Folks in the Northeast US who attended literally any camp in the past thirty or forty years will probably be familiar with the name Cropsey. For the rest of us, there is a fascinating documentary on the subject on Netflix called, creatively enough, Cropsey that in large part inspired this post. Outside of the Northeast, we might know Cropsey better as Jason Vorhees. That is slightly overstating the case, but let me give you the bare bones version of the story, since there are a dizzying array of variations.
The core of the Cropsey legend involves a man named Cropsey who was a respected member of the local community who lived near the local sleep-away camp. Campers tried to play a prank on Cropsey’s son that goes horribly wrong. The prank left Cropsey terribly deformed and seriously pissed, not to mention insane. As a result, Cropsey took to the woods, axe in hand, where he lay in wait for any unwary campers who happened to wander away from the relative safety of camp.
The parallels with the Friday the 13th franchise and nearly every slasher ever made are pretty clear. They all involve a blade-happy maniac with a hate-on for campers/coeds/teenagers who break the rules, be they cultural rules (anyone who has premarital sex dies) or the camp rules (if you wander off you get axed). The way to survive is clear–simply don’t break the rules, and you’ll be fine.
In that way, what started as a regional legend has become a part of pop culture at large, although Cropsey only shows up as a named character in one movie that I know of. That movie is called The Burning, which is basically a Great Value version of the original Friday the 13th. It is about a cruel camp caretaker named, you guessed it, Cropsey who is the victim of a prank that gets out of hand, leaving him deformed and very, very angry. He gets his revenge years later on a group of campers that, oddly enough, contains characters played by Fisher Stevens and Jason Alexander (better known as George Costanza from Seinfield). In any case, the movie is actually pretty good despite its slow start. I don’t normally laugh at people getting hacked to bits (it seems in bad taste) but some of the stuff that happens when the bloodbath begins is pretty goofy and I couldn’t help myself.
Now that the legend of Cropsey has entered pop culture, it is much more difficult now to pin down whether or not there ever really was a man named Cropsey and whether he committed any crimes. The answer is…it isn’t clear. There was a man named Jasper Cropsey who lived in New York, but so far as I can tell he never committed any axe murders. The documentary Cropsey frames its entire narrative around the crimes of Andre Rand, who was convicted of kidnapping and murdering several children in the 80′s on Staten Island. While he certainly could not have been the man whose crimes originated the legend, given how recently he committed his crimes, he’s become part of the legend in that region of the country at least.
Like any number of urban legends, we probably will never know for certain where the legend of Cropsey originated. These sorts of stories begin from seemingly nowhere and take on lives of their own. Cropsey in particular has had a great deal of longevity, especially since his legend has inspired key parts of the modern slasher flick. We might not know where Cropsey came from, but we can be certain that he’s here to stay.