Childhood legends stick for life, leave lasting impact


Photo by Kristine Cho

Ann Fitzmaurice

When she was a child, junior Tricia Carver-Horner thought her stuffed animals were going to summon monsters to scare her. Someone from school told her that stuffed animals were alive and always watching, and they reported directly to Santa Claus.
“I used to turn them around at night so they couldn’t watch me sleep,” Carver-Horner said. “I would apologize to them if I dropped [one] or something.”
At one point, Carver-Horner convinced her friends that “Molly was watching,” if they did something against the rules while they were at her house. Carver-Horner never explained who Molly was and how or why she was watching.
“The American Girl doll was the leader,” Carver-Horner said. “She came directly from Santa, so she was the main watcher. She was the link between him and I.”
Carver-Horner kept this belief for a year before her parents noticed and promptly told her Santa was not real so she would stop. Carver-Horner packed all her animals away and now cringes at the scary memory.
Childhood urban legends come from various sources. Parents, peers and books all play a part in molding a gullible child’s mind. Parents specifically use persuasion and white-lie threats to convince their children to behave or react differently. Child psychologist Hailey Rust said children remember what their parents tell them if it sounds interesting, so stories provoke recognition.
“The reason old stories we’re told during our childhood stuck with us is simply because we liked them,” Rust said. “Children will remember folklore and follow its influence.”
Torbalan, or Sack Man, is a prime example of adults using fear as a method of control. Sack Man has different actions depending on the country the legend is being told in, but they all revolve around a man taking misbehaving children and putting them in his bag to be punished. Children behave out of fear of Sack Man, as he isn’t perceived as a mythical creature, but a murderer out to get them. These lies are meant to scare or inspire children to behave as their parents desire.
Sophomore Gemma Ross’ parents used this tactic to their advantage, convincing her there was a little man behind the light switches.
“[The man] would shock me if I repeatedly turned the lights on and off so I wouldn’t play with switches,” Ross said. “His name was ‘Shocko,’ and my brothers and I were very scared of him.”
In her head, Ross believed Shocko looked like Waluigi, a character from the Super Mario universe. He wore a black and white prison suit and was out to get her. On the outside, her parents kept up the facade until Ross’s beliefs slowly withered over time. Some children, however, never let go of their beliefs. Sophomore Matt Luke once heard an Australian urban legend about drop bears and still wholeheartedly believes it.
“I’ve seen it with my own eyes,” Luke said. “I was in [an Australian town] Goonoo Goonoo looking for goannas [an animal] and I saw a huge taloned paw in the Jarrah [forest].”
Drop bears are supposed to be a hoax meant to scare tourists in Australia, as they go after those without an Australian accent. Although he has an accent, Luke knew the bear was cold-blooded.
“He wouldn’t [mess] with me, but I wasn’t at my most rational to believe he would leave me alone when I saw a giant, ruthless clawed koala,” Luke said.
[quote cite=”Hailey Rust”]The reason old stories we’re told during our childhood stuck with us is simply because we liked them. Children will remember folklore and follow its influence.[/quote] Although the drop bear is real in Luke’s head, the carnivorous evil brother to the koala isn’t actually real, according to Museum of Hoaxes, a folklore website. Stories such as the drop bear go almost hand in hand with urban legends such as Bloody Mary or Slenderman, which are created purely for the enjoyment of the scare they bring.
Bloody Mary is the most common legend, passed down for years since 1508 with the tie to Mary I of England being put to death by Protestants. Her bloody death on the stake earned her the name Bloody Mary, and one part of the legend says she returns in the mirror for revenge against her tormentors.
Although there are many different theories about Bloody Mary’s origins and intentions, kids are familiar with the legend. Sophomore Ariana Hughes followed the legend for three years before growing out of it, her belief stemming from a story her family friend told her.
“We were driving out of town, and we saw this old creepy house with a cemetery, and [my family friend] said, ‘Now that you’ve seen the house, if you ever lock yourself in the bathroom and say Bloody Mary three times she will come and kill you,’” Hughes said. “Of course, I was five so I believed her.”
Both adults and children use scare tactics such as Bloody Mary to frighten kids for pure entertainment. Even if the story teller plays no part in the scaring, however, the children can still find the legend true and manipulative as they believe the story enough for it to be true in their own minds. Just as a child might find a mascot scary because they think there isn’t anyone under the costume, the same applies to ghost stories and urban legends.
“I refused to turn the lights off in the bathroom and never locked the door because of Bloody Mary,” Hughes said. “I thought she was real.”
El Cuco, or Cuco the Child Eater, is a popular myth most popular in Hispanic countries. The legend is simpler and more straight forward as to what Cuco does to children, but the legend’s intentions are to scare children into sleeping. A latino version of “rock-a-bye baby” translates to “sleep little child, sleep now or Cuco will come eat you.” Cuco is yet another monster parents threaten their children with if they don’t behave, or in Cuco’s case, if they don’t go to sleep.
In Japan, the Kappa are water goblins meant to keep kids away from large bodies of water so they don’t drown. Kappa live mostly near rivers and lakes and attack if a child plays too close to water unattended. Because drowning the child is too sugar coated to really scare them away from potential death, the Kappa suck out the child’s intestines through their rectums. All of the effort put into the Kappa’s story was just to scare children away from water so they wouldn’t die.
“Parents use stories as a scare factor because it’s the only thing that truly gets kids to remember what they’re told and act on it,” Rust said. “Fear is an emotion that triggers the greatest reaction. If a child is scared, they’re not going to put themselves in any more danger than they already [think] they are.”
Folklore like Bloody Mary, El Cuco and Kappa traveled around the world through word of mouth, books and now the internet. Kids generally stop believing in legends such as Bloody Mary, however, around eight or nine years old; the same time as they stop believing in Santa. When kids start understanding the physical world, they are less likely to continue trusting what they’ve been brought up to know.
“I figured out my stuffed animals weren’t watching me when I realized that they physically cannot,” Carver-Horner said. “Just like my chair doesn’t watch me when I sleep, my stuffed animals really don’t care what I do. Nonetheless, when I see a creepy doll now, I remember back to that time and shiver a little.”
What myths did you hear as a child? Did you believe them? Leave a comment below!