The Origins of Slenderman: Understanding The Myth At the Center of This Week's Tragedy

Cat Vincent explores the origins of Slenderman in light of the tragic attempted murder of a classmate by two 12-year-olds in Wisconsin. He wrote this history three years ago.

Jun 3, 2014 at 5:30pm | Leave a comment

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We don’t often get to see the birth of a monster.

In 2009, a new monster was born. Because it was born on the internet, we can see the exact moment of its conception. We can follow its growth from a pair of photographs into a full-fledged mythology. We can see the point where it crossed over from a merely imaginal creature into something that haunts the minds of many. And we can see exactly when it became a creature of true occult significance. Its path is clear and distinct. Its legacy is undeniable. The monster’s name is Slenderman.

And its influence continues to grow.

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Slenderman’s birth-date is June 10th, 2009. Its father is a Photoshop artist who goes by the name Victor Surge. Its birth-place was a forum thread of the popular site somethingawful.com, noted for its many Photoshop competitions. The remit for this particular competition was, simply: “Create Paranormal Images.” The resulting forum thread ran for two days before Surge posted his pair of pictures -– at which point, the thread pretty much became solely about Surge’s creation.

Both of Victor Surge’s original Slenderman pictures are simple, evocative black and white images of children. In the first, a group of kids are walking away from, or possibly fleeing…something. In the second, other children are playing in a park, where a similar figure lurks nearly invisibly behind the slide and trees.

The monster in their midst appears to be an unusually tall, possibly bald, pale man in a black suit and tie, whose face cannot be discerned. In the second picture, there is a hint that the figure’s bizarrely long arms are transforming into tentacles. In both images, the figure is barely visible, almost blurring into the background. Under each image is a quote from the alleged original archivist. The first reads:

“…we didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but it’s persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time...” -- 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead

The second quote gives the monster its name:

“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.” -- 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.

The very next user comment, from ‘slidebite,’ is prescient: “You just know a couple of the good ones are going to eventually make it to paranormal websites and be used as genuine.” Even at this early juncture, there appears a tendency to blur the line between fact and fantasy. Surge’s next comment, in response to a post hoping for more Slenderman pictures, reads: “Maybe I’ll do some more research. I’ve heard there may be a couple more legit ‘Slender Man’ photographs out there. I’ll post them if I find them.”

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Over the next five days, Surge posted several more pictures of the creature, whose name shifted from “Slender Man” to “Slenderman”. Several other users were thoroughly hooked by the idea, contributing a variety of additions to the burgeoning mythology -– from other ‘Photoshopped’ pictures to short prose pieces. Some contributors expanded on the background history –- a tendency which soon became a popular past-time among aficionados. The earliest of these, from user ‘Thoreau-Up’ (15 June 2009, 0103hrs), tied Slenderman into German medieval folk tales:

"I’ve been following the signs for quite some time. There are woodcuts dated back to the 16th century in Germany featuring a tall, disfigured man with only white spheres where his eyes should be. They called him “Der Großmann”[Sic], the tall man. He was a fairy who lived in the Black Forest. Bad children who crept into the woods at night would be chased by the slender man, and he wouldn’t leave them alone until he caught them, or the child told the parents what he or she had done."

‘Thoreau-Up’ then goes on to provide the following “chilling account from an old journal, dating around 1702 (translated from German, some words may be inaccurate)”:

My child, my Lars… He is gone. Taken, from his bed. The only thing that we found was a scrap of black clothing. It feels like cotton, but it is softer…thicker. Lars came into my bedroom yesterday, screaming at the top of his lungs that “The angel is outside!”, I asked him what he was talking about, and he told me some nonsense fairy story about Der Großmann. He said he went into the groves by our village and found one of my cows dead, hanging from a tree. I thought nothing of it at first… But now, he is gone. We must find Lars, and my family must leave before we are killed. I am sorry my son… I should have listened. May God forgive me.

He finishes by remarking that there is “more evidence of the slender man, but this is one of the oldest translatable accounts. Anyone else in the thread found anything like this?”

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A couple of hours after this post came the earliest hint that Slenderman’s nature was moving beyond merely a collaborative fiction into an altogether more sinister realm. From a user simply named ‘I’ came this chilling post: The Slender Man.

He exists because you thought of him. Now try and not think of him.

By the end of June 15, there was a notable growth spurt -- several stories of Slenderman, set in time periods from 5000BCE to the Middle Ages to the 1950s to the present, appeared within a few hours. And, ominously, several members of the forum posted that they were having nightmares about Slenderman…

The next day, user ‘LeechCode5’ made a post which would perhaps go on to inspire the next stage of Slenderman’s development:

I’m suddenly imagining a Slender Man “documentary,” done in a style similar to The Last Broadcast or that old Alien Abduction tv special. Interviews with witnesses of various encounters through the years, investigation into the different events brought up in this thread, and specialists analyzing photographs, intercut around home video footage taken by a missing family, showing them being picked off by the Slender Man. As we get further into the film, we also start to see behind the scenes footage of the making of the documentary, with crew members not showing for work and not answering calls, various production problems…then finally ending with a note that the director disappeared immediately after completion of the film.

The first of many such videos -– Marble Hornets -– appeared within days and became an enormous success on YouTube, inspiring a huge expansion of Slenderman’s fan-base.

Although there were still some postings of new Photoshop art around the original “Create Paranormal Photo” theme, the majority of the somethingawful.com (SA) thread now revolved around Slenderman.

Many of the fiction contributions took the form of transcripts from interviews with victims of Slenderman, often set in either police or psychiatric interrogation contexts. Some of these were rapidly adapted into short sound pieces, as a kind of minimalist modern radio play. The outpouring of creativity around those initial pair of images was remarkable, even for a high-traffic site noted for its intensely creative and enthusiastic members. Debate ranged widely about the nature of Slenderman –- trying to establish whether or not there was a single entity or several Slendermen, and what precisely its background and nature were.

An apt comment from ‘JossiRossi’, (16 June 2009, 1927hrs) : “I think it should be said that the closer you think you are to understanding the Slender Man, the more incorrect you really are.”

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Reprinted with permission from: The Daily Grail