Haunted Decatur

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Anyone who does an Internet search for “Hell's Hollow” and “Decatur” may be surprised to be on the receiving end of links to tales of kidnapping, death and murder that are unrelated to the people buried in nearby Greenwood Cemetery.

In March 2009, the Herald & Review published a photo from 1979 with this caption: "Hell’s Hollow, a wooded area along South Edward Street that slopes down to the Sangamon River, earned its nickname from bygone days when murder victims were regularly discovered in the desolate spot. Today, Hell’s Hollow is a different kind of dumping ground. Bernard ‘Buzz’ Bennett, Greenwood Cemetery superintendent, examines one of the piles of trash dumped in Hell’s Hollow."

The caption is proof of how rumors can morph into “fact.” Hell's Hollow as a dumping ground for murder victims is a great story. However, the truth is the legend came to life through the imaginations of two men.

Hell’s Hollow as a dumping place for bodies was a hoax designed to help William Randolph Hearst boost circulation in the Chicago newspaper wars. Robey M. Parks, a Chicago Herald and Examiner reporter, and John Barker, a Sullivan farmhand, concocted the account of a gang of cutthroats, dubbed them the "Hounds of Hell’s Hollow," and unveiled it in a sensational story in the Chicago newspaper on Sept. 13, 1936.

"The wooded Hell’s Hollow area is infamous for the alleged brawls, murders and other illicit activities which legend has it happened there during the 1920s and early 1930s," Parks wrote.

While the entire episode was fabricated, it enhanced the reputation Greenwood Cemetery has as one of the most haunted cemeteries in the United States.


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