A deeper creepy look at Bye Bye Man, aka Slender Man 2017?

BY AARON SAGERS

The Bye Bye Man is not real. Well, probably not. Unless … maybe?

Like many urban legends, the titular character of the recent underwhelming horror movie is based on some shreds of circumstantial evidence, a lot of "I once had this friend" level of oral storytelling and familiar iconography.

An albino hobo originally hailing from the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans in the 1920s, the Bye Bye Man is said to have evolved into a supernatural entity with a grudge after being orphaned and treated like an outsider. Wearing a pea-coat and wide-brimmed hat atop his long hair, he also sports painted sunglasses and has a tattoo on his wrist.

Although blind, he is accompanied by Gloomsinger, an animated patchwork mush of eyeballs and tongues from the Bye Bye Man's victims (extra parts for Gloomsinger are kept in the man's seaman's bag called the Sack of Gore, which he carries everywhere).

If you even think of the Bye Bye Man, he will travel long distances along the railroad for you. He will set Gloomsinger out to locate you and they will communicate via a secret whistle, attracting the Bye Bye Man ever closer until you become his next victim – and your tongue and eyes are sewn onto his hunting dog-esque pet.

Even though the Bye Bye Man was supposedly born nearly a century ago, the story itself comes from folklorist and strange history expert Robert Damon Schneck. Schneck recounted the tale, which was told to him by a friend who believed he was haunted by the creature (after conjuring Bye Bye via spirit communication with a Ouija board, natch), in his 2005 book The President’s Vampire. Since then, the story gained popularity and has been retold amongst paranormal and urban legend circles, in web forums and on late-night radio shows like Coast to Coast AM.

More than Eric Knudsen's admittedly creepy Slender Man – pre-dated by the Bye Bye Man by four years -- this relatively recent creation has a passing air of believability and folkloric precedent (though Slendy is most certainly a part of folklore in his own right). While the new movie takes him in a different direction than his origins, let's look at why Bye Bye might stick around as a memorable part of American folklore.



The look

To begin with, sufferers of the congenital disorder albinism have historically faced prejudices and been ostracized. The lack of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes not only makes an individual more susceptible to vision problems, severe sunburn and skin cancer, but the condition makes a person, well, stand out. And as we know, people who 'look different' are not often treated well in society.
(Even in the 21st Century, in some parts of Africa, witch doctors use albino body parts in potions, which has led to a rise in murders of those with albinism.)

Now imagine if a sufferer happened to be a black man in the South in the predominantly African American community of Algiers in 1920s America. He would certainly have been mistreated, even within the black community. Making Bye Bye Man an albinism sufferer reinforces stereotypes, and is clearly exploitative, but creates an effective shorthand for an 'outsider.'

Beyond albinism, Bye Bye's appearance is striking and iconic. The dark coat, hat and sunglasses evoke funereal attire. It conjures images of the Grim Reaper, so-called 'shadow men,' or men-in-black (or, if you prefer, the Silence from Doctor Who, Slender Man, or The Gentlemen from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). His look is memorable because we can immediately associate it with a classically threatening presence.



The location

Algiers itself makes for the perfect birthplace for a legend. After all, the Crescent City of New Orleans is the cradle of the misunderstood belief system known as Louisiana Voodoo (treated as exotic and threatening in the movies). It is the home to the Lalaurie Mansion, perhaps the most popular "haunted house" in America (a bastardized story of which, along with that of Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau, appeared in American Horror Story: Coven).

The city is likewise no stranger to macabre tales, weird crimes and real-life monsters such as the supposed jazz-loving serial killer The Axeman of New Orleans and Madame Lalaurie, who tortured her slaves. Even the story of the Sultan Massacre House, which is probably entirely fictionalized, adds to the bizarre reputation of the city. It's definitely a good hometown for a violent legend to take root.



A killer on the move

Railroads are inexorably woven into the growth and prosperity of America. Dating back to the 1820s, they connected a young nation, and the placement of rails and stations had the power to build or destroy communities. Before we were a nation of drivers (encountering hitchhiking ghosts), we were a nation riding the rails. And the Bye Bye Man is supposedly no different.

After an early violent outburst -- or so said the spirit of the Ouija board that allegedly communicated with author Schneck's friend – the young Bye Bye took to the rails where he hopped freights as a hobo and began his killing spree.

This is noteworthy because the concept of serial killers operating on the rails or highways is not a particularly novel idea, which gives the Bye Bye Man story additional resonance (like, for instance, a young couple 'parking' at Lover's Lane before encountering Hook Man). There is a sense of unease we innately understand about driving down a road alone late at night, or when considering the strange characters who might travel from town to town.

The Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run who would decapitate and dismember victims on the rails of Ohio in the 1930s; the violent hobo gang The Freight Train Riders of America; The Boxcar Killer Robert Joseph Silveria; the disturbing Highway of Tears serial killer hunting ground in Canada over the decades; and the murders committed by Aileen Wuornos along Florida roads in 1989-90 ... this is a continent on the move, and some of our killers move as well.

Interestingly enough, the Bye Bye Man supposedly was born at the end of the Golden Age of railroads, around 1920.



What’s in a (legend's) name?

Hook Man, Bunny Man, Lizard Man, Goat Man, Slender Man, even Cropsey. Many classic Bogeymen of our folklore and legends come to us with designations that a child might come up with. They are uncomplicated and almost innocent-sounding. Even our trinity of movie slashers – Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees – have names that would be pedestrian if not for the power with which we've imbued them.

In this way, Bye Bye Man fits right in.

It is a name simple to remember, and yet creep-inducing with that simplicity. What is also interesting is that knowing his name, and simply thinking it, serves as an invitation or summoning. Like Bloody Mary, or even Candyman in film, there exist theories within the paranormal and religious demonology studies, as it were, that states if one says a demon's name out loud, it will open a person to attacks from the entity (such as how chatting up "Captain Howdy" got Regan all Pazuzu'd in The Exorcist).

"True Names" are powerful things within legends. Incidentally, in folk stories or fairy tales, knowing the name of a being can grant the wielder power over it (see: Nix in Scandinavian stories; Rumpelstiltskin; Mr. Mxyzptlk's name pronounced backwards; and Catholic exorcism rites).

Coincidentally, these tales and beliefs may provide a clue as to Bye Bye Man's vulnerability within folklore. When summoned by a victim who thinks of him, he arrives to collect what? Eyes and tongues. Although Schneck's story says he is sewing these parts onto the abomination that is Gloomsinger for some unholy upkeep, perhaps he is also safeguarding against anyone gaining power over him by knowing his name.


Supernaturally evolved

In the Bye Bye Man chapter of Schneck's book -- which relies heavily on a first-person account by a friend, and is lacking much factual support – the author spins an interesting yarn that begins with the most famous objects to be found in urban legends and modern American folklore: the Ouija board.

The parlor game/spirit communication device is ground zero for slumber party stories, with a 126-year history that is fascinating, sometimes weird and occasionally very dark. And as I mentioned above, it was also what kicked off all the trouble in 1973's The Exorcist (and has inflicted the most damage to the game's rep in modern times).

While not asserting Schneck's witness fabricated the story he and his friends connected to the Bye Bye Man with an old Ouija, one couldn't find a much better device than that, considering the instantaneous reactions the board elicits from most. Not every legend involves the supernatural, but it doesn't hurt. The mystery that comes bundled with spirits, demons, ancient beings – or pet monsters made of tongues and eyeballs -- is unnerving to anyone who wishes to live in a world that is recognizable and defined. A good supernatural narrative speaks to our lizard brain and makes us question our safe existence atop the food chain as predators, not prey.

Moreover, the Bye Bye Man's evolution from a human (afflicted with a condition, then becoming increasingly violent and eventually transforming into an undying psychic predator) into 'something else' gets under our skin because no one truly knows what lurks behind the surface of your neighbor, pizza delivery guy or grocery clerk. Even within movies, Freddy and Jason originated as mortals before becoming supernatural forces. And how do we know that whatever changed the likes of them won't happen to any one of the random characters we encounter each day?

To be clear, I cannot speak to the veracity of the account Schneck reports. He is a solid researcher of weird stories in history, but this is something different. But while the tale of the Bye Bye Man is difficult to accept as legitimate, it is certainly compelling.

The bones of the Bye Bye Man story ring true enough. Due to bizarre factual anecdotes, and being connected to existing folklore, it has the makings of a nightmare that will be shared, and expand, over time.

The 10 best Haunted House novels for a horrifying night at home

By AARON SAGERS

The creaking doors, the soft thud of footsteps on loose floorboards, the draft that chills to the core, the rustling drapes in some room that sounds remarkably like whispers, and – always – the glimpse of something moving just out of the corner of the eye.

Through well-worn narrative devices, the signatures of haunted houses are immediately familiar to anyone who has ever heard a ghost story. They endure because the feeling of being vulnerable in a home – a structure where one is meant to be the most secure – is scary as hell.

For me, when I think about haunted houses, the 1936 image of the Brown Lady of Raynham Hall leaps to mind. One of the most famous photos, if not the most famous photo, of a supposed ghost ever taken is of the spectral form of Lady Dorothy Walpole descending the staircase of Raynham Hall in Norfolk. While the photograph is considered by many to be a fake, it is nonetheless striking and lingers in my mind.

At first, the idea of finding something like her floating around at night in a dusty old manor is unnerving, but as my imagination spins out possible scenarios of a Lady Walpole-like ghost moving through a wall, making noises when I’m home alone at night, or breathing cold, dead breath on my sleeping form, the eeriness becomes fuel for an especially messed-up nightmare.

That’s what a good haunted house story can do: slowly reveal itself like a vapor, and unfurl into a terror-inducing resident in your unconscious. With that in mind, join me as I recommend the best haunted house novels to stop your heart while you relax at the hearth.

10) Burnt Offerings (1973)
By Robert Marasco

This isn’t one you will hear talked about near enough, and that may be due to the fact that Marasco wrote one stage play (the terrifying Child’s Play, about a Catholic school with a demon problem), and only two novels before his death in 1998. But Burnt Offerings’ legacy is certainly felt in the 1970s haunted house horror subgenre – and Stephen King has spoken of its influence on The Shining. It begins in Queens, N.Y., where the Rolfe family seeks to escape the city’s oppressive summer, they find a "too good to be true” inexpensive rental in Long Island. The catch is the owners, the Allardyce siblings, require the Rolfes to send a meal tray to their elderly mother who resides in the house (but who never emerges from behind her strange door). The house seems to stoke strange obsessions in the family. The father dedicates himself to repairs of the house, but has flashes of violence, such as when he violently tries to make his son “man up” in the swimming pool. The mother takes to cleaning endlessly, is absorbed in the photos of expressionless people outside Mrs. Allardyce’s room, and is falling in love with the house because it fills a void in her life. The house seems to gaining a life of its own, almost restoring itself just as it destroys the family. It was adapted into a movie of the same name starring Karen Black, and Oliver Reed, in 1976.

9) Coldheart Canyon (2001)
By Clive Barker

Hollywood star Todd Pickett needs to hide away a bit after undergoing major plastic surgery to return his looks to their former glory. To recoup and heal in private, his agent sets him up with Coldheart Canyon, an old Hollywood mansion unknown to most, but a den of hardcore debauchery for the 1920s jetset. Faced with a door to a realm where no desire is too extreme, Pickett has to unravel the mysteries of the house, deal with his biggest fan who shows up, and encounters the ghost of the silent film starlet who once live in Coldheart.


8) The House Next Door (1978)
By Anne Rivers Siddons

Not all haunted houses are old mansions with a violent past; some are modern-day structures popping up in the upscale burbs of Atlanta. The affluent narrator and her husband become friendly with the talented architect building the “house next door” in their neighborhood. But their admiration for his work fades as nasty business befalls any who move into the home. The house itself appears evil all on its own without seemingly having any good reason, and even one character wonders aloud who has ever heard of a haunted contemporary home less than a year old.

7) The Amityville Horror (1977)
By Jay Anson

The Amityville Horror house is one of the most famous haunted paranormal cases in America, and while widely criticized, the “story” part of this allegedly true story still makes for a good horror read. In 1974 Ronald DeFeo killed six family members in this Long Island, NY, home. A little more than a year later, George and Kathy Lutz, and their three kids moved in after getting a, ahem, killer bargain. Twenty-eight days later, they abandoned the home. During the time they were there, the family claimed they were assaulted by unseen entities. They reportedly encountered slamming doors, slime oozing from the walls, a hidden “red room,” a child’s imaginary friend (who looked like a demonic pig), physical attacks, and more. Even the priest who blessed the house said he was commanded by something to “get out.” Anson’s book launched an entire franchise of books and movies, including the 1979 film with Margot Kidder and James Brolin. Don’t dismiss this book even if you don’t believe the Lutz family’s story; taken as a horror yarn alone, the book taps into popular 1970s genre themes of cash-strapped families trying to achieve suburban dreams in a time of recession and inflation.


6) The Secret of Crickley Hall (2006)
By James Herbert

In 1943, Crickley Hall in Northern England served as an orphanage to children evacuated from London during the Blitz of World War II. The house’s tutor comes to believe the orphans are mistreated by the headmaster. Meanwhile, the plot also unfolds in modern-day 2006, where the Caleigh family has moved from London into Crickley following the disappearance of their young son. The family hears sounds of ghosts moving about the house, and the other two Caleigh children are tormented by an old man specter who beats them with a cane. But the mother becomes attached to the house after she begins to communicate with the voice of her missing son, and is reluctant to leave. The book was adapted into a 2012 miniseries, featuring Game of Thrones’ Maisie Williams.


5) The Little Stranger (2009)
By Sarah Waters

Another modern book with a storyline connected to post-WWII England, this gothic story’s haunted abode is called Hundreds Hall. The 18th Century crumbling relic is home to the Ayres family, but the ghostly activity really kicks in when a child is mauled by the family dog. One of the elements that makes this book so enjoyable is the infuriating Dr. Faraday, who attempts to logically explain away every supernatural occurrence (despite children's writing mysteriously appearing on the wall and scorched walls are, y'know, totally normal!). The family’s fears intensify, and the reader joins them in feeling crazy just as the good doctor tries to rationalize everything happening around them.


4) The Turn of the Screw (1898)
By Henry James

This classic gothic story remains great, especially for fans of creepy child characters who see ghosts. In a letter read by an anonymous narrator, we learn a governess, now dead, was hired to become the caretaker of an orphaned boy and girl at a large estate. The governess begins to catch glimpses of the spirits of dead household employees roaming the grounds. She learns the children just happened to be friends with these employees when they were alive, but are they still? Also, what secret is the boy hiding about his recent past? There’s still literary debate about how much the governess was seeing vs. losing her grip on reality, but James himself said he enjoyed introducing the “stranger and sinister” elements of ghosts into mundane, daily life. Fun fact: Martin Scorsese ranked the 1961 film adaptation, titled The Innocents, as one of the scariest movies ever.



3) Hell House (1971)
By Richard Matheson

Is there life after death? Newspaper publisher Rolf Rudolph Deutsch wants to know, but the wealthy Hearst-ian figure doesn’t have time to waste since, well, he’s closing in on death’s door. So, what’s a magnate to do other than enlist a physician and two mediums, and have them join him at the infamously haunted Belasco House in Maine, aka “Hell House,” for a paranormal investigation? While clearly taking inspiration from The Haunting of Hill House, Hell House teases with suspense and terrorizes. The 1973 movie adaptation, The Legend of Hell House, is likewise a fun ride, and also written by Matheson, but check out the book first. This entry, along with the next two, make up the "big three" of the best haunted house ever...

2) The Shining (1977)
By Stephen King

I almost didn’t include King’s third published novel in this list because it is such an obvious choice, and I thought an entry would be better used for a lesser-known work. Plus, the Overlook Hotel isn’t even a house. And yet, I love this book so much, and it is so hands-down one of the best horror novels ever, that it demanded inclusion. You have no doubt heard that Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation (likewise one of the best in the  horror genre) is quite different from King’s story, and it is. It is full of creeping dread and great scares, but also tragedy and heart. Jack Torrance – troubled alcoholic, flawed father and husband, and struggling writer -- is the new winter caretaker of the historic, and notoriously haunted Overlook. In the book, he is more three-dimensional than the monster Jack Nicholson expertly played. But as the walls seem to close in, and dark forces from the hotel’s past seduce Jack and torment his young son Danny, King’s story comes to life – and brings some rather nasty hotel guests with it. Also, you’ll never look at topiary animals the same way again.

1) The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
By Shirley Jackson

This novel by Shirley Jackson remains one the best haunted house stories of all time. The old manse Hill House has a bad habit of killing off inhabitants – so, of course it seems like a good idea (very bad idea) for occultist and paranormal investigator Dr. Montague to bring some folks along for a stay. Although phenomena begin as merely unsettling occurrences, the house is feeding off Eleanor, the sensitive waif, and getting stronger. As much as I love The Shining, I think even Mr. King would allow me to say Hill House is better, and a work of genius. The Haunting, the 1963 film based on Jackson’s story, is also pretty great, but not near as exceptional as the novel.

Bonus Picks


The Yellow Wallpaper
(1892)
By Charlotte Perkins Gillman

Gillman’s story is actually a short story, but deserves inclusion in this list. This early entry in feminist literature revolves around a young woman, our unnamed narrator, who is taken to rest up at an ancestral hall/colonial mansion after giving birth. Her husband worries about her “nervous condition” and seeks to remove all stimulation. Through entries in her hidden journal, she slowly unravels in the upstairs nursery where she stays. In the room with barred windows and scratched floors, she becomes lost in the titular wallpaper. The torn, patchy paper reminds the narrator of foul things, has a “yellow” smell, and leaves yellow marks on all who touch it. She comes to believe she sees women trapped and crawling on her knees within the transforming, viney pattern. Beyond the feminist interpretation, I also like thinking of this as a gothic ghost story – as did H.P. Lovecraft, who counted himself a fan of Gillman’s chilling tale.

A Winter Haunting (2002)
By Dan Simmons

My final recommendation of best haunted house stories is the only one I’ve not even finished. I discovered Simmons’ book through research for this list, and am already finding it immensely compelling. The main character in the book is writer Dale Stewart, a self-destructive type who shatters his life as the result of an extra-marital tryst, and a botched suicide attempt. He now seeks peace in the solitude of a farmhouse in his hometown, Elm Haven. The man, himself, is haunted by his past, and seems like one of those guys who keeps trashing his own life. That trend appears to continue in the farmhouse – the setting for a horrific incident that took the life of his childhood pal Duane McBride four decades earlier – as Dale’s personal monsters take shape. The book is a spiritual sequel to Simmons’ Summer of Night, which I plan on checking out next.

Ouija legacy: Saying 'Hello' to the real history, and mystery of the talking board



BY AARON SAGERS
(A version of this post was previously published last October)

Whether you say yes or no to the power of the Ouija board, there's no dismissing the legacy of this supposed spirit communication tool that inspires intrigue and amusement -- and sometimes fear.

For more than 125 years, the Ouija has been an all-American invention that's alternately viewed as a practical way to reach out to the beyond, a slumber party game and a great narrative device in pop culture. Some even see it as a negative creation and a potential gateway for the nastier denizens of the spirit realm to enter our turf.

Whichever way you may view it, Ouija is baaack. In the new movie, Ouija 2: Origin of Evil, opening today, the talking board returns as the focus of horror. But regardless of the Ouija's power (or lack thereof?), it is an undeniable part of our nation's history.

That history was honored last year on Oct. 14 when the Talking Board Historical Society -- led by the world's leading talking board expert, Robert Murch -- worked with the City of Baltimore to install a plaque commemorating the location of an April 1890 séance where the board was named.

Though it is now a 7-Eleven, the building at 529 North Charles Street was once the Langham Hotel boarding house. Inside, the board's first manufacturer, Charles Kennard; his attorney friend and fellow Mason Elijah Bond (who registered the Ouija/Talking Board patent); and Bond's sister-in-law and medium Helen Peters asked the board what it wished to be called during a seance. When it spelled out "O-U-I-J-A," the board allegedly said it meant "good luck." Though later stories said the word was an amalgam of "yes" in French and German.

And much like the location where it earned its name in 1890, the Ouija board has changed over the years. What is currently sold by Hasbro, and marketed as a kids game, is a cardboard platform with glow-in-the-dark letters, or a plastic planchette with an embedded black light to read the board's "hidden" messages.

But there is much history to the Ouija board, and the talking boards (aka witch boards) that pre-date the brand. Join me and Murch, who has consulted on the show Supernatural and both Ouija movies, for a brief tour of this mysterious, mystifying (and some would say malevolent and murderous) device.

'World's Largest Ghost Hunt' Kicks Off National Ghost Hunting Day on October 1

Check out the official press release for National Ghost Hunting Day and celebrating with the World's Largest Ghost Hunt...

Historic first National Ghost Hunting Day celebrated with record breaking “WORLD’S LARGEST GHOST HUNT” to benefit local nonprofit animal shelters worldwide. Hundreds of paranormal groups and investigators to simultaneously kick-off search for supernatural evidence at locations across the United States and around the world--
Haunted Journeys -- in conjunction with partners The Scarefest, Destination America, America’s Most Haunted, Paranormal Database, our regional ambassadors and network of participating ghost hunting teams -- is proud to announce that National Ghost Hunting Day is now officially registered with the National Calendar Day Registry, to be celebrated on the first Saturday of every October.
This celebration of the techniques and culture of ghost hunting will initiate the Halloween season annually in spectacular fashion!

On October 1, 2016, National Ghost Hunting Day will be celebrated for the first time with the World’s Largest Ghost Hunt serving as the inaugural mega event.

New Destination America Series, 'Haunted Case Files,' Premieres August 28

Photo Courtesy of Haunted Case Files' Facebook
Destination America is quickly becoming your go-to network for paranormal programming. Debuting this August 28 is their newest spooky series premiering exclusively in the U.S.

Haunted Case Files doesn't have a set cast like most ghost hunting shows, and follows different groups as they take on some of their most challenging cases.

Destination America provides all the details in their release that's included below...

From Destination America:
From the producers of Paranormal Survivor comes the all-new series Haunted Case Files, in which ghost hunters recount their most extreme supernatural experiences – from the terrifying to the downright dangerous. Even the most hardened veterans aren’t always prepared for what they might find. These are the cases that truly tested them.

Each episode features a story from three different paranormal investigation groups, along with interviews, recreations and actual recordings of the evidence they captured.