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  • Historical Children Scarers July 2, 2016

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern , trackback


    ***Dedicated to Invisible***

    Parents have scared children for generations with conjured horrors: the fairies, the black boggart, Jenny Greenteeth and many, many more. However, Beach today wants to look at a very select category. Historical personalities who were so horrific (or at least were imagined to be so horrific) that parents could credibly say: ‘Get into bed now or Khrushchev will come and get you!’ (Only, of course, Khrushchev will not come and get you, because Khrushchev just didn’t have the scares in him to do it: the Soviet nuclear arsenal was another question.) So what historical personalities have made the grade? A handful stand out: Kaiser Bill (aka Wilhelm II), Old Boney (Napoleon); a fear census from Atlantic Canada included, meanwhile, just one historical figure, Jack the Ripper.

    Now this list is very partial and limited to the English-speaking world, presumably the French don’t hide under the blanket in case Le petit Caporal decides to visit the land of the living? And there must be others in the old Anglo-Saxon countries and elsewhere. Was Sherman used as a monster in Georgia during Reconstruction? Surely Attila or Genghis Khan used to be thrown at naughty Euro-Asian kids? Perhaps some of the Turkish rulers were employed in central Europe: certainly ‘the Turks’ had a threatening quality and the word has a fascinating and menacing history in Europe.  Maybe ‘Crusaders’ were recalled in oases when Bedouin boys wouldn’t behave c. 1300? This is just one of these aspects of our cultural history that, for most of antiquity and the middle ages, will not have been written down. Can anyone send any other historical child scarers in, particularly from outside the English-speaking world: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Then there is the issue of those who didn’t make the grade. A figure that really confuses Beach is Hitler. Surely ‘Old Adolf’, waving hands with bespittled moustache and dandruff, would have been the perfect poppet on a stick for misbehaving kids? Yet it seems he was never adopted by inter-war or post-war parents. Perhaps by 1945 child scaring was going out of fashion at least in western Europe? Was he too odious? The decline in the supernatural has long been over-egged, the forms of the supernatural have changed, not the overall level.  But child-scaring (as opposed to scared children) really has passed with corporal punishment and cod liver oil. Beach was not once threatened as a child by invisible forces, not even jokingly, the shame! In fact, when he reintroduced the custom for his children he had to invent various figures having had none handed down to him: ‘brush your teeth or the Sugar Police will be at you’.

    Filip 31 Aug 2016 I looked through old Polish newspapers and found a number of historical children scarers. The problem is that, in most cases, it is hard to say whether a historical personality was _really_ used for scaring kid or whether the statement was just a rhetorical device (“mothers scare their children with X” as an idiomatic expression for “X is really, really bad”). Nevertheless, I found one piece with the führer scaring kids. It was published in 1937 in „Głos Kobiet”, a socialist (non-communist) magazine for women [see the clipping attached]. Here goes the translation:

    Don’t scare your children

    A lady was visiting her friends. She was sitting next to a little,     5-year-old girl during the dinner. When hot potatoes were brought for sour milk, the lady said: “Thank you for the potatoes, but I’ll just have the milk.”
    Her little neighbour looked at her in horror, then moved closer to her     and whispered in her ear: “Eat. Don’t sulk. Otherwise, Hitler will put you     in a camp”.
    The lady laughed and asked curiously: “What Hitler? What camp??”.
    “You know – spoke the little girl earnestly and seriously – Hitler is a spiteful malicious beggar. And a camp is a place where he puts people and children. You’d better stop sulking and eat.”
    “And you are afraid of Hitler and a camp, right?”
    The little girl nodded. She had a serious – and a little bit terrified face on. Clearly, she was getting scared by her parents.     [and then goes some parental advice]

    Note that this is not a satire and seems to be a matter-of-fact relation. The whole article is about bringing up kids, not about politics and Hitler.

    Anyway, it’s quite creepy… the resolute little girl may have been taken to a German concentration/death camp a couple of years later…

    PS. When reading about children scarers, I learnt that parents used to dress up as monsters (or paid some other people to do that) to freak out their bad-behaving kids. Quite hardcore!

    John Widdowson, 31 Aug 2016, tells me that the only historical child scarer that comes to his mind is Black Douglas!

    Southern Man, 17 Nov 2016: What about this for a child scarer, an actual poem about Napoleon from early 19C Britain.

    Baby, baby, naughty baby.

    Hush, you squalling thing, I say;

    Hush your squalling, or it may be

    Bonaparte may pass this way.

    Baby, baby, he’s a giant,

    Tall and black as Rouen steeple;

    And he dines and sups, rely on’t,

    Every day on naughty people.

    Baby, baby, he will hear you

    As he passes by the house,

    And he, limb from limb, will tear you

    Just as pussy tears a mouse.