Creative Writing Wednesday: HALLOWEEN EDITION

Posted: October 31, 2012 in Creative Writing Wednesday
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Happy All Hallow’s Eve, everyone!

Or actually, it isn’t really Halloween while I’m writing this. In actuality, I am writing this at 7:43 PM on October 30, a time that many of you may know as THE PAST. But, through the magic of WordPress’s “Schedule” option, I’m making this entry post automatically when it reaches noon on October thirty-first!

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(that was a ghost sound, not a party sound, by the way)

For this edition of CWW, we have yet another poem. This isn’t any ordinary poem, though. A couple weeks ago, I was thinking about a special poem to post on Axolotl Ceviche on Halloween, and I started thinking about what the creepiest form of poetry is. And once I considered the answer, it was obvious:

Children’s skipping rhymes.

Seriously. Picture it. You’re all alone in a creaky old house. Night has fallen, and a chill mist blows in from the moors. The house is dark, and as you head up to bed, you hear it: the tinkling sound of a girl’s laughter. Unsettled, you tell yourself it was just a trick of the wind, and then you see her: a little girl, dressed in a pretty blue pinafore, her face shrouded in shadow. In a voice like the tinkle of windchimes, she recites:

Ring-around-the-rosey, 

Pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes,

We all fall DOWN!

As she says the last word, a flash of lightning illuminates her face, and you can see that she has no eyes…

If that didn’t wig you, I don’t know what will.

Anyway, I wrote a creepy children’s skipping rhyme. And then, because the rhyme itself suggested a whole rich history, I decided that I’d write some of that history up, creating a fictional explanation for the fictional rhyme.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Wherever you are, may your night be filled with tricks and candy, and may shadows always cross your path.

~ Ian

 

Ten little girls walked out of town, 

One little girl went tumbling down. 

 

Nine little girls went out at night, 

One little girl didn’t feel quite right.

 

Eight little girls went looking for eggs, 

One little girl had broke her leg. 

 

Seven little girls stood on their heads, 

One little girl just woke up dead. 

 

Six little girls squished through the mud, 

One little girl got covered in blood. 

 

Five little girls would dance and shout, 

One little girl couldn’t find the way out. 

 

Four little girls cried out for their mum, 

One little girl was just struck dumb. 

 

Three little girls played silly games, 

One little girl got caught in the flames. 

 

Two little girls flew through the sky, 

One little girl caught the Devil’s eye. 

 

One little girl went and cried for help, 

One little girl was burned in Hell. 

 

No little girls came back that day, 

Wonder what their mother will say?

 

Ten little girls walked out of town,

and ten little girls went tumbling down. 

 

The preceding children’s rhyme is dated as having originated around the year 1705, possibly in Philadelphia (it was certainly common by 1790, when British folklorists Wycombe and Tully, in their first trip to the new United States, recorded it being sung by children in Newton, Massachusetts, and a Georgia lawyer and slaveowner Geoffrey MacAnder noted in his diary a variation of the rhyme “which a Negro girl learned me as a boy”. It spread to England in the 19th century, and has been a popular skipping rhyme for generations, common up until the 1940s.

Like many children’s rhymes, it is claimed that the rhyme is based on historical events (such as the oft-cited and possibly spurious claim that “Ring Around the Rosie” dates back to the Black Death). However, as far as I can tell, the rhyme is based on a very old story: that of the Maids of Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury, New York, was a village of about five hundred inhabitants located on the Hudson river, near the location of Poughkeepsie. In the year 1684, eight full years before the Salem Witch Trials, the people of neighboring villages reported that several young women between the ages of twelve and seventeen (the accounts differ as to the number, although it is usually given between five and fourteen) were running naked through the woods, cavorting with Indians and making noises like animals. The men of Shrewsbury, fearing witchcraft, allegedly locked the girls up in a cellar. However, shortly after midnight on the night of Saturday, August 16, 1684, neighboring villages saw a number of “huge winged beasts” rising from above Shrewsbury, which “screamed like women”. These beasts took off in all directions. Shortly after this, at around 3 0‘clock in the morning, there were a number of bright flashes from above Shrewsbury, visible for twenty leagues around, which looked like “colored lightning”, in the words of the contemporary minister from Kingston. The next morning, when a number of locals visited Shrewsbury, found that the village had disappeared– not burned to the ground or destroyed, but simply vanished, as if it had never been there. The visitors found a number of burned, dismembered female bodies in the nearby woods. For years to come, it was believed that the area where Shrewsbury had disappeared was haunted. Reportedly, the same phenomenon of “colored lightning” has occurred on the night of August 16 several times in the same part of New York, the most recent in 1891.

Whether the story of the Maids of Shrewsbury is true or not is not for a historian such as myself to decide. However, it is known that the vanishing of Shrewsbury was a key influence on the town fathers of Salem, Massachusetts, during the witch trials, and perhaps began the witch-burning craze in America during the late 17th century.

(from Marcus Amesbury’s Life in the Colonial Hudson Valley, 1967)

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