Sunset Hills Cemetery- Crack the Whip Urban Legend and Ghost Story

Sunset Hills is a beautiful cemetery full of lush lawns, shady trees, classy mausoleums, and a maze of roads winding between gravestones and mausoleums.

Photo by Ari Napolitano

I didn’t find anything sinister in this land of the dead, not even the life size bronze statues some people find eerily lifelike. I suppose if you are not expecting them they can startle you because several look very real.

Photo by Ari Napolitano

Especially The Gardener, a sideways glance from the corner of your eye…yeah he looks real.

At night, I bet the statues are downright terrifying. Imagine creeping through the darkness of the cemetery then stumbling upon a figure standing there in the shadows, not moving. Just watching you…

The most popular statue and the first to be added to the cemetery is Crack the Whip. It cost a whopping $85,000 and was made by J. Seward Johnson Jr.

Supposedly it was dedicated in 1983 by an anonymous Flint resident that has family buried in the cemetery. 

Is there more of a back story to this sculpture?

Growing up I always heard that children from the area were playing 'crack the whip' when the little girl at the end of the 'whip' lost her grip and was thrown into oncoming traffic. She was tragically hit by a car and died. Part of this legend also claims that the statue was donated by the girl's grandfather in honor of her memory. I have not found any confirmation of those claims.

In fact Banana 101.5 did some research and found that neither version of the statue’s origin story is true.

Banana’s research discovered that the original Crack the Whip statue was created in 1980. Sunset Hills thought it would be a nice addition to the cemetery and purchased a recasting in 1983. The girl at the end of the whip…she was based on J. Seward Johnson Jr’s younger sister, who is still alive.

The Crack the Whip sculpture features an Asian girl, two African American kids, a Native American, and four white kids. The Asian girl lost her sandal. It lies in the grass nearby.

And that sandal is the centerpiece of the terrifying legends. There are several versions that have floated around over the years. One legend says if your foot fits in the shoe something terrible will happen to you. Another, that if your foot fits in the shoe you will die soon.

I’ve also heard that if you visit the statue at midnight and your foot fits in the shoe the statues will come to life.

If you’ve seen the statues at night you can imagine them coming to life, in fact they almost seem to be alive. The movement captured in the sculpture makes it easy to believe they are in motion. Imagine them in the moonlight when you catch a glance of them out of the corner of your eye.

Some have claimed to hear the sounds of children playing and giggling coming from the direction of the statue.

Photo by Ari Napolitano

The legend of the Crack the Whip has been around as long as the statue. When I was a teenager in the 1990’s kids would always dare each other to sneak into the cemetery at night and try on the shoe. I never did (nor would I let my kids try it on when were there).

However as a teen I did venture to the ruins of the Walter Winchester Memorial Hospital that was next to Sunset Hills. Teens would party there all the time. The empty shell of the former hospital was covered in graffiti and littered with trash. But it wasn’t the trash or the graffiti that bothered me. It was the gut wrenching, hair standing on end feeling of horror that made me turn around and leave without ever getting out of the car. I don’t know what resided in those ruins but I wanted nothing to do with it.

Thankfully that creepy shell of a building was torn down awhile back to make way for New Calvary Catholic Cemetery.

On the sunny summer day I visited Sunset Hills I was focused on finding all of the statues, I wanted to see if I could feel anything weird from them. I didn’t. They are beautiful works of art. No creepiness was felt on that hot summer day.

However after I arrived home and uploaded my photos there was one photo that made me stop and take a second look, then a third more intense study.

Do you see it?

Most of my photography had been focused on the bronze statues but near the Crack the Whip statue there is a bench located in a shady spot on slight hill. It looked inviting so I snapped a photo.

I circled it.

When I perused the photo on my computer screen later I discovered a startling human shaped blur sitting on the bench. I uploaded the photo to Facebook and my friends argued amongst themselves as to whether or not it was an apparition or simply a lens flare.

Skeptics, of course, claim it to be lens flare. Believers swear it is a ghost. One of my author friends even blended the metaphysical with science- “the apparition's energy bent the light and caused the light flare to take place. It’s like thermal imaging recorders, the spirit shows up because it's effect on the temperature of the environment bends and causes it to have shape in the camera because its energy field creates the shape.” Sounds legit to me.

I find it interesting that this "haunting" blur appears near the Crack the Whip statue, the one with all the legends, rumors and ghost stories attached to it. Perhaps there is "something" to the stories after all.

For those who love cemetery photos here are some of the others taken on our exploration that day. My daughter was in love with this gazebo area. She said "I would get married here."  Gotta love it when your kid is more goth than you. The photos below are all hers.

this was just laying there, but apparently they were installing it because when we drove by a second time it was gone 

Haunted Flint
Haunted America Series
Roxanne Rhoads and Joe Schipani 

Publisher: The History Press

Release Date: September 2, 2019

ISBN-10: 1467143049
ISBN-13: 978-1467143042

Book Description:

Sinister Secrets in Flint’s History

Home to ancient burial grounds, unsolved murders, economic depression, and a water crisis, Flint emits an unholy energy rife with ghostly encounters.

Colonel Thomas Stockton’s ever vigilant ghost keeps a watchful eye over his family home at Spring Grove, where guests occasionally hear the thump of his heavy boots.

Restless spirits long separated from their graves lurk among the ancient stones in Avondale Cemetery.

Carriage maker W.A. Paterson’s spirit continuously wanders the halls of the Dryden Building, and something sinister and unnamed resides in a Knob Hill mansion waiting to prey on impressionable young men.

Join authors Roxanne Rhoads and Joe Schipani on a chilling tour of Flint’s most haunted locations.

Amazon    BN    Chapters    Book Depository    Arcadia Press     Goodreads


  1. What a cool place! Those statues are awesome too!

    1. I think this is Flint's nicest and most peaceful cemetery, designed like a Victorian era cemetery- more like a park people could visit and picnic at.