If you were a child of the 80s, then you likely know the tale of the silly and harassed Davis family who bought a haunted house in Lucifer Falls and then battled an evil ghost with a magic cloak. You watched Kristy Swanson (the worst actress ever) pout on a picnic blanket with cheese curls, and a robe-clad Bud Bundy get pulled kicking into the air by an inflated fireplace shovel. The kid from ALF even bickered with a little kid ghost over a snot-soaked teddy bear, and all the spirits glowed in neon. It was the spooky and mesmerizing children’s tale called Mr. Boogedy, which originally aired as a Disney made-for-TV movie in 1986.
I’ve been watching and rewatching this movie every October for many years now, and it has come to my attention that there is, in fact, something very haunting about this tale. But it isn’t the house or how the Davis family was plagued by ghosts. It was the treatment of a misunderstood man named William Hanover that lasted for hundreds of years. You see a hamburger-faced demon zapping lightning at a wisecracking family, whereas I see a trod-upon and anguished soul.
To see my point, let us all go back to the beginning. Boogedy’s beginning.
The Origin Story
Here is the story of Mr. Boogedy–as he is known pejoratively known–in the words of crackpot historian, Neil Witherspoon:
300 years ago, long before any of us were alive, a small group of pilgrims lived on this very spot. They were a hard-working, decent group of people. Once in a while of course, they would enjoy a good laugh. Most of them, that is.
You see, there was one exception: William Hanover, and he was a strange man. Nobody liked him! And everybody was just a little bit afraid of him. Ah, no, it wasn’t a good idea to make jokes around William Hanover. Even little children had to watch their step around him. The children called him “Mr. Boogedy” because he delighted in scaring them.
The women of Lucifer Falls were hardly lining up outside Mr. Boogedy’s door. But, eh, you could hardly blame them. Boogedy! Boogedy! Boogedy! Boogedy! Still there was one person, the beautiful widow Marion who lived with her sweet little boy, Jonathan.
“Oh good sisters, do you thinketh he is really all that bad? He tryeth. I am sure that he tryeth.”
“I don’t think so, mother.”
Hanover fell in love with Marion. In fact, he wanted to marry her! Ah, she turned him down. But that wasn’t the end of it. Not hardly.
Hanover was ready to do anything–I mean, anything to win the hand of the widow Marion, after all he was a man of great power and authority, used to having his own way. Heh heh hehh. Some people say he sold his soul to the devil that night. Sold his soul for a magic cloak. Hehehe. A cloak so powerful it would make him invincible, a cloak so powerful, he hoped, it would even give him the WIDOW MARION!
More than anything in this world he wanted Marion! So one day when Marion’s boy, poor little Jonathan had a terrible cold and was on his way to the doctor, who should jump out of the woods in his brand-new magic cloak? And he took Jonathan back to his house. And he threatened Marion that if she didn’t marry him–if she didn’t marry him that very night, she would never, ever see poor little Jonathan again.
And just to make sure that she went along with all this, Mr. Boogedy decided to cast his very first spell with the magic cloak. Heh-heh. But, something happened. He blew up his own house. Just like magic, the whole house disappeared. And every house that has been built upon that site has been haunted. They [Hanover, Marion, and Jonathan] all became ghosts. And poor Marion is still trying to get her Jonathan back. In fact, Jonathan still has his cold.
And thus, William Hanover was permanently pegged as the evil outcast and kidnapper, all via the illustrations of an incredibly disturbing pop-up book that should have never been made. Not only is it a very creepy story to put into whimsical pop-up form, it perpetuates a tale that had been warped by time and puritanical special interests.
A Oneth, a Twoeth, a Threeth, a Four…
Here comes Boogedy out the door. If we believe Witherspoon’s history, that is what the children sang for their own amusement about a powerful town elder. If all he did was jump out and scare them with shouts from their own song, those kids are pretty lucky. The Puritanical hierarchy was pretty strict, and those kids could’ve easily been severely punished for publicly disrespecting a town elder. In fact, it sounds to me like he was playing along with their games, using the children’s own silly nickname and teasing them with a playful trick.
Maybe poor William Hanover was a lonely sort who thought his playful jest would be funny and well-received. Maybe it was his misguided attempt to demonstrate to the single ladies of the town that he could play along with children’s games. He was trying to CONNECT, people.
All the Single Ladies
So, the women of Lucifer Falls were too good for Hanover, eh? That is a bit surprising. Apparently he had wealth, power, and…creativity of sorts. He wasn’t bad looking either. Frankly, you could do much, much worse in Puritanical New England. The men tended to look more like the “after” Boogedy.
The town’s historian suggests then that his personality must have been just that repugnant.
“…he was a strange man. Nobody liked him! And everybody was just a little bit afraid of him.”
Well, of course people were afraid of him, dummy. He was a powerful white male in a Puritanical town. He could call for a woman to be hanged because she had a mole on her body. He could order men’s ears nailed to posts for the tiniest slight. But, shunning him because he’s weird is just cold. Sure, maybe he had bad breath. And maybe he collected ear wax and thought golf is legitimately a sport (it isn’t). And maybe he practiced kissing a rotted gourd. Oh, and so sorry he’s not laughing at your terrible jokes and gags, Pilgrims! His sense of humor is a little different. Maybe even a little refined. From one outcast to another, I understand, Hanover. You had the position, the power, the resources, but still that wasn’t enough for them to respect you.
That probably made him justifiably grumpy. Like when I would go to a pep rally in high school and all the
town bicycles cheerleaders would expect me to applaud and scream for their stripper-style dancing prowess while no one wanted to applaud my fine work as the theatre club props master. People are awful.
Oh, and juggling clown? You bounce your balls off my forehead, and I’m gonna do more than scowl. I think Hanover showed great restraint.
Back to the ladies, though. Okay, we can concede that he wasn’t great in the romance department, had inferior social skills, and probably smelled pretty bad. But he was able to offer security and protection to any single lady in town, especially a widow with a child to raise. And most importantly, he fell in love with her and her kind heart. In a town of ridicule, he saw a loving woman who also appeared to still be fertile.
Now, Marion had every right to reject him, even if prudence dictated back then that she probably should’ve agreed to the match. But let’s say she had a little Thomas-on-the-side and her fertile womb wanted cultivation elsewhere, still can you blame a man in love for becoming bitter and upset over the rejection? She is beauty and he is the beast. And if Belle could not accept him, that surely he would be lonely the rest of his days.
William Hanover Makes a Bad End
Kidnapping a child is never a good idea, including as marriage extortion. Oh, William. Really, a terrible, terrible idea.
Although, that has me questioning the whole reported tale. The threads of logic begin unwinding when you consider the premise carefully.
Let’s say heartbroken William Hanover is desperate to win the widow’s hand. Then there he is surveying his land when, hark! There goes the widow’s little boy on the road. And he’s clearly ill–sneezing, coughing, retching. Oh, no, little Jonathan is staggering through the woods alone. So he takes Jonathan to his home and sends word for the doctor and the boy’s mother. His servants tuck Jonathan into bed. When Marion arrives and sits with her ailing child, she is appalled that the socially awkward Hanover uses this stressful moment to restate his love for her and repeat the offer of marriage. Hanover didn’t intend it as an implied threat, but Marion sure took it that way!
Some of the servants hear her cries of outrage at such an insinuation and she accuses him loudly of kidnapping. He waves his hands to signal no, no, that isn’t what he meant at all, but most of his servants have left the home out of respect for the intimate conversation taking place. She begins to demand that she is taking her ill child home immediately, when a terrible and tragic accident occurs.
The house is quickly consumed by flames, and the three people inside (and any remaining servants) perish. A stray spark, a poorly constructed chimney, flammable liquids or powder kegs. Colonial houses were tinderboxes waiting to go up all the time. Do you know that the capitol building of Jamestown burned down four times in roughly eighty years?
But the servants who escaped the blaze traded in superstition, and they believed it must have been a spell cast from the man’s new shiny cloak. And where else does a man get a shiny magical cloak but from the devil, amiright? Except that it was probably just a fine cloak that he bought off of a merchant recently as part of his courting of the widow. He wanted to look fancy! But somehow, “fancy” became “evil”.
Cloak and Bag Her
My version is awfully optimistic, I know. But consider that I have logic on my side. See, the thing is, Hanover doesn’t need a cloak to snatch a tiny little sick kid off the road. In fact, the cloak might’ve made it harder, gettin’ all tangled and stuff.
And if he wanted to cast a spell to “seal the deal” with Marion (ewww), then why bother bringing kidnapping into it? If I have a magic cloak, I’m not going all the way into the kitchen to make a ham sandwich, I’m sitting back and asking my cloak to deliver one. You see what I’m sayin’? And notice that I’m even lending credence to the notion that Hanover could’ve summoned Satan for a cloak.
Speaking of the Dark One…the cloak is supposed to have made Hanover invincible and all-powerful. But Boogedy been had. He “blew himself up” and didn’t survive. That isn’t invincibility. He just became a glowy rotting ghost with no love. If that cloak was ever magical, it was a dud.
But hang on, the ghost part is weird. Why would the devil give a dude a cloak that can make his soul immortal? That sort of negates the whole “I’ve got your soul!” part of the deal.
Also…and follow me, here…if Hanover figured out how to harness the power of the cloak to keep his spirit around, AND imprison two other spirits apart from each other in a neon glow of misery, couldn’t he just instead…like, be with Marion? Wasn’t that the point to begin with? I’d lock the sneezing kid ghost out of the house, and keep the widow for companionship. Although she be bawling all the time. And his penis probably rotted off. This whole extended revenge scenario seems like a lose-lose for him.
Perhaps It Happened Like This
Poor dead Mr. Boogedy is probably trapped on the land he once owned, doomed to walk the patch of earth with a wailing woman and a sneezing child. It’s been 300 years. And to add insult to injury, while Marion and Jonathan look just fine, he was so badly burned by the fire before his demise (perhaps Marion and Jonathan just choked to death on the smoke), that now he looks like “Mr. Hamburger Face”. Poor Hanover never caught a break in life or death, and now he has Kristy Swanson (the worst actress in the world) mocking his appearance.
So, damn straight he’s angry. Damn straight he’s keeping his fine-ass cloak and using all of his ghostly powers to act out his frustrations. Zapping people’s hair up on end. Blowing some wind. Making mummies dance. Leaving latex footprints on a wall.
Actually now that I’m describing it, he doesn’t seem that bad–just really ugly/burned and with a creepy laugh. He doesn’t actually try to kill anyone, in fact, he’s more playing around than anything. And, frankly, Jonathan was much worse ‘cuz he stole a teddy bear. Boogedy never stole anything. No one ever got hurt. And Marion was probably kept out of the house either as karmic punishment for being such a panicky twat at the end, or because she was too dumb to figure out how to come in.
And, frankly, the Davis family was pretty prejudiced against him, not to mention rude. He’s the tortured spirit, and they’re saying horrible, insulting things about him when they wouldn’t know truth from Tootie. They called him “grilled cheese face”, “hamburger face”, “weirdo”, and then they stole his damn cloak. The ONE nice thing he still had.
So he went back into hiding, wishing he had his fancy cloak back. Wishing he didn’t have to listen to wailing and sneezing anymore. Wishing that people would just leave him alone. Wishing that his unfinished mortal business could be conducted so he could pass into the light finally.
The Davis family was a pack of dicks to this poor soul, and just because Marion finally figured out how to get in the house to retrieve her boy on their watch, doesn’t mean they were great heroes. She was eventually going to figure out how to get in.
I’m with Boogedy.
…Or Maybe it Went a Little Something Like This
I think all of the above is a very plausible take on what the Davis family experienced when they moved to Lucifer Falls. But there is one other explanation–a Scooby Doo explanation– for all of this.
Suitor William Hanover was awkwardly courting Widow Marion when the three people died tragically in a house fire. And that is the end of their story. They didn’t become ghosts. They may not have even known each other well. The whole thing could be utter bullshit.
Their story, however passed into the fantastical world of Lucifer Falls legend and “history”. In fact, it became a tourist delight. A claim to fame for a tiny shit-kicker town.
And making money at the center of it? Neil Witherspoon! It sounds to me like Witherspoon has made some coin off of self-publishing an awful, slanderous pop-up book. It sounds to me like he keeps mannequins dressed like Boogedy and Marion around in order to sell t-shirts and keychains. And the rest of the town never questions a thing, because they trade in the Boogedy bucks as well. Think of “Mr. Karloff” who runs the “Devil May Care” realty office and makes lawn signs that read “Not Really Haunted”. Think of the town politicians who probably changed the name from something like “New Oxfordshire” to “Lucifer Falls” back in the 1950s when the highway was built near the town.
If this theory puzzles you because it doesn’t explain what the Davis family saw, then you haven’t watched enough Scooby Doo. Marion, Jonathan, and Boogedy were holograms, and their antics were tricks conjured by projectors, along with hidden tape recorders, microphones, and other little pranks installed long before the family arrived.
The “why” of it is quite simple: Neil Witherspoon had a financial interest in keeping the house empty and perpetuating its reputation for haunting.
The devil’s in the details (mwahaha!) Watch the Davis family adventures unfold closely, and you’ll see. First, the family arrives at a very arbitrary time after dark one night. There, in the black of the house, sat Neil Witherspoon in full anachronistic costume, just waiting to spook them and warn them to get out! That’s quite the welcome wagon from the town historian, right?
If it’s so awful in there, Neil, then why are you sitting in the dark for hours waiting for the family to come in? How many nights did he do that, waiting for them to arrive? And why stand silently for several minutes while the family fumbles in the dark? And take off that ridiculous pseudo-nineteenth century outfit!
Notice, also, that when he “turns on the lights”, he grabs a skull and just rubs his thumb between the nasal cavity and the eye socket. It isn’t even a switch. The skull is just there for visual effect. Why would a house have a skull as a light switch for every fixture in the entire house? Who would do that? That ISN’T A THING! And that crazy noise it makes? Also not a thing! So it’s clearly all a trick set up by someone who means to scare them.
Also, those plastic cling footprints really do seem like something that I would totally buy at the Historical Society’s gift shop. I think green paint, some glitter, and a bit of rotten egg mixed in might have made spookier wall footprints, Neil, but hey, the Davis family seemed to go along with it. Except for Carleton.
The patriarch may have been wiser than he looked. Or not.
Anyway, as the family soldiered on, the deception had to become more elaborate and involve more townspeople–one dressed as a mummy ready to dance, some actors to start playing Marion and Jonathan with a white glow, and a Boogedy actor with an unfortunate and insensitive burn-victim mask. The Davises were pushed to the brink of violence though, and so the town had to end it. Their stubbornness won them some limited peace…for a while. And at least the historical society could keep perpetuating the tale of the evil Boogedy House.
We may never understand what really happened in Lucifer Falls and to poor William Hanover, but I think the townspeople owe him a little respect and dignity at the very least. They can keep selling their trinkets and pitchforks and “magical” cloaks. Actually, wait, that’s a great idea. Okay, if you’re ever in Lucifer Falls, come look me up, ‘cuz I’m going to open a store called “HOT CLOTHES” and have a “Ye Olde Devil” sign hanging from a noose out front.
You can buy shiny cloaks from me, and those latex footprints. Maybe even a Gag City jumpsuit. Yes! But I’ll always keep a candle lit for the poor misunderstood William Hanover.