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  • Writer's pictureMacabre Emporium Pod

Episode 14 - Oh no, George!

SARAH:

The Bunnyman


Bunnyman in Fairfax, Virginia
Illustration of the urban legend Bunnyman

As with most urban legends…where there is a story, there is always some truth. This statement alone is what makes the urban legend of The Bunnyman out of Fairfax County in Virginia downright creepy.


It started with what Fairfax County Archivist Brian Conley said: "A creepy guy, on Halloween, dressed oddly, throwing hatchets at people…it’s just too bizarre to possibly be true. But it is”.


For over four decades, the Bunny Man legend captivated the northern part of Virginia. Conly would first hear this tale when he was a young boy in the 1970s. It popped up in 1973, in an undergrad paper at the University of Maryland. It was told and retold by numerous teens for many years. It was said you could call him out like you would Bloody Mary, Candyman and Beetlejuice - saying his name three times. Over time, like a game of telephone, the legend would shift, and pieces would change.


It evolved, but it always seemed to follow these lines:

In the early 20th century, there was an asylum for the insane out in the deepest part of the woods. At some point, the asylum would close, and the residents were loaded onto a bus and sent to Lorton Prison. While en route the bus would swerve and crash. Most of the convicts on board escaped but wound up being caught again. All but one - Douglas Grifon. As the authorities searched for him, they stumbled upon a half-eaten and disemboweled bunnies. Many of which were found hanging from the Fairfax Station Bridge (which would later be called Bunny Man Bridge). The search continued for months, but Grifon was never found. However, on Halloween night, numerous teens were hanging out beneath the bridge. As the clock struck midnight, they were attacked. The next morning, they would be found hanging, and disemboweled like the bunnies, from the bridge. To this day, locals tell the story that if you are at Bunny Man Bridge at midnight on Halloween, then you too will meet the same fate as the bunnies, and the group of teens.


Now, remember me saying at the very beginning that in most urban legends, there is always a story…. there is also truth? We just heard the story…. let’s hear the truth. The legend is a lot more gruesome, but the truth is just as bizarre as the legend is.


The Washington Post reported that Robert Bennet, Air Force Academy cadet, and his fiancé were sitting in a car in Fairfax near his uncle's house around midnight on October 18th of 1970. He said, “a man dressed in a white suit with long bunny ears appeared”. He said whoever was in the costume yelled at him and his fiancé about being on private property and that he had their tag number. He then proceeded to throw a wood-handled hatchet through the windshield. Neither Robert nor his fiancé was hurt thankfully.


Another article from the Washington Post would state that The Bunny Man would show up again two weeks later - on October 31st - about a block away from where he confronted the couple I just spoke of. Paul Phillips, a private security guard was the one to spot the Bunny Man holding an axe on the front porch of an unoccupied new house. In the article, Phillips retold what happened stating “I started talking to him and that’s when he started chopping. He took several swings at a pole on the porch and then threatened me saying ‘All you people trespass around here. If you don’t get out of here, I’m going to bust you on the head’”.


Fairfax County Archivist, Brian Conley was determined to make sense of it all so he continued digging into it. He tracked down investigation reports from both the Fairfax County police and was able to confirm that they were looking for a male in his late teens, possibly early 20s who dressed as a bunny. He said, “After a very extensive investigation into this and all other cases of this same nature, it is still unsubstantiated as to whether or not there really is a white rabbit.” Therefore, the police moved the case to inactive.


Brian Conly also found the (now married) couple that had the hatchet tossed at their windshield. They didn’t seem very keen on talking about the 45-year-old incident, but they remained sincere in the fact that this run-in actually did happen. They were able to share extremely vivid details. The aunt of the woman was also able to give details, as she was the one that helped the couple after the incident. She told Conley that she remembered combing glass shards from the windshield out of the woman’s hair.


No one knows who the Bunny Man was or what motivated him. Conley is smart enough to know that any theory or story is pure speculation. However, he feels that it could be related to an elderly man, known for being angry, who owned the property that the couple was trespassing on. Though he had died a year or so before the first instance of the Bunny Man appearing. Also, with police stating the Bunny Man was in his early 20s in the 70s, he’d more than likely be alive today. Yet no one has ever come forward or admitted to being the Bunny Man.


As usual, the telephone game and years of decades of changing the story of the Bunny Man has overtaken the truth of what really happened. There were no murders, there was no insane asylum, and there wasn’t even a bridge. Fairfax Station Bridge is seemingly just a local teen party area, although creepy looking, it just happened to get incorporated into the story.


Surrounding towns have truly embraced the legend and they sell T-Shirts, and of course, there is a haunted Halloween attraction inspired by the Bunny Man. Anything to get that money, I guess.



 

DAVID:

The New England Vampire Panic



Vampire Nosferatu
Legendary vampire, Nosferatu

Ignorant, illiterate, unlettered, uneducated. These are a few words you could use from the English language to describe people in the past because they didn’t have any scientific knowledge of what was happening to the world around them. From time to time, we hear people say, “I sure do miss the good old days. It seems like people weren’t as dumb then.” When we learn about past events, they were a bit doltish. This might sound like I am being a bit obtuse or thickheaded about this. But for a small period, the people of New England were foolish about what was killing people during an outbreak of Tuberculosis. They believed that a staple of Halloween and countless movies were the cause of these deaths.


After the Salem witch trials, a new panic struck New England, not witches this time around but Vampires. Vampire panics started in Europe in the 1730s and have some pretty bizarre ways to protect themselves from vampires and find them. In parts of Russia and Hungary, a “pure boy,” assuming they mean virgin with their wording, would have to ride through a cemetery on a pure black horse until it balked. When a horse did this, they believed a vampire was nearby, and it had to be destroyed. Suspected graves of vampires would be weighted or bolted shut. In extreme cases, in vampire extermination. Exhume the corpse, dismemberment, dismember and burn the corpse. Oddly chop up the suspected vampire and boil the parts in wine. Siberians would protect themselves from vampires by eating and rubbing their bodies with the dirt from the grave of a suspected vampire, even the classic stake through the body to keep them pinned in their resting place to keep the vampire from feeding. Also, which I find slightly cartoonish, burning the coffin face down.


In the late 19th century, a Tuberculosis outbreak stuck the New England area. Tuberculosis was also known as consumption because it would appear as if the body is being “consumed” with the appearance of withering away. Before I continue with the vampire panic, it might be best to go over TB quickly so we have a better understanding of why they believed vampires were the cause of this.


TB is caused by a bacterial infection known as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which generally attacks the lungs and is spread by airborne droplets. It is also known to attack the kidneys, spine, and brain. TB isn’t as contagious as the flu or the common cold. You would have a higher probability of catching TB from a family member than a stranger.


Common signs of TB are:

  • Coughing up blood

  • Chest pains

  • Coughing lasting more than three weeks

  • Chills and fever

  • No appetite

  • Sweating at night

  • Weight loss


During the 19th TB was the cause of death in 1 out of 4 people. Today over 1 million people still die from TB, according to World Health Organization’s website. Less than 200k cases are reported in the United States annually. TB is treated with antimicrobials given in four doses over six months. It can take up to two or three months

With that out of the way, early New Englanders believed it was vampires who were killing off family members. I couldn’t find a clear source of how they came to this conclusion.


My best guess as to how they believed it to be vampires is the loss of appetite and weight loss would make someone appear to be “withering away.” In turn, it would make them think the recently deceased from TB was returning to feed on the next family member that became ill.


There are multiple cases of vampire panic, but I will focus on the most famous one, 19yo. Mercy Brown, as a majority of the cases, is similar to hers.


Mercy Brown was the second oldest daughter of George and Mary Eliza Brown. George Brown was a respected farmer in Exeter, Rhode Island, where they resided. Mary Eliza would be the first of this family to die from Tb in 1883, followed by Mary Olive, their oldest daughter, in 1884. 1891 Mercy and her brother Edwin would contract TB. Friends and neighbors of the Brown family gossiped that the Brown family had fallen victim to a vampire. Their neighbors tried to convince George to dig up his family members since they believed they were vampires, but George refused to believe in the superstition. When Edwin contracted TB, he would travel to Colorado to attempt to treat his TB at a wellness center in Colorado Springs.


Mercy passed from her illness in January 1892, and her brother Edwin would return the same month as his treatment in Colorado wasn’t affecting his illness. In the time it took Edwin to receive the news of his sister’s passing and his return to Rhode Island, townsfolk would say they saw Mercy walking in fields and the cemetery after her death. This would fuel the vampire theory in their town. Edwin would say that he would also see and feel Mercy sitting on his chest after his return from Colorado.


George didn’t want to see another family member die from an infected family member. So he finally gave in to the beliefs of vampires on March 17, 1892.


Even by this time, doctors had a clear understanding of the cause of TB but the townsfolk wanted reassurance about Mercy being a vampire or not. With the local doctor, local news reporters, and townspeople watching as their bodies were exhumed, the physician observed standard decomposition in the bodies of Mary Eliza and Mary Olive, but Mercy’s body showed minimal decomposition. The physician observed her hair had grown out as long as her fingernails. That her cheeks were “rosy,” and her body was not in the same position as she was buried. The physician discovered blood in her heart and liver as the physician removed them to create the elixir that Edwin would drink after seeing Mercy in her current state, which caused them to believe Mercy was a vampire.


People believed that consuming the ashes of the heart and liver mixed with water would put a stop to being preyed on by vampires. Edwin would finally succumb to TB in May of the same year.


The truth is her hair and fingernails didn’t grow after death. After passing, your skin starts to shrink up and create this effect of new growth. The skin of her gums shrinking would make her canine teeth have the appearance of longer teeth which is associated with vampires. Since she died in January, the cold weather would slow the decomposition process since her body was stored in an above-ground crypt since the ground was frozen at the time of her death. The decomposition of the blood in her body would create heat possibly causing the rosy appearance of her cheeks as well.


This was usually done in private by lantern light after dark but, those weirdos in Vermont would actually make this more of a public display of this with a festive type atmosphere. In South Woodstock, VT in the 1830s the heart of alleged vampire Frederick Ransom was burned on the town green. And hundreds flocked to Manchester for a ceremonial type burning of alleged vampire Rachel Burton’s heart in a blacksmith’s forge according to folklorist Micheal Bell that has documented 80 vampire exhumations.


One of these New England Vampire graves was found in Connecticut during what law enforcement first believed to be the remains of serial killer Micael Ross known as the egg man or the roadside strangler(active between May of 1981-June of 1984). Some children were playing near a hillside gravel mine. where they had found these graves and one child ran home to tell their mother. Who didn’t believe them at first until he produced a skull.


Police quickly taped off the area believing it was the work of Micheal Ross but the browning of the bones proved they were much older. A state archaeologist determined this was actually a colonial-era farm cemetery. Grave number 4 was the gave in question of being a vampire because the bones were arranged to resemble a Jolly Roger and the ribs were crushed the archaeologist reported.


The episode of American Horror Stories “Milkmaids” is very similar to the vampire panic as well. In this episode, there is an outbreak of smallpox and a pastor of a neighboring town has reported the dead rising from the grave and feasting on the living. Unlike the actual vampire panic of making an elixir from the heart and liver, they would be told by their pastor to eat the heart of the dead to protect themselves from the disease. After he and the main character performed this ritual of sorts. The main character points out to the pastor that the other townspeople might suspect them of witchcraft for their newfound health and they should tell them what they have done.



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