Let’s pick up where we left off on our weird and spooky Tucson to Madison road trip. In part one we covered ghost and UFO-related locations across Arizona and New Mexico, visiting haunted hotels and eating at haunted restaurants. I’m a sucker for classic Hollywood, so I’ll take a moment to again, point out how cool the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, NM is. If you haven’t had a change to read that article, check out part 1.
Our departure from lunch in Santa Fe’s haunted High Noon Restaurant, sent us east towards the Texas panhandle. In true form, everything really is bigger in Texas… even the Holiday Inn, which boasted rooms as big as convention halls. Exaggeration, yes, but it was some serious bang for the buck.
The next morning, waking up in Amarillo, there was one way to start the day… by hanging out in the middle of a farm field. Cadillac Ranch has been standing for over 40 years just south of Route 66. The 10 cars, arranged chronologically from a ’49 model to a ’64 show the progression of the iconic Caddy tail fin. The original location was a wheat field 2 miles closer to the city, but was moved in 1997 to keep it further from the growing metropolis.
Perhaps most amazingly, the location is still completely free and unmonitored. Curiosity seekers are welcome to visit and explore the oddity as they wish. The original plan wasn’t to provide a canvas for people across the country to leave their mark, but that’s what it’s become. Half used spray cans litter the area, allowing anyone to grab the contraband-turned-art supply and add their own little flair to Cadillac Ranch. After 40 years, I think there’s more paint than metal here. For a great gallery of photographs of the ranch over the years, including the unthinkable – graffiti-free pictures of the cars, visit this site: The Story of Cadillac Ranch.
We didn’t have to go far to visit our first haunted location of the day as Amarillo also houses “The Nat,” a haunted castle from 1922. Well, a castle-style building anyway. It was built to house an indoor swimming pool (“Nat” being short for natatorium), but within four years of opening, the venue was completely repurposed. A dance floor was built over top of the pool and a stage was added. The ghosts that still reside seem to come from this incarnation of the building.
The next 70 years witnessed an evolution of music, hosting big band groups, classic rock groups including Buddy Holly and continuing to book acts all the way to the much more contemporary Dixie Chicks.
Today, however, the building is wall-to-wall antique mall. The upstairs loft, previously a gambling hall (unconfirmed), is the site of frequent cold spots and where a women in white is seen. This woman has a red mark on her front. Amazingly, this has not lead to legends of a woman being stabbed to death here, but rather the victim of a ruthless wine stain.
People have seen a couple still dancing the night away on the dance floor. The room is also the site of easily the most rockin’ residual haunting I’ve ever heard of: a phantom drum solo! The opportunity was too rich, so I had our award-winning drummer in residence, Wendy Lynn Staats of the paranormal rock band Sunspot, take the stage and hang out where the drum kit would be set up. Unfortunately, our phantom performers were not enticed to show off in front of a fellow drummer.
Talking with the clerk, he conveyed a story to us about seeing a woman and young girl walking through one of the aisles around closing time. When he approached to let them know they were closing soon, the two vanished.
This sounds like an active site that possibly got much more active with the addition of thousands of antiques. It’s always possible that cherished objects still have attachments associated with their previous owners. This would be an amazing, but impractical location for a ghost hunt. I only hope the Nat has a good security system with sound; essentially a nightly paranormal stakeout.
Our journey took us to Kansas, which meant one thing: odd attempts to capitalize on the “Wizard of Oz.” Liberal, KS contains a replica of Dorothy’s house and in my opinion that’s a liberal use of the word “replica.” In fairness, we didn’t give the place a fair shot as we arrived at closing time and could only explore the exterior. The kitsch and oddity factor is exactly what you’re looking for in a roadside attraction.
Just across the street, however, was some serious history. It was the estimated location where Francisco Vasquez de Coronado at least temporarily set up shop during an expedition in 1541. He spent more than a month exploring central Kansas looking for a fabled kingdom of gold. Clearly Coronado returned without riches, but also without his guide, who he killed in anger.
Stories of frustration turned to those of inspiration when we drove through the nearby town of Greensburg, KS. The town captured our attention as it was evident from tree damage that a tornado was in its recent past. In 2007 95% of the down was decimated by an F5 tornado (the most extreme on the Fujita-Pearson scale). The tornado itself was wider than the entire city. However, rather than rebuild as quickly and cheaply as possible, the town became the first in the nation to build all of it’s structures at platinum levels according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Greensbug is now known as the “greenest town in America.”
We rolled into Pratt, KS in time for an amazing Midwestern meal at Club D’Est, but unfortunately too late to buy a drink (travel tip: BYOB, box wine travels well).
Starting our final day in central Kansas, we were in great position to visit one of the most famously haunted sites in all of America… but not before one more roadside oddity.
The name “Truckhenge” might make you think you’ll be seeing a replica of Stonehenge created with trucks. However, that would be attributing way too much organizational credit to this site. I hope that doesn’t sound too snarky and judgmental, because this is a “must see” location. As much as this place is an explosion of folkart, it’s also a constant protest against the bureaucracy who wanted owner Ron Leesman to clean up his property, citing that a flood could wash his collection of antique, immobile trucks down the nearby river. Rather than clear them out, he embedded them, turning them into political billboards, none more iconic than the nose-up pick-up truck declaring “Rise up!”
However, the trucks are just a small percentage of the overall experience. Ron himself greeted us when we showed up unannounced. Beer in hand at 11am, he showed us his collection of carvings: dozens of faces he carved into logs. It was clear he had a joke for each and every piece. Peacocks roamed the grounds as we were invited to take a drive. You literally drive through this guy’s backyard along a track, viewing the art he’s created with found items and empty beer bottles and cans. He’s also become something of an amateur archeologist too, having located ice age-era fossils of camels and mammoths in the neighboring quarry. There is no admission fee, nor is there even a donation box.
Within 20 minutes we transport ourselves from an anti-establishment art exhibit to the mouth of Hell itself (well, according to legend anyway). Where do you start when you discuss Stull Cemetery? The rural, out of the way location is one legend heaped upon the next. The church and cemetery date to the mid 1850s, but we don’t know when the first reports of the supernatural started surrounding this area. A 1974 article in the University of Kansas newspaper serves as some of the first hard evidence when it comes to a folklore timeline and the advent of the internet really helped spread stories.
Legend has it that the location is visited twice a year by none other than Satan himself, on the spring equinox and on Halloween night. When the roof caved in on the aged stone church, witnesses there on rainy days observed that no rain would land within the now unprotected church. As of 2002 the church was fully bulldozed, making it impossible to confirm or deny these claims.
There’s the legend of a stairway, always described vaguely as as being behind and to the right of the church. This is a magical portal of some sort. If you toss an item into the the stairwell, you’ll never hear it hit bottom. The few people that have attempted going down the stairs have never returned. If “Eleven” goes missing during season three of “Stranger Things,” this would be a good place to start looking as it’s believed this is the literal doorway to the other side.
Wendy and I spent at least an hour investigating this site with no luck in locating such a staircase or anything in the ground that might indicate a filled-in staircase or foundations. While that sounds like a sure “case closed,” it actually feeds into the well-constructed legend that the staircase only reveals itself on rare occasions. There doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason to this story as I haven’t found legends to decipher if it relates to a time of day, anniversary, etc. or if it’s the witness themselves who are the key to the stairs revealing themselves. Of course, the likelihood that it’s all manufactured storytelling, is also possible.
However, I’ve come to the conclusion that while stories may get blown up and exaggerated over time, they come from some element of truth. So, where is that truth?
Did early settlers practice séances or other occult practices here? Was a tree on this land used to hang witches? Yes, these are even more of the claims related to this site.
New friends and fellow road tripping paranormal nerds, Greg & Dana Newkirk of Planet Weird made a visit to the site in 2016 and were shocked to see the Stull Cemetery grounds randomly on fire with no obvious cause. It was almost as if Satan had emerged up that mythic staircase and just forgot to wipe his feet before exploring our earthly realm. Feel free to check out their video below, but note that they misidentify the location of the church.
When Wendy and I visited Stull in 2017 is was a rainy day, so there were no flames or smoke. However, fresh scorch marks were apparent and scattered around the grounds. There’s no obvious culprit for this. Note the black marks on the ground in the image below. We will have our own video about this site that shows the burn marks in the future.
Interestingly, one of the few real life documented tragedies to take place in the small town (Stull’s peak population only hit 50 and has since been absorbed by the town of Lecompton) involves a young boy wandering into a field was was on fire and burning to death. When trying to explain a documented paranormal phenomena, one has to cast a pretty wide net based on historical facts. I, myself, have a lot of work to do when it comes to research here. For one, is that boy buried at Stull Cemetery? If so, the connection between his death and the random fires is somewhat compelling. Also, skeptics claim the 1974 article was a hoax that has since gotten out of hand. If that’s the case, locating paranormal allegations in the ‘60s or earlier will be able to debunk the skeptic claims. It may seem funny to debunk the debunkers, but the lack of detail in those claims is exactly what a skeptic would point to, to discredit a paranormal claim. Either way you cut it, facts have to be backed up by documentation.
We love the more recent story too that talks about a local news crew that got permission to stay overnight at Stull Cemetery. Their goal: To debunk the Satan visitation story (or to grab the interview of a lifetime if he shows up). Despite having consent from the property owners and doing work that would ultimately demystify the cemetery, police kicked them out at 11:30. “What are the police covering up?” has been the understandable reaction of the ghost-believing public. Perhaps one day we will start to put some pieces together, whether it’s debunking the claims or understanding the paranormal truths of this area.
Thank you for joining us on our paranormal road trip! We hope the insight from this post and the previous one give you some fun, spooky & weird options when visiting Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Kansas. One last tip – if you find yourself in Kansas City, don’t pass up the BBQ!