Fancy spicing up your Halloween with some sensational spooky facts for kids? Why not frighten, delight and discombobulate your mates with these absolute belters!
Madame Tussauds’ famous wax sculptures are definitely a bit creepy, so it might not surprise you to learn that their origins are too. Madame Anna Maria (Marie) Tussaud was born in France at a crucial time in her nation’s history. During the French Revolution (1789-1794), it became her job to make death masks from heads that had been severed by the guillotine. When the Revolution ended, these were displayed as part of a travelling show, and later at Baker Street, London. For 200 years Madame Tussauds has been one of the most visited attractions in England’s capital. These days, though, most of the celebs represented are still alive.
Talking about faces, do you have one of those mugs? You know the type. Do people often tell you, ‘you look just like my second cousin twice removed’? Or do they ever cross the road to say ‘hello’, only to run away when they find you’re not the person they thought you were? If the answer is ‘yes’, then you might have a doppelgänger – it’s more common than you may think. Human features vary widely, but genetically we’re not that different. With only so many genetic variations to go around, there are bound to be matches out there. If you’re really lucky you might find a portrait of your doppelgänger in a major art gallery. Fancy finding out? There’s a great app here
Meeting your doppelgänger is supposed to foretell death and destruction, and so is spotting this spectral ship. In the most famous telling, The Flying Dutchman is doomed to sail forever through the North Sea, while its skipper, Captain Falkenberg, plays dice with the Devil himself. The first version of the story dates from the 17th century and probably references a time when the Dutch were a powerful maritime force. Check out AQIULA’s crazy puzzle book The Curse of Hallapicktu for more spooky ships!
In the first half of the 19th century, the population of London increased from around 1 million people in 1801 to almost 2.5 million by 1851. That’s all well and good, but what do you do when those people inevitably pop their clogs/ kick the bucket/ shuffle off this mortal coil, or, in other words DIE? You build a blimmin’ big graveyard, that’s what. In fact, the Victorians built a number of blimmin’ big graveyards outside the city, but the most infamous was called Brookfield. It was 37 kilometres outside London, but motorised hearses hadn’t been invented yet, so how did the dead get to the graveyard? A railway was built solely to transport the dead as well as the people who mourned them. The Necropolis Railway is thought to have carried up to 2,000 bodies a year. It ran from 1854 until 1941, when a German bombing raid damaged the Necropolis beyond repair.
The strange case of Mary Reeser is well known amongst paranormal investigators. Why? Because Mary is purported to have died from spontaneous human combustion – an extremely rare and unproven phenomena that involves a living body suddenly bursting into flames for no obvious reason. The fire was so intense that almost all of Mary’s body had been reduced to ash, but the apartment where she died showed no other signs of burning. Scientists don’t know for certain that spontaneous human combustion is a real thing. If it is, they certainly don’t know why it happens. Oooh, a proper mystery!
We hesitated in adding this to our list of spooky facts for kids because, well, it’s super gross and creepy. But then again why else are you here? You LOVE super gross and creepy! Ophiocordyceps unilateralis is an insect-pathogenic fungus. Currently found in tropical forests, it can infect an unsuspecting carpenter ant and control its behaviour so that it moves from its home to a place where the fungus can thrive. It grows through the ant’s body, drains it of all the good things the ant needs to survive and takes over its mind so it can no longer think for itself. When this fungus has finally killed its host, it can use the carcass as a base to attack other carpenter ants. Yup! And if that doesn’t keep you up tonight, we don’t know what will.
Hampton Court Palace, in Richmond Upon Thames, UK, was once home to the court of Tudor King Henry VIII. Given Henry’s complicated marital history, it will come as no surprise that at least two of his poor unfortunate wives are said to haunt the place. Jane Seymour died there after giving birth to her son, Prince Edward. She is believed to haunt the Silverstick Stairs that used to lead up to the room where she died. Catherine Howard was Henry’s fifth wife. She was beheaded, at Henry’s command, at the Tower, in 1542. According to some, she can be seen screaming and running along what is now called ‘The Haunted Gallery’, forever locked in a desperate bid for freedom.
Have you ever wondered why the hair on the back of your neck stands up when you’re scared? A shot of adrenalin stimulates teeny muscles at the base of each hair follicle, bumps form and the hair stands on end. We feel like we’re bristling with fear. Charles Darwin believed that goosebumps date back to a time when humans we much hairier than they are now. At that time, raised hair follicles would have made a person look bigger and more intimidating to predators. Grrr.
Speaking of hairy ancestors, the most famous ruler of Polotsk, Prince Vseslav was also known as ‘Vseslav the Seer’. He was well known as a sorcerer, but Belarusian folktales also depict him as a werewolf, capable of moving at great speeds. Accounts tell of a ruler who spent his days dutifully attending to matters of court, and his nights racing about like a beast with superhuman powers. Furry interesting!
Written by Freya Hardy, editor-in-chief, AQUILA Magazine.