Cropsey vs. Cropsey Brothers: A Brief Look At Variances In Childhood Urban Legends
So Netflix on the Wii has finally followed the lead of Playstation and Xbox in that the company has offered the software necessary to stream movies to your gaming console as a downloadable application from the Wii store. Finally. For months you had to insert a disc every time you wanted to use the service. I found this out the other night when my roommate mentioned how he had dropped the ball in requesting one of the discs from Netflix. And while I was looking for old classic Nintendo and Super Nintendo games to download I saw that you could just download Netflix from the Wii shop. Awesome. First I watched Human Centipede again, because it is The Greatest Movie Of All-Time Not Called The Room. Then I watched Devil’s Backbone, which I hadn’t seen in almost a decade. It was good. Then I was scrolling through the list of available documentaries and I saw something that made my heart stop: A film called Cropsey.
The Netflix description called it an investigative-crime horror-documentary titled after an urban legend on Staten Island that serves as the introduction to a story about a convicted murderer who seemed to embody the legend.
I was stunned. When I was at overnight camp in the Poconos we had our own urban legend, known as The Cropsey Brothers, which was closely related to the tale told by the documentarian at the outset of Cropsey. In his version of the story (told to Boy Scouts and sleep-away campers along the Hudson Valley), a man named Cropsey (who was a judge) was living or vacationing with his wife and child in a cabin, when a group of kids accidentally lit fire to the cabin, killing his wife and child. Incensed, Cropsey became a camp counselor and sought fatal revenge on the kids.
At my overnight camp the story I heard when I was in the 3rd grade revolved around two young brothers who were incarcerated at a nearby institution for the criminally insane. The men escaped, and after evading capture made a small home for themselves in the densely wooded area near my camp. As it turned out, their cabin was not far from a trail which linked the overnight camp to nearby Lake Greeley. It wasn’t long before campers began hearing strange sounds in the night, scratching noises or footsteps in the woods behind their cabins. Rumors swirled that counselors returning late at night or early in the morning might find a skinned animal near the flagpole where all the boys congregated in the morning before breakfast. There was even a theory that that the Cropsey Brothers had abducted and killed one camper, but the wealthy camp owner had paid the local media and staff not to publicize what had happened. The story scared the crap out of 8-year-old me and my friends. What made it worse was that our counselors would show us “signs” around camp that the brothers existed. They took us to the back of one bunk and showed us a crudely carved “CB.” To make matters worse, the engraving appeared on a bunk that was one which was not currently in use, so we campers began to jump to conclusions about what had occurred there. Our counselors took us into another bunk — one of the older kids’ bunks — and showed us how the word “Cropsey” was carved into the underside of a sink.
I told Nicci about it and she was intrigued. Unfortunately, the whole “Cropsey” thing in the movie is just used as an introduction to this guy Andre Rand, who was the childhood “Boogeyman” or “Cropsey” for the filmmakers. So basically the documentary is about this guy who allegedly killed five children on Staten Island. It has nothing to do with the urban legend, which is kind of shrugged off by the filmmakers as a cautionary tale intended to keep kids from trespassing on the grounds of the old Willowbrook Mental Institution.
I was again reminded of my childhood with all the stories about Willowbrook. In New Jersey, we had some of the weirdest, most-fucked-up institutions in the country, and when they were abandoned, they became hangouts for teenagers and — much like the tale of the Cropsey Brothers — had wild urban legends of their own.
The craziest times I had in high school were probably at the Overbrook/Essex County Hospital which was a few miles from where I grew up. Several times my friends and I attempted to gain the courage to visit the abandoned asylum. Once we were caught by the cops (I talked us out of it by claiming we were lost), once I took a date there (she was not amused), and once I went with a couple of friends and actually made it up the hill. That was a pretty big deal. Of course, one would think getting the courage to actually reach Overbrook was the scariest part, but that wasn’t even one tenth as discomforting as exploring the abandoned asylum.
Then there was Greystone, which was just the most insane place ever. When it was first created it was actually called the New Jersey State Lunatic Asylum. Awesome already. The handful of buildings on the property are linked by underground hallways. As one contributor to Weird New Jersey wrote, “My friends and I explored the majority of the buildings, and we found some unbelievable stuff. I’ve seen machines with histories I can only speculate about. Cauldrons lie in a state of disrepair where food was once cooked for thousands at a time. I’ve seen cells for the dangerous, and huge human cribs for the mentally vacant. I can only imagine what the operating room we discovered was used for, or the holding pen in the catacombs.”
The underground hallways were always the most nerve-wracking. I think I once entered one of them, but it wasn’t long before we became spooked and ran away. There were rumors of kids getting lost down there or kids running into gangs or Satanic cults. I don’t know why we never went during the day, but I suppose that would have been the easiest way to actually see what was going on there. I remember my heart rate climbing to a near-unbearable pace. I remember a room with a heavy metal door and wood blocks attached to the walls with white chains hanging from them. I’m pretty sure there was actual electroshock therapy equipment there, too. I was always surprised that places like Overbrook and Greystone weren’t completely looted. There was still paperwork and wheelchairs and medical equipment strewn about. Most of it was severely rusted or broken, but still…you’d expect to find the place completely empty.
So, yeah. Cropsey. Not at all what I was expecting. Not only didn’t I know there was an actual urban legend that extended beyond my old summer camp, but I didn’t know a movie called Cropsey could have almost nothing to do with the urban legend, and everything to do with some child killings I couldn’t care less about. I say false advertising on the part of the filmmakers! Damn them for making me watch that film only to find out I don’t care about the child killer or what happens to him. I want to know where the fucking legend came from. Hey, some other documentary filmmaker, get on it! *snap*
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