What Spooked Your Granny?

Bad Bungle

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#1
We have a thread for modern Urban Legends but what are the legends and Folklore that were told to earlier Generations ? Were there Phantom Hitch-hikers before the widespread use of automobiles and aeroplanes ? Were there hiders-in-the House before telephones and computers, could you make people believe in ghostly encounters or UFO abductions before photography and wrist-watches ? I wanted to know the earliest Folklore story that could still have credibility amongst today's discerning Internet Generation.

My mother spoke very little about her childhood in pre-war Prussia (Baltic Germany), I think it was pleasant enough but the memories were swamped by later horrors. She was raised in a large village near Königsberg (now Kaliningrad) that had a Viking (Norse) graveyard on a hill. The area was former marshland and had a very high water-table, hence the need for burials on raised land. Coffins weren't exactly interred with a splash but waterlogging could lead to soil movement and erosion, to the extent that earlier burials were sometimes exposed out of the hillside. In these cases the bones were gathered up and respectfully re-interred. This much I believe is true.
My mother recalled being told as a girl that the coffin of the local Blacksmith, buried on top of the hill some 30 years earlier, had become exposed further down the side. When the bones were collected it was noticed that the skull, now devoid of luxuriant hair, had a nail hammered into the back of it down to the scalp. The Magistrate was called and the Blacksmith's widow, still living in the area, was charged with murdering her (drunk) husband as he slept.
My mother was told the story around 1935 and I have since found a very similar account in a preparation of an anthology of Danish Folklore from 1887. Presumably the nail-in-the-head story, whether once a true story or not, comfortably predates that.

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id...v=onepage&q=nail in the head folklore&f=false
 

escargot

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#2
My mother recalled being told as a girl that the coffin of the local Blacksmith, buried on top of the hill some 30 years earlier, had become exposed further down the side. When the bones were collected it was noticed that the skull, now devoid of luxuriant hair, had a nail hammered into the back of it down to the scalp. The Magistrate was called and the Blacksmith's widow, still living in the area, was charged with murdering her (drunk) husband as he slept.
My mother was told the story around 1935 and I have since found a very similar account in a preparation of an anthology of Danish Folklore from 1887. Presumably the nail-in-the-head story, whether once a true story or not, comfortably predates that.
Reminds me of the FM Crawford story The Screaming Skull, wherein a skull is kept inside a house because otherwise it screams. On examination,
suspicions of the cause of death of the erstwhile owner are confirmed...
 
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sherbetbizarre

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#5
When my nan was bedridden in hospital shortly before she died, she told us a how a visiting child had brought in a squat creature, which had ran around on her bed and spoke to her.

She was quite spooked by it, and unable to explain it. I found it very intriguing too...

Anyway, she was going senile and it turned out to be a Furby :wide:
 

JamesWhitehead

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#6
"Alsatians*" spooked my Grannie. These handsome and intelligent, wolfish dogs were a breed she would make detours to avoid.

That must have been a real fear; she had a "bad leg," so direct routes made more sense. I don't think a dog was responsible for her leg ulcers.

Her cautionary tales tended to involve Gypsies, Jews and black men, though she was a lot less likely to encounter those than doggies.

*She was reflecting the era she remembered, when German Shepherds, useful to both sides in the Great War, were re-christened! :cooll:
 

Bad Bungle

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#7
When my nan was bedridden in hospital shortly before she died, she told us a how a visiting child had brought in a squat creature, which had ran around on her bed and spoke to her.

She was quite spooked by it, and unable to explain it. I found it very intriguing too...

Anyway, she was going senile and it turned out to be a Furby :wide:
Bless, sounds just like my Mum when she was on morphine - but without the Furby.
 

Bad Bungle

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#8
"Alsatians*" spooked my Grannie. These handsome and intelligent, wolfish dogs were a breed she would make detours to avoid.
That must have been a real fear; she had a "bad leg," so direct routes made more sense. I don't think a dog was responsible for her leg ulcers.
My father had bad leg ulcers (eventually had one leg amputated) and my sister's dogs were fascinated by them - we think it could have been the smell of decaying flesh, but it was a bugger of a job to stop them pushing their noses into the wound.
 

Ulalume

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#10
My father had bad leg ulcers (eventually had one leg amputated) and my sister's dogs were fascinated by them - we think it could have been the smell of decaying flesh, but it was a bugger of a job to stop them pushing their noses into the wound.
Apparently my great-grandmother had leg ulcers and also a fondness for white cats. My mother has always been convinced that the white cats caused the ulcers by rubbing up against her legs. I don't suppose this was any sort of folklore, just a stubborn belief on my mother's part.
 

LordRsmacker

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#11
"Alsatians*" spooked my Grannie. These handsome and intelligent, wolfish dogs were a breed she would make detours to avoid.

That must have been a real fear; she had a "bad leg," so direct routes made more sense. I don't think a dog was responsible for her leg ulcers.

Her cautionary tales tended to involve Gypsies, Jews and black men, though she was a lot less likely to encounter those than doggies.

*She was reflecting the era she remembered, when German Shepherds, useful to both sides in the Great War, were re-christened! :cooll:
I remember a time, back in the 70's when Alsatians were Public Enemy No 1. These were the days before bull terriers were the arsehole's must-have accessory. From there, Dobermann and Rottweilers became "Devil Dogs" - all of German origin, hmmmm, I see a pattern here...
 

JamesWhitehead

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#12
Broadening it a bit. Both my Grannies were inclined to be superstitious. Maternal Gran. - of the Alsaltian-phobia - hated the colour green, hated having a bird down her chimney and would smash two jam-jars in the yard, if she dropped a glass. Trouble came in threes!

Paternal Grannie had been greatly spooked as a young woman by a film of The Bat. Which it was - there are several candidates - I have not pinned down. Yet she did seem to relish spooky films on television, making a bit of a display of hiding her eyes when things got intense. On reflection, the films she built up were just atmospheric noir-style of the kind which used to be on tv all the time. Yet a film in her company became something of an event! She had worked a lot in hotels - including the Palace at Birkdale. Her tales of spookiness there were part of family tradition, long before the celebrated lift-sagas during its demolotion.

She also told of a relative - maybe her own father or brother - who was so superstitious that he would stay in bed every Friday the Thirteenth.

Before hotels, there had been life in tied-cottages, working on the land in the thirties. There was a much-repeated tale of an invisible but heavy-treading night-visitor who visited the yard in one location - probably Knutsford in Cheshire, though they moved around a lot. She told the tale very effectively but the gist of it was that they never dared answer the knock at the door and would retreat to bed and cover their faces with the sheets, because that always stops ghosts! It was the way she told them! :eek:
 
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catseye

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#13
My late mum (born 1931) was big on all the old superstitions (no shoes on the table variety). She also used to tell us about things like Jack the Ripper and Springheeled Jack - stories I would guess handed down to her by her mother (born approx 1900).
 

escargot

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#15
Apparently my great-grandmother had leg ulcers and also a fondness for white cats. My mother has always been convinced that the white cats caused the ulcers by rubbing up against her legs. I don't suppose this was any sort of folklore, just a stubborn belief on my mother's part.

Tangentially relevant - a woman was mentioned in the FT some years ago who died of sepsis after a cat scratch to her leg.
 

Bad Bungle

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#16
Tangentially relevant - a woman was mentioned in the FT some years ago who died of sepsis after a cat scratch to her leg.
Yes I remember the story and I don't think it was an isolated incident, maybe that was what Ulalume's mother had heard. My father's leg ulcers were caused by bad circulation, a pet rubbing against his legs might have actually helped prevention. However, once formed, the last thing needed is something pressing up against the ulcers.
 

Ulalume

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#17
Yes I remember the story and I don't think it was an isolated incident, maybe that was what Ulalume's mother had heard. My father's leg ulcers were caused by bad circulation, a pet rubbing against his legs might have actually helped prevention. However, once formed, the last thing needed is something pressing up against the ulcers.
No, it was nothing as reasonable as that, she really thought (still thinks, probably) specifically that white cats cause leg ulcers.

Related to @JamesWhitehead's post about superstitious relatives, we had a relative - great-grandfather, IIRC - who was so superstitious about black cats that he wouldn't travel until sunrise the next day if one had crossed his path. I guess sunrise cancelled the bad luck?

(For the record, I've had both white and black cats with no ill effect. :cat:)
 

EnolaGaia

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#18
I'm a bit confused about this thread's intended objective. In reading Bad Bungle's opening post I see two themes:

(1) Tracing back folklore / forteana stories or topics as far as possible into the past, and
(2) Recounting the folklore / forteana stories or topics we know to have been familiar to the oldest / earliest ancestors we personally knew.

I originally thought Bad Bungle was focusing on theme (1).
The subsequent posts have all been about theme (2).
 

Bad Bungle

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#19
I'm a bit confused about this thread's intended objective. In reading Bad Bungle's opening post I see two themes:

(1) Tracing back folklore / forteana stories or topics as far as possible into the past, and
(2) Recounting the folklore / forteana stories or topics we know to have been familiar to the oldest / earliest ancestors we personally knew.
I wanted a story that hadn't endlessly done the rounds on Forums and Chat rooms, being tweaked and modified to keep it relevant and its veracity endorsed by having the word FACT !!! on the end every paragraph. I thought it would be interesting to take a Rummy tale from a member of a pre-Internet and pre-Social Media generation (theme 2) and see if it had legs ie how far back I could find references (theme 1) and whether it would have credibility in modern times.
I suggested tales told by your Granny (and maybe ones she got from her Mother) because I was too lazy to do my own research and realise that theme 1 may be a bit over-ambitious now that the holidays are over. FACT !!!
When reading this thread a number of points occur to me:
(i) we don't talk enough to our grandparents (or parents) or show interest in their stories, beliefs and quirks before it is too late. Your granny has seen it all, done it all. My excuse is that one set of my grandparents lived in Germany and spoke foreign, the other set (also German) were mislaid in the War and no-one will tell me how, where or why.
(ii) your granny may not want to talk about fortean spookiness. My parents' education was cut short by the War, they grew up before the Space race, DNA and genes, computers and other technological marvels. I think they kept quiet and their heads down in order not to display their ignorance (although they were not ignorant). Instead we kids got books by Wilhelm Busch (Max and Moritz), Struwwelpeter (the tale of the Tailor who cut off your thumbs with BIG scissors), the Brothers Grimm, Knecht Ruprecht and all manner of pre-Disneyfied fairy tales that would cause a meltdown at Mumsnet.
(iii) the stuff that granny does come up with is either personal reminiscences (I can't push that back further) or it's vague superstition (there are as many who think black cats are lucky as think they are unlucky), or it's just baffling in its 'granniness' (.. so I said to 'im, if it ain't swam in the Thames, I ain't putting it in my mouth..).

I'm going to put some work in and keep this thread alive.
 

EnolaGaia

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#20
Thanks for the clarification ...

It's an interesting exercise to cast one's memory back to recall what paranormal type stories were told by or among earlier generations. I'm basically drawing a blank on tales to relate, but not for lack of engagement with elders in my large and relatively tight-knit families on both sides.

In my youth I encountered 1 great-grandfather, 1 great-grandmother, 2 grandfathers, and 1 grandmother. Of these, I grew to know, and often conversed at length with, the following:

Paternal great-grandmother (born 1870's?) - Saw her weekly until I was age 9.
Maternal grandfather (born 1880's) - Saw him circa monthly until age 16.
Paternal grandfather (born 1890's) - Saw him as often as daily until age 38.
Paternal grandfather (born 1890's) - Saw her as often as daily until age 37.

I recurrently spent hours with or around them listening to family and other historical stories, but I don't recall any of them ever relating any first- or nth-person stories containing supernatural / paranormal / fortean elements.

All of them were from sizable families who were devoutly religious (Protestants) and lived by farming. They related lots of stories, but even the most thrilling or funny ones were of events which, though often strange, never involved nor were taken to insinuate 'high strangeness'. There were hunting exploits out in the wild, but no mention of cryptids. There were various tragedies and accidents, but no mention of ghosts. (And so on ... )

My guess is that they were too 'grounded' to put much stock in fortean matters.
 

Ulalume

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#21
Well, I guess I was thrown by the word "spooked." My grandparents were very much immersed in the paranormal, but were hardly spooked by it. Especially the women. It was just life.

If they were afraid of anything, they weren't likely to speak of it. Back to superstition again - they felt if you talked about a thing, it was more likely to happen.
 

Bad Bungle

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#22
Well, I guess I was thrown by the word "spooked." My grandparents were very much immersed in the paranormal, but were hardly spooked by it. Especially the women. It was just life.
Yes I admit the thread title could have been less ambiguous in hindsight (I'm new at this). Guess I was looking for Urban Legend/Fortean material before it was called that. Charles Fort can't have been the first to be interested/thrilled/spooked by uncanny tales ?
 

Bad Bungle

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#23
How about ... a vivid memory my Mother had as a young child (1930's Germany) when the Circus came to Town. Not so much 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' as more of a Travelling Show with side-booths. I don't know what she was expecting when she entered a dimly-lit tent, but the only things in the central ring were a couple of chickens scratching in the straw. However, as the chicken-wrangler did his spiel they began to grow into really big birds - my Mother said they were at least 6 feet tall and were tossing bits of straw the size of small cabers at each other. The surrealism clearly made a deep impression on her (possibly a little unnerving too) but at the end of the performance the chickens returned to being just normal chickens.
She eventually twigged (or she asked an adult) that this was mass/audience hypnosis (crude but effective). Sounds a hoot.

An aside: there are plenty of clips on YouTube of people 'hypnotising' (tonic immobility) chickens by drawing a straight chalk line from its beak (Wiki says the first reference to this method was Athanasius Kircher 1646). When I was a boy it was said that if you drew a circle round a chicken, it would not cross over it - had chickens, never tried it. No accounts of chickens hypnotising people though (yes I know it was actually the chicken-wrangler).
 
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#24
I was taken to a big, old-fashioned circus when I was very young - can't have been more than six, as my Grandfather took me and he was soon gone from my world. I retained a vivid impression of the animal odours among the cages outside and the cloying atmosphere of grass rotting under the Big Top.

I was also subjected to a typically-traumatizing encounter with traditional clowns. I am pretty sure that we got the whole baggy-pants, buckets full of confetti, exploding car which lost all its wheels, culminating in a water-fight with the elephant. The part that mystified me was the way a paddling-pool turned into a castle. Just a simple inflatable, in retrospect, but I was very impressed at the time.

A year or so later, I stationed myself to observe the magician at a party, as he concealed his tricks about his person. I think I learned a new word, as he chased me back to my place. I was soon on the altar of the church ajoined to our school: I had worked out where the priest kept his Jesus-trickery - under a heavy, brass bell, afixed to the step. I could not lift it but I wondered why everyone didn't cry fraud on such an obvious trick!

Where that leaves giant chickens, I'm not sure. A reflection in glass? The darkened tent might facilitate a Pepper's Ghost-type effect. :Givingup:
 

Kryptonite

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#26
An elderly aunt of mine was adamant that salt should always be taken into a new home, and would bring salt to anyone she knew who was moving into a new home, usually before they'd got any decorating done or moved any of their stuff in.
 

Patrick30

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#27
Thanks for the clarification ...

It's an interesting exercise to cast one's memory back to recall what paranormal type stories were told by or among earlier generations. I'm basically drawing a blank on tales to relate, but not for lack of engagement with elders in my large and relatively tight-knit families on both sides.

In my youth I encountered 1 great-grandfather, 1 great-grandmother, 2 grandfathers, and 1 grandmother. Of these, I grew to know, and often conversed at length with, the following:

Paternal great-grandmother (born 1870's?) - Saw her weekly until I was age 9.
Maternal grandfather (born 1880's) - Saw him circa monthly until age 16.
Paternal grandfather (born 1890's) - Saw him as often as daily until age 38.
Paternal grandfather (born 1890's) - Saw her as often as daily until age 37.

I recurrently spent hours with or around them listening to family and other historical stories, but I don't recall any of them ever relating any first- or nth-person stories containing supernatural / paranormal / fortean elements.

All of them were from sizable families who were devoutly religious (Protestants) and lived by farming. They related lots of stories, but even the most thrilling or funny ones were of events which, though often strange, never involved nor were taken to insinuate 'high strangeness'. There were hunting exploits out in the wild, but no mention of cryptids. There were various tragedies and accidents, but no mention of ghosts. (And so on ... )

My guess is that they were too 'grounded' to put much stock in fortean matters.
This pretty much sums up my grandparents as well. I was practically raised by them and can't recall any paranormal type stories. My maternal grandfather however did have a worry-wort personality though. But he was always worried about real world things. Car wrecks, bad weather, etc.
 

RaM

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#29
Absolutely sod all, we lived near Bury and this is over 60 years back, she would take me all over
the place Liverpool being a favorite then over the river on the Royal Iris or one of her sister
ferries and into New Brighton, there used to be a photographers up one of the streets off the
sea front with a rather posh pedal car outside so kids could have their pic taken, and here I
am, bet that car would be worth a bob or two now.

 

EnolaGaia

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#30
An elderly aunt of mine was adamant that salt should always be taken into a new home, and would bring salt to anyone she knew who was moving into a new home, usually before they'd got any decorating done or moved any of their stuff in.
If we're including superstitions in addition to fortean- / folk-tales, then my family observed quite a few.

One example would be 'stamping' a white horse for good luck. There are multiple variations on this superstition, but the one known and observed across 3 generations went like this ...

When you see a completely white horse ...

- Kiss the pad (the part with the fingerprint) at the end of one thumb;
- Press the kissed thumb-pad into the palm of the other hand, and then ...
- Make a fist with the first hand and 'stamp' the palm to seal the 'recording', so to speak.

There are similar 'stamp for luck' superstitions and procedures (e.g., for mules or grey horses).

When you're in a group, the first person to see the horse and complete the stamping protocol is the one who 'collects' the luck in that instance.

FWIW, both my grandfather and father told me they'd learned this superstition in the context of playing / coaching baseball, but I don't know that it originated with baseball.
 
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