Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Thing at the Foot of the Bed

In honor of Halloween, I'd like to tell you about a great book that I borrowed many times from the Masson Elementary School library in the late 1960's. It's called The Thing at the Foot of the Bed and Other Scary Tales by Maria Leach, first published in 1959.

This book left a huge impression on me, and I recently bought a battered copy of it online. More than forty years after I first read it, it still gives me the creeps. Why?

First of all, it really wasn't a typical children's book. It's filled with gruesome beheadings and horrible murders. Oh, the title story is amusing enough, and there are a few other funny tales. But the rest of the book still makes me uneasy.

Maria Leach is actually a well-known authority on folklore, and she compiled these stories from all over the country, as well as the world. She provides an explanation of the origin for each tale in the back of the book.

The thing that I remember most about the book are the haunting illustrations by Kurt Werth. They are drawn in a loose, sketchy style that perfectly complement the subject matter and greatly enhance the enjoyment of the book.

The book is divided into six sections, categorized by the type of stories: FUNNY ONES, SCARY ONES, REAL ONES, GHOST GAMES, WITCH STORIES, and DO'S and DON'TS ABOUT GHOSTS. (The DO'S and DON'Ts have been burned into my memory since I first read the book!)

So, if you have fond memories of this book as I do, perhaps you'll enjoy a few of the stories. Here's the title story. (Click on each page for a readable version.)

Okay, that was a funny one. Here's one a little more... gruesome.

Here's a story from the REAL ONES section of the book. In the back of the book, Mrs. Leach explains that this tale is a variation of one of the most popular and widespread ghost stories in the United States.

Here's one from the WITCH STORIES section. I always found this particular story (Singing Bone) kind of shocking and poignant.

Lastly, here are a few useful tips that might come in handy this Halloween!

Hope you enjoyed these selections from the book! Happy Halloween – and don't forget to cover your mouth when you yawn!


Dorene from Ohio said...

I have worked in libraries a long time, and I so remember shelving that book in the children's section SO many times! Thanks for bringing back good memories!!

Ken said...

I must have read this at least once or twice, maybe while you were signed out for it. I'v been telling my sons about ghosts counting their teeth if they yawn with their mouths open for the last twenty years. I think there was a story in that book that has stuck with me all these years, of a frontier family and a whistling sound over the ridge, and their dog barking. The whistling gets louder and louder one night and eventually the dog stops barking. They find the bloody end of the leash in the morning. Brrrrrrrrrr!

-Alan D Hopewell said...

The story that Ken tells about the whistling sound is from another children's book from '59, "STRANGELY ENOUGH!", by C.B. Colby.

Charleston Elementary had both these books, and they both scared me silly, as did some of the stories in THE RAINBOW BOOK OF AMERICAN FOLK TALES AND LEGENDS, by Leach.

-Alan D Hopewell said...

The scariest story in "TTATFOTB", IMHO, is "The Ribbon".

Anonymous said...

Too funny..I have this book from the early 60's and my daughters had it read to them as kids, now she just took it home to read the ghostly stories to my grandkids, 9 and 4.