THE GORBALS VAMPIRE
Posted June 15, 2015on:
The Gorbals Vampire is often cited as a classic case of mass hysteria, a bit like the Monkey Man Scare in India, and it led to questions in parliament and a change in the law regarding what it was safe for children to read. It all started on the evening of 23 September 1954 when Constable Alex Deeprose was called out to the Southern Necroplis cemetery in the Gorbals area of Glasgow, Scotland.
When he got there he found the cemetery had been invaded by dozens of children, ranging in age from 5 to 15, many of them armed with knives and sharpened sticks, who said they had come to kill the Gorbals Vampire. A wild rumour had abounded round one of the local schools that a huge 7ft tall being with iron teeth (I find it impossible not to think of Jaws from the Bond films at this point) had abducted and murdered two boys. This was in spite of the fact that no children had gone missing or been killed in the area at that time.
One boy recalled later in life that “it all started in the playground – the word was there was a vampire and everyone was going to head out there after school”. The children all banded together, arming themselves with whatever they could find, and some even taking the family dog along for good measure, to go and stake the creature. Such was the hysteria that a bonfire was thought to be the vampire burning one of his victims, and a local eccentric, nicknamed Tin Lizzie, who like to roam through the headstones with her cats in a basket, was thought to be in league with him.
Although Constable Deeprose dispersed the children, and their headmaster read them the Riot Act for being silly, it didn’t stop the kids turning up at the cemetery for 3 nights in total. Eventually, the hysteria died down, and presumably the kids turned to other things to get excited about. Nevertheless the adults wanted somebody to blame. It was decided that the current popularity of American horror comics were responsible. Trashy pulp fiction magazines like Tales From The Crypt and The Vault of Horror were deemed to be filling the heads of the children with this nonsense, even though the kids of Glasgow said they never saw these magazines (the Beano was probably more required reading), and many probably didn’t even have a television at home in those early days. The only channel that would have been on offer in 1954 was the BBC, and that stopped broadcasting for a few hours each day so that kids could go to bed early!
Not only that but there was also no sign of a story about a 7ft vampire with metal teeth in any of these publications. Nevertheless it didn’t stop questions being asked in parliament, and eventually it led to the Children And Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act of 1955, which banned imported horror comics aimed at the juvenile market.
But where did the children really get their idea from? Well there are a number of culprits, including … the Holy Bible. In the Book of Daniel there is the passage: “there before me was a fourth beast – terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured it’s victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left”. (Cripes! who needs pulp fiction!). There was also a local legend of Jenny With The Iron Teeth, which came from a Scottish dialect poem called “Jenny Wi The Airn Teeth”. Jenny was a sort of local bogeywoman, who was used to scare children into going sleep. If you don’t be good and go to sleep, Jenny will come and sink her iron teeth into you.
Children can be very imaginative, and, from what I remember of my own childhood, we used to love to scare each other silly with daft stories. I remember being terrified by what I think was The Iron Man by Ted Hughes, which was read out to us at school, and I will always argue that some children’s cartoons we saw from back then were far more disturbing and violent than any horror film. I read that Princess Diana was scared by ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, which was always shown when she was invited to have tea with the Royal Family when she was a child. There are fears (quite understandable) now of what children see on the Internet, and the violence of computer games … and yet really, there is nothing new under the sun.
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