Hop on up and consider the Bunny Man. For nearly 50 years, numerous areas around Washington, D.C., have both feared and celebrated the storied figure.
And, yes, true to his name, the Bunny Man is reputed to be a hatchet-wielding killer who wears a full-size, furry, long-eared, bushy-tailed rabbit costume. He is often thought to be a ghost. Weirdest of all is that Bunny Man, at least in part, is rooted in (some) truth.
Talk of the Bunny Man originated after a pair of 1970 incidents in Fairfax, Virginia. Both encounters, reported on record to the authorities, center on an angry individual in a Peter Cottontail get-up who rails about “trespassers” and brandishes an ax.
The first Bunny Man dust-up occurred on October 19, 1970. After driving off from a football game around midnight, a cadet from the U.S. Air Force Academy and his fiancée parked for a bit in a nearby field. Suddenly, someone smashed the front passenger window and yelled, “You’re trespassing and I have your tag number!”Both witnesses described the attacker as wearing a white, head-to-toe suit with long ears. Upon driving to a local precinct house, the cadet noticed that the belligerent, buck-toothed being had tossed a hatchet into the backseat.
Ten days later, a construction company’s security guard reported a man clad in a black, gray, and white bunny outfit who had been using an ax to vandalize a house-in-progress. The guard quoted the floppy-footed chopper as snarling:
“All you people trespass around here. If you don’t get out of here, I’m going to bust you in the head.”
Over the next few weeks, the Fairfax County Police received a total of 54 reported run-ins with Bunny Man. Accounts varied and grew nuttier. Several newspapers even reported that the Bunny Man ate somebody’s runaway cat.
That all this happened during Halloween season and in an area dense with prank-loving college students certainly does seem to explain much. Those factors also most likely played into recurring visits from the Bunny Man over the next few years, expanding out from Fairfax into Maryland and multiple other Washington, D.C., suburbs.
For decades, though, Colchester Pass, a railroad overpass near Fairfax Station, has served as the home base hole-in-the-woods for talk of the rampaging rodent-guy. “Bunny Man Bridge,” as the structure has come to be known, regularly attracts revelers who gather to celebrate the lapin legend and hope to catch a glimpse of the hair-raising half-human/half-hare.
The bridge has also generated its own origin story of Bunny Man. That tale goes that, in 1904, a train transporting inmates from a institution for the criminally insane derailed at Colchester Pass. Officers quickly rounded up all the madmen, except one — Douglas J. Grifton, a killer already known as “The Bunny Man” because he chopped his wife and children to pieces on Easter Sunday.
So while Grifton ran around the woods, locals reported seeing skinned, half-eaten rabbit carcasses hanging from the trees. In time, though, someone discovered a man named Marcus Wallster dead and hanging from the bridge at Colchester Pass. Wallster, too, had been skinned and chewed up in the manner of the rabbits.
When the cops closed in on Douglas Grifton, he leapt on to the train tracks and got splattered by an oncoming locomotive. The malevolent spirit of the Bunny Man, however, is said to haunt the locale to this day — especially (wouldn’t you just know it?) on Halloween night.
It’s a gruesomely delicious story and, of course, none of it is true. But that myth, coupled with the actual accounts of a weapon-wielding lunatic in a rabbit ensemble, continue to keep the Bunny Man in business.
Aside from being a standout topic among spooky campfire stories, the Bunny Man most notably worked his way into popular culture via the 2001 cult film, Donnie Darko.
Although Darko creator Richard Kelly says he drew inspiration from the rabbit-focused novel Watership Down, the Bunny Man immediately comes to mind in the form of Frank, a mysterious, palpably hostile character in a mutant bunny costume who guides the title character through a science-fiction odyssey. It’s probably not a coincidence that the story is set in suburban Virginia.
A 2011 horror flick, The Bunnyman Massacre, reworks the costume idea into standard slasher fare. In 2014, Virginia-based band Mantua Finials released The Legend of the Bunnyman, a three-record rock opera based on the mythology.
Each Halloween, hundreds of Bunny-baiters converge on Bunny Man Bridge, waiting for the twitchy-nosed terror to emerge. Most often, though, they just end up getting yelled at by annoyed neighbors nearby. The Bunny Man’s legacy, as such, hops on down the bunny trail.
Main photo: Bunny Costume [Pixabay]