The Origins of 25 Monsters, Ghosts, and Spooky Things

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Though dressing up as an angel is acceptable, it’s ghouls and goblins that truly capture our imaginations during the Halloween season. As lit jack-o’-lanterns beckon and monsters lurk in the shadows, we explore the origins of 25 frightful things that go bump—or boo—in the night.

1. JACK-O’-LANTERNS

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The name “jack-o’-lantern” comes from an Irish myth, in which a man called Stingy Jack tricks the Devil and ends up condemned to walk the earth, unable to get into heaven or hell. According to the tale, the original lantern was a carved-out turnip Jack used to light his way as he wandered in the dark. When Irish immigrants brought this story to America, they discovered that pumpkins, native to their new home, made an even spookier candle-holder.

2. ZOMBIES

Three zombies reaching for the viewer against a stormy sky
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The flesh-eating creatures of movies galore are Haitian in origin—animated corpses raised by Voodoo priests, called bokors. Once reanimated, the zombies would remain under the control of the bokor and do their bidding. The creatures first entered widespread popular culture in the 1929 book The Magic Island by William Seabrook and three years later in the film White Zombie, though our modern zombies have come to be associated more with plagues and viruses than sorcery.

3. CRYSTAL BALLS

A female fortune-teller with gold headdress and her arms raised near a glowing crystal ball
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A fortune-teller’s staple, crystal balls may have been described by Pliny the Elder in the 1st century. In one chapter of his Natural History, he discusses magic performed with water, balls, and all sorts of other tools. Some scholars have associated these practices with the Druids, which Pliny also discusses. It's said that Druids would employ a procedure known as “scrying,” in which they stared into the reflective surfaces of mirrors, water, and, yes, crystals, to gain insight.

4. MUMMIES

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In ancient Egypt, mummification was a type of body preservation thought to be developed by people looking to mimic the way the desert kept bodies from decaying. As the popularity of all things Egyptian skyrocketed in Europe during the 19th century, the mummy and its supposed curse became a standard horror trope, appearing in stories by authors such as Bram Stoker, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and even Louisa May Alcott.

5. FRIDAY THE 13TH

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So many of us fear the number 13 that there’s a word for it: triskaidekaphobia. The superstitions surrounding Friday the 13th, however, are less concrete. One theory traces it to the Last Supper, attended by 12 apostles and Jesus, and the fact that the crucifixion traditionally took place on a Friday. The combined fear of Fridays and the number 13, however, didn’t really take hold until the early 20th century, when Thomas Lawson published a book called (surprise) Friday, the Thirteenth.

6. TROLLS

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Trolls come from Norse mythology, and are prevalent in folklore throughout Scandinavia. They generally live in caves or around other rocky formations, and can be either giant or quite small. Paleoanthropologists like Björn Kurtén have argued that the troll mythos comes from passed-down tales of when our Cro-Magnon ancestors met Neanderthals thousands of years ago.

7. HEADLESS HORSEMAN

Th legend of Sleepy Hollow headless horseman stamp
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In Irish legends, the dullahan is a frightening being indeed: sitting upon a horse, the man rides with his head held high in his hand so that he may scan his surroundings. If that wasn’t creepy enough, don’t worry. The dullahan also carries a whip made out of a human spine. Be careful if he stops and says your name—you’ll die instantly.

8. BIGFOOT

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Bigfoot is a large, furry, ape-like creature that predominantly lives in the mountains and forests of the Pacific Northwest—though he has also been spotted throughout the rest of North America. While many Bigfoot sightings are said to be hoaxes, it’s believed that Bigfoot shares an origin story with other similar creatures, like the Abominable Snowman: Humans, it turns out, have a tendency to make up giant, wild, ape-like creatures that live at the edges of civilization. Similar creatures are found in the First Nations myths of British Columbia, where some say the Sasquatch was a figure meant to keep children from misbehaving.

9. VAMPIRES

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Vampires entered modern society through the publication of John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Though vampire-like creatures are present in the mythologies of many cultures, it was literature that began to shape their traits into the iconic ones we know today. The vampires of Eastern Europe, for example, were not pale and thin, but ruddy and bloated.

10. TRICK-OR-TREATING

Two adorable blond little girls dressed up like witches for Halloween and grinning, one with a pumpkin
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Mumming, or going around the neighborhood in costume and saying specific lines in exchange for food, has been a staple of certain holidays since the Middle Ages. This custom first applied to Halloween in 16th century Scotland, when it was called “guising.” The term “trick-or-treat” wasn’t used until the 1930s, and is decidedly American.

11. THE KRAKEN

A many-armed kraken attacks an older ship
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According to Nordic folklore, the Kraken was a giant sea monster that could devour a ship and its entire crew in one swallow. The legend likely has its origins in sailors’ encounters with giant squid—reaching up to 60 feet in length, they might not be monsters, but they’re pretty close.

12. FLYING BROOMSTICKS

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OK, this one is weird. Broomsticks became associated with flying because of witches’ “flying ointment,” a potion made up of various hallucinogens, like the fungus ergot that grew on rye. Since ingesting the ointment orally led to a host of unpleasant side effects, witches chasing a high supposedly began to administer it through, well, other areas. Apparently, it felt like flying.

13. THE LOCH NESS MONSTER

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Arguably the world’s most famous sea monster, Nessie is said to inhabit Loch Ness in Scotland. Though the earliest sighting was reported in the 6th century, and told of an Irish monk's encounter with a “water beast,” it was a 1934 photograph that brought international attention to Loch Ness. Known as the “surgeon’s photograph” after the London doctor who took it, the image has since been exposed as a hoax.

14. DRAGONS

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Because cultures across the world have myths featuring dragons, it’s likely the beasts have their origins in a much more mundane creature. One theory holds that dinosaur fossils, like those of the stegosaurus, were thought to be the remains of dragons. Anthropologist David E. Jones has another theory. In his book An Instinct for Dragons, Jones argues that a fear of large predators is inherent to the human mind.

15. MERMAIDS AND MERMEN

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Half-human and half-fish, mermaids exist in multiple mythologies as both beautiful maidens and frightening monsters. One of the earliest examples of such a hybrid are the apkallu of Babylonian mythology, sages associated with the god Ea that were depicted as half-man, half-fish.

16. CHUPACABRA

An orange-furred, toothy, chupacabra-like creature
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The well-named chupacabra, which literally means “goat-sucker,” goes back to the '90s in Puerto Rico, when eight sheep were found dead and entirely drained of blood. Since then, it has been a popular, ahem, scapegoat whenever livestock are suspiciously harmed. Theories hold that mange-infected dogs and coyotes, not chupacabras, committed the actual crimes.

17. MAGIC WANDS

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Ancient Egyptian practitioners of magic used metal or ivory wands decorated with images of deities. In Homer’s The Odyssey, written in the 8th century BCE, the sorceress Circe turns men into pigs through the use of a magic wand.

18. BLOODY MARY

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Chanting “Bloody Mary” in front of the mirror of a dark bathroom is a sleepover tradition with debatable origins. The titular Mary could be English Queen Mary I, who accused many Protestants of heresy and sealed their fate, earning her the nickname “Bloody Mary.” Given the common name, however, it’s possible Mary doesn’t refer to anyone at all—she’s scary either way!

19. WEREWOLF

A scary-looking Bloody Mary type figure
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The werewolf, whether a human who shifts into a wolf or a human/wolf hybrid, was first mentioned in The Epic of Gilgamesh, which tells of a woman who turned a previous lover into a wolf. Another popular origin story is the Greek myth of Lycaon, whom Zeus turned into a wolf in a fit of rage. A synonym for werewolf is, of course, lycanthrope.

20. BANSHEE

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Female spirits from Irish mythology, banshees foretell death by screaming or wailing. They can appear as young maidens or old hags, and usually have unkempt hair and green or red clothing. Their name, ben side in Old Irish, literally means "female fairy" or "female elf."

21. KODAMA

Kodama are Japanese tree spirits. According to legend, they live in trees that are over 100 years old; in some stories, they reside in specific trees, but in others, they can move throughout the forest. Introduced to the West through the Studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke, their legend goes further back—the Kojiki, or “Records of Ancient Matters,” the oldest surviving Japanese book, mentions something similar.

22. POLTERGEIST

A housewife being scared by a ghost in an old black-and-white photo
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Poltergeist, which means “noisy ghost” in German, is usually a spirit that haunts a person rather than a location. They usually express their anger through the disruption of the household: slamming doors, moving chairs and other objects, and even pinching people. The first investigated cases of poltergeists happened in Scotland and England in the late 1600s, and involved enchanted drums, beggars seeking revenge, and devil worship. The famous movie, however, didn't come out until 1982.

23. DYBBUK

A couple are terrified by a spectral apparition
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A dybbuk is a malevolent spirit from Jewish mythology that possesses its human host—the name comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cling.” Said to be the soul of a dead person, the dybbuk first appeared in 16th century literature before frightening us in films like 2009’s The Unborn and 2012’s The Possession.

24. “BOO”

An illustration of a ghost saying boo
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The oldest record in the OED for the modern spelling of boo is found in the writing of two 18th-century Scots—Gilbert Crokatt and John Monroe, who said it was “used in the north of Scotland to frighten crying children.” It has since spread far and wide.

25. RAZORS IN CANDY BARS

Razors embedded in two candy apples
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Poisoned candy, chocolate bars with needles inside, and even treats containing razor blades have been used to scare children around Halloween since the mid-1900s—the myth gained traction through news segments, advice columns like Dear Abby, and word of mouth. The good news is that fear of candy-tampering is almost entirely unfounded: Sociologist Joel Best investigated and discovered only instances of adults messing with candy to try and get money, or children doing the same for attention.

Cleveland’s National Weather Service Issued an Unofficial 'Small Dog Advisory’ Due to High Winds

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The National Weather Service in Cleveland is reminding people with mini dachshunds, Yorkshire terriers, and other little dog breeds to keep an eye on their pooches this windy winter. According to WTOL 11 News, an unofficial “small dog warning” was in effect in several parts of Ohio and Northwest Pennsylvania Wednesday, as two-legged and four-legged locals alike braced for gusts of up to 50 mph.

This is formally known as a Wind Advisory, and it’s issued when sustained winds reach between 31 and 39 mph, or when gusts reach speeds between 46 and 57 mph. Conditions like these can cause minor property damage as trees fall and untethered items get whipped around in the wind. The list of untethered items that can potentially blow away includes small dogs, too, according to a tweet from NWS Cleveland.

But can your dog really blow away in the wind and end up in Oz like Toto? There are some reports of this happening, but the conditions are typically a little more extreme than what Ohio is expecting right now. In 2009, a 6-pound Chihuahua named Tinker Bell was plucked up and carried away by 70 mph winds. There’s a happy ending, though: Her owners found her unharmed (partly thanks to a pet psychic, they claimed). More recently, a Yorkshire terrier named Toshka was blown away in Siberia during a snowstorm last year. The dog was later found frostbitten, but alive, 3 miles from home.

However, instances like these are rare, and the greater danger is that a flying object could injure your pooch. Plus, if they're outside without a leash, they can run away if they become frightened or break free if a fence in your yard blows over. To keep your pup safe during blustery weather, The Humane Society of Central Oregon recommends bringing them inside, leashing them when they need to go outside, and double-checking all gates and fences.

[h/t WTOL 11]

11 Bizarre Things Done in the Name of Love

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iStock.com/Kemter

Love. It can make you do crazy things, or so the saying goes. And there are plenty of recorded incidents of people doing really crazy things, purportedly in the name of amore, that back that cliché up. Here are 11 of them.

1. Fake your own death

Alexey Bykov must have wanted to be sure that his future bride would take the whole "'Til death do us part” thing seriously. In 2012, the Omsk, Russia native hired a team of filmmakers to help him fake his own death. Right in front of his girlfriend. As part of an elaborately choreographed wedding proposal. “We'd arranged to meet at a certain place but when I arrived there were mangled cars everywhere, ambulances, smoke, and carnage,” Irena Kolokov, his lucky gal pal, told the Daily Mail. "Then when I saw Alexey covered in blood lying in the road a paramedic told me he was dead and I just broke down in tears.” Wait for it ... surprise! Just when Irena thought all was lost, Alexey sprang into action and asked her to marry him. Perhaps most surprisingly, she said yes.

2. Cohabitate with a corpse

A corpse's foot with a toe tag at the morgue
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“'Til death do us part” wasn't good enough for Carl Tanzler. In 1940, the radiologist was charged with “wantonly and maliciously destroying a grave and removing a body without authorization” when police discovered that he was in possession of the corpse of Maria Elena Milagro de Hoyos, a young woman who had died of tuberculosis in 1931. (In case you don’t want to do the math, that’s a full nine years earlier.) Tanzler’s obsession with Hoyos began in 1930, when she was a patient at the United States Marine Hospital in Key West, Florida. Though there is no evidence that she reciprocated his feelings, Tanzler fought desperately to save Hoyos's life. Following her passing on October 25, 1931, Tanzler became a regular visitor to her above-ground mausoleum, which he had paid for and to which he had a private key. After two years of snuggling with the corpse, he removed her body and brought it home with him, which is where it remained until Tanzler’s arrest a full seven years later.

3. Rob a Waffle House

Forget breakfast in bed—Marquis Baldwin will bring you the entire Waffle House. Well, at least whatever’s in its cash register. In 2013, the then-22-year-old Pensacola resident was arrested on four counts of armed robbery and six counts of aggravated assault after he held up four businesses with a BB gun, three of them Waffle House restaurants. But the money Baldwin stole wasn’t being saved for a rainy day; he used it to pay off his girlfriend’s probation fees. Awww.

4. Register a URL

In the age of online dating, it only makes sense that a twenty-something would take to the Internet in order to connect with the girl of his dreams. In the case of former Vimeo employee Patrick Moberg, that meant registering a website—NYGirlOfMyDreams.com—in order to track down a cute brunette with fancy braided hair, rosy cheeks, and blue gym shorts with whom he locked eyes on a Brooklyn-bound 5 train in 2007. Within 48 hours, Moberg had found the young lady in question, Camille Hayton, and the two began dating. Two months later, the fairytale was over. "The situation was so intense that we bonded in a way that you could mistake for being more romantic than it was," Hayton said of their breakup. "But I wanted to give it a go, so I wouldn't later wonder, 'What if, what if?'"

5. Cry about it on YouTube

Not to be outdone with using the Web to get what (read: who) you want is Kelly Summers. In 2010, Summers decided to pay a surprise visit to the long-distance love of her life, Keith Tallis, only to meet his roommate: his longtime girlfriend. Shortly thereafter, Tallis paid Summers a visit to announce that he was now a single man, but then took off for home again 10 days later. Reeling from the betrayal, Summers set up The Froglet Diaries, which she described as a “self help video series," on YouTube to help deal with the breakup. It didn’t take long for her videos to gain some dedicated followers, Tallis among them. “I watched each video and I couldn’t believe the devastation I left behind,” Tallis told the Daily Mail on September 10, 2010 of his decision to reconcile with Summers. “I’d never seen such raw emotion, and it made me realize how much I loved her.” On October 7, 2010, Workshop Guardian reported that Tallis had once again returned to his ex-girlfriend.

6. Steal a moon rock

“The simple answer’s to say that I did it for love,” aspiring astronaut-turned-convict Thad Roberts told CBS News’s Mo Rocca when asked about his reasons for stealing a safe containing $21 million worth of moon rocks from NASA scientist Everett Gibson. “I did it because I wanted to be loved,” he continued. “I wanted someone to know that I'd literally cared about them that much. And to have the symbol there to remind them of it.” Unfortunately, the “someone” in question was not Roberts’s doting wife, but the 22-year-old intern who aided him in the heist, whom he had met just three weeks earlier. Ben Mezrich, author of Bringing Down the House and The Accidental Billionaires, wrote about Roberts in 2011 in his book Sex on the Moon.

7. Set your loved one's crotch ablaze

When Berlinda Dixon-Newbold wasn’t getting the attention she wanted from her boyfriend, Sheldon Gonzalez, she decided to take matters into her own hands … and set the crotch of his pants on fire while he slept. “You tend to, like, get upset when somebody [is] trying to harm the family jewels,” Gonzalez told Fort Lauderdale’s WFOR-TV of the 2010 incident. “I just felt the heat in my groin area and I just reacted and she was right over me.” Gonzalez was able to extinguish his pants before any serious injury occurred. Which is one way to ensure the end of a relationship.

8. Throw lye in your beloved's face

Getting involved with a married man is always a recipe for romantic complications. Which is a lesson Linda Riss learned the hard way. In 1959, the then-21-year-old began dating lawyer Burt Pugach, a married father of one. Riss knew about his occupation, but not about his family, and promptly dumped him. He allegedly retaliated by paying a few thugs to throw lye in her face, blinding her in one eye and causing permanent scarring. Pugach denied any involvement in the attack, but was convicted and served 14 years in jail for the crime, during which he regularly wrote to Riss. Upon his release in 1974, Pugach divorced his first wife and married Riss. Two years later, they co-wrote a book, aptly titled A Very Different Love Story. In 2007, filmmaker Dan Klores made a documentary about their life, Crazy Love. On January 22, 2013, Riss passed away at the age of 75—with Pugach by her side.

9. Escape from jail

One might describe California’s Santa Cruz County Jail as Craig Souza’s second home. In 2012, the then-34-year-old was being booked for his 22nd stint behind bars at this particular penal institution when he made a not-so-bold escape (he rang a door buzzer, and a guard let him out). His reason? He was worried how his wife might react to all the time he had been spending in the clink. “I want everyone to know that I did it for love,” Souza told local television station KSBW.

10. Go on a fecal rampage

We’ll keep this one short, as the phrase “fecal rampage” sort of says it all. But that’s exactly how police and witnesses described what went down in Staten Island in 2011 when aspiring rapper Rasheen “Illuminati” Harrison stripped naked and defecated in the elevator of his pregnant girlfriend’s building, then—errr, ummm—“decorated” her door before setting it on fire. His explanation? “She stole my cell phone. I had a yellow lighter. I set it on fire,” Harrison told police. Sounds reasonable.

11. Cut off your tattoo ... and mail it to him

Gloved hand holding a surgical scalpel
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If Johnny Depp’s romantic history has taught us anything, it’s that getting your loved one’s name tattooed on your body is no way to ensure the relationship will last. While Depp’s solution was to simply morph “Winona” into “Wino,” 26-year-old Londoner Torz Reynolds came up with a more gruesome plan: take a scalpel to her own arm to remove the tattoo entirely. Reynolds then sealed it in a jar, wrapped it up nice and pretty, and mailed it to her ex. The worst part? The tattoo was big—it read “Chopper’s Bitch.” Next time she might want to consider dating an Ed.

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