I discovered this truly bizarre 'toy' by sheer coincidence, or fate you might say. When you're in my line of business you get to meet some wonderfully eccentric people and a recent FeeJee Mermaid commission led me to a client who had one of the strangest collections I'd ever seen. I delivered the mermaid personally to a location near Nottingham as they don't travel well, especially when dropped a dozen times by a disgruntled courier. The client was over the moon with the new addition to his menagerie and we started to discuss other pieces of my work such as The Swami Spirit Altar. I explained that the piece was inspired by the 'Zoltar' fortune telling machines that pepper the esplanades of many seaside towns and that I loved the aesthetics of these quirky amusements.
He then disappeared to make a cup of coffee and returned a few minuted later with two mugs of scalding hot beverages and an old box tucked under his arm. “Here, you can have that”, he said and thrust me the coffee and the box. When I looked inside I was confronted by a plastic demonic face grinning back at me nestled on top of a pile of cogs, dusty springs and dead spiders. “I bet you've never seen one of these before”, he exclaimed to which I replied a resounding “No!”. He sat back in his chair, lit his skull meerschaum pipe and started to recount a tale that not only amazed but also perplexed me. “If you don't believe me, read it for yourself”, he said and pointed at the battered box. Amongst the chipped devil-red Bakelite and flame emblazoned rusty metal was a hand written note of what the mysterious contraption used to be.
'The Devil Made Me Do It', was a 'toy' manufactured by the obscure US Silver Shamrock Toy Co. in 1951. Fans of John Carpenter may recognise the company name as the manufacturer featured in Halloween III: Season of the Witch. In the movie Silver Shamrock Novelties was a mask and novelties company that had a very evil agenda so it was fitting that he may have named it after the original 1951 company. 'The Devil Made Me Do It' was the only item ever produced by Silver Shamrock and the production run was limited to an estimated 40 units. Colman Joyce, the company proprietor was a Baptist fanatic and although 'The Devil Made Me Do It' was made with the good intention of teaching children the evils of dealing with the devil, his venture backfired. After the events I am about to discuss almost all of the 'The Devil Made Me Do It' toys were destroyed and Joyce closed the factory and vanished never to be seen or heard from again.
The concept of the toy was simple and was meant to serve as a moral lesson demonstrating that if you leave your mind open to evil thoughts, the Devil can make you do things beyond your control. The world's first and last possession toy and definitely not something you'd find perched on the shelves in Toys-R-Us. The original machine came with a deck of cards which contained images of sins being committed such as theft, murder, blasphemy, hatred and all of the things you'd expect to find in a child's game created by a religious fruitcake. The child would mix the cards face down and select three at random, placing them in front of the Devil. Taking the Devil's red right hand the child would then move the hand left, right or centre so that it pointed at one of the three chosen cards. Once a final card had been selected the Devil's eyes would eerily light up and he would reveal a ticket naming the chosen card before it was even turned over. The child would then turn over their randomly selected card and it would match the ticket every time! Thus proving that the Devil could make them theoretically commit the sin on the card without them even knowing if they ever veered from the righteous path.
The folk on the bible belt loved the 'toy' as its demonic facade scared the hell out of the kids! Joyce traveled from parish to parish giving demonstrations of 'The Devil Made Me Do It' at Sunday Schools all over the deep south. And as you can imagine, the orders came rolling in. Nobody seemed to ask or be bothered how it worked, they just saw it as a tool to keep the kids on the straight and narrow. The kids also saw it as a challenge and tried to outsmart the Devil, but whatever card they selected the Devil already knew which one they had picked because obviously, the Devil made them do it!
After a year on the road touting his satanic toy to the masses things took a turn for the worse. On the 6th June 1952 in the small town of Prospect Hill a few miles east of Greensboro, North Carolina a young man named Bobby Kelly walked into his local Sunday school with a loaded revolver and gunned down 5 of his friends. As the rest of the class hid under tables to take cover he walked up to the blackboard and scrawled 'The Devil Made Me Do It' in chalk before pointing the gun at his head and firing the sixth bullet. The words on the blackboard struck a disturbing significance with the town as Joyce had only been there months before letting the Sunday school kids play with his 'toy'. Others also saw the date of the murder, the 6th June and that six bullets had been fired as not a coincidence but a sign that the Devil had indeed made Bobby Kelly kill his friends in cold blood. Other rumors circulated that when Bobby had a go on Joyce's toy he had picked the 'Murder' card thus confirming that this had been the catalyst behind the multiple homicide.
Colman Joyce became a hunted man and he was on the most wanted list in three states. Every parish that had purchased a copy of 'The Devil Made Me Do It' performed a blessing and burning of the strange device until nearly all traces of the toy were destroyed. Neither the law nor the church ever caught up with Joyce although it is thought he made it back to his factory, emptied the safe and then vanished. Joyce was never seen again and to this day he is still held responsible for the Prospect Hill murders. Some even believe he actually was the Devil using his toy of terror to infiltrate the church and corrupt it from the inside.
The account you have just read was compiled from the notes of Reverend Morrison who had traveled to the US in the mid 60s as part of an exchange program. He bought the battered remains of what is believed to be the last of Joyce's toys in existence back to the UK. In his notes he comments that the toy had been discovered under the floorboards of a storm damaged church in Wallins Creek while it was being rebuilt. Morrison had been sent to the area to help rebuild the church and provide support to the community, some of which had been made homeless by the storm. Intrigued by the box of broken parts Morrison decided to delve into their devilish past and soon discovered that Joyce's toy was still fresh in the minds of some fearful locals. What remains of 'The Devil Made Me Do It' were discovered by my client at a house clearance in Mansfield UK, the home town of Reverend Morrison. I've no doubt that he bought the toy home where it remaining in storage until his death at the ripe old age of 96.
And so I sit here writing this blog post with the grinning red Bakelite head staring at me wondering if all of this could be possible? A device that can predict something you've chosen before you even know what you've chosen? Does it predict or does it actually influence your choice and if so how does it influence the user? As a designer of illusions I have no idea how it works, but neither has anyone else apart from Colman Joyce who took the secret to his grave.
Regardless, I feel compelled to rebuild and restore this last copy of 'The Devil Made Me Do It' to its former glory and maybe I can finally solve the mystery myself. Every time I look at that head on my studio desk I can almost hear it begging to built once again but unfortunately not all of the parts appear to be there and I have no reference material to work from regarding what it originally looked like. The box contains the following parts -
a red Bakelite head
a black Bakelite cloaked body
a red Bakelite hand and pointing mechanism
6 sin cards – these are individually numbered as 12, 32, 17, 5, 6 and 38 so I assume there must have originally been more than 38 cards
a wooden enclosure that the cloaked body would have been mounted on. This still has some traces of stickered artwork showing the Silver Shamrock logo and some pretty cool looking hotrod style flames around the base
a power cord, probably to power the lights for the eyes although no bulb is present
the rest of the components appear to be an electronic/clockwork mix
Luckily my wife's Uncle in Germany repairs clocks so I'll be shipping the mechanical parts to him for an inspection and hopefully some idea of how they originally worked. To date nothing actually reveals how the prediction/influence mechanism works or if indeed there is one which also leaves open the possibility of it working supernaturally like the Ouija Board. It's a restoration project from hell with a pretty horrific past so it only seems fitting I attempt to resurrect the 'toy' even if it only acts as a demonic conversation piece in my collection.
Has the Devil made me do it? Probably, but Joyce's demonic toy deserves a second chance.
I'll be posting the rebuilt 'The Devil Made Me Do It' on the blog soon so stay tuned!
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