Subject: (Singing) There was a crooked man, who walked a crooked mile. He found a crooked six pence against a crooked stile. He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse. And they all lived together in a little crooked house.
Interviewer: That is so spooky… where did you hear this?
Subject: My mother would sing it to me before I went to sleep when I was younger and I never forgot it.
Interviewer: Did that make you scared?
Subject: Um… no not really. I didn’t notice any, uh, I guess, sinister tones in the lyrics or the purpose of the song until I got older. Then I sung it again and I was like wait. That’s pretty creepy.
Interviewer: Yeah like the same thing happened to me. Something about it is just weird.
Subject: Yeah it’s amazing what we don’t pick up on when we’re kids right?
Context: The subject is my 17-year-old younger brother in his senior year of high school. We have been quarantined together due to the Coronavirus pandemic and staying at our home in Charleston, South Carolina. After dinner, we were sitting in the dark in the living room and I asked him to tell me any folklore he learned when he was a child. He proceeded to sing this nursery rhyme.
Interpretation: I am familiar with this particular nursery rhyme in the same way my brother is. My mother used to sing it around the house. When I got older and recounted it with my siblings, we all had the same realization that it was quite an unsettling tune. We clearly are not the only one to pick up on its creepiness, because the nursery rhyme was featured in the horror film “The Conjuring 2” in 2016. And later in the same year, the nursery rhyme actually got a movie solely inspired from it, titled “The Crooked Man”, about a nursery rhyme that awakens a demonic figure. So I was curious about the origins of the nursery rhyme, what the lyrics are really about, and if they intended to be creepy. Upon research, I discovered the rhyme is actually about Scotland gaining political and religious freedom England. The “crooked man” is about the general who signed the agreement and the “crooked stile” supposedly refers to the border between England and Scotland. I found it super fascinating that a nursery rhyme about a historical event could be interpreted and appropriated so differently as a horrifying tune.