YouTuber’s claim to ‘Gay Hell,’ Mich. to last 3 days — but still has big impact
DETROIT — Tourists and reporters descended on Hell, Michigan, on Tuesday, one day after rapper and comedian Elijah Daniel tweeted that he purchased it — and changed the name to “Gay Hell.”
John Colone, a business owner and Hell’s unofficial mayor, heard the same question over and over: Is this for real?
“It’s just a joke, the whole thing,” Colone told the Free Press. He noted that Daniel’s “ownership” is only good for three days.
But the stunt’s impact may last longer. It was intended as a statement against the Trump administration not allowing embassies to fly pride flags during Pride Month, an annual celebration of the LGBTQ community. Daniel told the Washington Post he was hoping to motivate his young fan base to become politically involved.
In 24 hours, Daniel’s original tweet — which included a photo of him with Colone — was liked 259,000 times and retweeted 59,000 times. Media outlets from across the globe covered the story.
Colone said Hell was flooded with visitors — and he was flooded with people’s opinions.
About 75% of the feedback was positive, Colone said. But some people were upset. A motorcycle club that regularly visits Hell pledged to never come back because “it’s becoming a gay community.”
“We all reassured everybody that it was just for a couple days,” Colone said.
He added: “Everyone is welcome in Hell.”
Hell is an unincorporated hamlet in Putnam Township, located about 15 miles south of Howell. Its devilish name has made it a tourist attraction.
Colone owns several businesses there, including a putt-putt golf course, wedding chapel and the Screams souvenir store. An ice cream shop in the store sells the Gravedigger Sundae and a shredded coconut topping that is dyed yellow to look like toenail clippings.
“Our whole thing is to make people laugh and have fun,” Colone said.
Daniel, who has a sizable YouTube following and raps under the name Lil Phag, has been to Hell before. In 2017, he became mayor for a day (an honor anyone can have for 100 bucks) and promptly banned all straight people from entering Hell, according to Mlive. He was impeached.
Colone said Daniel contacted him last week about temporarily owning Hell.
“He’s very big into the gay (rights) movement, and with the president banning gay flags from federal buildings … he thought he would show that he bought Hell despite the president and call it ‘Gay Hell,’” Colone said. “And that was it.”
Colone said no money was exchanged and the deal was based on a handshake. The Free Press was unable to reach Daniel for comment.
On Monday, Daniel tweeted what looked like a photo of himself signing a piece of paper as he sat at a picnic table with Colone. He wrote: “ahead of pride month Trump’s administration put a ban on embassy’s flying pride flags. so as of today, I am now the owner of Hell, Michigan. I bought the whole town. And my first act as owner, I have renamed my town to Gay Hell, MI. The only flags allowed to fly are pride.”
Another tweet featured a picture of Daniel and Colone standing with their arms around each other’s shoulders.
“THIS IS JOHN. HES THE BEST. THANK YOU FOR TRUSTING ME TO CARRY THE TORCH OF GAY HELL,” Daniel wrote.
Among the people to take notice was popular YouTube-famous cosmetics guru Jeffree Star.
“As a part time Michigan resident myself, I’d love to buy some land in Gay Hell!” Star tweeted. “A cute pink mansion on a hill, nothing too fancy?”
Colone said he welcomes all the publicity.
“You can’t buy advertising like this, good, bad or ugly,” he said.
Colone has previously listed his businesses for sale, fueling some initial speculation about whether Daniel made an actual purchase. The Livingston Daily reported in 2016 that Colone was still searching for a buyer for his 5 acres of prime commercial property and the rights to merchandise and Hell-themed slogans after dropping the price to $900,000. A planned sale to a Detroit arts group fell through a year earlier.
The businesses are back off the market — but not because Daniel bought them.
“Nothing is listed for sale right now,” Colone said. “I just enjoy it so darn much.”