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Vampire-hunting children and the 1950s U.K. comic-book scare

Sunday Mail clipping from the vampire scare

Sunday Mail clipping from the vampire scare

While the U.S. comic-book scare of the 1950s boasted Senate hearings, bonfires and the founding of the Comics Code Authority, it always seemed to be lacking a certain … something. It turns out that “something” was vampire-hunting children.

Don’t worry, though, Scotland had our backs.

In its preview of an upcoming BBC Radio 4 documentary, BBC Scotland recounts the incident that set off the United Kingdom’s horror-comic panic and led to strict censorship laws: On the evening of Sept. 23, 1954, hundreds of children, armed with knives and sharpened sticks, descended on a Glasgow cemetery to hunt the so-called Gorbals Vampire, a 7-foot-tall revenant with iron teeth who was said to have eaten two local boys.

The children, ages 4 to 14, were sent home by a constable, but they returned night after night, determined to find and destroy the fiend.

Of course, there was no vampire, and no missing schoolboys. But just as the Glasgow youths were swept up in an urban legend, they were caught up in a media and political feeding frenzy as adults were eager to find an explanation — or a scapegoat, perhaps — for the unusual, and unnerving, behavior.

Much like politicians on this side of the Atlantic, those in the U.K. settled on American horror comics, such as EC’s Tales From The Crypt and The Vault of Horror. Never mind that there were no iron-fanged, kidnapping vampires in any of those titles. In 1955 the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act was passed, banning the sale to minors of magazines and comics portraying “incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature.” And, well, that was that.

The Radio 4 documentary, which airs at 4 p.m. PST on March 30, sounds fascinating, as it includes interviews with people who as children participated in the hunt for the Gorbals Vampire. (You should be able to listen to the story on the BBC iPlayer.) Plus, y’know, vampire-hunting children!

More than five decades later, it appears as if the iron-fanged creature actually may have sprung from a local nursery bogey — a monster created by parents to keep naughty children in line — called the Iron Man, and not from those awful, awful American horror comics. So … oops?

(The accompanying newspaper clip is borrowed from the Southern Necropolis Research website).


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