Hell, Michigan – Hell, Michigan - Atlas Obscura

Hell, Michigan

Hell, Michigan

Hell on Earth is actually a small town in Michigan where anyone can be mayor for a day. 


Located near the college town of Ann Arbor in southeast Michigan, Hell is a fairly average township with an odd name, a name it has held since 1841.

There are a number of theories as to how the town received its name. The most likely (but least fun) explanation is that it came from a pair of visiting Germans who described the town as “so schön hell,” (“so beautifully bright”) in the 1830’s. Other theories concern town founder George Reeves, who, when asked for an opinion on naming the new town, supposedly replied “I don’t know, you can name it Hell for all I care.” Another theory states that Reeves, who owned a general store and grist mill, was known to pay farmhands in whiskey, prompting their wives complain that their husbands had “gone to Hell again,” when they failed to turn up for supper. Finally, some believe that the town was simply named for the swampy, mosquito-ridden conditions that early settlers in the area first encountered prior to the town’s founding.

At any rate, locals have enthusiastically embraced the name, playing up every opportunity to turn both municipal and commercial signage and advertising into a pun connoisseur’s dream come true. Visit during winter to see “Hell freeze over,” or you may have the chance to jocularly tell someone to “go to Hell” in the course of giving directions. There isn’t much to see in Hell outside of the many jokey signs, but certain spots such as the downtown general store offer kitschy and unusual gifts and knickknacks bearing the town’s name.  In addition, for the price of $100, a visitor can become the “Mayor of Hell” for one day, receiving a key to the city and the opportunity to be ignominiously impeached at the end of the day.  See the town’s official website for details.

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