Knee Deep in the Satanic Panic
What they were talking about on March 22, 1991, in Taylor, Pennsylvania
Ah, the Satanic Panic. Us ’90s kids get nostalgic just thinking about it. All the paranoia. All the irrationality. It was a glorious time to be young.
I distinctly recall one Mrs. Winebreak sending me to the principal's office for having a Mötley Crüe pentagram on my binder. There was no humor or soft-handedness in her move. She legitimately feared I was worshiping Satan. The times were such that her fears were taken seriously.
The Silent Generation is defined by the (lame) birth of rock and roll and the (lame) moon landing. Boomers had their (lame) Woodstock music festival and their (lame) Hippie revolution. Millennials had the (lame) birth of the internet.
Generation X? We had the Satanic Panic, baby.
What better event for me to use as the first Random Small Town News Nuggets series?
The Devil Went Down to Taylor, Pennsylvania
“Satanists don’t exactly advertise their existence.”
— Boris Krawczeniuk, The Tribune, Scranton, Pennsylvania
22 Mar 1991, Friday, page 18
On March 22, 1991, the people of Taylor, Pennsylvania, were talking about Satan, their children, and their children worshiping Satan. Probably other things, too, but definitely Satan and the worshipping of Satan.
The Tribune was the flagship newspaper of the area at the time. On page 18 of that flagship newspaper, written without humor or self-consciousness, was a story discussing a recent talk by a man named Allen Joseph.
The newspaper reported that Joseph had a masters degree in theology and was earning one in counseling, as well. It also reported that he’d given a talk to “35 members of the Taylor Crime Watch Association.”
To the credit of Joseph and Krawczeniuk (the journalist who wrote the news story), the article starts out pretty sober minded. It reminds people that Satanism isn’t all bloodbaths and hell fire — sometimes it’s just awkward teenagers with goofy haircuts watching corny movies. It also reminds people that worshiping Satan isn’t illegal. So long as no crimes are committed, people can worship Satan however much they please.
Rather quickly, though, the article spirals into delicious lunacy.
Imagine this: the people of Taylor, Pennsylvania, in 1991, sitting around over morning coffee reading their newspapers and talking soberly about the infestation of sexually deviant Satanic cannibals in their otherwise polite little town.
How is that not beautifully absurd?
The story then poses a simple solution to the whole Satan problem: good families. With good families, it tells us, kids won’t need to drift into Satan’s clutches.
(To be fair, that’s a claim I actually have something of a hard time laughing at too heartily. Looking around from 2020, stable families don’t sound like such a wonky idea after all.)
There have actually been Satanically inspired crimes. Zany as it sounds, such things have happened in American history. Many times, in fact. The threat of it, however, was blown out of proportion to a hilarious degree in the 1990s.
How quaint is that in hindsight? Reading the clip with 2020 eyes, how cute is it that people were so preoccupied with fantasies of a Satanic underground overrunning their towns? I think a lot of you would trade that for today’s ills any day.
Am I right?
Ah, to breathe the air again of those halcyon days of the Satanic Panic. To be there on March 22, 1991, in Taylor, Pennsylvania, soaking in the nutball paranoia and terrified suspicion. There was no better time to be alive, and there never will be such a time again.
To experience those sweet hours just one more time. To get just one more taste. Why, I’d sell my very soul for it.