It was about 20 years ago that I was formally introduced to or indoctrinated into what you might today call the ‘Helltown Experience’. One cool, late-summer night I somehow managed to tag along with my sister and a few other older high school students on a joyride through “Butane Town”. Our guide that evening was three or four years my senior, one of the more popular guys in school who would pass me in the halls shouting, “Lima bean!” (For some reason, he decided that I “looked like a lima bean” and that became one of my strangest childhood nicknames.) I was a painfully shy, awkward freshman, so being invited for a backseat ride through our infamously creepy local ghost town both completely unexpected and the highlight of my year.
It was twilight when we reached the bottom of the winding road, passing the ‘satanic church’ with its eerie red basement glow and making a right turn on Stanford Road where the numerous tales were born. And so, our guide began telling the story of Butane Town, or Mutane Town, according to some folks. The name supposedly came from an accident involving a truck carrying fuel or a toxic waste dump or something along those lines. The toxic waste version resulted in rumors of mutated people hiding out in the woods (which is where the Mutane or Mutant Town names came into play).
We first passed the “slaughter house” on the corner with its blood-stained barn where more than pigs were said to have been massacred. Down the road further was the ‘witch’s house’ which seemed far from deserted with its interior lights on and the blue glow of a television visible through the window. At this point, the driver slowed down as we came upon the infamous school bus permanently parked on the side of the road. Dark, grimy, and foreboding, the rusting bus was said to be the scene of a killing spree where at least a dozen children were hacked to death. None of us saw the famed bloody handprints in the windows, but we didn’t get out to take a closer look.
As we approached the sharp turn at the hill, I scanned the dark, overgrown fields for the ‘invisible cemetery’ said to be visible only at night when the tombstones glowed, yet I saw nothing. But we were quickly approaching the highlight of the trip: the End of the World. As was the tradition of the time, the driver revved his engine and floored the gas pedal to reach the top of the hill. At its peak, the road appeared to vanish before us and the car was briefly airborne before slamming down on the steep downgrade on the other side. Before long, we passed the ‘crazy house’ and reached the end of our journey at Brandywine Falls.
Today, the modern Helltown that people visit is just a shadow of its former creepy self. While the stories continue to grow and evolve, many of the landmarks have faded away. The abandoned bus was towed away years ago, and Stanford Road is closed to vehicles between the steepest hill and Brandywine Falls. The few houses remaining are ether occupied by residents or owned by the National Park Service; few abandoned buildings remain. Yet this doesn’t stop autumn thrill-seekers from searching the area for robe-clad cult members and the infamous truck with one headlight. Perhaps this is partially due to the low-budget indie horror film June 9 based on the Helltown legend and filmed in the area.