Itub/Wikimedia Commons
Itub/Wikimedia Commons

7 Great Places with Horrifying Names

Itub/Wikimedia Commons
Itub/Wikimedia Commons

As you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge the people of some communities by the place name. After all, when you live in a place called Hell, you have to have a sense of humor. And many of them would love for you to visit!

1. Hell, Michigan


Photograph by Sswonk.

Hell, Michigan grew up around a grist mill on what is now named Hell Creek. The name “Hell” has a couple of legends associated with its origin. One attributes it to a resident overhearing a German conversation by travelers that said, "So schön hell!" which means "So beautifully bright!" Another quotes grist mill owner George Reeves as saying, about naming the town, "I don't care, you can name it Hell for all I care."

Hell is a tourist draw for its name, and takes advantage of it. Businesses are named for Halloween and afterlife themes, and there’s even a Damnation University that sells diplomas.

2. Shades Of Death Road


Photograph by Daniel Case.

Shades of Death is the name of a seven-mile road in Warren County, New Jersey. There are several theories as to why the road was named so. Nearby Ghost Lake was named for its ethereal fog, but there are also tales of murder and hauntings along the road and locations the road leads to. The highway department is constantly replacing signs that are stolen by souvenir-seekers.

3. Frankenstein, Missouri


Photograph from the Frankenstein, Missouri Facebook page.

Frankenstein is a tiny town of about 30 people just east of Jefferson City, Missouri. It was not named for Mary Shelley’s book nor the movie Frankenstein, but from an early citizen named Gottfried Franken, who donated land to erect a church in 1890. Frankenstein is a small but close-knit community that has its own Facebook page. It made national news in 1999 when Twentieth Century Fox staged an airdrop of 25 skydiving “Frankensteins” delivering VHS copies of the 25th anniversary edition of the movie Young Frankenstein.

4. Hell For Certain, Kentucky


Photograph by Nama.

Hell for Certain in Leslie County, Kentucky is officially named Dryhill for those who are offended at the community’s common name, which was drawn from nearby Hell for Certain Creek. The popular story of how the name came about tells of two men who rode their horses down the mountain.

One said, "This looks like hell." The other one said, "Yeah, for certain."

The U.S. Postal Service will not use the name (sometimes spelled Hell-Fer-Sartin), but named post offices Osha, Omarsville, and Kaliopi at different times.

5. Dead Women Crossing, Oklahoma


Image by Google Maps.

Dead Women Crossing is an unincorporated community in Custer County, Oklahoma. It was named after a murder/suicide/kidnapping that took place in 1905. Katie DeWitt James filed for divorce and her father saw Katie and her baby daughter off on a train to go stay with a cousin. Katie’s father did not hear from her for some time, and ultimately hired a detective to find her. Katie was last seen with Fannie Norton, a prostitute she met on the train. Norton denied any wrongdoing, but witnesses saw her go out with Katie and the baby and come back alone. The baby was recovered alive from a family who said Norton had given her to their young son. Norton, sensing the trouble she was in, drank poison and died. Katie’s body was later found near the river, shot through the skull and decapitated. The murder was attributed to Norton, and Katie’s estranged husband Martin Luther James inherited her property and took custody of the daughter. Some think he may have hired Norton to kill his wife. The legend that remains is that you can hear a woman crying for her baby at a bridge near the spot where Katie’s body was found.

6. Satan’s Kingdom


Photograph by Itub.

Satan's Kingdom State Recreation Area is near the town of New Hartford, Connecticut. Just east of town is an area called Satan’s Kingdom, so called because of the rough and marginalized characters who lived there. The signs designating the recreational area are often stolen because of the name.

7. Transylvania, Louisiana


Photograph by Infrogmation.

Transylvania, Louisiana got its name from Dr. W. L. Richards, an early landowner in the area. He named the town after Transylvania University, the college he attended in Lexington, Kentucky. But an honest history of the name didn’t stop legends of hauntings from growing up around the community. The town has a sense of humor about its name: They’ve painted a bat on their water tower. And being near the Louisiana swamplands, bats are heroes, as they eat mosquitos. Many gift shops sell Dracula figurines and merchandise as souvenirs.

See also: 8 Towns that are Numbered, The Origins of Weird State Park Names, 10 Town Names That Will Make You Hungry, Origins of 8 of the Strangest Place Names in Canada, and 10 Loud Places That Are Actually Nice and Quiet.

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8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
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iStock

You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

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The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
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In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

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