No. 49                                                                                                                June 2001

ISSN 1026-1001





Kalmre: AIDS Narratives in Estonia

McConnell: The Midget Who Thought He was Growing & Other Stories




Microwaved Water

Dead Employees

Male Date Rape Drug

Bonsai Kittens

Body Parts Parody




Border Crossings

Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults



Research Notes

AIDS narratives in Estonia: Some Considerations

Eda Kalmre

Estonian Folklore Archives


The easiest way to date the birth of AIDS-narratives is to trace their emergence in newspapers. In Estonia (one of the Baltic countries, population 1.4 million inhabitants) AIDS became topical as real and present danger in oral and written press in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the totalitarian and isolated Soviet Union and the declaration of the independent Republic of Estonia. Opening up to the world brought along a serious AIDS problem. 464 HIV-positives have been diagnosed in Estonia in the past year.

    Estonian folklorist Reet Hiiemäe has written an article entitled “The plague and AIDS – the treatment of similar phenomena in folk tradition” (published in the collection Kuuldust-nähtust. Tänapäeva Folkloorist IV” “Things Heard – Things Seen”. On Contemporary Folklore vol. 4, 1999. Edited by Eda Kalmre. Tartu. pp. 31- 44). The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that there exist striking similarities in the treatment of plague and AIDS in folk tradition in terms of both specific behavioral patterns and oral tradition.

    The end of 2000 witnessed an influx of AIDS-stories prompted by the death of a drug addict, a young girl from Narva (an Estonian town with primarily Russian population, located on the Estonian-Russian border). After this incident authorities ascertained the existence of 158 HIV-positive individuals in Narva. In the next several months the problem became the focus of the Estonian press and public attention.

    For three months at the beginning of 2001 Larissa Degel, a Narva-born student of the University of Tartu, on my request collected stories about AIDS from her hometown. Most of these stories were horror stories concerning intentional infection by contaminated needles (needles on doorknobs, light switches, inside the seats of chairs, in the sandbox at children’s playground). Media echoed all these themes and motifs. People were terrified of getting infected at the manicurist, at the dentist, at the tattoo salon, etc. At the peak of this mass hysteria stories about all kinds of unusual ways of getting the infection (kissing, staying in the same room, swimming in the same pool with an HIV-positive person, getting bitten by a mosquito, etc.) began to circulate. A story about a maniac who deliberately walked around infecting people in Narva spread all over Estonia. This story aroused more speculations outside Narva than in the crisis centre itself. The incidents in Narva prompted the re-emergence of the story type “Welcome to the AIDS club” (a few decades ago the story type was established in the Estonian tradition in connection with infecting people with gonorrhea).

    Analyzing the topical AIDS narratives from Narva, two characteristic features caught my attention: a person may get the infection from anything and anywhere, or may never get infected even when living carelessly with someone carrying the virus. The latter, often romanticized stories that circulate in women’s repertoire, may be called the “lucky escape” stories and are rather stereotyped: a boy and a girl meet, fall in love, whereas one of them has previously lived with an HIV positive partner, finally it turns out that their test comes back negative and both are safe. Generally, the transmission of happy motifs and similar symbols of hope, escape and love are characteristic of certain catastrophe, war and frustration legends. I have briefly and more thoroughly discussed the subject in my articles “Legends of the Afghanistan War: the Boy Saved by the Snake” (1996) and “Legends Connected with the Sinking of the Ferry Estonia on September 28, 1994”.



The Midget Who Thought He Was Growing and Other Stories

Brian McConnell

Dulwich Village, London


I am trying to attract contributions illustrating the movement of urban legends between verbal conversation and printed stories, films, plays and other disciplines. Katherine Briggs, Professor W. S. Russell, Dr. Jacqueline Simpson and others have mentioned these in learned papers. There will be, of course, chicken and egg disputes. Which came first? Since Goethe insisted there are only 35 plots from which to choose the purists should find his strict catalogue comparatively small, but which, like all good legends, is open to argument. The manner and adaptation form one vehicle to another is of course much greater.

I offer here the story of the midget who thought he was growing and would not be able to continue earning in the theatre; the screaming skull; and others.


The Midget Who Thought He Was Growing

Nearly 30 years ago when I first took a serious interest in contemporary urban legends, I heard this tale verbally from Miss J. G., a young executive at the Law Society’s Gazette, London, the solicitor’s journal, to which I contributed.

She told the story she had heard in social conversation about the worried midget who was found dead at the foot of some London theatre cellar stairs in suspicious circumstances. He thought that at 30 he like other midgets would grow and lose his appeal to theatergoers and theatre managers and be put out of work. Did he fall on a knife, or was he pushed, knifed and murdered?  The mystery was solved by the discovery of his walking stick which had been deliberately and maliciously shortened to make him think that he was growing. In panic his walking stick did not touch the stairs, he fell down a steep flight and died.

Years later I discovered a parallel but embellished yarn to that legend in The Evening Standard Book of Strange Stories (London: Hutchinson, 1934). This 1021-page volume includes work by W. W. Jacobs, Guy de Maupassant, Oscar Wilde, Ambrose Bierce, Algernon Blackwood, Graham Greene, Dorothy Sayers, Jerome K. Jerome, Somerset Maugham and others.

‘Coroner’s Inquest’ by Marc Connelly is set in New York, despite an editor’s lapse allowing reference to the “tube” instead of the subway. The story tells of an English style inquest where Frank Wineguard, the stage manager of Hello, America tries to solve the deaths of midgets Jimmy Dawie and Theodore Robell, his brother-in-law, at the foot of the cellar stairs at their lodgings where there has been jealousy between the two. With Jimmy becoming scared, baited by Robell about his height, so much so that he adjusted his trouser braces to hide his imagined extra inches. He even refused to be measured because of his fear of gossip and ensuing unemployment.

Then he discovered the butcher’s knife missing from their landlady’s kitchen, Robell had used it to keep shortening his walking stick and in a quarrel with the knife both had died.

[Editor’s Note: Of course a related version of this story is the basis for Gunther Grass’s novel, and Volker Scholondorff’s film, The Tin Drum. mjk]


Double Dutch Search for a Wife

Almost since I was marred nearly 50 years ago, a copy of Meinhert Hobemma’s “The Avenue [of trees] Middleharniss” has hung on the dining room wall. When I first saw the original in the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London, a stranger told me that Hobemma had married a girl from the farmhouse on the right hand side of the magnificent landscape. When she disappeared from the marital home he went there to look for her and when his wife answered the door she spoke an early form of Dutch, professed not to know him, and was so incomprehensible that he gave up trying to persuade her to return.

In fact, Hobemma (1638-1709) who despite achieving artistic success, had to earn his living in the Amsterdam municipal weights and measure department, and both he and his wife lived together until they both died and were buried in a pauper’s grave.

Strangely, years afterward, I was told of a short story which appeared in John O’London’s Weekly, a literary periodical, now defunct, which told the story of a totally different English deserted husband of a Dutch woman who went to look for his wife at the same farmhouse in Middelharniss. I am seeking a museum copy of that story.


The Screaming Skull

Few folklore tales or superstitions are held firmly in belief for so long and in such detail as the Bettiscombe, Dorset, skull brought home from the West Indies or Fiji by a retiring seafaring resident of that place, six miles from Bridport, manufactory home of Shakepseare’sBridport dagger,” alias the hangman’s rope.

John Symonds Udal, author of Dorsetshire Folklore (1922) facsimile third edition (Dorset Books, 1989) first told about the skull in 1872 in Notes and Queries (Series IV, x, 183). Dr. Goodford, Provost of Eton, inquired through Notes and Queries whether or not Udal had mistaken the location for Chilton Cantelo, Somerset. In 1884, Dr. Garnett of the British Museum, gave a fantastic account of an organized visit from Charmouth to see the Bettiscombe skull which in turn appeared in Dr. Ingram’s Haunted Homes (1884) and he gave his authority as William Andrews’ Essay on Skull Superstitions.

None of this deterred F. Marion Crawford from writing “The Screaming Skull” in The Evening Standard volume of strange stories. The author waits to the end with the death at fictitious Tredcombe of the retired sea captain Charles Braddock to quote the fictitious Penraddon News reporting a coroner’s jury at Penraddon returning a verdict of death by murder “by the hands or teeth of some person unknown.” Only then does he admit in a footnote that the story is based on the Bettiscombe skull.

Legend aficionados will recognise the skill of seafaring storytellers. They recur as the most believable of legend purveyors with the correct unexaggerated amount of detail and verisimilitude. In fact I wish I had more time to tour the old seamen’s missions to hear more.


The Vanishing Trick

Conjurors, asked how they perform certain baffling tricks, rather than refuse to answer and not reveal their trade secrets, they will use theatrical storytelling ability from their stage patter to produce some legendary material. At family parties, at hotels in Brighton, Sussex, along the south coast and at Great Yarmouth and near home at the great Mitcham, Surrey, gypsy fair, I have heard the following story with some variations and recognized it instantly in the Evening Standard book in a version by Charles Davy.

A conjuror relates in the first person the story of a restaurant waiter who pursues the magician until he is allowed to replace his female stage assistant for one performance only. The waiter vanishes completely during the performance leaving the artiste to be sacked by the management. For the impostor, disappearing completely, has left his furious wife in the stalls, prompting a police investigation, and is not seen again.

Years later, the conjuror booked into a Bloomsbury, London, hotel where by coincidence (?) the waiter was working and living in. He was visited by a police officer on a non-criminal matter – his anxious wife again? – and fell to his death in a lift shaft.

Now that’s what I call disappearing.

Do you know any more such legendary exchanges?



Recently Heard


Brian Chapman


From Nancy Scheper-Hughes, Death Without Weeping. The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil. Berkeley & Los Angeles: U. California Press, 1992, pp. 236, 406.


The Andean version, held widely from the colonial period to this day...maintained that sugar mills could not be started up at the beginning of the milling season without being greased with human fat, normally Indian fat and preferably Indian children's fat. The mills ran by feeding on human bodies, an apt enough metaphor. The Indians mistrusted all aspects of the milling industry - the factory with its heavy machinery, electric power plants, and engineers who managed them. The Indians had reason enough to be suspicious because mill and factory owners had both exploited the labor and mistreated the bodies of the Indian population since the beginning of the conquest.

 There are modern versions of the Pishtaco tale. In the 1950s Peruvian villagers told Eugene Hammel (personal communication) that airplane jet engines could not be started up without human fat and that Indian children were stolen to provide it. It was also rumored during a famine in the southern highlands of the Andes in the 1960s that U.S. grains and other surplus foods that were being sent to Peru through the Food for Peace program were designed to fatten up Andean babies for the U.S. Air Force. When USAID programs began to provide Andean children with a nourishing school lunch, the Indians stopped sending their children to school altogether. Finally, in the 1980s Bruce Winterhalder, a biological anthropologist from the University of North Carolina, found his attempts to study the physiological effects of high altitude on Andean Indians stymied by the rumor that the anthropologist and his team of assistants were modern-day Pishtaco. They believed that the researchers were measuring the fat folds of adults and children with calipers to select the fattest for their nefarious, cannibalistic purposes.



Microwaved Water

Mark Glazer


I recently received the following story from a friend. Since I wasn't sure of the authenticity I contacted General Electric's small appliance group and asked if it was correct. Their response, which supports the danger reported in the story is included after the story.

Boiling Water in Microwave This is scary and I know most of you do this: I feel that the following is information that any one who uses a microwave oven to heat water should be made aware of.

My 26-year old son decided to have a cup of coffee. He took a cup of water and put it in the microwave to heat it up (something that he had done numerous times before). I am not sure how long he set the timer for but he told me he wanted to bring the water to a boil.

When the timer shut the oven off, he removed he cup from the oven. As he looked into the cup he noted that the water was not boiling but instantly the water in the cup "blew up" into his face. The cup remained intact until he threw it out of his hand but all the water had flown out into his face due to the build-up of energy.

His whole face is blistered and he has 1st and 2nd degree burns to his face which may leave scarring. He also may have lost partial sight in his left eye.

While at the hospital, the doctor who was attending to him stated that this is a fairly common occurrence and water (alone) should never be heated in a microwave oven. If water is heated in this manner, something should be placed in the cup to diffuse the energy such as a wooden stir stick, tea bag, etc. It is however a much safer choice to boil the water in a teakettle.

Please pass this information on to friends and family. Here is what our local science teacher had to say on the matter: "Thanks for the microwave warning. I have seen this happen before. It is caused by a phenomenon known as super heating. It can occur anytime water is heated and will particularly occur if the vessel that the water is heated in is new, or when heating a small amount of water (less than half a cup).

What happens is that the water heats faster than the vapor bubbles can form. If the cup is very new then it is unlikely to have small surface scratches inside it that provide a place for the bubbles to form. As the bubbles cannot form and release some of the heat that has built up, the liquid does not boil, and the liquid continues to heat up well past its boiling point. What then usually happens is that the liquid is bumped or jarred, which is just enough of a shock to cause the bubbles to rapidly form and expel the hot liquid. The rapid formation of bubbles is also why a carbonated beverage spews when opened after having been shaken."

If you pass this on ... you could very well save someone from a lot of pain and suffering.

General Electric's response:
Please include the following line in all replies.
Tracking number: AT20001114_0000000135

Thanks for contacting us, Mr. Williams. I will be happy to assist you. The e-mail that you received is correct. Microwaved water and other liquids do not always bubble when they reach the boiling point. They can actually get superheated and not bubble at all. The superheated liquid will bubble up out of the cup when it is moved or when something like a spoon or tea bag is put into it.

To prevent this from happening and causing injury, do not heat any liquid for more than two minutes per cup. After heating, let the cup stand in the microwave for thirty seconds before moving it or adding anything into it.

I hope this helps. Should you need any further assistance, please contact us.
Alyssa Cook
GE Internet Response Team



Excuse Me Sir, But Are You OK

Norrine Dresser


   My NY editor sent this to me.  Because it cited a newspaper source, she thought it was true.  I thought that as truth it smelled because after 5 days Turklebaum would smell.  What do you think?

   In the Birmingham Sunday Mercury (7th Jan 2001):

   Worker dead at desk for 5 days. 

   Bosses of a publishing firm are trying to work out why no one noticed that one of their employees had been sitting dead at his desk for FIVE DAYS before anyone asked if he was feeling okay.  George Turklebaum, 51, who had been employed as a proof-reader at a New York firm for 30 years, had a heart attack in the open-plan office he shared with 23 other workers. He quietly passed away on Monday, but nobody noticed until Saturday morning when an office cleaner asked why he was still working during the weekend.  His boss Elliot Wachiaski said "George was always the first guy in each morning and the last to leave at night, so no one found it unusual that he was in the same position all that time and didn't say anything. He was always absorbed in his work and kept much to himself."  A post mortem examination revealed that he had been dead for five days after suffering a coronary. Ironically, George was proofreading manuscripts of medical textbooks when he died.

   ... You may want to give your co-workers a nudge occasionally. Musta been a hell of a popular guy!



Male Date Rape Drug!

Steven Smith


   Police warn all male clubbers, party-goers and unsuspecting pub regulars to be more alert and cautious when getting a drink offer from a girl. There is a drug around called "beer" and it is generally in liquid form. The drug is now being used by female sexual predators at parties to convince their male victims to have sex with them. The shocking statistic is that "beer" is available virtually anywhere!

   All girls have to do is persuade a guy to consume a few units of "beer" and simply ask the guy home for no-strings- attached sex. Men are literally rendered helpless against such attacks. After several "beers" men will often succumb to desires to perform sex acts on horrific looking women who they would never normally be attracted to.

   Men often awaken after being given "beer" with only hazy memories of exactly what has happened to them the night before, just a vague feeling that something bad occurred.

   Please! Forward this to every male you know... However, if you fall victim to this insidious drug and the predatory women administering it, there are male support groups with venues in every town where you can discuss the details of your shocking encounter in an open and frank manner with a bunch of similarly-affected likeminded guys. For the nearest support group near you just look up 'Public House' in the yellow pages.


Bonsai Kitten Internet Warning

Bill Ellis

Associate Professor, English and American Studies

Highacres, Penn State Hazleton, Hazleton, PA 18201-1291


   Here's a relatively new Internet contemporary legend, found earlier today on another message group.


Please read this!!


   Do you think it is nice to have an innocent kitty in a flask as an adornment?

   The website "" promotes the "art" of putting baby kitten inside a flask and selling them like a nice adornment!! The method is to put a newborn cat inside a flask so that it grows inside and its bones adopt its shape.

To reach the webmaster, write to:

Please, write and protest against this degrading act of idiot and sick people. Help us to put an end to this savage act. Please... instead of wasting your time in chat rooms or replying "if you forward this mail all your wishes will come true" mails cooperate to stop such an stupid thing and forward this message to all the people you know. If you can do it with stupid mails, why not to do it with the important ones?

   I translated this mail from a Spanish one, so correct the mistakes because I'm not really a good translator. I don't know if sending him a mail will make him stop that, but at least it could make him (and all the ones that support this kind of things) think about it.

   Commentary:  An informative website posted by the United States Humane Society (USHS) gives the result of the official investigation that this warning and others like it inspired.   The "bonsai kitten” website, though credited to a "Dr. Michael Wong Chang" of New York, was actually devised as a sick joke by an MIT student.  The reference to a "Dr. Chang" (an obvious anti-Chinese slur) links this story to older ones that suggest that Orientals use cats (and dogs) for food.  Responding to many complaints, MIT shut the site down in December.  See:

   Meanwhile, the concern over this site has been expressed in other European languages.  A basic metasearch turned up several references to frequently forwarded messages about the site in Italian (Micini bonsai: ORRORE!!!!!).  The version I received alludes to versions in Spanish as well.

   Ironically, the intensity with which such warnings have circulated seems to have helped keep the original site in existence.  Even though the MIT site closed in December, several "mirror sites" have sprung up in the wake of the Internet warnings, and the USHS has had to tell its patrons NOT to e-mail complaints to the webmaster or to anyone else, as "the negative attention [the site's originator] has received has fueled the posting of the site in three separate locations and the formation of a group of supporters."

   As with legends about satanic cults, this contemporary legend seems to exist in a symbiotic relationship with the problem it decries and paradoxically helps maintain its existence.



Someone Has Stolen My Thighs

Norine Dresser


   Most of you have read the scare-mail about the person whose kidneys were stolen while he was

passed out-well, read on. While that was an "urban legend" this one is not. It's happening every day...

   My thighs were stolen from me during the night of August 3rd a few years ago. It was just that quick. I went to sleep in my body and woke up with someone else's thighs. The new ones had the texture of cooked oatmeal. Who would have done such a cruel thing to legs that had been wholly, if imperfectly mine for years. Whose thighs were these? What happened to mine?

   I spent the entire summer looking for them. I searched, in vain, at pools and beaches, anywhere I might find female limbs exposed. I became obsessed. I had nightmares filled with cellulite and flesh that turns to bumps in the night. Finally, hurt and angry, I resigned   myself to living out my life in jeans and Sheer Energy pantyhose.

   Then, just when my guard was down, the thieves struck again. My rear end was next. I knew it was the same gang because they took pains to match my new rear end (although badly attached   at least three inches lower than the original) to the thighs they had stuck me with earlier.   Now my rear complimented my legs, lump for lump. Frantic, I prayed that long skirts would stay in fashion.

   It was 2 years ago when I realized my arms had been switched. One morning while fixing my hair, I watched, horrified but fascinated, as the flesh of my upper arms swung to and fro   with the motion of the hairbrush. This was really getting scary. My body was being replaced, cleverly and fiendishly, one section at a time.

   Age? Age had nothing to do with it. Age was supposed to creep up, unnoticed and intangible, something like maturity. NO, I was being attacked, repeatedly and without warning. During one spring, my attention was riveted to upper arms...female arms. I studied them from every angle, being careful not to raise mine in public or flatten them too tightly against my body.   In private, I held them straight out and did endless circles that would have tightened my real arms but did nothing for these new "Silly-Putty caricatures. In the end, in deepening despair, I gave up my T-shirts. What could they do to me next? My eyes began to remind people that they needed a new pair of Hush Puppies. My poor neck disappeared more quickly than the Thanksgiving turkey it now reminded me of.

   That's why I've decided to tell my story; I can't take on the medical profession by myself.

  Women, wake up and smell the coffee! That isn't really "plastic" those surgeons are using.   You know where they're getting those replacement parts, don't you? The next time you suspect someone has had a face "lifted," look again! Was it lifted from you? Check out those tummy tucks and buttocks raisings. Look familiar? Are those your eyelids on that movie star?

   I think I finally may have found my thighs...and I hope that Cindy Crawford paid a really good price for them! This is NOT a hoax! This is happening to women in every town every night. Warn all your friends!!!



Nike Personalized Shoes

Gian Fazey-Koven


   I actually heard Jonah Peretti being interviewed on the radio [BBC Radio 4] about this.

   Nike now lets you personalize your shoes by submitting a word or phrase which they will stitch onto your shoes, under the swoosh.  So Jonah Peretti filled out the form and sent them $50 to stitch "sweatshop" onto his shoes.

   Here’s the response he got... fun and games with Nike...


From: "Personalize, NIKE iD" <

To: "'Jonah H. Peretti'" <

Subject: RE: Your NIKE  iD order o16468000


Your NIKE iD order was cancelled for one or more of the following reasons:

1) Your Personal iD contains another party's trademark or other intellectual property

2) Your Personal iD contains the name of an athlete or team we do not have the legal right to use

3) Your Personal iD was left blank.  Did you not want any personalization?

4) Your Personal iD contains profanity or inappropriate slang, and besides, your mother would slap us.

If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization please visit us again at

Thank you, NIKE iD


From: "Jonah H. Peretti" <

To: "Personalize, NIKE iD" <

Subject: RE: Your NIKE  iD order o16468000



My order was canceled but my personal NIKE iD does not violate any of the criteria outlined in your message.  The Personal iD on my custom ZOOM XC USA running shoes was the word "sweatshop."

Sweatshop is not:

1) another's party's trademark,

2) the name of an athlete,

3) blank, or

4) profanity.

I choose the iD because I wanted to remember the toil and labor of the children that made my shoes.  Could you please ship them to me immediately?

Thanks and Happy New Year, Jonah Peretti


From: "Personalize, NIKE iD" <

To: "'Jonah H. Peretti'" <

Subject: RE: Your NIKE  iD order o16468000


Dear NIKE iD Customer,

Your NIKE iD order was cancelled because the iD you have chosen contains, as stated in the previous e-mail correspondence, "inappropriate slang".  If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization please visit us again at

Thank you, NIKE iD


From: "Jonah H. Peretti" <

To: "Personalize, NIKE iD" <

Subject: RE: Your NIKE  iD order o16468000


Dear NIKE iD,

Thank you for your quick response to my inquiry about my custom ZOOM XC USA running shoes.  Although I commend you for your prompt customer service, I disagree with the claim that my personal iD was inappropriate slang.  After consulting Webster's Dictionary, I discovered that "sweatshop" is in fact part of Standard English, and not slang.  The word means:  "a shop or factory in which workers are employed for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions" and its origin dates from 1892.  So my personal iD does meet the criteria detailed in your first email.

   Your web site advertises that the NIKE iD program is "about freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are."  I share Nike's love of freedom and personal expression.  The site also says that "If you want

it done it yourself."  I was thrilled to be able to build my own shoes, and my personal iD was offered as a small token of appreciation for the sweatshop workers poised to help me realize my vision.  I hope that you will value my freedom of expression and reconsider your decision to reject my order.

Thank you, Jonah Peretti


From: "Personalize, NIKE iD" <

To: "'Jonah H. Peretti'" <

Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000


Dear NIKE iD Customer,

Regarding the rules for personalization it also states on the NIKE iD web site that "Nike reserves the right to cancel any personal iDup to 24 hours after it has been submitted".  In addition, it further explains:  "While we honor most personal iDs, we cannot honor every one.

Some may be (or contain) other's trademarks, or the names of certain professional sports teams, athletes or celebrities that Nike does not have the right to use.  Others may contain material that we consider inappropriate or simply do not want to place on our products. Unfortunately, at times this obliges us to decline personal iDs that may otherwise seem unobjectionable.  In any event, we will let you know if we decline your personal iD, and we will offer you the chance to submit another."  With these rules in mind, we cannot accept your order as submitted.  If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization please visit us again at

Thank you, NIKE iD


From: "Jonah H. Peretti" <

To: "Personalize, NIKE iD" <

Subject: RE: Your NIKE  iD order o16468000


Dear NIKE iD,


Thank you for the time and energy you have spent on my request.  I have decided to order the shoes with a different iD, but I would like to make one small request.  Could you please send me a color snapshot of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes?


Jonah Peretti


<no response>



Newly Published


Border Crossings: Legend, Literature, Mass Media, And Cultural Ephemera

Edited by Cathy Lynn Preston


    Perhaps more so than any other genre of folklore, contemporary legends blur the boundaries between cultural and performance registers while simultaneously existing as a genre that is itself defined by blurred boundaries. In Border Crossings: Legend, Literature, Mass Media, and Cultural Ephemera, the editor Cathy Lynn Preston has brought together a collection of essays which focus on the extent to which legend performances are constituted within what Sylvia Grider has described as a "dynamic sharing across genres and across media," The essays variously discuss legend in relation to fiction (literary and popular books and short stories) marketed to children, adolescents, and adults; parodic narratives on the Internet; contemporary church and school bulletins and medieval catechism and penitential manuals; TV shows; movies; contemporary journalism (from major metropolitan dailies to tabloid weeklies); comic strips and cartoons; greeting cards; advertisements; children's toys; and amusement park rides.

    In addition to the Introduction by Cathy Lynn Preston, the volume includes essays by: Marcia Gaudet, "Robert Olen Butler's A Ghost Story": Contemporary Legend as Literature"; Diane E. Goldstein, " Please Send Your Used Rolodex Cards to the Muppet Wish Foundation': Folk Parody, Generic Sensibility, Literalization and Contemporary Legend"; Carl Lindahl, "The Re-Oralized Legends of Robert Mannyng's Handlyng Synne"; Michael J. Preston, "Never Talk to Strangers: Parental Warnings, Contemporary Legends, and Popular Fiction"; Ann Kibbey, "Who Incidented That Little Girl?: Stories as Pollution Rites in the Ramsey Murder Case"; Cathy Lynn Preston, "Babysitting and the Man Upstairs:

Negotiating the Politics of Everyday Fear;" Paul Smith, "Contemporary Legend on Film and Television: Some Observations"; Mikel J. Koven: "Candyman Can: Film and Ostension"; Sylvia Grider, "The Haunted House in Literature, Popular Culture, and Tradition: A Consistent Image."

    Border Crossings first appeared as a special issue of Contemporary Legend, N.S. 2 (1999).

    Border Crossings (ISBN 0-88901-339-X) is available for $19.95 (US), including p & p.  Copies can be ordered by sending a check made payable to ISCLR to: Dr. Mark Glazer, College of Arts & Sciences, University of Texas--Pan American, Edinburgh, Texas 78539, U.S.A.





Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live

Bill Ellis


Hardcover - 272 pages (June 2001) University Press of Mississippi; ISBN: 1578063256 $38.00


    Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We Live is a comprehensive study of legends, or narratives about extraordinary events told as true though they are not directly verifiable. These stories include insights into modern cultures' belief systems, and the debates they spark often spill over into real-life actions.

    The book explores the complex relationship between our life, as we perceive and understand it, and our legends, the stories that we construct in order to give a name, a shape, and a meaning to experience. A legend is a story about an extraordinary event that is told as true but is not completely verifiable. It sparks debate among those who hear it and even within the mind of the teller. Since legends rely on active discussion, they cannot be analyzed in the same way as fairy tales or jokes. Rather a legend is a communal exploration of social boundaries, in which participants share examples of the extremes of experience to reach some consensus on what is "real."

    The book considers a legend as a social process, not as a kind of narrative with a fixed form. Legends may be told by many people worldwide or "owned" by one person to whom the event allegedly occurred. They may be told as strongly believed, or in a facetious, self-mocking way. They may be very new, or quite old. Nevertheless, they are all equally traditional, equally contemporary, and equally legendary if they are actively being used to discuss culturally debatable topics and create a common purpose.

    A series of case studies illustrates this approach. Legends are shown creating community in a multi-ethnic institutional camp. Some contemporary scares are traced to very old legend types such as vanishing hitchhikers and murderous gang initiates. And some newly emerging legend types are analyzed, such as alien abductions and computer virus warnings. Finally, Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults shows how legends can inspire people to create real-life actions, ranging from playful visits to haunted spots to horrifying threats of violence. Even murder can be a way of performing a legend.


Scholars of contemporary legend have long believed that Bill Ellis's careful analyses of texts and the conditions under which they are transmitted constitute the gold standard for research. Ellis transcends the often artificial boundaries between the social sciences and the humanities, demonstrating that while these are literary texts, they are also meaningful behaviors. Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults is an essential volume that belongs on every folklorist's shelf. --Gary Alan Fine


At last! Here's a book that moves beyond recounting amusing stories, and helps us understand how and why contemporary legends spread. Bill Ellis offers arguments that are surprising and provocative, as he develops nuanced, thoughtful ways to think about legends' place in contemporary society. --Joel Best




FTN needs your contributions!

Please send me news, queries, research notes, clippings, calls for papers, book and movie reviews, or notes about local rumor and legend cycles for inclusion in FTN.

Deadline for next issue:

July 2001

Next Issue Out:

August 2001


FoafTale News (FTN) is the newsletter of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research.  We study "modern" and "urban" legends, and also any legend circulating actively.  To join, send a cheque made out to "ISCLR" for US$30.00 or UK£18 to Mark Glazer, Arts & Sciences, University of Texas - Pan-American, Edinburgh TX 78539-2999, USA for North American subscriptions, or Sandy Hobbs, ASS Department, University of Paisley, Paisley, Scotland, PA1 2BE for European subscriptions. Institutional rates available upon request.  Members also receive Contemporary Legend, a refereed academic journal.  Most back issues of FTN are available from the Editor at a charge of US$3 each.   FoafTale News is indexed in the MLA Bibliography.

This newsletter is called FoafTale News for the jocular term current among legend scholars for over twenty years.  The term "foaf" was introduced by Rodney Dale (in his 1978 book, The Tumour in the Whale) for an oft-attributed but anonymous source of contemporary legends: a "friend of a friend."  Dale pointed out that contemporary legends always seemed to be about someone just two or three steps from the teller  — a boyfriend’s cousin, a co‑worker’s aunt, or a neighbor of the teller’s mechanic.  "Foaf" became a popular term at the Sheffield legend conferences in the 1980s.   It was only a short step to the pun "foaftale," a step taken by a yet-anonymous wag. 

FoafTale News welcomes contributions, including those documenting legends” travels on electronic media and in the press.  All research notes and articles are copyright by the individual authors who reserve all rights.  For permission to reprint, contact them at the addresses given in the headnote of the article. Send queries, notices, and research reports to a maximum of 3000 words to the Editor; clippings, offprints, and citations are also encouraged.

The opinions expressed in FoafTale News are those of the authors and do not in any necessary way represent those of the editor, the contributing compilers, the International Society for the Study of Contemporary Legends, its Council, or its members.

Editor:  Mikel J. Koven, Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies, Parry-Williams, Building, Penglais Campus, University of Wales, Aberystwyth, United Kingdom, SY23 2AJ 


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ISSN 1026-1001