Friday, September 16, 2011

Tailypo, Teeny Tiny, and The Satin Dress

In the 1970s one classic ghost story was published in two very different versions both in the form of children’s picture books. The first written by Joanna C. Galdone entitled “The Tailypo” is one of the most terrifying ghost stories for children ever published. 

To this day mothers and teachers’ alike will not read or tell this story to younger children who are easily frightened. The premise of the story is that a man who lives in a swamp tries to kill a critter he spots but he only manages to chop off its tail. He takes this tail home, cooks it and eats it.

What happens next—when the critter comes to demand its’ tail back is presented so subtlety by the author that it creeps up on you, in fact Joanna Galdone crafted this story so well it has given countless children nightmares. 

“Tailypo! Tailypo!  Where is my tailypo? Tailypo! I’m coming for my tailypo.” The critter gets closer and closer to the man’s shack until its’ two ears appear at the foot of his bed…

Part of the “terror” it inspires I think is because the critter even takes revenge on the man’s pack of hound dogs—this scene is left to the imagination of the reader, which makes it even more intense. 

If you have older children this is a must read ghost story for Halloween.

The second version of this traditional story—but very different in tone and feeling—is a children’s picture book by Paul Goldone entitled “The Teeny Tiny Woman.” 

This story follows a teeny tiny woman through her teeny tiny world. She goes to a graveyard and finds a teeny tiny bone just perfect for her soup—so she takes it home. 

Teeny tiny ghosts observe her as she takes it and then follow her home. “Where is my bone? I want my bone?” 

Their demands become louder and louder as the story progresses until frustrated the teeny tiny woman gives the bone back. 

This is essentially the same story as Tailypo but with a much more innocent, humorous twist. This book is perfect for young children at Halloween—they like to repeat the teeny tiny ghosts’ demands and then find the lurking ghost or ghosts on each page.

The two children’s stories above represent how American ghost stories--a rich oral tradition-- evolve. I often find other basic ghost stories in various forms being told in different regions of the United States.

 Another example of this is the one about a person being “dared” to go alone into a graveyard and leave evidence, such as a knife stuck in a grave, to prove they were there. I will give examples of this story here.

The classic version of the Tailypo, Teeny Tiny story is one sometimes-entitled “The Satin Dress.” This version is a lot darker and creepier in nature but is not as scary as Tailypo. This version has been around a lot longer. 

It is about a young woman who works in a factory in New York and has very little money. She is invited to a fancy dress party but has no money to buy an appropriate dress or the material to make one. A coworker suggests she rent one for the evening.

At a nearby pawnshop she finds a beautiful pink satin gown with matching accessories. She is able to rent the ensemble for a reasonable fee. 

The night of the party she puts the dress on and looks at her glowing reflection in her bathroom mirror. As she turns away she thinks she hears a strange ghostly whisper: “Give me back my dress.” 

Afraid she looks around, finding nothing she feels it must just be that she is excited about the coming evening.

When she arrives at the dance her card quickly fills up. She enjoys the evening as each of her partners adeptly guides her round the dance floor. 

Halfway through the dance to her chagrin she starts to feel light-headed and even nauseous. As one partner leads her out she again hears the ghostly whisper in her ear: “Give me back my dress.”

She tries to ignore the voice and her sick feeling but as she looks into the face of her present partner she knows she must leave quickly. She makes an excuse and some how makes her way outside. 

The fresh air makes her feel worse. She summons a cab to take her home and when she arrives home she staggers up the steps to her flat.

As she enters her apartment she barely makes it to her bedroom door before she hears the ghostly whisper for a third time: “Give me back my dress. You have stolen my dress.”

 Feeling faint the young woman falls upon her bed. Again she hears the voice in her ear: “I want it back.”

She is found the next day dead still wearing the pink dress. 

The autopsy report later stated she died from embalming fluid poisoning which had entered her pores. The police found the pawnshop receipt for the dress and questioned the owner. 

He sheepishly admitted that the pink dress that had killed the young woman had been removed from the body of a dead girl just before her casket was nailed shut and buried.

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