She is one of the most discussed legendary figures of all times — especially on nights when there is a slight chill in the air — just nippy enough to make the hairs stand on necks of sweet, tender young children who disobey their parents and stay out just a little bit too long.
After years of quietly, stealthily, walking in the cover of shadows through the city’s darkened streets, some people still swear blood oaths they hear Tall Betsy moaning from one of the mausoleums in Fort Hill Cemetery.
Beware tonight. It’s Halloween and Tall Betsy is making her return to the Cleveland Block Party for one night only.
According to the legend of Tall Betsy:
She comes out only on Halloween
On Centenary Avenue she can be seen,
Tall Betsy is the Lady in Black,
For scaring “night-owls” she has a knack.
Now if you’re good and go home early,
You won’t get ‘et by this gruesome girlie.
But if you linger ’til after 10,
We want you to know you are a “has been.”
‘Cause Betsy will tuck you under her arm,
And you can bet, that is cause for alarm.
To Fort Hill Cemetery she will go,
To her mausoleum, with YOU in tow!
If you don’t escape before sunrise,
I warn you now you will be her prize.
She will have you for breakfast, I do not jest,
You’ll be on the menu but not as her guest.
Your bones, she’ll dump in that ole well,
At Arnold School and no one will tell.
Your parents, they’ll worry and fret,
They’ll search all over for you, I’ll bet.
So, go home early on Halloween night
And November 1st you’ll be all right.
Trick or treating is so much fun
But if you see Tall Betsy… RUN!
In honor of Tall Betsy’s Block Party return, businessman and philanthropist Allan Jones presented a painting of Tall Betsy to Arnold Elementary School on behalf of the Allan Jones Foundation.
During the presentation, fourth- and fifth-graders were treated to the story behind the legend of Tall Betsy.
“How many of you have ever heard of Tall Betsy?” Jones asked.
The cacophony of replies came all at once from the 50 or so students.
“Scary, right?” Jones said. “The legend of Tall Betsy, the story was actually made up by me. Tall Betsy is not real.”
The real Tall Betsy was a very tall woman who walked the streets of Cleveland late at night, Jones said. She was also known as Black Betsy or the Lady in Black.
“Parents in the 1920s and 1930s would tell their children they’d better come in after the street lights come on because that’s when Tall Betsy comes out and walks. But that’s all she did,” Jones said.
“Did she hurt anybody?” a student asked.
“No,” Jones answered. “Tall Betsy didn’t hurt anybody or do any of the things you think she did. All that stuff you think she did, I made up. Nobody knows that except you kids.”
The kids responded with denials at Jones’ very suggestion they would one day quit trick or treating on Halloween.
Jones said Tall Betsy is responsible for the tremendous success of Cleveland’s Block Party. He was told the tale of Tall Betsy by his mother, Gincy, as well as his grandmother, Marie Slaughter.
Jones explained he dressed up as Tall Betsey in 1980 and entertained for her at a Halloween party. He stood on stilts and wore a black dress. At one point, he went outside and stood in front the house. That year, no one came to the house for treats. He continued the practice every Halloween for four years.
“The fourth year we had a big crowd,” he said.
That year, the Cleveland Daily Banner asked him to tell the story of Tall Betsy.
“Well, there was no story, so I started making up the story as I sat there (in front of the house),” he said.
“The Tall Betsy legend eventually spread outside of Cleveland and became such an event that in 1993 we took an official count of how many people came to my house,” Jones recalled. “From 5 to 8 p.m., we handed out exactly 11,201 pieces of bubblegum at our Centenary Avenue home. That number does not include parents, grandparents or even the smaller children who were too afraid to actually come to our doorway.”
Tall Betsy suddenly retired in 1998 after drawing a Halloween Block Party crowd of 25,000 possible victims. No explanation was given for the goblin’s vanishing act.
“Tall Betsy lives in a mausoleum at the highest point in Fort Hill Cemetery,” he said. “That’s the way the legend goes.”
But tonight, Tall Betsy will be back — possibly for the last time in a long time. So come and see Tall Betsy Halloween night at the Block Party. Get your picture taken with her, and smile if you dare — but be in by 10! Because while she has not been on the loose recently, should you push your luck, you could be a has been!