Suburban Legend

Text: “When I was younger, I would play with the kids my age in the neighborhood …”

“How old?”

“This was in middle school, I think I was like 5th or 6th grade, and the neighbor kids were around that age too. But yeah we would always go to my one friend’s house who had a trampoline in his backyard that we all loved. I remember it was right up against this section of woods behind my friend’s house. We would hang out there a lot but especially when we were younger, we would never be there after it got dark because one day the older kids in the neighborhood told us that there was a guy that lived in the woods. The story went that he lived there before the neighborhood was put up, and that he was upset that people were like… intruding on his land or something, Im not sure exactly. But anyway they said he would roam around the edges of the woods with a mask and machete, watching people waiting for a moment to like pop out and attack some kid. This had become this kind of known thing among the kids in the neighborhood. I remember one day my friends and I decided we would explore in the woods to see if we could spot him. We found this abandoned house and convinced ourselves that was where the guy lived. We totally believed it after that, and any time we heard a noise from the woods it would always freak us out. 

Context: My informant is a friend of mine who grew up in the suburbs. He tells the story of a masked murder in the woods of his childhood neighborhood, which he heard from the older kids on his street. He says that while he doesn’t believe it now, it was an integral part of growing up in his neighborhood, and that the story still gets told today.

Analysis: While my informant’s story may have been a tactic to scare younger children, I think the legend of the masked man in the woods has some interesting themes. For example, the fact that the story is based on the woods behind a childhood home. While the story may have been originally formed as a way to scare younger children, it also teaches kids to be aware of their surroundings and stay alert for strangers. Additionally, the fact that he and his friends later found a house in the woods, whether or not it was really occupied by a masked murderer, hints to the possibility that the original story tellers had at one point explored the woods themselves and used the same discovery to form the story. This could show a kind of rite of passage for kids in that neighborhood to both confront their fear of exploring the woods while satisfying a childhood curiosity for the unknown.