What’s entering the public domain in 2022?

Winnie the Pooh enters the public domain this year!

Happy New Year, Cat Flaggers! As the sun rises on 2022 and we hang up new calendars on our walls, the copyrights on works published in 1926 have now expired in the United States, making them free for any American to copy, reuse, remix, and adapt as they like. As has become tradition here at Cat Flag, I am taking the opportunity to share with you a list of what I think are the most interesting things that have entered the public domain.

For those of you who are new around here, let me give you a quick rundown and refresher of copyright and public domain:

  • Copyright is a type of intellectual property protecting creative works (books, art, films, video games, photographs, music, blogs, etc.). The creator of the work gets a certain set of legal rights to control how the work is copied, sold, distributed, displayed, or performed for a fixed period of time set by law. To violate these rights is copyright infringement, and creators can sue those who do so. The goal of copyright is to incentivize creativity so artists, authors, musicians, and others who work in creative fields can earn an income from their work.
  • Public domain is anything owned by the general public as a whole. Anyone can use anything in the public domain however they like. Creative works can enter the public domain in a few different ways, but the most common way is for the copyright to have expired. Bear in mind that if you use something in the public domain to make your own creative work, you still have the copyright to your own work. For example, anyone can use Robin Hood in their own work as he is a public domain character, but the 2010 movie about Robin Hood starring Russell Crowe is copyrighted.
  • From 1998 to 2018, no new works entered the public domain in the United States through copyright expiration, thanks to the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act, a law that added 20 years to all U.S. copyrights on works published before 1978. Finally, works started to enter the public domain again on January 1, 2019, when the copyright at last expired on works published in 1923, and every New Year’s Day since then has seen the copyrights expire on more creative works.
  • Sound recordings are treated separately in copyright law than other types of creative works for some strange reason, so it is possible for the sheet music for a song to be in the public domain but any recording of the song to still be copyrighted.

This year, there are two huge pieces of news about the public domain. The first is that the copyright on Winnie the Pooh has now expired! That’s right, everyone’s favorite lovable teddy bear is now in the public domain. This is because A. A. Milne’s original children’s book illustrated by E. H. Shepard was originally published in 1926. So, you can go right ahead and make that video game set in the Hundred Acre Wood you have always wanted to make. But, beware! The Disney adaptation is still under copyright, so you can’t use anything that comes specifically from any of the Disney movies or cartoons.

Sorry, you can’t use me.

The other big news is that any sound recording made before 1923 has now entered the public domain. This includes thousands of early sound recordings, from music to speeches, that are now free to copy, sample, or remix with no copyright restrictions. This is thanks to the Music Modernization Act of 2018, a law that placed old sound recordings under federal copyright law. These old recordings were previously handled by state copyright laws that often placed crazy-long and unreasonable copyright terms on them. One estimate I found suggested we could have as many as 400,000 new sound recordings that just entered the public domain!

So, what else is entering the public domain this year? In terms of films, we have the classic Buster Keaton film Battling Butler:

If you’re more interested in romance, there’s the risqué Greta Garbo classic The Temptress and the John Barrymore film Don Juan, the latter being the first film to use the Vitaphone system to play synchronized sounds in the theater.

As for books, the copyright has now expired on Ernest Hemmingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Langston Hughes’s The Weary Blues, Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and T. E. Lawrence’s autobiography The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

If you’re interested in jazz, you will be happy to learn that the sheet music for Irving Berlin’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, King Oliver’s Snag It, and George Gershwin’s Cossack Love Song are now in the public domain, too.

This page has a more comprehensive list of works that entered the public domain this year, if you would like to know more. I am genuinely curious to see what creative people across America come up with based on these works or using them for inspiration.

Next year, the copyrights on sound recordings published in 1923 and other works published in 1927 will expire, but the really big one comes one year after that. It’s just two more years until the copyright on Steamboat Willie expires, and Mickey Mouse enters the public domain. There is already at least one company that has plans to take advantage of this fact and are preparing to roll out with their own, non-Disney merchandise featuring the character on January 1, 2024. The future is sure going to be very interesting.

What is The Salvation Army, exactly?

The famous Salvation Army bell-ringers have been a common Christmastime sight for many years, as this 1905 photo attests

It’s the time of year for cold weather, Christmas carols playing from the speakers in every store, children excited to get new toys, and people standing at every street corner and parking lot ringing bells beside a red-painted metal kettle for collecting donations. Every year, as Christmas approaches, The Salvation Army makes its presence known across America as it supports efforts to help the poor and homeless, distributes donated toys to children in need, and makes sure people living with food insecurity don’t go hungry. That’s not all The Salvation Army does, either; they respond to natural disasters by providing emergency aid, and they provide rehabilitation services for those suffering from addiction. From this description, you probably assume The Salvation Army is a charity, and that’s how most people see them. Indeed, until recently, I thought they were just another prominent national nonprofit.

However, there is much more to The Salvation Army than appears on the surface, and they are far more than just a mere charity. In fact, The Salvation Army has far less in common with the United Way, and far more in common with the United Methodist Church.

Yes, The Salvation Army is a church.

Specifically, it is a Methodist denomination whose official Mission Statement states that they are “an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church” and that “Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.”

Hence, the “Salvation” in the name.

William Booth was a pawnbroker who became a Methodist preacher in 1852, and founded a mission to provide aid and preach to the poor and downtrodden of Victorian London’s East End in 1865. Initially operating in the open air or out of simple tents, Booth’s mission found itself under attack from a street gang known as the Skeleton Army who opposed Booth’s anti-alcohol stance with violence, often with the support of local police and government officials. Undeterred, Booth kept growing his movement and changed its name to “The Salvation Army” (yes, the “t” in “the” is capitalized) in 1878.

So, if The Salvation Army is a church, what does it teach? As previously mentioned, its teachings originated in the Methodist tradition, though it has a few unique characteristics that distinguish them from most mainstream Methodists. Like most Christians, they accept the Trinity (the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together are the one God), they assert that the Bible was divinely-inspired by God, and they recognize Jesus Christ as the messiah and Son of God who was both fully human and fully divine, that all human beings are sinners, and that the death and resurrection of Jesus atoned for these sins so those who put their faith in Him will be saved from the fires of Hell. Like most Protestants, they believe salvation is through faith alone. Like most Methodists, they believe that being born again in Christ is the beginning of a lifelong process of sanctification, and that one who turns away from God can lose salvation.

One distinctive characteristic of The Salvation Army is that its clergy is modelled on, well, an army. These ministers are called “officers”, they wear military-inspired uniforms, and their ranks have military titles such as lieutenant, captain, or colonel. The global leader of The Salvation Army is called the “General”. The Salvation Army also maintains a martial appearance with their military-style brass bands. They even have their own flag!

Of course I have to mention the flag! The blue border represents God the Father, the red symbolizes the blood shed by Jesus Christ on the cross, and the gold represents “the fire of the Holy Spirit”.

Another unique feature of The Salvation Army is that it doesn’t practice baptism or holy communion. These near-universal Christian rituals are seen by Soldiers (members of The Salvation Army) as purely ceremonial and not necessary for salvation. Interestingly, they don’t oppose these rituals, either, and in fact, they are fine with their own Soldiers undergoing baptism or communion in another church. The Salvation Army sees itself as only one part of the Christian Church, accepts other churches as valid, and open their own services for anyone to attend. In William Booth’s own words: “We are asked by the churches, ‘What should be our attitude towards you?’ We answer, ‘What is your attitude towards the Fire Brigade?'”

A church of The Salvation Army in Birmingham, England

The Salvation Army also emphasizes the equality of men and women in their ministry. William Booth’s wife, Catherine Booth, was a preacher in her own right who defended the right and duty of women to spread the gospel with their own gifts. The Salvation Army sees her as an equal co-founder of their movement, and in honor of the couple, Salvation Army Officers must marry each other.

Of course, The Salvation Army is best known for its charitable works. This practice of focusing on community service began with William Booth, who said “You cannot warm the hearts of people with God’s love if they have an empty stomach and cold feet… Why all this apparatus of temples and meeting-houses to save men from perdition in a world which is to come, while never a helping hand is stretched out to save them from the inferno of their present life?”

Inspired by these words, The Salvation Army has spread across the globe, operating in 131 countries where they serve the humanitarian needs of their local communities. They claim to help 30 million people in the United States alone every year. According to Forbes magazine, they are the third-largest charity in the United States as measured by donations, behind only United Way and Feeding America. This, I’m sure, is why most people think of them as a charity first and are surprised to learn they are actually a church.

Whoever and whatever they are, however, they have managed to become a visible part of our Christmas traditions, as their bell-ringers across America are just as much a symbol of the holidays as Santa Claus or festive lights. As long as this remains the case, they will surely be able to keep helping people in need for many years to come.

What happened after the First Thanksgiving?

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the harvest festival we now call “The First Thanksgiving”. This historic moment was commemorated with a big parade in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the town where the event took place in 1621. We all know the story we were told as schoolchildren: a group of English religious dissenters sailed to the New World aboard the Mayflower, signed an agreement for their colony’s self-government called the Mayflower Compact, and struggled with disease and starvation their first winter, but then were saved by the local Wampanoag tribe that befriended them and taught them how to survive in this new land, leading to the celebration of the First Thanksgiving after the colony’s first successful harvest.

That’s where the story stops in almost all retellings of this history. The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag celebrated together… and that’s it. Obviously, there is more to this story, as Plymouth Colony lasted for a further 70 years after this event. What happened after the First Thanksgiving?

I recently read the book Plymouth Colony: Its History & People 1620-1691 by Eugene Aubrey Stratton. This book goes into tons of detail about the lives of the people who lived in the colony during this time, right down to the surviving court records of domestic disputes. Obviously, I won’t be going into quite that much detail here, but I do want to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the First Thanksgiving with a broad overview of the Plymouth Colony’s history.

Figuring out how to colony

One often-overlooked aspect of the Mayflower Pilgrims is that not all of them were part of the Separatist religious group that were seeking religious freedom in the New World. The majority were actually so-called “Strangers”, outsiders brought to the colony to help ensure its survival (farmers, carpenters, blacksmiths, and so on). The critical importance of these Strangers meant that the colony’s leaders had to make some accommodation for their religious differences, such as turning a blind eye to their celebration of Christmas as long as they did so in the privacy of their homes, but it wasn’t long before their English compatriots sent more Separatists over to shift the demographic balance in their church’s favor. In 1621, the Fortune arrived with 35 new colonists. Unfortunately, the ship didn’t bring enough supplies to support this new group of colonists, so their arrival put a tremendous strain on the small colony.

In the first few years of Plymouth Colony’s existence, according to Stratton’s book, “the settlers were to live a virtually socialistic life, sharing everything in common.” However, the colonists quickly realized this wasn’t working, as Stratton recounts: “By 1623 many were complaining that the industrious ones were working to support the lazy ones.” To fix this, the colonists agreed to split the land into private property, each family receiving a share of the available land to work for themselves.

In 1624, Capt. John Smith (of Jamestown fame) paid a visit to Plymouth, and recounted: “At New Plimouth there is about 180 persons… 32 dwelling houses, whereof 7 were burnt in the last winter.” I don’t know about you, but that fire sounds like it would have been a very traumatic event for the colonists!

The colony also faced significant financial difficulties in its early years. Someone had to pay to send the colonists over to the New World, and that someone was a group of investors called the “Adventurers”. The agreement was that the colonists would trade for furs with the local tribes, and the profits from this trade would be used to pay the Adventurers’ debts. This plan ended in disaster, as the colony just wasn’t bringing in enough fur to offset the huge debt, and what money did come in was badly mismanaged. Soon, most Adventurers sold off their shares to some of the colonists, who became known as the “Purchasers” and used their status to increase their power.

This leads me to the obvious question of how the colony was run. After all, the Mayflower Compact didn’t actually specify a form of government, it was merely an agreement to form one. The Adventurers chose John Carver to be the first governor of the new colony before the Mayflower had even set sail, but he died just a few months after arrival. The power vacuum that followed was quickly taken up by the only other person in the tiny, new colony with any authority: their preacher, William Bradford. In short order, the colonists elected Bradford as their new governor, and he would hold this position almost continuously until his death.

Bradford would govern with the assistance of, um, the “Assistants”, who would be elected by the colonists annually to administer the day-to-day running of the colony. The Governor and Assistants would meet together as the “Council”, that wielded both executive and judicial power. Interestingly, it seems that the Council made its decisions by majority vote, with the Governor getting a double-vote but no veto.

The biggest decisions, such as new laws, the election of the Assistants, and the most important court cases, were decided by the General Court. This was a body that met four times a year and was made up of every colonist who had voting rights (called “freemen”). This made Plymouth Colony something of a direct democracy. However, not everyone in Plymouth Colony was a freeman; obviously, women couldn’t vote, and men had to earn the approval of the General Court before being awarded this status. This appears to have been entirely based on merit, as there was no religious test or property-ownership criteria required to be awarded freeman status.

The Pilgrims’ church

Don’t let the fact that there was no religious qualification to having voting rights imply that Plymouth Colony had no religious tensions or issues. In fact, the opposite was usually the truth.

As previously mentioned, there was some tension from the beginning between the Separatists and the Strangers. The Separatists, like the very similar Puritans they are often mistaken for, believed that the only proper church was one that was based on the New Testament (as they understood it). This is why they refused to celebrate Christmas or Easter, as both holidays were originally Christianized versions of earlier pagan holidays. The only music allowed in their church were the Psalms from the Bible, and men and women were segregated in the pews. Interestingly, they rejected the idea of a church led by bishops (even though the New Testament absolutely does mention such an office existing in the early church), and instead believed each congregation should be self-governing.

The Strangers were technically members of the Church of England, but being the sort of working-class folks they were, they didn’t really worry about religious details too much. They attended the Separatists’ church services, and were allowed to maintain their own private religious traditions, such as celebrating Christmas or Easter and singing church songs other than the Psalms, in the privacy of their homes.

This state of affairs lasted until the 1630’s, when a religious whirlwind appeared in the form of Roger Williams, a Puritan minister who brought his family to Boston, just a few miles to the north. Boston’s leaders felt it was the government’s job was to ensure proper religious morality and observance among its people. Williams rejected this idea, and argued in favor of separation of church and state. In short order, he became the preacher in the town of Salem, only to be kicked out by the Boston authorities. Williams tried a stint in Plymouth, only for his ideas to again lead to trouble with the authorities. At last, he ended up leading his followers to Narragansett Bay, where he would found the colony of Rhode Island.

Having a haven of religious freedom on one’s doorstep was troublesome for the Plymouth Colony’s leaders. Ironically, even though they had come to the New World to escape religious oppression, the Separatists had no qualms about perpetrating some religious oppression of their own. If you were a Quaker in Plymouth, you would be exiled. If you gave hospitality to a Quaker, you would be whipped. If you were a Baptist, you would be excommunicated, publicly shunned, and ineligible for any elected political office. In the end, though, the Plymouth Colony’s attempt to control the religious life of its residents was a doomed endeavor. By the 1680’s, Baptist churches were operating out in the open.

The colony’s growth – and conflict

Throughout its history, the Plymouth Colony grew. From a single settlement of 102 Pilgrims, it would expand to 18 townships with a total population of 3,055 by 1690. While part of this growth was due to the Pilgrims raising families, most of it came from immigration from England. After all, Plymouth was a colony for Separatists, who flocked to the area to live among like-minded faithful and escape the Church of England’s grasp.

Of course, the land that these new arrivals were settling belonged to the Wampanoag tribe, who grew increasingly concerned by this wave of immigrants. However, and I feel it is really important to point this out, the generation that held the First Thanksgiving maintained the Pilgrim-Wampanoag alliance for the rest of their lives. Both sides were committed to making this unusual alliance work, with both Bradford and Wampanoag leader Massasoit finding creative solutions to relieve any tensions between the two communities and renew their friendship.

It was the next generation that screwed it all up.

After the initial generation that held the First Thanksgiving gradually passed away, the younger leaders were nowhere near as careful or diplomatic, and were more willing to escalate the conflict. To the Wampanoag, their very survival was at stake, as they were increasingly penned in by new settlements. The spark that set off the conflict came in 1675, when three Wampanoag men murdered John Sassamon, a Wampanoag man who was on friendly terms with the colonists. The colonial authorities arrested the trio, put them on trial, and hanged them. Think about that for a moment: Plymouth Colony was now asserting that it had legal authority over the Wampanoag tribe! Well, the new Wampanoag chief Metacomet wasn’t going to take that sitting down, and launched a series of attacks against Plymouth townships.

The three-year war that followed is the bloodiest in U.S. history relative to the populations of the groups involved. Dozens of colonial settlements were utterly destroyed and hundreds of colonists were killed. In retribution, the colonists devastated the Wampanoag, with the few who survived Plymouth’s wrath being sold into slavery.

The end of Plymouth Colony

A 1913 photo of reenactors dressed as Mayflower Pilgrims from the Robbins Library

By the late 17th century, the political situation in both New England and old England had completely changed. Wars with Indian tribes had brought the New England colonies closer together, as they had to band together for mutual defense. Meanwhile, the mother country had suffered a civil war, the restoration of the crown and old order, and then a revolution, leading to the Church of England taking on its final form, a form that had no room for Puritans. This meant that the remaining Puritans and Separatists came together, forming the basis of the congregational churches we have today.

Plymouth Colony had reached the end of its ability to grow on its own, and soon there was talk of merging with a neighboring colony. Most people expected they would join Massachusetts, as the two had a very close relationship for decades. However, some colonists who were still holding on to old suspicions of their former religious rivals tried to prevent this merger by proposing a union with New York instead. Imagine if they had gotten their way! Nevertheless, simple geography favored the Massachusetts merger, which finally went through with royal approval in 1691. With that, the history of Plymouth Colony came to an end.

While it only existed for a mere 71 years, Plymouth Colony was very important to U.S. history. While other colonies established previously were imperialistic projects for the benefit of their mother countries, Plymouth was the first to be established by a group of people for their own benefit, the first to organize its own government, and the first to operate essentially independently. I genuinely believe the United States would not exist today without the Mayflower Pilgrims. That’s why, to me, Thanksgiving matters.

The Origins of Our Favorite Halloween Monsters

Art photography by Jill Wellington

Fall has arrived, bringing cooler temperatures, leaves changing their color, pumpkins on porches, pumpkin spice flavors at the coffee shops, and earth tones on the home decorations sold in every store. There are also other things that are prominently displayed in every store: Halloween costumes, spooky cheap plastic decorations, and candy. Lots of candy. Halloween is one of the biggest and most prominent celebrations of the year, among the likes of Christmas, Valentine’s Day, or the Fourth of July.

Six years ago, I wrote about the origins of the holiday and its most popular traditions. In that post, I talked about where our tradition of trick-or-treating came from. This year, I thought I would talk about the costumes themselves, or rather, the most popular monsters we like to disguise ourselves as on Halloween. Where did they come from? Let’s take a look at the history of:


Art by Ariadne A Mazed

Sometimes, when looking into the history or origins of something, you discover that the thing is basically universal across all of humanity. Such is the case with ghosts, a concept that has appeared in many forms across numerous civilizations all around the world.

We humans seem to have this innate understanding that we are more than a mere physical collection of meat and bones, but have a soul that contains our essence, and that soul will somehow live on after our bodies have stopped living. This appears to be the reason we developed the practice of holding funerals for loved ones who have departed, as a way to appease their souls and give them peace. If we don’t do this, countless myths across the world warn, their souls will haunt us and bring us suffering and misery!

In ancient Mesopotamia, it was believed that the souls of all who died would end up in Irkalla, the land of the dead, but a few souls would not be allowed entry until they had punished some living wrongdoers for their sins by bringing them illness. To the ancient Egyptians, the soul was actually made of multiple components, and if the proper burial rites had not been practiced to put the deceased at peace, the Akh would appear among the living to seek vengeance. This is very similar to the Navajo concept of the Chindi, a spirit that would form from all the negative aspects of a person who died. To avoid being cursed by a Chindi, the Navajo traditionally have strict taboos against coming into contact with the dead or the place where someone died.

On a more upbeat note, the Chinese practice of performing rituals that venerate one’s ancestors to show respect and ask their spirits to positively impact the lives of their living descendants goes back thousands of years, and both Confucianism and Taoism encourage these practices. Similarly, ancestor worship is an important part of the traditional Shinto religion of Japan as well.

On the opposite side of the continent, ancient Celtic peoples believed that the souls of the dead would join the living on the nights of October 31st and November 1st, and celebrated these nights with the festival of Samhain where they would honor their lost loved ones by preparing their favorite meals. Indeed, the very holiday of Halloween traces its roots to these Celtic festivals, as the medieval Christian church adapted the idea to celebrate All Saints’ Day on November 1st, also called “All Souls’ Day” and “All Hallows’ Day”. The name “Halloween” derives from “All Hallows’ Eve”, and the traditional purpose of wearing costumes and putting up spooky decorations is to scare away demons and evil spirits to make sure All Saints’ Day is purified and sacred. In Mexico and parts of the United States, the original meaning of this holiday is preserved in the holiday of Dia de los Muertos, where people honor the memories of their lost loved ones with a big celebration of their lives on the one night of the year they are believed to come back for a visit.


Yet another seemingly universal concept is that of witchcraft: the use of magic powers to bring harm to others. Before our modern understanding of medicine, diseases were often assumed to be the work of witches preying on the innocent. Even today, there are some people in sub-Saharan Africa known as “witch-doctors” who use traditional African medicine and magic to heal those who believe themselves cursed by evil spirits. Some ancient Greek legends mention witches. In the Odyssey, a witch named Circe puts a curse on people to transform them into animals. Speaking of curses, we have evidence that ancient Greeks would practice a form of mild witchcraft by writing curses against their enemies down on tablets.

There are also plenty of legends about witches that have been passed down by the first Americans. The Zuni creation story tells how a witch brought death into the world, and according to traditional Zuni belief, witches must constantly kill others to survive. This Penobscot legend recounts how Snowy Owl tricked a witch so he could marry her daughter. The Navajo call witches “skin-walkers” due to the belief that they use animal skins to shapeshift into the animal whose skin they wear in order to avoid detection. The Wabanaki told stories about the evil Jug-Woman, who would transform into a black cat and kidnap children.

The Bible absolutely condemns witchcraft in no uncertain terms. Numerous Biblical passages make it very clear that occult practices using magic, sorcery, or divination are antithetical to belief in God. However, the Biblical understanding of witchcraft that would have been held by people in medieval and renaissance Europe or the early colonial period in the United States was that a “witch” was any person, male or female, who made a pact with Satan.

So where, exactly, did our modern pop-culture image of witches as green-skinned women dressed in black and riding a broomstick come from? That derives from the famous 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. In 1900, L.Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, and it told a fantastic tale of a young girl from Kansas lost in a land of magic and mystery. In the novel, the Wicked Witch of the West is one of the main antagonists. However, the original novel’s illustrations show the witch as just being an old lady wearing a wizard’s colorful robes decorated with stars.

The movie, however, went with an altogether different look. Instead of a colorful outfit, they dressed her all in black to showcase how evil she was, and they gave her green skin to make her look more monstrous. As for her flying through the air while riding a broomstick, the idea that witches might do this dates back at least to the 15th century. All these elements came together in the spectacular performance of Margaret Hamilton, whose on-screen charisma and charm as a bad-to-the-bone villainess remains one of the most iconic film roles of all time. It is no surprise, then, that her portrayal cemented that image in people’s minds of what a “witch” is. Even today, nearly a century later, most Halloween “witch” costumes are modelled on that one character.


Photo by George Hodan

Unlike ghosts and witches, our modern conception of vampires derives specifically from Eastern European folklore. In Albania, a creature called a shtriga was said to use its fangs to drink the blood of children, rendering them weak and feeble. To kill a shtriga, various Albanian legends say, requires the use of religious symbols like crosses and holy water. Already, I’m sure, you can see the parallels with the vampires we are familiar with.

However, there were other mythical creatures that also influenced the form modern vampires took. The Romanian strigoi would also feed off of innocent people’s blood, but would only attack at night, as they slept during the day. Strigoi are believed to be incredibly strong and gifted with magic abilities like shapeshifting. The strigoi are said to hate garlic, and can be killed with a wooden stake speared through the heart.

These legendary monsters were highly influential to Irish author Bram Stoker, who introduced vampires to the English-speaking world with his classic novel Dracula. The infamous Transylvanian count represents a fusion of various Eastern European monsters with similar characteristics, plus one critical innovation that Stoker invented for his novel – that being bitten by a vampire can turn you into one.

As with witches, we can thank Hollywood for cementing a particular image of vampires in our imaginations thanks to a movie adaptation. In 1931, Universal released a film version of Dracula, starring the iconic Bela Lugosi in the title role. As Count Dracula was supposed to be Transylvanian nobility in the novel, the filmmakers decided to dress the character in a fancy tuxedo and cape like a stereotypical aristocrat of the late Victorian age. Lugosi’s performance had such an impact, that his version of Dracula became the default image of what a “vampire” looks like in American popular culture.

The Undead

In Vodou (also spelled “Voodoo”), a religious tradition of West African origin prominent in parts of the Caribbean, Brazil, and Louisiana, there is a belief that dark magic users known as bokors can use special poisons to make people appear dead, then “resurrect” their victims as mindless, drugged-out shells of their former selves under the complete mental control of the bokor. Thus, the bokor can use their victims to do their bidding. A person in this state is called a “zombi“.

However, there is very little resemblance between these victims of drug-induced mind control and the zombies of popular culture today. If anything, our popular conception of zombies has much more in common with a different undead monster, who often appears on Halloween with his own, distinct costume:

In 1818, a 21-year-old English woman named Mary Shelley published the novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, a tale of gothic horror surrounding a mad scientist named Victor Frankenstein who creates life by assembling body parts from a nearby cemetery into a monstrous man and then bringing it to life. The novel presents Frankenstein’s creation as a perfectly normal, intelligent, and creative man who just happens to have a monstrous appearance and a penchant for responding to problems with violence. Once again, it was Hollywood, and specifically Universal Pictures, who established our popular image of this monster in a famous film adaptation, with Boris Karloff portraying the creature as a slow, shambling, barely animated being that can only grunt and moan.

The impact of this film would not only shape how we have imagined Frankenstein’s monster ever since, but also how we have imagined the “undead” would behave more generally. This can be seen with the movie that gave us the modern, pop-culture “zombie”: Night of the Living Dead.

In 1968, a young filmmaker who just graduated from college named George Romero directed his first movie with his friends. He initially thought about making a movie about aliens, but then decided to make a horror film about reanimated corpses that attack and eat living humans. The extremely violent and gory film depicted shambling undead corpses that grunt instead of talk, just like Karloff’s monster from decades earlier. The movie was incredibly popular upon release, but what really cemented its staying power was the fact that Romero accidentally forgot to copyright the movie. As a result, Romero’s zombies were in the public domain, meaning any filmmaker, author, comic book artist, or video game developer could use them in their own works. This proliferation of Romero-style zombies has had a huge impact on popular culture, with the idea of a “zombie apocalypse” becoming a popular cultural trope.

I have to admit, when I started researching this topic, I had no idea how much of an influence Hollywood had on shaping our mental image of various Halloween monsters. It makes sense, though; films are a visual medium, and a truly scary movie is quite memorable. Especially to a child that isn’t supposed to be watching the movie but sneaks a peek anyway.

I hope you have enjoyed this look at the origins behind five of our favorite frightening creatures to spook each other with. Here’s hoping your Halloween this year is a scary good time!

The History of the Police

Ever since the tragic death of George Floyd last year, there has been an ongoing conversation in American society about the appropriate role of our law enforcement. As often happens whenever there is a major controversy, some misinformation has unfortunately entered the conversation and has been circulating within it. Specifically, I am talking about the claim that policing is a modern invention that evolved from 18th-century patrols that hunted for escaped slaves. While such patrols absolutely did exist, to claim that ALL of our modern policing evolved from that one origin is as disingenuous as claiming that our Constitution was inspired by the Iroquois Confederacy while ignoring the many, many other influences that went into its formation.

Law enforcement has been around since laws existed. This should be obvious on its face, as what makes a rule into a law is the power of the government to force people to comply with it or face punishment for non-compliance. Foraging societies, making their living by hunting and gathering in nomadic bands, have no formal governments or political structures, and thus have no real laws. Disputes are resolved either with informal agreements between the individuals involved, or by some sort of contest, such as a sing-off. Those who are seen to have truly violated the tribe’s key taboos are shunned and banished, a very serious punishment in such societies as survival without the support of a social group in the wilderness is extremely difficult. Even so, life without law can be a frightening prospect from our modern viewpoint – among the Ju/’hoansi tribe in Botswana and Namibia, it is not uncommon for men to murder each other over rival claims to their women.

The oldest police force we know about existed in Ancient Egypt. Wealthy aristocrats would hire gangs to protect their property and keep important public buildings safe. Later, the government took over responsibility for law enforcement, centralizing power over the maintenance of public order with formal courts that determined the guilt or innocence of the accused. Nubian mercenaries from modern-day Sudan were hired to serve as law enforcement, and eventually Egypt would have ten times more police officers per capita than the modern United States has!

The word “police” itself comes from the Ancient Greek word “polis”, their name for their city-states. Responsibility for maintaining order in ancient Athens was held by 41 civil magistrates who collectively commanded a force of 300 slaves that did their dirty work for them. Later, the first Roman Emperor would create the Cohortes Urbanae, a subset within the Praetorian Guard who served as the police force in the city of Rome. In the Roman provinces, soldiers would be stationed in cities and towns to maintain order and capture criminals.

Law enforcement in ancient China took on many forms. Under the Tang Dynasty, the Gold Bird Guards were responsible for apprehending those accused of committing one of the Ten Abominations such as rebellion, treason, murder, assaulting a parent, or sorcery. Later, the Song Dynasty initiated a system known as “baojia” that made all the families in a village or neighborhood responsible for policing each other, with each family required to to train two sons in martial arts so they could act as the village’s police force.

In the Inca Empire, laws were enforced by local chiefs who were responsible to the emperor. Inca punishments were meant to set an example, so they were incredibly harsh – for example, adultery was punishable by being pushed off a cliff, and thieves would have a limb cut off. If a chief refused to enforce these Inca laws, he would be replaced by a new chief who would.

The earliest roots of our modern concept of policing originated, perhaps unsurprisingly, in medieval England. The Anglo-Saxons saw law enforcement as a collective responsibility of the community, with every person required to help in apprehending criminals. They grouped themselves into “shires”, and the criminal-hunting parties were organized by a figure called the “shire-reeve”. Yes, this is where we get the word “sheriff”. After the Norman Conquest, a new class of low-level nobles called “constables” were created who would act as a town guard, monitoring who entered or left the gates of a city. In 1361, King Edward III created a new, professional law enforcement officer called the “justice of the peace” who would act as his deputy in cities, towns, and villages across England.

Yet even as law enforcement in England gradually became more professionalized, the idea that it was up to ordinary citizens to stop crime remained in place as late as the 18th century. By then, London and many other English cities had established a system of paying cash rewards for the apprehension of criminals. This unintentionally led to large-scale corruption, as exemplified by the case of Jonathan Wild. Calling himself the “Thief-Taker General”, he led a team of criminal-hunters while simultaneously being one of London’s biggest criminal gang leaders. His “Thief-Takers” would arrest his competition while leaving his own underlings alone. Eventually, Wild’s double-life was found out, and he was hanged in 1725.

This sort of corruption ultimately led to large-scale reforms in the way the British handled policing. The Scottish city of Glasgow created a formal, professional police service in 1800, and in 1822 the Royal Irish Constabulary was created to maintain order on the Emerald Isle. One of the most important advocates for police reform in those days was Sir Robert Peel, a British politician who helped push through several police reform laws and created the Metropolitan Police Service of London (better known as “Scotland Yard”) in 1829. This new police force was based on a set of principles Peel created that all ultimately boil down to the idea that law enforcement doesn’t serve the government; it serves the public. Originally, British police officers wore a uniform Peel devised that included a top hat (representing authority) and a servant’s jacket (representing, well, public service).

You have to admit, they look a bit different than the modern uniforms we’re used to.

These reforms were remarkably successful, and police forces across the UK soon copied Scotland Yard’s model. Before long, cities in the United States followed suit, starting with the New York Police Department, founded in 1844.

Obviously, there was law enforcement in the United States since early colonial times. In 1636, Boston established a formal “night watch” to patrol its streets, just six years after its foundation. However, colonial-era policing was usually handled either by local volunteers or by for-profit entrepreneurs who would offer their services to the local merchants in a community for a fee. One of the main reasons why big cities adopted London-style police forces was because, frankly, it was cheaper to have a taxpayer-funded, government-run police service.

While America’s big cities copied the British when designing their police forces, that doesn’t mean Americans couldn’t innovate in this realm, too. The world’s first dedicated detective unit whose sole job was to investigate crimes after they had already been committed was established within the NYPD in 1857.

However, this professional and formal model of policing, tailored to serve the needs of big cities, didn’t translate well to the wild frontiers of the American West.

“Git yer city ways outta here!”

In a newly-established town, locals would often form vigilante groups to punish those the community saw as wrong-doers. As the town grew, formal sheriffs could be elected or hired by the local city council. In U.S. territories, the Department of Justice would send a U.S. Marshal out to patrol a particular region and arrest any bad guys in a given area. Often, these Marshals would take a cut of the fines charged to the criminal upon conviction, leading many to basically be bounty hunters in all but name. Such was the life and career of Bass Reeves, a former slave who became the most successful lawman in U.S. history, apprehending as many as 3,000 outlaws over the course of his career.

This face is crime’s worst nightmare

Eventually, as the United States became more industrialized and urbanized, concerns about police corruption grew, leading to numerous reforms. These included making the hiring of police forces more professional and less dependent on political favors, along with the creation of a new federal police force, the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Still, there were many in the 1960’s and 1970’s who accused police departments across America of not respecting citizens’ civil rights, being racially biased, or both. These accusations have remained prominent over the decades since, in spite of numerous attempts to reform the police to assuage these concerns.

Law enforcement has taken many forms over thousands of years, and will likely take even newer forms in the generations to come. Nevertheless, as long as we live in a society that agrees some rules need to be enforced and some actions should be punished so that each and every one of us can sleep in safety at night, walk through the park safely during the day, and rest assured that we will still have our homes and our stuff when we get off of work, there will always be a need for the police.