Sunday, 25 March 2018

The Man With The White Sandshoes (and a Purple Man too)

   I've put out a call for information today via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. to see if anyone can provide me with any additional information regarding "The Man With the White Sandshoes".  This character is a kind of urban legend, whose supposed activity stretched over many decades in the mid to late 20th century.  In summary, he was a nameless but terrifying apparition - I'm not sure whether human or ghostly -who terrorised people in Dundee by chasing after them, for unknown reasons.  Generations of children had him whispered about by cold blooded siblings and older associates who took delight in instilling mortal fear in more gullible bairns.

   A cursory investigation shows that the character (archetype?) is familiar in other parts of Scotland, most in the west, where he was sometimes known as "Sandshoe Sammy".  More intriguingly, the same character also featured in the urban parts of North-East England.  I always believed that the spectre was well-kent in Dundee, but there is no mention of him in Geoff Holder's well researched Haunted Dundee.  

   In my childhood the Man With The White Sandshoes was active in the environs of Balgay Hill, in the gloaming and after dark. he ran on the roads and wooded pathways of the hill, running after random unfortunates who happened to be unlucky enough to have strayed into his domain.  A favourite spot of his apparently was the iron bridge which joins the two sections of the hill.  This was also a favoured haunt of the White Lady (whose actives are admirably detailed by Holder), but I don't know whether there was any connection between these two creatures.  A particular target of the Man was any nurse who happened to walk through the hill, on the way to or from her shift at Victoria Hospital, to the south of Balgay.  What he would do if he actually caught anyone is also unknown.

   The apparition is alleged to have haunted the area around Dunmore Street, in Kirkton, in the 1950s.  Beyond Dundee, there is a wonderful tale from North Lanarkshire/East Dunbartonshire online, related by someone who used to venture every Saturday with an associate or two, 'years back', from Moodiesburn to Kirkintilloch, an isolated country route.  The narrator says that one winter weekend day he crossed the road, 'just before the countryside part', and saw what he thought was a severed hand in a glove perched on the top of a dyke.  However, it turned out to be a glove cleverly packed with ice by a clever prankster.  He and his friends started speculating that the hand was real and the work of a serial killer they decided to call "The White Sandshoe Man", and for months joked that this horror was pursuing them.  Months and months later he found another snow packed glove on the same wall, only this was from the other hand.  The killer punchline was that it was the middle of a July heatwave - how could it have got there and not melted?

   The story is intriguing for its many folkloric elements.  Did he merely pluck the name of the bogey out of the air, or was the character floating about, metaphorically or actually, in the local ether?

   The Glasgow version of the origin of the soft shoe man is more emphatic.  During the blackout in World War II, there was a man who used to lurk around in the enforced darkness of the Garnethill area, and he would pounce on stray women and strangle them.  He was never brought to justice.  His method was made effective by his wearing sandshoes and therefore he was nicknamed Sand Shoe Sanny and became a terror to successive generations of weans in the locality.

   A variant on the name of the prowler is "Sand Shoe Sanny", not Sammy, readily explained by the fact that sannies are Scots slang for sandshoes. Another rogue tradition says the same was "Sandshoe Wullie".  One Glaswegian swore that this character lived near the public baths in Elvan Street:  

He wore a long coat and a bunnet and...walked with his hands in his coat pockets.  I never ever saw this person or new [sic.] anyone who had actually seen him... Whenever we were in the Shettleston area from Wellshot Road down to Cree Street we were always extra vigilant...
   On the same online message board another contributor ("weegieghost") gave the variant name for the ghoul as "Flannelfoot".  Is this a throwback to a primordial, noiseless bogle from before the time when the ubiquitous sandshoe came into being?  One of the functions of the being, of course, was to keep children in line, away from certain areas and home by a specific time, or else.

   Possibly the Sandshoe Man (was "Plimsoll Samuel" his given name, I wonder?) was a regional variant on the shadow being known around the world as The Silent Man or The Still Man.  This is a stalking figure who murders victims for reasons unknown and seems to feature in folklore as far afield as Germany and other places in Europe.

   Be that as it may, the Scottish version is very distinctive.  Fair enough wearing sandshoes for fleet movement, but why particularly white sandshoes?  Surely that would just draw attention to the runner.  One source states that the anonymous man wore one black shoe and one brown one, which is nearly as attention seeking.  How the story began is anyone's guess, but my mind is drawn to tales of "Jack the Runner", one of the many haunters of Glamis Castle (itself not far from Dundee).  This creature ran wildly across the lush and eerie lawns in front of the castle and is reckoned by some to be the spirit of the famous family monster, taking a forlorn chance to escape from its family captors.  Maybe there is a link here to an archetype?

+++++++++ Respondents' Roll of Honour from Facebook, etc. +++++++++++++++

   In response to my request for information, the following members of Dundonian History for All on Facebook have kindly provided the following: 

SN:  'As children we were told we had to be asleep before the man in the white sannies came, never told why!!??'

MH: 'I think perhaps there was a pedo or murderer who wore white sandshoes and mums and dads all over used it to help keep the children safe. I was frightened by a man wearing white sandshoes at Lochee park. My pals and I gave him a wide berth but looking back he was probably on his way to play tennis in the park.'

AP:  'I used to live at 36 North Ellen Street up three flights of stairs and sometimes had to take a meal down to the old lady on the ground floor. At the bottom of the stairs was an alley way out to the rubbish bins and the man in the White sannies used to hide in there having a smoke.'

MB:  'He lived next door to us, and apart from the white Sannie’s his nose was purple wi the drink.'

JD:  'My parents when they were children were told to watch out for the man in the white sanshoes. That would've been 1940s. They told us in the 1970s the same story but they said he wore red clothing.'

MT:  'While at primary school in the early 60's someone in the playground would shout "Here's the manny in the white sannies! We would all run for cover. The other one was the "purple man".'

GD:  'At Dryburgh Primary in the sixties we were scared of the Purple Mannie but never saw him.' (RF, a contemporary at Dryburgh Primary, also recalls the Purple Mannie.)

DM: 'My dad told me about the man in the white sand shoes was a flasher when he was young. Used to creep about in sandshoes so kids didn't here him coming and when he got close he would open his rain coat and be naked.'

MG states that his wife 'was told about him when little apparently he would creep up behind women to scare them wearing sand shoes so not to be heard doing this'.

   Several people remember at least one person in Dundee singing a song about the Man With the White Sandshoes, but the words and tune are probably now lost.

  JC informed me by email that her memory of the White Sandshoe Man was when she went to Mains School in 1940s: 'he used to wear a long raincoat and he used to stand on the golf course looking over to our school . I’ve never forgotten him.'

   The Teeside version of Sandshoe Sammy was very evident in the 1970s.  As in some Scottish instances, in England the name also sometimes became attached to a real person.  In Middlesbrough, a lonely figure who always carried a carrier bag and wore sandshoes which were too big for him (and, therefore, presumably useless for running?). The figure, in various whispered forms, was known in the city from the 1940s onwards.  What connection there was between this area and Glasgow, in terms of this tale, are not clear.  But a tale from a contributor to The Partick Times (Summer 2015) also states that Sandshoe Sammy was a name given to a real person, who stayed at Exeter Drive.

Anyway this man, maybe he had something wrong with his feet, but for whatever reason, he wore huge, big sandshoes and he always wore a coat and he had a beard. He wasn’t frightening or creepy, but there was something odd about the man and he was always called Sandshoe Sammy. People used to follow him and shout at him. I remember when he died they had to ask people to go to his funeral because he didn’t know anybody. Somebody went round the doors telling people, and a lot of the neighbours went.

Some Sources and Further Reading

Holder, Geoff, Haunted Dundee (Stroud, 2012).

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