Whether fact or fiction, there are a few men that we have grown to love. In this chapter of ORIGINS, we look at some favorites: Slender Man, Mothman, and the ever present Boogey Man.
I can’t think of anything scarier then something in the dark I can’t define. It’s a primal fear, one I’m sure dates back to taking a leak in the middle of the night and worrying a sabertooth tiger might pounce. Even deeper than that, it’s the strange beasties and evil beings lurking in the dark of our minds and souls that we believe are present in our physical worlds. So let’s talk about them, those men we love who we can’t shake and are enamored with so long as they stay on the screen or page.
In 2009, an internet meme popped up claiming the existence of a faceless humanoid monster named Slender Man. Standing at nearly 8 feet tall, this supernatural being has tentacles in place of arms, eats small children, and apparently can speak telepathically to human servants. Lucky for me I was dealing with a 2-year-old in 2009 and didn’t hear about this guy, though I’m certain the terrible twos outweigh the Slender Man’s evil-doings every time. However, in 2016, my 2-year-old was now 9 and he began to talk about this heinous man we love. So, I did some digging. Right off the bat, I was horrified and in love. How couldn’t you be? He’s the perfect monster. Humanoid, faceless, emotionless, wears a striking black suit, and is capable of connecting with you on a mental level. Isn’t that what every girl’s looking for in a man?
The ORIGINS of Slender Man date back to the 16th century. German woodcutters swear to have seen an extraordinarily tall man in the Black Forest with spears for arms and superfluous legs. Bad children crept into the woods at night, sneaking between the trees and over fallen logs. Their nightgowns caught on arm branches by twig fingers that scratched their skin. A snap, and they froze, staring at one another for confirmation or direction until the dark shadow of the Tall Man passed between the trees, too quickly to be human. Instantly, their fear took hold and pushed them away from the fairy who hunted them until he caught hold. If they were lucky enough to evade his touch, they were forced to tell their parents of their misdeeds as they barreled through the door in hysterics.
Today’s Slender Man isn’t much different. Legend tells that he uses children as proxy to carry out his will. In 1986, claims surfaced that Slender Man was the cause for the disappearance of 14 children near the Stirling City Library, which caught fire one week later. “Victor Surge” claims to have invented the monster, much the same as Victor Frankenstein, I presume, and we all know how that story ends: the monster destroyed the creator.
Perhaps the worst account tagged to Slender Man is the 2014 attempted murder. On May 31st, three 12-year-old girls went out to birdwatch, but only two returned. One of them was stabbed nineteen times by the others on a mission for the Slender Man. She did not die, however, and was able to crawl away and get help. Her two friends were not only found with the murder weapon, or attempted murder weapon, but admitted to have planned and committed this heinous attack. Why? Slender Man told them to. The interrogation footage is chilling.
One of my favorite creepy films that haunts me to this day is The Mothman Prophecies. Sighted in Point Pleasant, West Viriginia, from November 12th, 1966 to December 15th, 1967, Mothman is described as a man-sized bird. Able to fly on ten-foot wings, this creature stares with red eyes and was sighted by more than 100 people over that year span.
Why just a year? Some claim that Mothman travelled through a portal from another world. I love this theory, but I’m not sure of two things. Why travel here and what would that world look like? I can’t envision this creature among a planet of other similar creatures. (But perhaps that’s my next book idea.) Supposedly, Mothman is the opposite of our friend Slender Man. While Slender comes to possess and destroy, Mothman is speculated to be an omen of forewarning, the Silver Bridge tragedy being one of those examples. Built in 1928, the suspension bridge collapsed during rush hour traffic on December 15th, 1967 (ironically the last date of any Mothman sightings). Forty-six people died and two of the victims’ bodies were never recovered. Prior to the collapse, reports of the Mothman escalated, along with UFO sightings, poltergeists, and bizarre light phenomenon. The Mothman Prophecies, written by John Keel in 1975, which later became the film starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney, explored the possible causes to the effect of the Silver Bridge collapse and the Mothman sightings. Again, if you’ve not seen this film, it needs to get on your list stat!
In addition to the Silver Bridge collapse, the Mothman was sighted near Chernobyl in the Soviet Union around the time of the nuclear explosion disaster (though this claim has been deemed false). Mothman was also spied around the World Trade Center towers five days prior to the 9-11 attacks and was seen for about a month before another bridge collapse, this time in Minnesota. In Chihuahua, a state of Mexico, residents reported a strange creature in their hometown in 2009. Hairy, tall, and winged, the beast chased a student for nearly fifteen minutes before he found shelter. Subsequently, a rise in the number of swine flu cases led speculators to believe the Mothman was in their midst. Monster or precog? We’ll have to wait and see.
The Boogey Man
The grandfather of all the scary men we love, the Boogey Man has terrorized children and adults alike. When I was little, I had to have my closet door opened, so I could see into it and make sure no one was there. I checked under my bed at night when I was brave enough, but on those nights when I couldn’t muster the courage, I ran and leapt clear across my room to be out of arm’s reach from whoever might be lurking beneath my bed. Yup, the Boogey Man and I go way back.
Used as a means to keep children’s behavior in line, “the Boogey Man will get you” is a phrase that should work on any kid. Seen in nearly every culture, this man we love has no common form or traits, as the other two do. The Boogey Man can be shadow, demon, even the Devil himself, but in all cases he punishes misbehaving children. In many countries, he is a man with a sack on his back (sounds a bit like Santa Clause or his antithesis Krampus) who carries away naughty children. El Coco hides beneath children’s beds in many Spanish-speaking countries’ lore. Children who refuse to sleep will be taken and even eaten by this monster. In Brazillian folklore, this man we love is actually a female humanoid alligator. How’s that for kicks? The Babau (which reminds me of the Babadook…one of the scariest Indie films I’ve ever seen) is a tall man who wears a black coat and hood to hide his face, and who takes children away to strange and mysterious places, sometimes for a whole year. Talk about a bad camp experience! This concept of a man (or woman) who punishes bad children is universal. Not in appearance, but in affect. I’ll probably revisit this one in a later podcast because there are literally dozens of scary Boogie Men ORIGINS in as many cultures that we should all know about so we can avoid sleeping forever. In fact, if I was a drug company providing sleep aid, I would totally use one of these men we love as my spokesperson because if that pill can put me to sleep after learning about “Old Red Eyes” for example, a demon black-dog shapeshifter from Belgium who devours me if I stay up too late, I’d buy it. Wouldn’t you?
Albert Fish, born in 1870 in Washington, D.C., was coined the name “Boogeyman” due to his peculiar and horrific crimes. From the age of 20, this monster kidnapped young boys, raped them, and even ate them. A heinous serial killer, he was nicknamed the Gray Man, the Werewolf of Wysteria, the Brooklyn Vampire, and the Moon Maniac. Though he claimed to have murdered 100 boys, confirmed deaths totaled just five, which, frankly, is bad enough for this madman, rapist, cannibal. Executed on January 16th, 1963, he was quoted to state prior to his death, “I never ate any roast turkey that tasted half as good.” Thanksgiving will never be the same.
To this day, while we know the Boogey Man isn’t real, that doesn’t make us any less cautious when we jump in bed at night, hear a strange noise that wakes us, or forces us out of bed to either close or open our bedroom closets. And whether Mothman is a friend or foe and regardless of Slender Man’s true story, the fear is real, even if the man we love isn’t.
I’m Jaimie Engle, and you’ve just discovered ORIGINS.
ORIGINS is a bi-weekly podcast that shares the story behind legends and lore, where myth and science meet; written and produced by me, award-winning author Jaimie Engle of The Write Engle. If you like stories with a supernatural slant, I happen to write them. In fact, I have a new book out. It’s a collection of my horror, humor, and historical short stories titled The Toilet Papers: Places to Go, While you Go. Please follow on all social media @theWRITEengle. I follow back. As always, subscribing, liking, and sharing this podcast is your greatest compliment. Thank you. And finally, if you’d like to stick around you can hear a short story from The Toilet Papers titled “As Fate Would Have It” about a miner whose Boogie Men are the three he left behind when the mine caved in.
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Music by Baldassre Galuppi http://www.musopen.org