Originally published January 25, 2012 at 12:04 p.m., updated January 26, 2012 at midnight
Even for the Stull Cemetery this showdown seems a little surreal.
In one corner, there is Slash — the heavy-metal rock icon and former lead guitarist for the band Guns N’ Roses. In the other corner, there is Iona, an 86-year-old rural Douglas County resident intent on keeping riffraff out of her neighborhood’s historic cemetery.
It sure appears a clash is coming.
According to reports in The Hollywood Reporter, a trade publication that covers the movie industry, Slash’s newly formed film company has signed a deal to produce a horror movie with a plot that centers on the Stull Cemetery and the urban legend that the cemetery about 10 miles west of Lawrence is one of the seven gateways to Hell.
News of the production has created a fury, not of the demonic type but more of the neighborhood type.
“I would like to get a hold of whoever this fellow is,” said Iona Spencer, who has lived near the cemetery for the last 65 years, “so I can tell him to just shut it up.”
The movie is scheduled to begin filming next month, but none of the shooting will happen at Stull. Instead, the movie is slated to be shot in Louisiana, according to The Reporter. But Spencer said that doesn’t do much to ease her mind because the movie undoubtedly will spread the “lies” that the cemetery is haunted, which will lead to more sightseers and vandals.
“People don’t understand that what they do to this cemetery is very hurtful to those of us who have loved ones here,” said Spencer, who has 10 family members buried at the cemetery.
Neighbors in the area have tried to ward off the cemetery’s association with the occult for decades now. Spencer estimated that it was in the 1970s that Kansas University students started showing up at the cemetery on Halloween — she thinks because a professor and a report in the student newspaper billed the cemetery as haunted.
“One time we had several hundred kids standing on graves because they were told if they stood on a grave, the devil would come up,” Spencer said. “Well guess what? He didn’t come up.”
The no-show, however, did nothing to stop the legend from growing. On the Internet, it is easy to find stories that one of the graves at Stull is of a witch who was a girlfriend of the Devil. Or that the place is so demonic that Pope John Paul II once ordered his plane to not fly over eastern Kansas.
All nonsense, neighbors say, but not all harmless.
The caretaker for the cemetery, who asked that his name not be published, said he still has to repair vandalism at the cemetery about two times per month, with broken tombstones the most serious infractions. As the legend has taken to the Internet, the vandals and onlookers have become much more than just college students, he said.
The old church — where Satan’s “unholy son” is entombed, according to one version of the tale — was suddenly torn down in 2002.
The caretaker, though, said that hasn’t done anything to slow down the unwelcome visitors. Now, Spencer and others worry how many new onlookers may come to the site if an entire movie is devoted to the legends of Stull.
Indeed, that appears to be the focus of Slash’s venture. Attempts to reach representatives with Anchor Bay Films, the company that signed a deal to distribute the movie, or Slash’s Slasher Films, were not successful on Wednesday.
But according to The Hollywood Reporter, the movie, titled “Nothing to Fear,” is being dubbed as a tale of “a family whose journey towards a better life in a small town is savagely derailed by a charismatic but emotionally conflicted man of the cloth.” The Reporter article goes on to say the movie will be set in Stull, and then suggests a “road trip” to see the alleged gateway to Hell.
That, of course, is what residents don’t want to see. Spencer said several neighbors keep an eye on the property and call the sheriff when they see suspicious activity. The cemetery is posted as a no-trespassing area, which Spencer said is perhaps the saddest part of this story.
“A cemetery is supposed to be the most peaceful place on earth,” Spencer said. “It is supposed to be the one place you know that you can go and no one will ever hurt you.”