Is This the Scariest Story in Halloween History?

3 minute read

The local-news business is often full of bizarre stories. TIME’s coverage of community goings-on deemed to be worthy of national note — a practice that was generally more common in the magazine’s earlier days — is no exception. The magazine has told the stories of babies born with full beards, women who made bathing suits out of ostrich plumes and gator-wrestling feats gone wrong.

When Halloween comes around, those stories can cross from the bizarre to the downright terrifying.

The following item appeared in the pages of the Sept. 30, 1957, issue of TIME — along with a completely inappropriately tongue-in-cheek headline. It is, in all seriousness, probably the spookiest Halloween story in the magazine’s history. Read at your own risk.

Something for the Kids

For several years parents and school officials of the little farming community of Utica, Kans. (pop. 300) have worried that youngsters might be injured in the boisterous yearly initiation of high school freshmen by the senior class. So Mrs. Betty Stevens, English teacher and sponsor of this year’s senior class, decided to try something different. Instead of seeing her charges mill around all evening at a rough-house gymnasium party, she would get the seniors to lead the freshmen on a pre-Halloween trip through a haunted house. Principal William Hobert Sallee, 60, got into the spirit of the thing, thought the kids might get a kick out of finding him hanging in a dark room.

One day last week Mrs. Stevens and her seniors took over an abandoned farmhouse two miles outside town, scattered papier-mâché skulls, steer bones, toy rattlesnakes and other spooky bits and pieces in strategic places. Just before the party Principal Sallee daubed himself with black greasepaint, spattered catsup on his face and clothes and suspended himself, a rope strung beneath his arms, from the kitchen ceiling. His feet touched a floor littered with broken bottles, burlap sacks, fire chains.

One by one, the seniors led the freshmen through the dark house, amid weird groans and rattling chains. When they came to the kitchen they briefly flashed a light on the hideous but familiar form that hung limply and moaned softly. All the freshmen agreed that the hanging man was the scariest spook of all. Midway in the fun Mrs. Stevens slipped into the kitchen with her camera to get a picture. She called to Sallee. There was no answer. She turned on her flashlight. Somehow, as he had moved his feet on the littered floor, Principal Sallee had slipped; the noose had worked up from his armpits to his neck and he was dead of strangulation.

Good luck with your nightmares.

Read about the modern — and much safer — haunted house industry, here in TIME’s archives: You Can’t Scare America

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Lily Rothman at