3 Hells on Earth

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What do San Jose, Applebee's, Wyoming, Chuck E. Cheese, and the Apple Store have in common? They all appear on the first page of a Google search for "Hell on Earth is" "“ along with war, alcohol withdrawal and Long Island. Having lived in Wyoming for two years, I'll respectfully disagree with the Cowboy State being compared to Hell, despite the fact that it's home to Devils Tower National Monument. But if you'd like to take a trip to a Hell on Earth, forget Cheyenne and book a ticket to one of these three destinations instead.

1. Hell, Grand Cayman

Located just north of Seven Mile Beach, the main attraction in Grand Cayman's tiny Hell community is a jagged black rock formation called phytokarst "“ formed by the biological erosion of limestone and dolomite by algae "“ surrounded by tropical flora. According to legend, an Englishman visiting Grand Cayman in the 1930s attempted to shoot a bird over the rock formation, missed, and cried, "Oh, hell!" The name stuck.

Around the same time that the misfiring Englishman christened Hell, Ivan Farrington was born there. Farrington was raised in Hell, joined the Merchant Marine and traveled the world for 19 years, and then returned to his native Cayman. After working construction for a few years on the island, the enterprising Farrington opened a gift shop in the old Hell post office and named it Paradise. Business was slow "“ "it went straight to Hell" is how Farrington described it to me when I visited Hell last week "“ so he dropped the Paradise name in favor of Devil's Hangout. Farrington's shop and the new post office next door has been a hot spot for Cayman tourists ever since.

hell-cayman.jpgToday, Farrington is the face of Hell. He wears a devil costume and greets visitors in his shop with an endless arsenal of devilish phrases. "How the hell are you?" "Hell of a nice day, isn't it?" When I asked if I could take a photo of Farrington, he replied, "What the hell are you waiting for?" All sorts of Hell-themed souvenirs fill the room and the walls are adorned with photos of former visitors, including Kenny Rogers "“ the musician, not the baseball player "“ and a former Miss Universe. Farrington has been featured on Inside Edition and an episode of Blind Date, and the septuagenarian is happily married to a woman from West Virginia. The couple met in the Devil's Hangout, though Farrington ditched the devil garb for the wedding ceremony.

2. Hell, Michigan

Need directions to Hell? University of Michigan football fans could probably provide them, and not only because they just suffered through the worst season in school history. Hell, Mich., is located about 15 miles northwest of Ann Arbor, in Putnam Township. There are a couple of stories as to how the town got its name, but the most widely accepted version goes like this: Before his death in 1877, George Reeves, an early settler of the area who operated a flour mill and a whiskey distillery, was asked what he thought the town should be called. He responded, "Name it Hell for all I care." Done and done.

screams-hell.jpgThrough the years, Hell has attracted thousands of tourists with events and businesses that play off of the town's sinful name. On June 6, 2006 (6-6-06), about 100,000 people flocked to the community of less than 300 for a party that was promoted by the owner of the Screams Ice Cream and Halloween Store in town. The celebration drew the ire of Hell residents, some of whom complained to the police. Rick Beaudin, a local real estate agent, put it best: "If you live next to the University of Michigan stadium, you have to know you're going to have crowds on football weekends," he told a wire news service. "If you live in or near a town named Hell, you have to expect that things are going to happen once in awhile." Annual events in Hell include a road race (Run Thru Hell), a motorcycle rally (Blessing of the Bikes), and a classic car gathering (Helluva Cruise).

3. Hell, Norway

hell-norway.jpgIt's actually quite common for Hell to freeze over in this small village in central Norway, about 200 miles north of Oslo. Temperatures in the Stjordal municipality occasionally dip below zero during the winter. The name Hell comes from the old Norwegian word hellir, which means a cave hidden by an overhanging cliff. In modern Norwegian, hellir means good luck. A post office is one of this Hell's main attractions, with tourists stopping in to mail postcards and letters bearing the unusual four-letter postmark. The sign on a wooden building next to the Hell railroad station, where passengers have been known to purchase tickets to Hell and back, presents another photo opportunity. "Hell "“ Gods Expedition," the sign reads, which translates to freight office.

If you think nothing good has ever come out of Hell, think again. Nineteen-year-old Mona Grudt entered the 1990 Miss Universe pageant and referred to herself as the "beauty queen from Hell." Grudt, who was born in Hell, became the first Norwegian to win the competition by edging out first runner-up Carole Gist, the first African-American woman to win the Miss USA title. While it would've been one hell of a story, Grudt was not the Miss Universe winner who visited Ivan Farrington and the Devil's Hangout in Cayman.

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January 21, 2009 - 7:00am
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