Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Let Me Tell You a Story: You'll Float Too


"The past is never dead. It's not even past."- Faulkner

Well, as soon as everyone in the geek culture cognoscenti recovered from the stunning finale of Twin Peaks: The Return, the new adaption of Stephen King's It hit the theaters, setting off a new wave of retro-horror hysteria that will probably lead right into the premiere of Stranger Things 2 at the end of October.




For my part I can't help but notice how soggy the trailer for It is: there's water in nearly every major shot. It's been a while since I watched the original miniseries, but I'm not sure it gave quite the same impression. I read the book a million years ago-- and by that I mean I got through a little over a half of it (or It) and lost patience. I haven't seen the new movie yet and probably won't until this weekend so please don't spoil it. 

Or It.

But the conjunction of all that water and the theme of ancient (if not primeval) other-dimensional forces most certainly plays into the themes we've been, um, poring over the past few months. More and more data keeps, uh, pouring out as I try to stitch all of this information together. 

I know some of you still don't understand the significance of this Siren archetype I've been tracing but maybe it's because we're still in the middle of its debutante ball. Take my word for it that this goes way, way back. 

And I mean all the way back.


A reader had brought up the Pennywise/It! motif in my last "Let Me Tell a Story" post and sure enough, he may well have been onto something. I started poking around and looking to suss out the origin of It! and found this, on Stephen King's official site:
In 1978 my family was living in Boulder, Colorado. One day on our way back from lunch at a pizza emporium, our brand-new AMC Matador dropped its transmission-literally. The damn thing fell out on Pearl Street. True embarrassment is standing in the middle of a busy downtown street, grinning idiotically while people examine your marooned car and the large greasy black thing lying under it. 
Well, how the hell about that? Pearl Street. Huh.

As it transpires King confessed to starting the actual writing of It! (originally a bridge-troll caper) in the Summer of 1981. And it looks more than likely that he may have been inspired by a wave of pervert-clown sightings in my old neck of woods. From the late,  great, painfully-lamented Rigorous Intuition blog:
The first week of May, 1981, Daniel O'Connell, the Investigative Counselor of the Boston Public School Board, alerted the district's principals that "it has been brought to the attention of the police department and the district office that adults dressed as clowns have been bothering children to and from school. Please advise all students that they must stay away from strangers, especially ones dressed as clowns." 
Several days later, in Brookline, Massachusetts on May 5, two clowns using candy as lures tried to entice children into their black van parked near Lawrence Elementary School. According to Loren Coleman in Mysterious America, police had a good description of the vehicle: it was an old model with ladders on the side, a broken front headlight and was missing its hubcaps. The following day the Boston police, "responding to persistent complaints, warned that men in clown suits were harassing elementary children." One, driving a black van, was seen to be dressed as a clown only from the waist up; from the waist down he was naked. 
"By May 8th," writes Coleman, "reports of clown men in vans harassing children had come in from East Boston, Charlestown, Cambridge, Canton, Randolph, and other cities near Boston..."
Huh. Interesting. 

These names might not mean anything to anyone not from the area, but they sure set off the bells and whistles and clown-horns for me. Let me show you exactly why...


Now, call me crazy if you like, but tracing the path of these clown sightings it occurred to me that these characters could maybe- just maybe- have been from Braintree, considering that the sightings form a crescent around it.  

Just throwing that out there.

Also bear in mind this is the pre-computer age, so it's not as if all these various police departments even had any idea what the hell was going on in someone else's city. These clowns could well have been working the area from a base in Braintree and no one would be the wiser. After all, it seems a bit strange to work Randolph and Stoughton without paying a visit to the 'Tree. 

And it's not as if Chief Polio's Keystone Kops would have done anything to stop them.

Remember now that Braintree was home base for Bob Galowicz, Paul Shanley and the Pilgrim Youth Center, as well as the horrific murder of Dianne DeVanna (which is starting to look to me like a much, much bigger story). So it's not exactly like there's no precedent here.

Today, the 1981 Phantom Clown sightings are dismissed as another moral panic, to be lumped in with the Satanic Panic or the Day-Care panic or the recovered-memory epidemic a few years later. There are a number of pieces online about it, one of which claimed that:
(B)efore the 1980s there wasn’t that much concern about kids being kidnapped. It happened before the 1980s, but for whatever reason it wasn’t something parents were all that concerned about.   
I'm not sure exactly which bubble the writer here was living in but that's not what it was like when I was a kid. But the writer goes on to cite the Phantom Clown sightings as the turning point that led to parents becoming more vigilant and protective towards their children: 
This all changed. At the tail end of April, things started happening that parents, principals, and teachers couldn’t ignore. Daniel O’Connell, a counselor for the Boston Public School District, sent out a memo about men dressed as clowns bothering children to all schools. Teachers were told to actually watch kids between taking drags on their cigarettes. Parents were warned to be aware of where their children were going after school. 
Police start pulling over any car or van with a clown in it, which there were apparently a lot of them in the Boston area in 1981, but all they found were birthday party clowns. By May 9th, police were questioning the veracity of these reports. As they went over the multitudes of accounts, officers realized that no adult ever saw these clowns, only children ages five to seven.  
Well, duh. Kids ages five to seven were clearly the ostensible target. Correct me if I'm wrong but aspiring child abductors tend to avoid the gaze of adults when trying to kidnap children. Seems like a modus operandi to me. Continuing:
The evil clown scare was also a precursor to the daycare sex-abuse hysteria that swept the nation a few years later. In Massachusetts, the staff at Malden's Fells Acre Daycare Center were accused of sexually abusing the children in their care. The children testified in court that an evil clown and a robot were involved in the abuse. 
As the public later learned during the Catholic clergy sex scandal, sexual abuse of minors really had been happening in Massachusetts for decades. No clowns, robots or rabbits were involved, just trusted members of the community. The community had been so busy projecting its fears outward that it neglected to look hard at itself.
The Catholic clergy scandal was kicked off by the Boston Archdiocese coverup and scandal now immortalized in the Oscar-winning feature film Spotlight.

And almost inevitably, the Boston Archdiocese is now headquartered in Braintree.


One of the priests at the center of the Archdiocese scandal was adjutant Reverend Brian Flatley, who is the brother of the late Braintree-based real estate billionaire Thomas Flatley, who donated the office building the Archdiocese now calls home.  Thomas Flatley was also a longtime close advisor to the disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law.




Synchro-Watchers are familiar with the Joker motif, which is more or less a subset of the Killer Clown meme. Longtime Secret Sun readers remember the Dark Knight-Killing Joke synchroburst back in 2008. Well, as it happens there's an early example of the type, also from the southerly end of Boston, from the early 1970s.

Before James Holmes was even born, Kenneth Harrison made the news when he committed a string of murders under the name "The Giggler." Given his interest in the Fort Point Channel Bridge, I'm guessing he was from South Boston, home of MKULTRA valedictorian James "Whitey" Bulger. 

As sheer happenstance would have it, Whitey was climbing the rungs of power at the same time "The Giggler" was murdering people. From Dangerous Minds:
(The Giggler's) first victim was a six-year-old girl who had accepted a ride from Harrison while he was working as a Boston cab driver. Harrison somehow convinced the child to exit the cab with a promise of a “piggyback ride” on a bridge on the Fort Point Channel that separated South Boston from downtown. Harrison (threw the girl off) the bridge into the water. Her body was found almost two months later on a popular patch of beach and her death was ruled “accidental.” 
On June 15th, 1969 (at a Combat Zone)  dive, the Novelty Bar, Harrison joined ex-Marine and city employee Joe Breen on the shuffleboard court and the two drank and carried on together for the rest of the evening. (Harrison took) Breen out to the back...and smashed his skull in—leaving the 31-year-old face down in a puddle of dirty water.  
Later, Harrison dropped a dime on himself by calling the Boston Police Department switchboard in the early morning hours of June 16th.  
Harrison: My dear, at the corner of Washington and Kneeland Streets in a construction site there’ll be a man down in the water, dead. The Giggler…Ah ha ha ha ha
Phone call recording here.
Harrison seemed fairly desperate to get himself caught from the jump. But as cruel Destiny would have it, the Boston boys-in-blue just couldn't get their act together to nab this sad-sack:
Harrison (also murdered) a nine-year-old boy he strangled with a piece of twine before disposing of his body in a train tunnel in South Station, and a 75-year-old woman who he also he tossed from the Fort Channel Bridge.  
Following the murder of the boy, Harrison once again tipped off the Boston PO on January 6th telling them where to find the child’s body. Unfortunately the cops weren’t able to put the two calls together. 
I can't seem to fathom exactly how, but eventually Harrison got his wish and was finally arrested.  But try as he might, the Giggler couldn't get himself booked on his most prodigious murderous act.
 ...Harrison would confess to all four murders and in November of 1970 he was convicted for the first degree murder of Breen, for which he received a life sentence. He would also received three additional life-terms, one for each of his other victims.  (Harrison also took)  responsibility for the arson of the transient-friendly Paramount Hotel that claimed the lives of eleven, and injured more than 50.  Harrison (claimed) that he set the fire for “shits and giggles"(but) was never indicted for the blaze.
"Never indicted" for a mass murder at a flop house smack dab in the one of the swankiest neighborhoods in Boston. A fire that surely made a lot of real estate speculators extremely  grateful but was subsequently blamed on a gas leak. 

It happens. 


Harrison was transferred to the notorious Bridgewater State Hospital--which inspired American Horror Story: Asylum (which also namedrops Braintree)--and OD'd on anti-depressants just before his planned transfer to prison. How exactly a high-profile prisoner was able to get his hands on enough happy pills to overdose is a mystery to me.


Just another of those kooky mystery things.


Incidentally, the new season of American Horror Story has to do with killer clowns. Gotta love those coincidences.


POSTSCRIPT: I want to dive back into Twin Peaks in some depth, but it'll have to get in line. But I did want to bring this sync from the finale back up, since it kind of blew my mind.


Not only did we see the Brain-Tree again in the final episode but before that we saw Cooper bid farewell to the particular reality the series took place in with this benediction:




Not only did this sync with the Harvey motif we looked at before, it also synched quite eerily with the this series in more ways than one. Reviewers picked up on the "curtain call" motif in their headlines, like this one in The New York Times:


Again, here is what looked at previously:


This place has all kinds of history in my life but also in the life of the mysteries we're trying to unpack here. You see, the Curtain Call Theatre lies cheek-by-jowl with the apartment building (see image below) where the unfortunate Robert LaMonica met his end on the orders of none other than Whitey Bulger. 


The guy fingered for the hit- ID'd by a teenage girl who claimed she saw him while boozing it up at the adjacent Faxon Park, was recently cleared of the charges and released from prison after 35 years.


And again, there was a real-life Dale Cooper from Braintree, who went missing (and was eventually discovered dead) in the wilderness above Burbank, California. Burbank is a major hub for the television industry, as you probably know already.

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