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“”We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…
|—1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.|
The Slender Man is a supernatural bugbear that was created by Eric Knudsen, an elementary school teacher, using the handle "Victor Surge", on the Something Awful forums on June 8, 2009. He is usually depicted as a tall, faceless, unnaturally thin male figure in black formal clothes. He abducts or otherwise traumatizes children.
He made his first appearance as an entry in a thread proposing a contest whose aim was to troll paranormal believers and Internet communities by deliberately altering photographs to include supernatural elements, in an attempt to have believers accept them as genuine. His first appearance was in a grayscale photo of some children, and bore the caption: "We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…" — 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead."
A second image by Surge bore this legend:
“”One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence.
Spread and variations
The Slender Man took on a role in folklore unintended by its creator. The image was never accepted by ghost or paranormal believers, but went viral as a meme, inspiring fan art and fiction. As a meme without an official canon beyond Knudsen's first images, descriptions and accounts of the character vary widely. The usual description is that of an unnaturally tall faceless figure in dark formal clothes; sometimes he is wreathed by tentacles that he uses to ensnare or molest his child victims. As stories and variations spread, the character changed to something that harrows people, driving them mad through fear and turning them into its servants, termed "proxies". He has an affinity for woods and forests. He either tries to lure children out of their worlds, or inspires his "proxies" with a desire to kill.
The character was picked up by the "creepypasta" Internet community that creates and shares works of horror fiction online, and often tries to insert them as new hoaxes or urban legends. Several months after the character was created, callers to George Noory's Coast to Coast AM radio talk show began asking about the Slender Man. The character inspired a long running series of fan videos shot in shaky camera style called Marble Hornets. According to Shira Chess, the Slender Man represents the convergence between traditional folklore and the open source ethos of the Internet.
Participants in the Slender Man community claimed that learning of the existence of Slender Man was the first step towards obsession with the character, through his power of mind control. A variation of the "Bloody Mary" style legend arose spontaneously among children. It was believed possible to summon Slender Man by performing various rituals. This gave rise to "ostension", in which a supernatural cautionary tale turns into a dare to test the truth of the legend by performing the forbidden deed. Acting out the Slender Man legend had a number of tragic results.
In 2018, several years after Slender Man's popularity had peaked, he became the basis of a teen horror flick from Sony Pictures' Screen Gems production company. By all accounts, it was terrible.
In 2014, the Slender Man was an inspiration or motive for several separate crimes.
Wisconsin stabbing incident
In Waukesha, Wisconsin, two 12 year old girls stabbed another 12 year old girl. They told police that they were seeking to become proxies. According to the girls, Slender Man is able to read minds and teleport himself. The victim fortunately survived. The two girls had formulated an intense friendship based on shared fantasy in which Slender Man figured prominently.
Significant doubts were raised by their behavior about both girls' mental competence. In March of 2015, a Wisconsin court ruled that the two girls could be tried as adults. In September of 2017, one of the two girls pled guilty to attempted second degree intentional homicide, but was found mentally ill by a jury. She was sentenced to twenty-five years in a psychiatric hospital. The other descended into florid psychosis in police custody, and her lawyers accepted a plea deal that confined her to a psychiatric institution.
Eric Knudsen, creator of the character, issued a statement that he is "deeply saddened by the tragedy in Wisconsin" and that his "heart goes out to the families of those affected by this terrible act," and that he will be giving no interviews on the subject.
Later that same year, in Port Richey, Florida, a 14 year old girl reportedly set her family's house on fire. This crime was allegedly inspired by the Slender Man and Atsushi Okubo's manga series Soul Eater. A sheriff's deputy said that "She had visited the website that contains a lot of the Slender Man information and stories… It would be safe to say there is a connection to that."
Other crimes may involve the Slender Man somehow. A Las Vegas man who killed 2 police officers and a civilian along with his wife in a murder-suicide was known for dressing up as the Slender Man. A Cincinnati mother whose daughter attacked her with a knife while wearing a mask believed that the Slender Man inspired the attack. The daughter wrote macabre fiction involving the Slender Man.
- Mar, Alex. Into the woods: how online urban legend Slender Man inspired children to kill. The Guardian, Dec. 7, 2017.
- Slender Man at Know Your Meme.
- "Create Paranormal Images" — Gerogerigegege; Apr 30, 2009, Something Awful forum
- Patrick Dane, Why Slenderman Works: The Internet Meme That Proves Our Need To Believe. What Culture, Oct. 31, 2012.
- Mar, Alex. Out Came the Girls: Adolescent Girlhood, the Occult, and the Slender Man Phenomenon. Virginia Quarterly Review Online, Fall 2017
- Alex Goldman, TLDR #13 — Managing a Monster, podcast, Jan 30, 2014
- Marble Hornets, YouTube channel.
- Shira Chess and Eric Newsom: Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology. (2015, Palgrave Pivot. ISBN 978-1137498526.)
- Faceless Slender Man Linked to More Slashings, Shootings, WABC-TV 7, June 9, 2014
- See the Wikipedia article on Legend tripping.
- The IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes pages for the 2018 film Slender Man.
- Charges detail Waukesha pre-teens' attempt to kill classmate. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, June 2, 2014
- Girls in Slender Man stabbing case to be tried as adults, Associated Press, Mar. 14, 2015; Chicago Tribune.
- Associated Press, Wisconsin girl found mentally ill in Slender Man stabbing case, The Guardian, Sept. 16, 2017.
- Slender Man case: girl who stabbed classmate gets 25-year hospital sentence. The Guardian, Dec. 21, 2017
- 'Slender Man' Creator Speaks on Stabbing: 'I Am Deeply Saddened', NBC News, June 4, 2014.
- Teen Inspired by 'Slender Man' Set House on Fire: Police, ABC News, Sept. 5, 2014.