The 13th Floor

How Did the Entire Town of Ashley, Kansas Simply Disappear?

In my experience as a journalist exploring the realm of strange, fascinating and often terrifying web phenomena, I’ve seen just about every variety of creepypasta to come slithering down the inter-tubes.

If you’ve been following our regular creepypasta coverage (if not, here’s a crash course to get you started), you know that your basic creepypasta typically falls into one of three categories: (1) an urban legend which managed to propagate over social media platforms, including Reddit’s infamous NoSleep sub or 4chan’s /x/ paranormal forum; (2) a confirmed work of fiction, usually written from a first-person perspective and posted anonymously to one of those aforementioned forums; and (3) a leaked report of an unusual incident — often disseminated outside of mainstream news outlets — which may or may not be a legitimate account of actual events.

Today’s creepypasta falls into the third category.

By most accounts, the horror occurred on August 17, 1952, in the Kansas township of Ashley — a cozy farming community whose total population was less than seven hundred. I say “was” — because on that fateful summer day, every single man, woman and child in Ashley vanished in what could best be described as a miniature apocalypse.

Image Credit: John Shepherd
Image Credit: John Shepherd

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the town may have been sitting directly atop the epicenter of a massive earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale. For perspective, the infamous San Francisco quake of 1906, which destroyed more than three-fourths of that city, measured at a magnitude of 7.8.

Given the more remote location of the town, it took some time for reports of the catastrophe to reach state and federal emergency crews. But when those teams arrived, it seemed that no response would have been quick enough…  because the entire town of Ashley was already gone.

Image Credit: Tony Gervis
Image Credit: Tony Gervis

I don’t mean the residents were dead… I mean they were gone. Along with every building, city street, vehicle and animal. It’s as if Hell itself had opened up that morning and swallowed them all.

Those who arrived on the scene described seeing nothing left of Ashley but “a smoldering, burning fissure in the Earth measuring 1000 yards in length and approximately 500 yards in width,” but of indeterminate depth.

Image Credit: Torsten Stahlberg
Image Credit: Torsten Stahlberg

Rescue operations — if you could call them that — proved fruitless. Nevertheless, teams spent nearly two weeks attempting to locate any signs of life within the charred chasm that was once a town. The search was finally abandoned on August 29. Not a single body — living, dead or otherwise — was retrieved from the smoking hell-pit.

But that’s just the beginning of the story.

Just one day after the abortive rescue operation, at 2:27 am, a seismic aftershock of nearly the exact same magnitude struck the same precise location. Disaster teams returned to the scene, responding more quickly this time… but when they arrived, they witnessed something incredible: the giant fissure which had first consumed the town had mysteriously closed itself.

As there were no surviving residents from Ashley to bear witness to the horror, nearly all documentation related the event comes from law enforcement officials and reporters from the nearby town of Hays, KS. The eeriest aspect of the story stems from the fact that most records of the disaster from those sources in Hays have been withheld from national media.

Needless to say, these undisclosed records have sparked a fair share of conspiracy theories.

Image Credit: Igor Zhuravlov
Image Credit: Igor Zhuravlov

Rumors coming out of Hays and the surrounding area included descriptions of weird phenomena in the weeks prior to the catastrophe — including atmospheric anomalies that resembled strangely-moving lightning discharges, “black openings in the sky,” and roads into Ashley that seemed to lead nowhere — or even doubled back to their original destination (this allegedly came from Hays police officer Allan Mace, who tried to reach Ashley’s city limits only to find himself heading back toward Hays).

But the creepiest story being whispered around Hays concerned some residents claiming to have recently seen, heard or even held conversations with friends and family from Ashley — none of whom had been seen or heard from since that fateful August morning.

Then the single most chilling piece of supposed evidence was leaked from the Hays police department: a transcript of a single phone conversation, in which a frantic, terrified caller identified as April Foster phoned Officer Peter Welsch of the Hays Police Department and described how every one of Ashley’s 679 residents — all missing and presumed dead as of August 30, 1952 — had been witnessed emerging from a mysterious fire which seemed to emanate from the very crack in the earth which had consumed the town. The fire had not been witnessed or reported by anyone outside of Ashley.

The strangest thing about that conversation, however, was the date on the transcript: August 15, 1952… two days before the earthquake.

Here is a condensed version of that transcript.

[Line opens, distorted with static]

OFFICER PETER WELSCH: Hays Police Department.

WELSCH: Hello?

APRIL FOSTER: Yes… yes, hello?

WELSCH: Ma’am, who am I speaking with?

FOSTER: My name is April, April Foster. Please, sir. Please help me.

WELSCH: What is happening, ma’am?

FOSTER: Last night… last night they came back.

WELSCH: Ma’am, I’m going to need you to —

FOSTER: LAST NIGHT THEY CAME BACK! [Crying]

WELSCH: Ma’am, I’m going to need you to calm down, and speak clearly. What happened? Who came back?

FOSTER: [Sobbing] Everyone.

WELSCH: Everyone?

FOSTER: They all came in the fire.

WELSCH: What do you mean everyone?

FOSTER: My son… I saw my son last night. He was walking… he was walking down the street. He was burned. Jesus Christ, HE WAS BURNED.

WELSCH: Ma’am, I —

FOSTER: He died last year. I raised him since he was a baby… it was just me and him. I told him to watch for cars when he rode his bike. But he never wanted to listen.

WELSCH: Ma’am, what you’re saying isn’t making any sense. You said everyone came back?

FOSTER: ARE YOU FUCKING LISTENING TO ME? EVERYONE. Everyone came back. Everyone who died, or went missing, they’re back. And they’re looking for US! [Crying] He… he said: “Mommy, I’m okay now! See, I can walk again! Where are you, Mommy? I want to see you!” [Sobbing]

WELSCH: Ma’am, where are you now? Are you safe?

FOSTER: I’m hiding. Just like everyone else. We saw them coming through the fields… and… some people opened their doors from them. God, the SCREAMING. [Pause] I don’t know what happened to them. But their houses caught fire and they… caved in. I have my curtains drawn. I’m hiding in the closet right now and —

WELSCH: Ma’am, is everything alright, are you okay?

FOSTER: [Silence]

WELSCH: Ma’am?

FOSTER: [Glass Breaking] Oh… oh my God.

WELSCH: Ma’am?

FOSTER: Something just came in. [Muffled cries]

WELSCH: Ma’am, stay as quiet as you can. Don’t make a sound.

FOSTER: [Muffled] “Mommy…. Mommy?” [Sobbing] He came inside.

WELSCH: Stay absolutely still. Don’t leave.

FOSTER: [Sound of footsteps] “Mommy? Mommy, where are you hiding?”

WELSCH: Stay quiet.

FOSTER: [Heavier footsteps, followed by laughter] “I FOUND you, MOMMY!” [Indiscernible screaming and noise]

WELSCH: Ma’am? MA’AM??

[Call ends]

Those are the details as most of the world knows them. The creepypasta itself seems to have surfaced for the first time in April of 2012, during which it was simultaneously posted to the NoSleep subreddit and the Creepypasta Wiki by a user identifying him/herself as CoasterKid.

Despite its online origins, could there exist a grain of truth to the Ashley story?

It certainly wouldn’t be the first legend of a town mysteriously disappearing overnight — and a few of those legends indeed have roots in historical fact: examples include the famous “Lost Colony” of Roanoake Island in 16th-century New England; the vanishing of all 250 residents of Audley’s Town, Ireland over a brief period in the mid-1800s; and the sudden and unexplained abandonment of New City Village in New Jersey (now nicknamed “Demon’s Alley”).

Regarding government records of an actual 7.9 magnitude quake in Ashley, Kansas in 1952… well, to begin with, if such a town exists, it’s not listed in the state’s historical records. So there’s that… plus the fact that a seismic event on such a catastrophic scale has never been recorded in all of Kansas history. Of course, conspiracy theorists maintain that the entire event was covered up, and all records of the town and its residents purged. That’s a very dubious claim, given that tremors from the central quake would have been felt across the entire state, this making it pretty hard to conceal. But it’s a spooky thought nevertheless, and I’m sure it led to more than a few sleepless nights.

As with most of these tales, it’s likely to be nothing more than a particularly well-written and goosebumps-inducing work of fiction. Still, it’s impossible to prove such a thing didn’t happen… and as the saying goes, absence of evidence doesn’t necessarily equal evidence of absence.

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