped me locate the graves I was looking for on a map. He ended up being very helpful in the end. While Elmwood Cemetery probably won't make an appearance in the book, some character stories might share a common thread with some of the people I visited.

The first night I conveniently ended up at the KC branch of the Flying Saucer. (One of my favorite haunts here in Nashville) I ended up watching game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals with a Penguins fan. That pretty much ruled by the way.

A guy was unvieling his plate that night for drinking 400 beers... Not all at once of course... But his plate had a great saying. "Did you just order a Bud light? We need to talk."

The next morning I headed off for the hour drive to nowhere-land, also known as Stull Kansas. The drive wasn't so bad even though the place is so small, I couldn't find an address to put in the GPS. I google mapped the directions. Being that the site is most likely pure urban legend, I am still captivated by the sheer oddness of the stories that come from this tiny graveyard and once upon a time church that stood on the hill above it. Per my last post, you know that word on the web says that if you are caught trespassing the cops are immediately called and you risk spending the night in the Mayberry...errr, county jail. Of course the rental car I got was a bright red Cobalt complete with a spoiler. (Thanks Budget...)So I was going to be pretty obvious about the whole thing. My heart raced as I drove past the graveyard, partially because I had actually made it and partially because of the strange coincidence of the music that was playing just as I saw the fence. I parked the "HEY LOOK AT ME" car behind the new church, slapped on my backpack and started walking. The street in front of the cemetery is actually pretty busy, so it was hard to tell if locals or travelers were passing by. So... I crossed the street and right in front of me was a wonderful gap in the corner of the fence. I slipped through and marched right up the hill through the cemetery snapping pictures as quickly as I could. I could see the ruins of the old church and I made a B-line for it.
Below is a picture as I entered. The barley visible pile of brown is the church.

Here is a place of urban legend, apparently started in the 1970s but has odd roots that go back to the 1800s. Rumor has it that the church stood on top of on of the "gateways to Hell", that it has an endless staircase under it, and that all types of odd things happen there. The church itself was literally a big pile of rubble. The amount of rock showed that the walls were actually pretty tall considering that it was a one room building. I climbed the rock and snapped more pictures. All of a sudden I heard a car pull in the driveway across the street. I thought I was in trouble. This was the guy that apparently loves to call the cops on people wandering around the graveyard. The guy got out of his truck and started cutting his grass!! So there I was, trapped behind the rubble of the fabled "gate to Hell" and the guy that wants to call the cops is slowly cutting his grass. I took the time to haunch down behind the rubble and take more notes and pictures, while cautiously peeking over the rocks not to be seen. Then a break! The lawnmower stopped and the guy disappeared. I collected my stuff and noticing that the guy was nowhere to be seen, I walked right down the middle of the cemetery getting some better pictures. I escaped without incident. Note that the break in the mowing came because he simply went to start up his riding lawnmower. Shweeew!
This is what's left of the church. It looks tiny from this view but the debris field is actually quite large. So here I am trapped in the middle of the rubble of "the gates to Hell" Muhahahaha! The truck below is who I was hiding from.

Rumor has it that they used to hang "witches" from this tree... The attention promted the owners of the property to cut the branches off...

That night I wanted to go on a ghost tour to see if there were any other fun stories that I could play with, but I missed it due to a horrible GPS malfunction that put me 30 minutes out of town and in the middle of a trailer park... I was pretty miffed about that. I ended up at a hopping (no beer pun intended) little micro-brewery and took notes while the locals watched the Royals on TV. Gordon Biersch is really good stuff.

The trip was a good one on many different fronts. KC was a cool place. (a lot like Nashville really.) And most importantly I have now been to Stull. As you can tell, not the hotspot of Kansas, but creepy in it's own right. I enjoy my research trips. They are lonely and weird, yet inspiring. I encourage all authors to do this. Get out, see what you are writing about, (if it's not in your home town of course) you will be a better writer for it.

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