On September 23rd 1954, hundreds of children — ranging in ages from 4 to 14 — congregated in a local graveyard with a single purpose in mind — to kill the iron-toothed vampire who they believed had claimed the lives of two of their schoolmates.
This strange tale would come to light after a Police Officer named Alex Deeprose was summoned to investigate a disturbance in the crumbling Victorian cemetery known as the Southern Necropolis, which was located on Glasgow’s Caledonia Road in the Gorbals area of the city.
Nearby residents had phoned the local constabulary to report that the graveyard had inexplicably filled up with neighborhood kids. By late afternoon, scores of children had filled the graveyard, drawn there by an intoxicating rumor.
Officer Deeprose finally arrived at the isolated necropolis expecting only to usher away a cadre of kids involved in some minor cases of vandalism, but what he encountered was a sight that he would never forget — hundreds of miniature Van Helsings, armed only with sharpened sticks and kitchen knives, patrolling through the broken gravestones of the old cemetery in search of an undead marauder who they believed was at least 7-feet tall and equipped with iron teeth, which it apparently used to consume the flesh of children.
The shocked officer later admitted that at first he had been at a loss how to deal with the incident. Eventually he managed to wrangle a few the swarming vampire hunters away from the pack and asked them what they were doing. The answer was astonishing to say the least:
“(The children claimed they were) hunting a vampire with iron teeth that had killed and eaten two wee boys.”
The boys went on to explain that they had they had begun to hear rumors around town and on the school playground regarding a beastly, looming figure with iron teeth who was preying on their peers. Furthermore, this controversial report indicated that this infernal creature had made a home of the Southern Necropolis near the old steelworks. Tam Smith, now in his 60s, remembered how he first heard the tale:
“I’d be about seven at the time. I was with a couple of my friends in the Station cafe in Bridge Street. My Aunt Sadie was playing the jukebox. Then someone came in and said, ‘There’s a vampire in the graveyard’… the red light and the smoke (from the steelworks) would flare up and make all the gravestones leap. You could see figures walking about at the back all lined in red light. The scare went on for hours.”
Ronnie Sanderson, former 8-year old student and vampire stalker, admitted that while he engaged in the vampire’s pursuit, he wasn’t even fully aware of what they were supposedly tracking:
“I didn’t even know what a vampire was, but the story had spread through the school that afternoon… It all started in the playground. The word was there was a vampire and everyone was going to head out there after school. At three o’clock the school emptied and everyone made a beeline for it. We sat there for ages on the wall waiting and waiting.”
“I wouldn’t go in because it was a bit scary for me. I think somebody saw someone wandering about and the cry went up: ‘There’s the vampire!’ That was it — that was the word to get off that wall quick and get away from it… and we would all scatter… I just remember scampering home to my mother: ‘What’s the matter with you?’ ‘I’ve seen a vampire!’ and I got a clout round the ear for my trouble.”
Officer Deeprose tried to assure the children that there was no substance to the terrifying tale and finally managed to disperse the mini-mob, but the the strange case of the Gorbal’s vampire was far from over. The brave (albeit foolhardy) youngsters — now bound and determined to keep themselves and their friends safe from this undead fiend — rearmed with stakes and knives and returned to the Southern Necropolis following sunset the next night… and the night after that as well.
It wasn’t long before the rumors of the so-called “Iron Man” or “Gorbals Vampire” began to spread into the neighboring wards of the city causing panic even among the parents, many of whom implored Officer Deeprose for assurances that there was no substance to the story of a child-eating monstrosity in their midst.
Folks even began to implicate a frizzy haired, biddy — nicknamed Tin Lizzie by the local kids — who used to wander the graveyard carrying cats in a basket into the ever growing mystery. It was assumed (erroneously one hopes) by many of the children that this eccentric old woman must be in league with the Iron Man.
Although historians insist that there are no records of any missing children in Glasgow during that period, this did not prevent curiosity seekers, young and old alike, from flocking to the cemetery hoping for a glimpse of the unknown during the height of the vampire scare.
One of the papers of the era even reported that a local primary school headmaster was forced to vociferously explain just how patently ridiculous the story was to everyone lingering about the graveyard gates, allowing the police to finally dismiss the ever growing throng.
As so often happened on the other side of the pond during the 1950s, it wasn’t long before the parent’s of Gorbal grew weary of the vampire novelty and decided to lay the blame for their childrens’ misadventures squarely on the most convenient scapegoat of the era — comic books!
While researchers have pointed out that there was no mention of a creature even remotely matching the description of the Iron Man in any of the fright comics of the period, the local intelligentsia insisted that American horror comics were corrupting the imaginations of their children and encouraging an unhealthy fear of the unknown.
Wertham, the now notorious author of the inflammatory pseudo-scientific, “Seduction of the Innocent,” was a psychiatrist whose anti-comic book stance was the result of his dubious observation that many of the juvenile delinquents he dealt with read comic books. His controversial theory conveniently ignored the fact that millions of American youths who weren’t currently perpetrating any heinous crimes also read the same comic books.
Nevertheless it wasn’t long before the newly created Comics Code Authority began to crack down on horror and crime comic publishers – in particular William Gaines E.C. line – and in 1955 all three of the companies primary horror titles — “Vault of Horror,” “Tales From The Crypt” and “The Haunt of Fear” — were canceled.
Despite the evidence to the contrary — including interviews with some of the children involved that indicated that they had never even seen a horror film or read a scary comic — the moral outrage caused by the Gorbal’s incident (as well as Wertham’s incendiary book) incited the Scottish government to introduce the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act to the House of Commons in 1955.
This Act aimed to prohibit the import of American horror comics into Britain and specifically banned the sale of magazines and comics portraying “incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature” to minors.
While the government and many local parents were assured that these nefarious pulp images were surely the culprit for their childrens’ strange behavior, there are more than a few academics who have suggested that the hysteria wrought by the Iron Man incident was inspired not by comic books, but from the pages of the Bible itself. In a Biblical passage (which was taught in local schools at the time) a horrific beast with iron teeth is depicted:
“After that, in my vision at night I looked, and there before me was a fourth beast — terrifying and frightening and very powerful. It had large iron teeth; it crushed and devoured its victims and trampled underfoot whatever was left.” — Daniel 7:7
Another possible origin for the Iron Man stories (or at least his unique dental enhancement) concerns a woman named Jenny, who, legend states, had been operated on by an inept dentist. Her ineffective oral surgery left the metallic fixings in her mouth grotesquely evident, thus earning her the nickname “Jenny with the iron teeth.”
As the years went on, the children of Glasgow came to the believe that the stories of Jenny were not that of a human but some kind of OGRE. There may also be some loose association with the vicious AQUATIC ENIGMA known as JENNY GREENTEETH, who stalked just below the murky edges of British rivers laying in wait for her human prey.
Whatever the true origin of the Iron Man might be, most of the former vampire hunters continue insist that their midnight forays into the Southern Necropolis were influenced neither by comics or horror films, but a sort of mass hysteria inspired by an unknown source… perhaps a genuine vampire?
Eventually the furor revolving around the vampire died down, but to this day youngsters who misbehave in Glasgow are told tales of what horrible things the Iron Man will do to naughty children, and there are some who still believe that this bizarre, iron-toothed fiend might still be hidden amongst the decaying graves of Glasgow’s Southern Necropolis… waiting to rise again.