What child doesn’t dread the unseen monsters potentially lurking under the bed, or stalking around the shadows outside the window? These photographs from the 1920s realize this terror in a series of comical and upsetting staged horrors.
The series of 15 photographs turned up on eBay recently, stereoviews that you could once glimpse in 3D with a coin-operated drop card machine. According to the listing, on the back of one is written: “The Goblins will get you if you don’t watch out.” And indeed, the poor girl who fitfully sleeps (or in one, randomly, prays) with a series of papier-mâché-masked bogeymen after being sheperded to her bed beneath a worn “God Bless Our Home” painting does meet an unfortunate end.
The story behind why these were made isn’t clear. Would you take your children to the stereoscopic viewer to warn them of the demons that will haunt them if they aren’t good (the traditional threat of the bogeyman)? Were they for adults to reminisce about their own childhood fears? Either way, there’s something amazingly creepy about them, from a sad-faced bogeyman suddenly looming in the window like the horse peaking his head out of the curtains in Henry Fuseli’s 1781 “The Nightmare”, to a bulbous-headed goblin grinning up from the floor. Apologies in advance if any of them lumber into your dreams.
Despite the widespread youthful panic the bogeyman instills, he’s not too common in art, although there are some frightening exceptions. Duane Michals created an unsettling bogeyman sequence in 1973 where an ominous trench coat on a stand turns out to contain a sinister creature after all. Back in the late 1700s, Goya even etched a shrouded figure approaching a mother and her children in “Que viene el coco (Here Comes the Bogey-Man).”
Yet the sequence of the 1920s photographs has a haunting, DIY approach all its own. Here are the photographs of the nightmare: