London Bridge is Falling Down

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The history and the hidden meanings behind a classic childhood game that can serve not only as a cheap form of entertainment for the little ones but also as: a quick history lesson of the Thames River, a “How to Build a Bridge For Dummies” guide, a very subliminal way to scare the kiddos into behaving, or a way to express our sexual desires through innuendos and maneuvers.  Yes; that’s right!  “London Bridges”, is not just for kids.

Song Reference

How to play the game

Two children face each other and form an arch by raising their arms forward and interlocking each other’s hands together.  The rest of the children take turns walking under the arch while singing the song and on the last word of the verse “lady” is said, the arch comes down and captures one of the children.  The game continues until all of the kids are captured or the little tikes get bored and restless.

london_bridge_1616_by_claes_van_visscher

Short History Lesson

Bridging the Thames River was a long and tedious task that began during the late Roman empire era.  In 43 AD, the Romans established Londinium (London) as the capital of England.  During this time period the Romans made several attempts of building bridges over the river and finally succeeded around 50 AD.  Then, the shortly lived wooden bridge, was burned down during the Viking and Saxon invasions.  Bridges were rebuilt many times also due to natural disasters such as the 1091 tornado and the 1136 fire.

In 1176, the construction of the first stone arch bridge in Britain, “Old London Bridge”, started in efforts to replace the wooden bridges that survived from the Roman occupancy.  Peter, a priest and chaplain of St. Mary’s of Colechurch, was the architect and project leader until his death in 1205.  The construction of the bridge was completed in 1209.  The new stone bridge had 19 arches including a gatehouse with a drawbridge.  To create a source of income from the bridge, shops and homes were constructed and lined on both sides of the roadway of the bridge.  For thrills locals would shoot the bridge from their small boats.

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Three years after being completed a fire destroyed all the buildings on the bridge and killed thousands of people.  The houses and shops were quickly rebuilt narrowing the pathway to four meters (approx. 13 feet).  Do to the pressure of winter ice, five arches collapsed in the winter of 1282.  The arches were rebuilt as well.  The constant additions to the buildings eventually created a tunnel like passageway across the Thames River.  Queen Elizabeth I, ordered to have water mills added onto the structure of the bridge in the 1580s.  Despite the bridge having a bad reputation of constantly being under repairs and more and more additions being added to the shops and houses, the Old London bridge was the only crossing of the Thames River in London until 1750 when the Westminster Bridge was completed and opened.

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Shortly after the city decided to repair the London bridge the project was taken upon Charles Labelye.  All of the houses were removed and the roadway over the bridge was expanded to 14 meters ( approx. 45 feet) and the two center arches were replaced with one great arch at the middle of the bridge.  After completion in 1762, the remodeling of the arches led to erosion of the riverbed.  Eventually the city decided to give up spending resources to fix the bridge and gave the New London Bridge project to John Rennie.  The new bridge was built several yards upstream from the old bridge.  Rennie died in 1821 before construction of the new bridge could start and was picked up by his two sons.  The project was completed in 1831.  After serving the Londoners for 622 years the Old London bridge was demolished.  Rennie’s  bridge lasted almost 140 years until it was dismantled and shipped across the Atlantic ocean to the United States, where it now resides at Lake Havasu, Arizona.  The modern London bridge was built between 1968 and 1972.

The origins and meaning

Similar rhymes have been found all over Europe that pre-dates the earliest London Bridge version.  “Knippelsbro Går Op og Ned” from Denmark, “Die Magdeburger Brück” from Germany, “Pont Chus” from France, and “Le Porte” from Italy, are all suspected to be the influence of the “London Bridge” version.  The earliest reference to the English version was in the comedy “The London Chanticleers” printed in 1657.  No words of the rhyme or mention of the melody were stated, however the popularity of the rhyme and melody was greatly influenced by Henry Carey and his satire play, “Namby Pamby” in 1725.

Namby Pamby is no clown,

London Bridge is broken down,

Now he courts the gay Ladee,

Dancing o’er the Lady-Lee.

In 1823, a more popular version was printed in the Gentleman’s Magazine.

London Bridge is broken down,

Dance over the Lady Lea,

London Bridge is broken down,

With a gay lady.

Then we must build it up again

What shall we build it up withal?

Build it up with wood and stone,

Wood and stone will fall away.

etc…etc…ete…

The meaning behind the rhyme is not really clear and numerous theories have developed.  The modern version was first recorded in the late 19th century.  The game that is associated with the song resembles arch games that date back to the middle ages.  The theory of the meaning about the constant struggle of repair and rebuilding the many bridges that allowed Londoners for centuries to cross the Thames River may have some small truths, but the original rhymes regarding the London Bridge were very different compared to the earliest forms of the modern version.

 

The Fair Lady

The identity of the “fair lady” reference within the rhyme is uncertain, nothing has been proven, but suspicions of the identity to the reference are:

  • The River Lea – another river that feeds into the Thames River.
  • The Leigh family of Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire– a family linked to a story about a human sacrifice that lies under the bridge.
  • Matilda of Scotland– The Queen of England, Henry I consort, who was responsible for building the series of bridges between 1110 -1118.
  • Eleanor of  Provence– Henry III consort, who had custody of the revenues of the Old London bridge from 1269 -1281.

The Human Sacrifice theory

Alice Bertha Gomme, a folklorist, who wrote The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (1894-1898);  presented the idea that the Old London Bridge could be involved in a human sacrifice during the constructions and/or reconstructions of the bridges.  Gomme pointed out that in certain variations of the “London Bridges” rhymes there is a watchman or a prisoner mentioned in the later stanzas of the songs.  Human sacrifice was believed to be necessary to protect the structures, to serve the purposes as guardians or “watchman” and protect the building from supernatural forces.  In 1880 Calcutta India locals were afraid to be out at night due to people disappearing.  Sacrificial offering towards the construction of the Hooghly Bridge was a popular suspicion to the explanations of the missing people of the area.  The prisoner reference is suspected to be metaphor for a live or dead human sacrifice to be entombed in the structure for eternity.  However, there were never any reports found stating that human remains were ever found when the Old or New London Bridges were torn down or, shall I say… falling down.

Meanwhile…

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London Bridge Today

According to the Urban Dictionary, London Brides is also a modern slang word for panties. When a lady says “you make her london bridges fall down”, she is saying you make her hot… sexually.  It is also a sexual position involving four consenting adults, two males and two females, or four females with attachments.  For further explanation look that up for yourself.

References

Gomme, A. B. (1894, January 01). The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Retrieved February 08, 2017, from https://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/literature/fable/traditional-games-of-england-scotland-and-ireland/index.html

Grenby, M. O. (2014, February 13). The origins of children’s literature. Retrieved February 08, 2017, from http://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/the-origins-of-childrens-literature

Billington, D. P. (2002, October 25). London Bridge. Retrieved February 08, 2017, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Old-London-Bridge

Library, W. P. (n.d.). London Bridge Is Falling Down. Retrieved February 08, 2017, from http://www.worldlibrary.org/Articles/London%20Bridge%20Is%20Falling%20Down?&Words=the origins of london bridges falling down

 

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Gateway to Evil or Just a Game

ouija-board

The belief and/or desire to communicate with ghosts of loved ones, historical, famous, or infamous, is a common human behavior and has always been a part of human culture.  Examples of communing with the dead can be found in the Bible, mythology, classic literature, and on the shelves of your nearby children’s toy store.  Does the Ouija Board really work or is it just a game for entertainment purposes only?  

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Spiritualism in America

During the year of 1848, the obsession of spiritualism, already popular in Europe, spread like a wildfire in the U.S. when Kate and Margaret Fox; two sisters who lived in Hydesville, NY, became instant celebrities by claiming they contacted the spirit of a dead peddler.  The word “medium” is used as a label that identifies the talented or “gifted” person who has the ability of communicating with the dead by using various methods such as table turning (tilting or taping).  The medium along with the attendees would sit around a table and place their fingers lightly on the edge of the table top.  The medium would ask questions and then call out letters or numbers and if the table taps the floor on the letter or number the answer is presumed to be the spirit communicating back.    Another method was developed by placing a pencil sticking through the center of a small basket and the spirit would write out the answer of the questions  asked by the medium.  Later this tool developed into what is now known as the planchette, French for small plank.

hisc  Interesting historical tidbit…

Mary Todd Lincoln conducted a séance in the White House after their 11 year old son died from illness in 1862.

Other methods and tools were also used and developed to commune with the spirits but failed in the market.  The planchette tool became the most popular method of communing with the other side, due to the cost of manufacturing, this device was cheaper than its competitors such as the various types of dial plate instruments which were sometimes referred to as psychographs.  

In 1886 certain variations of talking boards where becoming the latest craze in the spiritual culture.  Business partners Charles Kennard, Elijah Bond, and a few other investors created their first version of their talking board.  They managed to convince a patent worker that it worked and the first patent talking board gave credit to Kennard and Bond in 1890.  The Ouija board got its name supposedly from a séance that took place with Kennard, Bond, and Helen Peters, Bond’s sister-in-law, who had a reputation of being a strong medium.  When Miss Peters asked the board “what would you like to be named?”  The board responded by spelling out Ouija.  Miss Peters asked, “What is the meaning of the word Ouija?”  The board answered back, “Good Luck”.

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William fuld

Starting as a varnisher for the Kennard Novelty Company, Fuld managed to climb the company’s ladder and became a major stockholder and eventually ended up running the company.  Fuld never claimed and is not the creator of the Ouija board, but somehow the New York Times  reported  this mis-information by declaring him the inventor.  In 1927, Fuld died from falling off the roof of his new factory.  Ironically, supposedly the Ouija board told Fuld to build the factory in the first place.

Does the board work?

If you have ever used an Ouija board at a party there are always those who will try to get a scare or a quick laugh, but it is also common when people are using the board to claim that they  are not the ones moving the planchette and accuse the other person and of course the other person denies it and says the same thing.  The ideomotor effect is the culprit behind this phenomenon.  Ideomotor actions are unconscious movements that occur when we focus on not trying to move.  The movement of the planchette on the board can occur naturally for the same reason dowsing is believed to be a good way to find water.

Is the Ouija Board evil?

Spiritualism was a very popular trend during the Civil War era.  During and after wars it is very common for people to try to contact lost loved ones.  In 1967, a year after Parker Brothers bought the rights from Fuld’s company, the Ouija board sold 2 million boards which outsold Monopoly that year.  The year 1967 was also the same year where more American troops were sent into Vietnam and also the year of  “Summer of Love” in San Francisco.  The evil reputation of the Ouija board didn’t really start developing until the movie The Exorcist was released in American theaters in 1973.  Then more horror movies used the Ouija board and helped create the evil reputation of the Ouija board that is now known today.

References

Waxman, O. B. (n.d.). ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’ and the True History of the Ouija Board. Retrieved November 24, 2016, from http://time.com/4529861/ouija-board-history-origin-of-evil/

Jackson, J. (n.d.). The ideomotor effect. Retrieved November 24, 2016, from http://www.critical-thinking.org.uk/psychology/the-ideomotor-effect.php

Museum of Talking Boards: History of the Talking Board. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2016, from http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/history.html

Museum of Talking Boards – Board Gallery Page One. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2016, from http://www.museumoftalkingboards.com/gal1.html

McRobbie, L. R. (2013, October 27). The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board. Retrieved November 24, 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-strange-and-mysterious-history-of-the-ouija-board-5860627/

 

 

Bloody Mary: True Stories Behind the Legend

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As many of us have probably experienced as kids going to slumber parties, summer camps, afterschool programs, or having older siblings trying to scare you; have more than likely have heard and maybe even brave enough to play Bloody Mary.  I can recall playing the game in the 1st grade while attending an afterschool program a.k.a. daycare.  Some older kids told us about the story of Bloody Mary and then dared us to play the game in the bathroom.  You had to turn the water faucets on and chant “Bloody Mary” three times in the dark.  Nothing happened really, except one of the older boys thought it would be funny to put a pack of red Kool Aid in his mouth.  When the light switch was flicked back on it looked like he had blood flowing out of his mouth and his arms were flailing in the air like he was possessed.  But enough with one of my early childhood traumas,  There are many true stories behind the legend of Bloody Mary.

Mary I, Queen of England a.k.a Mary Tudor

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The English Catholic Queen reigned from 1553 until her death in 1558.  During her reign, she ordered the execution of hundreds of Protestants and had them burned at the stake for committing heresy.  Her religious campaign towards making England a Catholic nation is what earned Mary I the nickname Bloody Mary.  Mary was afraid that if she didn’t produce a male heir to the throne of England that her religious efforts would have been undone.  Mary experienced several false pregnancies and eventually died in London, on November 17, 1558.  The variation to the Bloody Mary ritual involving a part of the chant saying “I got your baby” is suspected to be mocking Mary Tudor and her failure of giving birth to a successor.

There are many other true stories that have been linked to this legend, but I decided to start with the earliest story because it makes sense how Mary Tudor could have been the first inspiration to the creation of the Bloody Mary legend.  There are many other stories that were credited to the legend.  Some of them make sense and have some aspects to them that has some to little correlation to the rituals that partake in the game.

Mary Worth

Mary Worth was assumed to be a witch who lived in Chicago during the Civil War.  She supposedly captured runaway slaves and locked them up in her barn to use them for her rituals.  Once the locals of the area caught wind of Mary’s dirty little secret, they took the law into their own hands and burned Ms. Worth at the stake.

Mary Worthington

Sometime in the 1960s, Mary Worthington was a beautiful girl who spent countless hours looking at herself in the mirror.  One day Mary was involved in a car accident and her face was horribly disfigured.  No one could stand to look at her.  Then one day she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and she committed suicide.

There have been other stories that have been tied to this notorious legend.  There are also other variations to the Bloody Mary legend throughout the world.

Sweden: Svarta Madam (Black Madame)

Russia: Dama Pika  (Queen of Spades)

Spain: Veronica

Japan: Kuchisake-onna (The Slit-Mouth Woman)

In 1978, Janet Langlois’ study found that the Bloody Mary ritual/game served the purposes of providing thrill of excitement to children and was considered to be a form of entertainment.  However, many scholars have stated that the elements of the rituals can be traced back to earlier superstitions and myths.

public domain mirror

Mirrors:  considered to be a “looking glass” into the spirit world.  The story of Snow White, written by the Brothers Grimm in 1857, was based off of a ritual throughout the British Isles in the 1700s.  Young Girls would stand in front of a mirror with a candle while combing their hair and then eat an apple.  The young woman would see in the mirror her future spouse appearing behind herself.   Through the 1800s there was a superstition that claimed that if one is to admire themselves for too long before a mirror it would cause the devil to appear.  Another belief that is present to this day, is if one dies in a room with mirrors,  the mirrors should be covered with clothes to prevent the spirit from  being trapped in the house.

Magic Rituals:     The rituals vary when playing Bloody Mary.  The most common rituals either involve turning in circles, the use of candles, and repeating incantations, or all of the above, are typical magic rituals that can be found in many cultures.

References

“Mary Tudor.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 22 May 2016. <http://www.biography.com/people/mary-tudor-9401296>.

“Bloody Mary Legend.” Scary Website. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2016. <http://www.scaryforkids.com/bloody-mary-legend/>.

“The Mythical and Paranormal Realm.” Mary Worth and the Origin of Bloody Mary. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May 2016. <http://mythical-and-paranormal-blog.blogspot.com/2012/05/mary-worth-and-origin-of-bloody-mary.html>.

Bloody Mary Legend. (n.d.). Retrieved May 22, 2016, from http://paranormal.lovetoknow.com/Bloody_Mary_Legend