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The Creepiest Nursery Rhymes That Shouldn't Be Read to Kids

Updated August 14, 2020 23.3k votes 3.7k voters 203.5k views18 items

List RulesVote up the nursery rhymes that still give you nightmares

The sound of children singing alone can be quite scary (see the Poltergeist main theme, or the "1-2 Freddy's coming for you" song from A Nightmare on Elm Street), but when coupled with certain weird and creepy nursery rhymes, the shudder factor rises exponentially. Let's take a closer look at some of these disturbing nursery rhymes, and perhaps you'll think twice before teaching them to your kids.

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  • 1

    Mary Mary Quite Contrary

    If you think this little ditty is actually about gardening, you'd be wrong. The contrary Mary of the title is Queen Mary I, AKA Mary Tudor, who during her reign attempted to restore Catholicism as the national religion of England. She came to be known as "Bloody Mary" for apparently persecuting Protestants. 

    The song is believed to be a clever jab at "Bloody Mary," with the "garden growing" bit alluding to the bodies she planted in the cemetery, the "silver bells and cockle shells" referring to torture devices, and the pretty maids all in a row symbolizing people lined up for the guillotine.

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  • 2

    Rock-A-Bye Baby

    Photo: Fox

    Whatever the origins of this song, the lyrics alone are quite terrifying when you stop and think about them:   
     
    "Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop, 

    When the wind blows, the cradle will rock, 
    When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, 
    And down will come baby, cradle and all."


    Basically, there's a baby trapped in a tree, getting rocked in a cradle by a violent wind. The gusts are so strong, the tree branch from which the baby is hanging snaps in two, plummeting the baby to the ground. If the child isn't killed, it's at least going to need immediate medical attention.  

    And this song is sung to children as a lullaby. Sweet dreams, kiddo! Naturally, The Simpsons parodied "Rock-A-Bye Baby"'s horrid implications in their very first short on The Tracy Ullman Show.

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  • 3

    Who Killed Cock Robin?

    Photo: Internet Archive Book Images / flickr / No known copyright restrictions
    This rhyme details the murder of a robin, his subsequent funeral and internment, and, in some versions, the hanging of the sparrow, who confesses to the crime. It's pretty dark. 
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  • Take a look at the lyrics to this one:  

    "Peter, Peter pumpkin eater, 
    Had a wife but couldn't keep her; 
    He put her in a pumpkin shell 
    And there he kept her very well. 

    Peter, Peter pumpkin eater, 
    Had another and didn't love her; 
    Peter learned to read and spell, 
    And then he loved her very well."  

    Okay, so it's established that Peter likes to eat pumpkins, right? So, his wife wants to leave him. Okay. What does he do? He puts her in a pumpkin shell, where he keeps her quite well. Does this mean he eats her?  

    Even if the rhyme doesn't suggest cannibalism, it does state that Peter imprisons his wife when she attempts to get away from him (probably because he's spending all their money on pumpkins). That's pretty messed up.
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