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Community Vibe: A visit to Hell (Michigan)

Jan 13, 2016

Credit Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

Go to Hell.

Michigan Radio's Emily Fox did, as part of our Community Vibe series, where we're exploring one interesting thing about different towns across the state.

Emily takes us now to Hell Michigan, to meet the leading hellion of the village. 


Hell is kind of in the middle of nowhere. It’s surrounded by the Pinkney State Recreation Area, about 20 miles northwest of Ann Arbor and there isn’t much there.

John Colone grew up three miles down the road.

“That’s the funny part about it, they drive right by and ask 'Where the hell is it?' We do have uptown, midtown and downtown districts, which is three buildings of each,” Colone says.

Colone is a retired car salesman who now owns two of the three commercial buildings in Hell.

“I own uptown and midtown Hell, which consist of a Hell Hole bar,” Colone says.

Credit Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

The Hell Hole bar is also a restaurant and post office where letters are stamped with the words, “I’ve been through Hell” and the postmark reads, “Have a Hell of a good day.”

Colone also owns the tiny putt-putt golf course next door, which is behind his souvenir shop. The shop is filled with Halloween decorations and t-shirts that say things like, “Get over it, Hell froze over” and “Go to Hell.”

Credit Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

Colone likes to take themes of hell and the afterlife lightly. He says he’s a Vietnam vet and says he had a pretty hellish near death experience when he was in the war.

“During Tet Offensive of 1968 we were at Fantiet and there was 23 in our platoon and 17 were wounded or killed and I was actually shot five times and found in a body bag in the morgue,” Colone says. “I rolled off a pile of bodies and the second time I rolled off, they decided to open the bag.”

He says he came back from the dead “and still ended up in Hell.”

On a slow Monday afternoon, a group of Mormons were the few to make a special trip to Hell. Some young church leaders were visiting from Idaho and Arizona. Sue Lee organized the trip.

“It’s kind of a tongue and cheek thing,” she says. “We are bringing missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s their one day off that they get is on a Monday. They’ve always wanted to come to Hell and back so here we are.”  

Colone tries to make the most of the little town’s eccentric name.

“Our population is 72. It’s kind of made up of hellions, hellbillies and wannabees and pretty decent people,” Colone says.

The tourists can outnumber the residents, especially around Halloween and in the summertime, so Colone has put together some other activities for visitors.

The Locks of Love Bridge
Credit Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

Just behind his souvenir shop is a tiny bridge near a dam with dozens of locks on it. Colone calls it the Locks of Love Bridge where “You can lock your love in Hell and throw away the key.”

You can also get married in Hell. Next to the bridge is a tiny wedding chapel. It only seats about eight people, but Colone says he’s had as many as 250 people gather for a wedding in Hell.

Hell's wedding chapel
Credit Emily Fox / Michigan Radio

Finally, for a fee, you can buy yourself, a friend or family member, the fake duty of being Mayor of Hell for the day. Here’s how that works. Colone will call the honorary Mayor early in the morning—letting them know what pretend mishaps they need to take care of that day.

Once Colone has gotten the fake mayor on the phone he’ll tell them something like, “We’ve got problems here in Hell Mayor. It’s the dam water, it’s gone over the dam too fast. The dam workers haven’t shown up, everyone’s knee deep in dam water and where the hell are you?”

It’s a gag. Like a lot of what passes for official business in Hell.

At the end of the day, the Mayor gets fired and Colone gives them an impeachment certificate. It says, “It may have been a great day for you but for the folks in our community it was just another day in Hell.”