Mikel J. Koven
I am very pleased to
announce that we have a new editor of FOAFtale
News. Gillian Bennett has graciously stepped forward and offered her
services to the society by agreeing to be the newsletter’s editor. The
newsletter will still be published here at the
conversation at dinner recently in
The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 has been used for over 90 years to indicate not only a great catastrophe but also hubris (because of the supposed claim that the ship was unsinkable). Such events naturally give rise to stories and rumours. The web site http://www.urbanlegends.com gives the following examples:
The construction of the ship was at such a fast pace that at least one worker was accidentally sealed up in hull and left to die.
Catholic workers in
A cursed mummy that had already caused several deaths was in the cargo hold when the ship sunk.
The Titanic was the first ship to use SOS as a distress call.
One example of such a story which seems to be going strong is that a local newspaper reported the tragedy under the headline: ABERDEENSHIRE MAN DROWNED AT SEA: HE WAS A BUTCHER IN UNION STREET
quote this from an article in The Times
without checking, a reader of the local press would have suspected the headline
Other examples I have seen quoted are more plausible but no more true:
Tome Shields in his Diary column in the Glasgow Herald (1987) cited it as an “old story”: NORTH-EAST MAN DIES AT SEA.
More recently, the same journalist in the same newspaper, now entitled The Herald, and in collaboration with a colleague (Shields and Smith, 2001) cited it again but more explicitly questioned its reality by calling it “apocryphal”. Another journalist writing in the rival newspaper, The Scotsman (Kirkpatrick, 2004) also used the term “apocryphal” and said it “may or may not have made it into print”. His version was: NORTH EAST MAN LOST AT SEA – TITANIC.
Growing up in
A programme dealing with
Referring to the chauvinism inherent in the attitudes of many French people have towards the Tour de France, Geoffrey Nicholson (1978, page 168) compared them to the authors of the headline: TITANIC DISASTER: AUNT OF BIDEFORD MAN FEARED LOST.
A web search has made it clear to me that the story is still current. Amongst example I have found are the following. First, in a paper posted on http://www.psa.ac.uk/cps/1999/greenstein.pdf there is an even more extreme version of parochialism, once again ascribed to The Press and Journal of Aberdeen: TITANIC SINKS: LOCAL MAN LOSES POCKET WATCH.
Also a candidate for the description “extreme parochialism” is the headline cited at
author, a former editor of the
A sermon posted at
http://www.stag.org/sermons/malachi_2_17-3_12 .html warned against being committed to our own agenda and not God’s. To illustrate the error of attending to the wrong agenda, the author reports having been told of the following headline on a Titanic report: GLASGOW MAN LOST AT SEA.
Another religious site - http://www.forestchurch.org.uk - contained a “Vicar’s Viewpoint” dated July and August, 2001, which had the version: ABERDEEN MAN LOST AT SEA.
a city about the same size as
The Vice-President of the Newspaper Society in a speech in 2003 reported at http://www.newspaper. soc.org.uk - said that “a remote, rural, weekly newspaper” (unnamed) ran a 48 point headline: LOCAL MAN LOST AT SEA.
The sub heading in 16 point italics supposedly referred to a total death toll of 1,516.
undertaken this web search after the dinner table conversation I mentioned at
the outset. Ian Hamilton, of
A few days later, he drew my attention to an article which had just appeared in the current issue of The Press and Journal, under the heading “P&J victim of urban myth over Titanic story” (Lindsay, 2004). The article reported that the organizers of an exhibition on the Titanic had great difficulty in accepting that the reason the paper could not supply a copy of the headline from its archives was that it had never appeared.
The author also offered what she considered the “most likely explanation behind the myth”. Pointing out that the earliest reports of the sinking would not have contained information about specific passengers, she hypothesised that on a later date “a news bill outside a shop” might have read: TITANIC LATEST: NE MAN DEAD.
This explanation has a certain plausibility, but I have a reservation. Since a news bill is much less likely to be preserved than a newspaper, the chances of verifying this version are very small indeed.
I have assumed so far that this story is essentially
a statement about parochialism. In support of this I would cite the maiden
speech in the House of Commons of Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, in which
she dispelled “the myth of the parochial nature” of the
I suspect that parochialism is the most common target of those who tell the
Titanic headline story. This raises the question of whether there are other
headline stories aimed at ridiculing parochialism. Ron Mackay (1995), whilst
accepting that The Press and Journal
did not carry the Titanic headline, suggests that its account of the death of
Charlie Chaplin had the headline: NAIRN WAS FAMOUS COMEDIAN’S FAVOURITE
Ethan Coen in the introduction to the published
screenplay of the film
There are probably many more but are any as widespread as the Titanic headline?
Coen, Ethan and Coen, Joel (1996) Fargo.
Hamilton, Alan (1982, 15 April) Sunk at last: Some myths about the Titanic, The Times.
Kirkpatrick, Stewart (2004, 5 February) Journalism is a headline act, The Scotsman.
Lindsay, Morag (2004, 4 June) P&J victim of urban myth over Titanic story, The Press and Journal.
Mackay, Ron (1995, 23 July) Ron Mackay’s Week,
Nicholson, Geoffrey (1998) The Great Bike Race.
Shields, Tom (1987, 13 April) Diary,
Shields, Tom and Smith, Ken (2001, 9 May) Diary, The Herald.
The Legend of
Daniel P. Compora
I'll never forget the first time I heard of
Over the next several years, I continued to hear
In every variation, Dog Lady inhabited a small island
off of Dunbar Road near Laplaisance Road on Monroe’s east side. The island is very small and nondescript; the
entire area can be walked around in less than 15 minutes. Supposedly, a house used to be located on the
island, but Lake
When I first heard the story, I clearly remember the lady being referred to as Dog Woman. Now, I am constantly corrected when I refer to her as Dog Woman instead of Dog Lady. I guess that people feel that since she is the focus of so many stories, she has earned the title of lady. Still, her name is always associated with dogs but for various reasons. The most popular reason is that, being a widow, she has surrounded herself with several large dogs (usually Dobermans, but sometimes German shepherds) for protection. Others believe that she resembles and sounds like a dog and even eats off the ground with them. This bizarre transformation from woman to dog occurred after the death of her husband. A more interesting theory is that she has survived an attack by several large dogs that ripped her tongue out and left her speechless.
The theory of the dogs ripping out Dog Lady's tongue is important for another reason: she is always incapable of speech. Sometimes the morbid attack is attributed to the motorcycle gang members, but either way, Dog Lady has been left speechless. The only sounds she can make are grunts, which make her sound like a dog. There are stories of a phone number that was supposedly Dog Lady's. People would call just to hear an old woman who couldn't articulate the word hello properly. I don't remember the number, but I do remember calling it. I cringe when I wonder who we were terrorizing. Several years later, a few of my high school friends told me that they too remembered calling the number and getting the old lady to answer. Although I have heard this element several times, it is not one of the most common features, but is consistent with the Dog Lady's inability to speak.
Dog Lady has been known to jump on the cars of young
lovers. Often, people who get too close
to the island are the victims of such attacks.
This element is similar to another
Dog Lady supposedly sleeps in a coffin that has somehow made its way to the island. In some versions, Dog Lady fails to survive the attack by the motorcycle gang or the dogs, and the coffin is her final resting place. Others believe that it is merely the symbol of the motorcycle gang. Almost every variation of the story mentions the coffin, possibly because there is an object on the island that does resemble a coffin lid. I have seen the half buried object but cannot tell if that is what it really is.
Another important aspect of the stories is the
presence of the motorcycle gang. They
are a real motorcycle club and are quite visible in
Lady stories have stood the test of time in
The Dog Lady stories, even though there are many
variations, do maintain several consistent elements: a bizarre, speechless
widow, Dobermans, the motorcycle gang, a coffin lid, attacks on young lovers in
a car, and an isolated island. These
elements seem to classify the Dog Lady stories as urban legends. Jan Harold Brunvand defines an urban legend
as "realistic stories concerning recent events (or alleged events) with an
ironic or supernatural twist" (Hitchhiker xi). The
Dog Lady is the central figure of the legend. She is always an old, repulsive woman who is incapable of speech. Her inability to communicate removes two of the most important elements of humanity: the ability to speak and reason. Dog Lady cannot be reasoned with and she cannot speak. Her attacks are usually unprovoked and her resemblance to dogs is almost always noted. As a theme, the image of strange women living alone is popular in many fairy tales, usually in the form of witches. While I've never heard of Dog Lady being referred to as a witch, people often indicate that the events often happen on Halloween. This does give her a witch-like presence to go with her unkempt, animal appearance.
One popular element in fairy tales and other oral traditions is the presence of Dobermans. Bruno Bettleheim states that ferocious dogs in fairy tales "symbolize the violent, aggressive and destructive drives in man" (cited. in Brunvand, Doberman 16). In some versions of the Dog Lady stories, Dog Lady has been attacked, either by men or Dobermans. Dog Lady, indeed, appears to be a victim of a predominantly male society. Being a widow, combined with the alleged attacks, seems to stress the helpless situation the old woman's husband has left her in. Some versions have a very chauvinistic viewpoint: Dog Lady reverted to acting like a dog following the death of her husband. This version points out the perception of male superiority that exists in our society. Even though she attacks the cars of young lovers, Dog Lady is as much a victim of her husband's desertion as she is of some strange Doberman attacks.
Usually, Dog Lady keeps the large dogs for protection. Jan Harold Brunvand states:
Dobermans are traditionally used as guard dogs, sometimes trained as attack dogs, and always look rather lean, hungry and active. The Doberman's very demeanour, then, suggests something sinister, and if it isn't specifically a Doberman in the story, it's always some large and threatening-looking dog. (Doberman 17)
Being a widow, she possesses these dogs for the security she has lost. She must have some protection from the many intruders that supposedly frequent the island.
In most variations, teenagers venture out to the island to "make out" or to drink. Despite the reputation of the island, teenagers are drawn to the island to do things they are not supposed to be engaging in. As the adolescent moves into young adulthood with adult responsibilities, such as owning a car, he or she may seek an isolated place to explore social taboos, such as underage drinking and premarital sex. The stories of the Dog Lady attacking the car may be somewhat of a moral reminder to the adolescent that he or she should not be doing these things. As Brunvand relates:
One consistent theme in these teenage horrors is that as the adolescent moves out from home into the larger world, the world's dangers may close in on him or her. Therefore, although the immediate purpose of many of these legends is to produce a good scare, they also serve to deliver a warning: Watch out! This could happen to you! Furthermore, the horror tales often contain thinly-disguised sexual themes which are, perhaps, implicit in the nature of such plot situations as parking in a lovers' lane.... (Hitchhiker 47-48)
Ironically, even with the reputation of the island, the elements of partying and sexual foreplay have not subsided. I know of many people who claim to have been to parties on the island, and although nobody I know has actually been to the island for sexual exploration, people have heard of the location being used as such. Despite the horror stories, the island and its immediate area is still considered a "lovers' lane." Bill Ellis supports this by stating:
Still more incongruously, many legend-trip sites are used for both scares and sex. Some frequently visited locations, in fact, appear first to have been lovers' lanes, yet when frightening legends became current, visits for sexual experimentation did not diminish. (65)
The island is secluded enough to have once been a lovers' lane. There are few, if any, streetlights and the lake could be considered romantic. However, access to the island itself, by car, is very difficult if not impossible. There really aren't many places to actually park off the island either: just the side of the road. Young lovers may not be too picky, though.
The connection between adolescent sex and fear, which Ellis mentions, does seem to be present in the Dog Lady stories. Perhaps the fear of sexual maturity and the anxiety over sexual exploration contribute to these stories. Dog Lady may be a tangible manifestation of previously unidentified fears. It is also ironic that, in almost every version I have heard, Dog Lady never succeeds in entering the vehicle she has pounced but does succeed in thwarting an adolescent sexual encounter. Her inability to penetrate the automobile may be symbolic with the adolescent's inability to complete the sexual encounter. The car is like a virginal womb in that both are close to being violated, but the sanctity of both is preserved. The car protects the naive adolescents from the dangers of the outside world.
The Dog Lady legend in
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Choking Doberman.
---. The Vanishing Hitchhiker.
Ellis, Bill. "Legend-Tripping in
[Editors note: I’m always a bit dubious about publishing full newspaper extracts, but as Joel’s commentary requires some contextualization about the story, and that the story is still available on-line at the below website, readers may wish to explore the news article first at the following URL.]
From: http://news.scotsman.com/archive.cfm?id= 119442002 (Accessed 21 October 2004)
article comes from
Powercards are thin, disposable credit-card size pieces of cardboard with a metallic strip on one side, not dissimilar from a photocopier card purchased in many academic libraries.
They are used to operate a special “powercard meter” and almost exclusively as a payment of last resort by those who have had previous financial difficulties and whom, were they not afforded the opportunity to pay in advance for electricity in this fashion, would otherwise risk having their supply disconnected. Often the meter is calibrated so that part of the card’s credit is deducted not towards current supply but towards repayment of historic arrears.
(Powercard meters are also found in some less desirable rented accommodation; although whether this is due to untrusting landlords or ScottishPower’s refusal to supply electricity on any other basis is unclear. Students often tell of unwelcome night-time walks to a 24 hour shop to buy a powercard when the electricity suddenly goes off in their grimy flat.)
Those who require powercards are therefore those on low income and/or with existing debt problems for whom ‘something for nothing’ is especially attractive. An ideal breeding ground for such a commercial urban legend…
telling of this tale I collected is from a former colleague with whom I
discussed the article shortly after its original publication in 2002. She is a legal secretary, then in her
late-20s, originally from one of
My colleague indicated that she was thus convinced powercards could be used in the way discounted by ScottishPower in the article. She chose not to do so herself however as she was too nervous about carrying out such a dishonest act and also as she had heard that ScottishPower tallied up the supply through the meter against their records of value of cards purchased and charged you the difference anyway.
Who’s myth-ing whom?
Mikel J. Koven & Kelly V. Jones
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Deadline for submissions
June 30, 2005.
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