To really make an internet phenomena catch on, you need convincing visuals and a convincing back story. That the Slender Man legend has become as pervasive as it has, both online and elsewhere, is due to the fact that it has both of those elements.
As the story goes, it all began in 1986 when a photograph was found among the debris left behind after a fire burnt a library to the ground in the small town of Stirling City, California. In this photograph, a group of approximately 14 children could be seen playing in a well known park in the small Californian mountain town.
So there were children playing—nothing out of the ordinary there, except for the fact that aside from the group of kids, in the background there was also an ominous male figure dressed in black, and standing well over two meters tall. This portentous looking figure was partially obscured by the shade of a tree, and the shadows made him look as if he were faceless, and had tentacles.
Creepier still, the kids appeared to be completely oblivious of the tall, scary man in their midst. It was as if they weren’t even able to see him.
Then, of course, it turned out that all of the kids in the photograph ended up going missing. They vanished without a trace, and no remains of them were ever found. The same fate fell upon the supposed photographer Mary Thomas. She also went missing, and no one ever found her body.
Hereinafter, the Slender Man legend was born, and many theories regarding a bizarre and lanky wanderer, who steals children, and who has been silently observing us for centuries began to appear.
The True Online Origins Of The Slender Man
As you may have been able to figure out at this point, everything mentioned so far about the ostensible origins of the Slender Man has been pure fiction. There was no photo found in the burnt rubble of a library fire in Stirling City, California. There were no missing children. It all started on the internet in 2009.
The truth is that the slender man, the photo from “the fire”, and the accompanying origin story were all the invention of Eric Knudsen, who in July 2009 entered an online contest for the best paranormal image and accompanying story.
This contest sprung up spontaneously on the forums of the website somethingawful.com, and Knudsen’s entry was the photoshopped black and white photograph, which purported to be the photo found at the site of the fire.
Knudsen has since stated in interviews that his inspiration for the Slender Man came in part from the “shadow people” characters which repeatedly appear in pop culture, and the character “The Tall Man” from the Phantasm horror movie series.
Something Awful has been one of the internet’s most influential humor websites since it was launched in 1999. It’s famous for it’s “photoshop phridays”, where users edit existing images in order to parody movies and other cultural references.
Many of the memes which become popular and widely shared on Facebook and other more widely used platforms originate on Something Awful. In addition to the Slender Man legend, the hit animation series Golan the Insatiable is the creation of Something Awful user Josh Miller, who originally posted the adventures of Golan on Something Awful forums.
How Slender Man Went Viral
After Knudsen originally made his post on Something Awful, the Slender Man character began to go viral and take on a life of its own, as others began to make their own fan-fiction and art which featured the Slender Man character. Additionally, people began posting their own accounts of ‘encounters’ with the Slender Man on the fan created horror website creepypasta.com.
Different versions of the Slender Man have appeared in many different forms of media. The character has even appeared in its own video games, and is even referenced in the extremely popular game Minecraft.
Unfortunately, there was a Slender Man connection to a very real tragic event in 2014, when two disturbed and impressionable twelve year old girls lured another young girl into a wooded area in Wukesha, Wisconsin, and ended up stabbing her 19 times.
Fortunately, the victim survived her horrific injuries. As for the perpetrator’s of the crime, they claimed that their motive was to prove the existence of Slender Man, earn his approval, and become his “proxies”. In response to this crime, Slender Man’s creator Eric Knudsen expressed his condolences to the victim via a post on creepypasta.wiki.