Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: There’s a place, somewhere deep in the woods of Muskego, where a group of mysterious little people have created their own pint-sized mini-utopia. Travel down a disused gravel road and you’ll stumble upon this bizarre and wondrous place, a place populated by tiny houses, tiny roads, and tiny streetlights. Oh, and by the town’s tiny denizens, who don’t want you there. If these accursed little people don’t run you out themselves, their guardian, a shotgun-wielding albino, surely will. Live to tell the tale and you’ll be one of the lucky few who have discovered and survived one of the area’s greatest secrets: Haunchyville.
Yes, the story of Haunchyville has intrigued and delighted countless bored teenagers and bong-hitting college students for decades. (In 2005’s Weird Wisconsin: Your Travel Guide To Wisconsin’s Local Legends And Best Kept Secrets, authors Linda Godfrey and Richard D. Hendricks place the origin of the story as far back as the 1950s.) What began as a passed-down story designed to amuse and delight gullible younger brothers has even carved out a peculiar niche in the 21st century. Facebook pages and YouTube videos dedicated to Haunchyville abound. It’s an urban legend, of course, and like so many other urban legends, a malleable one: In some tellings, Haunchyville was created by a group of peaceful circus performers looking for shelter from the cruel, average-sized world; in others, the founding little people have gone feral and insane, and will stop at nothing to keep outsiders at bay. A giant shotgun- or axe-wielding albino protector is sometimes involved.
If there’s one thing that remains constant in the Haunchyville mythos, however, it’s the absolute necessity for ill-advised, late-night road trips to confirm the existence of the mysterious town. Making these missions appealing is the fact that the actual location of Haunchyville is up in the air. (The most agreed-upon site shall remain unmentioned here, though it shares its name with part of a Van Morrison song title and can be Googled in approximately two seconds.) Making the trips even more appealing is the fact that local law enforcement—clearly in cahoots with top Haunchyville brass—are all too happy to patrol the area and hand out citations to would-be snoops. In a 2013 piece for the Muskego Patch, Lt. Dave Constantineau of the Muskego Police Department levels this smokescreen/warning:
“But the point we want to drive home, there are no little people there, no axe murders…just nice taxpaying people who want to live in peace.
“If we catch you, you are going to get a ticket.”
Five years ago this past June, I made a trek to Haunchyville and wrote about it for the now-defunct A.V. Club Milwaukee. I found…well, something. Not a bustling burg of pissed-off circus folk hell bent on keeping outsiders away, and not a crumbling community of gone-to-pot loners and their grizzled caretaker. Instead, I found a woodsy and secluded section of suburban acreage littered with countless NO TRESPASSING and KEEP OUT signs. Oh, and some creepy-ass stone huts. Here’s my 2010 report:
Driving down a heavily wooded road in this area, it’s easy to see why it’s become Haunchy Ground Zero. Tall grass and trees provide plenty of cover, and a long, gated private drive snakes off even deeper into the woods. In fact, it’s near this gate that something strange can be seen: Less than 50 yards off the road, buried deep in the underbrush and hidden from prying eyes, is a series of small, crumbling stone huts. Far from the bustling town of legend, there’s still something undeniably intriguing about these ruins, and something decidedly unsettling. Might this be evidence of the fabled Haunchyville?
But the most important thing I found that day was the looming demise of the Haunchyville legend itself. Again, here’s me from five years ago:
While crumbling evidence of Haunchyville may or may not exist, the sad fact is that much of the area has fallen victim to suburban sprawl. Surrounding cornfields have been bulldozed into sterile subdivisions, and the nearby forests that once likely provided many a Haunchy shelter from the cruel, outside world have given way to paved roads and McMansions. So too has the legend’s popularity faded: Aside from a dedicated few—the young, the adventurous, the terminally bored—it seems that most Milwaukeeans have all but given up on Haunchyville, and are content to let the legend die out along with the surrounding countryside.
Returning to the site on a bright and clear early afternoon five years later, I find my old fears confirmed: what was once a tantalizingly wild and undeveloped area—perfect for a colony of vindictive little people!—is now an upscale and bland subdivision. Pre-fab houses dot the bulldozed landscape. Front lawns the size of golf courses stretch on for miles. The crumbling stone huts are nowhere to be found. About the only thing that remains is the beat-up PRIVATE ROAD sign I had snapped a picture of in 2010, and now again in 2015. The purported location of Haunchyville—once so filled with mystery and promise—now looks like this:
Is this really the end of Haunchyville? Yes, the legend has been on the wane for decades (judging from the number of articles and videos that use my original 2010 pictures, I may be one of the few people keeping it alive), but surely it lives on in the hearts and imaginations of smart-ass high school students, right? Right?
Standing on the side of the road and looking out over the now depressingly empty landscape, I think I see a glimmer of hope: empty beer cans. The telltale sign of drunk teenagers still making homeowner-aggravating Haunchyville pilgrimages! But no, upon closer inspection, it’s simply a shredded-up Starbucks cup, no doubt torn apart by one of the Zamboni-sized lawnmowers currently on duty. Haunchyville is dead.
I get in my car and begin to drive home. On my way out I pass a yoga-pants-clad mom pushing a baby stroller. She waves to me. I wave back. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I think I see a sly grin on her face: I know why you’re here. It’s okay. Keep looking.