On July 2nd, the headline on the city's morning paper, the Daily Post, reported that the historic Aintree race-course, home of the Grand National, was about to be sold off for housing development. "This year's National will be the last", said the course's eccentric owner Mirabel Topham. Of course it wasn't.
But an item on page two of the same paper showed that in at least one area of the city, people were concerned about something much stranger than Liverpool's musical and sporting icons
Liverpool's Kensington district is a huge contrast to its London namesake. In 1967 it was a densely populated working-class area, with few open spaces for children to play. One such was Jubilee Park, a large grassed area on top of a covered reservoir, with bowling greens and a football pitch.
After school on Tuesday 30th June, local children were playing in the streets and around Jubilee Park when an odd story began to circulate. No one knew where or how it started. Strange little men were running about the park and popping up in the gardens and yards of houses in the surrounding streets. These were immediately described as 'leprechauns', perhaps linking them to the Irish heritage of many families in the city.
Soon the city's Parks Police were called to the scene and found hundreds of children milling about in Jubilee Park. One policemen, Constable Nolan, reported that “ stones have been thrown on the bowling green and no-one has been able to play”.
As the crowds grew the excitement got out of hand. Children were throwing stones where they thought the leprechauns were hiding and began pulling up park shrubbery in search of them. It eventually became too much for the Parks Constabulary and Constable Nolan, who was forced to wear his motor-cycle crash helmet for protection, called in the City police.
When the City police arrived in Z-Cars and motorbikes, they cleared the park and bowling green, and padlocked the gates, but then the youngsters crowded onto the top of the covered reservoir next to the site, and the police were unable to clear the area totally until 10.00 pm on the second night of the panic.
Many years later a former Liverpool parks constable and later a colleague of Constable Nolan, John Hutchinson, wrote to an Internet forum telling of his own experience. At the time he lived several miles away in the north of the city, on the Sparrow Hall housing estate, and heard about the leprechaun story from an item on the Granada TV local news:
"In 1964 I was like most Liverpool kids visited places such as the Cavern and followed the Beatles music. News came on evening from Granada TV which led me and some dozen of my mates from Sparrow Hall to head to Kensington to see the "Irish Little People" that the Granada TV presenters had spoken about. So off we went to find them - I had a dog and two rabbits, catching one of those 'little people' would be no problem and I could keep it in the rabbit hutch!"
Another local resident, 'Mike S' lived closer to the Kensington park, and described on the Internet site "what seemed like thousands of kids congregating at the park and being chased off by police. I was six at the time so exact details are not clear, but I do recall gong to the park with my sister and brother along with the rest of the kids in the area. Everyone was excited at the prospect of seeing a leprechaun".
Although neither John nor Mike recalls actually seeing any of the little creatures themselves, another forum contributor, contributor, 'Linda' was a pupil at Brae Street School, which adjoined Jubilee Park, and in her account of the incident reports:
"I was one of the schoolchildren who saw those leprechauns ... we all saw them popping in and out of a window overlooking the school yard, there were about four of them all tiny, dressed like a school-book idea of a typical gnome, and they sat swinging their legs on the window ledge getting in and out. What they were I don't know, I only know what they looked like".
The Daily Post carried a photograph of police confronting a row of children standing on the edge of the covered reservoir like a scene from a 1950s Western. Another photograph showed dozen of children milling around in the park. As the panic continued the local papers tried to find an explanation for the alleged sightings. The evening Liverpool Echo described the creatures as "little green men in white hats throwing stones and tiny clods of earth at each other".
Of course, the phrase 'little green men' immediately created a connection with another popular mystery of the era: flying saucers and aliens invaders. And fortuitously for the local paper there was a UFO. report to fit neatly into the narrative. A woman in Crosby, on the coast to the north of Liverpool, reported seeing "glistening objects" flying in across the Mersey from the west, conveniently from the direction of Ireland. It was the work of a moment for a journalist to turn this sighting into speculation about the means the little folk used to travel to the city.
But the Irish connection goes deeper than this. In the nineteenth century Liverpool was the destination for thousands of Irish families fleeing the potato famine, and even today a large proportion of the city's population are of Irish heritage. Could it be as some writers have suggested that the stories of leprechauns came from folklore and stories circulating within the communities around Kensington?
The main influx of Irish people into Liverpool came in the 1840s and 1850s, so that youngsters in the city in 1964 would likely be fourth or fifth generation descendants of the original immigrants, and although Irish culture was still an important part of the city's life, very few people would be telling stories of the Old Country at the fireside in the evening, and local children would be more involved in the burgeoning Liverpool music scene.
But there was one other popular culture icon who might have had some influence on the birth of the rumour, the comedian Ken Dodd. In his popular TV shows he was usually accompanied by his troupe of 'Diddy Men', allegedly the inhabitants of his home suburb of Knotty Ash just three miles to the east of Kensington. Usually played by children or small adults in oversized dress, they portrayed a number of stereotypical characters, including an Irish leprechaun.
In one of his TV shows Dodd used a camera trick to miniaturise or 'diddyfy' the TV presenter Bill Grundy. It may be significant that it was Grundy who presented the Granada TV news magazine that sent John Hutchinson to Kensington to hunt leprechauns for his rabbit-hutch.
However, Ken Dodd was not the only person to claim credit, and nearly twenty years later the Liverpool Echo reported that a local resident called Brian Jones alleged that he started the story.
His version was that at the time he was working in the garden of his grandfather's house in Edge Lane which backed onto Jubilee Gardens. He claims that he was wearing Wellington boots, old navy-blue trousers, a denim shirt with a red waistcoat and a bobble hat and smoking his pipe while taking a break from weeding. He then noticed children sitting on the wall, one of whom shouted “it's a leprechaun”. Thinking they had misjudged his height because of some very high weeds in the garden he began clowning around until the children jumped down and ran away.
The following day he heard the noise of a crowd of children on the other side of the wall looking for the 'leprechaun' and again put on a show for them.
However once the panic started, Jones claims, it soon got out of control and he overheard older boys saying they would bring an airgun to shoot the creature. Others allegedly invaded his grandfather's garden and vandalised a nearby empty house in their search to the extent that it was later demolished.
However little of Jones's story stands up to scrutiny. The dates on which he claims these events happened do not tally with the newspaper reports, nor do his clothes match children's' description of what the leprechauns were wearing, and all the children's' reports come from the public park, not from any private gardens. Not do the local papers carry any reports of such a newsworthy event as leprechaun hunters causing the city council to demolish a house.
After the first week the panic died down, and the streets and parks of Liverpool 6 returned to some sort of normality, when the panic began again in Kirkby. This is a 1950s 'overspill' town to the north-west of Liverpool, built largely to rehouse people displaced by the city's slum-clearance programmes. In the 1960s it had the highest proportion of under -16s of any town in England.
The first report came from the local Kirkby Reporter on Friday 17th July, and it immediately linked the two themes of leprechauns and flying saucers: "Flying saucers came to Kirkby last week - at least according to local children. What the connection was the children were not sure, but scores of excited children invaded the Reporter offices on Friday (presumably the previous Friday, 10th July), eager to tell they had seen both these things".
The Reporter then goes on to describe accounts of "a strange object in the air", changing colour from red to silver, moving slowly at first then travelling off at great speed. UFO investigators would probably have provisionally identified this as an aircraft. However the reports from the other faction describe small humanoid figures, eight inches tall and in brightly coloured clothes.
The leprechauns this time seemed to have made their base in the churchyard of St Chad's, the parish church. The vicar reported that hundreds of children had invaded the site, and he was forced to call in the police to clear them. The children also flooded into and searched the grounds of St Marie's Roman Catholic School and Mother of God Church in the Northwood neighbourhood of the town..
One keen leprechaun hunter ended up with a permanent reminder of his adventure. Eddie McArdle told the Magonia website that he, along with dozens of schoolmates from St Marie's went hunting:
"We went en-masse into the church as we hunted the little people. Some bright spark shouted that they were coming after us. Panic ensued and as we all fled quicker than we entered. A boy swung the church gate in his haste to escape, and I was hit on the forehead by the metal cross on it and I have a scar as a constant reminder of the event. I had to have my head stitched."
Another former St Marie's pupil, Chris Jones recollects that he was one of the hoard of children who "invaded St Chad's". Commenting on suggestions that the panic may have been spread amongst the Catholic, predominantly Irish heritage community, he says "it does not surprise me. Religious education in school was full of stories about children being favoured by visitations: Lourdes and Fatima being two of the best known examples", adding "why leprechauns were involved instead of something more pious is a mystery to me".
Another St Marie parishioner" signing themselves 'bri' remembers crowds besieging the church shouting "there they are", as the parish priest appealed for calm. The rumour spread that the imps had crossed into the Infants' School, and were hiding in the pupils lockers. 'Bri' did not sleep for days after, and still has a fear of such lockers.
Even thirty five years after the events, memories of the leprechauns kept surfacing. After the Echo ran a feature in 2009 on paranormal activity on Merseyside, two local men wrote to the paper to give their own accounts.
Stephen Cumming who still lived in the Kensington area remembered "a crowd of about a thousand men, women and children with jam jars and green fishing nets on canes congregating on Jubilee Drive looking for leprechauns … I never saw any but my cousin, a tough lad from the Bullring [the nickname of a local block of flats] swore he had seen one on a wall, in Holt Road dressed all in green with a black pointed hat, he tried to grab him but the little man got away … "
Responding to the same article, another Echo reader, Alan Ferndale wrote: "I certainly do [remember the leprechauns] and I actually saw a few of them on Kensington Fields, close to the library, but my parents and other adults tried to convince me I'd been seeing things.
"This would be one afternoon in early July 1964 and I remember it as if it were yesterday. I was ten at the time and on my way to play football with my mates and saw these little (I'd say just a few inches tall) men dressed in red and black standing in the grass looking at me. I'm sure one of them had some type of hat on. I panicked and ran all the way home. My mum said there had been reports of little men on Jubilee Drive and Edge Lane [both in the Kensington district] the day before"
He also remembered children with jam jars that they claimed they were going to use to capture leprechauns.
It is perhaps possible to make too much of the potential Irish family backgrounds of these children, as folklorists are familiar with the phenomenon of the 'children's hunt', spontaneous mobs of children hunting for strange or paranormal creatures. It is possible that the Irish connection, or Ken Dodd's Diddy Men provided the template for the Liverpool hunt. But it was not just on Merseyside where school children were encountering strange little creatures.
Some investigators have suggested that the Liverpool hunt might have been sparked by events across the other side of the country just a few weeks earlier in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The Newcastle Journal reported:
"Flashes of light loud buzzes in the night … little green men chasing each other round haystacks, egg shaped flying saucers … the leprechauns are loose and it's no Irishman who is telling this tale - just the good people of Felling. For stories are going round Learn Lane Estate that flying spacemen in egg-shaped flying saucers are using the area for manoeuvres. So persistent are the stories that a full scale investigation has been launched by one organisation."
A 14-year-old boy, David Wilson reported that he had seen "several small green creatures about two feet high running round a haystack on a field near the estate"
Here again the rumours spread rapidly amongst local schoolchildren, and although one headmaster denied that he had called a special assembly to counter the rumours he was keen to emphasise that there was no basis to the stories.
Is it possible that this story could have travelled across from the North East to Merseyside to be the spark for the Liverpool events?
Fifteen years later another children's hunt hit Nottingham's Wollaton Park, a deer park surrounding a spectacular Tudor house not far from the centre of the city. In September 1979 a group of six children aged eight to ten from two families, were playing near a marshy area around the park lake as it began to get dark in the evening.
As they prepared to go home they suddenly saw a troop of sixty little men about two feet tall with long beards and hats "like old-fashioned nightcaps" with a 'bobble'. They wore blue jackets and yellow trousers. However these figures needed no flying saucers, as they rode around two abreast in tiny cars which they drove through a gate from a wired-off enclosure around the park lake.
The cars were brightly coloured, although the children gave different accounts of the colours. The vehicles had a "thing they could turn round with a handle on it" instead of a steering wheel, triangular lights and a bell instead of a horn.
The figures began to chase the children, seemingly in a playful manner. Even so, some of the children were crying and one tripped on a log and fell into the marshy ground. Neither the logs nor the condition of the ground seemed to prove any obstacle for the tiny cars, however, as according to one of the children they just "leapt over them". The eldest girl of the group returned the next day, and reported that she could not see any wheel marks in the soft earth.
Eventually the children ran to the park gate, chased by the little creatures, but when they fled into the road outside they were not followed and the 'gnomes' retreated to the enclosed area near the lake where they were first seen.
The children reported this to their parents, challenging their incredulity. Later their school headmaster questioned them individually and they stuck firmly to their stories. He made a tape recording of the interviews, which he later sent to a researcher from the Fairy Investigator Society. In a covering letter he wrote:
"I think the tape reveals the wide measure of corroboration between the children, as well as the fluency with which they were able to describe the events. I remain sceptical as to the explanation of what they saw, but I am also convinced that the children were describing a real occurrence."
When the story reached local papers other people came forward with accounts of similar incidents over a period of years. Wollaton Park and Hall has a number of other ghostly traditions connected with it, and for a few days afterwards crowds gathered at the park gates but there was no repeat appearance, although some people later claimed to have seen a similar phenomenon in the park at an earlier date.
The children and the press referred to these creatures as 'gnomes'. Without the Liverpool Irish connection, and with the curious detail of the tiny cars, the children described them in terms of Enid Blyton's character Noddy, who also wore a pointed hat with a bell or bobble on the top and drove about in a brightly coloured car, the beard being a characteristic of his friend Big Ears.
All the stories I have looked at so far have involved people actually witnessing these bizarre creatures. However, ten years before the Liverpool events another playground panic and children's hunt caused chaos in a cemetery and it didn't need the sighting of a strange creature to set it off, just a rumour of a monster.
Glasgow's Southern Necropolis was opened in 1840 to provide a burial ground for the crowded Gorbals area. In September 1954 PC Alex Deeprose of the Glasgow force was called to this normally quiet location. Expecting some vandalism or a drunken incident he was amazed to find the cemetery flooded with hundreds of children, some armed with stick and knives.
As the local paper The Bulletin reported on the 24th: September:
"Householders in Caledonia Road, Glasgow, phoned the police last night to complain of the clamour raised by hundreds of children swarming into the Southern Necropolis to track down and slay 'a vampire with iron teeth'
"The 'vampire, according to the children) was credited with killing and eating 'two wee boys' / The hunt began shortly after school hours when grown-ups first noticed a steady trek towards the cemetery. The children climbed the walls and scoured the grounds in their search for the 'vampire'."
Constable Deeprose was soon able to ascertain that no young people had been reported missing in the area, but the children were not in a mood to listen, and the next evening even more turned up at the burial ground.
One person who had been involved in the hunt, Tam Smith, recalled fifty years later that he had heard the rumour in a local cafe: "Someone came in and said there's a vampire in the graveyard". At the time there was a steelworks adjoining the site. Tam remembered "the red light and the smoke from the steelworks would light up and make all the gravestones leap. You could see figures walking about at the back all lit up by the red light. The scare went on for hours."
Another participant, Ronnie Sanderson, eight at the time, admitted that he did not even know what a vampire was: "The story had spread through the school that afternoon ... It all started in the playground. The word was that there was a vampire and everyone was going to head out there after school."
"We sat there on the wall for ages waiting. I wouldn't go in because it was a bit scary. Someone saw someone wandering about and the cry went up: 'There's the vampire', and that was 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!"
Although the initial mob was dispersed children gathered in the Necropolis for several nights afterwards, and the rumours of the 'Iron Man' or 'Gorbals Vampire' spread around the city, and the frenzy reached the local press. Eventually one of the local primary school headmasters addressing a crowd of pupils at the school gate to reassure them that no children were missing and no vampires stalked the cemetery.
However it seems in the end that the panic subsided less from the headmaster's exhortations than the onset of a spell of rainy weather!
This seems to have stemmed the panic, and the vampire hunters did not return to the cemetery. By the end of September a local paper was able to report "Vampire With Iron Teeth Is 'Dead' ... Last night (September 25th) all was quiet at the necropolis. Youngsters who swarmed the surrounding streets guiltily laughed at the idea of a vampire".
Immediately the panic was over the search began for the source of the rumours. Some people pointed out that there was a popular dialect poem taught in schools called 'Jenny with the Iron Teeth'. This was an imaginary creature which parents would use in an attempt to frighten their children into good behaviour:
Jenny wi ' the airn teeth,
come an ' tak' the bairn.
Tak him to your ain den,
Where the bowgie bides,
But first put baith your big teeth,
In his wee plump sides.
It's possible that an eccentric local woman who lived near the cemetery in the nineteenth century was know as Jenny with the Iron Teeth, and her legend became attached to the area, giving a focus to the children's excitement. There had been similar hunts in Glasgow and neighbouring towns in the 1930s, one which involved a 'huge number' of children hunting a 'banshee' and crowds of 100-150 children searching for a ghostly 'White Lady' over two or three nights.
But the Glasgow Vampire panic didn't die down once the children had all gone home and life in the Gorbals returned to normal. The story fed nicely into a panic which was developing amongst grown-ups, not just in Glasgow but also across Britain and Europe - the campaign against the import of American 'horror comics'.
The Glasgow based Catholic Observer (1st October) splashed a front-page story announcing that "Two Glasgow Catholics have launched an attack against lurid sensational American comics of the type which this week threw children into a panic of fear of a vampire with iron teeth … "
Soon the connection between the Vampire panic and horror comics was accepted as fact, even though there was not the slightest evidence that any of the children had even seen such comics, which were not widely available in Britain at the time.
The campaign was not confined to the Catholic press, it was also supported not only by right-wing newspapers, but also by the Communist Party who saw the comics as the intrusion of degenerate American popular culture into Britain. The Vampire even had its moment in Parliament when it was used as evidence for the passing of the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act in 1955. This banned the depiction of "incidents of a repulsive or horrible nature" in publication sold to children. After the passing of the Act no case came to court until 1970, and most cases which were brought for prosecution were turned down by the Attorney General who thought they would not result in successful prosecutions.
Sometimes playground panics do not involve children hunting strange creatures, but are the children's fear of being hunted themselves. In the 1980s schoolchildren in South London lived in fear of the Chelsea Smilers. These were allegedly a gang of violent Chelsea football fans who would drive around schools and housing estates in a blue van, and kidnap children, usually on their way home from school. They would ask their victims if they were Chelsea FC supporters and even ask them questions about the team to ensure that they were truthful if they said 'yes'.
If they proved not to be a Chelsea fan, the 'Smilers' would take a razor and cut the corners of the victim's mouth then make them scream in pain, which would cause their mouth to be permanently scarred into a 'smile'. In some versions of the stories the attackers would use the sharpened edge of a credit-card to make the cut - a detail which played to the 'wealthy Chelsea' stereotype.
Stories would spread that the 'Smilers' had attacked at a school in the area, but one usually just far away enough that none of the children hearing the rumour would be likely to know any of the pupils at that school. The warning went that the gang would be visiting the child's own school the next day.
Steve Roud, a writer on London history and folklore heard these stories from his own daughter, and other relatives. Many children were in tears, almost hysterical, he records, often refusing to leave school in the afternoon until their parents came to collect them.
He discovered that the story seemed to have started in Bexley, a suburb in south-east London at the end of January 1989. It gradually spread across South London and was well established in south-west London by the end of March, and later spread out into Kent and Surrey. Gradually, with no real victims ever coming forward, the rumour died away. But, he reported, it was still being used as a scare story in London playgrounds long after the initial panic died down.
Stories of mass panics in schools have a long history, and some researchers have traced them back as far as the seventeenth century, when children in Holland, France and Sweden engaged in violent 'witch-hunts', or behaved strangely, running around madly, laughing hysterically or even meowing, or barking like dogs. At the time these panics were attributed to witchcraft, and on several occasions local women were attacked, as people believed that they were responsible for bewitching the children.
These scares have continued until the present day, and in a bizarre and sinister reinterpretation of the Liverpool Leprechauns, children in one American school district lived for a while in fear of murderous Smurfs.
In January 1983 rumours spread through the schools of Houston, Texas, that blue Smurfs, the Belgian cartoon characters, were attacking school principals at the city's schools. There were conflicting claims that the attackers would target anyone wearing blue clothes, or alternatively that blue clothes would protect the wearer from attack.
The 'Smurfs' were sometimes described as wearing a full head-to-toe character outfit, which would render them rather conspicuous in an urban area. Alternatively they would have covered themselves in blue body paint, or simply just be wearing blue jackets. Their weaponry was claimed to range from knives and broken bottles, to handguns and even automatic weapons.
In one area the story spread that the blue attackers were hiding in the schools' toilets, and pupils were reluctant to visit them - with the obvious unfortunate consequences, and one contributor to an Internet board for discussing urban legends countered claims that the stories were invented years later as a prank stating:
"Rumours had been going around my school (not sure about other schools) that teenagers belonging to a mysterious gang called the Smurfs were attacking younger kids in the school bathrooms. The rumour was that our school was to be targeted on some specific day in the coming week. It got so bad that the principal actually interrupted classes to make an announcement over the PA system that 'smurfs' (at least the gang members) certainly did NOT exist and attacks were not imminent."
The rumour may have started from news of the arrest of some members of a gang actually calling themselves The Smurfs, for relatively minor crimes such as shoplifting and petty theft, but a report later by the city's police stated that at the time there were no organised criminal gangs within the police's definition operating in Houston, although some youths formed loose groups that they themselves called 'gangs'.
The story began to fade when Franklin Turner, the principal of one school, who was said to have been murdered by the 'Smurfs' made a public appearance to counter the rumours. He commented "Kids wanted desperately to believe, they wanted some excitement" .
A local journalist noted that the story "picked up variations and embellishments as it passed over the grapevine at debate contests, sports events and skating rinks - wherever teens and pre-teens gathered".
As the Smurf panic was calming down in Houston a new scare was springing up to panic children, across the world in Chongqing City, Sichuan Province, China. Here the sinister invader was not a blue Smurf, but a Zombie Robot. The French news-agency France-Presse reported that in March 1993 a rumour swept junior schools in the city that a rogue American robot had escaped its controllers and make its way to their city. The children believed that the robot would eat children wearing red clothes, and that it had already devoured several before arriving in Chongqing.
Panicking children would not go to school unless their parents pack their school-bags with garlic and a cross made of chopsticks - clearly believing the zombie robot also had the vulnerabilities of a vampire, and reports claimed that there was a sudden shortage of garlic in local shops.
No children were eaten, and the scare eventually faded away, but the panic did not seem to have any long-term effects on the local community, as Chongqing is now one of the centres of the Chinese robot automation industry, hosts a robot fair and has established an academy to boost the development of robotic automation in the area. Perhaps the panic actually stimulated interest in robotics amongst the young people in the region, or maybe was a symptom of the rapid industrial development of the country.
Child-eating vampires, zombie robots, violent football thugs and murderous cartoon characters seem a long way from the mischievous leprechauns of Liverpool, but they all form a pattern of rumour and panic.
Children from a particular school or neighbourhood are very influenced by the collective opinions of their peers and are usually anxious to be accepted into the group and can fear isolation if they try to challenge them. If a few dominant personalities within the group are sufficiently convinced about some improbable event it is likely that other children in the group will fall into line, and that this move to a conformity of opinion will spread across the group and into other areas.
If the groups have a particularly connection - perhaps the deep community feeling of the Gorbals which made it unique within Glasgow, or the Irish Catholic background of many of the Liverpool children - the spread and acceptance of the rumour would be faster and stronger.
A series of events in South-East Asia demonstrated just how strongly this group identity can be.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s a series of strange stories emerged from schoolchildren in Malaysia. In October 1974 two boys at a school for children of Malaysian Air Force personnel told of seeing a "thumb-sized" brown-skinned figure: "It has two feelers on the head and held a steel-like rod". The creature appeared to be armed with a tiny pistol. One of the boys grabbed the creature but it escaped his grip and ran into the undergrowth. Later, coming home from school, other pupils reported a tiny UFO with three figures standing outside with it. One boy said he passed out after on creature 'shot him'.
In the evening children returned to the site hunting the little creatures, and besides seeing one they also claim to have found a tiny wigwam woven out of grass and weeds. Eventually the whole community was in an uproar, and adults began seeing the creatures. For some reason they seemed to congregate around bus-stops and on buses - one woman reporting hearing an invisible entity talking to her from an apparently empty seat for the entire duration of her bus journey
In the 1991 there was panic in Kuala Terengganu in north-east Malaysia as 'scores' of tiny entities were seen on the local school grounds, a boy claiming to have been stabbed when he grabbed at one of them. Other children saw a hoard of creatures emerging from a hole in a drain. And in September 1992 students and residents in a district of Kuala Lumpur claimed to have met a creature just six inches tall, with glittering green skin, three long fingers on each hand.
In other Malaysian schools there have been outbreaks of mass panic, with pupils collapsing, screaming in panic or crying uncontrollably and hyperventilating. In come cases these attacks were attributed to 'djinns'. Many traditional Muslim societies accept the existence of djinns, supernatural entities in Islamic and pre-Islamic mythology, and they are mentioned frequently in the Quran.
Researchers who have looked at the reports of little people and other panics in Malaysian schools, particularly girls' schools which are tightly disciplined on strict Islamic lines, have suggested that the phenomenon provides an escape mechanism for releasing pent-up emotions. By blaming irrational folk-entities students can express their frustration with the oppressive school regime without directly attacking the authorities responsible, and by involving outside agencies such as local 'wise men' have often won a loosening of the strict religious discipline.
However school panics about invasions of tiny and malevolent entities are not confined to schools in Muslim countries. In the largely Roman Catholic Philippines there have been a number of similar incidents, again confined to girls' schools, and we can assume that a strict religious environment is involved.
In 1994 a school in Manila was forced to temporarily close when children claimed to have seen a 'demon', a giant with horns and a tail, standing under a tree in the schoolyard. The children were taken to a local church where the priest sprinkled them with holy water.
In January 2004 a teacher at a school in Iloilo in the centre of the country set her nine and ten year old pupils the task of clearing up the playground. Suddenly some of the girls claimed to be seeing tiny, inch-high dwarfs which spoke to them, saying they wanted to be friends. Their teacher was called out, but saw nothing. However, to reassure the girls she spoke to the creatures saying she was sorry if any of the girls were bothering them. The story made national headlines, but the teacher's apology seemed to have done the trick and there was no reappearance of the little beings.
Religious panics are not confined to distant parts. Schoolchildren were involved in a series of extraordinary events across Ireland in 1985, when a group of primary school children from Asdee, County Kerry went to pray at their local church next to the school. A seven year old girl suddenly announced that the hands on a statue of Christ had moved, and the eyes of a stature of the Virgin Mary also moved. Other children also began to see the movements of the statues. They rushed back to school and told other pupils and teachers of what they had seen.
Soon thousands of people in locations all across Ireland were seeing moving statues in churches and at roadside shrines. Ballinspittle in County Cork became a centre for these visions and at up to 20,000 people stood in vigil at a shrine in a grotto outside the village.
The appearance of movement was generally explained as being pious expectation coupled with the 'autokinetic effect', which creates the illusion of movement when a stationary object is stared at for a long time. This is the explanation for many UFO reports, when witnesses stare at a star or other celestial object for any length of time.
However, some of the accounts were startling. A local garda officer John Murray, described as a "bright, down to earth character", claimed that when he was at the Ballinspittle shrine, "rosaries were being said, hymns were being sung. Suddenly, without warning, it was as if the statue simply took off and became airborne."
The crowds who gathered were largely quiet and respectful even if awed by what they thought they saw, but at least one such vigil created a panic. On 6th September 1985, a large crowd had gathered at a statue in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. Suddenly a group of schoolchildren began screaming a crying, saying that the had seen the Devil. The panic spread through the crowd with some of the girls fainting, while others shouted "he's here, he's here" seeing demonic images on the statue.
One unnamed 16-year-old boy who may have been the source of the panic, rushed home in terror, telling his mother that he had seen "shocking things". A report in the Sunday World newspaper claimed that "while looking at a statute of the Blessed Virgin, he saw it changing into various forms". At first he saw the face of the devil with horns, then the face of Jesus, the figure of a Pope wearing glasses. (The Pope at the time, John Paul II did not wear glasses in public)
Some people reacted violently against the phenomenon, and three men from a fundamentalist Protestant Christian group in Dublin attacked the Ballinspittle statue with hammers and pickaxes. The leader of the group, an American preacher named Robert Draper, was charged with criminal damage but acquitted, although he was later sentenced to six months imprisonment for attacking non-moving statues of the Virgin at shrines in churches and schools in Dublin.
The Irish 'Moving Statues' phenomenon is perhaps untypical, in that although it began amongst schoolchildren it rapidly spread amongst the adult population as it linked to pre-existing beliefs amongst what were then still largely devout Catholic communities. Children have traditionally been linked to apparition of the Virgin Mary, and the famous pilgrimage shrines of Lourdes, Fatima and Medjugorje were all founded on visions by children usually involving young and adolescent girls. The initial 'moving statue' sensation at Asdee fits this pattern
'Legend tripping' is a largely American phenomenon, where groups of children and teenagers make a trek to supposedly haunted or otherwise dangerous locations. Often these are cemeteries, abandoned hospitals, or other medical institutions where the ghosts of anguished inmates still roam the ruins - or in some cases the anguished patients themselves, who are believed to have remained or returned after the building was vacated. In other cases the youngsters trek through overgrown and forested areas looking for 'Bigfoot', the 'Jersey Demon' or some other crypto-creature.
Although legend tripping is often simply a useful excuse for teen couples to escape adult supervision in dark and isolated locations, it also answers a youthful need for excitement by presenting an air of danger, even though this is mostly illusory.
The Glasgow Vampire is perhaps the closest example here to the Legend Trip pattern as the children were visiting a spooky location with the clear intention of scaring themselves and getting the adrenalin rush of fear, even without confronting the object of that fear.
The Liverpool Leprechauns were almost comical entities, perhaps based on fairy tales and popular TV characters. Nobody seemed to be frightened of them, in fact some children seemed intent on capturing them as pets. The only injury they caused was an accident to an over-enthusiastic pursuer. However large groups of young people behaving rowdily, disturbing the quiet adult environment of the local bowling green, still provides a rush of excitement by moving into and occupying an otherwise restrictive environment.
It's clear that in Liverpool at least people are still convinced that they did actually see something very strange in their neighbourhood. The memories of Alan Ferndale and 'Linda' are quite clear, they saw the little folk, even to remembering how many were sitting on the school window ledge.
However the initial reports are rather short on eyewitness accounts, none of the children that reporter Don McKinley spoke to claimed themselves to have seen the leprechauns, they were there because they had learned of the leprechauns from school mates, and they had joined in the general panic.
Is it possible that memories of the panic turned into memories of the sightings? 'Bri', who commented on the website report may have touched on a clue when he/she said: "I laughed out loud when I found this site, for years I thought I imagined it all!" Memory is not a fixed record, and our memories of events can be changed by information we receive subsequently or by opinions and beliefs that we hold.
Linda's and Alan's memories were recorded on the Internet forum 45 years after the original event. At the time they were undoubtedly caught up in the excitement of the crowd, and all sorts of rumours and tales would be passed around. Anything unusual would be seized on as a manifestation of the leprechauns, shadows in the park shrubbery or any sudden movement in the corner of the eye, could all be later incorporated into the memory of the event.
There is a great deal of expectation amongst children to conform to the actions and opinions of their peers, especially if this seems to be in opposition to the standards of their parents or teachers. There may be less opportunity for 'Legend Tripping' in the densely populated streets of inner-city Liverpool than in the open spaces of North America, but a leprechaun hunt in the local park would provide a great release of energy after a day in school.
Here was a chance to run around crazily, climb walls and trees, throw stones, challenge authority in the figure of Constable Nolan of the Park Police - generally "letting your soft out", as they say in Liverpool.
Although no-one actually saw the Vampire in Glasgow, the spooky atmosphere of the cemetery, enhanced by the lights and flames from the iron works provided an outlet for the imagination for children living in what were then some of the most deprived streets in the country. It would certainly not have been difficult for just one imaginative child to have drawn the image of the creatures from the lights and shadows around him, for others to also discern its presence, and decades later, for even more to remember their own encounters with the monster.
Children live in a world which split between the security of parents and home, and the outside world which they gradually explore as the move from home to school and into the community of their peers. They respond to the unknown with a mixture of fear and curiosity, the curiosity strengthens when they are in a crowd.
And in a crowd the compulsion to go along with the collective opinion can be overwhelming. In Glasgow the panic seems to have started with a false rumour that two children had gone missing in the area. Once this spread the hunt was on for the culprits, and for many children the stranger and more scary that culprit was the better, because home and safety was always just round the corner.
The Dallas and Chongqing panics seemed to arise from general societal worries, as with the Chelsea Smilers, at a time when football violence was a regular feature of newspapers and TV news. The Malaysian and Philippines episodes seem to have been a reaction to a controlling social and school environment, and by blaming their naughtiness on a mysterious 'other' the children sought to avoid any possible punishment for disrupting the schools' authority.
In a case such as the Liverpool Leprechauns it only needs one child to shout "I can see it" for the cry to be taken up by others. It doesn't seem to matter whether the stimulus far that cry was a man in curious gardening clothes, shadows in a shrubbery, or even little green men from a flying saucer.
In Kensington the covered reservoir is still there, but the bowling greens have been replaced by a sports centre, a young children's playground and a go-kart circuit. No leprechauns ever seem to have visited since 1964, not even little men with bobble-hats driving their multicoloured cars around the go-kart circuit.