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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Cold as Clay – A Brief History

This story isn’t my top favorite, but it’s one of them. It details a girl who falls in love with a commoner; the love is mutual but her father does not approve of the relationship, so he sends her away. As a result of this, the boy tries to distract himself from the heartbreak and goes on to become a sailor, only to end up perishing from sickness. Later on, the girl finds the boy at her window, sitting upon a fine horse. He takes her back to her father under the guise that he has a message for her, also while complaining of a headache(to which the girl wraps her handkerchief around his head). They get to her father’s house, and upon arriving at the front door, her father tells her he never sent for her. The boy is missing at this point, and the father(wracked with guilt) tells her that the boy died while she was gone. The father and the boy’s father exhume the grave of the boy, only to find the girl’s handkerchief around his head. That concludes the summary, now let’s dive into its very sparse history.

From what I could find on this particular story, was the fact that it was told in both America and England sometime in the 17th century. The original story it was based on was called “The Suffolk Miracle” written by many different people. Upon doing some research, I found several different iterations of the story, in both song and story formats. For the most part, they all detail the same story I summarized above. Though in some versions, such a broadside version (a single sheet of inexpensive paper with words to a song, no musical notation), the girl in the story would fall ill and die upon hearing that her lover is dead. In other versions, the boy’s spirit is malevolent, and well you can guess what that means. It came for some hearty revenge.

I couldn’t actually find much on this as you can guess. There isn’t much-written history about this particular story/song, and people didn’t exactly keep solid records of this. I do wonder what the purpose of this story was. Was it to scare, or to warn parents to not split up young lovers, for the fear that one of them may come back as a ghost, and the other die? I doubt it. It was most likely made for a bit of fun and entertainment. If so, it certainly did it’s job.

Other than this story, the other stories in this book are great as well. If you haven’t read any of the three books that are out, I highly recommend them. These books gave me nightmares as a child, and even as a young adult, they’re disturbing, to a good extent. There was also a movie, titled “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)” that’s terrifying, but it doesn’t really do the book justice. Of course, if you liked my analysis of this story, here are some other stories that rank among my personal favorites.

  • “The Big Toe” – this story is about a boy that finds a toe sticking out of the ground, and brings it to his mother to put in their stew. Little did he know it’d come with a severe consequences.
  • “The Attic” – Dark and dusty attics tend to be pretty terrifying on their own. A poor dog even loses their life to one. Lesson learned. Don’t mess with attics.
  • “Harold” – Let’s just say, your consequences have fatal repercussions.

In any case, just read the book. Watch the movie. Trust me (or not), you won’t regret it. In the grand scheme of things, it will be the best choice you’ve ever made!


Broadside Ballads Online. Ballads Online. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2021, from http://ballads.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/view/edition/23859.

Flanagan, A. (n.d.). The Holland Handkerchief. Clare County Library: Songs of clare – the Holland handkerchief sung by Austin Flanagan. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/songs/cmc/the_holland_handkerchief_aflanagan.htm.

Schwartz, A., Gammell, S., Schwartz, A., Schwartz, A., & Schwartz, A. (2019). Scary stories to tell in the dark: Three books to chill your bones. Harper.

Traditional ballads  :  traditional and ethnic  :  musical styles  :  articles and essays  :  the library of Congress celebrates the songs of America  :  digital collections  :  library of Congress. The Library of Congress. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2021, from http://www.loc.gov/collections/songs-of-america/articles-and-essays/musical-styles/traditional-and-ethnic/traditional-ballads/.

A current junior at NMSU, Rukiiyah is an introvert who loves to spend her days at home with a cup of green tea,her pet rabbit Ruxia, and a novel of her choice. You can follow her on Instagram @ _ruki.ruki22_
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