Friday
October 31, 2014

Stories Behind 5 Unfortunately-Named Towns

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Stories Behind 5 Unfortunately-Named Towns

The names of these municipalities may make for some serious branding issues today, but the history behind them isn't always as sinister as you might think.

  1. Hell, Mich. This Michigan town grew up around a grist mill on what is now named Hell Creek. Some say the name comes from a resident overhearing a  conversation between German travelers who said, "So schön hell!" which means "So beautifully bright!" Another quotes grist mill owner George Reeves talking about naming the town, saying,"I don't care, you can name it 'Hell' for all I care." Hell draws in a fair amount of tourists due to its name, and businesses are quick to take advantage. There’s even a Damnation University that sells diplomas.
  2. Frankenstein, Mo. Only about 30 people live in this tiny Missouri town, located just east of Jefferson City, Mo. It was not named for any stitched-together monster, though. It takes its name from an early citizen named Gottfried Franken, who donated land to erect a church in 1890. The town 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.
  3. Hell For Certain, Ky. The official name for this area of Kentucky is "Dryhill," for those who are offended at the community's common name. The town was named for nearby Hell for Certain Creek. The story goes that two men who rode their horses down a nearby mountain had the following exchange: One said, "This looks like hell." And the other one said, "Yeah, for certain." The U.S. Postal Service will not use the name (sometimes spelled Hell-Fer-Sartin), but has named post offices Osha, Omarsville, and Kaliopi at different times.
  4. Dead Women Crossing, Okla. Dead Women Crossing is an unincorporated community in Custer County. It was named after a murder/suicide/kidnapping that took place in 1905. After Katie DeWitt James filed for divorce, her father saw Katie and her baby daughter off on a train to go stay with a cousin. After he did not hear from her for some time, James' father hired a detective to find her. James was last seen with Fannie Norton, a prostitute she met on the train. Norton denied any wrongdoing, but witnesses saw her go out with James 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 then killed herself by drinking poison. James' body was later found near the river, shot through the skull and decapitated. The murder was attributed to Norton, and James' estranged husband Martin Luther James inherited her property and took custody of their daughter. Some speculate he hired Norton to kill his wife. A legend remains that you can hear a woman crying for her baby at a bridge near the spot where the decapitated body was found.
  5. Transylvania, La. Dr. W. L. Richards, an early landowner in the area, named this town after Transylvania University, the college he attended in Lexington, Ky. But an honest history of the name didn’t stop spooky legends from growing up around the community. Today, the town has a sense of humor about its name: They’ve painted a bat on their water tower and many gift shops sell Dracula figurines and related merchandise as souvenirs.

Source: "7 Great Places with Horrifying Names," Mental Floss (April 8, 2014)

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