No. 46                                                                                               May 2000

ISSN 1026-1001









Bodner: Children & legend



Raptors again

Dogs, dog skins and hamburger stands

The fake polygraph again

1949 wit & humour

1967 fun & laughter



Internet legend/chain parody



Bess Lomax Hawes papers archived

ISCLR: Edinburgh conference, July 2000

2000 ISCLR Annual General Meeting







This issue of FoafTale News is somewhat shorter than usual.  I am hoping someone will step forward to take over responsibilities for the newsletter. Until then, it will continue to be short and erratically produced.

Please continue sending news, queries, research notes, clippings, calls for papers, or notes about local rumour and legend cycles to me for inclusion in FTN.  The postal address is FoafTale News, Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland A1B 3X8 CANADA.   The email address is 

Thanks to Brian Chapman who has sent many hundreds of newspaper and Internet clippings to FoafTale News, only the tiniest proportion of which I have found time to insert in the newsletter.


Contributors, take note:  style & form

In an effort to speed up future issues of FoafTale News, I pass along to readers some guidelines for contributions.  Contributions to FoafTale News should be in a format that will easily be slotted into the newsletter.  Queries, acknowledgements, observations, "sightings" and bibliographic references are all welcome.  They should be written as textual notes in a form that will need little editing for publication.  Contributions should include the writer's name and address;  an email address can be included if one is available.

The editor reserves the right to cut or change for brevity, clarity and the newsletter's style, but published text will remain as close as possible to the author's text.

Electronic forms are welcome but keep in mind that the most modern version of a popular software is not usually the most convenient.  WordPerfect 7 is the most convenient forms, but older versions of MS Word (version 5.5 and earlier) are also fine.  If you are using a more recent version of any software, use your "Save As" function to save the file as an earlier form (like WordPerfect 5.0).    Emailed text can be sent as straight ASCII or attached as an early form of WordPerfect.

Please do not embed footnotes and endnotes in your text.  FoafTale News can handle (rare) footnotes but, if citations are necessary,  the preferred method is short in-text citations with a full bibliographic citation at the end.



* * *



Contemporary Legends and Children's Culture

John Bodner,

Department of Folklore

Memorial University of Newfoundland

St. John’s, Newfoundland A1B 3X8 CANADA


On 24 May 1999, I took my seventeen-month-old daughter, Merrick, to our local, urban park in St. John's, Newfoundland.  This park has playground equipment, including slides and climbers, that appears ­ based on some criteria of age-appropriate activities and insurance considerations ­ to have become standard in Canadian playgrounds.  Merrick had reached the age when she was beginning to climb.  That day, her favourite apparatus was the four ladders set at cardinal directions, gently curving inward to meet seven feet above the ground;  children can slide down a pole and effect the whole operation again.

I was helping Merrick negotiate the modest goal of the first step, a half foot from the ground, when I met Roxanne, an eight-year-old girl playing in the park with a friend of the same age.  I say “met,” but anyone familiar with children's paralinguistic codes will recognize that children have their own age-specific modes of introduction.  Roxanne's first act was to grab Merrick from my hands and take over the climbing lesson.  Her next act was to ask me “his” name and how old he was.  When I replied that she was named Merrick, Roxanne replied: "Oh, isn't she some sweet."  In a series of fast movements, Roxanne placed Merrick solidly on the second rung, scampered over to the ladder on my left and climbed up so that she was at the same height as me.  The "introduction" took about three minutes.

When Roxanne was secure on the ladder, she asked if Merrick was a good climber.  I said no, not yet.  She said, "You have to be careful ­ some kid died on one of these in Edmonton.  It wasn't just like this [she touched the ladder, indicating the paint] it was plain steel.  And he died."  I asked who told her; she said she didn't know.  We then talked about Edmonton and how I had travelled there when I was her age.

After some more discussion of family, friends, and why I moved to Newfoundland, I gleaned the following.  Roxanne does not know anyone on the Mainland of Canada (Newfoundland is an island on the East Coast).  In particular, she does not know anyone from Edmonton (in Alberta, about 5000 km away).  She did mention that her mother has a friend in Ontario.  I inferred the news of the boy’s death was not reported directly to her from a source geographically close to the "event."  After a brief survey of newspapers, I can hesitantly conclude that no child has died in Edmonton on playground equipment in the last five years.  Clearly, Roxanne’s brief narrative is a contemporary legend transmitted in an age-specific group.

This note has two purposes.  First, I would like to place an appeal for other researchers in this area to contact me regarding specific narratives of this type.  Second, I would like to sketch some thoughts about the nature of children's contemporary legends.

What initially struck me about Roxanne's brief narrative was the way it mimicked many of the key aspects of adolescent and adult contemporary transmission:  the way the tale is embedded in appropriate linguistic and extra-textual context;  its reference to distant but not dissimilar socio-cultural events, persons and places; and finally its function as a heuristic and cautionary parable. 

While one can identify Roxanne’s narrative as a contemporary legend, moving beyond motif-spotting is difficult in children's culture.

Transmission of material, poorly understood even in adult situations, has been complicated by the unfounded assumption that children are either smaller and simpler adults or they represent a classic redfieldian folk society (for example, Opie 1967: 3-7). Individual adults have rather more complex roles in society than children, and contemporary adults’ culture is shaped by their network of social relations.  Add to this the constant flow of media (both form and content) and we have a massive movement of cultural texts whose transmission is likely more predictable than earlier folklorists thought (for example, Dégh and Vázsonyi  1975). 

Understanding children’s culture requires moving beyond a paradigm in which adults are normative and kid-culture is measured as more or less complex, more or less adult.  Children's culture is both more and less complicated than adult’s culture.  It is perhaps more fruitful to see preschoolers’ participation with individuals and cultural texts as mostly mediated by their parents.  This situation is going through a massive upheaval thanks to television programmes aimed at the very young (for example, Barney and Teletubbies) and the inclusion of very young children (six months) into daycare;  indeed Sylvia Grider has noted that daycare and early childhood developments have changed the culture of children by lowering the age at which children take part in cultural milieux separate from the family (Grider 124-5).  Nonetheless, the general situation is that children do not form complex social relations and exchange context-specific cultural texts which act to re/produce social bonds until they move from the family into other institutions like school or, historically, work.

While collecting the unique products of children's culture folklorists’ past efforts were spared many of the troubling questions of transmission, culture, social relations, etc.  By concentrating on skipping rhymes, games, jokes and confining these investigations to an institution like the school, early folklorists like the Opies (1967) were able to limit the complexities that crowd around the door when issues of contemporary legends arise.  By introducing these preliminary thoughts on the subject, I hope to begin broader dialogue, collection and investigation into the use, function and troubling implications of contemporary legends in children's culture.

Now if you will excuse me, I'm off to the playground for some sliding, some hide-and-seek and some fieldwork. 


Dégh, Linda and Andrew Vázsonyi. 1975.  "The Hypothesis of Multi-Conduit Transmission in Folklore." Folklore: Performance and Communication. Ed. Dan Ben-Amos and Kenneth S. Goldstein. The Hague: Mouton, pp. 207-254.

Grider, Sylvia.  1997. "Children's Folklore." Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs, Customs, Tales, Music, and Art, I.  Ed. Thomas A Green.  Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, pp. 123-9.

Opie, Iona Archibald and Peter Opie.  1967.  The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren. Oxford: Oxford UP.



* * *





Raptors’ Return

Philip Hiscock

Department of Folklore

Memorial University of Newfoundland

St John’s, Newfoundland A1B 3X8



Several issues back, FoafTale News carried a series of stories about raptors snatching pets and children.  In early 2000, the Guardian Weekly newspaper carried a news story suggesting that such legends reflect an earlier, more aggressive strain of raptors. 

In “Nature Watch: Legend of the child‑snatching eagle may have an eyrie ring of truth,” (GW: 20 January 2000, p.  24), Mark Cocker notes legends of child-snatching by the white-tailed sea eagle are told throughout the bird’s range in northwestern Europe.  The article weighs the weight of the bird (up to 7 kg) against that of a small child (often well over that weight) and notes the legend’s lack of verisimilitude.

But, quoting Derek Goodwin (“one of Britain’s foremost authorities on bird behaviour”), Cocker suggests that some centuries ago eagles may have been larger and more aggressive.  The folklore about them -- that they were child snatchers -- led to a sustained international hunt against them, supported by tax regulations and traditional gifts for successful hunters in Orkney and the Faeroes.  The aggressive and large birds were thus weeded out, allowing smaller, shyer birds to live long and prosper.

Meantime, in Newfoundland, a cyclic peak in hare populations in 1999-2000 has led to stories abounding of a variety of raptors boldly taking live hares from the ground, and even snatching dead hares from trappers.  Hares are locally known as rabbits, a species that does not appear in Newfoundland. The following note was posted to the Usenet newsgroup nf.birds 20 February 2000 by Kevin Butler (  It is entitled, “Rabbits‑a‑plenty!... raptor's delight!”

Racked up some 60 kms of x/c skiing over the last two days. Our trip today took us into the Phyllis-Shirley-Silt Lakes areas (north of Mount Peyton [in central Newfoundland]) where we met up with cabin owner and rabbit snarer, Mr. Nelson Brenton, at Phyllis Lake. He related to us that on many occasions this winter he has encountered Owls and/or Hawks during his line checks.  On one occasion, a live rabbit was snatched right in front of him by an owl which was unable to maintain altitude (as it flew ahead of his snow machine at low level), having to finally drop cargo ... which was found d.o.a. He has snared one Goshawk ... so far.  I am not sure if a Northern Hawk Owl could lift a live rabbit off the snow ....  If not,  he probably saw a Great Horned Owl in action.  In any case this should be an excellent winter for our resident birds of prey. The bunnies appear to be at their peak!

Kevin Butler also passed along to me directly a story he heard in 1999,

about a lady (somewhere here in Newfoundland) who was feeding a Great Horned Owl on a daily basis but when she skipped a single day's feeding, the bird made off with her pet cat! Not even a thank you!




Dogs, dog skins and hamburger stands

Mare Kõiva in Estonia reports that hamburgers were not a commodity in that country until 1987 when they arrived with the common understanding that they were American food.  In 1990 hamburger kiosks were more common and popular beliefs and legends began to spread about them.  “She writes, “For example, a kiosk in the market square in Tartu was said to have dogskins near it all the time; the owners were said to catch vagabond dogs and make hamburgers of them.”

A poster to the Snopes Urban Legends mailing list (urban‑ -- see reported 1 March 2000 that a friend from Nashville (Tennessee, USA) told him the following:

There was a very popular Chinese restaurant in downtown Nashville.  The restaurant had several very large decorative banners with chinese characters written on them displayed in its windows.  A new cop, who was Chinese, was assigned to a beat in the restaurant's neighborhood.  He was cruising the neighborhood, saw the restaurant, read the banners and immediately closed the restaurant down.  In his report, he said the banners read, "Come on Thursdays to watch round eyes eat dog."



That Polygraph again

Readers of FoafTale News will remember discussion of the legend of a police force using a photocopier (and sometimes a colander)to extract a confession from a suspected criminal.  Despite being usually reported as having happened in Radnor, Pennsylvania, the sory has never been authenticated.  Brian Chapman sends the following from Salon Magazine.  It is from an article (dated 2 March 2000) by Susan McCarthy, “The Truth about the Polygraph.”   In mid-March 2000 it could be found at /

The excerpt reads:

[...]David Lykken, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, is a leading critic of polygraphs and author of an influential book, A Tremor in the Blood (1981). He can hardly believe he still has to tell people that the polygraph isn't science....

More important, polygraphs are an immensely effective interrogation tool; they need not detect lies. Lykken tells an anecdote of two cops nterrogating a suspect at a time when copy machines were not familiar objects. Lacking a lie detector, the cops put a piece of paper in the copier that said "He's lying!" They made the suspect place his hand on the strange machine while they asked him questions. When they didn't like his answers, they'd hit a button on the machine. It would groan, whir, stink and shoot out a piece of paper that read "He's lying!"

Realizing that denial was useless, he confessed.

[PH: Lydken’s book was reissued in its second edition in 1998: ISBN: 0306457822.  It’s not clear from the Salon article whether the photocopier story is in the first or second edition, or indeed if Lydken told it orally to Susan McCarthy.]



Excerpts from 1949 Encyclopedia of Wit, Humor, and Wisdom

Brian Chapman

Victoria, British Columbia, CANADA


Here are some excerpts from a 1949 compendium of jokes, the Encyclopedia of Wit, Humor, and Wisdom (Leewin B. Williams, compiler and editor;   New York & Nashville: Abingdon‑Cokesbury P).  Included too are a couple of parallel texts from other sources.  Page references and item numbers are from Williams' Encyclopedia; other references are given in full.


An electric specialty company had had a peculiar damage suit filed against it. The plaintiff's petition contains these words:

"Plaintiff alleges that this defendant represented to her that this range would not become heated on the upper surface of the oven. That plaintiff, relying wholly upon this defendant's representation, placed her bath tub in the kitchen near the range. That, upon emerging from the tub, plaintiff's foot accidentally came into contact with the soap upon the floor and she was thus compelled to sit upon the range. That, although she arose therefrom in all diligence, she discovered she had been branded 'H‑47.'" [pp. 9‑10, #27]

Regarding this item, this post from the Urban Legends list may be of interest:

Date: Fri, 24 Jul 1998 10:55:03 ‑0500

From: "Gabriel D. Wollenburg" <>

To: urban‑

Subject: [UL] Looking for Urban Legends Regarding Illegal Patents.

So anyways, I was talking to my sister, and she said that she knows this guy who told her this story, which goes like this:

There was a young girl, who, back in the days when people used wood burning stoves to cook dinner, foolishly sat down on the stove plate (or whatever it was called) when the stove was hot. Needless to say she was severely burned. The young girl's parents sought legal advice, wondering if they should sue the stove's manufacturer for not protecting her from being burned. After inspecting the girl's wound, the lawyer told the parents that they could sue the stove's manufacturer, but he would advise against it. "What do you mean, advise against it?" the girl's mother demanded, to which the lawyer did not immediately reply, but instead lifted the young girl's dress, revealing the scar, which had taken the shape of the stove plate that she sat on. The scar read: "Patent 1858." "Because you have illegally patented your daughter," said the lawyer, "You have two options, you can forget about the accident and go on with your life." The lawyer lowered his voice, "or you can opt to have the patent legitimized, in which case your daughter becomes own‑able property, and loses her individual rights as a human being."        My sister says that it's a true story, because it was told to her by the same guy who knew about "Milo and Otis."


In the traffic court of a large Middle Western city a young woman was brought before the judge to answer a ticket given her for driving through a red light. She explained to His Honor that she was a schoolteacher, and requested an immediate disposal of her case in order that she might hasten away to her classes.

A wild gleam came into the judge's eye. "You're a schoolteacher, eh?" said her. "Madam, I shall realize my lifelong ambition. I've waited years to have a schoolteacher in this court. Sit down at that table and write 'I went through a red light' five hundred times!" [#3902, P. 535]

Compare the following:

In court because of a ticket for driving through red light, I told the judge that I was a schoolteacher and my case needed to be heard immediately so I could get back to classes.

A wild gleam came into the judge's eye. "Madam, I've waited years to have a teacher in this court," he said. "Now sit down at that table and write 'I went through a red light' 500 times." [Contributed by Audrey A. Seurer to  Reader's Digest (Canadian edition), March 1999, p. 120.]


A man who was tormented by bedbugs in a sleeping car wrote an indignant letter about the matter to the general passenger agent of the railroad.

He was cautioned by his friends that he would probably not receive so much as a reply, and his satisfaction was great when, in due course, he received an apologetic letter assuring him that such a thing would never happen again. His elation was quashed a moment later, however, by the discovery of the inter‑office memo which had inadvertently been inserted with the letter and which said tersely, "Send this lobster the bug letter." [pp. 93‑4, #649]


A customer of a big New York department store complained of bad service.  The manager called an employee, blamed him for the negligence, and fired him in the customer's presence. A few weeks later the same customer again had cause for complaint and again the same employee was called and fired for his carelessness. Probably you've guessed it. The store employed an "O.F.M." or "Official Fired Man" just to soothe the ruffled feelings of peeved customers. Often sympathetic customers plead with the manager not to dismiss the offending employee. Then the "O.F.M." is recalled and the manager explains to him that only the customer's pleading saved him. It is the "O.F.M's" duty to grasp the customer's hand in gratitude, while brushing away a stage tear. [p. 96, #666]


In early Colonial times, it is said, a "dark day" occurred. For some unexplainable reason the sun at midday seemed to have been blotted out. The people were greatly alarmed, some were crying, some praying, thinking that the world had come to and end.

At this time the legislature of one of the colonies was in session. It became very dark and the assembly was in much confusion. Some wanted to adjourn. One member got the ears of the other and said, "I make a motion that we secure some candles and proceed with the business, if the end of the world is about to come I want to be found doing my duty." [p. 149, # 1028]

The following excerpt from Sky and Telescope is taken from William R. Corliss, Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena (New York: Arlington House, 1986), p. 186. The anomalous dark day, experienced by much of New England on 19 May 1780, was thought to have been caused by forest fires in New Hampshire. I don't know if the Davenport quote is accurate.

The Connecticut legislature was in session at Hartford that day, as the darkness gathered. The journal of the state House of Representatives reads, 'None could see to read or write in the House, or even at a window, or distinguish persons at a small distance, or perceive any distinction of dress in the circle of attendants. Therefore, at 11 o'clock adjourned the House till 2 o'clock, afternoon. In a neighboring room, the governor's council was also in session, and a motion to adjourn was proposed. But Col. Abraham Davenport objected with firm dignity: 'Either the day of judgment is at hand or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. If it is, I wish to be found in the line of my duty. I wish candles to be brought' (Sky and Telescope, 27: 219, 1964).


Years ago a Los Angeles couple were staying in China. One day they were served with an excellent dinner, the composition of which they knew nothing about. When the Chinese cook came to clear the table the wife asked him in fun, "I hope you didn't kill a stray dog from the road to make our dinner, Chang?"

"No killee dawg," answered Chang, "him al'eady dead when I picked him up." [p. 151, #1044]


A salesman representing a well‑known national line in Texas was ordered to Minnesota at a season when overcoats were a necessity in the latter state though not needed in Texas. The salesman purchased the coat and included it in his expense account. When the salesman called at the home office the president congratulated him upon the splendid amount of business he had obtained. But he added: "Why the overcoat in your expense account?" The salesman promptly replied that overcoats were not necessary in Texas, which was his regular territory, and had he remained in Texas he would not have had to purchase one. The president replied: "Sorry, old man, but we will have to cut that out." The next year the same salesman was again called upon to go to Minnesota. When his work was completed his expense account was submitted. Calling at the home office, the president warmly congratulated him upon his fine record and remarked: "Well, I don't see that overcoat in your account this time." "No," replied the salesman, "you don't see it, but it's there." [p. 155, #1069]


A necklace a woman was wearing at a party was much admired. She took it off to show it better and it was passed from hand to hand. Later it was not forthcoming.

"The joke has gone far enough," said the host. "I'll put this silver dish on the table, turn out the electric light, count one hundred, and expect to find the necklace on the dish when I turn on the light again."

When he turned up the light the dish also had vanished! [p. 253, #1784]


The chief statistician of Wisconsin made some peculiar discoveries in examining death certificates. One report is this: "Went to bed feeling well, but woke up dead." Another says: "Don't know the cause of death, but patient fully recovered from last illness." A third reports: "Last illness caused by chronic rheumatism, but was cured before death." Still another: "Deceased had never been fatally sick." And this: "Died suddenly, nothing serious." [p. 257, #1816]


A man motoring across the country offered a stranger a lift. Shortly after the stranger got into the car the owner noticed that his watch was missing. Whipping out a revolver he dug it into the stranger's ribs and exclaimed: "Hand over that watch!"

The stranger meekly complied before being kicked out of the car. When the driver of the car returned home he was greeted by his wife who asked him: "How did you get on without your watch? I suppose you know that you left it on your bureau." [pp. 347‑8, #2490]


The metal strips attached to the birds by the Washington Biological Survey have the inscription abbreviated to read "Wash. Biol. Surv." A farmer shot a crow having one of these bands attached and then disgustingly wrote the department, as follows:

"Dear Sirs: I shot one of your pet crows and followed the instructions attached to it. I washed it and biled it and surved it. It was terribul. You should stop trying to fool the people with things like that." [p. 351, #2520]


The professor had a stock question that he always asked his theological students ‑‑ Name the kings of Israel. The students knew this and carefully prepared beforehand for this question. But the professor for some reason decided to omit this question and in its place he substituted another ‑‑ Name the major and minor prophets. A student was stumped when he came to this, since he had not expected the question. On his examination paper, however, he wrote: "Be it far from me to make any distinction between the major and minor prophets, but the kings of Israel are as follows." Here he listed all the kings in perfect order. He passed. [p. 462, #3320]


You have got to go some to beat the other fellow, but when a certain war plant produced a piece of 120‑gauge wire, which is almost invisible, the boys felt that they had reached the ultimate of skill. They were so proud of it that they sent a section of it to a rival plant with the message, "This is just to show you what can be done."

No word came back for some weeks. Then a package arrived. Inside was a steel block on which were mounted two steel standards between which was a piece of the same hairlike wire. A small microscope was delicately focused on a certain spot. When the engineers looked at it they found their rivals had bored a little hole in the wire. [p. 478, #3469]


Many ministers could, from personal experience, tell of strange names bestowed upon infants at their baptism, but few could equal the following story told by the bishop of Sodor and Man.

A mother who was on the lookout for a good name for her child saw on the door of a building the word "Nosmo." It attracted her, and she decided that she would adopt it. Some time later, passing the same building, she saw the name "King" on another door. She thought the two would sound well together, and so the boy was baptized "Nosmo King Smith."  On her way home from the church, where the baptism had taken place she passed the building again. The two doors on which she had seen the names were now closed together, and what she had read was not "Nosmo King" but "No Smoking." [p. 532, #3881]

Compare the following anecdote from a British Columbia memoir of public transportation:

Every morning the driver picked up an elderly woman at the same stop. Today he was driving a new bus. Unfortunately for the old lady, the step on the new bus was a little higher than what she was accustomed to and made boarding much more difficult for her.

"Driver, I can't make it up the step. Could you lower the step a little for me, please?" she requested.

"Well certainly, love," the driver responded.

He walked over to the side destination sign and advanced it to the end, pretending that the motion was having an effect on the height of the step.

"Is that any better?" he asked the lady.

"Just a little more," she said.

The driver cranked the sign back to where it was before.

"How is that, love?" the driver inquired.

"This is much better. Thank you so much," she said.

The woman was so pleased with the driver's performance that she asked him for his name so she could write a thank‑you note to the company. The driver feared he would be reprimanded for fooling his passenger. He was trying to come up with a plan to get himself off the hook, when he looked up over his head and eyed the No Smoking sign.

"My name is ... King ‑‑ yes, Mr. King; first name Nosmo," he said, breaking up the words on the sign to form a convenient pseudonym.

A few days later BC Transit received a glowing letter of commendation for NOSMO KING.

[Heinz Hammer, Routes: The Lighter Side of Public Transit. Surrey, British Columbia: Hignell Printing Limited, 1989, p. 132.]


Two jokes with minor similarities to certain ULs:

The absent‑minded professor was having a physical examination. "Stick out your tongue," commanded the doctor, "and say 'Ah.'"

"Ah," obeyed the professor.

"It looks all right," nodded the M.D., "but why the postage stamp?"

"Oh‑ho," said the professor. "So that's where I left it." [p. 7, # 9]


It was late when Pat reached home. Not wishing to disturb his wife he crept in on his hands and knees, but fate intervened. He struck the bedpost. His wife, sleepily, putting out her hand, touched his head, and thinking it was the dog, began patting it. Pat said: "And the saints be praised! I had the presence of mind to lick her hand." [p. 259, #1833]


I don't know if either of the following jokes has ever been told as true, but in my opinion they both have that potential.

He was a stranger in the neighborhood, and had been brought to a dance at the local Deaf and Dumb Hospital by his old friend the doctor.

"How on earth can I ask a deaf and dumb girl to dance?" he asked a trifle anxiously.

"Just smile and bow to her," replied the doctor, who had done it many a time.

So the young man picked out a pretty girl and bowed and smiled, and she bowed and smiled, and away they danced.

They danced not only one dance that evening, but even three, and he was on the point of asking her for another when a strange man approached his fair partner and said soulfully: "I say, darling, when are we going to have another dance? It's almost an hour since I had one with you."

"I know, dear," answered the girl tenderly, "but I don't know how to get away from this deaf and dumb idiot." [pp. 116‑7, # 805]


Two school teachers from Brooklyn, spending their sabbatical year exploring western Canada, stopped at a small and old‑fashioned hotel in Alberta.

One of the pair was inclined to be worrisome when traveling, and she couldn't rest until she had made a tour of the corridors to hunt out exits in case of fire. The first door she opened, unfortunately, turned out to be that of the public bath, occupied by an elderly man taking a shower.

"Oh, excuse me!" she stammered, flustered. "I'm looking for the fire escape." Then she ran for it.

To her dismay she hadn't got far along the corridor when she heard a shout behind her and, looking around, saw a man, wearing only a towel, running after her. "Where's the fire?" he hollered. [p. 211, # 1491]




Excerpts from Reader's Digest Fun & Laughter

Brian Chapman

Victoria, British Columbia, CANADA



The following legend-related texts are taken from the book Reader's Digest Fun & Laughter (Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1967).  The page number in Fun & Laughter is given in square brackets while the source given by Fun & Laughter is noted immediately before the page number.


Ethel Merman was having lunch in an open‑air cafe in Central Park. Her dachshund, Hansel, kept begging for food, but Miss Merman was dining on salad and there wasn't a thing for him. But when the man at the adjoining table departed, Ethel saw a whole lamb chop left on his plate. Unable to resist the temptation, she filched it and gave it to the rapturous Hansel. He was busy finishing off the bone when the man returned to his lunch. He had been called to the telephone.  Everywoman's Magazine.  [p. 26]


A space‑agency psychologist asked one of the astronauts what he was thinking about as he strapped himself into his craft atop the rocket which was to hurl him into space.

"All I keep thinking," he replied, "is that everything that makes this thing go was supplied to the lowest bidder!" Roger H. Taylor. [p. 240]


British engineers feared that they would have to replan the Dungeness nuclear station in Kent, after studying a special model which showed the flow of rivers and estuaries in the area. Then they discovered the reason for the puzzling variations in the model's water level. An office cleaner had been filling her bucket from it each day.  London, England, Daily Mail. [p. 265]


My friend R. B. Jones doesn't have a first or middle name -- only the initials R. B. This unusual arrangement was never a problem until he went to work for a government agency. The government is not accustomed to initialed employees; so R. B. had a lot of explaining to do. On the official forms for the payroll and personnel departments, his name was carefully entered as R (Only) B (Only) Jones.

Sure enough, when R. B. received his first paycheck, the name he saw on it was Ronly Bonly Jones. Stephen A. Bomer in True. [pp. 340‑1]

According to, this same version previously appeared in Reader's Digest Treasury of Wit and Humor. Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1958, p. 62.


A young married couple who had just settled down in their new home got a pleasant surprise in their mail one morning ‑‑ a couple of tickets to one of the best shows in town. But the donor had omitted to send his name, and for the rest of the day the couple kept asking, "Wonder who it was?"

They enjoyed the show; but when they reached home, they found that all their wedding presents had been taken. There was a note from the burglar, saying: "Now you know." The Policy. [p. 361]

According to, this same version previously appeared in Fun Fare: A Treasury of Reader's Digest Wit and Humor (Pleasantville, NY; Reader's Digest Association), 1949, p. 192.


The most embarrassing moment in the life of Jane Wyman happened when she was entertaining very special guests. After looking over all the appointments carefully, she put a note on the guest towels, "If you use these I will murder you." It was meant for her husband. In the excitement she forgot to remove the note. After the guests had departed, the towels were discovered still in perfect order, as well as the note itself.  Woman's Home Companion. [pp. 449‑50]


The metal strips used to band birds are inscribed: "Notify Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C." They used to read "Washington Biological Survey," abbreviated to "Wash. Biol. Surv." This was changed after an Alberta, Canada, farmer shot a crow and then disgustedly wrote the U.S. government: "Dear Sirs: I shot one of your pet crows the other day and followed instructions attached to it. I washed it and biled it and surved it. It was turrible. You should stop trying to fool the people with things like this..."  Hugh Newton in Liberty. [p. 486]

According to, this same version previously appeared in Fun Fare: A Treasury of Reader's Digest Wit and Humor (Pleasantville, NY: The Reader's Digest Association), 1949, p. 84.


Troubles at North Dakota State Welfare Headquarters:

Please send my money at once as I need it badly. I have fallen into errors with my landlady.

I am very annoyed that you have branded my oldest boy illiterate. Oh, it is a dirty lie, as I married his father a week before he was born.

Sir, I am forwarding my marriage certificate and my two children, one of which is a mistake as you will see.

Mrs._____ has had no clothes for a year and has been regularly visited by the clergy.

I have no children as yet, my husband is a bus driver and works day and night.

In accordance with your instructions, I have given birth to twins in the enclosed envelope. Press Dispatch. [p. 487]


A Glasgow teacher, in order to emphasize the value of observation, prepared a little cupful of kerosene, mustard and castor oil and, calling the attention of his class to it, dipped a finger into the atrocious compound and then  sucked his finger. He next passed the mixture around to the students, who did the same with dire results. When the cup returned and he observed the faces of his students, he remarked: "Gentlemen, I am afraid you did not use your powers of observation. The finger that I put into the cup was not the same one that I stuck into my mouth."  Sir Wilfred Grenfell, Forty Years for Labrador (Houghton Mifflin). [pp. 606‑7]


While serving with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the Calgary district more than twenty years ago, I did a great deal of work with the Sarcee Indians. When I was leaving the area, one old chief whom I had arrested a number of times for drunkenness presented me with a fancy beaded hatband. I wore it proudly and showed it to many people. Recently I ran into an old friend who was able to translate the Indian characters on the hatband for me: THE BIG BLUE‑EYED LONG‑NOSED S.O.B.   W.J. Brummitt in True.  [p. 741]



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Chain letter & legend parody, April 2000

Neil Rosenberg

Department of Folklore,

Memorial University of Newfoundland

St. John's, Newfoundland CANADA A1B 3X8


The following was emailed to me in early April 2000 by a relative in California.  He headlined it with, "Hope you didn't miss this one.  It about covers 'em all!! :)"

I was on my way to the post office to pick up my case of free M&M's  (sent to me because I forwarded an e‑mail to five other people, celebrating the fact that the year 2000 is "MM" in Roman numerals), when I ran into a friend whose neighbor, a young man, was home recovering from having been served a rat in his bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (which i predictable, since as everyone knows, there's no actual chicken in Kentucky Fried Chicken,  which is  why the government made them change their name to KFC).    

Anyway, one day this guy went to sleep and when he awoke he was in his bathtub and it was full of ice and he was sore all over and when he got out of the tub he realized that HIS KIDNEY HAD BEEN STOLEN. He saw a note on his mirror that said "Call 911!" but he was afraid to use his phone because it was connected to his computer, and there was a virus on his  computer  that  would destroy his hard drive if he opened an e‑mail entitled "Join the crew!"  He knew it wasn't a hoax because he himself was a computer programmer  who was working on software to prevent a global disaster in which all the computers get together and distribute the $250.00 Neiman‑Marcus cookie recipe under the leadership of Bill Gates. (It's true ‑ I read it all last week in a mass email from BILL GATES HIMSELF, who was also promising me a free Disney World vacation and $5,000 if I would forward the e‑mail to everyone I  know.)   

The poor man then tried to call 911 from a pay phone to report his missing kidneys, but a voice on the line first asked him to press #90, which unwittingly gave the bandit full access to the phone line at the guy's expense. Then reaching into the coin‑return slot he got jabbed with an HIV‑infected needle around which was wrapped a note that said,"Welcome to the world of AIDS."  Luckily he was only a few blocks from the hospital ‑ the one where that little boy who is dying of cancer is, the one whose last wish is for everyone in the world to send him an email and the American Cancer Society has agreed to pay him a nickel for every email he receives. I sent  him two emails, and one of them was a bunch of x's and o's in the shape of an angel (if you get it and forward it to more than 10 people, you will have good luck but for 10 people only you will only have OK luck and if you send  it to fewer than 10 people you will have BAD LUCK FOR SEVEN YEARS).

So anyway, the poor guy tried to drive himself to the hospital, but on the way he noticed another car driving without its lights on. To be  helpful,  he flashed his lights at him and was promptly shot as part of a gang initiation.  Send THIS to all the friends who send you their junk mail and you will  receive 4 green M&Ms ‑‑ if you don't, the owner of Proctor and Gamble  will report you to his Satanist friends and you will have more bad luck: you  will  get sick from the Sodium Laureth Sulfate in your shampoo, your spouse/mate  will develop a skin rash from using the antiperspirant which clogs the pores under your arms, and the U.S. government will put a tax on your  emails forever.

I know this is all true 'cuz I read it on the Internet!!!!!

Brent Albritton

Concerned Email




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Bess Lomax Hawes archive available at CSUN

A news story in the Los Angeles Times (27 February 2000) tells of the 1996 acquisition by California State University at Northridge (CSUN) of 24 boxes of student folklore collections made in courses taught by Bess Lomax Hawes in the 1960s and ‘70s.  The article (“Just Plain Folklore: Archive Preserves Studies of Local Tales” by Patricia Ward Biederman) highlights contemporary legends collected by the students.  The article is available in the archives of the LA Times at  [Thanks to Brian Chapman.]


International Society for Contemporary Legend Research (ISCLR) Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Eighteenth International Conference,

Edinburgh, Scotland, 12-15 July 2000


Registration.  The conference fee is £47.00 for members of ISCLR and £62.00 for non-members. 

To register for the conference, send the appropriate fee to Sandy Hobbs, at the address below. 

Payment may be made by cheque in GB pounds or in US dollar equivalent.  Make the cheque payable to "ISCLR."

Please note that the number of conference places is limited to 45, so early registration is advisable to avoid disappointment.

Proposals for Papers.  This is the latest in a series of conferences which started in Sheffield in 1982.  Traditionally most of those taking part in these conferences contribute by presenting a paper or organising a forum or workshop.

Proposals for papers should be around 400 words and double-spaced.  Send your proposal as soon as possible to Sandy Hobbs at the address below.

If you are uncertain as to the suitability of any idea you may have, Sandy Hobbs is happy to discuss it with you by telephone or email.  See address and numbers below.

Accomodation: Participants may wish to organise their own accomodation.  Alternatively, you may wish to benefit from an arrangement we have made with the University of Edinburgh's Kenneth Mackenzie Hospitality Suite. 

The Hospitality Suite is at 7 Richmond Place, within easy walking distance of the School of Scottish Studies where the conference sessions take place.

All of the rooms have en-suite bathrooms and television.  We have provisionally reserved mainly single rooms but double rooms are also available.  The prices quotes below are inclusive of VAT.  Full Scottish Breakfast is included in the cost of the room.

Since the provisional conference programme starts in the morning of 12 July, and concludes in the afternoon of 15 July, it is envisaged that most participants will wish to book for five nights, that is, arriving 11 July and leaving 16 July.

Single room: £29.50 per night.   Double room £45.00 per night.

As is the case with the conference fee, payment may be made in British pounds or US dollars only.  We cannot accept payment by credit card.  Cheques should be made payable to "ISCLR."  You may include both registration and accomodation payments in a single cheque.

A minimum deposit of 20% of the total price should accompany the booking.  You may pay the total in advance if you wish.  Bookings may be made to Sandy Hobbs, at the address as below. 

Please state:

·       SINGLE or DOUBLE room

·       date of ARRIVAL and DEPARTURE

·       your NAME and ADDRESS to which ackowledgement may be sent.

Address:  All correspondence and contacts may be made through:

Sandy Hobbs,

ASS Department,

University of Paisley,

Paisley PA1 2BE,


Phone: 0141 848 3772 (office)

0141 848 3768 (messages)

0141 848 3891 (fax)

0141 563 5197 (home0



2000 Annual General Meeting: Agenda

A General Meeting of the ISCLR membership is to be held on Friday, 14 July 2000, as part of the Eighteenth International Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.  The Agenda for the meeting is as follows.

1.          Council Reports

A.  President's report

B.  Treasurer's report

C.  Publications' reports

- Contemporary Legend

- FoafTale News

2.          Election of members of the Council

3.          Setting of the annual subscription rate

4.          Future conference dates and locations

5.          A.O.B. notified in advance by the Council

6.          A.O.B. notified in advance by any two members of the Society

7.          Date of the next Annual General Meeting.


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FoafTale News


ISSN 1026-1001