Devil’s Backbone: Childhood paranormal fantasies of Westside Park

By Rick Hinton

Westside Park, located at the intersection of West Main Street and Howard Road, is one of Greenwood’s most popular city parks, holding an interesting history – with a paranormal slant!

The city of Greenwood purchased the 24-acre former gravel pit, and infamous flood plain, from the Scott family farm estate in 1963. Just prior, in 1957, the Greenwood Sanitation Plant (and dumping grounds) took up residence just adjacent to the future park. Today, a loop trail winds around the sanitation’s fenced property.

The entrance to Westside Park. (Photo by Rick Hinton)

Years ago, in the days of a sweltering Indiana summer, when a boy would embrace his independence and meander into the semi-wilderness of the western stretches of Greenwood, he would stake his claim in the valley that weaved beneath the Greenwood Cemetery. This valley – eventually evolving into Westside Park – became his own private refuge, where he was king over his domain. In particular, Devil’s Backbone held an appeal and certain notoriety to all aspiring kings.

Devil’s Backbone was a large hill of fill dirt which curled serpentine along the valley floor beside Pleasant Run Creek. This mini-mountain became known as a “boy’s club” – no girls allowed – with many a day spent on climbs to the summit, playing war with imaginary opponents, or simply skinny-dipping in the adjacent creek. At times the boys – tired and reflective over their imagined victories – lounged on this summit, fueling their imaginations over the accumulating gravestones just above their domain. Imagination leads into the realm of folklore: a nearby cemetery … with things that linger in the dark of a child’s mind!

The Devil’s Backbone in the day. (Submitted photo)

Many of the children who braved all that Devil’s Backbone represented in the day are now adults, some still residing in Greenwood. The childhood of our past never fades away from the mind, regardless of age. Neither do the stories.

In 1969, problems that were inherent to the new park began to be resolved. The Army Corp of Engineers took on the task. Pleasant Run Creek was excavated and straightened to correct the flooding problems in the valley (Devil’s Backbone disappeared in the process and no trace of past boyhood adventures remains today). Thickets and brush were cleared. A softball diamond at the western border of the park was constructed. Tennis and basketball courts, a playground, restrooms and a shelter house were soon added. The valley on the lower western edge of the historic Greenwood Cemetery became a true park!

Are you being watched while on this trail? (Photo by Rick Hinton)

Different eras brought forth different uses of the park; that would include teenage and young adult misadventure. Alcohol consumption and evening parties certainly graced the grounds throughout the years of growth, perhaps spawning stories of the “haunted” cemetery above. Did those children who’d conquered imaginary foes on the slopes of the mighty backbone returned as adults, with minds still fueled by childhood speculations? It became a tactical move on date night for a man to offer his strong protective arm to his date, shielding them against gruesome entities residing in the graveyard above. With an imagination fed by the adventures of a young boy, or girl, in a remote section of Greenwood, these stories don’t always remain on the shelf of youth.

Perhaps there exists a small mixture of truth in the stories regarding paranormal activity on the cemetery hill above, which over the years may have enveloped the park grounds below? Perhaps, as you are walking the trail bordering the sanitation plant, you find yourself alone. The wind becomes still, the insects and birds become quiet, and you feel eyes upon you. Do you become a believer? Do childhood fantasies take on a certain reality?