Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday the Thirteenth Special: Mutant, Feral Hydrocephalics

In case anyone wonders why I made sure to put some very natural-looking baby pictures up on my blog, today's entry should give one good reason. By a strange coincidence, today is Friday the Thirteenth - and the opening of the newest version of the flick by the same name.

It's a perfect day to share the quaint legend of Melon heads - there are three regions that have legends of monsters by that name, but the Michigan variety is most relevant to this blog. Today, while searching google for items related to hydrocephalus, I found this article on "Melon heads" from
The melon heads of Michigan are said to reside near the ruins of Felt Mansion in Laketown Township. According to one story, they were originally children with hydrocephalus who lived at the Junction Insane Asylum near Felt Mansion. The story explains that, after enduring physical and emotional abuse, they became feral mutants and were released into the forests surrounding the asylum. The Allegan County Historical Society asserts that the asylum never existed; however, the story has been part of the local folklore for several decades. Laketown Township Manager Al Meshkin told the Holland Sentinel that he had heard the tales as a teenager, noting that his friends referred to the beings as "wobbleheads". Some versions of the legend say that the children once lived in the mansion itself, but later retreated to a system of underground caverns.
Now, to be honest, I have mixed reactions to this. Part of me, who loves movies like Hellboy, thinks this is really really cool and wonders if I can get anyone to photoshop my baby pictures so I look like a feral mutant.

There's another part of me, though, that worries about the impact of making monsters out of people with hydrocephalus. Part of that concern was validated by a short article in the book Weird Michigan.

In Encounter with a Melon Head, Kellie Topp-Bedrosian gives an account of being startled and scared by the appearance of a large-headed man on the grounds of the Felt Mansion, when she was on the grounds at night while in high school. When she told the story to her father, he told her not to return to the place and told her about the Melon heads:
Years ago the Felt family sold the mansion to a seminary and a small insane asylum was built on the grounds. It was then sold to the state of Michigan and the state turned it into a low-security prison. My father told me that the asylum specialized in patients with extra fluid in the brain, causing their heads to swell. After funding for the asylum was cut, most of the patients were "set free." Many of the Melon Heads had already developed an intense hatred for normal-looking people and chose to stay on the grounds away from society, and they built homes out of the tunnels that run under the mansion.
Here's how I see the story: Proper place for kids with hydrocephalus is institution. When the state cut funds and "set them free," these same people (not kids now) shunned society, sticking to the grounds and found tunnels to live in. And would come out occasionally to prey on "normal-looking" people, who they hated. Charming - I wonder how community inclusion of people with disabilities is going in that area of Michigan.

Serious question: how would Topp-Bedrosian, or anyone else terrorized with these stories as a child, react when given the news that their own child had hydrocephalus? --Stephen


PhilosopherCrip said...

This is an interesting scenario that links up in some interesting ways to other disability horror stories. It shares some similarities (and some major differences) with the mythology surrounding dwarfism in many cultures. Many times mythical Little People are portrayed as evil or vengeful in literature (and now film). I'm not sure that I have heard a story about dwarfism that was this overtly bigoted or that explicitly recognized dwarfism as the difference at hand (horror little people are pure magic -- i.e. Leprechauns, Chucky, etc). However, I have had people react to me with fear because of my dwarfism and even had people admit that they had to get over a real phobia of dwarfs in order to be around me. Very interesting post.

Stephen Drake said...


Thanks for stopping by. As an avid fantasy reader, and a former kid fascinated by Irish folklore, I'm familiar with some of the mythology associated with dwarfism.

Sometime in the future, I will definitely be doing something on big-headed (hydrocephalic-looking) aliens in science fiction movies. I'm not sure how if I'll find an example of one that isn't defined as "evil" in some way.

As you say, there are similarities and differences with these mythologies. I think that this is probably an observation that could be generalized to any of us who have (or have had) body shapes that depart from the conception of "normal." There's some common ground, so to speak - and some portrayals/mythologies that are specific to different groups.

Tera said...

Hi, Stephen,

I just found your new blog. And...OMG! Monsters and disability! Two of my favorite topics ever!

It's interesting you mention the "Friday the 13th" movie(s). In one of the later films, the killer Jason Voorhees is explicitly said to have had hydrocephalus. (Which contradicts some stuff from the earlier movies--then again, Jason's whole mythos contradicts itself all the time).

Also, Tom Savini and his special effects crew wanted Jason to look like "a hydrocephalic, mongoloid pinhead."

Stephen Drake said...


Thanks for stopping in. That story is fascinating. Not least of all because, while its entirely possible to have hydrocephalus, down syndrome and microcephaly - I doubt that the "clinical" reality would match the visual imagination of Savini.

Judi said...

HiYa Stephen, I ran across your Blog this morning and though I live in Illinois I remember vaguely hearing the same stories of which you wrote, and I have also heard and seen the stories about the "Friday the 13th" movie character Jason. However even before I read a word of your blog I was awe struck by your baby photos. Not because of the hydrocephalus but because my very first thought was literally "oh what a beautiful baby", not for a second focusing on anything but the sweetness of the photos. I of course didn't know they were your personal photos at the time, but I am glad to be able to tell you my feelings. I look forward to catching up with your writings and as such have bookmarked your page. Have a good one. ~Judi