Welcome to Hell, population 76 ... and me

I've been to Hell, and, despite what you might imagine, it's a pretty cool place.

Situated about an hour north of Detroit, is the tiny town of Hell, Michigan - consisting of a three stores, and a population of 72.

The town has fully embraced its quirky name, and puts on a good show for the international array of visitors who want to get a taste of Hell.

Hell in a Handbasket, the local store, includes Hell's Kitchen for main meals, serving up "sandwitches", and a coffin-shaped ice cream bar where people can buy "Grave Digger" sundaes.

The shop is also home to the town's post office, which sells and sends between 500 and 600 postcards a week.

Each postcard is stamped "From Hell" and is scorched before leaving town.

For such a small town, there is plenty for visitors to do - Hell hosts the biggest mini golf course in the state, and Hell in a Handbasket hires out canoes, kayaks, and fishing equipment. With numerous swimming holes within five minutes' drive, as well as more than 100km of hiking trails - the town caters well for anyone wanting to enjoy the outdoors.

While there are no local hotels, there is a camping ground up the road from the store - in case anyone has the urge to stay in Hell.

A Screams souvenir shop offers a huge array of Hell-themed merchandise. As well as the usual t-shirts, coffee mugs and key rings, people wanting something a bit different can purchase their own piece of Hell - $6.66 buys you one square inch of the town.

The man behind the businesses, and the unofficial mayor of Hell, is John Colone - someone worth visiting Hell for by himself.

Looking around the town, Colone's good nature is apparent, but as a Vietnam War veteran, he has clearly seen more hellish sites than those on display in Michigan.

In 1968, Colone was shot five times, including once in the head, when his platoon was attacked.

He was declared dead, and toe-tagged, but, while in a body bag, rolled off a pile of bodies twice while at the morgue, which saved his life. He spent 23 months recovering in hospital, and has clearly kept a sense of humour.

Colone takes a great interest in visitors to the town, stopping to chat to everyone, and find out where they are from.

During my visit, he came across a couple from Holy, Toledo, a source of great amusement. Holy Hell!

Another surprise in Hell was its wedding chapel. The six-seater chapel, complete with a question mark where one would expect to see a cross, hosted nearly 100 weddings last year.

The town was settled in 1838 by George Reeves, whose tendency to pay farmers with whiskey led many wives to say "he's gone to Hell again" when asked where their husbands were during harvest time. The name stuck, and the area was officially titled Hell in 1841.

While I was there, the temperature was an appropriate 41degC, however, I'm told that Hell does sometimes indeed freeze over.

Two years ago, when the water ways surrounding the town froze over, national television crews arrived to mark the occasion.

It was not the first time the town hit headlines: In 2006, Colone caused a stir when, in a news interview, he invited everyone to come to Hell to celebrate June 6 - (6/6/06).

More than 24,000 tourists descended on the tiny town - some having to park three miles away and walk in.
Last year the town made it into the Guinness Book of Records when it set the record for the longest parade of hearses - 51.

Colone said there were some who objected to the town, but for the most part people appreciated the humour.
"Even good people go to Hell."

- Fairfax NZ News/stuff.co.nz