Myths Over Miami

Captured on South Beach, Satan later escaped. His demons and the horrible Bloody Mary are now killing people. God has fled. Avenging angels hide out in the Everglades. And other tales from children in Dade's homeless shelters.

She begins: "Some girls with no home feel claws scratching under the skin on their arms. Their hand looks like red fire. It's Bloody Mary dragging them in for slaves -- to be in gangs, be crackheads. But every 1000 girls with no home, is a Special One. When Bloody Mary comes, the girl is so smart and brave, a strange thing happens." Bloody Mary disappears, she says, then a pretty, luminous face glows for a moment in the dark. The girl has glimpsed what Bloody Mary looked like before she became wicked. "The Special One," Otius continues, "is somebody Bloody Mary is scared of because she be so good, people watch her for what to do. And if she dies, she will die good.

"Boys always brag what they can do, but this is the job of girls and -- I wish maybe I were a Special One," Otius says wistfully. "Maybe one of my friends from the shelters are now. I'll never see them again -- so's I guess I never know."

Her name was first spoken in hushed tones among children all over America nearly twenty years ago. Even in Sweden folklorists reported Bloody Mary's fame. Children of all races and classes told of the hideous demon conjured by chanting her name before a mirror in a pitch-dark room. (In Miami shelters, the mirror must be coated with ocean water, a theft from the Blue Lady's domain.) And when she crashes through the glass, she mutilates children before killing them. Bloody Mary is depicted in Miami kids' drawings with a red rosary that, the secret stories say, she uses as a weapon, striking children across the face.

Ten-year-old Otius, hands framing her face, with homeless friends who share the secret stories.
Steve Satterwhite
Ten-year-old Otius, hands framing her face, with homeless friends who share the secret stories.
A year ago on Christmas night, the secret stories say, demons conquered Heaven. Deion, age 12, draws God fleeing in a spaceship as his palace burns and humans on Earth (bottom left corner) cry out to Him in vain.
A year ago on Christmas night, the secret stories say, demons conquered Heaven. Deion, age 12, draws God fleeing in a spaceship as his palace burns and humans on Earth (bottom left corner) cry out to Him in vain.

Folklorists were so mystified by the Bloody Mary polygenesis, and the common element of using a mirror to conjure her, that they consulted medical literature for clues. Bill Ellis, a folklorist and professor of American studies at Penn State University, puzzled over a 1968 Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease article describing an experiment testing the theory that schizophrenics are prone to see hallucinations in reflected surfaces. The research showed that the control group of nonpsychotic people reported seeing vague, horrible faces in a mirror after staring at it for twenty minutes in a dim room. But that optical trick the brain plays was merely a partial explanation for the children's legend.

"Whenever you ask children where they first heard one of their myths, you get answers that are impossible clues: 'A friend's friend read it in a paper; a third cousin told me,'" says Ellis, an authority on children's folklore, particularly that concerning the supernatural. As president of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research, he's become an expert on polygenesis. "When a child says he got the story from the spirit world, as homeless children do, you've hit the ultimate non sequitur."

Folklorists have not discovered a detailed explanation for Bloody Mary's ravenous hatred of children, or her true identity. Today, however, shelter children say they've discovered her secret mission, as well as her true name. All of the secret stories about her enclose hints.

In Chicago shelters, children tell of her role in the death of eleven-year-old Robert Sandifer, who shot an innocent fourteen-year-old schoolgirl he mistook for an enemy. Cops combed the streets, shaking down gangbangers. In desperation Sandifer's gang turned to the one who could save them from justice. They sat in a dark room before a mirror and chanted, "Bloody Mary." The wall glowed like flames. A female demon weeping black tears appeared. Without speaking, she communicated a strategy.

That night, realizing his gang was going to kill him, Sandifer ran through his neighborhood, knocking on doors. "Like baby Jesus in Bethlehem -- except he was bad," explained an eleven-year-old at a Chicago homeless shelter. The next morning police found Sandifer's body, shot through the head, in a tunnel. According to the eleven-year-old, the boy was "lying on a bed of broken glass."

Bloody Mary commands legions. She can insinuate herself into the heart of whomever children trust most: a parent or a best friend. Miami shelter children say they learned about that from television. Salvation Army shelters offer parlors with couches, magazines, and a television. While their mothers play cards and do each other's hair, the children carefully study the TV news. They know how four-year-old Kendia Lockhart died in North Dade, allegedly beaten to death and burned by her father. Bloody Mary was hunting Kendia, shelter children agree. "Gangsters say that God stories are like Chinese fairy tales," observes twelve-year-old Deion at a downtown Miami Salvation Army shelter. "But even gangs think Bloody Mary is real."

This is the secret story shelter children will tell only in hushed voices, for it reveals Bloody Mary's mystery: God's final days before his disappearance were a waking dream. There were so many crises on Earth that he never slept. Angels reported rumors of Bloody Mary's pact with Satan: She had killed her own child and had made a secret vow to kill all human children. All night God listened as frantic prayers bombarded him. Images of earthly lives flowed across his palace wall like shadows while he heard gunfire, music, laughing, crying from all over Earth. And then one night Bloody Mary roared over the walls of Heaven with an army from Hell. God didn't just flee from the demons, he went crazy with grief over who led them. Bloody Mary, some homeless children say the spirits have told them, was Jesus Christ's mother.

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Bloody Mary is not new or original, she has always been summoned by chanting her name three times in front of a mirror.  I first heard of her as a child in the 60's, in New Jersey


@donnac84  No she is not new, but I'm guessing you did not grow up with the folklore of the homeless kids. Middle class white kids play with the occult, the desperate live it. Do not condescend to that which you do not know.


@donnac84 You clearly didn't read the story in its entirety, so why leave a comment?


@donnac84 The point of the article is the way in which street children are repurposing common legend. 


@donnac84 No shit. The rest of the legend is unique though, which makes it interesting. You're not some sole arbiter of secret information.

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