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What are the real-life origins of scary stories? Where did the story of Annabelle the doll come from? Are there real ghost stories, and how do those stories change over time?

In this episode of The List Show, Erin (@erincmccarthy) breaks down the origins of 20 scary stories, just in time for Halloween. You'll learn about the purported connection between zombies and pufferfish, and the difference between the Mothman and the Bunny Man.

In case you forgot, The List Show is a trivia-tastic, fact-filled show for curious people. Subscribe here for new List Show episodes the first and third Wednesday of each month:

For more real scary stories (and some not-so-real ones), check out our article on the spookiest ghost stories from all 50 states:



Did you know that Andrew Jackson supposedly investigated a ghost witch?

Hi I'm Erin McCarthy, editor-in-chief of Ten years before he became president Jackson heard a story that had spread from the town of Adams,.

Tennessee where the ghost witch supposedly started haunting the. Bell family. It began in 1817 with knocks on their door, and escalated to singing, bed covers being pulled off, objects moving, physical injury to young Betsy Bell, and even the death of the father John Bell.

The entire family claimed to witness these paranormal events. Jackson intrigued by the story decided to investigate in 1819. It's said that his horse-drawn wagon stopped suddenly in its tracks when he got close to the house.

The horses couldn't pull it any closer. Jackson left sooner than planned and can you blame him? The legend of the Bell witch spread even further in the late 1800s thanks to a book written by one of the sons which formed the basis for a more widespread account by a different author.

But the son was young enough at the time of the haunting that many are skeptical of his claims. And some believe that Betsy Bell's future husband was pretending to be a ghost in order to break up her engagement to another man. Which, incidentally, is the only romantic comedy I want to see on the Hallmark Channel this Christmas.

And that's just the first of many origins of spooky stories that I'm going to share with you today in honor of Halloween. The Headless Horseman has predecessors from all around the world. Similar characters are found in Arthurian romance and Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

One interesting example comes from Irish legends. The Dullahan rides a horse, or sometimes a carriage, while carrying his own head the Oxford Dictionary of Celtic. Mythology notes that quote he can put on or take off this hideous head at will or play ghoulish ball games with it.

Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is based on myths from New York. A Revolutionary War cannon reportedly left one German mercenary without a head so he supposedly rides in search of one his or someone else's. It's difficult to trace the origin of the myth that if you say Bloody Mary a few times into a mirror a bloody woman will materialize to kill you.

Many are attempted to connect this story to Queen Mary I, also called Bloody Mary, or Mary Queen of Scots. But there's no evidence to suggest the mythical woman was based on a historical figure. Instead the idea likely evolved from other mirror-based rituals.

One popular one from the late 18th through the 19th century was that you could see your future spouse in a mirror, especially around Halloween. And as some old Halloween cards show, this could be just as scary as Bloody Mary. It also doesn't hurt that there's a real phenomenon called the "strange face in the mirror" illusion, which causes things we stare at for too long to become distorted, like our own reflections for instance.

It's said that twice a year, on Halloween and the spring equinox, the devil appears in a cemetery in Stull, Kansas. This story has caused many people to trespass on the property trying to spot the devil himself on October 31st. As for how the story got started, the University of Kansas student newspaper published an article in November 1974 that claimed students had been going to the cemetery, then forgetting they've made the trip.

There are theories that the article was just a joke, but it's clear it had a lot to do with the story becoming so well known. How well known? Legend says the Pope won't fly over Kansas because of the story, and in 2013 Ariana Grande said she visited Stull Cemetery and snapped a picture of demons.

New Jersey has a devil as well. The story goes that in 1735 a local woman pregnant with her 13th child declared "let this one be the devil!" Which is understandable because 13 is a lot of kids. Anyway, after the baby was born he turned into the Jersey Devil with horns and claws and wings and the head of a goat or horse.

The story made the news in 1909 when people in the area started finding footprints on their rooftops. Ever since then the Jersey Devil has been spotted around the Garden State often just scaring people, but sometimes even killing livestock. La Llorona, the weeping woman, is a well-known legend, especially in Latin.

America and the American Southwest. The short version is - she was a woman, sometimes named Maria, who drowned her children, soon regretted it, and screamed out "Ay mis hijos!" - oh my children. She still haunts the Earth and children in particular.

Folklorists disagree about her exact origin but it's generally accepted that La Llorona can be at least partially traced back to an Aztec earth goddess. Thanks to Hernan Hernandez for the tip. When I was a kid, I loved trick-or-treating.

But there was one candy my mom would not let me eat: candy buttons. She thought there was a possibility they'd be spiked with drugs and she wasn't the only parent worrying about it. This fear started with real news stories between the 1950s and 70s which often contained vague information because the details of the situations weren't immediately known.

Future news stories and columnists like Ann Landers took it to the next level by claiming that candy tampering was a common issue. But in reality, Halloween candy tampering was very, very rare and the few real-life cases tended not to be stranger danger but the devil you know. The perpetrators tried to use the candy as a cover-up for a murder.

So long story short, just let me eat the candy buttons mom, geez. Nothing is creepier to me than a possessed doll. So, of course, we have to talk about Annabelle, a Raggedy Ann doll who sits in a glass case in a museum in.

Monroe, Connecticut. Annabelle was supposedly given as a birthday gift to a 28 year old nurse in 1970. The nurse and her roommate started to find notes around their apartment saying things like "help me" and the doll would move from place to place.

A medium told them it was being possessed by a young female ghost, but the ghost-hunting couple the Warrens knew better. According to them, she was never human. Annabelle was an evil spirit.

It's a pretty creepy story, but, debatably not as creepy as giving a doll to a 28-year-old. Some of my favorite books when I was a kid were "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark," of course, as well as a book called Short and Shivery. I still get spooked when I think about the story of the Talypo.

This Appalachian folk tale is about a man living in a cabin in the woods one night he's visited by a creature with "jaws like a weasel, ears like a fox, piercing yellow eyes like an owl, a monkey's body, and bright red fur. It also had a long tail it coiled around itself. Anyway, long story short, the guy chases the animal out of his cabin and slices off its tail, which he then eats.

Every night thereafter, the creature comes back, lurking outside his cabin, and calling "talypo, talypo, just give me back my talypo!" As you can imagine, things do not end well for the man in the cabin. I'd love to hear what scary stories spooked you the most. Leave them in the comments.

Many of the legends we've talked about so far have spread via word of mouth, but the modern way to learn about spooky stories is to seek out creepypasta on the internet. For the unfamiliar, this is just the term for these types of stories that are popular on message boards. The well known Slenderman came from creepypasta.

Another creepypasta is about a Russian sleep experiment gone wrong that allegedly took place during the 1940s. The five participants who were political prisoners have a let's just call it murderous reaction to a stimulant used to keep them awake. Some readers have wondered if this experiment actually took place but thankfully it's pure fiction.

As for its origins it was published on a creepypasta wiki in 2010. But creepypasta comes in all shapes and sizes for instance the story of Robert the doll is based in reality. And by that I mean Robert actually exists.

In the early 1900s, Robert was given as a gift to a young boy, and the doll was blamed for odd noises around the house. His facial expression would change, and, like Annabelle, he would appear in different places than where he had been left. Also like Annabelle, Robert has been accused of having sinister motives.

According to journalist Andy Wright, he's been blamed for "car accidents, broken bones, job loss, and divorce." Robert now sits on display at the Fort East Martello Museum in Key West, Florida. If you leave the house on October 31st, you are bound to see some zombies. People dressed as zombies, that is.

They entered America in 1838 with a short story titled "The Unknown Painter," but they've been important to Haitian culture for centuries. According to Professor Amy Wilentz, zombie-like figures began emerging as a cautionary tale to enslaved Haitians who might be contemplating suicide. Rather than entering a peaceful afterlife, they would be cursed to remain on plantations as zombies.

A figure called a bokor could allegedly create zombies with a special powder. In the 1980's ethnobotanist Wade Davis proposed that zombies could be traced to a special powder that contained tetrodotoxin from pufferfish. He wrote that people who were poisoned by tetrodotoxin appeared catatonic, while actually being conscious and alive.

Tetrodotoxin is a powerful neurotoxin, but it's connection to zombies outside of Davis's account is far from certain. The island of Ocracoke in North Carolina is supposedly haunted by the ghost of. Blackbeard who died in the area after being ambushed in 1718.

Blackbeard's real name was thought to be Edward Teach, and the appearance of a spooky light under or near the water's surface is now called "Teach's light." The legends of Blackbeard are so scary because he was thought to be a monstrous killer, but historians nowadays aren't so sure. There's no record of him murdering a single person. It's possible he spread that rumor himself to make pirating easier.

Around Halloween you can participate in a ghost walk tour of Bellamy Bridge in Florida where the famous story of Elizabeth Bellamy will definitely be told. On her wedding night, Elizabeth reportedly caught on fire, perhaps by knocking over a candle or dancing near a fireplace - stories vary. She tried to run to the river to jump in and save herself but she didn't make it and perished near the bridge.

Supposedly, you can still see her spirit there today. But though Elizabeth Bellamy was a real person, she actually died of malaria in 1837. The Bellamy Bridge wasn't even built until 1914 and it's not clear that any other bridge stood in its place at that time.

There are a few theories for how her story got so twisted. One is that over time it became intertwined with the novel "Marcus Warland, Or the Long-Lost Spring" in which a bride catches fire at a place owned by the Bellamy family. Let's go to another bridge, the Colchester overpass in Virginia, a place you want to avoid on Halloween unless you want to encounter the ghost of the Bunnyman.

The legend goes that during the early 1900's a group of convicts escaped from a bus. All were caught except Douglas Grifton who spent months killing and eating bunnies. Then, the morning after Halloween, a group of teenagers were found hanging from the bridge, having experienced the same fate as the bunnies.

Which is why Colchester Overpass is now more commonly known as the Bunnyman Bridge. This legend probably dates back to the 1970s when a Virginia man dressed as a bunny threatened to attack multiple people with an axe, and even threw it on one occasion. It's believed that these news stories became conflated over time and the story of the Bunnyman was born.

Finally, Virginia might have the Bunnyman but West Virginia has the Mothman, a massive half-man/half-bird creature that was first spotted in the 1960s by people in the Point Pleasant area. These sightings caused a lot of buzz and even news coverage, which culminated in a 1967 bridge collapse that was eventually blamed on the Mothman himself. Our next episode is about my favorite President, Theodore Roosevelt.

Leave your favorite fact about the colonel in the comments for a chance to be featured in that video. That will go up on November 6. Make sure to subscribe here so you don't miss it.

See you then!