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Hell shines in its apocalyptic moment in the sun

Written by: Staff

HELL, Mich., June 6 (Reuters) The road to Hell was crowded with the curious today -- as well as devils-in-disguise, hearse enthusiasts, Christian protesters and merchants trying to cash in on the apocalypse.

Hell, Michigan, a tiny town about 60 miles (97 km) west of Detroit, threw itself open for a once-in-a-millenium party to mark the passage of June 6, 2006 -- or 6-6-6, a number long associated with the Antichrist.

Home to only about 70 souls on an average day, Hell's population swelled to the hundreds by Tuesday afternoon, with dozens waiting in line to buy T-shirts emblazoned with ''666.'' ''We can't even keep those in stock,'' said Chad Wines, an employee at Screams Ice Cream, working to keep up with demand for souvenirs and ice cream on what proved to be a hot day in Hell.

''It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I couldn't pass it up,'' said Paul Groenendal, one of dozens of leather-clad bikers who rode to Hell for the street party.

Groenendal, who wore devil horns glued to his bald head as well as a skull and crossbones rings and matching necklace, joked he was in Hell to ''make deals and collect.'' Auto salvage worker Ken McKeny, 43, pulled his customized, casket on wheels into town with the ''4MLDHYD'' license plates, part of a Michigan-based hearse enthusiasts group that call themselves ''Hearsin' Around.'' ''I went to work this morning but my boss told me to get out and go to Hell,'' he said.

A crowd gathered as Gabrielle Olney, 20, visiting Hell with her mother and grandmother, crawled into McKeny's green metallic casket. ''It was just something to do,'' said Olney, a college student.''I figure you've got to try everything once.'' Nearby a handful of Christian protesters were righteously indignant to the revelry. ''I'm here to tell people that they don't have to go to hell,'' said one woman, who gave her name only as Donna. ''Hell is not a joke.'' Paradise, after all, is only a day's drive away -- less than 300 miles (483 km) north in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Reuters SK VP0220

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