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Do you recall frightening days returning home from the movies after watching a horror film? I recall being so frightened, after watching a Frankenstein, Dracula, or Wolf Man movie, that I would run all the way home. The Beast with Five Fingers was probably the most horrific and caused me to run faster to get home to the safety of my parents. Pranks, played by my sisters resulted in many hours with my head buried under the covers; they would creep up the stairs in the dark whispering scary thoughts as they entered my room. But of all of my horror experiences, there was one character above all others that struck the greatest fear in me. That character was the Bogeyman. Did you have an immense fear of the Bogeyman back in the day?

Let me familiarize you with the Bogeyman. The Bogeyman was a mythical character that adults used to frighten children into being good boys and girls. While I had formed an image of the Bogeyman, others indicate that he had no distinct appearance. An article by Lisa Smalls, “The History of the Bogeyman: How This Night Time Horror Came to Be,” points out that the Bogeyman is also known as the cause of horrid nightmares and wet beds. Also, she indicates that the idea of the Bogeyman lurking under the bed has haunted children for years. She highlights what many of us recall from our childhood; slight bumps in the middle of the night or creaks of the stairs causing the Bogeyman to be fresh on their minds. In speaking with several of my friends, while their childhood days were years ago, they still have memories of the Bogeyman. One of my close friends from North New Jersey shared his memories of the Bogeyman, outside of his second floor window trying to get in. He still has vivid memories of crying and gagging, as he covered his head with his sheet, fearing the Bogeyman would get in the window. But what is the genesis of this nightmarish story of the Bogeyman who kidnaps children and eats them for dinner? Is the Bogeyman just a character from back in the day?

Returning to Lisa Smalls, the Bogeyman originates from the Middle English word “bogge” which means hobgoblin. Another early origin can be traced to the word “bugbear” which was once used to describe a goblin/scarecrow/bear mash up that hunted and ate small children. In other countries, he is thought to be a man that kidnaps disobedient children to eat for dinner. In America, the Bogeyman is a creature that hides in dark places, mainly, under the bed. While viewed differently across cultures, he is consistently used as a scare tactic when disciplining children. Most of us can recall certain words from our parents: words in circumstances when we were told that we had better do something, such as be good to your brother or sister; eat all of your dinner; or make up your bed. The Bogeyman threatened to get you and eat you for breakfast if you did not do right.

While I had an image of the Bogeyman, research across cultures is consistent with the belief that he had no distinct appearance. But research agrees that the Bogeyman is a non-specific embodiment of terror. I have learned from various writings that in the late 1800’s, a man by the name of Albert Fish, was nicknamed the “American Bogeyman” for his horrific crimes. Albert Fish grew up in one of the most difficult sections of the nation’s capital and became one of the most horrific murderers of all times. At just twenty years of age, he began to prey on young boys, kidnapping, sexually assaulting and sometimes, even eating them. It is uncertain when the first Bogeyman was introduced. Some date it to the 16th century while others date it to around 1836. In both sources, it was a term for the Devil.

Many of my friends have memories of the Bogeyman. When his name is invoked, big smiles appear. One of my friends told me that often times when watching television alone, he sees dark figures out of the corner of his eye. He went on to say that because it occurs so often, he has investigated and learned that there is something called “shadow people.” In his mind, the images that he sees, the so-called shadow people, are the infamous Bogeymen. Other friends have memories of being told by their parents, over and over, that if they do not “walk the straight and narrow,” the Bogeyman will get them. For several friends, the Bogeyman, at times in their lives was real; not a figment of their imagination. A neighbor, in one situation, was injured in a fire which resulted in a darkening of his skin and a very scary appearance. Most children in the neighborhood were frightened by his appearance and referred to him as the Bogeyman. Another friend told me that there was a real live Bogeyman in his neighborhood. This man was so ugly that he was scary. He was referred to, by all of the neighborhood children, as the Bogeyman. Whenever my friend encountered him, if it was evening or night hours, he ran home, looked under his bed, covered his head as many of us did in encounters with the Bogeyman, and tried to quickly go to sleep. Several friends told me that they were not afraid of the Bogeyman, rather, it was their father’s belt that they feared the most, back in the day.

While reminiscing with a close friend about our memories of the Bogeyman, the issue of crime and gun violence surfaced. My friend advanced a “tongue and cheek” thought to get today’s dysfunctional behavior under control. He suggested that we reintroduce the Bogeyman into today’s way of life. He thought that the return of this character could possibly frighten people, our youth, in particular, into rejecting the negative behavior we see today. However, after giving this more thought, he decided that this was probably unworkable. He concluded that given today’s proliferation of violent behavior with guns, someone would undoubtedly shoot the Bogeyman. Today’s youth would not be afraid of the Bogeyman as was the case, back in the day.

Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at backintheday@phillytrib.com or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 South 16th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19146 The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Philadelphia Tribune.

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