Frankenstein's Castle and a Halloween prank that went viral
As I was researching the Halloween party for Burg Frankenstein, I stumbled across a magnificent prank that played out one dark, foggy night in 1952.
Armed Forces’ Network (AFN) reporter John A. Keel and two of his colleagues had been assigned a piece of investigative reporting on none other than Burg Frankenstein, located near Darmstadt.
With its crumbling stone façade and broken towers, Burg Frankenstein is a dismal-looking ruin that is creepy enough in its own right. Add a dark forest and even darker legend – which the locals are more than happy to share, and the isolated wooded mountaintop ruin becomes downright terrifying.
The assignment was to explore the grounds, record their findings via audio - which would be broadcasted live on AFN radio as a Halloween special.
Armed with small flashlights, walkie-talkies, recorders and a notepad, Keel and his two colleagues split up to cover the grounds. Fellow reporter Carl Nelson ended up in the crypt.
There was also just one catch.
Every 100 years, it was said that Dr. Frankenstein's monster himself came back to life to roam the area in search of his slayer. That year was the 100th anniversary.
Nelson recorded just over six minutes of audio … before he ran screaming from the crypt of Burg Frankenstein. On the recording, he can be heard pounding on the heavy wooden doors, begging someone to open the doors and let him out. The pounding stops, the only sounds audible are static and animals howling in the distance. Nelson had fainted in the crypt.
What Nelson and his colleagues didn't know was that the show's producer had set up a statue in the middle of the crypt - and rigged it to move and topple, sending Nelson running for his life.
AFN listeners didn't know about the prank either, and fearing for the investigative team's safety, flooded the radio station with genuinely terrified and worried inquiries. Locals spread word like wildfire. The old legends and rumors of hauntings were true; Frankenstein's monster had come back to life. Military police were dispatched in droves.
Listen to the audio clip that sent Nelson running for his life, and Rhine Valley residents bolting their doors in terror here.
If you dare …
A note about the incident, excerpted from John A. Keel's book, "Jadoo" follows:
"In 1952 the army shipped me to the Cold War arena of Western Germany and put me to work pounding a typewriter for the American Forces Network, an extensive radio network for the 'entertainment and education' of U.S. troops in Europe. Quartered in a picturesque castle a few miles outside of bomb-blasted Frankfurt, I labored grinding out military soap operas and dreaming up programs like a Halloween broadcast from historic Frankenstein castle, home of the famed monster.
We took three announcers up the hazardous trail to the dismal old castle atop a wooded mountain overlooking the Rhine, handed them special portable microphones, told them the monster was supposed to return every hundred years in search of his slayer -- and that this was the night, then turned them loose in the dark.
They were sincerely frightened and by the time our manufactured monster came striding out of the mist they had conveyed their fear to listeners all over Europe.
To the network's astonishment, the program had the same effect as Orson Welles' Invasion from Mars broadcast a dozen years earlier.
People bolted their doors in panic throughout the Rhine valley. The MPs sent half a dozen patrol cars up to the mountain to investigate with drawn guns. Thousands of frightened letters and phone calls poured into all the AFN stations, many from as far away as England. (The London Daily Express called long distance at 1 A.M. to find out what was going on.)"
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