Robots In Horror and Halloween Legend

Killer robots are another being from the realms of science fiction that have found their way into the Gothic Horror and Halloween lexicon. No Halloween night is complete anymore without at least one robot, constructed of cardboard boxes and tinfoil has found its way to your door.

Robot comes from the Czech word Robota, meaning worker. It was first used to refer to artificial men in Karel Capek’s 1920 play, Rossum’s Universal Robots (RUR). In the play, robots destroy humanity after being given souls, which allow them to behave more like humans (now there’s a chilling commentary).

But Capek’s robots were not the first mechanical men in literature. Greek mythology tells of a bronze automaton named Talos. The aforementioned Golem is a sort of mechanical man. And the beloved Oz stories by L. Frank Baum feature any number of mechanical men, including the Tin Woodman, Tik-Tok and a mechanical giant which guards the entrance to the kingdom of the Nomes. And of course, there are the robots in Fritz Lang’s 1927 cinematic masterpiece, Metropolis.

Science Fiction writer Isaac Asimov coined the term “robotics” in his 1941 short story, “Liar!.” That also was the story in which he created the now-well-known “Three Laws of Robotics”, which state:
1. A robot may not harm a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence, as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Of course, not all robots follow these laws; some have never even heard of them. Without feelings, they proceed according to a logic all of their own. And that is what makes them so scary. Robots are cold and unfeeling. You can’t appeal to their emotions. They don’t care if you beg. Worse, their hydraulic systems make them inhumanly strong and fast.

Perhaps the ultimate expression of robotic horror can be found in James Cameron’s Terminator trilogy (1984’s The Terminator, 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day and 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines). In the trilogy, a global computer system rebels against its human creators and unleashes mechanical horrors bent on the destruction of man. A similar theme is found in the Matrix trilogy.

Robots occupy much the same place in our modern imagination that the undead and other horrors occupied in the superstitious minds of our ancestors. Just as demonic horrors are unfeeling and unstoppable, so too are robots. It’s just that robots are more believable to the modern mind.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:03:14.

The Halloween Horror of Mad Slashers and Psychos

The Halloween Horror of Mad Slashers and Psychos

Another relative newcomer to the Halloween scene is the psycho / serial killer. Popularized by film series such as Halloween and Friday the 13th, they reflect any number of modern fears – just as ghost stories reflected the fears of times past. In a way, they ARE our ghost stories.

Consider the ghostlike qualities of Michael Myers in John Carpenter’s classic movie Halloween. He slips, unseen, from location to location. He’s always ready to manifest himself at the worst possible time. And, as it turns out in the innumerable sequels, he is just this side of immortal.

Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street take it even closer to the ghost story. Freddy is the spirit of a dead child killer who manifests himself in teen aged dreams.

The frightening qualities of these Halloween horror movie serial killers is made real by the knowledge that there there doesn’t seem to be any end to man’s inhumanity to man. And the media just serve to amplify those fears with their constant coverage of sensational crime.

The original media superstar killer was Jack The Ripper. In the year 1888 in London, the “Ripper” murdered at least six women in grisly fashion (some claim that he murdered as many as 15, but the other victims are not “official”). Some of the women were prostitutes – all were less than desirable denizens of the seedy Whitechapel neighborhood. Then, as soon as the murders started, they ended, leaving the police empty handed. The murders remain unsolved to this day.

The Ripper’s name comes from a letter that he sent to the police, taunting them and containing the signature “Jack The Ripper.”

In their time, the Ripper murders created a media storm, with newspapers covering every aspect of the gruesome killings. The social status of the victims just made the whole thing more salacious.

It’s probably not a coincidence that, in the Halloween horror slasher movies, the bad girls die early, and the good one generally is left standing – if somewhat bloodied – at the end.

Another famous slasher killer from history is Lizzie Borden. After her parents were hacked to death with an axe in August, 1892, Lizzie, a 32-year-old spinster was charged with the murder. The trial became a media circus; Lizzie was eventually exonerated. But not before she became enshrined in history with the rhyme:

Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty one.

Of all the historical serial killers, perhaps none has had as much of an influence on fiction as Ed Gein. In the 1950s, Gein, who lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin, committed a series of gruesome and bizarre murders at his rural farmhouse. His crimes eventually became – at least in part – the basis for the movies Psycho, the Texas Chainsaw Massacres and the character Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. You can see photos of Ed Gein’s House of Horrors here.

Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being safe anywhere. Fear of those without “our” morals – or without any morals at all. All of these are why serial killers are such effective Halloween horror icons. While we know that ghost and vampires are figments of our imagination, we know that serial killers are all too real.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:00:28.

The Halloween History of Werewolves

The Halloween History of Werewolves

Werewolves occupy another central place in Halloween lore.

The idea of a half-man, half-beast, or of a person who can turn into a beast is pretty much universal. Every culture seems to have its beastmen, from the Rakshasa (weretigers) of India, to the Kitsune (werefox) of Japan, the boudas (werehyena) of North Africa, and the skinwalkers of the American southwest.

But for European cultures, the beast that most held the imagination was the wolf. In medieval times, the wolf was the most deadly predator on the European continent (aside from man himself), and single animals – let alone packs – were greatly feared. Wolves are smart, and often would exhibit human-like behavior, laying a trap for their victims, tending to their wounded, and choosing a single mate for life.

There are stories of entire Russian villages being held in their homes for the winter while wolves prowled hungrily outside. To understand the power that the wolf held over the European mind, you need go no further than the Three Little Pigs, Red Riding Hood and Peter and the Wolf.

So if wolves often exhibited human-like characteristics, it would not take too much of an imaginative leap to suppose that – just maybe – the smartest of them were actually humans in wolf’s guise.

There are various explanations for the term werewolf, but the two most common are that it is derived from the Old English weri and wolf, meaning “wearer of the wolf skin.”, or from the Norse var and wulf, meaning “man wolf.”

Lycanthropy is from the Greek Lykos (wolf) and Anthropos (man). Greek mythology tells the story of Lycaon, who was turned into a wolf after serving human flesh to Zeus.

The Norse probably had a large hand in spreading the werewolf myth throughout Europe. Feared by nearly everyone for their lightening raids and ruthlessness, the Vikings had a class of particularly fierce warriors known as Berserkers. These men wore wolf or bears skins into battle (and little else).

Fear of werewolves seem to have been particularly strong in France and Austria, where a large number of werewolf hunts and trials were held starting in the 1500s. It is said that there were 20,000 werewolf trials during that time in France alone. The French scare seems to have ended when it was decided that the supposed werewolves were merely victims of mental illness. In Austria, the scare ended following a ban on witch hunts and the like by the enlightened Empress Maria Theresa.

One historical incident that always piques the interest of folklorists involved a series of well-documented attacks by a mysterious wolf-like creature in the Gevaudan region of France beginning in 1764. The beast, thought to be a large wolf, attacked both cattle and humans before reportedly being killed by a hermit.

Much of what passes for Halloween werewolf lore today is simply an invention of Hollywood. The 1941 movie starring Lon Chaney as the Wolf Man set the tone for much of what people today “know” about werewolves. Silver bullets, fortune tellers and pentagrams all seem to have come from the minds of Hollywood screenwriters. Curt Siodmak, screenwriter for The Wolf Man even invented the lines that have become so famous: Even a man who is kind at heart and says his prayers at night might become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the moon shines full and bright.

Wearing a wolf skin, in combination with certain magic rituals, or potions was the favored method of becoming a werewolf. Most of the legends involve people turning into wolves voluntarily. Turning into one after being bitten seems to be pure Hollywood and Halloween legend.

One current explanation for outbreaks of werewolf sightings involves hallucinations caused by eating rye infected with the ergot mold. The Ergot mold, it turns out, can cause hallucinations and mass hysteria (it is possible to derive LSD from ergot). Rye is a grain more commonly found in northern Europe where reports of werewolves were more common.

Others believe that the source of the werewolf legends lies in various diseases or mental illnesses. Rabies, for example can cause behavior changes, light sensitivity and drooling.

Porphyria, which has been said to be a source of the Vampire legends also has been cited as being behind the werewolf legends. A rare disease called hypertrichosis, which causes excessive hair growth over the entire body is yet another culprit.

Finally, modern psychiatry has identified several mental illnesses in which the unfortunate actually believes himself to be transforming into an animal. It’s called Clinical lycanthropy, although it does not always involve wolves.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:54:15.

The Halloween History Of The Mummy

Reanimated mummies are, like the alien me

nace, a more recent Halloween invention – and one that, like the werewolf, owes much of its lore to Hollywood. They’ve now become a staple in modern horror writing and movies.

Mummification has been practiced by a wide variety of cultures throughout history. Mummies are found in China, Japan, Tibet and Peru. Natural (and presumably accidental) mummies have been found in a variety of arid or frigid climates.

The most famous society that engaged in mummification, of course, was that of the Ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians believed that the body was the receptacle for the Ka, which was necessary for the afterlife. Skilled embalmers prepared the body by removing the internal organs, eliminating excess moisture with salts, and then wrapping the body with linens soaked in resin.

Egypt has long fascinated western man. The Romans – especially in the time of Caesar adopted Egyptian themes in their art and architecture. The ancient order of Freemasonry, adopted Egyptian motifs in their organization. The involvement of some of the founding fathers in Freemasonry led to the inclusion of a pyramid in the Great Seal of the United States.

During his expedition to Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte took with him teams of scientists to study the ancient civilization; Napoleon founded the Institut de l’Égypte in Cairo in 1798. It was this Institute that discovered the Rosetta Stone that finally allowed Egyptian writing to be read when it was deciphered in 1822 by Jean-Francois Champollion.

One the mystery of Egyptian writing was unlocked, Egypt became a Victorian era fad. It became fashionable to visit Egypt (Theodore Roosevelt toured Egypt as a child), where tourists picked up innumerable artifacts with which to decorate their homes. In England, public mummy unwappings became a form of entertainment. Some Victorian era religious cults, such as the Order of the Golden Dawn adopted Egyptian motifs in their ceremonies. In 1871, the composer Verdi unveiled the Egyptian themed opera, Aida.

Still, it never seemed to occur to anyone that there might be a reanimated mummy, or a curse of the mummy’s tomb until the publication of an obscure book in 1821 called The Mummy. This was the first use of a mummy in horror literature.

In 1869, Louisa May Alcott of Little Women fame, published a book called Lost in A Pyramid: The Mummy’s Curse. In both of these books, the trouble seemingly begins when an Egyptologist lights a burial chamber by burning the resin-laden body of a mummy. But there is no lumbering, murderous mummy to be found. In Alcott’s book, the curse comes from some seeds taken from the tomb.

Interestingly, in one of his travelogues, Mark Twain reported that he observed mummies being used as fuel for steam engines in Egypt. But given Twain’s penchant for exaggeration, it’s probably best not to believe this one.

Following the sinking of the Titanic, rumors circulated that the giant ocean liner was transporting the mummy of a priestess of Amon-Ra.

But the idea of a Mummy’s curse probably didn’t really catch on until Howard Carter’s opened and excavated King Tut’s tomb in 1923. The unexpected death of Lord Carnavon, Carter’s sponsor, two weeks later, immediately gave rise to the idea of a curse.

Carnavon’s death was not so mysterious – even if it was a bit odd. He had been bitten by a mosquito, and then cut the bite while shaving. The wound became infected, and he died of blood poisoning.

It’s weird, but it’s hardly the stuff of a curse. One study showed that of 58 people directly involved in the opening of the tomb, only eight had died within a dozen years of the event. From an actuarial point of view, that’s nothing unusual.

Hollywood, of course, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. In 1932, Universal Pictures released “The Mummy,” starring Boris Karloff. The story involves an ancient Egyptian priest, Im-Ho-Tep, who spends his time over the centuries guarding the mummy of his lost love, Princess Anck-es-en-Amon. When the body of the Princess is taken to England, Im-Ho-Tep (now known as Ardrath Bey), follows and sets about the job of resurrecting her. This, of course, requires the body of living woman.

Rather than an outright, and mysterious curse, Hollywood’s curse of the mummy involves a staggering, unstoppable monster in hot pursuit of a victim. Like his portrayal of Frankenstein’s monster, Boris Karloff’s interpretation of the creature has left an indelible mark on our consciousness.

Today, when a mummy is portrayed in Halloween art and costumes, it is a tall, lumbering figure, arms outstretched, bandages hanging, and fluttering in the air. Pure Karloff. (Real mummies have their arms bandaged to their bodies, and their feet wrapped together. They would have hopped, not walked.)

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:52:14.

The Halloween History of Zombies

Like the Mummy, Zombies are a lumbering, staggering, Halloween and Horror presence.

What makes zombies different is that they do not come from a European gothic tradition. Instead, the zombie story originates in Haiti, where West Africans were brought as slaves to work on the sugar plantations.

As a part of the voodoo religion, Haitians believe that magicians, or houngans, can revive the recently dead, turning them into mindless, soulless servants. Believers in voodoo will guard the grave of deceased relatives until they are certain that it has begun to decay, for the magic only works on fresh bodies.

Today, scientists have studied the zombie legend and have developed several of explanations for the belief. Victims of a number of psychiatric disorders such as catatonic schizophrenia may exhibit symptoms that could be wrongly interpreted by the superstitious as zombies.

Another explanation suggests that the houngans may have used combinations of toxic drugs to send their victims into a deep coma. Mistaken for dead, the victims would be buried, only to be disinterred and revived by the Houngan. Other drugs would be used to keep the “zombie” in a passive and obedient state.

As with much of the horror mythology, the Hollywood version is the one we most recognize. The first zombie movie may well have been the 1932 Bela Lugosi film, White Zombie. In it, Lugosi plays a zombie master who orders his creatures to kidnap a woman with whom he has fallen in love. The woman is rescued by her husband, who throws Lugosi over a cliff. The zombies, faithful lemmings that they are, follow him to their own (second) deaths.

In 1968, George Romero re-imagined the zombie in his low-budget film, Night of the Living Dead. In the Romero films – and, indeed, in most subsequent zombie films – the dead are a sort of plague, spreading beyond control. In Night, they are resurrected by a nuclear spill (another great modern fear), and go in search of human flesh to eat. It’s quite a change from the original voodoo concept.

The zombies in the more recent 28 Days Later are the result of a biological disaster, as a germ kept in a laboratory is let loose by animal rights terrorists.

Biological contamination and nuclear radiation are both real modern fears. People don’t believe in vampires and werewolves anymore – we’re much too sophisticated for that. But nuclear accidents and biohazards are real possibilities.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:49:09.

Halloween Around The World

Today, Halloween celebrations with costumes, trick or treating and Hollywood monsters is the order of the day in the United States, Canada and Ireland.

In Mexico, it is celebrated as El Dia De Los Muertos, a three day celebration that begins on October 31, and ends on All Souls Day. Like North America’s Halloween, the event is a complex mixture of cultural traditions. It can be traced to Aztec ceremonies honoring the dead, which apparently were traditionally held in August. Spanish priests moved the event to coincide with All Souls Day, hoping to co-opt the natives into Catholicism.

Observances of the holiday apparently vary from region to region – and village to village – so it is hard to generalize, but it seems that they all observe the common practice of honoring the dead.

During this festival, the dead are supposed to return to their earthly homes on October 31, so all manner of things are set out to make them feel welcome. Some families will build a small display that includes photographs, candy, decorations, the deceased’s favorite food and so on. Some will go so far as to set out wash basins and towels. On November 2, families will gather to clean up and decorate the gravesites of the departed.

More modern Mexican families apparently will skip much of this and celebrate mainly by sharing a family feast where a “Bread of the Dead” is served. Each loaf contains a small plastic toy skeleton, which is said to be good luck to the one who finds it. Families also will celebrate by giving each other gifts with a skull or skeleton theme.

The holiday also is often marked with a parade, in which the participants dress up as skeletons, ghosts and other ghoulish creatures, and carry a coffin through the town. Spectators will throw fruit, flowers and candies at the participants.

In England, Halloween is overshadowed by Guy Fawkes day, which is celebrated on Nov. 5. Fawkes was a Catholic sympathizer who attempted to blow up the Parliament building and kill the protestant King James. He was caught and executed on Nov. 5. 1605.

As the story goes, after his execution, bonfires were lit in which Englishmen burned effigies of the Pope. Later, the effigies of the Pope became effigies of Fawkes himself.

Today, Guy Fawkes day still is celebrated in England, although the extent of the celebration varies, In some communities Children will go about, carrying an effigy, or “Guy” and ask for a “penny for the Guy.” The figure has further been popularized in the graphic novel “V For Vendetta” and the movie by the same name. Modern protest groups often now use Guy Fawkes masks.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:44:30.

The Headless Horseman

The Halloween History Of The Headless Horseman

Headless Horsemen have figured in the imaginations of many cultures, and have now become a fixture in modern horror and Halloween celebrations. Some compilations of Grimm’s Fairy Tales include an encounter with a headless horseman. Bavarian folklore apparently contain tales of Headless Horsemen who patrol the forests.

In India, a character called the Dund rides about headless, although his noggin is tied to his saddle. The Dullahan of Irish folklore is a headless spirit seen riding a headless horse. In some variants, it’s a headless coachman. The Green Knight of medieval legend is beheaded by Gawain, but rides away carrying carrying his own head.

In a 1777 work by the German poet G.A. Burger, Der Wilde Jager, a ghostly huntsman is condemned for his cruel demeanor on earth. He rides with his hell hounds through the woods and chases innocents. The poem is based on German folklore and in some versions, he’s headless.

The best known of the Headless Horsemen, however, appears in Washington Irving’s 1820 story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It is this version of the story that has become Halloween legend.

Irving was not above borrowing folklore for his tales, especially from the Dutch — as in his popularization of the Dutch Santa Claus. New York, originally New Amsterdam was Dutch in origins, and Irving’s Knickerbocker Tales focused on their descendants.

In Irving’s story, the Headless Horseman is the ghost of a Hessian who was decapitated by a cannon ball during the American Revolution. His spirit haunts the town of Sleepy Hollow.

The Hessians were mercenary soldiers from the German state of Hesse-Kassel hired by King George III to fight against the Continental Army during the American revolution. It was the Hessians who were caught by surprise at the Battle of Trenton after Washington crossed the Delaware River.

The Hessians also featured prominently in the Saratoga Campaign in New York in 1777. The Hessian force there contained a large number of cavalry. However, in the dense upstate New York woods, the horses were abandoned, and the Hessians fought on foot. The Hessian forces under British General Johnny Burgoyne were defeated by the Colonials under Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold.

In either case, the Hessians developed a reputation among the colonists for brutality against the local populations. Whether that was true, or only propaganda is unclear. Their reputation, however, plays a part in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

The Washington Irving tale of horror is well known. It’s set in the town of Sleepy Hollow, which, Irving reveals early in the story, is a magical place haunted by the spirit of a headless Hessian trooper. The plot revolves around a schoolmaster named Ichabod Crane, who is in pursuit of Katrina van Tassel, a wealth heiress. Unfortunately for the skinny and somewhat meek Crane, his competition for Katrina is the local bully, Brom Bones.

The subject of the horseman comes up at a local party, where the various young men of Sleepy Hollow are telling ghost stories. Brom Bones claims to have raced the Headless Horseman for the stakes of a bowl of punch. In the race, he claims that the Horseman was unable to cross the water under the town’s bridge. Even with this lightheartedness, however, Crane is nervous.

Irving notes that the time of year is autumn, but does not specify whether or not it is Halloween.

On the way home from the party, Crane imagines all sorts of scary things in the woods. Eventually, he is joined by another rider. When he realizes that it’s the Horseman, he flees, hoping to reach the bridge for the safety of town.

Crane nearly makes it. But, at the last minute, the Horseman throws his head, knocking the schoolteacher from his mount.

That’s the last we hear of Crane. The next morning his horse is found, as is a shattered pumpkin, but there’s no sign of the schoolteacher. His fate is never actually revealed by the storyteller.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:42:22.

The Bunny Man

As children in suburban Washington, D.C. in the 1970s, we were terrified by rumors of a bizarre serial killer known by the not-so-frightening name of “The Bunnyman.”

In our imaginations, he inhabited the woods and swamps around our homes, a large fat man wielding an axe, and wearing an Easter Bunny costume. He was a homicidal Peter Cottontail who preyed on kids and especially on teen couples parking their cars in isolated places.

Although we were convinced the Bunnyman lived in our Maryland suburbs, he actually seems to have had his origins in the nearby town of Clifton, Virginia. Fairfax County Library Historian Brian A Conley reportedly has identified two incidents of a threatening man in a bunny costume occurred in the last weeks of October 1970. According to Conley and Washington Post reports, on October 20, 1970, USAF Academy Cadet Bennett and his fiancee Dusty were sitting in their car on Guinea Road in Burke, Virginia when a white-clad figure smashed the front passenger window. The white figure shouted “You’re on private property and I have your tag number,” before Bennett turned the car around and headed down the road. Later, the couple discovered a hatchet on the floor of the car. A second incident occurred on October 29 of that same year. This time, a man in a white bunny suit was spotted by a security guard on the porch of an unfinished home. The Bunnyman was chopping on the home with an axe and ran into the woods when confronted.

Four articles on the incidents eventually were printed in the Washington Post.

Given the times and the location, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the “Bunny Suit” was in fact a Ku Klux Klan costume. I can clearly remember seeing a sign on a Virginia roadside in those days that said “Big Klan Rally Here Tonight.” But it’s been reported that Fairfax police reports specify that the man was wearing a bunny suit. On the other hand, it’s also not unreasonable that the Fairfax police would want to discount and deflect attention from a Klan presence.

Whatever the details, the story spread quickly. Local legend held that the Bunnyman not only attacked youngsters with a hatchet, but also left behind the bloody, skinned corpses of rabbits. And in an echo of the more widespread “hook” ghost story, couples reported finding hatchet scrapes on the sides of their cars after they had been parking in remote areas (and much of what is now suburban Maryland and Virginia were “remote” in those days).

The Bunnyman’s apparent aversion to outsiders trespassing on his land suggests that it was a local, perhaps upset by the encroachment of real estate developments on what was until then a relatively rural and isolated area.

A well-known variant of the story pegs the initial incidents as occurring much earlier — perhaps at the turn of the century. In that version, an inmate escaped from a local Virginia insane asylum, murdered several children and left their bodies hanging from a bridge. The murderer became known as the Bunny Man when the corpses of skinned and half-eaten rabbits began turned up in the area. The bridge, a single lane auto road passing under a railroad track, is located in Clifton, Virginia. Officially called the Fairfax Station Bridge, it’s now known as the Bunnyman Bridge.

Several published versions of this variant have appeared, but all have been discredited. There has never been a mental asylum in the Clifton area; investigations of newspaper and police reports have failed to turn up any documentary evidence for escaped, killer lunatic inmates.

Over the years, the story grew, and more murders were attributed to the Bunnyman, most ending with corpses hanging either from the bridge, or nearby. In our Southern Maryland suburbs, bodies supposedly were found among the ruins of old Fort Washington, a large fort dating to the early 1800s.

More fantastical stories claimed that the Bunnyman is actually a giant rabbit who killed family pets. These tales echo those told about the “Goat Man,” a satyr-like creature — half man and half goat — said to haunt Governor’s Bridge Road, Lottsford Road and Fletchertown Road in Prince Georges County, Maryland. Interestingly, unlike the Bunnyman’s haunts, those locations are near a state medical facility — the Glen Dale State Asylum, a tuberculosis facility whose name may have convinced some tale spinners that it was a mental institution.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:39:47.

The Maryland Goat Man

The Maryland Goatman is a hybrid beast who reportedly inhabits the Forestville and Upper Marlboro areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland. Generations of children (including this writer) grew up with tales of the Goatman’s series of horrific murders. The victims of the satyr-like creature were reportedly hacked to death with an axe and then eaten.

The first sightings of the Goatman occurred in the late 1950s or early 1960s. Certainly the legend was well-established in the area by the mid 1960s. The Goatman made appearances throughout Prince Georges County, usually alongside roads such as Lottsford and Fletchertown. These stories often seem to be a version of the “hook” urban legend, where young lovers are threatened in their parked cars.

The Goatman also was said to stalk the grounds of the Glenn Dale Hospital and Sanatorium, which was a state tuberculosis facility. Another story associates the Goatman with the Governor’s Bridge in nearby Anne Arundel County, Maryland. The bridge is said to be the haunt of either a) a young unmarried mother who committed suicide there, b) a baby who was flung off the bridge by a similarly desperate mother or c) both.

There is a similar legend of a Bunnyman in adjacent Northern Virginia, which is said to inhabit the area around the Colhester Overpass, a railroad bridge which spans the Colchester Road.

One Goatman legend says that the beast was the creation of an agricultural scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture research facilities in Beltsville, Maryland. This echoes the legends of the Chupacabra, which in some accounts was created by a US lab in Puerto Rico. It is interesting that Chupacabra means Goat Sucker.

Another make the more obvious witchcraft connection, claiming the Goatman is a summoned devil or demon.I had also heard that it was actually a hobo who lived in the woods and turned into a were-goat at night.

Indeed, the Goatman legend incorporates many broad horror themes.The beast was created by a Mad Scientist, and resembles nothing less than the devil of medieval witchcraft. The Goatman was a serial killer threatening teenagers long before Michael Meyers, Jason or Freddie. It is said to inhabit a bridge like a troll, and perhaps be an example of lycanthropy. Add to that cannibalism, and you have the perfect Halloween monster.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 02:37:36.

History of Halloween

Halloween’s Origins

Each year on Halloween night, millions of children take to the streets in scary costumes to beg for treats at the doors of their neighbors. And millions of adults enjoy the holiday as a celebration of things that go bump in the night, and frighten the unwary.

Few, however, ever stop to wonder about the origins of the night, or of the creatures that seem to populate it.

Most sources trace Halloween’s origins to an ancient Celtic holiday called Samhain. The Celts were a group of people who lived in present day Ireland and England from about the 5th Century BC.

Samhain (pronounced sow-en) was an end of the summer commemoration that occurred near the end of October. October 31 is cited as the official end of summer, but since the present day Calendar was not in effect then, that is probably not a precise date.

The end of summer was a significant event for ancient peoples because it represented the end of warmth and sunlight, and times of plenty, and the entry into a time of shorter days, colder nights, and deprivation. And naturally, such dark times would be accompanied by dark spirits.

It is doubtful that anyone really knows how the Celts celebrated their holiday, but several stories have emerged.

One story says that the Celts believed that on Halloween night, the spirits of the people who had died in the previous year came back to the Earth, to search for a body to occupy. To avoid being possessed, the superstitious Celts would put out all the lights of their village in an attempt to convince the spirits that no one was at home. Then, the villagers would dress in costumes designed to trick the spirits into thinking that they, too were spirits, and thus not eligible to be possessed.

If all went well, the spirits would wander through the village, and see nothing but dark houses and other spirits. They would then wander off to another village.

In this legend, you can see the origins of several of the modern Halloween traditions: Ghosts (spirits of the dead) costumes and dark, empty houses.

As the night ended, the villagers found that they were without lights. They would then relight all of their hearth fires from a sacred bonfire maintained by their priests, the Druids.

A more gruesome version says that part of the bonfire ceremony involved the ignition of a young, innocent village girl. This, however, sounds more like Hollywood than History to me.

Another version – more pedestrian – is that the Celts celebrated their end of summer holiday with a huge bonfire built by the Druids. The villagers would put out their own fireplaces and gather to sacrifice crops and animals to the fire. Costumes of animals were worn to further honor the creatures that had blessed them throughout the summer’s bounty. Then, at the end, each family would relight their hearths from the sacred communal fire.

The Celts became one of many peoples conquered by the Romans in the early part of the first Century. The Romans were an adaptive people and happily incorporated local holidays, gods and traditions into their own. (That’s why so many Roman gods bear an uncanny resemblance to Greek ones; and why the Roman Empire was later able to shift from paganism to Christianity. If there was a better idea, they stole it.).

The Romans had their own fall harvest festival. One, for the Goddess Pomona celebrated the harvest of the fruit of the trees. Pomona’s symbol was the apple, which has led some scholar to speculate that this is the origin of the custom of bobbing for apples. (Whatever the origins, illustrations in medieval manuscripts show people bobbing for apples, so the custom dates to at least the dark ages.)

The Romans also had their own festival of the Dead, called Feralia, which was marked at the end of the Roman year, in February.

Christianity was introduced to the British Isles starting about the second century AD. Just as the Romans had been willing to adapt to local customs, so were the early Christian missionaries — many of whom were Roman (for example, early missionaries were willing to abandon the stricture that converts first become Jews when they ran across cultural barriers, and it is thought that the date of Christmas was selected to coincide with a Germanic winter festival.)

When the inhabitants of England and Ireland proved unwilling to abandon their late October festival, Christianity simply incorporated it.

In the 700s, Pope Boniface IV set November 1 as All Saints Day — a day to honor Saints and Martyrs. The day was also known as All Hallows, and the previous night, All Hallows Eve. November 2 was named All Souls Day, and was set aside to honor the souls of the dead. The three days together were called Hallow Mass.

All Hallows Eve, of course, was later corrupted into Halloween.

It is widely believed that Boniface IV did this to co-opt the pagan Celtic holdouts into Christianity.

It’s not too hard to imagine how the conversations went between early missionaries and the pagan villagers.

Village Chief (after listening to the missionary’s explanation of Christianity): Well, it all sounds very nice, but we really don’t want to give up costumes and bonfires and all the other stuff that goes with Samhain. It might all be superstition, but why take the chance …

Missionary (after thinking a bit): Did I say you had to give it up? By an amazing coincidence, it turns out that we Christians also have a holiday to honor the dead … and it’s on the same day! … and instead of one day … it’s three days!”

Halloween arrived in North America with the early colonists. However, because of the Puritan influence in New England, it was mostly confined to the Scots-Irish of the Southern Colonies.

Colonial Halloweens were essentially Harvest Festivals, with lots of eating and drinking, music, dancing, ghost stories and fortune telling (you can see why it didn’t catch on with the Puritans). Some more of our modern Halloween symbols were introduced at this time, as traditions were blended with Native American harvest festivals. Corn stalks and pumpkins – unknown in Europe before the discovery of North America – became part of Halloween imagery.

Halloween really arrived in America with the massive Irish immigration of the 1840s. The Irish brought their Halloween traditions with them and wove them into the fabric of American society.

Originally posted 2015-01-02 03:30:54.