The True Story That Inspired The Charlie-No-Face Urban Legend

Many of the wildest urban legends in history are based on true stories. These cautionary tales have a seed of truth hidden in their center to boost their believability, like the Charlie-No-Face urban legend and the true story behind it. 

In 1919, a boy named Ray Robinson was severely injured and disfigured after accidentally touching a powerline near his home in Western Pennsylvania. The accident caused Robinson to lose his eyes, nose, and one hand, and afterwards he would spend most of his life indoors, going out only for walks at night in order to avoid people.

This humble origin story launched the urban legend about Charlie-No-Face - aka The Green Man. The legend painted him as a monster or a ghost, glowing green from the accident that disfigured him, who stalked the Pennsylvania roads at night. 

The truth is much less sinister. 

  • The Electrical Line That Disfigured Him Killed Another Boy
    Photo: Elliott Brown / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

    The Electrical Line That Disfigured Him Killed Another Boy

    Robinson lived near the Wallace Run bridge, which housed a 22,000-volt power line for the trolley line from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania to Ellwood City. The massive bridge was a a popular spot for children to play. 

    In 1918, Robert Littell died while playing on the bridge with friends after making contact with the power line. Littel suffered severe burns and died two weeks later. One year later, Robinson would encounter the same power line while he and his friends attempted to look inside a bird's nest on the bridge.

  • Doctors Did Not Expect Robinson To Survive
    Photo: PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay

    Doctors Did Not Expect Robinson To Survive

    While playing on a trolley bridge with friends, Robinson is said to have attempted to climb in for a closer look at a bird's nest and accidentally touched a power line. The line sent 11,000 volts through the 8-year-old, throwing him to the ground and sending him to the hospital.

    The accident cause Robinson to lose his eyes, his nose, and one arm from the elbow down. He was left severely disfigured with severe burns to his body. A newspaper headline at the time of his recovery read, "Doctors Marvel That Boy Lives".  

  • Some Say His Family Refused To Eat Meals With Him

    Robinson's nephew told reporters that no one ever treated his uncle differently in the home that Robinson shared with his mother, step-father, and other family members. The nephew further claimed that no one talked about Robinson's accident or disfigurement.

    Other stories say that Robinson's family couldn't look at him and that he was not allowed to eat meals with them. A documentary filmmaker who owns the rights to Robinson's story claims that the boy was kept hidden away from the world by his family.

  • Robinson's Family Didn't Like His Nightly Walks
    Photo: Free-Photos / Pixabay

    Robinson's Family Didn't Like His Nightly Walks

    To break from the solitude, Robinson began walking Route 351, going at night to avoid the stares of passersby. His mother was not fond of her blind son traveling alone for hours in the dark, but that didn't stop him.

    Robinson would typically leave around 10 PM and return before midnight. Allegedly, there were nights when he wouldn't return home and his family would find him passed out a field from drinking too much. 

  • Robinson Was Actually A Very Kind And Loving Man

    The newspaper that reported Robinson's miraculous recovery also noted "Yet, in spite of all his affliction, the boy is in good humor". Robinson's nephew said his uncle spent his time listening to the radio, mowing the lawn with a push mower, completing puzzles, or hiking behind his house.

    People that would visit Robinson as teenagers described him as a "helluva nice guy" that liked to talk while sharing beer and cigarettes with friendly people. 

  • Some People Who Encountered Robinson On His Walks Were Horribly Cruel
    Photo: Pierre Prestat / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

    Some People Who Encountered Robinson On His Walks Were Horribly Cruel

    Once word got out that a man with a disfigured face was walking Pennsylvania's Route 351 alone at night, strangers from the area began to seek him out. Some of these strangers were horrible to Robinson, tricking him into drinking urine from beer bottles or physically assaulting the blind man. Others would convince Robinson that they would take him to a bar before abandoning him in the middle of nowhere.

    After a few of these incidents, Robinson began to hide in the treeline when he heard a car approaching and only approached vehicles if he recognized the voice of the people inside.