Worrisome Wednesday: The Boogeyman

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A Brief History

On November 7, 1980, a supernatural horror film titled The Boogeyman was released to theaters in the United States of America.

Digging Deeper

As we grow, so do our fears and anxieties. Somehow, they seem to morph over time with our personalities. History has shown us how powerful fear can truly be. Tyrannical leaders, such as Ivan IV, Maximilien Robespierre, and Adolf Hitler have ruled and conquered countless countries through the power of fear. We can also learn about the power of fear through our own lives and experiences. Many fear natural thoughts such as spiders, heights, and fire. What happens when our fears surpass the natural? What happens when we fear the unexplainable and the creepy folklore beings such as the boogeyman take over? How has the boogeyman been able to stay prevalent from its start in the 1800’s through today? That is because society uses folklore, movies, games, and even human examples to personify the boogeyman making this being evolve into what seems to be a physical entity.

Goya’s Que viene el Coco (“Here Comes the Bogeyman / The Boogeyman is Coming”) c. 1797

The history of the Boogeyman is something that is somewhat mysterious. Few theorize that the Boogeyman is loosely based off Krampus, a Christmas demon who shares many similar. After reading an article presented by World Press, the belief is that the Boogeyman originated somewhere in Scotland.[1] Unfortunately, there is no proof of this origin, but the earliest thought is from the early 1800’s when European sailors were having their ships looted and stolen. Daniel Harris wrote in his article, “The Boogeyman”, that pirates would wear sacks so they could not be seen.  Sailors would then go home and tell stories of these sack looking creatures that plagued them along their journeys.[2] These stories then spread like wild fire throughout Europe and Asia. The term “boogeyman” was coined in the 1800’s, originating from the middle English word “bogge”, which means hobgoblin. [3] It can also be traced back to a “bugbear”, which is the combination of a goblin, bear, and scarecrow.[4] Even with a rough origin of the Boogeyman, there is still discrepancy on how he looks. Some say he is a shadow figure that hides under your bed or in your closet. Others say he is a bugbear type creature. Some, like the Dutch and English sailors, thought he was a sack like creature. Each culture has different ideas of what the boogeyman looks like. Their physical attributes do not link these creatures together, but by their actions.

In North America, the Boogeyman is believed to haunt and terrorize children who misbehave. It is said that the Boogeyman gets his powers from feeding off the fear of the children he terrorizes. In Asia and Europe, it is taken a step further. The belief is that he will not only plague the misbehaving child, but if the child is bad enough the Boogeyman will throw them in a sack, take them to its lair, and devour their body till nothing is left. With this idea, the Boogeyman was given the name “Sack Man” in Spain. Although The Boogeyman’s story varies from country to country, his tendencies stay the same.  His legend was and still is used to terrify children into behaving, especially behaving in the late hours of the night.

Der Mann mit dem Sack (the man with the bag)

Although people typically pictured the Boogeyman as an imaginary supernatural figure to trick kids into behaving, most people do not know that a real life Boogeyman did exist in the early 1900’s.  Albert Fish (1870–1936) was born into a troubled family with a history of mental illness and religious mania.  When his father passed away, Fish’s mother placed him in an orphanage, where he was first exposed to violence.[5]  He was often whipped and beaten, and began finding sexual pleasure in the beatings.  When Fish’s mother landed a decent job, she brought Fish back home, but by that point the damage was already done and there was no going back.[6]

In 1890, Fish became a prostitute, but that still did not satisfy his needs.  He started to rape young boys and watch children play in public baths and playgrounds.  Fish’s mother arranged a marriage for him and he had six children with his wife, but it did not stop him from raping young children.  He spent many years in prison for embezzlement and started an affair with another man in prison even after he was released.  One evening Fish tied his male lover up.  The tied up man thought it was part of a game.  When he noticed that Fish tried to castrate him, the would be victim managed to get away, but Fish’s other victims were not so lucky.[7]

Mugshot from 1903

Fish’s first known attack was in 1910, where he stabbed and killed a child named Thomas Bedden.  Shortly after, he stabbed a mentally challenged boy, and from that time on, his victims were strictly handicap or African American.  Fish picked these victims because he believed that there was less of a chance of people noticing that the children were missing.[8]  Another victim was Francis McDonnell, who was found missing in 1924.  He was playing catch with his friends when they noticed a “grey man” watching them.  His body was eventually found with signs of sexual assault and torture.[9]  In 1927, Fish attacked a young boy named Billy Gaffney.  Gaffney was playing outside of his family’s apartment in Brooklyn, New York with his friend Billy Beaton when they both disappeared.  Several hours later, Beaton was found sitting on the roof.  He was asked what happened to Gaffney, to which Beaton replied “the Boogeyman took him”.[10]  Gaffney’s body was never found, but Fish eventually confessed to murdering him and eating his body.

Fish’s most famous victim was a girl named Grace Budd.  He put an ad in the paper for a young boy seeking employment.  Edward Budd reached out, but Fish became uninterested in him when he saw his younger sister Grace.  After his second meeting with Edward, Fish asked his parents if he could take Grace to his niece’s birthday party, where she could meet other girls similar to her age.  The parents granted this request, but Grace never returned.  The strangest part was that Fish sent a letter to the family after killing Grace, with many spelling and grammatical errors in extensive detail as to how he killed her and ate her.[11]

Grace Budd (1918–1928)

He was tried for the murder of three children and attempted to plead insanity, claiming that he heard voices telling him to murder the children.  The jury found him sane and guilty, and he was given the death sentence.  Although they could only prove the murder of three children by Fish, it is extremely possible that he had more victims.  He once stated that he “had a child in every state,” which would mean he had at least fifty victims.  He was sent to the electric chair and never hurt another child again.[12]

There have been many stories about the Boogeyman throughout history and they do not show any signs of stopping soon. Many of the modern day stories of this creature come from the different movies that have been made over recent decades. In 1980, a movie named The Boogeyman was released. In this film, a woman witnessed a man being murdered in the reflection of her mirror. Twenty years later the mirror breaks, releasing the murdered man’s spirit that is seeking revenge. Then in 1993, a Tim Burton children’s film called The Nightmare Before Christmas came out with a character named Oogie Boogie. Oogie Boogie was the main antagonist in the film and he was also made to resemble the Boogeyman. This film was not the only children’s movie involving the Boogeyman, however. Disney released a movie in 1999 called Don’t Look Under the Bed that has a Boogeyman character in it as well. After the movie was released, it received a huge amount of backlash for being way too scary for children.[13]  Countless films have been created for people of all ages that contain a different form of the Boogeyman in them. The fear of this monster called the Boogeyman, however, is not just depicted in movies.

Theatrical Poster for The Boogeyman

As of the last couple years, virtual reality has begun to rise in popularity. Recently, a virtual reality game came out called “Boogeyman”. A YouTube video was made, showing people’s reactions to the game. Every single person was jumping and screaming the whole time.[14]  Considering all the movies that have been made about the Boogeyman, there will most likely be many more virtual reality games made with his character in the upcoming years. It was once said, “You can’t kill the boogeyman.”[15]   This quotation refers to the fact that Boogeyman movies and games are so popular that people will always participate in them. So, the end of the Boogeyman is nowhere near.

The Boogeyman is unique to each one of us. Every person and culture has a different entity through folklore, movies, games, and real-life events. As Babe Ruth said in The Sandlot, “hero’s get remembered, and legends never die”. The Boogeyman is a supernatural creature that will forever be in our fears and like all legends, he or perhaps “it” will never be forgotten.

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Historical Evidence

[1] “The Bogeyman,” Eric Edwards Collected Works, October 24, 2013, accessed May 04, 2018, https://ericwedwards.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/the-bogeyman/.

[2] DANIEL, HARRIS. “The Boogeyman.” Salmagundi no. 141/142 (2004): 96. JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost (accessed May 3, 2018).

[3] Kelly McClure, “The True Origins of The Boogeyman,” Destination America, March 15, 2017, , accessed May 04, 2018, http://www.destinationamerica.com/thehauntist/the-true-origins-of-the-boogeyman/?utm_source=zergnet.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=zergnet_2531169.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Webster, Audrey. “The Real-Life Boogeyman: Terrifying and Insatiable Albert Fish.” The Lineup. January 18, 2018. Accessed May 06, 2018. https://the-line-up.com/american-boogey-man-albert-fish.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “4 Things You Never Knew about ‘Don’t Look Under the Bed,’ the Scariest Kids’ TV Movie Ever .” EW.com, EW.com, ew.com/tv/2017/10/13/dont-look-under-the-bed-disney-channel/.

[14] IGNentertainment. “How Scary Is the VR Game Boogeyman?” YouTube, YouTube, 12 Sept. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=tORUz00QWao.

[15] Harris, Martin. 2004. “You Can’t Kill the Boogeyman: Halloween III and the Modern Horror Franchise.” Journal Of Popular Film And Television 32, no. 3: 98-109. MLA International Bibliography, EBSCOhost (accessed May 6, 2018).


About Author

JCU Paranormal Research Group

The John Carroll Paranormal Research Group is a student organization that seeks to find out more about the paranormal while being academically intent and focusing on establishing credibility. Founded in the Fall of 2013 by Eugene Claridge and Raymond Camma, the BooStreaks have held many informative meetings that have included guest speakers, such as Dr. Judith Cetina and Bill Kreji, who appeared on Ghost Hunters in 2009. The group has worked with the Ohio P.I.R.A.T.E.S., a paranormal team out of Akron, Ohio, to learn some of their methods and to hear about their work. The Paranormal Research Group has conducted investigations in the following locations: the Cleveland Agora Theatre, the Ohio State Reformatory, the Russell Rhodes Mansion (a.k.a. the Cuyahoga County Archives), and the Sandy Chanty Seafood Restaurant. John Carroll University has recognized the group both in the Carroll News and most importantly, as the "Outstanding Organization of the Year." Not only has the group been able to explore the paranormal subject and investigated historically important locations in Ohio, but members had the fortunate opportunity to see advance screenings of major motion pictures that feature the paranormal, particularly The Quiet Ones (2013). After one academic year, group membership has risen to about eighty members, who seek further journeys this upcoming year. Please check out our Facebook and Twitter pages!