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For the Love of Tattooing: “Signatures of the Soul”

Categories: Featured Blogs, General, Videos | Posted by: Sean Herman
Good Time Charlies Tattoo Land from "Signatures of the Soul"

Good Time Charlies Tattoo Land from “Signatures of the Soul”

Anyone that knows me will tell you, I love tattooing.  I love everything about it.  I love the act of tattooing, whatever the piece may be, and I love getting tattooed.  It’s a passionate love affair that started for me almost 20 years ago.  I am so thankful and grateful to get to be involved in such an amazing and beautiful craft.  It’s something I still, to this day, can’t believe I am lucky enough to get to be a part of. (You can read the full piece of how I was introduced to tattooing at TAM blog)  Every day, tattooing amazes me in one way or another.  The way I like to describe it is “Tattooing” is a larger thing, a beautiful entity that we are all just tapping into when we do a tattoo.  When you can get the motions just right, it’s like riding a wave, and it just carries you through.  Many tattooers will tell you, the machine will do the work, it will move for you. 

That love affair also stretches into the history of the craft of Tattooing.  I will sit and talk for hours with anyone that will listen about books, documentaries, or just stories of the people in the past that have been involved in the craft.  After a particularly long conversation the other day, I decided I wanted to share some of those documentaries and stories with you guys.  So I am continuing with a past project I was doing entitled “For the Love of Tattooing” (which can be found at TAM blog).  In the first part of the project I interviewed several tattooists, asking them about what got them invested in tattooing.  Now, I will be sharing some of my favorite documentaries, interviews, and stories, and what they mean to me, and how they show a love for this amazing craft.  I am so thankful that I get to be involved in such a historically rich and beautiful craft, and hopefully I can share that feeling with you guys.  I hope you enjoy!  The first post will be on the film “Signatures of the Soul (Tattooing Today)”


Signatures of the Soul (Tattooing Today) (1984)

Film Overview: “Tattooing — “The world’s oldest skin game” — is the subject of this documentary made by Geoff Steven who scored a major coup when he obtained the services of Peter Fonda as his presenter. Shot in NZ, Samoa, Japan and the United States, it traces the history of tattooing from Ancient Egypt through its tribal importance in the Pacific, to a counter culture renaissance that began in the 1960s. Leading practitioners (including superstar Ed Hardy) are interviewed and observed at work, while their clients wince their way towards becoming living canvasses.”

Host Peter Fonda describing his experience with tattooing from "Signatures of the Soul"

Host Peter Fonda describing his experience with tattooing from “Signatures of the Soul”

“Signatures of The Soul” is an essential starting point for tattooing documentaries. Peter Fonda (of Easy Rider fame) hosts this documentary, going over much of the early history of tattooing.  Fonda even goes into explanations of why he is tattooed, and specific tattoos he wears.

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Paulo Sulu’ape tattooing from “Signatures of the Soul”

Starting with a history of Samoan tattooing, the film goes into the revival of tattooing in modern Samoa, specifically with tattooist Paulo Sulu’ape.  Sulu’ape was a huge influence on me and my interest in tattooing. I saw a clip from Signatures of the Soul when I was young, and it forever influenced and affected my thoughts.  I identified with Sulu’ape, that personal connection in tattooing. The way he spoke about a connection to the person receiving the tattoo and the power that it gave, it was amazing… inspiring. I knew tattooing would forever be an obsession to me, something I could never get out of my head, but I never thought I would be one of the few lucky ones that could give a tattoo.  Years after I had tattooing brought to my attention by Paulo, I found myself working under the watchful eye of an amazing woman in the Netherlands. I went out there to tattoo at her shop, and she became something of a tattoo mom for me. She had been in the craft a long time, had seen the world and had fought for tattooing. She was tough, and I respected her for it.

One night we were having a meal out and she asked me the question of, “How did you get into tattooing?” I began by telling her about Paulo Sulu`ape, and how his words changed my life. She looked at me, smiled and I noticed tears started coming down her eyes. “Paulo” she said, “was the love of my life.” I sat in awe and listened to a story of them falling in love, getting ready to spend a life together and his untimely death that forever changed her life. I listened and was amazed. I told her how his words changed everything I thought, to which she smiled at me, and softly said, “It’s tattooers like you that Paulo lives on through, forever.” We sat, in silence, with tears in our eyes, forever connected. To me, that is the heart of tattooing.  That was the greatest compliment I will ever receive. 

 

Tattooist Bob Roberts from "Signature of the Soul"

Tattooist Bob Roberts from “Signature of the Soul”

From Paulo,  the film continues on through tattooing rich history, its discovery by sailors and how it spread throughout the world.  From Doc Webb, to Bob Roberts and Leo Zulueta, to Ed Hardy, this film documents the beginnings of what became modern tattooing.  The origins of everything tattooing is today can be found in “Signatures of the Soul”.  Doc Webb telling stories about sailors and traditional American tattooing, and Bob Roberts going into explantations of why solid black work has beautiful longevity and its place in the punk rock culture. 

 

Tattooist Jack Rudy from "Signatures of the Soul"

Tattooist Jack Rudy from “Signatures of the Soul”

This transitions to interviews with Jack Rudy and his explanations for why black and grey tattooing has such an impact on portrait tattooing and why he feels it looks complimenting as a tattoo.  It’s a great piece of modern tattoo history. Sailor, punk, circus and gang culture are all covered in this piece. 

Lyle Tuttle gives great explanations for tattooing in freak shows, and how it influenced tattooing overall.  On the other side is Ed Hardy giving a detailed interview, explaining his ideas of private studio tattooing, and how Japanese tattooing contains valuable essentials that are key to the growth of modern tattooing.  A short but detailed history of tattooing in Japan is included, a valuable resource for anyone interested in tattoo culture.  Hardy and Zulueta’s work creating Tattoo Times (in my opinion, one of the single most valuable tattoo publications) is also covered in the film.  Even the creation of temporary tattoos gets some screen time in this film.

Tattooist Lyle Tuttle describing his history in tattooing from "Signatures of the Soul"

Tattooist Lyle Tuttle describing his history in tattooing from “Signatures of the Soul”

“Signatures of the Soul” is a beautiful document in time that every tattoo enthusiast should see, so naturally it had to be the first piece I would recommend seeing.

“There’s a certain percentage of the populace everywhere always that will want to be tattooed and I’m sure none of us will every fully understand why. And that’s part of the attraction.”

Tattooist Ed Hardy

“Signatures of the Soul” is  separated into 4 clips.

CAUTION:  There are a few clips in this first one that could be offensive, if you are the type to get offended, or if kids are watching it. So if your kids watch this, and you don’t want them to see nudity, you might not want to watch it in front of them.  Also, tattooing shown on this film is from a time when sterilization practices were not what they are today (i.e. latex gloves, machine bags, etc).  Today we know the importance of cross contamination, and what we need to do to provide the safest environment for our clients.  This film documents a different time, where the tattooist felt they were providing the same level of protection, prior to the advances that were made to get us to where we are today.  Watch the film with an open mind to where tattooing was and is today.

If the movies below won’t load for you, you can click the link here and view it directly from the site.

New Zealand On Screen is who we have to think for uploading this valuable piece of tattoo history.  Next time I will be featuring the first film that the director of “Signatures of the Soul” (Geoff Steven) did on tattooing entitled “Skin Pics”.  Stay tuned!

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You Can Hear Me Ramble…

Categories: General | Posted by: Sean Herman

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A few weeks ago I did an interview for a local podcast about small business called The Mobile Alabama Business Podcast.  The host Marcus is an awesome guy, and I looked forward to the chance to talk about The Bell Rose and The Serpents of Bienville, along with my views on making an honest living.  They just put it up, and I am really happy with how it came out.  Take a listen for yourself!  You can hear it here

If you enjoy it, please share it with your friends.

Thanks!

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What Will Our Children Be Thankful For?

Categories: General | Posted by: Sean Herman

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“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.”

― Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Painting of Christopher Columbus

Painting of Christopher Columbus

Since the dawn of time, storytelling has been used to rally a following for a cause.  Stories that may be true, or may be embellished, will become justifications for movements, reforms, and even wars.  From Christopher Columbus (who’s biography by Washington Irving was more of a romance than a biography) to Jamestown and the legend of Pocahontas (a teenager taken hostage, passing away at the tender age of 21).  Could stories even be used to rally a nation through a genocide, causing a nation to have a completely different view of a historical event? Could a story fool a nation into celebrating genocide?

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”

― George Orwell

Read the rest of this blog here, at The Serpents of Bienville webpage.  To keep up to date with all the new blogs I am working on for The Serpents of Bienville project, follow our social media site here.

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My First Sight of Home, Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood

Categories: General | Posted by: Sean Herman

“There’s a legend ’round here. A killer buried, but not dead. A curse on Crystal Lake. A death curse. Jason Voorhees’s curse. They say he died as a boy, but he keeps coming back. Few have seen him and lived. Some have even tried to stop him. No one can. People forget he’s down there… waiting.”

-Walt Gorney, Friday the 13th Part VII

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Cover to Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood (1988)

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Friday the 13th Part VII, The New Blood (1988) Japanese movie poster

It was Christmas morning 1990 in snowy St. Paul Minnesota, and I received a gift that forever changed my life. Just like Ralphie in “The Christmas Story”, I ran to our Christmas tree, shaking boxes, when I heard that familiar sound of a VHS tape, clacking in a box.  At the tender age of 8, my foray into the horror film genre was about to truly began.  Like most kids, from a young age I had always been interested in the classic Universal Monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf man, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon), but I was fortunate enough to grow up in the roaring 80’s, the golden age of the serial slasher genre in horror films.  In the pre-internet age, the only access a kid like myself had to this genre was the upper number pay-per view preview channels.  Back in the late 80’s early 90’s, pay per view was the way to catch the newest movies, after they left the theaters, but right before they would be released to video.  The stations would show extended previews for the movies and provide a 1-800 number to call so you could order the movie.  I remember staying up at night, watching the preview for A Nightmare on Elm Street part 5: The Dream Child.  I loved the dark, macabre environment of the genre, so I would watch what I could to see the most of it.  If only I could own one of these movies, I could watch them as much as I wanted.  Back to Christmas morning, 1990, and I unwrapped the VHS tape that changed all of that, and truly started my foray into the horror genre.  I peeled back the wrapping to reveal the iconic hockey mask that graces the cover of Friday the 13th, part VII.  Triumphantly, like at the end of a teenage underdog film, I raised my fist, movie in hand, in victory.  The montage music played, and I owned my own piece of the horror genre. 

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Cover for The Monster Squad (1987)

*Let it be known, I do understand the repercussions of an 8 year old watching a rated R slasher film, and I am not advocating anyone having their children do this, but it was the 1980’s.  We children of the 1980’s were exposed to probably some of the most offensive, violent movies that have existed.  Movies and television shows made for kids at that time were probably worse than late night cable movies today.  Anyone remember “Monster Squad”?  We all remember it as a hilarious Halloween romp, but  rewatch it, you will see what I’m talking about.  Single handedly one of the more offensive hours I  have had in a long time. I am definitely not advocating a child watching Friday the 13th Part VII, or any movie in a similar genre, and I am completely aware of the effects of violence on kids, somehow I turned out somewhat sane, at least my wife claims so.*

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Dock at Brynes Lake, Present Day

Little did I know, living in St. Paul Minnesota as an 8 year old, that particular movie was filmed in the area I would be spending a majority of my life at, where I would discover the magic and meaning of tattooing, where I would meet my beautiful wife, and where we would raise our amazing daughter.  I could have never imagined, while watching Jason Voorhees battle a psychic girl on a rickety pier, that one day my life would revolve around the same body of water they were fighting in…(continued here)

Read the rest of the blog here , at The Serpents of Bienville’s web page.  Keep up with all the new blogs I am working on for The Serpents of Bienville by following our social media that you can find here.   

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Oct 29 2015
Cry Baby Bridge

Cry Baby Bridge

Categories: General | Posted by: Sean Herman

This is the fifth and final blog in my Halloween series as featured on my project site www.serpentsofbienville.com .  In this blog I explain the story behind the illustration I drew entitled “Cry Baby Bridge”.  You can learn more about the story, the project, and how you can own one of these prints at www.serpentsofbienville.com .  I hope you enjoy!

Illustration entitled "Cry Baby Bridge" 11"x17" Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

Illustration entitled “Cry Baby Bridge” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

 

“Legend has it that on driving over Cry Baby Bridge on a late night may be the last decision you ever make.  As your car drives over the road, slowly approaching the other side, the lights cut off.  Darkness envelops the car, and all that can be heard is the crying of a baby in the distance…”

 


 

 

 

“Myth could be as sustaining as reality – sometimes even more so.” 

― Alexander McCall Smith, The Lost Art of Gratitude

Deep in the dark recesses of a balmy night, gloom covers your eyes, like warm hands playing a game of “guess who”, making you fearful of turning around.  In the distance lies a plantation home, dilapidated, rundown, and abandoned.  The closer you come, the more obvious it is that no living creature could reside there.  Firefly’s move about, as if haints were holding candles, flying around and taunting you.  One firefly seems stuck though, frozen in time, right in front of the window of the tomb-like plantation house.  Slowly a face rises behind the light, her face, stricken with fear.  A deafening scream follows.  You close your eyes tight, attempting to hold out the horrific sound, but once they reopen you realize that you are in your car, never having left it, engine still running, stopped on Kali Oka bridge.

 

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Legend has it that the woman in the window was the wife of a plantation owner who was known for his abuse, and his sadistic, dark hearted ways.  He tortured his slaves, and his house, into submission.  One slave stood above the others, hulking in size, dwarfing all those around him.  The Mistress of the house, sneaking into the slave quarters, found his embracing arms, and an affair began.

 

Close up of Illustration entitled "Cry Baby Bridge" 11"x17" Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

Close up of Illustration entitled “Cry Baby Bridge” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

This affair could only last so long before the eyes of her husband were to see what was happening. Late one evening, upon suspicion that his wife had been sneaking into the slaves roost, his heart racing, he decided to confide in his local dog pack at the local watering hole.  After the night of heavy drinking and trading stories with his drove at the drinking hole, a plan was concocted.  The group raced to the plantation with hatred burning their hearts of coal black.  Escorted by the inferno raging inside of him, one that would just as much burn the space to the ground, and take all of the slaves lives with, he had decided their fate.   With the aid of his brood, he flung the door open.  What he saw was his wife, with whom he had abused and beaten, being comforted in the embrace of two gigantic dark arms.  He yelled to his drove to grab the slave, and take his wife away.  It took 13 men to rip her from his arms, an embrace neither would ever feel again.  Both were taken out of the house, the slave drug to a large, disfigured oak.  The mistress drug in the other direction, her clothes ripping, skin coming with it, as she fought to see her love for one last time.  As she was taken away, screaming curses at her husband, her captor, the last sight she saw of her love was one that took her breathe away. She gasped in horror, witnessing her love chained to the tree, blooded, swollen, as if he had been the Nazarene beaten with a cat of nine tales. He made eye contact with her, his brow swollen over, eyes just barely able to see her soft, pale face, blood filling his sockets, slowly blurring his sight of her.  As red filled his vision, he could see her face contort in fear, screaming.  She saw what he couldn’t: his fate.  A large hatchet raised up from behind the tree, and was sunk deep into the slaves arms, at the wrists, severing his hands.  With his strength and size, the gnarled muscle dented the hatchet, and they continued, over and over.  Finally, wiping his blood from their eyes, they saw his hands, lying lifeless on the ground.  The devil proprietor screamed, sounding as if demons possessed his throat, howling in unison, “You will ne’er… touch… anything… again…”  He spit in the slaves swollen eye sockets, turning now, directly facing his wife.  Holding the hatchet tight, he pointed at her with it, “And You!” he growled, “You Must Be Held Accountable for your sins!”

 

Close up of Illustration entitled "Cry Baby Bridge" 11"x17" Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

Close up of Illustration entitled “Cry Baby Bridge” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

The slave’s body was left there, rotting into the oak.  With one last lament to the heavens, his head fell. As the balmy, warm fog rolled in, onto the river, carrying the man’s last breath with it.  A pool of blood began to collect on the ground, traveling through the sandy dirt, and pouring into the rushing waters behind him.  His love knew she suffered the unspeakable fate of a lifetime with a monster, a demon.  Her hell was here now.  As the days passed, the slave’s body had been left to decompose, partly held up by chains to the oak.  His body stood as an example of what happened to those who defied their owner.

 

When she initially moved into the plantation home, her one solace from her husband was sitting in the kitchen, looking out the window.  The view was of a beautiful old tree, as the river flowed next to it.  She watched from her home everyday, and continued to watch after that fateful evening.   Her once serene view, now the sight of her love, slowly being eaten by time.  Her eyes, now vacant, stared hopelessly, as she became nothing.  Truly empty, until…

 

usecrybabymamaThrough sickness and pain, she realized that she was not alone, and a piece of her love grew inside her.  She carried the child to term, hiding it from her captor the entire time. She treasured something that was a piece of her love, but she knew that it couldn’t last, for there was no love in damnation.  One night she knew, as her water broke, the time had come.  She snuck down to the river, where the blood of her love had flowed down to, and birthed their child. Alone in the moonlight she finally felt as if she wasn’t alone, and for that brief instant, she was free.  As she floated in the water, all three of their blood mixed, intertwined as one dark mass, she knew it was the end, there would be no more suffering for her or her brood. This hell didn’t deserve the angelic child, or herself, any longer.  She clutched the child close to her breast, kissed it’s still bloody head, and descended.  The large rock she had tied to her leg had finally rolled off the small isle of sand it was set upon, and fell, hard and deep into the river.  As she sank, and life left her, she knew it was over, she had escaped her hell, she was on her way to her inamorato arms once again.  She felt her lover’s warm embrace as water filled her burning lungs.  She was finally safe.  They were finally free.

 

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If you were to attempt to count the number of “Cry Baby Bridges” across the US, the number would exceed into the hundreds. I can remember 3 or 4 just off hand, from living in the rural south.  The one you just read was based off the “Cry Baby Bridge” location in Saraland, Alabama, right off of Kali Oka Road (which has some stories of it’s own, including a ghost car prophesying impending doom).

 

Kayo Road bridge, Highway 31, Decatur, Alabama

Kayo Road bridge, Highway 31, Decatur, Alabama

 

In researching these true stories in our area, I came across that of Cry Baby Hollow in Decatur, Alabama. The old bridge on Kayo Road, off Highway 31, is an dilapidated, lonely and apparently a little used bridge.  Stories abound about this site, many of the standard “mother losing her child” accident scenario, which there is no real historical tie to.  Most stories I did find tied it to a serial killer named Frank Hammond.

 

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According to stories, Mr. Hammond’s activities started in 1925 outside of Hartselle, Alabama, with the discovery of three dead bodies.  As the bodies were found over the years, the stories continued to grow about a looming presence,  a killer abiding in that dark hollow.  Stories state that in 1943, Mr. Hammond strolled into a hardware store, his clothes stained with blood, and purchased rope and a hacksaw, nothing too suspicious.  For some reason, town Police followed his back to his shack, an old barn, in the woods.  What was discovered can only be described as the stories slasher films are made of.  From a very “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” like scene, found was human skins nailed to the walls, among other homemade taxidermy items.

 

usecrybabybridge15Once Hammond was taken away, the tore the house apart, searching for more evidence of his horrific crimes.  Under one of the floor boards, they found the poorly decomposing body of his long dead wife, Loretta May.  Hammond was a quiet man, until it came to his recalling of the events that led them up to that point.  Time and time again, he went into great detail about every victim, how he lured them to their death, and how he took each ones life.  Stories remain about the torture he inflicted on her poor wife, keeping her prisoner in the old shed, tied up and starved.  In 1950, after spending years in a prison in Georgia, he supposedly took his own life.  Reportedly his suicide note read, “For the family’s I’ve hurt, this is for you.  Now you can’t see me die in the chair.  The evil is ready to go home, and get you all.  It’s never over, it has just begun.”  With a suicide note like that, I began to be a little doubtful of much truth lying in this theatrical story.  Proposed as truth, the deeper I looked into it, no facts lined up, but that didn’t stop the story from spreading like wildfire. Just like a good horror franchise, ala “Friday the 13th,” Mr. Hammond always came back, even if facts were few and fair between their stalkers’ existence.  To this day, though, local town’s people attribute the screaming sounds to be that of a young boy, his soul for ever trapped by Mr. Hammond, deep in The Cry Baby Hollow.  Maybe in the end, we want to believe these created monsters, because the real ones are much worse.

 


 

 

Illustration entitled "Cry Baby Bridge" 11"x17" Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

Illustration entitled “Cry Baby Bridge” 11″x17″ Ink on Illustration board by Sean Herman

 

“Myths which are believed in tend to become true.”

George Orwell

Stories of fright fill the dark nights spent at these local sites.  A bridge, a hollow, what ever area has been given this damned persona, becomes the source of nightmares told to make local hair stand on end, but the truth is always much more horrific.  Here’s a quick rundown of some true stories these “Cry Baby Bridge” myths may have come from.

 

July 19, 1886 – Four-year-old Richard Tufts of Long Beach, New Brunswick, carried a neighbor’s baby to a bridge over Tuft’s Brook and tossed him over the edge. When asked why, he said, “I don’t know.”

November 1, 1890 – Sadie McMullen threw Ella May Connors and Delia Brown (ages 11 and 6, respectively) 70 feet from the New York Central trestle bridge over Murderer’s Creek in Akron, New York, before unsuccessfully trying to drown herself. Ella died instantly; Delia survived but was permanently injured.

January 30, 1914 – In “one of the most sensational crimes” from the history of Spartanburg, SC, Clyde Clement threw his infant daughter Virginia off a bridge into a millpond on Lawsons Fork Creek. He threatened to leave his girlfriend, Laura Pendleton, if the baby wasn’t “done away with” and would only marry her after the child was gone.

February 28, 1914 – Mrs. Ralph Dinsmore, 23, of North Attleboro, Massachusetts, jumped from the Metcalf Street Bridge clutching her 4-month-old baby and was struck by a train around 12:30 PM. She left a suicide note stating that “no one will understand” her reasons.

May 1, 1937 – Myrtle Ward tossed her 3-year-old daughter Louise off the Colorado Street bridge in Pasadena, California. The infant’s 100-foot fall was broken by a tree; the mother jumped afterward and died instantly.

May 23, 1972 – Keith Hamilton, 17, was seen tossing the infant of a 19-year-old girl and her 16-year-old male companion into the Ohio River at 2:00 AM from the 17th Street West Bridge in Huntington, West Virginia. It turned out to be a hoax; the baby was a doll. All three were charged with juvenile delinquency.

February 16, 2010 – Following a domestic dispute, Shamsid-Din Abdur-Raheem threw his three-month-old daughter off the Garden State Parkway’s Driscoll Bridge near Sayreville, New Jersey.”

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“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie–deliberate, contrived and dishonest–but the myth–persistent, persuasive and unrealistic. Too often we hold fast to the cliches of our forebears. We subject all facts to a prefabricated set of interpretations. We enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.

[Commencement Address at Yale University, June 11 1962]” 

― John F. Kennedy

usecrybabysceneEven with horrific true stories existing, the lore and mythology behind “Cry Baby Bridge” seems to be something altogether different.  A majority of these stories are usually traced back the early to mid 20th century, America’s moralist hey day.  In this era, a baby born out of wedlock was considered a immoral act, one that could never end well.  Single mothers were not as common as they are now, and many people believed that such would bring disgrace to their house.  These myths begin to show a cultural reaction to the moral majority, with the cries being those of an oppressed woman, being told her sexuality was evil, ultimately leading to death.  Some believe that the baby could represent this turmoil the young woman was facing, and that getting rid of it was the only recourse.  The horror of this story becomes the reflection it could be of our reality at that given time, and that it is continued to be believed today.

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