Happy Halloween: 5 Creepy Regional Stories
photo credit: buzzfeed.com
It's the most wonderful time of the year. That time when ghosts and goblins roam the streets, terrorizing innocent neighborhoods with demands for candy and promises of fantastic and horrifying
lawsuits tricks. That's right, my friends: Halloween is coming.
October has always been my favorite month. When I was growing up in Texas, it marked the beginning of a brief reprieve from temperatures that refused to dip below the upper 80s. It also held a birthday, and a holiday dedicated to dressing up, scaring the crap out of people, and eating candy. Any way you slice it, October has always been a barrel full of win.
Of course now (and really since I was around 12, thanks to being too-tall from puberty onwards) I am too old for trick or treating. My freshman year of college I was informed by my floor-mates that it was not only perfectly acceptable for students to trick or treat in Boston, but it was actively encouraged. This was puzzlingly true, but aside from that brief interlude, it's been over a decade since I've been on that candy-hunting tip.
Likewise, I haven't been able to enjoy the other side of trick or treating either! The neighborhoods I occupied in Austin did not attract children, for the most part, and I'm sure the few families who were unfortunate enough to share a block with me and my roommates thought better of steering their offspring towards our house. This theory was put to the test one year, when my friend Ben and I sat on my front porch playing guitars, listening to the world series (ON THE RADIO), and drinking a few beers with a gigantic bowl of candy between us. A grand total of two families dared to come up our walk, and when I gave a friendly wave to one of the dads, his only response was "You need to cut your grass." We ate a lot of candy that November.
...any way, having been robbed of the pleasures of trick or treating and handing out candy (here in Brooklyn the kids get candy from stores, bars, and restaurants, which was just about the weirdest thing I had ever seen when I arrived), I settled into a new-to-me but time-honored tradition of overdosing on creepy stories. There are, as you have no doubt seen in article after article this month, many great movies to whet your appetite with, but what about those tales that originated somewhere besides Hollywood?
What follows is a nowhere close to comprehensive list of some creepy places, stories, legends, and folktales that should set your teeth a-chatterin'...or at the very least, leave you scratching your head.
Have a happy Halloween everybody, and remember, watch out for razor blades!
Our first spine-tingling tale comes from the seat of all that is infernal: Salt Lake City, Utah. While this accursed place has played host to such nefarious individuals as Mitt Romney and Joseph Smith, it's the story of a strange tombstone in a local cemetery that has piqued my interest. As her grave marker tells us, Lillian Gray was born in 1881 and died in 1958. Nothing too unusual there, but underneath those dates, the words: "Victim of the beast 666" are inscribed. Now that's...a little strange.
As you might imagine, a ton of theories behind the mysterious tombstone have been suggested over the years, but a few online sleuths managed to dig up some information, and as per usual, everything traces back to a crazy person. Lillian's husband, Elmer Gray, still has some of his nutty comments floating around in Utah's archives, apparently. In this delightful document, Gray expresses his thoughts on the justice system with some strange language, referring to his arrest as a "kidnapping" and (presumably) to police officers as "kidnappers". Gray also claims that his parents both "died of grief when kidnapers [sic] murdered my wife". It should be noted that the wife referred to in this document is Gray's first wife, as Lillian died 11 years after this document was filed.
It's not a stretch to assume that Elmer Gray had his wife Lillian's tombstone inscribed with this strange epitaph, but one has to wonder what, if anything, was going on. According to her death certificate, Lillian died of natural causes, yet Elmer still felt it necessary to take one last stab at "the beast" at the time of her interment. Was he just a garden-variety anti-government whack job? Or was there more to Lillian's death than meets the eye? Probably the former, but it's fun to think about.
In and around New York State, the legend of Cropsey has taken on many forms. The broad strokes of any permutation will involve some sort of authority figure, sometimes a doctor or judge, but often a camp counselor due to the popularity of the tale in camps across the region. We've all heard this one: a guy gets burned, disfigured, or killed as the result of a prank gone wrong, yet lives on to stalk the children who wronged him, and any others unlucky enough to cross his path.
The legend has taken root in various mediums (some version of this story has probably been told at a campfire in every state); a multitude of American slasher flicks owe their existence to this tale, but one actually features a "Cropsy": 1981's The Burning (produced by Harvey Weinstein!). The legend of Cropsey also intersected with reality in the form of Andre Rand, a former employee of the now defunct Willowbrook State School of Staten Island, who abducted and murdered multiple mentally handicapped children in the 1970s and 1980s. The parallels between the case of Rand and the folk tale are further explored in the documentary film Cropsey, which also pokes around in the concepts of urban legends and scapegoating.
In 1997, underwater microphones detected an ultra-low frequency and extremely powerful sound that originated from a remote location in the South Pacific Ocean. Dr. Christopher Fox of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (the organization that detected the sound) initially believed The Bloop was a noise produced by a living creature, and was careful to point out that the sound was several times louder than the loudest animal sound ever recorded (a blue whale). Fox speculated that it was possible that some sort of massive creature was dwelling in the deep, dark recesses of the unexplored ocean. Holy Lovecraft, Batman!
Sadly (depending on how you look at it), Fox's theories of an awakening elder god have since been refuted, with most scientists agreeing that The Bloop is consistent with the sounds produced by icequakes and icebergs scraping along the bottom of the ocean floor. All of you Cthulhu loyalists will have to continue waiting (R'lyeh is out there). Still, ruminating on The Bloop and following the rabbit down the hole of deep ocean mysteries is enough to get anybody's blood chilled. What we already know about is fearsome and alien enough to make you think twice about whether or not you want mankind to probe the depths even deeper.
The Lady of White Rock Lake
OK, time to take it back to self-indulgent nostalgia and a into supernatural territory. I always heard that this tale originated in White Rock Lake in Dallas, TX. As the story goes, unsuspecting motorists in the area have been flagged down by a young woman who is dripping wet from head to toe and asks for a ride home. Upon reaching the given address, the woman vanishes from the front seat. Reasonably freaked out drivers then approach the house and knock on the door, asking for an explanation, only to be told by an elderly couple that their daughter drowned in the lake years ago, and her spirit has been trying to return home ever since.
Variations on the story exist: sometimes the woman is in party clothes and the parents tell the motorist that she was in a car that crashed into the lake after a drunken night of post-prom celebrations. Sometimes the woman is said to be wearing a nightgown and/or other sleeping clothes, and the parents tell that motorist that their daughter committed suicide. While there's no record of any parents confirming that their deceased daughter haunts the vehicles of the White Rock Lake area, there have been two confirmed drowning suicides in the lake, one in 1935 and another in 1942. Some variations of the story exclude any mention of the parents altogether, and only involve sightings of a ghostly, dripping wet figure wandering the shores of the lake. Most curious of all, more than one account involves special attention given to the fact that the young lady in question was wearing nice clothes from Neiman Marcus. Could the whole thing have been the very first example of viral marketing?
At the base of Mount Fuji, near Tokyo, Japan, there is a dense forest that has become one of the most sought out locations for staging suicides in the world. Also known as Suicide Forest or the Sea of Trees, Aokigahara is associated with demons in Japanese folklore, and is also exceptionally quiet due to the density of the trees and the lack of wildlife. There has been speculation that suicidal visitors first began coming to the forest after the release of the novel Black Sea of Trees (which reaches its climax in the forest) in 1960, but the site has had associations with suicide and death since much earlier. Aokigahara may have been a dumping ground for the infirmed and elderly in the nineteenth century (a practice known as ubasute), and their malevolent spirits are said to haunt the area.
Paranormal "experts" believe that the spiritual energy of the deceased has permeated the trees and air, casting a dark pall over the whole of Aokigohara that may disorient even non-suicidal visitors and leave them trapped in the deep woods with no way out. Compasses are said to be useless within the bounds of the forest due to rich iron deposits in the volcanic soil, but this has been disputed.
Whatever the cause, hundreds of bodies have been pulled out of the forest in the past few decades, peaking in 2004 with 108. Government officials have ceased publishing these records in an effort to downplay the infamy of the forest in the hopes of bringing those numbers down, but it's difficult to determine exactly how many people are offing themselves each year, as many are never found until much later, if at all.
I hope that got everybody's skin crawling, and I hope everyone has a pleasantly spooky and/or gluttonous Halloween. Please feel free to share your own favorite local legends or real life tales of woe in the comments!
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