Backseat driver: Bride of the 13 Curves

Anyone with even a passing interest in urban legends and folklore will know that ghost bride stories (especially in the U.S., which I am most familiar with) are a dime a dozen. Certainly there are some practical reasons for this–white wedding dresses double nicely as ghostly attire, so anyone seeing a pale apparition is likely to think “bride” (though I guess they could also think “guest wearing a hotel robe” and or “toga-sporting frat bro”). But I suspect the root of all these legends goes deeper than that. Weddings are extremely emotionally charged. More pointedly, weddings are (according to historical sexist assumption) extremely emotionally charged for women, since of course we could have no other goal in life other than to get married and pop out babies. Frustrated emotions are a great recipe for hauntings. Add in some more sexist stuff about women being more ~mysterious~ and ~emotional~, thus being more ghost-like even in life, and it’s not a shocker that ghost bride legends grow like weeds. 

That these legends are so common (and so irritating in their implications) is why I have ignored them on this blog so far (except for a passing story here). But having recently been a bride myself (#COVIDwedding), I figured that it was about time that I gave one a shot.

Seatbelts: You gotta wear ’em

Okay, so this legend is also pretty typical in that it starts out with a car crash. 

Marcellus, New York is a little town not far from Syracuse, with a population of about 6,200. It’s a scenic area full of hills, valleys, and winding, winding roads (I once ate Burger King on a road trip down one of these roads, and regretted it bitterly). The windiest of these is Cedarville Road, an unlit, rapidly twisting mile of asphalt through thick woods that has earned the moniker of “the 13 curves.”

Like this, though not this road exactly.

Regardless of how you feel about the veracity of ghost stories, this road can legitimately be dangerous. A woman died there in a 1941 collision, and 2 more girls died in 1959 when their toboggan slid onto the road and met with a station wagon. The officer responding to that scene had trouble standing up straight, the road was so icy. Even discounting weather conditions and the fact that the road is infamously dark, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that quick switchbacks + speeding cars can equal disaster. 

Naturally, such a disaster is said to have befallen our veil-toting protagonist, sometime between 1900s and today. The legends vary, but generally speaking say that a buggy, car, or motorcycle was carrying newlyweds down Cedarville Road when, around the 6th curve, the husband lost control of the vehicle. It spun out and smashed into the creek, killing the bride, groom, or both. Regardless of who died when, the groom didn’t see fit to stick around. But the bride sure did. 

Why did the ghost bride cross the road?

The script for 13 Curves bride sightings varies as much as the origin legends, but the most basic follows the experience of Msmarymac, who relates what happened when they were driving down the expanse of road one night with a friend:

Blood and glowing eyes not shown here.

“While making our way around the sixth curve, a dim glowing white shape appeared in the road ahead of us. It slowly made its way from the left side of the road to the right. When it got right in the middle of the road, it stopped and turned towards us. It was about the height of an average woman, but it was not very well defined––it was more of a staticy blur than a clear image. It did have a red glow up near where the head would approximately be on a human being.

I slowed the car to a near halt, amazed at what I was seeing. “Do you––“ I started to ask.

“Yeah, this is nuts,” my friend responded before I could even finish the question.

Just after our exchange, the shape darted to the right, off the side of the road, disappearing. We hightailed it out of there.”

There are also fun tales of people checking their rearview mirror out of habit, only to find a blood-covered woman staring at them from the back seat. That alone is enough to cause someone to crash, but 13 Curves bride also enjoys darting out at random into the road. Some say that her goal is to make an already dangerous road more, trying to create crashes so that others can suffer as she has. 

The woman of your dreams

So we know that at least 3 people have died on Cedarville Road. Is there evidence of a couple dying there as well? Something other than hearsay on which we can base this story?

In short, no. The William G. Pomeroy Foundation highlights that while we have written histories of the other deaths, nothing shows up about the demise of a newlywed couple, which is odd since something as juicy as that would have surely made the news. Their article suggests that the whole thing can be traced back to a deliberate hoax, wherein a local woman wanted to get back at some “smart aleck” teenagers. She enlisted the help of her daughter to dress as the bride, and then drove the teens down the 13 Curves and scared the bejeezus out of them. 

But that doesn’t seem to matter. Regardless of how little the 13 Curves bride legend is based in reality, it continues to have legs. People flock to the road at night in an attempt to see the ghost, particularly around Halloween. Locals seemingly do as much as they can to encourage them. A sign sits at the top of the road telling the bride’s story, and homeowners near it set up frighteningly realistic decorations that look like the bride, even dressing up as her themselves to see if they can’t scare some passerby. 

You yourself could go on a drive to see the ghost this Halloween–it’s a socially-distanced activity perfect for the whole family. 👌 Even if there was no ghost to begin with, who’s to say our collective subconscious hasn’t brought some shade to life?

Collect them all! What is your favorite ghost bride story? Anyone know of any that actually involve a ghost groom (I Googled for that in vain)? Share your thoughts in the comments below. 

PHOTO CRED: Strong Unsplash representation this month; a big thanks for the not-technically-the-road-but-a-road by Lauren Coleman on Unsplash and creepiest-Creative-Commons-bride-I-could-find-that-was-not-a-zombie by Joel Overbeck on Unsplash.

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, Bloody–

Sleepovers! Those are a thing that used to happen, back in the days before COVID-19. The ones I experienced growing up were pretty stereotypical. There was ice cream, sleeping bags, attempts to reproduce music videos, and, of course, dares. More often than not, these dares included one many American girls might be familiar with: the dare to lock yourself in the crapper and invite a ghost to kill you. 

I had always assumed that the Bloody Mary “game” was just shallow fun, with no real meat behind it in terms of meaning or actual sightings. Hot damn, was I wrong.  

Bathroom roulette

Let’s start out with an introduction. The Bloody Mary legend is young-ish, with first written mentions dating back to the 1970’s. It’s unclear where exactly it came from, but it does seem to have some ancestry in older British traditions of catoptromancy (such as one where a girl would walk up a flight of stairs backward in a darkened house, holding a candle and a hand mirror that would show either the face of her future husband [score!] or her own skull [eat more healthily and avoid cigarettes and fast-moving buses!]). 

Bathroom
Behold this place of horror!

For those uninitiated, the game goes something like this:

  1. Go into the bathroom, shut the door, and turn the lights off. 
  2. Look at whatever you can see of yourself in the darkness in the mirror.
  3. Repeat “Bloody Mary” aloud three times, keeping your eyes on your reflection.
  4. Bolt before Bloody Mary coalesces in the glass.

The details of the rules vary. Some say you’re supposed to spin while you say her name, others that you need to have the water on or have a single lit candle below the mirror. You can say “Bloody Mary” a bunch of times (way more than three), or for good measure add “I killed your baby!” You can do it by yourself or in a group. Sometimes, you have to flush the toilet before you leave.

Even if you escape that vision in the mirror, you might experience “signs” of Bloody Mary for the rest of the day–a bloodied knee on the playground. Splattered ketchup across your shirt. A dead bird on the way home from school. 

And if you don’t escape her? If a woman drenched in blood, or headless, or simply very dead does coalesce before you, either over your shoulder or in place of your own reflection? Bloody Mary can scratch you, show you a sign of your own impending death, or reach out of the mirror, grasp your shirt, and drag you through. 

Gory histories

So this is all good and well. But as a kid I never stopped to ask: who is this Bloody Mary ghost supposed to be? It turns out that there are three generally-cited possibilities.

Erzsébet Báthory

Elizabeth Bathory
“I’m so bored while not murdering” Bathory

The first and least likely (IMHO) is Erzsébet Báthory, the infamous Hungarian noblewoman who tortured and murdered a metric butt-ton of women in the late 1500s (possibly as much as 650, though it’s possible that Báthory was a victim of a conspiracy to steal her property and tortured/murdered much fewer). Legend has it that she bathed in her victim’s blood to preserve her youth. 

It’s all very grisly and memorable. But Erzsébet (or, anglicized, Elizabeth) is “Erzsébet,” not “Mary.” What’s more, her life doesn’t resonate with the Bloody Mary game in a way that the other candidates do, as we shall see.

Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots
Bearing it all pleasantly.

The second candidate is Mary Queen of Scots, who was an unlucky contender for the throne against Queen Elizabeth I. After a life spent mostly imprisoned and struggling for power, Mary was beheaded in 1586. She went to her death bravely, even making jokes, but the executioner botched the job horrifically

The first swing buried the axe into the back of Mary’s skull. The second went into her neck, but didn’t sever it. Finally, the P.O.S. executioner just sawed away at the sinew attaching Mary’s head to her body, blood sluicing everywhere, Mary’s faithful dog still clinging to her skirts, trembling. Job finally finished, the executioner held her severed head aloft, crying “God Save the Queen!” But he’d only grabbed Mary’s wig, and her head fell out and smacked to the floor. 

In short, there is plenty about the scene that makes it easy to believe that Mary might come back as a vengeful ghost. But for me, she’s not as strong of a contender as Elizabeth I’s half-sister, Queen Mary I. 

Queen Mary I, “Bloody” Mary

Queen Mary I actually was nicknamed Bloody Mary, thanks to her burning some 300 Protestants at the stake. Those killed included many vulnerable poor and disabled people. One victim was even pregnant–the trauma of the burning made her give birth, but her newborn was simply tossed back in the fire with her. 

Queen Mary I, Bloody Mary
Those arms are definitely long enough to reach out and pull you over the sink.

Hard as it is to empathize with someone who could order that, Mary I wasn’t the only monarch to do so, and much of the vitriol against her seems to stem from misogyny and cruelty against her frumpiness. She was a miserable woman. Her father was King Henry VIII, who famously annulled his marriage to her mother in order to marry Anne Boleyn, who gave birth to the much prettier and more charming Elizabeth I, who Mary would forever be compared unfavorably to. She was plagued throughout her life by terrible menstrual pains and irregular periods. She married someone ten years her junior whom she was madly in love with, but who was indifferent to her. 

Desperate for affection and political security, Mary hoped, at least, for a child. But when she finally got pregnant–the happiest point of her life–people whispered that it was all a fake, that her growing stomach contained nothing but a tumor. That was cruel enough, but then, when Mary went to give birth, nothing happened. Her stomach deflated, and no baby came out. The vicious rumors were right, but not through any fault of her own. She’d wanted to be pregnant so badly that she’d tricked her body into believing that it was, leaving her with nothing but very public humiliation and hate. 

A common plight

Why do I think that Queen Mary I is mostly likely the Bloody Mary? Because in addition to actually being nicknamed that and killing a bunch of people, Queen Mary I’s problems with fertility and periods dovetail perfectly with the game of Bloody Mary itself. 

Think about it: the game is played mostly by girls. In a bathroom. Looking at your own reflection, you’re summoning another woman that’s covered in blood. It’s frightening, sometimes painful. And in some cases, you take pains to flush the toilet before you leave. 

As scholar Alan Dundes points out, when you look at what goes into the game, it’s hard not to see Bloody Mary as a handy way for pre-pubescent girls to process the oh-so-taboo prospect of getting your first period, and all of the horror that entails. Enter Mary I, Queen of frustration, pain, and blood. Who better to teach you about the importance and terror of periods than the woman whose problems with them made her life a living hell?

The monster in the mirror

So there is all of that. Bloody Mary is a surprisingly nuanced allegory for something almost all girls have to contend with. But clever though that allegory might be, here’s something even more fun: sometimes, Mary isn’t an allegory at all. Given the right conditions, shrieking slumber party participants will actually see another face in the mirror. 

A 2009 study of 50 test-naive individuals revealed that after less than a minute of gazing into their reflections in dim light, so-called “strange-face illusions” began–for every single participant. From Giovanni Caputo, the author of the study:

“The descriptions differed greatly across individuals and included: (a) huge deformations of one’s own face (reported by 66% of the fifty participants); (b) a parent’s face with traits changed (18%), of whom 8% were still alive and 10% were deceased; (c) an unknown person (28%); (d) an archetypal face, such as that of an old woman, a child, or a portrait of an ancestor (28%); (e) an animal face such as that of a cat, pig, or lion (18%); (f ) fantastical and monstrous beings (48%).”

Obviously in the context of Bloody Mary, we are interested chiefly in this last one. Caputo himself seems puzzled by it, especially as he tries to put together what exactly is happening with these illusions. As he puts it:

“The disappearance or attenuation of face traits could be linked to the Troxler fading that occurs in the periphery while staring at a central fixation. However, this explanation would predict that face traits should fade away and eventually disappear (Wade 2000), whereas the apparitions in the mirror consist of new faces having new traits.”

Maybe, he postulates, this “strange-face” illusion thing is just a misfiring of the brain’s face-processing mechanism–with the dim light and the fixed attention, it’s freaking out and scrambling and deforming your own face. Seems simple enough. And yet…

“Frequent apparitions of strange faces of known or unknown people support the idea that the illusion involves a high-level mechanism that is specific to global face processing. On the other hand, the frequent apparition of fantastical and monstrous beings, and of animal faces cannot, in our opinion, be explained by any actual theory of face processing. Neither constructive approaches nor top down accounts seem to provide adequate explanations.” 

God, I love me some weird stuff that science can’t explain. And I love me some weird modern rituals that get at the ID of our brain, and some dramatic and twisted histories. Who would have known that plain old Bloody Mary would have all three?

Had any fun times gazing into a dark mirror? Maybe you haven’t looked close enough. Give it a try and share your hallucinations (…?) in the comments below. 

IMAGE CRED: Wolfmann for the bathroom; Public domain for Bathory; Public domain for Mary Queen of Scots; Public domain for Mary I; Susanne Nilsson for the candle.

Ghosts of the Revolutionary War: Fort Mifflin

Happy hangover-after-Independence Day! In case you haven’t gotten enough America, I’ve got a themed post for you. I hope you like history. And ghosts. 

Authentic reenactments

Fort Mifflin from above.
Fort Mifflin from above.

Fort Mifflin, located on “Mud Island” in the Delaware River just south of Philadelphia, is a historic landmark that attracts thousands of school groups, history buffs, and curious tourists each year. Visitors walk one of the only remaining Revolutionary War battlefields and see barracks, hospital grounds, gunpowder rooms, and more. They learn from uniformed guides and reenactors how 200+ men gave their lives in 1777 so that Washington could make his escape, and then how the fort morphed to be used in the Civil War, WWI, WWII, and others. 

One of these visitors included a woman who was especially impressed by the casemates, a fortified area that was constructed after 1777 in order to protect soldiers from any future bombardments. The casements are dark and dank, with few windows and so many bugs that they were deemed unsuitable for habitation not long after they were built. But during the Civil War, Fort Mifflin housed people there anyway, using the cave-like rooms as makeshift prisons. Awed by this more atmospheric section of the fort–and the excellent tour guide that presided over it–the visitor went immediately to pass on her compliments to Dori McMunn, then Executive Director of Fort Mifflin on the Delaware. Pleased, McMunn asked her if she could give a description of her guide, so that McMunn could pass along her compliments. 

Not wanting to disturb the woman, McMunn merely thanked her and sent her on her way. But as soon as she was gone, McMunn went into the casements to look for the mysterious man. As she had suspected, they were empty–just the moisture on the ceiling and the bugs on the walls. There was no sign of any man there at all. 

It wouldn’t be the first time guests would come with enthusiastic compliments about “reenactors” that weren’t part of the staff–including more reports specifically about the Civil War fellow. Fort Mifflin’s caretaker also got word of someone giving tours in the powder room, again with guests offering compliments on “how good he was, and how authentic he looked.” Spoiler alert: There was no one giving tours in the powder room. It seemed that the human tour guides were getting a helping hand.

A second kind of history

Unnerving though these appearances were, it is likely that no one was surprised by them. There is a history of odd things happening around Fort Mifflin, not only to visitors, but to staff and more sanctioned reenactors. 

A closer look at what I believe are the officer’s quarters at Fort Mifflin.

Take a former tour guide, who slept in the officer’s quarters for a few nights. Every morning at 3am sharp, the man was awoken by a rapping on his door. There was no one outside. The guide knew–and probably laid very still in his bed knowing–that 3am happens to be the time which those at the fort used to switch shifts for the next watch.  

Or take a story from a reenactor that chose to spend the night in the casements. He fell asleep with a fire in the fireplace and the door locked from the inside. Some time later, he started awake. There was a man in his room, a soldier in Revolutionary War gear, warming himself by the fire. When the reenactor looked twice, the figure was gone. His door was still locked. 

He wasn’t the only one to get a surprise. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2009, “re-enactors who spent the night at the fort reported seeing ‘black, pajama-like shadows’ that spooked them so bad they fired blanks from their period firearms at them. Some saw jiggling doorknobs, a figure peering from an unoccupied room and a hissing shadowy figure. At night’s end, ‘I was picking up trash when I heard the most pleasant woman’s voice in my ear say: ‘Thank you!’’ said re-enactor Ryan Rentschler, who was so unnerved that he ditched the fort sleepover to camp out in a friend’s van.”

To some staff, the occurrences are so common as to almost become old hat. There are numerous accounts of interrupted work, such as the deliberately-closed door to the blacksmith shop repeatedly opening itself on a hot day (staff presumed that 18th-century “Jacob the blacksmith” was feeling stifled). Once a dark figure disappeared into one of the buildings at closing time, only to leap out at the guide that went to hunt them down. Pencils and files spontaneously going missing from office drawers. Windows spring open in the dead of winter. You get the idea.

200-year-old celebrities 

On top of all of these are the handful of personalities who are regulars. One is “The Lamplighter,” a man with black hair and a white puffy shirt who drifts through the soldier’s barracks, carrying a long pole with a dim candle at the end to light lamps that disappeared some 200 years ago. 

Fort Mifflin as darkness falls.

Another is Elizabeth Pratt, or, less kindly, “the Screaming Lady.”  Legend has it that she was a wife living in the officer’s quarters that had a nasty falling out with her daughter. Before they could reconcile, the daughter got sick and died. Mad with grief, Elizabeth took her own life shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, her anguish didn’t die with her. There have been reports of her screams echoing from the officer’s quarters, to the point that neighbors have called the police. She is also sometimes seen by children peering out the window of her old room, one hand to her forehead, perhaps hoping to see her daughter among the kids outside. 

Perhaps the most sinister ghost is that of the “Faceless Man.” During the Civil War, Private William H. Howe was arrested and held at Fort Mifflin on two charges: desertion and the murder of the officer that went to arrest him. Howe admitted to the desertion, but never to the murder. Nevertheless, it was his fate to become the only prisoner to ever be hanged at Fort Mifflin, a black bag over his head. Supposedly, the grass still refuses to grow at the site where he died, and he is still floats around the casements–a man whose face, even in death, cannot be seen. 

History lives” at Fort Mifflin

Far from trying to quiet these stories, the Fort Mifflin on the Delaware nonprofit organization has chosen to lean into them. And why not? Ghost hunters have helped to raise nearly 40% of the site’s budget. You can go on candlelight ghost tours and even book private overnight stays today. I myself might try to, provided the pandemic ever clears up.

If we’re lucky, we might get a more intimate glimpse into the past than the lovely grounds and educational materials alone can offer. As the Philadelphia Ghost Hunters Alliance’s Lewis B. Gerew II noted, “It’s great to have a piece of history actually interact with you.”

Which war would you most like to interact with a ghost from? Share your preferences in the comments below. 

IMAGE CRED: Big thanks to Surfsupusa for Fort Mifflin from above, Larry Lamb for a closer look at the buildings, and Charles Homler for Fort Mifflin at night.

Fantasy man: the Rake

The internet, as we well know, is whack. It offers an unimaginable amount of information, and also an unimaginable amount of B.S. I’m going to be straight with you from the start: the Rake is total B.S. We know where the legend came from. We’re able to track its growth. But like so many monster myths, though the Rake started out simply enough, he’s taken on a life of his own.

The Rake: an origin story

We can thank the folks over at 4chan for the Rake’s existence. Back in 2005, they decided to create a new urban legend. After toying with it under the name “Operation Crawler,” they landed on something similar to the Rake the internet knows and loves today: 

Hacker
The creator of the Rake, probably.

“Here’s what we’ve got so far: Humanoid, about six feet tall when standing, but usually crouches and walks on all fours. It has very pale skin. The face is blank. As in, no nose, no mouth. However, it has three solid green eyes, one in the middle of its forehead, and the other two on either side of its head, towards the back. Usually seen in front yards in suburban areas. Usually just watches the observer, but will stand up and attack if approached. When it attacks, a mouth opens up, as if a hinged skull that opens at the chin. Reveals many tiny, but dull teeth.”

As Rake stories developed and got passed around, the subconscious of the internet whittled him into something more elegant: a pale, hairless, naked man (sans genitals, because I guess that would be a little distracting from the terror) with pits for eyes and long, sharp fingers. Those fingers–which cut his victims open–are how the Rake got his name (alas, he is not secretly a cocky womanizer). 

The Rake went from 4chan to LiveJournal and then back again, his legend taking on the form of a standard story, complete with epistemological mini-stories nested within. The story opens in the summer of 2003, with local news stations in upstate New York reporting sightings of a “strange, human-like creature” before an apparent media blackout. People involved in the sightings banned together to try to find answers. Together, they accumulated a group of documents spanning back to the 17th century that detail encounters with the Rake. 

There is a suicide note from 1964, a mariner’s log from 1691, a (somewhat repetitive) translated Spanish journal entry from 1880:

“I have experienced the greatest terror. I have experienced the greatest terror. I have experienced the greatest terror. I see his eyes when I close mine. They are hollow. Black. They saw me and pierced me. His wet hand. I will not sleep. His voice (unintelligible text).”

The coup de grace is an account from 2006. In it, a woman describes waking up in the middle of the night. Sure that her husband has gotten out of bed to go to the bathroom, she tries to steal the sheets, only to find out that he is still next to her:  

“When he turned to face me, he gasped and pulled his feet up from the end of the bed so quickly his knee almost knocked me out of the bed. He then grabbed me and said nothing.

After adjusting to the dark for a half second, I was able to see what caused the strange reaction. At the foot of the bed, sitting and facing away from us, there was what appeared to be a naked man, or a large hairless dog of some sort. Its body position was disturbing and unnatural, as if it had been hit by a car or something.”

The Rake looks at them, and then scrambles over, peering closely into the husband’s face. Neither of them dare move. Then the Rake dashes down the hall toward the childrens’ room. The woman screams and hurries to follow, but is too slow. By the time she gets there, her daughter is covered in blood, and the Rake is gone. Her husband frantically rushes their daughter to the hospital, but loses control of his car on the way and ends up in a lake, killing them both.

Obsessed over whether the Rake has visited again or not, the woman sets up a digital recorder near her bed. After weeks of nothing, she finally catches the Rake’s voice, shrill and high-pitched. With horror, she realizes that she’s heard it before, that he had said something to them that night, though she didn’t register it at the time. She can’t bring herself to listen to the recording, to find out what he might be saying now. She lives in terror of waking to find his face in hers. 

Son of a Rake

The Rake stories hit a nerve and started to spread. A Rake-themed Tumblr account was created in December 2010, and then the story moved onto into the big leagues: CreepyPasta and Unexplained Mysteries. Youtube “sightings” and doctored photographs exploded over the internet. New theories began to emerge: the Rake is a proxy of Slenderman. The authorities know about the Rake, and have attempted (and apparently failed) to flush him out of the woods

The Rake monster
A (not great quality) image of the image you will always see when you look up the Rake.

There was even a detailed explanation of how the Rake reproduces, which involves french kissing, a pupua launching down the human’s throat, and a full-grown Rake bursting forth some months later (the author notes that this is “scientifically no stranger than seeing the presence of horse hair parasites living inside a praying mantis by placing it in water,” but offers no explanation of how they might have come upon this information). 

In short, the Rake was lit. But as soon as he became lit, something strange started to happen: people came forward with very Rake-like stories that predated the original 4chan monstrosity. This new “Rake” was just a name to them, a convenient way to categorize the disturbing things they had seen. From someone on r/Humanoidencounters, who claims they didn’t hear about the Rake Creepypasta until 2016:

“[I] woke up at 3 am to the feeling of something watching me. I felt extremely uneasy. I rolled over to look around the room and my eyes locked onto something standing beside my mom. It was extremely tall but looked as if it had a broken back and couldn’t stand up completely. It was slouched over and had extremely pale skin and bones sticking out under the skin everywhere due to how skinny it was. It had long claws hanging from both hands. It’s face was sunken in and eyes were completely black holes. A few greasy hairs were visible on its head. It had no clothes but also no genitals or nipples.

I was HORRIFIED. I rolled over and covered myself up head to toe with the cover. I refused to move or look out the rest of the night even though I was fully awake. Eventually, my mom finally woke up that morning. She immediately started complaining of her side hurting. She raised her shirt to look and found huge claw marks down her side. It was three deep wounds which were extremely inflamed and still bleeding. I felt horrible knowing that thing did that to her while I lay beside her hidden.

A couple months later I saw the creature again. Although, not as horrible as the first experience. I was woken up to the creature slouched on the floor on my side of the bed. It was watching me sleep. I covered myself up again immediately but this time got the courage to peek out and found it still looking at me. I’m not sure when it went away because I didn’t dare look again.”

And from someone on the Rake Tumblr:

“It was around 4:09 at night and I woke up from hearing scratching noises outside I was so scared but I got up and looked out the window the sun was starting to come up and birds were starting to chirp and all that. So I closed my window and pulled down the curtains. Just as I was turning around I see this naked man that was a very pale grey with huge hands and very long claws it sounded like it was weeping and then I stepped on a broken floorboard and it creeked and the thing slowly turned its head and what I saw has scarred me for life. Its eyes we’re pure white and had a bright glare to them and it’s teeth we’re very long I quickly turned around and about 5 mins of pure silence I got the guts to grab a baseball bat that was next to me and beat the crap out of it until it died but when I turned around all prepared to smack it in the head with my weapon it was gone. I was shocked and I dropped the bat and ran to my bed and buried my face into my pillow crying my eyes out because I could not believe what I just saw.”

Suddenly, the line between the fiction of the Rake and real, off-Photoshop encounters blurred. The Rake, born of 4chan, had become something bigger.  

The Rake returns

So what are we to make of all of this, if these pre-4chan Rake witnesses swear up and down that their accounts are true? This is the internet, and as we know, no one ever lies on the internet. 

Rake
Sorry, couldn’t resist.

The Rake could be explained away by science. Many accounts involve someone waking up in the middle of the night and seeing something standing over them. This might make the bulk of “real” Rake sightings easy to dismiss as colorful episodes of sleep paralysis. Factor in errant camera fluff for those non-bedtime encounters, and we’re all squared away. As I mentioned above, there is something nicely primal about the Rake. Any of us might imagine up a monster like that on our own.

Or, even more scientifically, there could really be a naked dude with eye bags, scoliosis, and acrylic nails going around to stand over people’s beds. It would be easy to confuse that dude and the Rake; anyone could be forgiven for mixing them up. Someone should really get on straightening that out. Surely it would put everyone’s mind at ease.

Who would win in a rap battle: the Rake or the dastardly rake Lord Byron? Share your opinions in the comments below.  

IMAGE CRED: B_A / CC0 for the very convincing hacker, terrapin227 for the Rake; and Don LaVange for the rake.

Grin and bear it: Indrid Cold

It was October 1966, around 9:45 p.m. Two boys–Martin Munov and James Yanchitis–were walking home along a chain link fence below the elevated New Jersey Turnpike. On the other side of the fence lay some shrub brush and a steep, nigh insurmountable slope up to the road. It wasn’t until they stopped to rest that Yanchitis noticed someone standing over there, staring through the links at the house opposite. The stranger’s green suit reflected subtly in the streetlight.

“He was strangest guy we’ve ever seen,” Yanchitis would later recount. “He was standing behind that fence. I don’t know how he got there. He was the biggest man I ever saw.”

Yanchitis urged Munov, whose back was to the man, to turn around and look. 

Man grinning
Like this, only more scary and less human, probably.

“Jimmy nudged me and said, ‘Who’s that guy standing behind you?’ I looked around and there he was… behind that fence.  Just standing there. He pivoted around and looked right at us… then he grinned a big old grin.”

The two boys ran like mad. Later, their accounts to both the police and to John Keel (paranormal investigator and author of “The Mothman Prophecies”) would be identical. The man on the other side of the fence was over 6’2” and broad in the chest, with a black belt, beady eyes, and a smile to make your blood run cold. The legend of the Grinning Man had begun. 

A salesman sewn up

Three weeks later, on November 2, 1966, 50-year old sewing machine salesman Woodrow Derenberger was having an awful commute home from work. The evening was cold and wet, and he’d already had an incident where a machine became dislodged from the back of his truck. Now he had to drive infuriatingly slow down interstate 77 to keep from losing anything else, other cars zipping past. Imagine his frustration when something large and dark pulled up beside him, then swung ahead and cut him off. 

Oil lamp
Like the glass part on this, only an alien spacecraft.

It was not a police car, nor some douchebag in a sports car. It was not a car at all. It looked like a kerosene lamp chimney, windowless, glistening black, 30-35 feet long–long enough to block off both lanes of the highway. It was not on the road so much as it was floating above it, a good 8-10 inches off the ground. Then a door opened in the side of the thing, just like it would any other car, and a man stepped out. 

The man was smiling. He looked like any other man, albeit unusually tan for that time of year. His hair was slicked back, and he sported a metallic blue suit under his dark blue overcoat. He approached the side of Derenberger’s car, grin stuck firmly in place, arms crossed with knuckles in his armpits. Then, without the man ever opening his mouth, he and Derenberger had a conversation

“He walked to the right hand side of the truck, and he told me to roll down the window. He asked me to roll down the window on my right hand side of my truck, and I done what he asked…he asked me, he said ‘Why are you frightened?’ He said ‘Don’t be frightened, we wish you no harm’. He said ‘We mean you not harm, we wish you only happiness.’ And I told him my name, and when I told him my name he said he was called ‘Cold’.

“…He asked me what the city of Parkersburg–he pointed to the light. He didn’t point but he gave the impression that he was pointing, and he asked me what that was called and I told him it was Parkersburg, it was a city, a town. And he asked me if most all the people lived in this city or town. And I explained to him that it was a place of business, it’s where we transacted our business but the people lived in communities, outline communities, most of the people…and again he told me not to be frightened, which I was.

“I was very frightened and as far as I can understand, this was all mental, there was no spoken words from him. I knew what he was asking me but yet he stood there and his mouth did not move. He had a smile on his face, he appeared very courteous and friendly, and after I talked with him a while, he told me, he said ‘We will see you again’.”

Derenberger sat, stunned, as the man climbed back into his vehicle and it flew away. When he finally got home to his wife, he was shaking so badly that she was the one who had to call the police. When asked later whether he believed if Cold would really come back again, Derenberger replied: 

“Well, I did believe it, but now I don’t know how to answer that honestly. Because I’m afraid he will. And I don’t want him to, but I have a feeling that he will.”

Friends for life

Cold did come back. He came to Derenberger’s house. Interacted with Derenberger’s wife. He revealed his first name was Indrid, that he was from another dimension, not unlike our own. He took Derenberger away for days at a time. 

Meanwhile, all the business with the Mothman was going on just down the road. The daughter of a family plagued by floating lights woke to find a broad, 6-foot tall man grinning over her bed. A strange man with a bowl haircut and unnerving eyes harassed a local reporter, trying to get more information about the people who were reporting–in droves–hovering lights in the sky. An identically described man visited the homes of several of those people, claiming to be a reporter from Cambridge, Ohio, though he had no idea where Columbus, Ohio (just a few miles down the road from Cambridge) was.

Derenberger went to reporters with his story. He gave interviews, wrote a book. The ensuing media blitz and harrassing calls eventually caused his wife to divorce him. She had said from the beginning that Cold’s agenda was an “evil” one. Derenberger lost his job, his home, his friends. Still, Derenberger continued to accept Cold’s visits. Continued to leave with him, though every time he returned he complained of debilitating migraines. This continued to his dying day in 1990, at the age of 79. 

Where in the world is Indrid Cold?

So what’s been happening since 1990? The thing about Indrid Cold (and his ilk) is that they look so much like everyone else that it’s difficult to say whether any alleged sightings of him hold water. Even those that have been reported have been few and far between. 

Starry night sky
Just for ambiance.

Blogger H. R. Zapruder said that he drove by a grinning man on the highway outside of Roswell in 2009. One person on Reddit claimed to be Cold himself. In an effort to get a handle on what might have happened to Cold–and all of the Grinning Men–the site Trust No More has put out a call for sighting reports. They give the following criteria to look out for:

  • tall, wide body
  • often described as hairless
  • a green or blue one-piece suit that is reflective like tin foil
  • strange-looking tan
  • eyes set unnaturally far apart
  • shallow nose
  • can communicate telepathically
  • causes confusions, fugues, and loses of time
  • telekinetic or poltergeist activity
  • seen near UFO sightings
  • coming or going in a strange craft
  • seen in people’s homes, standing over them as they sleep

The call has been open for about a year (at the time of this writing)–it will be interesting to see what comes out of it.  

But let’s be honest–if Indrid is out there, it’s not so much an issue of you finding him.  It’s about him finding you

What is the strangest pedestrian you have ever seen on the side of the road? Share your story in the comments below. 

IMAGE CREDIT: All Wikimedia Commons: The Sporting News for the baseball guy; Flicker user jd_09 for the lamp; and Michael J. Bennett for the stars that we can’t see here in the city.

Wake up, sheeple! It’s the Sheepsquatch

Once upon a time, in the low mountains of West Virginia, a former Navy seaman decided to eat some mushrooms he found on the forest floor. The man–Edward Rollins–was in that forest to hunt for either the Mothman or a UFO, but after his choice of snack, he was in for a greater treat: Out of the woods came a bipedal creature the size of a bear, with matted, white wooly fur; curved goat horns; and hands like a raccoon. This monstrosity–half sheep, half ‘squatch–knelt at the edge of a nearby creek to lap at the water. 

A raccoon hand, for the uninitiated.

One could presume that if Ed were hunting for supernatural stuff, he would have some sort of camera or other recording equipment on him. But if he did, the terror of this strange beast (or maybe it was just the ‘shrooms again) stayed his hand. The creature reeked of sulfur; Ed could smell it from where he hid. When it finally stood up to lumber away, he bolted to his car, and the legend of the Sheepsquatch began.

Lambchop redux

The Sheepsquatch was spotted several times thereafter, and not just by people tripping balls. Other encounters cast it as a sort of ‘roided out version of Baphomet: 8 feet tall, a head half that wide, fangs, frightening speed, a humanoid scream. The same year that Ed had his little mushroom encounter, the Sheepsquatch startled a pair of children playing in their backyard and later a group of women driving on the icy roads of the TNT–the same area famous for all the Mothman business. In both cases, it spooked and ran away, leaving broken branches in its wake. 

A little mood setting.

All of this was in 1994. By ’95, the ‘squatch became pissed enough at people interrupting its business that it started to get aggressive. The next time a couple came upon it along the highway (it was squatting in a ditch at the time, and sporting an extra set of red eyes), it launched at them and nearly ran them off the road, leaving long scratches down the side of their car. In ’99, the ‘squatch emerged out of the dark to snarl at a group of campers, chasing them out of the woods and then destroying their campground so thoroughly that it looked like the soil had been tilled. 

Over the next few years, the Sheepsquatch would frighten various hikers and documentary crews. The last sighting was in 2015, with yet another group of ill-advised campers. This time, the story played out a little differently: One of the campers saw the Sheepsquatch silhouetted against the night sky and hurried to warn their friends about its presence. The campers stumbled out of their tents in time to see Sheepsquatch hesitate on the other side of the creekbank before wading toward them with murderous intent. But a guttural screech stopped its progress. The ‘squatch looked up, eyes wild, snout twitching in the moonlight, and then barreled away. The campers thought it best to follow its lead, stopping just long enough to warn the locals before getting the hell out of town.

Baa-ad company

The Sheepsquatch is sometimes categorized as one of West Virginia’s White Things, possibly because encountering either feels like a hallucinogenic nightmare. 

An image one might use were they to take the Sheepsquatch seriously.

The White Things haunt the same area as the Sheepsquatch, and are characterized as pale, ghostly harbingers of death. They move with unnatural speed and are prone to fiercely attacking their victims, driving them insane with pain but leaving no visible marks. A 1929 account by coal miner Frank Kozul describes a dog-like something launching at him out of nowhere, tearing at him in a frenzy with no sound but the gentle rustling of trees and the singing of birds. Another account describes a white figure knocking a hunter down a hill. He screamed with inconsolable terror that it was “ripping out his guts,” but to his fellow hunters, there appeared to be nothing physically wrong.

If we group the Sheepsquatch with the White Things, we get to imagine fun scenarios like it scarring a child by floating alongside a car at 65 mph. The theory goes that these White Things might all be different species of one phylum of interdimensional beings, ghosts, or cryptids. If the Sheepsquatch isn’t a mushroom induced hallucination, it really could be anything.

Spawn of Sheepsquatch

Regardless of where the Sheepsquatch came from, it has inspired some excellent creative activity. One gem comes in the form of a book elegantly titled “Sheepsquatch” (“Sheep” in white; “Squatch” in a messy, bloody red) and featuring some of the best cover art I have ever seen. The book appears to be one in a series of “Vapid Vixen Horror Romance,” authored by the subtly pennamed “I. Ronik.” I tried to buy a copy, but alas, they are no longer for sale. 

Art!

On a slightly more mainstream scale, Fallout 76 (an online roleplaying game, for the uninitiated) included a “Shear Terror” Wild Appalachia update that features the Sheepsquatch stealing a character’s brother. From the pictures that I’ve seen, the designers have elected to remove some of the Sheepsquatch’s skin for a more dramatic effect.

My hope is that these and other works of ‘squatch art will help raise awareness about this important issue, drawing more people into the woods of West Virginia and giving us more ‘squatch sightings. 🤞 

Until then, ewe will just have to stay put. 

Would a Sheepsquatch wool sweater be more or less itchy than a standard wool sweater? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

PHOTO CRED: Gaby Müller for the manicure inspiration; Estelle Pizer for the flock; the Internet Archive Book for Mr. twisty horns; Suju for the mirror sheep.

Ain’t got no privacy: The Dark Watchers

The Santa Lucia Mountains.
The Santa Lucia Mountains.

The Santa Lucia mountain range sprawls for 105 miles down the coast of central California, a great, towering expanse of tree and rock that proved impassable for early Spanish explorers. Ocean spray mists the west side of the range, making it fertile ground for conifers and redwoods. The mountains’ height blocks the moisture from travelling further, making its eastern side dry and brown. The Santa Lucia’s beauty and grandeur draw hikers and sightseers, though the terrain permits few roads. It is one of the wildest places left in the U.S.

Naturally, that also makes it home to dark and mysterious figures who like to watch people from cliffs.

The Dark Watcher encounter template

The typical Dark Watcher story goes something like this: A hiker or runner finds themselves alone in the mountains, either by choice or because they have become separated from their group. They feel suddenly uneasy. A tall figure looms on the horizon–a humanoid shape composed of complete darkness. The shape either gazes off toward the ocean or, more uncomfortably, stares at the witness. Sometimes it has a broad-brimmed hat and a staff, sometimes a hunch. Sometimes its friends will darken the spaces between the trees.

If the witness tries to double-check that the figure is actually there, or attempts to draw closer, it will vanish. But that doesn’t mean its presence can’t be corroborated. There are accounts of multiple people in a group seeing the figure at once, or the figure showing up in the same place at the same time the following year. The Dark Watchers never speak or attack. They just watch. But it is enough to leave an impression.

The internet has it that the Dark Watchers were part of the lore of the original tenants of coastal California–the Chumash (though this has been disputed). The Spanish conquistadors allegedly also ran into them, naming them Los Vigilantes Oscuros. But the Dark Watchers aren’t just half-forgotten monsters of legend: There have been sightings as recently as 2018. A witness from Ojai recounts:

“I was hiking up a remote trail up the 33 in Ojai, I was about an hour up the mountain, no people, no cars in sight. as I was hiking, I had this eerie feeling I was being watched. I looked up at the top of the mountain. It was a black figure. I waved, jokingly, not really thinking the object was a person. It waved back. Thinking I was maybe tripping, or that it was a tree waving in the wind, I took a puff of my cigarette, only to see the figure blow out a plume of smoke as well. I started seeing it flowing, and I say flowing, almost floating vertically. I ran like hell back to my car, spraining my knee in the process. “

Literary cameos

No account of the Dark Watchers would be complete without mentioning that they’ve appeared in the work of none other than John Steinbeck. From his short story “Flight”:

“Pepe looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form against the sky, a man’s figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the figure was gone. Pepé looked suspiciously back every minute or so, and his eyes sought the tops of the ridges ahead. Once, on a white barren spur, he saw a black figure for a moment; but he looked quickly away, for it was one of the dark watchers. No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show interest in them. They did not bother one who stayed on the trail and minded his own business.”

Shadow man
What a Dark Watcher might look like with a shaggy haircut and shorts.

Steinbeck’s son (more on him in a moment) would later claim that the Dark Watchers were a fairly common part of his family’s life, even going so far as to say that his grandmother traded things with them. Certainly they seem to have been popular around the 1930’s (when “Flight” was written), because around that same time they were mentioned in a poem called “Such Counsels You Gave Me” by Robinson Jeffers, another Big Sur resident:

But when he approached
The fall of the hill toward Howren’s he saw apparently
A person on the verge, outlined against the darkening
Commissure of the farther hills, intently gazing
Into the valley. The young man’s tired and dulled mind,
Bred in these hills, taught in the city, reverted easily
Toward his dead childhood; he thought it might be one of the watchers,
Who are often seen in this length of coast-range, forms that look human
To human eyes, but certainly are not human.
They come from behind ridges and watch. But when he approached it
He recognized the shabby clothes and pale hair
And even the averted forehead and the concave line
From the eye to the jaw, so that he was not surprised
When the figure turning toward him in the quiet twilight
Showed his own face. Then it melted and merged
Into the shadows beyond it…

These accounts seemed to give the Dark Watchers a boost in popularity, leading people to not only not avoid being out in the mountains alone (as would probably be advisable), but to actively seek the Watchers out.

Modern hunt for the figures in black

I mentioned Steinbeck’s son–Thomas. The Dark Watchers fascinated him so that he and painter Benjamin Brode wrote a book on the subject: In Search of the Dark Watchers. Brode would go into the woods to try to capture the Watchers visually, and Steinbeck would write of his adventures. Both men seem to think of the Watchers not as 7 to 15 feet tall (as in other accounts), but as small, fairy-like creatures. There is a video of Steinbeck and Brode talking about the process of making the book; Brode discusses how he had to switch from bringing his paint-set to carrying only a sketchpad for fear that the abundance of equipment was scaring the Dark Watchers off. Steinbeck mentions that you can’t look at them directly or they will disappear–you can only view them out of the corner of your eye.

Apparently their pains paid off. Brode reported that not only did he see the Dark Watchers, but that there were so many coming out of the shadows that he was nearly tripping on them. Steinbeck called Brode’s paintings “possibly the only evidence out there of the existence of the Dark Watchers.” (You can preview some of the paintings on their website; they are very beautiful but I don’t see any definitive Dark Watchers in them. Perhaps I am not looking hard enough.)

Raincoat dog
No.

Others have found the Watchers more difficult to find. This might be due to the fact that they apparently have an aversion to modern trappings, especially (and oddly specifically) weatherproofed gear. The fog that often covers the west side of the mountains might be tempting monster-seekers into clothing choices that hamper their search. ‘Ware the water-resistant windbreaker. Plastic ponchos are right out.

Cousins of the man in Ben MacDui?

So what’s the deal with the Dark Watchers, really? Skeptics propose a number of potential explanations.

  1. The people who truly see these figures (and aren’t just making up stories for others’ entertainment) could be tired, duped by the tricks of the light in the varied landscape (i.e. the “Dark Watchers” are just a bunch of rocks).
  2. The mountains could be emitting infrasound. If something is creating a signal out of the range of human hearing, a would-be Dark Watcher witness might unconsciously pick it up and get freaked out by it, causing them to imagine that there’s something watching them (this is an explanation offered for ghost sightings in general, by the way).
  3. The Dark Watchers could be Brocken spectres–the same explanation offered for the Am Fear Liath Mor of Ben MacDui. If that were the case, the witnesses could be seeing their own shadows playing on the fog and mistaking them for otherworldly figures. (No word on the sightings that take place during clear days.)

But I’d like to hope that in one of the last wild(ish) places in the U.S., there might be something left that we haven’t thoroughly explained away. What might the Dark Watchers be? Nature spirits? Ghosts? Something worse? It’s enough to make you want to go out there and find out.

Just leave your raincoat in the car.

Have you ever been confronted by a shadowy figure that turns out to have your own face? Share your story in the comments below.

IMAGE CREDIT: Thank you to Pacific Southwest Region USFWS for the terrain photo; Pixabay’s O12 for the shorts man, and Pixabay’s Jim_Combs for the puppy.



What a hoot: La Lechuza

When doing research for this blog, if I want to feature any kind of female monster I have to sift through a lot of moaning-ghost-who-lost-her-lover type of B.S. It’s almost as bad as your stereotypical “whoops we built [insert building] on an Indian burial ground.” Any legend that colors outside of those boxes is welcome.

La Lechuza colors outside of the box. She is probably one of the more recognizable monsters on this blog, at least to living along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Spanish speakers will recognize that her name translates to “the owl;” a simple name that hints at her elegant horror.

Sobs in the dark

A long time ago, after some townsfolk discovered that their neighbor was doing black magic, they killed her. As one would expect, she returned to take revenge on every generation thereafter. But there was a twist: she came back partially owl.

Or maybe it was that La Lechuza was once just a normal woman, who in exchange for magical powers made a terrible deal with the devil.

Seriously.

Or maybe she is many women, vengeful ghosts whose husbands were faithless or remarried after their deaths (*sigh*…those tired tropes again).

Though they might not be certain where she comes from, those that know la Lechuza know that if they hear strange sounds outside their door, they had better lock it tight and plug their ears. The classic Lechuza move is to wait outside someone’s house in the dark and then, with increasing urgency, to make sounds that replicate the cries of a human baby. If the heartless (or smart) human does not take the bait, she might try human whistles or trills. She will keep it up until the victim’s curiosity (or annoyance) get the better of them and they come outside.

What they find could drive them mad. As I mentioned before, la Lechuza is a hideous cross between woman and owl. She is big enough to carry a grown man off with her talons, and has a human enough face so you can read her expression as she watches you with her big, flat eyes. Some tales give her a beak; in others she has a mouth so that she can speak to you in her deep voice and ask you, for example, to hand over your newborn. Presumably she is also able to spin her head around (I found no accounts of that, but sincerely hope that it is the case).

So once you leave the safety of your house, you’re basically dead. Most Lechuza victims are carried off as food, fated to end up in a giant owl pellet ready to be dissected in hell’s elementary school.

Death and dented cars

Even if you don’t end up eaten (or have your offspring eaten) by la Lechuza, her presence means nothing good. She has long been considered an omen of death, and often leaves thunderstorms and other misfortunes in her wake.

Owlrighty then.

When not attacking people in their homes, she targets cars, especially along dark, deserted stretches of highway. Among her powers are the ability to neuter technology, so victims will suddenly find their battery dead as a giant owl runs them off the road.

An example: There was once a couple that thought la Lechuza was bunk. As they drove down a dry, empty road late one night, their windshield wipers abruptly squealed across the glass. The couple joked that it must be La Lechuza. Half a second later, something black loomed up ahead; they cursed and slammed on the brakes. It was a giant owl, perched on top of a phone pole, watching them. Hearts in their throats, the couple sped away, new Lechuza believers and lucky to be alive.

As if all of these offenses weren’t enough, La Lechuza is also known to carry out petty attacks. This includes pecking at people’s faces and tearing up their flesh (and clothes, I guess, but the flesh seems more important).

Basically, screw that meanie owl. Which brings me to my next point…

#^@&ing bird!

There are a a few ways that you can fight back against La Lechuza, but my favorite is to gustily cuss her out (though there are accounts of her killing you if you try). Apparently if you scream at her loudly and colorfully enough, she will leave you alone.

Finding royalty-free images for this post was a bit of a challenge.

A second exciting way of defending yourself is to blast la Lechuza with a shotgun. This, too, has varying results…presumably you have to get the shot right the first time, because you won’t get a second chance. Stories of success include an old woman disappearing for several weeks after a Lechuza was shot; when she finally emerged, it was with a limp. A more gruesome tale recalls a man shooting the Lechuza out of the sky and then finding a woman’s corpse bent over a high tree branch the following morning. (It is easier, I suppose, to think that the woman might be the dead Lechuza, rather than the victim of some heinous, more mortal crime.)

Prayer, trying seven knots in a rope, or asking for help from a curandera are also defense options, as is good old-fashioned salt. Personally, I think that a mixture of two or more probably wouldn’t hurt.

Of course, some say that La Lechuza isn’t there to hurt you, but to warn you of something. But what fun is that?

Would calling la Lechuza a “flipping poopoo-head” be sufficient to save one’s life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

IMAGE CREDIT: Thank you Diego Delso of Wikimedia for the snowy owl; barloventomagico of Flickr for the creepy darkness owl, and Kellepics of Pixabay for the flexible lady.

Come here, you: Huggin’ Molly

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers (and to anyone else who enjoys eating a lot and being appreciative generally)! For many of us, Thanksgiving is a time when we visit family and reminisce about decades past. Sometimes we even become something of the selves that we were in those years: Siblings rib on each other; younger generations roll their eyes at old-timer’s antics; and parents lecture their children about the dangers of the world, especially after dark.

As the nights get longer and colder, there’s a lot of dark to go around. This full moon, we’re going to visit a monster that is just as concerned with keeping you safe as the most paranoid of parents.

Welcome to Abbeville, land of free hugs

creepy street night
I.e. if the street looks something like this, hurry home.

Abbeville is a town in southeastern Alabama that’s been around for almost 200 years. For at least half of those, parents there have been warning their children that after sunset–especially on those nights that are the blackest and most quiet–it is not advisable to be caught out of home. The familiar warning carries a special weight in Abbeville: There, anyone wandering the streets after dark is liable to get a visit from Huggin’ Molly.

The stories about Huggin’ Molly comprise a fairly transparent effort to get children to behave. Still, I’ll be damned if they aren’t effective. Molly is said to tower in the shadows, almost seven feet tall, wide as a door, and dressed completely in black (either a shroud, a cloak, or a dress and wide-brimmed hat, depending on who you ask). She moves quickly, often too quickly for anyone to escape. And if she catches you–when she catches you–you learn how Huggin’ Molly got her name: She wraps her arms tight around you, presses herself close, opens her mouth wide next to your ear, and screams.

Herding children since the late 1800’s

When discussing Huggin’ Molly, many cite the story of Mack Gregory, an Abeville native who had a run-in with the monster when he was a teenager in the 1920’s. Mack worked for a grocery store at the time, and had just finished his final delivery as it was getting dark.  He was walking home when he sensed someone behind him. He turned and made out a figure following in the shadows: very tall, very wide, all dressed in black.

Mack walked faster, and the figure increased their pace to match. He slowed, and the figure, coy, slowed too. Knowing that he was unlikely to be able to outrun Molly entirely, Mack hurried at a jog until getting in sight of his front door, and then sprinted with all his might to get inside, slamming the door behind him.

When he looked back out again, Molly was gone. Her message, however, stuck around: From that point on, Mack refused to do another night delivery.

Free hugs sign
Well, I’m sold.

A similar story comes from the mother of another teenager who was out late. A sixth sense told her that he might be in danger, and she was compelled to run out to the porch. There, in the dim light of the night, she saw him hurrying up the way, a dark figure coming up fast on his heels. She screamed at her son to run, and held the door open until he could rush into the safety of the house.

In both cases, although the child got away, Molly still achieved her goal: She got their butts inside. Her legend was powerful enough to motivate not only the kids who actually saw her, but any who heard their stories.

Will the real Huggin’ Molly please stand up?

I love the Huggin’ Molly not only because she is odd and profoundly creepy, but also because at least at one time, she appears to have been based in reality.

Some say that Molly was never a ghost (contradicting what I had initially assumed), but a human with a supernatural talent for making people poop their pants. The original Molly might have been a mother distraught from the death of her only child, seeking comfort by forcing her love on other children. Another theory is that (especially given her size) she might actually have been a “he”–some grown man with an unusual interest in public safety, a cruel sense of humor, or both.

black-lady-creepy-ghost-980263
Stylin’.

There are at least three situations in which Molly was definitely a human. The first involves a disgruntled professor from the Southern Alabama Agricultural College, which used to be local to Abbeville. Students from out of town liked to go out and visit friends at night, roaming the streets and generally causing a ruckus. The professor hated that. He donned the Molly disguise to scare them back to their beds. It is quite possible that he was the original Molly, and the legend simply outgrew him.

Then there were the copycats. In Baton Rouge, a man capitalized on his Molly costume to chase after pretty young women and girls. In Headland (a couple of towns over from Abbeville), a Huggin’ Molly impersonator caused such a stir that the editor of the local newspaper had to post a strongly worded warning:

“Some unprincipled person is parading the streets of Headland at all hours of the night dressed as a ‘Woman in Black.’ It is frightening the women and children and causing our large number of dogs to be kicking up a racket at most any time of the night. I have been requested to notify the person or ‘Thing’ that it will be shot on sight by a certain husband and father whose wife and children were frightened out of their wits the other night. Somebody is likely to get ‘hurted’ if they don’t learn to behave themselves.”

No word on whether the announcement had any sort of effect.

Huggin’ Molly today

There are many who still remember the tales of Huggin’ Molly that they heard as kids–some who even might tell the same stories to their kids now.  Either way, her legend is still going strong.

The last time that Molly was seen (that I have found recorded) was in 2010 during the annual Yatta Abba Day, a celebration of the Abbeville’s heritage. A local teacher was leading a tour through the cemetery when a dark figure appeared between the headstones and stormed away, scaring the living daylights out of everyone present. It is unclear if this was just a publicity stunt; if it wasn’t, at least no one got hugged.

Molly’s legend doesn’t just survive through stories and sightings. One Abbeville resident has capitalized on her popularity to build a 50’s diner-style restaurant called “Huggin’ Molly’s.” Themed menu items feature “Molly’s Fingers” and “Come back sauce.” As one Youtube video says, it is “sure to give you goosebumps and leave your stomach screaming for more!”

If I am ever in that area, I am going out of my way to visit.

Do you enjoy hugs? What is the worst hug you have ever experienced? Share your horror stories in the comments below.

Image credits: Thank you to yoyoj3d1 on Flickr for the free hugs photo, Phillip Mullen on Pexel for the creepy street shot, and Archie Binamira (also on Pexel) for the ghost lady!

How ribbeting: tales of the Loveland Frogmen

This full moon we’re going to Loveland, Ohio, a residential town cut in two by the Little Miami River. Loveland gets muggy in the summer and cold in the winter, and is home to lots of bridges, trails, and (according to some) foggy nights full of waist-high Frogmen.

frog eye
Like this, only much, much larger. (This might actually be a toad. The Frogman legend does not seem to be aware of any difference between the two, so we’re going to roll with it.)

An amphibious faceoff

Our first encounter comes to us in May of 1955. A businessman was driving down a poorly lit Loveland backroad around 3:30 am, so exhausted that he was struggling to keep his eyes open. Then he noticed three shapes standing standing off to the side (or on a bridge or under a bridge, depending on the story). Frowning, he leaned forward to get a closer look, and then woke up real fast. The figures were leathery, frog-faced bipeds between 3 and 4 feet tall, chatting and gesticulating at each other with webbed fingers.

The man slowed his car to a stop for some (rather justifiable) rubbernecking, and one of the Frogmen looked up. It lifted a wand up into to black sky, and shot a spray of sparks. As might anyone upon encountering a frog sorcerer at 3 am, the man hightailed it out of there, and the legend of the Loveland Frogmen was born.

Looking through the Frogmen literature (such as it is), one has to wonder if that faceoff didn’t start something. Most sources agree that the Frogmen are not generally aggressive, yet that first warning shot would be followed by an ominous watery encounter just a few months later, in late August.

There’s something in the water

Mrs. Naomi Johnson was swimming in the Ohio River (which Loveland’s Little Miami River branches off of) with her child and some friends. She had gotten about 15 feet from the shore when a clawed, furry hand wrapped around her knee. Mrs. Johnson screamed, struggled, and tried in vain to get away as the thing pulled, intent on dragging her under. At last she broke free and splashed toward land, only to have the hand grab her a second time. Mrs. Johnson seized an inner tube in desperation, and the slap of the plastic finally scared the monster away. She scrambled ashore, sobbing, and found her leg covered in bruises, scratches, and a giant green handprint that would refuse to fade for weeks.

Frogmen have been known to throw rocks at people who get too close, and it’s not hard to imagine that there would be a price to pay if someone stumbled into their watery home. Mrs. Johnson’s incident was pretty far from the initial sighting, and no one saw the actual assailant, but the connection isn’t impossible. Anyway, the next sighting, almost two decades later, would be pure, uncut anura.

Frog in the headlights

It was another late night, this time around 1 am, on March 3, 1972. Police officer Ray Shockey was driving carefully due to the icy conditions. It was a good thing he was–he and had just enough time to slam on the brakes when something scurried across the road ahead.

loveland frogman illustration
A helpful diagram, courtesy of Tim Bertelink over on Wikimedia Commons.

Like the previous Frogmen, the thing was between 3 and 4 feet tall, about 50 to 75 pounds, and with leathery skin reminiscent of a frog. Fully illuminated by his headlights, the creature rose from its crouch to stand on two feet next to the guardrail on the side of the road. It regarded Shockey frankly, eyes glinting in the light, and then hopped over the rail and disappeared down into the river.

Of course the other officers made fun of Shockey when he shared this story. But then his friend Matthews went down the same road a couple of weeks later, and the same thing happened to him. Matthews saw something on the shoulder and, thinking it might be an injured creature, got out to investigate. Then the Frogman stood up, looked at him, and smirked. It matched Shockey’s description exactly.

Matthews drew his weapon and shot it dead.

There is some debate about what happened next. Matthews claimed in later years that upon further examination of the thing (he put it in his trunk to show the others and vindicate Shockey), he discovered it was not a Frogman at all, but an enormous, tailless iguana. He hypothesized that said iguana might have been someone’s pet but either got loose or got too big and so was abandoned. “[The frogman is] a big hoax,” he told one reporter. “There’s a logical explanation for everything.”

Sidebar: boring logic

Frog
You say logic, you get this look.

There are logical explanations for the 1972 sightings, as well as the ones in 1955. The year before that businessman had his fateful run-in with the Wizard Frogs was the year everyone saw The Creature of the Black Lagoon. It could have been that both he and Mrs. Johnson were influenced by this (as well as other cultural phenomena such as UFOs), and simply connected dots when there were none. Maybe something that looks like a giant tailless iguana is actually just a giant tailless iguana.

But it’s more fun to consider the other side of the coin. Proponents of the Frogmen emphasize that it was until later that Matthews came out with this iguana story–he said nothing about it at the time. Mrs. Johnson might also have gotten a visit from the government requesting her not to talk anymore about her little incident at the lake. And though Matthews said that the creature was almost dead when he shot it, the sightings haven’t stopped.

Frogbomination, I choose you!

The latest headline-creating Frogman sighting comes to us courtesy of Pokemon Go, the augmented reality game that encouraged everyone to actually get out of their house for a few months. One night in August 2016, a teenager named Sam Jacobs and his girlfriend wandered over the train tracks to the dark shores of Lake Isabella. It was then that, as a local Cincinatti station (somewhat dramatically) put it, “a night of fun turned into a chilling tale of horror.”

They were looking for Pokemon, but found so much more. A giant frog sat by the water and, as they watched, got up and walked on its hind legs. Jacobs even taped some video of it (or, at least, some very bright eye reflections of it).

Jacobs recognizes that people might not believe him, but insists that the video is real. “I swear on my grandmother’s grave that this is the truth,” he said.  “I’m not sure whether it was a Frogman or just a giant frog. Either way, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Neither have I, Jacobs. Neither have I.

Really, though, these guys shouldn’t always be hanging out in the middle of the road. What would be the repercussions of hitting a Frogman with your car? Share your thoughts in the comments below.