Hello fellow Grimericans! I must tell you all that I had a plan to write about a scary, spooky and downright frightening topic every week of October in celebration of All Hallows Eve 2015. My blog post last week about the glitches in the matrix didn’t quite follow that line of spooktasticness, but I hope to make up for it with this one. I’ve been trying to find more obscure tales, legends and mysteries that hopefully not all of you Fortean literature historians have heard about. I came across this one and thought it fit the bill. I have a vague memory of hearing this creepy tale before, be it from a podcast or in the aforementioned Fortean Literature that fills most of us Grimerican’s free time. Either way, it seemed like a tale worth sharing and so for you, the Grimerican readership, I have dug deep into the lore and lost a few good pairs of underwear so that I can bring to you the legend of…
The Hairy Hands of Dartmoor
What’s scarier than your parents being right?
This piece of creepiness begins in the early 1900’s where a series of road accidents involving automobiles and motorcycles down the route B3212 through Dartmoor, in the United Kingdom. More specifically, the stretch of the route between Postbridge and Twobridges. The story basically goes that somewhere along the way between these two destinations, a set of hairy manlike hands would take control of the wheel or handlebars and overpower the driver off the road and try to cause an accident. Cyclists and even horse drawn carriages would report this happening as well. It wasn’t until 1921 when things took a fatal turn (pun intended) and these phenomena took its first life. A medical officer from Dartmoor prison, a one Dr. E.H. Helby, was traveling on his motorcycle along with two young girls in his attached side car. Although it is apparently unclear if the two children were his or the prison’s governor. Regardless, the good Doctor began losing control of the motorcycle and yelled at the girls to jump. They survived the fall but Helby wasn’t so lucky. And while the children didn’t report seeing any hands, they did report seeing Helby apparently struggling with something. This is usually seen as the first fatality caused by the Hairy Hands. It is worth mentioning that up until this incident, the hands had been seen more of a nuisance than anything, albeit an extremely horrifying one.
“Damn! These hands are annoying!”
In August of the same year as Dr. Helby’s fatal accident, a Captain in the British Army was driving his motorcycle down the same stretch of infamous road. He too lost control and crashed but unlike Dr. Helby, he survived. It was really this incident that made this phenomena a global story and projected the legend of the Hairy Hands of Dartmoor. The young captain gave an interview that quickly spread. In this interview, the young captain recalled what had happened to him. He said,
It was not my fault. Believe it or not, something drove me off the road. A pair of hairy hands closed over mine. I felt them as plainly as ever I felt anything in my life – large, muscular, hairy hands. I fought them for all I was worth, but they were too strong for me. They forced the machine into the turf at the edge of the road, and I knew no more till I came to myself, lying a few feet away on my face on the turf.
More incidents happen after and in 1924, a folklorist named Theo Brown was camping in the area of the phenomena. She would later report seeing a disembodied, hairy hand crawling up toward a window in her caravan. She quickly made the appropriate sign of the cross which reportedly made the hand recoil and slunk away back into the darkness. No other strangeness happened during her stay, although more accidents and reports of the Hairy Hands have been reported up until 2008. At least that’s what I heard on YouTube so it has to be true, despite my efforts to confirm the claim.
“Ha, Ha! How Cute! Wait. What was I looking for again? Oh, well…”
So while most locals attribute the accidents to out-of-towners misreading the road and being too reckless, another theory for the Hairy Hands’ origin is a result of the Dartmoor Prison Massacre. Built in 1809, HM Prison Dartmoor housed over 6,000 French and American prisoners at any given time between its opening and the year 1850. A large portion of the prisoners were American sailors from the war of 1812. With the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, these American sailors expected quick release which never came. They began planning an elaborate, large scale escape feeling abandoned and forgotten by their country. This plain didn’t pan out when their escape tunnels were discovered leading to the death of some 270 prisoners who were trapped in the prison yard and fired upon by the British forces. 15-20 of these prisoners were seen escaping through nearby fields. A near riot caused by the mass shooting gave cause to let the escapees go in order to deal with the near mutiny. These prisoners were later found one by one, dead or near death all except for one. One American sailor made it to an old turnpike road called Carters Road, present day B3212, where he attempted to commandeer a horse and carriage and in the struggle, was crushed beneath the wheels and died. The amount of hair on this sailors hands is unknown.
Another piece of lore about the origin of the Hairy Hands tells of a blacksmith who was at either a black powder mill or a blacksmith shop and neglected to follow the rule of wearing only soft-toed shoes and not steel toed or heeled shoes. The latter can cause a spark resulting in the ignition of the surrounding black powder and, well, you can figure out the rest. The story I heard said that only his large, hairy hands were the only pieces left to ever suggest the poor soul existed. I personally think that it would make more sense if his big, hairy hands were never found. But I digress.
Another theory is that the hands are some form of gremlin. The same gremlins that WWII pilots would report purposefully trying to cause their planes to malfunction and crash. Another tale claims that they are some form of a cryptid from the surrounding area called a Kelpie. The tales of the kelpie describe it as a water horse that would lure victims into the water to drown them. But we’ll save the details of this cryptid for another time. Nick Redfern proposed that it could even be the spirt of a werewolf or Sasquatch. I tend to think that as with most things, it’s probably the American sailor still holding the grudge. Merica! Well that’s it for me Grimericans. Stay classy.