So, after a long absence I am finally back on the old AW blog chain gang, picking up litter from the highways and turning it into readable blogs while men with sunglasses, police uniforms and guns watch us… it’s a hard life. but someone has to do it.
This month the Blogchaintopicomogrifier (patent pending) has beeped and churned and made flashing lights to produce the title of ‘Devil Child’ on its little tickertape printer thing*. At least I think that is what it read. That tickertape font is hard to read sometime, what with all the +++++’s in the middle of everything.
So, ‘Devil Child’. It conjures up several images. The juxtaposition of the traditional root of all evil with something that is considered to be innocent is an intriguing one that does generate a lot of interest. Films have been known to play on the perceived innocence of children. The Omen franchise, for example, bases its entire horror premise on the fact that awful things happen to people, such as sheets of glass decapitating them, quite by accident while a cute, small child smiles happily and entirely innocently several miles away with a perfect alibi. Not to mention various ‘creepy doll’ concepts such as the Childs Play series in which the doll Chucky (coincidentally voiced by the same chap who played Grima Wormtongue in Lord of the Rings) becomes possessed of the devil and wreak murderous havoc.
One film in particular, however, really ramps up the creepy with this concept. Rosemary’s Baby. This film is the perfect example of sixties occult cinema***, filled with some very sinister satanic imagery and derives most of its horror from the psychological effects such things have on the protagonists. It is also filled with various not so subtle references to things linked to pregnancy – cravings, abdominal pains and so on – to the extent that it could be interpreted as a metaphor for the darker aspects of the pregnancy experience. You could also discuss the quite nasty rape implications inherent in the film. In a dream sequence after she faints, Rosemary is raped by the devil and this is bad enough but worse than that when she wakes up and finds she is pregnant her husband tells her that while she was unconscious he decided to have sex with her anyway because he did not want to waste the chance. That to me does not sound like the actions of a concerned husband. Or even a decent human being.
But differences between a ‘happy household’ in the 1960s and today aside, I really wanted to talk about the urban legend that allegedly inspired the book by Ira Levin which inspired Roman Polanski to make Rosemary’s Baby. The Devil Baby of Hull House.
Hull House was opened by Jane Addams in 1889 as a Chicago based community to help provide social and educational opportunities for working class people. It achieved this by providing lessons in everything from academic subjects such as art and literature to domestic tasks such as sewing. They also provided free concerts, discussions on current affairs and clubs for children and adults. However, far from being known as a place of egalitarian and charitable education and social mobility, Hull house came to be known for something far more sinister. One story goes that the atheist husband of a Catholic wife refused to allow an icon of the Virgin Mary (some versions say Jesus Christ) to be hung on their wall, declaring that he would rather have the devil himself in residence. Another version, the Jewish version, claims that the husband, for want of a son, declared he would rather have the devil himself than another daughter. Whatever the husband declared, whether he cursed god or the prospect of a daughter, the wife gave birth to a creature that has been described as follows:
“The doctor stood and revealed the child cradled in his arms. A monster writhed within the scratched and bloodied arms of the terrified physician. It was larger then a one year old child, its skin like a reptile’s, both scaly and rough. Sharp horns jetted out of its head on either side and a thin, long object swayed in the air, the tip shaped like a two-pronged fork, swayed about the infants head.” (Daniel Cumerlato, founding partner of Haunted Hamilton).
“No amount of denial convinced them that he was not there, for they knew exactly what he was like with his cloven hooves, his pointed ears and diminutive tail; the Devil Baby had, moreover, been able to speak as soon as he was born and was most shockingly profane” (Jane Addams, The Long Road of Women’s Memory, Chapter One, p3)
Jane Addams allegedly had the child locked in the attic of Hull House and made attempts at having it baptised and rumours about the child ran amok in Chicago. Addams strenuously denied the rumours, claiming (quite rightly) that there was no evidence for it other than hearsay. She did later talk at length about the incident in her book, The long Road of Woman’s Memory. Chapter one is subtitled ‘Women’s memories – Transmuting the past, as illustrated by the story of the Devil Baby’ and in it she talks about the ‘power of an Old Wives’ tale’, describing what we would now refer to as an Urban legend in the many visitors who had come to the house to see the baby, convinced that it existed. She gives a fairly involved memoir about her recollections of some of these, including a list of the phrases she had to repeat endlessly to throw off these sightseers and their bizarre counterarguments. However, it seemed as if the more she denied it, the more convinced her visitors were that she was hiding the baby somewhere in one of the many rooms of the house.
Addams makes a lot of good points in that chapter. This story is the perfect example of an Urban legend where a rumour spreads and so many are convinced of it they cannot be persuaded of the truth. The only variations noted by Addams are religious ones – she mentions there are slight differences between the Italian catholic versions of the story and the Jewish ones – so there is a lot of consistency in the legend which only adds to the veracity of it as more and more become convinced of its truth. There is also no way to tell how this story began – no real evidence of any of the variant origin stories.
So, the Devil Baby of Hull house is an example of the power of human imagination gone wild and stories like this have not only inspired films like Rosemary’s Baby, playing on the fears of potential parents over the nature of their offspring, but also such franchises as Hellboy. Can you think of any similar stories, maybe from your local area? Feel free to comment below.
*We could fit it to a proper printer and even a decent LCD screen. Frankly, we could even turn it into a smartphone app but if you are going to have something called a ‘Blogchaintopicomogrifier’ it has to have valves, and Jacobs ladders and switches and flashing lights and steam coming out of it and, yes, print any output onto a tiny slip of paper in a hard to read font that is destined to eventually be thrown at Astronauts coming home from space **
** Yeah, you see America only created NASA and the associated space program because it needed some method to dispose of all the waste tickertape that Wall Street was producing. Clearly the most environmentally friendly and efficient method was to spend billions of dollars to send men to the moon so you can then drive them through the streets of some city and throw waste paper at them. Note how there seems to be no money for a space program now that everything is ‘paperless’ and we have smartphones and LCD screens and decent printers? Coincidence? I think not…
*** And I really, really, really, hope that no one is planning a modern remake of this. They’d do something silly like use CGI and completely miss out the tension…
Now, this is a blogchain and there are rules. The rules are that you must go and look at the other articles in the chain. If you don’t, there will be dire consequences, possibly of a gynaecological nature… List of links to the other blogs is below:
Participants and posts:
ishtar’sgate – http://chickenscratchbc.blogspot.ca/ (link to post)
orion_mk3 – http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (link to post)
BDavidHughes – http://bdavidhughes.com/
Ralph Pines – http://ralfast.wordpress.com/
articshark – http://www.drslaten.com/blog
pyrosama – http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com/
Anarchic Q – http://anarchicq.com/
meowzbark – http://www.lizzylessard.com/
MsLaylaCakes – http://www.taraquan.com/
grace elliot – http://graceelliot-author.blogspot.com/
milkweed – http://www.thistlequill.blogspot.com/