The informant (my grandmother), loves Halloween and all things spooky. I remember that as a child, I could always expect to hear a horrific legend or other form of narrative when visiting her house. I asked the informant if she would be able to hold a video call with me over FaceTime, and during the call I asked her which of these narratives was her favorite to tell. She said it was a legend almost everyone had heard in some fashion, called “The Man With the Hook.”
“We would always tell this story on the way to Clear Lake. We’d stop the car and park on the side of the road when we got close to Napa State Hospital, then start to tell the story to whichever kids were in the car. It goes that some teenagers were parked near the hospital the night before doing something they were not supposed to be doing, listening to music and making out. Suddenly, the music stops and an announcement comes on the radio that a mental patient who had a history of murdering young girls just escaped from Napa State Hospital. We chose this hospital because in those days, it was the closest place where crazy people were put, and there was a prison part to it. He was distinctive because he had lost one hand and had a hook. The girl got scared and said she heard something outside, but the boy dismissed her saying that she was just paranoid. She yelled at him, and he got mad so he peeled out from where they were parked and sped away. Right when the car started moving she asked if he heard something, and he said no. When they got back home and stepped out of the car, there was a bloody hook on the door. They never found the man, though, and rumor has it he is still out searching for his next victim.”
This is a classic scary narrative that most Americans will say they have heard in some form. This particular version was adapted to a particular location that was convenient to the informant, so that the fear of the children who heard it was amplified by the supposed proximity of the man with the hook. The legend functions not only as a way to playfully elicit paranoia in children, but also to warn them against misbehaving. It is implied that the teenagers in the narrative are doing something that they shouldn’t be by kissing in the car at a remote location so as to not get caught by their parents, and as a result of this behavior the man with the hook almost gets them. No part of this narrative must take place in a specific geographic location, so it can easily be told by those who know it wherever they happen to be.