Virtually anyone who squanders their precious time on this earth dicking around online will be intimately familiar with the concept of the Wikipedia hole. Beginning on one Wiki article concerning a topic you need to research, you find yourself clicking link after link, pursuing increasingly more niche interests, until you have dozens of open Chrome tabs featuring more knowledge than the entire Library of Alexandria. Next thing you know, it’s two in the morning and you’re conversant in the biographies of several 19th-century Icelandic parliamentarians, the location of every known CIA black site, and the production history of Laguna Beach.
The gravitational pull of the Wikipedia hole is enhanced by the sheer breadth and depth of content offered by the platform, with every subject area imaginable treated with the same level of droll seriousness. There’s a kind of populist zeal to Wikipedia’s focus, evident every time you see a plot synopsis for a Warhammer 40K paperback that’s substantially longer than the article for the theory of relativity. This is symptomatic of the fact that the site is now far more than just an online encyclopedia. It’s a mode of life unto itself, a public square where we come to collectively agree (or disagree) upon a set of truths, despite lingering unease about its credibility. More and more, it’s also the staging ground for culture wars, often over issues which would seem trite outside of the hermetic confines of Wikipedia. Picture an Enlightenment salon, if French intellectuals gathered to discourse at great length about hentai.
It is inevitable that in something as all-encompassing (and accessible) as Wikipedia, weird subcultures are bound to emerge. One such example is Creepy Wikipedia, a vast contingent of pages which often aren’t so much rigorously sourced articles documenting matters of fact as they are repositories of conjecture, myth, folklore and urban legend. Like a dusty grimoire tucked away in an occult bookshop, Creepy Wikipedia is a record of the darker, blurrier fringes of the human (and not so human) experience. In essence, a loose community of freaks have turned history’s biggest information resource into a vector for telling campfire stories.
They’re like Creepypasta with the veneer of reality, made somehow more compelling by Wikipedia’s objective tone of voice.
There’s no formal way to track the Creepy Wikipedia canon on-site – for obvious reasons – so a cottage industry of intermediaries has sprung up to fill that role. The subreddit r/CreepyWikipedia, which counts over 70,000 subscribers and self-describes as a repository of "[articles] that makes you shiver with fear or disgust," covers a wide spectrum of content from the macabre (cannibal serial killers) to the paranormal (mysterious shadow entities) to the plainly dubious (real places where Satan supposedly chills out).
The shared through-line between these articles is that you can (and should) read them to freak yourself out. They’re like Creepypasta with the veneer of reality, made somehow more compelling by Wikipedia’s objective tone of voice. Reddit users aren’t the only ones catching on: numerous content operations have extracted listicle mileage out of Wikipedia as an archive of weird, scary shit. Creepy Wikipedia isn’t so much a discretely realized canon as it is a mindset; the belief that truth is stranger than fiction and also mad fucked up.
The average Creepy Wikipedia article can be identified near-immediately. They revel in minute detail and clearly take great pleasure in amplifying the horror as it unfolds, pushing Wikipedia’s rigorous tone to the limit of its narrative capability. Take the article for executed child cannibal Albert Fish, which contains a liberal sprinkling of (appropriately cited) hearsay and psychological speculation as the record of crimes unfolds, just enough to keep you on the edge of your office chair.
Extensive troves of Wikipedia content seem specifically written and organized to scratch an abnormal itch. The rigorously detailed lists of “people who have disappeared mysteriously” and “unsolved deaths” are two examples of a broader canon which are clearly intended to appeal to a certain sort of person, with each summary entry reading like a piece of flash fiction. Let’s be honest: the structure and tone of these articles strongly suggest they are not intended for an audience doing genuine research. They’re for people looking to indulge a morbid interest, which might speak to a deeper truth about humanity than the rest of Wikipedia does.
Creepy Wikipedia does expose a tension in the encyclopedia’s famously uptight community, which often plays out in the talk pages – which are the forum where prospective editors debate changes and additions.
The crux of it is this: To what extent does interest in a mysterious or incredible topic make it notable enough for an article? And how should the subject matter be treated? It’s trivially easy to find Wiki articles which straddle the boundary between documenting scary folklore and propagating it. The brief but dense article for the so-called ’Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp’ — a 7-foot-tall reptilian humanoid alleged to inhabit the wetlands of South Carolina — is one such entry, a page doomed to exist in an eternal three-way edit war between those who genuinely believe the monster is real, those who consider it interesting as an example of contemporary local folklore, and those who just love speculating about swamp monsters online for kicks. The page was subject to a deletion debate over a decade ago, in which all factions were suitably represented. As you can see, the page remains, to our great civilizational benefit.
There’s a sense that the site has evolved to accommodate the impulses of its weirder editors and readers — a tacit acknowledgement that the human impulse to tell tall tales and fixate on the Weird cannot be suppressed, even in an encyclopedia. The incredibly extensive archive of “unusual articles” shows that even the administration is happy to sanction the Wikipedia as a place people naturally go to read and share stories for amusement, within reason. No other reason feels totally adequate to explain why the article retelling the case of Gef, the Manx mongoose alleged to have been inhabited by a talking poltergeist, exists.
It’s there because it’s fun. We might as well have some, as long as the notability guidelines are respected.
My favorite Creepy Wikipedia pages
Unbelievably extensive list with links to similarly detailed articles; the perfect intersection of academic interest and morbid fascination.
The strangely gruesome and perhaps apocryphal story of an 18th century French showman reputed to eat literally anything, including — allegedly — a toddler.
A gelatinous substance reported to be found on grass since the 14th century, which people (for some reason) assert is extraterrestrial in origin.
There’s no option but to respect the urge of Wikipedia editors to obsessively document the altitude each person died at.
A property in the middle of nowhere Utah which is for some reason the center of numerous paranormal and UFO experiences.