1920s Bogeyman Photographs

1920s Bogeyman Stereoview (all images via pkgeneralstore/eBay)

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.

Henry Fuseli, “The Nightmare” (1781) (image via Wikimedia)

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:

Going to bed

A monster peaks through the curtains

Haunting over the headboard

A gremlin under the bed

A devilish monster bringing nightmares

A furry creature creeping over sleep

Bedside bogeyman

Some nighttime prayers with the bogeyman?

Prowling simian bogeyman

Carried from bed by a demon

And the girl has vanished! Taken by the bogeymen?

h/t The Hysterical Society

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

2 replies on “Early Photographs of a Child Getting Spooked by Bogeymen”

  1. interesting. but after seeing Joshua Hoffine’s take on children’s nightmares, this is a piece of cake.

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