Cue needle scratching on record sound.
“Scary ghosts story.” Wait, what? I thought that song from the 1960s was all about “loved ones with good cheer” and general jingle bell porn? What’s the “scary ghost stories” bit about?
Like a lot of interesting and creepy things, the origin seems to be in Victorian England. Dickens had something to do with it with his pretty terrifying Marley’s Ghost and the three spirits who visit Ebenezer Scrooge. It also seems to have been a tradition at Victorian Christmas parties to tell ghoulish tales around the fire. By the age of radio, the telling of ghost stories over the holidays in Britain had become standard fare, as had the telling of “spooky tales” in newspapers leading up to Christmas.
Came across more on this recently. I’ve been writing about the Highgate Vampire panic of
the late 1960s and early 70s in London. The belief that a tall “grey specter” walked the brambled paths of old Highgate may have had its start with rumors of grave desecration that emerged in the early 1960s and grew in British popular legend. This essay will be published in a forthcoming collection being put together by John W. Morehead and Kim Paffenroth called The Undead and Theology.
Folklorist Bill Ellis suggests that these stories may have been triggered, in part, by the 1960s panics over alleged “Satanists” involved in grave desecration. He notes that a very early case of claims of “black magic circles” performing dark rites may have been the appearance of a column in the Bedfordshire Times and Standard titled “I MET A WITCH AND A GHOST.” Ellis notes that it ran “December 7 as a spooky story, a traditional Christmas season feature in British newspapers and magazines.” For more see, Ellis’ excellent book Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions and the Media.
By the way, these grave desecrations probably can be blamed on pranking by the growing army of unemployed young people in 1960s Britain…a more mundane story than the fantastical tales of black magic circles during this era. But more accurate.
So, next time you get that somewhat annoying American jingle stuck in your head, remember that’s it origins are in the world of monstrous supernatural.
Check back soon for some thoughts, as promised, on this extended Hobbit trailer that’s supposed to stream on the 20th and my thoughts on the finale of American Horror Story.
And hey, pick up a copy of Monsters in America for the horror fiends on your holiday list.