Like most kids, I grew up with a mixture of urban legend and cultural frights that together made for terrifying experiences. Our neighborhood was the border of “The Woods” which lent itself as a source of horrifying creatures sneaking through the backyard and into our lives. Nevermind that during the day, we ran wild and free in those same spaces with no fear and little hesitation except … well, I’ll get to that. For the record, these haunts were located in West Mifflin (South) in the plan known as The Flattops. It is about a mile away from Century III Mall.
The Woods contained lots of mysteries. Toward the bottom of the big hill as it began to level off before another drop into the hollow of New England Road, a few broken building foundations were a source of great awe. I only worked up the nerve to go there one time (it was far, far past the limits my parents imposed on us) and readily bought into the story that it was the former residence of a mad scientist. The broken glass sure looked like test tubes & beakers to my young eyes. I ran away as fast as I could to the safety of more familiar tromping grounds.
Another terrifying spot was what we knew as “The Misty Playground” because it was foggy during one visit. Our babysitters, Margaret and Laura, took us there one afternoon. We trudged through the woods, again past our usual territory. It was most likely just the playground near the Bost subdivision, but the impression of an otherwordly, misty space remains quite vivid in my imagination. I’ve since asked my brother, Margaret and Laura (thanks Facebook) and none of them remembers this. The playground was a bit spooky, but also seemed inaccessible unless the two older girls took me.
Then we had the banshee, those spooky wraiths of our Irish heritage. One year my father told me a spooky story about them and I panicked that night when the tree branches scratched my bedroom windows. I was convinced I was going to die. My mother forced my Dad to trim the branches. The tree was felled by a strike of lightning 15 years later. Vengeance! I still can’t watch Darby O’Gill and The Little People.
The Boogeyman also lived in the Woods. Margaret and her two brothers told us all about him, mostly his fondness for kidnapping misbehaving children. When we were giving her fits, she would signal her brothers (they lived next door) who came over and startled us. It worked like a charm and we were good the rest of the night. It was a long time until I figured out that it was Ronnie. To keep us confused, sometimes he would join us on the porch or in the living room – and his friend Jimmy would play the Boogeyman. Margaret also used the Boogeyman threat when we walked in the woods or in the nearby cemetery, but it didn’t have the same oomph.
Finally, we also lived near a cemetery that dated back to the 1600’s. I was fascinated by the oldest headstones and markers. Of course the kids had a rumor going that one of the trees was a hexing tree. We would sneak up at night and of course it looked terrifying – most trees look terrifying at night, especially in a cemetery. I wasn’t afraid of the cemetery itself, but I did worry about that tree. Eventually, it was taken down to make way for a new paved road. By then, I was more saddened by the graves of some of my childhood friends. 🙁
You can see why going ‘into the woods’ turned out to be a little traumatic for me. The fusion of my vivid imagination, bits and pieces of books I had read and the input of teenagers with no remorse were a perfect milieu to be terrified. These combined with the truly terrifying things in our seemingly banal blue-collar lives were enough frights for me.
Plus, there are snakes in the woods …