BY BERT EHRMANN
On my recent trip to the comic book convention in Chicago,
I got into a discussion with people attending the con with me about
the things they were most frightened of as kids. I related a few of
my best ghost stories and they told me about how scary it can be to
test out a snow sled with several dozen bottle rockets attached to
the sides. (In homage to Calvin and Hobbes of course.)
Then our conversation on “The Most Frightening…” turned to which television shows were the scariest. Was it going to be The Care Bear Variety Hour, The NEW A-Team, or Crack Street Cops (Saying Nope to Dope)? I was wrong it was none of these shows. Everyone in the car around the same age (20-30) agreed the most frightening show of our generation was a pseudo-documentary that aired on one station or another for over thirteen years.
That show was Unsolved Mysteries.
I don’t think a lot of adults at the time realized just what a negative effect Unsolved Mysteries would have on their kids. And trust me, there’s a generation of us out there with the Unsolved Mysteries mental scars to prove it.
If you’re unfamiliar with Unsolved Mysteries, it was a television show hosted by Robert Stack, which explored… errr, unsolved mysteries, everything from bank robberies, kidnappings, UFO’s, ghosts and ghost-piloted UFO’s robbing banks and kidnapping people.
What really registered with my generation’s small (in my case medically underdeveloped) brains was that everything presented in the show was supposedly real (even if almost all of the stories were told with cheesy actors reenacting the event).
And is there anything more frightening to a kid than knowing that the UFO terrorizing residents up and down the Florida coast might be real? And possibly on its way to Kern Valley Drive to terrorize me next?
For a while I was convinced that longtime Unsolved Mysteries host Robert Stack was out to get me. It seemed as if every segment which aired on that show was specifically produced to scare me to death. For a time, I thought about heading a write-in campaign to NBC in attempt to get Unsolved Mysteries pulled off the air. If mothers in Ohio can write in and complain about violent cartoons then I should be able to complain about Unsolved Mysteries corrupting my youth.
But then I realized that this campaign might well remove the show from our television schedule, and who would be left to inform the world on the real dangers posed to it? I didn’t see the national nightly news covering possessed homes, evil guitars, or El Chupacabra.
The stories that stick to me this day included the Florida UFO case, two ghosts bent on human destruction, and a homicidal maniac living in a maze constructed of straw bails. (Seriously.)
I remember that the Florida UFO case had me convinced that this was the proof the skeptics were always looking for to show the world that the UFO’s really existed. Unsolved Mysteries presented photos of these UFO’s hovering over the water and more of them hovering over roadways “beaming up” aliens left on the ground to terrorize humanity. (I don’t know why, but real UFO’s are always hovering.) After watching this segment I was convinced that it was only a matter of time before these UFO’s started showing up across the country.
As a kid, the only thing that got to me more than UFO’s were ghosts. I remember in one of the ghost segments on Unsolved Mysteries, ghost hunters (the bravest of all human beings) were searching for a “restless spirit” in a so-called haunted house. During their search, this team was attacked in the attic by one of these nebulous beings. Photos were taken showing a ghost hunter being suspended in mid air with a noose around his neck being hung by invisible hands.
Another ghost segment had an entire family being terrorized by a poltergeist and wanting out of their house. The part I remember had the father arriving home from work and the poltergeist hurtling his lunchbox across the room. Skeptics may claim that these people were merely making up these claims to be able to get out of their mortgage. But I realized that these were good people (in the reenactments at least) and would never abuse the Unsolved Mysteries system like that.
But the segment that frightened me the most was the “Straw Man”. Watching this segment all-alone at night was the worst mistake of my young life other than the time I burped on one of the cutest girls in my middle school who was putting the moves on me. (For a change.)
“Straw Man” told the story of a homicidal maniac escaped from police custody who had found his way to a disused barn and carved hidden tunnels through the straw to hide in. (It sounds weird but apparently was true.) My adolescent mind raced with adrenaline and fear could “Straw Man” be living in a barn near me? In fact, could “Straw Man” be standing outside my window waiting to break in and carve tunnels through my entrails?
The only thing that saved me from madness that night was that at the end of the episode Robert Stack came on screen (as he often did) to give an “update” on the stories. To my satisfaction, Stack said that the “Straw Man” had been taken back into custody and was no longer a danger to the straw in people’s barns.
However, I am unsure as to the current whereabouts of the “Straw Man”. Have you checked your barn lately?
If Unsolved Mysteries taught America one thing it’s that the world is full of ghosts, UFO’s, and escaped homicidal maniacs living in tunnels created out of straw bails. And is there anything really more dangerous than that?
Send your Unsolved Mysteries memories to Dangerous Universe care of The Fort Wayne Reader.