You heard it right. At one point during the 1950-1960s, the “Hooked Man” urban legend had so infiltrated teen society, that Dear Abby featured the legend in her newspaper column.
The Legend Goes
A man and woman are in love, and after their date of dinner and a movie, they decide to go to a secluded spot and have some special quiet time alone with each other. They drive to a spot near the woods at a lookout point, which overlooks the city below. They turn on the radio to some soft listening music and begin to kiss, hug, and talk of their future together. As time goes by, an announcement comes on the radio telling of an escaped murderer that has a hook for a hand. The man blows it off however the woman starts to feel nervous and uneasy, as the place of the institution that this man has escaped from is just on the other side of the woods they are park at. She convinces her lover that they should leave, and the man, frustrated, speeds off in a frantic manner. They arrive at the woman’s home, and he gets out, opens her door to walk her to her front door. That is when he notices a bloody hook attached to the passenger side of the door.
The Beginning: The Hook
According to popular lore, bloody hooks have been left hanging on car doors since the mid-1950s. It’s possible the roots of legends like The Hook and The Boyfriend’s Death lie in distorted memories of real life Lover’s Lane murders. There were actual cases of kids who’d gone necking coming back in pine boxes. The residue of news stories about those events would likely remain around for a while, mutating into cautionary tales with the addition of bloody hooks and scraping sounds on the roof of the car.
Real life roots or not, The Hook has been a legend for almost as long as anyone can remember. The key to this legend is the boyfriend’s frustrated response to the girl’s demand to end the date abruptly. Almost invariably, he is said to have gunned the engine and roared away. This behavior is essential to explain how the hook became ripped from the killer’s arm, and to underscore the moral of the tale. The boyfriend’s frustration stems from sexual denial. His girlfriend’s insistence on getting home right away puts the kibosh to any randy thoughts he’d been hoping to turn into reality that night, and he’s some pissed about it.
“The Hook” is a cautionary tale about teenage sexuality. Unspoken in the story is the realization that if the girl hadn’t said no, hadn’t insisted upon leaving right away, the couple would have been killed. Two close calls are averted that night: the fatal encounter with the killer, and “going all the way.” Refusal to do one saves the pair from the other.
Urban legends are often little morality plays designed to instill an important lesson about societal mores. “The Hook” is clearly one such tale and its message is clear: teens shouldn’t have sex. Moreover, it’s up to the girl to apply the brakes. Although her boyfriend might be upset at the time, not long after, he’ll understand the wisdom of her refusal and thank her for it later. Or at least so says the legend.
Dear Abby & the Hook Killer
One of the earliest appearances of “The Hook” in print was in a “Dear Abby” column dated November 8, 1960:
DEAR ABBY: If you are interested in teenagers, you will print this story. I don’t know whether it’s true or not, but it doesn’t matter because it served its purpose for me: A fellow and his date pulled into their favorite “lovers’ lane” to listen to the radio and do a little necking. The music was interrupted by an announcer who said there was an escaped convict in the area who had served time for rape and robbery. He was described as having a hook instead of a right hand. The couple became frightened and drove away. When the boy took his girl home, he went around opening the car door for her. Then he saw a hook on the door handle! I don’t think I will ever park to make out as long as I live. I hope this does the same for other kids.
Moral Meaning of Urban Legends: “The Hook”
Every urban legend has a moral or a meaning to it. This particular legend speaks of a couple that decides to park in a secluded area, for a romantic encounter. However, they are interrupted by fear of death, and soon realize their fears had almost come true. Morals of romance and un-married couples have been in existence since time began. The bible speaks on several occasions of the damnation that could occur by un-married couples having sex. This tale is just another scary story that can bring fear to couples that wish to engage in sex when not married.
Folklorists have interpreted the long history of this legend in many ways. Alan Dundes’s Freudian interpretation explains the hook as a phallic symbol and its amputation as a symbolic castration. Others take a more literal approach by interpreting the story as a warning against parking, a dramatic example of the reason for parental concern for their children, an expression of fear of the handicapped, or a depiction of the danger possible from a rampaging antisocial person.
Swedish folklorist Bengt AF Klintberg describes the story as an example of “a conflict between representatives of normal people who follow the rules of society and those who are not normal, who deviate and threaten the normal group.”
American Folklorist Bill Ellis interpreted the maniac in the “The Hook” as a moral custodian who interrupts the sexual experimentation of the young couple. He sees the hook man’s handicap as “his own lack of sexuality” and “the threat of the hook man is not the normal sex drive of teenagers, but the abnormal drive of some adults to keep them apart.”