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This town is now known as ‘Gay Hell’ in a Pride Month rebuke of Trump

Elijah Daniel bought the town of Hell, Mich., and changed its name to "Gay Hell" for Pride Month. Here are four other times people have bought towns. (Video: The Washington Post)

In Hell, Mich., you can eat a gravedigger sundae, send a burned and singed postcard, or get married in the Chapel of Love. You just can’t fly any flag that doesn’t represent LGBTQ pride, now that musician and comedian Elijah Daniel is in charge.

The ban on non-pride flags is a joke, Daniel told The Washington Post on Tuesday, but he insisted he really did temporarily buy the unincorporated community of Hell and change its name to “Gay Hell” for Pride Month. The purchase is meant as a rebuke to the Trump administration’s refusal to grant requests by embassies to fly the rainbow pride flag this month, and Daniel hopes the stunt will motivate his fan base to make political statements of their own.

“I have a very young audience, so I’m trying to get them more politically active,” Daniel, 25, said in an interview.

Hell, which is part of southern Michigan’s Putnam Township, has been for sale since 2015, when the Detroit Free Press reported that a group of artists was trying to raise money to buy then-owner John Colone’s five acres of commercial property and the rights to merchandise and slogans. The original listing price was $999,666, a nod to the association of the number 666 with the Devil.

Daniel said Hell’s 72 residents have been open and supportive of his stunts for a cause, and he hopes to permanently buy Hell from Colone after Pride Month ends.

He declined to say how much he paid to own Hell during June. The town boasts an ice cream and souvenir shop, a diner, a saloon, a mini-golf course and a “Locks of Love” bridge of small locks attached to the fencing.

Daniel made a name for himself by performing comedy about social media on YouTube. He also has rapped under the name “Lil Phag” and recently created the EDM/pop group adam&steve with his fiance.

Buying the town of Hell as a stunt fits with Daniel’s personality. In 2013, he started a White House petition to make Miley Cyrus’s “Party in the U.S.A.” the new national anthem.

The next year, he hosted a weekly prank called Text Prank Thursday, where he asked his now-631,000 Twitter followers to text something specific to random phone numbers. In 2016, Daniel wrote an erotic novel called “Trump Temptations,” which hit the top of several sales lists.

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Generally speaking, someone becomes a town’s owner by buying everything there, said Realtor Fred Marik, who said he cannot speak specifically to Daniel buying Hell.

Marik offered as an example Cal-Nev-Ari, a Nevada town that he is in the process of selling. He said the town’s current owner runs the 250-person town in accordance with state law, but there are no municipal laws.

“She’s the mayor, she’s the city councilman, she’s the police chief,” Marik said. “She can do whatever she wants there, as long as it’s under the jurisdiction of the state of Nevada.”

Hell’s website spins a yarn about how the community got its name: Hell began as a gristmill and general store on the banks of what is now Hell Creek in the first half of the 19th century. Its founder, George Reeves, often paid local farmers for grain with home-distilled whiskey, prompting some farmers’ wives to say their husbands had “gone to Hell again” during harvest time. Hell officially became a town in 1841.

In reality, Daniel said, no one knows why the town is called Hell. The town’s Wikipedia page lists two theories: One is that German travelers stepped out of a stagecoach in the 1830s and one said “So schön hell!” which means “So beautifully bright!” and the name stuck. The other legend is that the name refers to the “hell-like” conditions that met early explorers of the area — including mosquitoes, thick forest and wetlands.

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Daniel, who grew up in Detroit, said he has been familiar with Hell for a long time. He unofficially took over the town in 2017 through its mayor-for-a-day program, he said, and jokingly forbade all straight people from coming. The move was a way to mock Trump’s ban on travelers from seven majority-Muslim countries, Daniel said.

Like all temporary mayors of Hell, Daniel said he was “impeached” at the end of the day.

In addition to serving as the “mayor” for about $100 per day, people can also buy a square inch of Hell for $9.99. They will soon be able to buy a diploma from “Damnation University” — price to be determined.

The New York Times profiled Hell in a video in 2017 that showed Colone stamping outgoing mail in the post office with the phrase “I’ve been through Hell.” Colone said the town was “a mess” when he first bought it.

“It’s the humor that sells,” Colone told the Times. “That’s something we always need more of in this world today.”

Daniel has been advocating for the LGBTQ community since a gunman killed 50 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, in 2016. Soon after the shooting, he wrote an open letter to LGBTQ young people to say that he had grown up gay in a very religious family and was available if anyone needed to talk.

“It’s so easy to get comfortable and forget how it was to be closeted, to be scared of being you,” Daniel wrote on “Terrified of people finding out, what they would think, or do.”

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