Friday, July 24, 2009
Bunnyman: Virginia's Biggest Urban Legend
This is the beginning of a series I’m doing about local urban legends, those spinetinglers that make you creeped out to be in the dark alone. You know the ones, men with hooks for hands, a flying bat-like jersey devil, and escaped mental patients. They make for great ways to keep the kids under the watchful eye of parents and create cautionary tales that stick with us even as a adults.
The story of the Bunnyman is one such tale:
I cowered in my tent one summer in1970 when Pat Danaher, a renter of one of the cottages on our property, told my brother and I the story of the Bunnyman. It was our first campout in a tent that we plunked down between the two slave cottages, so that we wouldn’t be entirely alone on the property. What we didn’t expect was that the mulberry tree would sway and cast reaching shadows that resembled crooked arms tugging at the nylon walls.
Pat stooped down at our tiny opening and proceeded to tell us there was a 6’ tall man in a bunny suit running around Fairfax axing people to death. At the end of his scary tale, he casually announced to us that the last one axed to death was at the end of our very own street of Roberts Road.
I didn’t sleep the entire night. It probably wasn’t the best story for a 7-year-old girl on her first campout. My brother who was all of 12 at the time thought the story was awesome when Pat was there telling it, but when his hero left, Scott’s face turned kind of ashen and he ducked down deep in his sleeping bag, scooting towards the center of the tent. It was my first experience with self-sufficiency in being able to camp without adults, but more importantly, it taught me something about myself. Not only did a scary tale set me on edge, but I found I was also a survivalist, as I studied the contents of the tent for my plan of action should the Bunnyman appear. Finding nothing worthy of defending myself (the flashlight was lightweight plastic) and admittedly Scott would be the first to run, I decided I would appeal to him as a child and pretend I thought he was the Easter Bunny come to chop down a tree. My insight into psychology was precocious, but I found as a cute little girl that it usually bought me a certain amount of charm to soothe even a savage beast.
That was my introduction to the legend. There are a lot of people who still believe in the tale. In fact, it began with one completely different legend and evolved over time. Apparently, historically they are riddled with inconsistencies, but the stories are still terrifying.
The legend began in the early 1900s when an asylum in the woods of Clifton Virginia was closed and patients moved to Lorton Prison. Apparently, two had escaped during transport. One had died, the other was never found. Subsequently, the skins of bunnies were found (someone having eaten them) and then one day a few children’s bodies were found hanging at the opening of a single-lane tunnel that went under a railroad bridge. It was thereafter referred to as “The Bunnyman Bridge.” Lots of legends grew from this initial one and everything happening locally was blamed upon it.
Over decades this changed to a story of a man in a bunny suit, axing people in Northern Virginia and Maryland. I do recall a few summers of fear in Northern Virginia regarding the mixing of these two stories. According to sources who studied it, the asylum in Clifton never existed, therefore making the original store null and void. However, there were two vandalism reports associated with a man in a bunny costume.
I will copy this from Wikipedia because they did an excellent job of explaining the hysteria this legend grew when I was of impressionable age. I remember everyone fearing to let their kids out or their pets. I still to this day feel a freaky wicked chill when I see someone in a bunny suit. The ones at the mall used to send me into shivering hysterics and my parents would have to whisk me away from Tyson’s Corner when he’d make his Easter visits. I still see the Easter Bunny as a demented tortured soul. That’s the power of the urban legend.
Fairfax County Public Library Historian-Archivist, Brian A. Conley, has conducted extensive research on the Bunny Man legend. He has only located two incidents of a man in a rabbit costume threatening people with an axe. The vandalism reports occurred a week apart in 1970 in Burke, Virginia.
The first incident was reported the evening of October 20, 1970 by USAFA Cadet Bob Bennett and his fiancée, Dusty, who were visiting relatives on Guinea Road in Burke. Around midnight, while returning from a football game, they parked their car in a field on Guinea Road to talk. As they sat in the front seat with the car running, they noticed something moving outside the rear window. Moments later the front passenger window was smashed and there was a white-clad figure standing near the broken window. Bennett turned the car around while the man screamed at them about trespassing, including "You're on private property and I have your tag number." As they drove down the road they discovered a hatchet on the car floor.
When the police asked for a description of the man, Bob insisted he was wearing a white suit with long bunny ears, but Dusty remembered something white and pointed like a Ku Klux Klan outfit. They both remembered seeing his face clearly, but in the darkness they could not determine his race. The police returned the hatchet to Bennett after examination. Bennett was required to report the incident upon his return to the USAFA. It was later confirmed in Fairfax Police records that the man was in fact wearing a bunny suit with ears instead of a Ku Klux Klan suit.
The second reported sighting occurred the evening of October 29, 1970, when construction security guard Paul Phillips approached a man standing on the porch of an unfinished home in Kings Park West on Guinea Road. Phillips said the marn was wearing a gray, black and white bunny suit and was around 20 years old, 5 feet 8 inches (1.7 m) and weighing about 175 pounds (79 kg). The man began chopping at a porch post with a long handled axe saying "All you people trespass around here. If you don't get out of here, I'm going to bust you on the head." The man then ran into the woods.
Both incidents were investigated by Fairfax County Police. The investigations were eventually closed for lack of evidence. In the weeks following the incidents, over 50 people contacted the police to report sighting the "bunny man". Several newspapers reported the incidents.
at 9:51 AM