The Hook

“The Hook” is one of the oldest urban legends that retained its popularity. It’s often dismissed as a method parents’ use to keep kids from having “fun,” but does it serve a practical purpose? Do the roots of this story really stem from fiction?

The tale has two common forms:

 

 

Version #1:

Did you hear about those kids last month? They were out on Lovers’ Lane, and just as they got started necking, a warning came on the radio. A mental patient escaped from the asylum a few miles away.

They didn’t pay attention when they first heard it. They turned the engine off and ignored it. A few minutes later, they heard all kinds of strange noises around the car. It was too dark to see outside, and even if it was lighter, the windows were fogged up. Neither of them wanted to get out and investigate.

They grew spooked, so they fled the empty lane. He dropped her off at home. She screamed when she closed the passenger door. A bloody hook still hung from the latch of the rear passenger door.

 

Version #2:

Did you hear about those kids last month? They were out on Lovers’ Lane, and just as they got started, a warning came on the radio. A mental patient had escaped from the asylum a few miles away.

They didn’t pay attention when they heard it. They turned the engine off and started necking. A few minutes later, they heard all kinds of strange noises around the car. It was too dark to see outside, and even if it was lighter, the windows were fogged up. Neither of them wanted to get out and investigate, but the guy decided he would do it if it made her more comfortable.

He got out and closed the door behind him. She waited for fifteen minutes, but then only heard a steady scraping sound against the car roof. She decided a branch had probably fallen overhead. She got out of the car.

She reached up to yank the branch down, but her hand hit something. It was a shoe. She grabbed her cell phone and used the flashlight to investigate. She found her boyfriend hanging from a branch. A hook had been rammed into the back of his neck. His bloody shoes brushed against the top of the car every time his body moved.

 

Origins

This is one of the most retold urban legends. It has sent shivers up the spines of listeners since its inception. The tale has a variety of titles, The Hook, The Hook Man, or The Bloody Hook. It is likely a compilation of many events.

Many folklorists dismiss the tale as a tool to keep kids from having sex. Sometimes the entire tale is believed to be a metaphor for sex. It’s a convenient way to explain the tale’s propagation, but is it really so cut-and-dried? Before passing Freudian judgement upon older generations, it may serve us better to consider our history. Perhaps a more literal interpretation is more needed.

 

The Myth

The earliest known date for the myth is the 1950s, because a reader wrote advice columnist “Dear Abby” about the story in 1960. Even if you completely ignore any social taboos regarding sex, that’s just the tip of this mammoth iceberg.

We often forget the Twentieth Century was the height of the serial killer. DNA forensic work didn’t exist until the 1980s. There were no digital computer databases until nearly the end of the century. Serial killers were a mystery until the FBI gained the amazing knowledge of such experts as Roy Hazelwood and John Douglas in the 1970s. Serial killers were finally exposed, labeled, and studied.

 

The Truth about Hooks

Accidents and deaths involving falls or just missteps around meat hooks were commonplace until the latter decades of the Twentieth Century. As if accidental fatalities weren’t bad enough, they were also a favorite tool of robbers. There are countless records of thieves immobilizing shopkeepers and butchers with their own meat hooks so they could rob their businesses.

Hooks for hands were so commonplace that J. M. Barrie created “Captain Hook,” in his 1904 play Peter Pan. Utility hooks were common replacements for amputees who lost their hand. It’s possible that the figure with the prosthetic in the legend hearkens back to Captain Hook.

We can’t forget the possibility that the Hook is a modern version of a boogeyman. Lastly, some psychologists believe negative portrayals of amputees or the disabled in fiction harkens back to Dark Age prejudices, when disabilities were believed to arise from moral degradation, or outright evil.

It seems a little irresponsible that historians and folklorists are dismissive of the tale’s roots as to believe it was just a ploy to keep teenage children from sexual activity. After all, consider very real history:

 

  • The Texarkana Moonlight Slayer killed couples in remote areas.
  • Six of the Zodiac serial killer’s confirmed victims were couples in remote places. Authorities also suspect he murdered yet another couple, yet have not formally linked them to the Zodiac.
  • The Duck Island Murderer targeted a number of couples in the 1930s.
  • The “3X Killer,” targeted couples on lovers’ lanes in Brooklyn.
  • The “Atlanta Murders of 1977,” devastated a number of lovers’ families.
  • David Berkowitz, aka “Son of Sam,” was a serial killer who targeted couples.
  • The “Torch Slayers,” in Ann Arbor, Michigan, were apprehended in 1931. They targeted young couples in remote areas to rob, murder, and burn the bodies.
  • In 1917, a St. Louis experienced seven attacks on young, parked couples in seven days.
  • Two young lovers were attacked in 1946, in Richmond, Indiana. Both were beaten and the girl was raped. The attack was done by a single individual.

Is there any logic to the “escaped mental patient” portion of the tale? Actually, both patients and prisoners frequently escaped hospitals and jails nationwide. Escaped mental patients were blamed for everything from the 1959 Boston bombing, to arsons, murders, and rapes across the country.

This tale served two distinct purposes. It did not merely entertain and thrill listeners, but it urged listeners to use caution before going into an unfamiliar area. It also kept people away from situations that present a very real danger. Listeners have their own opinions on the tale’s purpose or greater moral, but we can’t deny the story’s timeless status.

 

The original article appeared here: http://appalachiangothic.com/2013/11/hook/

 

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