Thursday, March 23, 2023

The Graveyard and the Satanic Pit

The Graveyard as it exists today, courtesy of Google Maps
At the start of Fourth Grade, my family moved into the house I most strongly associate with my childhood. The house was part of a new development in an area that had previously been farmland, so there were lots of wild, largely untamed woods nearby, not to mention creeks and ponds. My friends and I spent many an hour exploring these places, sometimes as part of a game we called "hide and seek tag" and sometimes just for the fun of it. We encountered lots of fascinating – and sometime frightening – things in those woods, including plenty of spiders through whose webs we'd regularly run in the course of our adventures. There was the occasional snake too, though never the dreaded water moccasin about whom we'd heard many tales (probably because it's not native to the region, but such little details didn't stop us from fearing it).

Outside of the wooded areas, the housing development was exactly what you'd expect from suburban America in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It wasn't exactly like something out of a Steven Spielberg movie, but it's in the same ballpark. My friends and I spent nearly all of our time outside, even during the peak humidity of August and September, though we'd often visit one another's back yards on a rotating basis, depending on whose deck was most in the shade at any given hour. This is where we'd gather to play Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games, rolling dice – often unsuccessfully – across the tops of picnic tables and contending with the seemingly inexhaustible supply of mosquitos, wasps, and Japanese beetles that swarmed during the warmer months.

In the midst of the development, there was one area that remained inexplicably wild: the Graveyard. That's not it's real name; that's what my friends and I called it. On a cul-de-sac street behind where we all lived, there was this low hill, covered in patchy grass and sparse trees. For no obvious reason, the place had been left intact rather than being leveled and having several more houses built on it. Somehow, the legend had grown up that the reason the hill had been left alone is that it was the burial place of members of the family who'd originally owned the land and, therefore, could not be disturbed, hence why we – and all the other kids in the neighborhood – called it the Graveyard.

I should stress that there was only the most circumstantial evidence to support this theory. Indeed, to call it a "theory" is being charitable. At the same time, there was clearly something weird about this little hill. Not only was it still there when so much else in the area had been cleared to make way for homes, but the newsletter of the neighborhood association, which handled things like snow removal and garbage collection, often included notices that children were not to play on this hill, though no reasons for the prohibition were given. Needless to say, my friends and I spent untold hours atop the hill during the warmer months. Shaded by its trees, we even devoted ourselves to finding "proof" that the place was indeed a graveyard as we imagined it to be. One of my friends brought a shovel to dig, to little avail.

The Graveyard was not the only mysterious locale in my neighborhood. Within the remaining woods, there was another place that captured our youthful imaginations: the Satanic Pit. The Pit was a circular bit of raised concrete, maybe three or four feet across, with a metal grate across its top. If you looked down into it, you could see there were metal handholds along one side and that it extended some unknown distance into the dark. At certain times, steam would rise from it, often smelling quite foul. I presume the Pit was actually connected to the local sewer system in some fashion, but, to us, it was always the Satanic Pit. Despite our best efforts, we never managed to remove the grate from the top of the thing and our dreams of descending into the unknown depths were forever barred to us.

The Graveyard and the Satanic Pit linger in my memories even now. I sometimes even have dreams of going down into the Pit with my friends and then getting lost or being unable to return to the surface again for some reason. It's funny how these formative experiences can continue to have a hold on you many decades later. I'm actually quite grateful that the little world of my youth included mysterious places like these. They gave me a chance to explore, to flirt with "danger," and, above all, to imagine. I have little doubt that the hours I spent on or near the Graveyard and the Pit, not to mention pondering their presumed secrets, played a role in my ready embrace of Dungeons & Dragons when I eventually encountered it. For that, I will always be grateful.


  1. I have similar memories of my neighborhood in the 1970s, complete with woods and storm drain tunnels. Thanks for the lyrical nostalgia.

  2. I lived on a dead-end street as a kid, and beyond the dead end lay "The Trails," a semi-wild, semi-forested part of the neighborhood that had once been part of the old fairgrounds (although I didn't know that until I was an adult). I think most of the neighborhood children were forbidden to play there, but that didn't stop us from venturing in from time to time, imagining it was more exciting than it really was.

  3. Truly awesome recollections! For us... it was the The Ditch. Also known as the forbidden ditch. Mainly because we did have those fabled cottonmouths in our area, along with rattlers and copperheads as well!

  4. Same here, our development backed to a broad wooded ravine with a bunch of features named by local kids. “Suicide” was a fun-to-climb eroded hill side. The creek pooled red at “Tomato Soup.” It passed under a 4-lane highway via “The Tunnel,” a 50-yard long, 6-foot diameter cylinder that we ran through to reach “Big Creek” where we paddled inflatable rafts. All of that was great preparation for modules like B2 The Keep on the Borderlands. And, I remember first meeting the Yuan-ti from Dwellers of the Forbidden City at the picnic table in my friend’s back yard.

  5. At the time I first got into D&D (late 81) I lived in a neighborhood with multiple creeks and a natural spring we used to explore... out on our bikes until it got too dark to see. Wouldn't trade those memories for anything

  6. James, you should create a D&D module called "The Graveyard and the Pit" featuring a creepy hill and a mysterious stone shaft. Maybe it's for 0 level PCs that are local children?

  7. I grew up in a suburb where, at the time, half the land in between home and Middle School was still farmland, with corn growing every season. Far back in one field was the Old Schoolhouse, a ruined old classic two or three room schoolhouse from the turn of the century.

    There was also a horse ranch back behind a fence and treeline, and back behind it all a big fenced heavily forested in "estate" that nobody had ever seen, but we knew they had to be rich, as they had peacocks, and you heard their screams of bloody murder far more often than you saw them.

    The place of horror, though, was right downtown. The trains went through town, and at that point, in Indiana, literally every train the went east to west or west to east through Chicago passed through our little town. Many adults in cars and kids on bikes died there, trying to beat the trains. If you saw any red rocks along the tracks, it was said they were painted with the blood of fools. I was once 10 minutes behind some other kid, whom I did not know, when she tried to beat the train. I saw the twisted remnants of her bike, but the cops kept me from seeing anything else.

    The nearby Indiana Dunes and forest were known by rumor to have quicksand, strange bog residents, ghosts, and worse things..

  8. Replies
    1. I still have no idea. I visited my mother a few years ago, when she still lived in my childhood home, and tried to do some research into the matter and came up with nothing. The place remains a mystery.

  9. When I was very young, there was a turning off my street that led a short distance to an undeveloped bit of grassland. Given that there was a road leading to it, it's clear that either something had been there in the past when the street was built, or something was supposed to go there.

    (In my years there, nothing was built there, but it has since been turned into housing.)

    Anyway, I remember it because the area was dotted with 1-2 metre mounds that I can only describe as like grassy termite mounds, although there are no termites in South Wales. What these were, I have no idea, but they always looked ominous at the end of this street that went nowhere.

  10. There were steps behind my local library going down a cliffside to a garden area besides a river. If you climbed over some short stone walls an made your way between the cliff and the river you came to a shallow cave that had a big witches style cauldron hanging in it. Really weird and I have no idea why it was there. all the kids knew about it but I bet nobody ever told their parents!

  11. At my elementary school, there was the Haunted House on the kindergarten playground. It was actually a trailer that I believe was used for storage, but we were forbidden from approaching it and so in our imaginations it grew to have giant spiders living under the rickety wooden porch and labyrinthine passages patrolled by mummies. A few times, I was brave enough to stand on the porch for a few minutes before running away to keep the spiders from catching me.

  12. I suspect that there's an entire series of books and movies in weird and creepy places from our 70s and 80s childhoods. I'd buy a volume that's for sure.

    The creepy place near my first childhood home was a tree that remained overhanging the side of a reservoir they drained after three kids drowned in short succession. We called it the hangman tree as it had a rope swing and looked like a gallows.

    After they drained the reservoir they routed burns that flowed into it via 4ft diameter concrete pipes. We were able to lift the manhole covers and drop down into a precast chamber where two of them intercepted. We could shout from the entrances and hear one another speaking from several hundred feet away. That was a creepy place and I was always afraid of being jammed in the pipe.

  13. Growing up, I didn't have any quite so exciting places, but there were a few interesting places. Right next to my elementary school was a small wetland with a path (maybe 50' long) through it that I sometimes walked through on the way to or from school. My home was also 2 blocks from the river and on the other side of the river was a large flood plain which had a small creek I sometimes played in. Past that was a dirt road that led to a friends house and behind that was a wooded area with a long ago removed rail line, access to the other river, or walk to the point where the two rivers converged. Lots of fun was had in those woods and fishing in the rivers. The point was a large rock that was a nice place to sit and enjoy the river.

  14. After my family moved out of the house I "grew up in" (4th grade to college), the next neighborhood was reclaimed by the county as being a flood plain that should never have been developed. They removed most of the houses, including the slabs, driveways, and fences but left the trees, bushes, and streets. You can see where the houses used to be only because those spaces are outlined by the remaining trees. The grass is mowed by the county, probably to keep it from becoming illegal marijuana fields. The handful of remaining houses just make it creepier.