On September 23, 1954, strange things were happening in Glasgow as hundreds of children raced through a local cemetery, the Southern Necropolis, with stakes, sticks, stones and knives seeking to vanquish a vampire with iron teeth.
Hy Fleishman's "The Vampire with the Iron Teeth" appeared in Dark Mysteries #15 (December 1953). To read Fleishman's full story, go to The Horrors of It All. Also see Monsters with Iron Teeth (Sheffield Academic Press, 1988) by Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith. Numerous books on urban legends mention the Gorbals Vampire of 1954 and the 1879 poem "Jenny wi' Airn Teeth".
On Tuesday, March 30, BBC Radio 4 will broadcast a documentary on the connection between the Gorbals Vampire and EC and other horror comics, exploring how this incident triggered censorship of comic books in the UK. The Gorbals Vampire event was previously described in Martin Barker's A Haunt of Fears: The Strange History of the British Horror Comics Campaign, published by London's Pluto Press in 1983. This book is still available from the University Press of Mississippi which reprinted it in 1992. To read what Barker wrote about the Gorbals Vampire, go here.
The Gorbals Vampire
Tuesday 30 March 11:00-11:30pm BBC Radio 4
Novelist Louise Welsh investigates how a comic-book vampire brought horror to Glasgow's south side and its impact on Britain's censorship laws. Glasgow's Southern Necropolis is an eerie place at the best of times but when two local policemen answered a call in September 1954 they encountered a bizarre sight. Hundreds of local children, ranging in ages from four to 14, were crammed inside, roaming between the crypts, armed with sharpened sticks, knives stolen from home and stakes. They said they were hunting down "a vampire with iron teeth" that had kidnapped and eaten two local boys. The policemen dispersed the crowd, but they came back at sundown the next night and the next. The local press got hold of the story and it soon went national. There were no missing boys in Glasgow at that time, and press and politicians cast around for an explanation. They soon found one in the wave of American horror comics with names like Astounding Stories and Tales From The Crypt, which had recently flooded into the West of Scotland.
Academics pointed out that none of the comics featured a vampire with iron teeth, though there was a monster with iron teeth in the Bible (Daniel 7.7) and in a poem taught in local schools. Their voices were drowned out in a full-blown moral panic about the effect that terrifying comics were having on children. Soon the case of the Gorbals Vampire was international news. The British Press raged against the "terrifying, corrupt" comics and, after a heated debate in the House of Commons where the case of Gorbals Vampire was cited, Britain passed the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act 1955 which, for the first time, specifically banned the sale of magazines and comics portraying "incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature" to minors. This programme explores how the Gorbals Vampire helped bring the censorship of comic books onto the statute books.
Presenter/Louise Welsh, Producer/David Stenhouse BBC Radio 4 Publicity
Jenny wi' the Airn Teeth
WHAT a plague is this o' mine, Winna steek his e'e, Though I hap him ow'r the head As cosie as can be. Sleep! an' let me to my wark, A' thae claes to airn; Jenny wi' the airn teeth, Come an' tak' the bairn:
Tak' him to your ain den, Where the bowgie bides, But first put baith your big teeth In his wee plump sides; Gie your auld grey pow a shake, Rive him frae my grup— Tak' him where nae kiss is gaun When he waukens up.
Two views of the gatehouse in the much-vandalized Southern Necropolis
Whatna noise is that I hear
Comin' doon the street?
Weel I ken the dump-dump
O' her beetle feet.
Mercy me, she's at the door,
Hear her lift the sneck;
Whisht! an' cuddle mammy noo
Closer roun' the neck.
Jenny wi' the airn teeth, The bairn has aff his claes, Sleepin' safe an' soun', I think— Dinna touch his taes; Sleepin' weans are no for you; Ye may turn about An' tak' awa' wee Tam next door— I hear him screichin' oot.
Dump, dump, awa' she gangs Back the road she cam'; I hear her at the ither door, Speirin' after Tam. He's a crabbit, greetin' thing, The warst in a' the toon; Little like my ain wee wean— Losh, he's sleepin' soun'.
Mithers hae an awfu' wark Wi' their bairns at nicht— Chappin' on the chair wi' tangs To gi'e the rogues a fricht. Aulder weans are fley'd wi' less, Weel aneuch we ken— Bigger bowgies, bigger Jennies, Frichten muckle men. -Alexander Anderson, 1879
Since posting, a gentleman named John Maclean who works for the Glascow Press actually wrote to me last year and says that my post unquestionably drives a final nail in all the conspiracy theories that have sprung up over the last half decade concerning the "Gorbals Vampire"... though as we can see from the latest BBC report, people still wish to believe otherwise despite the proof I have posted. I have also been in contact with artist Hy Fleishman and his daughter for years and they are blown away by this story.
Hello, I thought you might be interested, I just launched a Kickstarter campaign for my comic book that was inspired by the Gorbal's vampire incident! http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/childrensvampire/the-childrens-vampire-hunting-brigade