Don’t go back to Haunchyville
We visit the fabled little-people enclave located somewhere near Milwaukee
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: There’s a place near Muskego (wait, maybe it’s Mequon) where a group of mysterious little people have created their own mini-utopia deep in the surrounding woods. Travel down a long, disused gravel road (or maybe it’s a corn field) and you’ll come across this accursed town, home to dozens of tiny houses, tiny street lights, and knee-high road signs. But beware: The denizens of this town keep to themselves, and will do anything to keep you and any other nosy outsiders away. The name of this wondrous, mythic town? Haunchyville.
For decades, the legend of Haunchyville has gripped the imaginations of countless giddy Milwaukeeans. The apocryphal story of this secluded tribe has all the makings of a classic “snipe hunt”: Late-night missions to Haunchyville have become something of a rite of passage for generations of local teenagers, high school students, and the just plain high. But is there any truth to this urban legend? Never content to let a good dwarf-village story die, The A.V. Club sifted through decades of conflicting stories and took an ill-advised road trip to Haunchyville’s rumored location, all in the name of getting to the bottom of one of Milwaukee’s most enduring mysteries.
The short and shorter of it
Like many urban legends, the origins of Haunchyville are hard to pin down. In their 2005 book, Weird Wisconsin: Your Travel Guide To Wisconsin’s Local Legends And Best Kept Secrets, authors Linda Godfrey and Richard D. Hendricks place the story as far back as the 1950s. Most Haunchy scholars, however, tend to believe the myth originated sometime in the ’70s, undoubtedly dreamt up by a loose collective of bong-hitting, Camaro-driving older brothers.
The specifics of Haunchyville and its residents have changed over the years. In some versions, the town folk are nothing more than shy, peaceful outsiders; in others, they’ve grown hostile, and are in cahoots with sympathetic neighbors and crooked local cops. Though details may vary depending on the source, the legend of Haunchyville still tends to boil down to three facts:
- The town is populated solely by little people, and features miniature houses, miniature roads, and miniature street signs.
- The area is protected by a group of angry, rock-throwing elders, and/or a normal-sized, shotgun-wielding albino.
- They don’t want you there.
While its caché has diminished somewhat in recent years, the legend manages to live on in the 21st century: A handful of Facebook groups and a sporadically updated Twitter account keep the flame alive, overseen by those still intrigued by tales of a hidden realm gone to seed. Hard evidence may be difficult to come by, but one thing is for certain: If the very idea of a miniature town populated by surly small folk doesn’t thrill your very soul, you’re clearly dead inside.
The road to nowhere
Perhaps the most hotly contested aspect of Haunchyville lore is the town’s exact location. Places as close as Muskego and as far away as Mount Horeb have been proposed as likely sites, though most people tend to agree on a certain area not far from Milwaukee. (In order to discourage would-be Haunchy hunters, and in deference to the notoriously prickly neighbors, this area will go unnamed. A cursory Google search, however, should reveal its location in about 30 seconds.)
Driving down a heavily wooded road in this area, it’s easy to see why it’s become Haunchy Ground Zero. Tall grass and trees provide plenty of cover, and a long, gated private drive snakes off even deeper into the woods. In fact, it’s near this gate that something strange can be seen: Less than 50 yards off the road, buried deep in the underbrush and hidden from prying eyes, is a series of small, crumbling stone huts. Far from the bustling town of legend, there’s still something undeniably intriguing about these ruins, and something decidedly unsettling. Might this be evidence of the fabled Haunchyville?
Evidence or not, the area is rife with “Do Not Enter” and “No Trespassing” signs. Foolhardy Haunchy-seekers who ignore these signs have been met with the ire of neighbors and hit with strict fines from local police. Tantalizing as the clues may be, it’s clear that someone—vertically challenged or otherwise—doesn’t want you there.
Movin’ on up
While crumbling evidence of Haunchyville may or may not exist, the sad fact is that much of the area has fallen victim to urban sprawl. Surrounding cornfields have been bulldozed into sterile subdivisions, and the nearby forests that once likely provided many a Haunchy shelter from the cruel, outside world have given way to paved roads and McMansions. So too has the legend’s popularity faded: Aside from a dedicated few—the young, the adventurous, the terminally bored—it seems that most Milwaukeeans have all but given up on Haunchyville, and are content to let the legend die out along with the surrounding countryside. Us? We’ll keep looking.