Satanic Panic!

The so-called Satanic Panic began in the mid-80s and continued into the early 90s. The panic centered mainly on stories of ritual abuse allegedly perpetrated against children. However, the Satanic Panic also encompassed a more general paranoia that elements of the occult, including Satanism, were creeping into many areas of youth culture.

As a teenager growing up in the 80 and 90s in Marion, I remember hearing the stories: That there were secret messages on Led Zeppelin and Ozzy Osbourne albums that could only be heard by spinning the record in reverse (i.e. back-masking). That the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons (a game I never played myself) was part of a ploy to indoctrinate young people into the occult. That the woods on the west side of OSUM were the site of satanic rituals (more on that in a moment). I even remember hearing that Proctor and Gamble’s logo was full of satanic imagery:

This logo for Proctor and Gamble, created in 1932, was rumored to contain hidden Satanic symbols. The thirteen stars, which P&G insisted represented the thirteen original colonies, were interpreted as a mockery of Revelations 12:1 “And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, the moon under her feet and up her head a crown of 12 stars.” The multi-level marketing company Amway was behind many of these rumors, and P&G unsuccessfully sued them in 1995.

Although no accusations of ritual child abuse¹ or human sacrifice² ever surfaced in Marion, there was concern in the community about “satanic” issues, though, to be fair, the level of hysteria in Marion was much lower than in other cities like Mansfield or Maryville during that time. Nonetheless, a number of interesting articles addressing this topic appeared in the Marion Star during that period.

The Woods Near OSUM

The first article to appear in the Star about concerns over the occult was in March of 1989. It describes how a group composed of representatives from Children Services, the Marion County Juvenile Court and Detention Center and Marion city and county law enforcement gathered for an “Occult Training Seminar” sponsored by Marion County Children Services. The point of the seminar, according to the Star, was to ensure that local officials “[kept] up with trends, to make sure they would recognize a problem if they came across it.”

Despite the sensational subject matter, sheriff’s deputy Russell Rigney had a pretty level-headed take on the local situation:

We’re not seeing anything outstanding. Occasionally, you come across a little [evidence of the occult], but it’s more just kids playing around with it. There doesn’t seem to be a big problem with it around here.

He went on to say that there had been trouble a few year prior when neighborhood residents reported seeing fires and finding satanic and occult symbols in the woods between Siesta Drive and OSUM. Officer Rigney said teenagers were using the woods as a gathering place to drink beer and smoke marijuana. He believed the Satanic symbols were primarily to “scare off those who would put their parties to an end.” Once deputies stepped up their patrols of the area, the problem disappeared.

The rumor around town in the late 1980s was that Satanic rituals were taking place is these woods near OSUM.

More Discussion of Satanism in Marion

A little over a year later, OSUM hosted another seminar focusing on occult-related crimes. However, this seminar did not appear to be a reaction to any local occult activity. Instead, it was a rather run-of-the-mill training course, albeit one with an unusual topic.

That same year, another discussion focusing on Satanism took place at a restaurant located at the Plaza.

This notice appeared in the October 27, 1990, edition of the Marion Star. The Gateway Smorgasboard, incidentally, was located where Mi Jalapeno is today.

During this roundtable, Tim Keifer talked about his experiences with youthful offenders and how many of them had dabbled in Satanism. He said other parts of youth culture like heavy metal music and Dungeons and Dragons also play a role in this subculture. The danger, in his opinion, was that dabbling in Satanism could lead young people, especially boys, to become actively involved with satanic cults.

Dungeons & Dragons

Back before people argued on social media, they wrote letters to their local newspapers.

On July 18th, 1992, the Star published a letter to the editor written by J.W. Votaw of Marion. He opined that this games like Dungeons an Dragons “encourage evil” and draw heavily on the occult. He went on to argue that because the game provides instructions for how to summon demons and cast spells, “Some aspects of D&D are directly linked to Satanism.”

A month later, Kevin Flickinger, also of Marion, responded with his own letter to the editor. He argued that the game was harmless fun. Rather than encouraging Satanism, he wrote, “D&D takes the player back to a different age, when the unexplained was attributed to magic, when dark caves were inhabited by monsters, when kings and queens and knights kept order in the land.”

Regardless of one’s opinion of D&D, the coherence and reasoned thoughtfulness of both letters is actually quite endearing.

Satanic Graffiti

By the late 90s, the Satanic Panic had largely peaked in the United States. However, in March of 1998, a number of properties  in downtown Marion were vandalized with “satanic” graffiti, according to police.

The front-page headline from the March 24th, 1998, edition of the Marion Star

Detective Tim Brown, a Marion city police gang intelligence officer, told the Star, “This is the first time we’ve experienced anything like this. We’ve had other grafitti, but we’ve never had any of the cult graffiti.”

Three location were vandalized in total: Advanced Audio and Yesterday Mercantile Antiques, both located on South Marin Street, and the First United Methodist Church, located on South Prospect Street.

An example of the graffiti. This symbol was spray-painted on the door of the First United Methodist Church, which was located at 215 South Prospect Street. The church has since been razed.

Reverend Charles Martindell didn’t necessarily think his church was the target of devil-worshipping vandals. While he called the vandalism disturbing, he added that, “I believe it’s a random act.”

“We’ve had problems in the past, but we haven’t had the local Satan worshippers,” joked Pete Rife, vice president of Advanced Audio.

The Marion city police, however, seemed to be taking the matter more seriously. Some of the graffiti was a five pointed star inside of a circle. According to Detective Brown, this represented Baphomet. “It’s strictly satanic in nature and represents the goat’s head,” he told the Star.

A few weeks later, a 16-year-old Harding High School student confessed to the vandalism and was charged with three counts of criminal damaging. Whether the boy was indeed a “Satan worshipper” was not addressed in the article.

~ Josh Simpkins

¹ The most notorious case of alleged ritual child abuse concerned a Manhattan Beach, California pre-school run by the McMartin family.  Beginning in 1983, staff members of the McMartin pre-school were investigated for hundreds of cases of abuse. The resulting trials, the longest and most expensive in US history, did not lead to a single conviction. It is now widely believed that the abuse never happened.

² Sadly, this really happened. In 1987 in Carl Junction, Missouri, three teenage boys with a penchant for heavy metal music and animal torture and who shared a fascination with Satanism murdered their classmate, Steve Newberry, with baseball bats. One of the killers, Jim Hardy, said the murder was a “sacrifice to Satan.” The three boys, Jim Hardy, Pete Roland and Ron Clements, were convicted of murder. In 1988, Geraldo Rivera hosted a prime-time special, “Devil Worship: Exposing Satan’s Underground,” in which he interviewed one of the killers.


The Marion Star, March 5, 1989
The Marion Star, June 24, 1990
The Marion Star, October 27, 1990
The Marion Star, November 7, 1990
The Marion Star, July 18, 1992
The Marion Star, September 14, 1992
The Marion Star, March 24, 1998
The Marion Star, April 3, 1998

Halloween at the Orahood Farm

The Orahood farm in 1971. This photo was taken by Gladys Fraley Ishmael, and her granddaughter, Rebeca Johnson Oldham, was kind enough to share it (and the others below) with me.

When I asked Peg Danner whose idea it was to start decorating the family farm located just outside of Green Camp each Halloween, she had no doubt. “It was my mom and her sister, Betty. With all of the cars passing by, I think one of them probably said something like, ‘We should decorate the farm for Halloween.’” And with this modest suggestion, a local Halloween tradition began that lasted over a decade and eventually attracted thousands of people every year.

The headline from the October 31, 1970, edition of the Marion Star.

While looking for local Halloween-related stories in old copies of the Marion Star, I noticed that a farm belonging to the Orahood family was mentioned nearly every year from the early-1960s to the early-1970s. Hoping to find out more, I tracked down Peg Danner (formerly Orahood) whose parents owned the farm. She was kind enough to talk to me about what was once Marion County’s biggest Halloween attraction.

Peg’s parents, Gerald and Georgia, were originally from Union County. In the summer of 1961, they bought the farm at 2900 Marion Green Camp Road and moved their family there. At the time, Mr. and Mrs. Orahood had two children, Peg, who was getting ready to start her freshman year at Green Camp High School (Elgin didn’t open its doors until 1962) and her older sister, Sherry. In 1963 their younger brother, Kevin, was born.

Peg’s little brother, Kevin Orahood, making the October 21, 1966, edition of the Marion Star.

It was not a big farm – roughly thirty-five acres – and Mr. Orahood’s income from the farm was supplemental; he worked a full-time job at Central Soya. Mrs. Orahood, who was a homemaker, took advantage of the big yard by planting a garden where she grew the pumpkins and gourds she used as part of the Halloween display.

Georgia Orahood working on one of her homemade decorations. Photo courtesy of Kasey Hochstetter.

Peg pointed out something I hadn’t considered: Stores didn’t really offer much in the way of Halloween decorations back in the 60s and 70s. As a result, almost all of the decorations at the Orahood farm were handmade. “Mom and Betty made a bunch of tombstones to put out in the yard with silly things written on them. As time went on, they just kept adding more and more.” These additions included a pot that looked like a witch’s cauldron and an old dentist’s chair. They even had a covered wagon (driven by ghosts) that sometimes doubled as a refreshment stand for farm visitors.

The farm in 1971. Note the covered wagon in the background. Photo courtesy of Rebeca Johnson Oldham.

In addition to Mrs. Orahood and Aunt Betty, other family members were involved as well. Peg recalled her dad and brother working hard to set everything up in the weeks leading into October. This included attaching and balancing witches – all handmade, of course – to wires suspended over the farm and hoisting speakers used for playing spooky music into a tree. Mr. Orahood even built a working Ferris wheel, each seat occupied by a ghost.

According to Emma Jo Wolbert, the tombstone often had funny inscriptions such as, “Here lays the father of 29. There would have been more but he didn’t have time.” Photo courtesy of Rebeca Johnson Oldham.

The Halloween display was open to anyone willing to make the trip out to Green Camp. Peg remembered people parking up and down 739 to visit the farm. (My own parents took my older sister out to the Orahood farm in the early 70s before I was born.) What’s astounding is that the Orahood family did all of this for free. Peg said her dad and uncle built a wishing well (which wasn’t even part of the Halloween display), and at some point people started throwing money into it. Rather than keep the money, the Orahood family donated it to local charities like the WMRN Christmas fund.

A visitor to the Orahood Farm parked on the side of Marion Green Camp Road in 1966. Note the ghost in the tree. Photo courtesy of Rachael Crabtree.

Because elaborate Halloween displays were rare at the time, Peg guessed that was the reasons why people were willing to drive out to see them.  The Orahoods had a guestbook people could sign, and a surprising number of out-of-towners (and even out-of-staters) signed it. (Peg, being modest, said she didn’t think people actually travelled from out of state to see the farm, but rather they were probably just visiting the area and heard about it from a local.)

Kasey Hoschstetter (left) and her sister Robin Chapman (right) on the front page of the October 31st, 1962, edition of the Marion Star. Photo courtesy of Kasey Hochstetter.

The Orahood Halloween displays came to an end after Mr. and Mrs. Orahood moved to a new house on Route 203 in 1976. They sold most of the decorations. According to Peg’s brother Kevin, they stopped putting up their elaborate Halloween decorations for a number of reasons: The new house didn’t have enough space to store everything, Mr. and Mrs. Orahood were both involved in Green Camp Baseball for Boys, the new house needed work, etc.

Sadly, Mr. Orahood passed away in 1978 and Mrs. Orahood in 2020. Mrs. Orahood’s sister, Betty Kindell, passed away this past summer.

Although decades have passed, many people in Marion County have not forgotten the Orahood Halloween farm. Peg says it comes up from time to time in conversations and especially in online discussions, and she’s pleased so many people have fond memories of it. When I asked her if she decorates her own place for Halloween, she just laughed and told me, “I may put a few pumpkins out but not too much more than that.”

The October 30, 1970, edition of the Marion Star.

Note: Special thanks to Peg Danner for her willingness to talk to me and put up with all of my questions for this article. Thanks also to Kasey Hochstetter (Peg’s cousin) who also shared some of her memories and photos and Rebecca Johnson Oldham who allowed me to re-use her Orahood farm photos and news clippings, many of which came from a Facebook group she maintains called Green Camp Alumni.

Happy Halloween, Marion!

Josh Simpkins