I’ve been digging around in urban legend territory lately, looking for a good bogey-man tale, when I happened upon the story of Charlie No-Face, also known as the Green Man of western Pennsylvania. As with many urban legends, portions of this tale have a basis in fact. Sad and tragic, but true nonetheless.
According to legend, the Green Man was an electrician who almost met his end when was he was electrocuted on the job. Another version claims he was struck by lightning. In both cases, his face was horribly disfigured and his skin was imbued with an eerie greenish cast. Shunned by those around him, he retreated to an abandoned railway tunnel which became his home. By night, he roamed the roadways and countryside, often creeping upon unsuspecting teens who favored secluded areas. Over the years as the legend grew, the Green Man—or Charlie No-Face—became a tale to frighten children and share by campfires on dark summer nights.
But the reality is much different, the story of a compassionate man who suffered a horrific accident as a child. Ray Robinson was only eight years old when he and some friends were walking past the Morado Railway Bridge in 1919. Egged on by his buddies, Ray climbed the bridge (which held the power lines for a trolley) hoping for a better glimpse of a bird’s nest they’d spied from the ground. At some point he came in contact with a high voltage wire and was severely electrocuted.
He suffered burns from the waist up, and for a time it was not certain if he would live or die. His face was mutilated—both eyes burned away, his nose reduced to a hole, one ear mangled as well as his mouth. Yet despite his appalling injuries, this young boy found the will to survive. After numerous surgeries he remained in good humor, adapting to a life that included Braille and small pleasures like listening to the radio.
Horribly scarred and blind, he would become a recluse over time, rarely venturing out at day because of his appearance. He never had more than a first grade education but kept busy at home learning puzzles and dabbling in small crafts. Those who knew him claimed he was one of the nicest souls they’d ever met.
Sometime in the 1940s when he was an adult, Ray began taking nightly walks using a walking stick to guide him, following a course along a section of road known as Route 351. He enjoyed the routine which gave him the freedom to venture outside under the cover of darkness away from prying eyes. But word eventually leaked about “the green man” who roamed the road at night. Soon curiosity-seekers began looking for him. Most were friendly, some even sharing beer and cigarettes with him, but a few were demeaning and cruel.
Ray remained undaunted and continued his nightly walks, gaining popularity in the 1950s and 60s when many people sought him out to chat. By the 1980s he’d finally reached an age where he couldn’t continue the habit any longer, taking up residence in a nursing home. Ray passed away at age seventy-four on June 11, 1985, leaving two legends behind: that of a supernatural bogey-main who prowled the night-blacked roads in search of unsuspecting teens, and the reality of a kind-hearted man who lived an amazing life.
Although the urban legend of the Green Man is perhaps the more widely-circulated, thankfully, it’s rarely mentioned without tribute to the courageous man who inspired it. Rest in peace, Ray.
*Photo of Raymond Robinson (fair use) Copied from http://www.ncnewsmedia.com/archive/tim_galleries/SPECIAL_PROJECTS_07/