No. 50                                                                                                     November 2001

ISSN 1026-1001



2001 Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Conference Abstracts

FOAFTALE Miscellany

Australian HIV Legend

Escape from New York

Parody Internet Warning

Urban Legends that are True


Received at FTN


2001 Perspectives on Contemporary Legend Conference Abstracts


“Who Is the Man in the Mountain?: The Commodification and Variation of a Local Legend”

John Ashton

Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, Newfoundland, Canada


A few kilometers to the east of the city of Corner Brook, in Western Newfoundland, a sheer rock face rises several hundred feet over a small island that sits amidst the rapidly flowing waters of the Lower Humber River.  Notched into the side of the cliff is a strange configuration of rocks which is claimed by local residents to resemble a human face.  “The Old Man in the Mountain” is clearly visible from the adjacent Trans-Canada Highway and has become an important landmark for locals and tourists alike.

To accommodate the site’s many summer-time visitors, a viewing area has been constructed complete with parking spaces, picnic tables and a plaque elaborating the etiological legend which has become attached to the location.  “The Old Man” is said to be standing guard over pirate’s treasure that now lies buried on Shellbird Island below.

Versions of this narrative vary in complexity and detail and feature prominently on postcards and other souvenirs as well as websites and videos promoting the area as a tourist destination.  

Oral accounts of this phenomenon, however, particularly those that reference the landmark’s status twenty or more years ago, tend to be considerably less colorful, and frequently lack a narrative framework, taking instead the form of simple belief propositions; “There’s a ghost at Breakfast Point,” “You can see someone’s face in the Cliff at Shellbird Island.”

This paper will explore the relationship of the legend’s various manifestations and articulations to its commodification within the context of the burgeoning tourist industry in Western Newfoundland, particularly the development of the area as a visitation site for large American and European cruise ships.


“The Vanishing ‘Urban Legend’”

Jan Harold Brunvand


The “urban legend” (a term enclosed in quotation marks in some ISCLR statements) has much less vitality as an oral-narrative genre than in its glory days from the l960s through the l980s.  “Urban legends” have mostly migrated from folklore into popular culture where they are stereotyped, standardized, exploited, commodified, and repackaged.  The most common medium for their circulation has become the Internet.

“The Kidney Heist” offers a good example of how the oral tradition of an urban legend dries up as popular culture absorbs it.  From 1991, when the legend emerged, to the present, this story has gone from oral narrative to other forms: television and film exploitation, literary and popcult allusion, Internet bogus warning, and eventually merely a quip in a popular comic strip.

The media, while embracing the general idea of urban legends, often misuse the term and intermix legends with rumor, trivia, misinformation, and sensationalized current events or the stock subjects of tabloid journalism like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.  Recent popular anthologies of urban legends borrow from folklorists’ collections while criticizing academic approaches and further confusing genuine legends with other miscellaneous material.  Professional storytellers who adopt urban legends over-dramatize their performances, combine texts, and invent plot details.

Such popularization of folklore is nothing new, and the “vanishing” of “urban legends” (if this truly is occurring) does not mean that we have nothing left to study.  Our collected material has not been fully analyzed, and recent developments open up new areas for research.

This presentation concludes with slides illustrating the points made in the paper and showing how published images of “urban legends” help to shape the public perception of them.


“Erroneous Reports of Death”

Frances Cattermole-Tally           



Some deaths are reported prematurely as was the case with Mark Twain who, in 1897, cabled from London to the Associate Press, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”  In the 1930's the Hearst papers informed America that the actor, Errol Flynn, had been killed in the Spanish Civil war.

But the media alone is not always the culprit in these mistaken reports.  An article in The Journal of Popular Culture, points out that the questioning of the deaths of prominent figures is widespread in out culture.  For example, when Bob Dylan had an accident on his motorcycle speculation was rife that he had died, while James Dean, who did indeed die in a car crash was reported to be alive.  An accident is not always necessary to start such rumors.  The well-known Beatle, Paul McCartney, was reported to be dead and his fans worked assiduously collecting evidence of his supposed demise.  So far as I know these ideas are never attached to female entertainers.

Similar stories often attach themselves to wealthy eccentric recluses especially when the control of a business or the control of money is involved as in the case of the late Howard Hughes.  Although he is not a recluse, economics also played a role in the death of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.  He was reported to have died as early as the l940's.  In 1983 he was again thought to be dead because he refused to appear in court.  In 1986 there was an interesting reversal of thought.  Hubbard really died and it was claimed that he was still alive.  He may fit into the classic legends of heroes who live on after they took their last breath.

Premature reports of death are more rumor and gossip than legend, although in many instances well-defined stories arise from speculations and beliefs which surround popular figures such as Paul McCartney.

The classic legend of the hero or villain surviving after death dates back to Roman times.  The legend seem to be world wide.  Nero, Charlemagne, Friedrich Barbarossa, King Arthur, Pancho Villa, Hitler and John F. Kennedy are just a few examples of heroes who supposedly still survive.

This paper is an investigation into the meaning of the popular accounts of premature death and their opposites, the classic legends of people who are believed to be alive after they have died.  The paper will attempt to analyze the differences between these contrasting death legends and seek to find the reasons, economic, psychological and religious for their existence and repetition.


“On the Trail of the Honey Island Swamp Monster”

Frances Cooper

Memorial University of Newfoundland


The Honey Island Swamp lies near the mouth of the Pearl River, which separates the southeastern-most portion of Louisiana from Mississippi.  This swamp serves as home to many wild creatures, such as the honey bear and the black panther, but the swamp gained its fame upon the discovery of a monster within its realm, a monster that came to be known, appropriately, as the Honey Island Swamp Monster.  Some say the creature is simply an old man hiding from society, but a small group of natives suggest that a voodoo spell brought the creature to life.  Others believe the monster is only fiction, and still others swear by the eyewitness accounts they have heard.  Whatever the motivation, scientists, hunters and tourists come from all corners of the world to search, if they dare, for this legendary creature.

The first reported sighting of the Honey Island Swamp Monster occurred in 1974, when Harlan Ford returned from the swamp with plaster casts of unusual footprints.  Since that time, other individuals have come forward to report their encounters with the creature.  Some describe face-to-face meetings, and some claim to have seen the three-toed footprints that have come to be thought of as belonging to the monster.  Hunters have discovered wild boars killed in a way that could not conceivably have been done by the common animals known to live in the swamp.  Others tell stories of being frightened by hearing wailing cries during the night.  The details of these accounts and the plaster casts made of the footprints have led scientists to formulate general information about the Honey Island Swamp Monster.  The scientific data indicates that the creature resembles the traditional bigfoot in some ways but possesses unique and individual features of its own.  The stories of this creature, referred to locally as a wookie, a thing and a monster, have influenced not only the lives of those in the swamp, but the lives of all who are interested in the possibility of what might be.

This paper analyzes the various reported sightings that have occurred and compares and contrasts the elements of the legend variants to identify how the story has developed and become a more fictional account of the alleged sightings.  The connections with legends of other cryptozoological phenomena are also examined.  Most significantly, however, this paper explores the beliefs of the people that live in Louisiana alongside this great mystery they call the Honey Island Swamp Monster.


“‘Me and The Devil’: The Robert Johnson Legend”

Holly Everett & Peter Narváez

Memorial University of Newfoundland &


“The Robert Johnson legend” has become the most often cited example of a person making a pact with Satan in order to achieve superhuman musical prowess since similar stories began to circulate in the nineteenth century about Niccolo Paganini (1782‑1840), the “Devil’s Violinist” (Black; Stratton).

Johnson (1911‑1938), the most celebrated and influential African‑American blues performer (Barlow; Guralnick; Palmer; Titon), undoubtedly cultivated the view that he had otherworldly associations through the performance of two songs that directly refer to Satan, namely, “Hellhound on My Trail” and “Me and the Devil Blues.” It has been “Cross Road Blues,” however, which Johnson recorded in San Antonio, Texas, on November 27, 1936, that has served as the major catalyst for the Robert Johnson legend and interestingly, the lyrics of this song contain no satanic references.  Similarly, there are virtually no documentable sources that substantiate the Johnson legend, the basic elements of which are that he met Satan as a “man in black,” one midnight in Clarksdale, Mississippi, at the crossroads of highways 61 and 49, and that the entity tuned his guitar and walked away, thus providing Johnson with astonishing musical skills in exchange for his soul.

This paper will examine key components of the legend as gathered from aural, published and Internet sources, discuss their probable sources, and posit reasons for the international dissemination of the narrative. In part, our paper will argue that beyond maintaining the legend’s diffusion, the “negative legend” motifs (Dégh), i.e., arguments against the legend that cite the legend and therefore also transmit it, have sometimes been as spurious as the legend itself and that they parallel negative legend motifs concerning Paganini, thus reflecting a dialogical discursive tradition concerning music, its sources and its performance. Finally, it will be shown that the Robert Johnson legend reflects a facet of the southern roots “mystique” of blues, providing a necessary mythical underpinning as part of the contemporary construction of a pantheon of African‑American blues heroes for international consumption.



Barlow, William. "Looking up at Down": The Emergence of Blues Culture. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1989.

Black, Allison. Personal communication. 27 December 2000.

Dégh, Linda and Andrew Vázsonyi. The Dialectics of the Legend.  Folklore Preprint Series, I.6. Bloomington Indiana: Folklore Publications Group, 1973.

Guralnick, Peter. Searching for Robert Johnson. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1989.

Titon, Jeff Todd. Early Downhome Blues: A Musical and Cultural Analysis. Second ed. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1994.

Palmer, Robert. Deep Blues. Toronto: Penguin, 1982.

Stratton, Stephen Samuel. Niccole Paganini: His Life and Work. 1907. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood P, 1971.


“‘1½ Hours of Horror for £6'” Legend-Telling on Ghost Tours

Joy Fraser

Memorial University of Newfoundland


Ghost tours can be broadly defined as guided walking tours in which one or more performers conduct a group of audience members through the downtown area of a city or town, presenting supernatural and other stories associated with a number of locations along the route.  The recent dramatic growth of this form of “dark tourism” provides a fascinating case study of the ways in which folk traditions have been incorporated within the productions of the contemporary tourism and heritage industries.  In this paper, I explore the particular interest which the study of ghost tours holds for contemporary legend scholarship.  A glance at a sample of ghost tour advertisements reveals that legend, however vaguely the term is defined, is regarded by tour companies as a highly marketable concept.  Such advertisements are filled with promises to guide audiences through a “history ... steeped in legends”, to introduce them to a “rich tradition of folklore and legend”, or to entertain them with “true legends, tales of haunts, and lore”.  Analysis of ghost tour performances confirms many of the narratives performed on such tours can, indeed, be categorized as legends.  Drawing my examples from fieldwork conducted with ghost tour companies in Edinburgh, Scotland, I explore the nature of this unusual performance context and its impact on the content of the legend narratives and the style in which they are told.

In particular, I consider the significance of the fact that ghost tour audiences pay to hear such narratives told in the “genuine haunted locations” to which they relate.  In several cases, tour companies have generated their own legends by incorporating into their performances accounts of supernatural incidents experienced by participants on previous tours.  In considering this issue, I focus in particular on one Edinburgh-based tour company, City of the Dead, which promises its audiences an experience “You won’t forget,” that of being “locked in a graveyard at night with an active poltergeist”.  This tour culminates in a section of a local cemetery to which only the tour has access and which houses the “Black Mausoleum”, the reputed site of an entity which the company has named the McKenzie Poltergeist.  During the tour’s two-year history, participants have fallen victim to more than sixty alleged poltergeist attacks, with over twenty of these involving loss of consciousness.  I explore the strategies by which the tour company constructs its representation of the McKenzie Poltergeist, examining its role in the creation of a legend in which the members of the tour group are key players, and in ensuring the continuation of this legend through the very act of taking tours into the Mausoleum.


“Food and Gender: Food Contamination Legends in the Hispanic Community of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas

Mark Glazer & Steve Liebowitz

University of Texas - Pan American


The goal of this paper is to review data on contemporary food contamination legends systematically collected in a given geographical area. This type of research has not been undertaken in urban legend studies, leaving this sub field of folkloristics devoid of systematic information. This paper tests the hypothesis that a systematic survey of these legends will lead to important information about the tellers and the social context of these narratives. All of the food contamination legends in this study are from the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The area has a population of 939,660, and 98% of this population is Mexican American.

With this purpose in mind the narratives which are the basis for this paper were collected with a questionnaire entitled, "The Contemporary Legend Information Sheet." This survey includes questions on demographic and contextual information as well as on the contemporary legends themselves. This process has resulted in a collection of 846 urban legends in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Of these 846 narratives in our sample, 230 (27%) are food contamination legends. These food contamination narratives represent the largest group of any urban legend type in the area. As in much of the folklore collected in this area most of the informants in these 230 legends are female. In this case, 65% of our informants are female and 35% are male.

Our results show that hamburgers are more commonly viewed as being contaminated than other foods. This is followed by Chinese food, chicken, tacos and coke. We find that most commonly dog meat or insects contaminate hamburgers. While bodily fluids usually contaminate Chinese food, chicken by rats, tacos by cockroaches or dog food, and rodents or body parts contaminate coke.

We have also discovered that both men and women report contaminated hamburgers in the same proportions, while more women report contaminated Chinese food. This is in counterbalance with men who report on rats in chicken. Women report tacos more often, and women and men in similar percentages report coke.

The two hundred and thirty legends were mostly heard from friends. 52% of the sample have heard the story from friends, 24% from relatives, and almost 5% claim the story to be a personal experience. However males are more likely to have heard a food contamination story from a friend 63% than women 58%. Women hear the story from relatives 26% of the time while men hear it only 20% of the time. Personal experience narratives are about the same in proportion for both men and women. It is worth noting that the big majority of cases (62%) just having a conversation or talking is the usual context for this followed by talking at school (11%) and talking at gatherings 7%.

Another area which has a very significant difference between male and female populations is belief in the veracity of the rumors. Women are by far more likely to believe that these stories are true. Of the women 60% believe in the veracity of the narrative while only 46% of the men believe that they are true.

Our findings demonstrate how this type of research and analysis based on a combination of legend materials and contextual information can lead to new information on contemporary legend by clearly showing social distinctions between the legends and how the tellers can be differentiated in a given population; in this case the Mexican Americans of the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. The conclusions which can be drawn from this type of information give us new insight to the legends and their tellers. It also demonstrates that folklore studies should systematically emphasize regions and localities rather than draw conclusions from materials which do not represent well delineated populations.


“Who’s Minding Your Kids?: Tinky Winky, Harry Potter and other Media  Legends Concerning Children’s Characters that Threaten Child Welfare”

Diane E. Goldstein

Memorial University of Newfoundland


The February 1999 edition of The National Liberty Journal  (a far-right magazine edited and published by conservative Christian crusader, Reverend Jerry Falwell) contained an article warning parents that the character named “Tinky Winky” from the children’s television show Teletubbies, may be a gay role model intentionally designed to inculcate children into a gay lifestyle.  The article pointed out that Tinky Winky has the voice of a boy but carries a purse, is purple - the color of gay pride, and has an antenna shaped like a triangle, a symbol which, the article argued, is a gay pride icon.   Falwell’s proclamation of concern about the sexual orientation and motivation of a children’s television character takes its place beside a number of contemporary legends concerning media manipulation of children’s popular culture for morally subversive purposes.  Like stories of the sexual orientation of the “muppets” - “Bert and Ernie”, hidden satanic messages in the popular “Harry Potter” books, narratives about children’s television hosts such as Soupy Sales or Bozo the clown making inappropriate comments, and stories of exposed breasts hidden in the dense illustrations of Where’s Waldo, the Tinky Winky story articulates a common theme of adult concern about the care and control of innocent minds at the hands of literary and television media. 

Contemporary Legends about children’s popular culture seem to have occurred with great regularity over time, resulting in accusations in the early 20th century that children’s books such as The Bobbsey Twins and The Hardy Boys were encouraging children to challenge authority; that true crime comic books lead to child crime and delinquency; and, warning that radio was negatively affecting children’s’ abilities to distinguish between fantasy and reality.  In keeping with recent studies by Joel Best (1990), Cathy Preston (1999) and Michael Preston (1999), this paper will examine adult concerns about threats to our children as they are constructed in contemporary legend.   In particular, this paper will focus on the confusion of adult culture for kids and “kid culture” (McDonnell 1994).


Alamo Legends Revisited: The World Just Won't Forget the Alamo

Sylvia Grider

Texas A & M University


The Alamo is Texas' best‑known icon.  Spanish missionaries as part of their efforts to Christianize the indigenous Indians built this stone chapel in the late eighteenth‑ century. This previously obscure chapel burst into the American consciousness in March 1836, when General Santa Anna's troops massacred the Texan defenders in the lop‑sided battle which helped launch the Texas drive for independence from Mexico.  As the Battle of San Jacinto began on April 21, 1836, when the Texans attacked the bivouacked Mexican troops with cries of "Remember the Alamo!" and thus one of the most memorable clichés of American history was born.

Because of the nature of the battle itself and the turmoil of the ensuing brief Texas War for Independence, reliable historical records of what happened during the battle at the Alamo are nonexistent.  One of Santa Anna's officers allegedly kept a diary detailing the battle and its aftermath, but this document has become the topic of bitter contention in Texas historiography‑‑ is it a real, nineteenth‑century document or a twentieth‑century forgery? One survivor of the battle, Susannah Dickensen, lived for many, many years after the battle but her memoirs and interviews are so garbled that there is no way to know how much is truth and how much is the result of her playing to the media. One result of the lack of reliable, empirical data about the battle has been the development over the decades of a rich body of lore, some traditional and some, to use Eric Hobsbawm's phrase, invented; namely, stories which "seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behaviors by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past" (The Invention of Tradition, 1983, p. 1).

Although Texans chauvinistically and zealously defend and preserve all minutiae concerning the Alamo, the Anglo legends and invented traditions cluster around a few episodes: William B. Travis' "line in the sand," the death of Davy Crockett, and various hauntings of the site.

This blending of genres and political agendas continues to keep controversy alive regarding the Alamo. Anthropologists, archaeologists, historians, folklorists, politicians, and local interest groups vie for control of the reputation of this most‑famous of all Texas shrines.  The publication of composite re‑tellings of these legends by popular presses helps to maintain the vitality of the Anglo‑dominated version of the Battle of the Alamo. In part because of extensive media coverage, these various "tellings" intermingle in both written and oral tradition until many Anglo Texans have come to prefer the invented, or popular culture, version of the events, in spite of historians' attempts to debunk them.


“Emotional Selection in Memes: The Case of Urban Legends

Chip Heath

Stanford University


We explore to what extent memes like contemporary legends succeed based on informational selection (i.e., truth or a moral lesson) and emotional selection (i.e., the ability to evoke emotions like anger, fear, or disgust).  We focus on the emotion of disgust because it represents the least intuitive form of emotional selection and because the psychology literature has precisely described its elicitors. 

In Study 1, we select a sample of legends that contain one or more of the disgust motifs that have been identified by the psychology literature (e.g., contact with bodily substances, ingestion of a contaminated substance; death; cutting or piercing of the skin).  People rated a variety of aspects of each legend—informational factors like truth, practical utility, or the presence of a moral lesson; emotional factors like anger, joy, fear or disgust; and story characteristics like the richness of the plot or the presence of an unexpected ending.  After statistically controlling for the informational factors, story characteristics, and other emotions, people were still more willing to pass along stories that elicited stronger disgust. 

In Study 2, we randomly sampled legends and created versions that varied in disgust by manipulating one of the central disgust motifs found in the original legend.  For example, in the original legend of the Rat in the Coke bottle, the victim spots the rat after drinking the liquid and tasting something bad.  For this legend we created two additional versions, one where the victim spotted the rat before he drank (low disgust) or after he drank and swallowed something lumpy (high disgust).  In general, people preferred to pass along versions that produced the highest level of disgust. 

In Study 3, we coded legends for the presence or absence of individual story motifs that produce disgust.  Legends that contained more disgust motifs were distributed more widely on urban legend web sites. 

We think that it is worth looking for general psychological and sociological processes that lead to the selection of stories, attitudes, factoids, rumors, legends, news, ideas, and other such memes.  We suspect that emotional selection may also play a role in propagating memes such as: fear-inducing information about carcinogens or environmental contaminants; moral panics about deviant behavior; hysterias about satanic ritual child abuse; media attention to homicides and auto accidents but not diabetes or stomach cancer.  We think that researchers in these literatures would benefit from more active contact with each other.


“Escalating Danger in Contemporary Legends”

Elissa R. Henken

University of Georgia


Scholars have long been aware that contemporary legends update themselves, changing to reflect new styles (spiders in the beehive hairdo/hippies’ long hair /dreadlocks), new technologies (pets in the oven/ clothes drier/microwave), and new perils (AIDS).  We have further been aware of legends presenting cultural judgments (even if, at times, ambiguous) on behavior, and that these, too, reflect cultural changes.  Certain legends are showing an escalation of danger–in both the level of behavior which puts one in jeopardy and in the penalty.  Changes in punishable behavior appear for example in legends of a couple becoming stuck during sexual intercourse.  From a fourteenth-century couple being too near a church, it has moved to a gay couple having intercourse in the back pew in a church or a straight couple doing it on the alter.  It takes more to shock us and thus to incur legendary vengeance.  The same occurs in the shift from the young couple’s premarital sex in the “Surpriser Surprised” to the single woman’s self-gratification and bestiality in the “Peanut Butter Surprise.”  These narrative changes are to be expected with the changing mores.

However, as already mentioned, there’s also an escalation in the hazards people face, particularly in the “Ew, gross” factor.  For example, the person ejaculating into the mayonnaise at a fast food restaurant became a person with AIDS ejaculating into the mayonnaise, became three or four people (one of whom has an STD) ejaculating into the Chinese food.  (A confluence of xenophobia, food contamination, and disease legends is creating new, more potent hybrids.)  Rumors of spider eggs in the Bubble Yum have turned into stories not only of roach eggs in the tacos but of the eggs maturing and hatching in the victim’s mouth.  Warnings to young women have escalated from stories about Rohypnol, the “rape drug” which causes unconsciousness and amnesia, to stories about Progesterex, which adds permanent sterility to the mix.

The latter group of legends reflects changes not in a culture’s moral values but rather in its aesthetic expectations.  Moreover, the escalation of danger is accelerating faster than the escalation of punishable behaviors.  I conjecture that he accelerating escalation is not a simple matter of updating legends, of keeping them current, but has to do with changed demands of narrative, comparable to the bigger, better thrills of sex and violence required in movies and television and that the new, revised variants act as a booster shot for warnings to a quickly bored and blasé audience.


“Ostensive Healing: A Pilgrimage to the San Antonio Train Tracks”

Carl Lindahl


Ostension–the process through which people live out legend, making it real in the most palpable sense–has come to be understood as the most terrifying evidence imaginable of the negative potential of folk narrative.  Linda Dégh’s landmark essay, “Does the Word ‘Dog’ Bite?” (1982), examined ostension primarily as a criminal act: In Houston in 1978, for example, “Candyman” O’Brien used legends of tainted Halloween candy as a cover to poison his own son on Halloween night.  Subsequent studies have dwelt upon the horrors that result when legends become scripts for people compelled to personify the frightening forces that intrude upon the innocence of everyday life and drag away victims who never return.

Nevertheless, there is ample evidence that ostension can transcend horror and inspire a sense of wonder with in those who bring legends to life.  Like role-playing criminals, would-be saints create for themselves a scripted world infected with violence, but the saint enters that world ostensively as the victim rather than the villain, and in the process of death is transformed into a spiritual hero.  Similarly, pilgrims to such shrines as Saint Patrick’s Purgatory pass through a ritualized death and resurrection, mortifying themselves into another world that they regard as far better, not far worse, than the world they have temporarily left behind.

This paper examines a phenomenon in which legend-tripping blends into ostension, and in which ostension inspires both terror and wonder.  Lydia Zamora, a student at the University of Houston, is one of thousands who have driven by night to an isolated railroad crossing in San Antonio, to park their cars on the tracks, at a spot where a group of elementary school children were killed when their school bus stalled and was struck by a train.  Lydia’s journey was, however, much more a legend pilgrimage than a legend trip.  She was not out on a date or a joy ride.  Rather, she traveled with her extended family.  Three generations of Zamoras rented a van, reserved a motel room, and drove 200 miles from Houston to San Antonio for the express purpose of experiencing a miracle at the train tracks, where they stopped their car, sprinkled talcum powder on the trunk, and sat waiting for the ghostly children to push their car off the tracks, leaving handprints in the powder.  Lydia’s interviews with family members reveal powerful feelings about their journey: the great majority regarded the trip as a religious experience through which they sought not to test their faith but to use it.  Some experienced both the thrill of a scary story and a deeply spiritual sense of well-being.  Some experienced two kinds of healing: in assuming the role of potential victims, the Zamoras filled the need of the children’s souls to save others, an act through with the Zamoras in turn saved themselves.


“Crazy Cat Ladies and Kitten-Killing Men: Gender Issues in Feline-Focused Legends”

Lynne S. McNeill

Utah State University


Long after the days when lonely older women with cats were burned at the stake as witches, society is still not ready to accept feline‑loving eccentric females.  The "crazy cat lady" as she is commonly known is a legendary figure that most people expect to find, and therefore always do find, in their own neighborhoods.  Defined by her advancing age, the filth of her abode, her apparent eccentricities, and her abundance of cats, the crazy cat lady is a source for local legends around the country and possibly around the world. Interestingly, women who meet as few as two or even only one of these criteria often find themselves filling the role of this traditional community figure in the minds of their neighbors; people clearly want a crazy cat lady in their neighborhoods and will fill in the blanks when necessary to accommodate this desire.

The connection of cats to women is nothing new; history, religion, jokes, and folk speech offer abundant examples of women being represented by or connected to cats.    Men on the other hand have a much different role in cat legends.  While women are usually found to be "in cahoots" with the cat, men are often found engaged in such activities as burying kittens up to their necks in the ground and mowing over their heads with a lawn mower, or tossing cats and the air and shooting them before they hit the ground.

The difference between men and women’s relationships with felines illustrates an interesting point: women are allied with the animal that men are violently against.  I feel that because the cat alone is often a powerful figure in legend and folk belief, the opposing relationships this animal has with men and with women serve as insightful illustrations of the greater power struggle between the genders.

This paper explores the nature of this power struggle as illustrated in cat legends and seeks to determine the ways in which the cat's unique position as both a supernatural and natural creature allows it's perceived power to be transferred to others and why women are so often the recipients of this transference.


“Telugu Legends Related to Place Names”

G.S. Mohan

Bangalore University


The main objective of this paper is to explain toponomical significance of some of the Telugu legends.  Legend being a fact or fiction, which sets in the past and centers on remarkable incidents, becomes responsible in the formulation of place names in any given society and region.  There are innumerable place names in Telugu, the language spoken in the state of Andhra Pradesh originating with the background of legends.  A study of the place names and the significant role of legends in the formation of place names reveals many interesting facts.  An attempt has been made in the paper to study various factors involving the formation of place names.

In Andhra Pradesh, mainly there are three geographical regions, one in the north (Telangana), one in the East (the coastal region) and another one in the West (Rayalaseema).  All these three regions have a history of their own, both oral and written, playing an important role in deciding the name of a place.  For example, the dry, hilly regions of Rayalaseema give rise to particular type of legends and further these legends take the form of a place name.  Such interesting instances are taken note of and this type of study leads to an important contribution to oral history.

There are varieties of place names with legendary background such as women sacrificing for the sake of her village, geographical regions such as Puttaparthy (a place of ant-hills) due to the curse of a serpent, villages in the name of the rulers (bukkarayasamudram), places of famous forts (rayadurgam) etc.

It is significant to note that village goddesses who are worshipped in all the places of South India as Mother Goddess are mostly women who sacrificed themselves to the cause of the people.  Some of them are boundary goddesses, some of them are legendary personalities who did something extra-ordinary, and some of them are women who entered the funeral pyre of their husband.  These legendary incidents form the basis for place names.

An attempt has been made in the paper to study the transformations in the legends leading to renaming of places, modernity influencing the renaming of legendary place names, and linguistic changes in the place names due to the influence of Sanskrit, Persian, English, French and other languages.

The main objective of the paper is to see how the legendary place names and the stories involved in them contribute to oral history.


“Castration Stories and the Old Order Amish of Wisconsin: Tracking a Rural Legend”

Dail M. Murray

University of Wisconsin-Marinette


The first version of the story, which surfaced in 1979 in Vernon County, Wisconsin, was this: The son of a prominent local farmer impregnated the daughter of an Amish neighbor.  In retaliation, a group of Amish men seized the young man one night, dragged him behind his daddy’s barn, horse whipped him and castrated him.

As a cultural anthropologist living near the Amish for 20 years, I have been intrigued by this particular tale: its diffusion, the versions that appeared in nearby communities several years later, and what it may reflect, albeit indirectly, about perceptions of the Amish and their economic impact on a rural place.

The legendary character of this particular oral drama accrues from the proportions of social response to it.  The local sheriff made a personal visit to the purported victim due to the number of calls his office had received about the rumored incident.  The news director of a popular radio station in La Crosse, Wisconsin, sent a reporter to nose around in the territories to see what she could find.

In the first version, the victim was specific and well known, the son of the farmer who, acting as an entrepreneur, sold ten farms to the Amish families who first established the settlement in the mid-1960s.  Some folks “blamed” this particular man (and by broad stroke implication–his entire family) for the “Amish invasion.”

Several years later, while teaching in nearby county where there is a smaller Amish settlement, my students told me another version of the story, which, like the classic urban legend, concerns, a “friend’s cousin,” or “a guy from the next ridge over.”

What does it say, this tale of unmanning, of impotence at the hands of the Amish, about unarticulated anxieties about the Amish in general?  I don’t know.  But I would enjoy discussing some possibilities with people who have studied cultural phenomena such as this.


“Micro Study on Contemporary Legends of The Royalaseema Region in South India

M. Ramanatham Naidu

Karnataka State Open University


The present study is an effort to examine the local legends in the socially and culturally rich but economically poor Royalaseema Region namely Chittoor District of Andhra Pradesh.  The researcher proposes to report the research findings of a part of the intensive and extensive fieldwork done to collect and document legends (in oral tradition) in the Chittoor Region.  The task of research spanned six years from 1993 to 1999.  This study covers legends in oral history in the region covering place names, water bodies, hills, forts, caves, stones and village deities.  The data collected and discerning interpretation of legends have revealed irrefutable evidence leading to facts and events hitherto suppressed because of historical forces.  The researcher will present legends and findings based on these which will shed new light on the societal living, culture and history of the region.

The research paper will report findings of the legends and analysis in a few cases to highlight the rich legends which have survived in the oral tradition and not withstanding the British imperialist and post independence days.  This researcher found irrefragable evidence with regard to life of people in settlements (Nagari’s) after the war of Thalikote (1565) which were headed by Chieftains locally known as Doras.  After 18th century, the British rulers razed the Nagari’s and it is believed that the inhabitants were chased to forests.  Living legends rife in the region reveal history in their own way.  Six years of the research in the area has strongly convinced this researcher that these legends must be taken up for a serious examination by linguists and Anthropologists.  The findings, I believe will reveal a layer of history hidden under the garbled versions of local history distorted by eurocentric writers and their followers.  The paper will present variety of legends hitherto unpublished and analyzed them to throw more light on this very significant but totally neglected area of research.

Based on the findings of this study it suggests that there is a greater scope for undertaking many more studies on legends in the culturally regions like Rayalaseema.  It can also suggested that what ever the hearsay information on legends is available may be recorded for understanding the palegars in a comprehensive manner.  All these will help the researchers who pursue local legends.


“Ghost Rockets in the Sky: Phantom Missiles of the Forties”

Bodil Nildin-Wall & Jan Wall

Folkminnesavdelningen, SOFI


From 1933 to 1937 rumors of a Ghost Pilot were rife in Sweden, Norway and Finland. During the winter of 1933 and 34 many reports of a foreign airplane that had been heard and seen over the northern parts of the three Nordic countries reached authorities and newspapers. Characteristic for the Ghost Pilot was that he flew round in circles and lit mountaintops in the wilds with a strong searchlight. He was mostly considered a light phenomenon.

In 1946 another light phenomenon that was reported from over the Nordic countries attracted a far more extensive international attention than had the Ghost Pilot. The second World War lay between the phenomena and the Cold War had started. The first reports of bright balls of fire in the sky came in February and during the spring and summer of that year they steadily increased in number. Military circles considered it unlikely that all the sightings could be explained as natural phenomena such as meteors. There are depositions that describe metal objects shaped like airplanes or cigars.  In Sweden a military investigation group was constituted.

Newspapers wrote of ghost airplanes, ghost rockets and ghost bombs. The objects were said to be able to move at different speeds and to be able to accelerate as well as change their directions.

A theory that was considered highly plausible was that the rockets were a further development of the German V-bombs. German scientists who had worked with the V-bombs were supposed to have continued their experiments in Soviet Russia after the war. Now rockets were said to be launched over the Nordic countries from Peenemûnde or the frontier between Finland and Russia. Especially during the months of summer there were of very large number of sightings. During four days in July the Swedish defense staff received 300 reports and towards the end of summer nearly 1.000 observations had been registered.

A peculiar quality of these Ghost Rockets were that they showed a tendency to explode and dissolve completely leaving no debris, or crash into lakes at high speed. The military made a very thorough investigation of one of these latter cases but could find no trace of the rocket that eyewitnesses had seen and heard crash into the lake.

After the climax in July the number of reports decreased and ceased totally at the end of 1946. It was never fully explained, what had frightened the people in the Nordic countries that year. It is quite clear that some of the observations had been of meteors, but they cannot all be explained in that way. Many newspapers continued their speculations on Soviet missiles. In international press the rockets were linked to a Swedish-Russian trade agreement. With the help of the Ghost Rockets Sweden was to be frightened into delivering enormous consignments on credit.

Are there other explanations?


“‘The secret’s in the sauce’: Legend as Joke/Joke as Legend in Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café”

Cathy Preston

University of Colorado, Boulder


Set in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1985, but also nostalgically inscribing the community “doings” of Whistle Stop, Alabama from 1924 forward, Fannie Flagg’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café (1987) celebrates story-telling as being mixed media (oral and print), mixed genre (personal narrative and life history, tall tale, joke, legend, local news, novelistic narrative), and multivocal (in addition to the novel’s omniscient narrator, many characters–variously situated by differences in gender, sexuality, age, class, and race–in this novel tell stories).  In relation to legend research, it is precisely this mix of media, genre, and voice that intrigues me (see Smith 1981, Bennett 1989, Oring 1996[1990]).

At the center of the story is the developing friendship between Evelyn Couch (a middle-aged woman who is overweight, menopausal, afraid of death, afraid of life, afraid of her body, and afraid of being called names) and Mrs. Cleo Threadgoode (a feisty, eighty-six-year-old woman who doesn’t seem to be afraid of much of anything).  Mrs. Threadgoode’s storytelling recreates the world of Whistle Stop, Alabama for Evelyn, and it is through her connection with the characters of that world (in particular, lesbian partners, Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison) that Evelyn comes to terms with her own life and body.  In other words, in Flagg’s novel storytelling is good medicine/therapy.

While the novel has its tragic moments, its overall tone is that of a comic celebration of life, which is ultimately disruptive and contestive of the status quo.  Comedy is primarily established through multivocal performances (sometimes narrative, sometimes enacted) of tall tales (for example, a story about a lake that freezes around the feet of a flock of geese that in turn fly away taking the lake with them), practical jokes (for example, putting poker chips in the collection basket at the Baptist church), and legends (for example, two young women wearing “Elvis is not dead” t-shirts slip their car into a parking place that Evelyn has been waiting for, and when confronted by Evelyn, comment that they are “younger and faster” to which Evelyn responds by running into their car several times and saying, “I’m older...and have more insurance” (see, Brunvand’s Type-Index, 1993:326).

Traditional legends and variations there on, as well as invented legends, abound in Flagg’s novel.  While some (like that mentioned above) are enacted, others are reported as news in the local weekly bulletin (”My other half tells me that when he was on his run to Nashville a few days ago, he heard tell of a fellow who bit down on a blasting cap by mistake and blew his lips off”) or shared in conversation (“And she said that while the doctor was examining all her insides, he picked up her liver to get a close look at it, and dropped it right on the floor, and it bounced four or five times before they got it.  Mrs. Adcock said that she suffered with terrible backaches ever since, because of it”).  When performed conversationally in the novel, the legend may or may not be believed as true by its interlocutors, while for the reader the larger framing of the novel situates the legends as jokes and practical jokes.  It is the function of the shifting frame between legend as belief tale and legend as joke that this paper will explore.  In particular, this shifting frame will be analyzed in relation to the central legend/joke of the novel–that of Frank Bennett’s cannibalized body (a tale that merges 1. white people’s beliefs about the traditional foodways of people with black bodies with 2. contemporary legends told about foreign matter served as restaurant food).


“‘Cry, Lady, Cry’:  Cemetery Statues and Legends in Historical Context

Jeannie B. Thomas

Utah State University


In order to better understand legends about gendered statues in cemetery, I began looking at the material culture associated with them. I visited cemeteries across the United States in order to look for patterns in the statuary.  Ultimately, this interest led me to England and France to look for the statues that are the antecedents of the American statues, which are the subject of legends.  As I walked through these cemeteries in Europe and America, certain patterns became obvious.  In this paper, I will present examples of the kinds of legends I looked at, both through legend texts and a student‑made video about one of these legends known as the “Weeping Woman.” I will also used slides to talk about the patterns I saw in the statues associated with the legends, and I will place the statues in their historical context. The legends that I study are often told about portrait statuary, or to be more specific, depictions of surrogate female mourners.  These surrogate mourners and portrait statuary represent a particular set of cultural attitudes.  The gravemarker has long been known among those interested in material culture as an indicator of worldview and shifts in worldview.  Tracing a brief history of the changes in gravemarker design and the changes in worldview that innovations represent will allow me to place the gendered monuments in the larger cultural march of images in the cemetery.  Then I will discuss how the monuments (and their legends) fit and reflect larger cultural patterns.

Since the statues that are the subject of contemporary legends are largely influenced by European customs, my brief historical overview will begin with some of the ancient, influential civilizations of Europe: the Greeks and Romans.  I will start by focusing on the physical context of the statues‑‑burial places‑‑and I will discuss what these places and the kinds of markers they housed reveal about cultural attitudes.  For example, I deal with specific questions like, “How did we move from a statue depicting a rotting, worm‑infested decaying corpse to the frequently eroticized and idealized portraits of nude or semi‑nude women?”  Finally, I’ll talk about the cultural notions that the nineteenth‑century statues‑‑which are the subject of contemporary legend‑‑embody and how these notions fit with the cultural attitudes apparent from the twentieth‑century legends told about them.


“The Heterosexual Transmission of AIDS in Legend and Reality”

Jeffrey S. Victor


This paper will compare contemporary legends about the heterosexual transmission of AIDS and research on the interpersonal and biological realities of the heterosexual transmission of AIDS.

I will first present narratives of the “AIDS Mary” and “AIDS Harry” contemporary legends, in order to identify the interpersonal and biological expectations that these legends communicate.  Then, I will describe the circumstances of an actual mini-epidemic of the heterosexual transmission of AIDS.  The case is that of Nushawn Williams, a young Afro-American man, who spread AIDS to eleven teenage girls in Jamestown, New York, in 1997.

The author is a college professor in Jamestown and conducted a research project immediately after the Nushawn Williams case became public.  I first conducted 30 interviews with local youth workers and community opinion leaders about community attitudes towards AIDS and people with AIDS.  In a second, follow-up research study, I supervised research interviews with 30 teenage girls, whose behavior put them at high risk for contracting AIDS.

I will present some of the findings of that research concerning local beliefs about why and how Williams was able to transmit AIDS to so many teenage girls (most of whom were white).  This will include local speculations about the motives of Williams and of the teenage girls, and the nature of their relationships.  I will also present the speculations of local health official about how Williams was biologically able to transmit AIDS to so many heterosexual partners, in the light of the low incidence of heterosexual transmission in the United States.

Finally, I will examine scientific research on the heterosexual transmission of AIDS, in response to certain central questions.  Why is the heterosexual transmission of AIDS relatively uncommon in the United States and in Europe, while it is epidemic in Africa and Asia?  How can the biology of heterosexual transmission be so different in different areas of the world?  What kind of heterosexual contact is necessary to transmit AIDS; vaginal, oral or anal sex?  In the United Sates, to what extent is AIDS being spread to many partners by prostitutes?  In the United States, to what extent is AIDS spread to many partners in heterosexual relations between promiscuous teenagers and youth?  Finally, does the Nushawn Williams case presage an epidemic of the heterosexual transmission of AIDS among teenagers?


“Examining the Legendary Base for the Telephone Road Sub Culture’s Personal Experience Narratives”

Lee Winniford


Like other recovery groups, organized generally within twelve-step programs, the recovery community that fans out westward and eastward from Telephone Road constitutes a distinctive sub culture, living and interrelating in terms of values, beliefs, and modes of behavior that are often strikingly at variance with the culture at large.  In all recovery groups, storytelling–or the construction and sharing of a personal narrative–is the primary means through which control over addiction is achieved, a process of life and death significance; such sharing accounts for the cohesiveness of the group.  This emphasis on storytelling is especially pronounced in the Telephone Road community because it consists primarily of blue-collar workers who come from a wide range of racial, ethnic, educational and religious backgrounds–making the sharing of stories the most effective means of communication.

To an outsider, this emphasis on the sharing of first-person narratives would be immediately obvious.  Portions or selected episodes from such narratives are shared in one-on-one conversations or in casual group discussions; the narratives are presented in their entirety from the podium in speaker meetings.  Much less obvious is the general legendary base of third person lore–only gradually accessible at an insider level–which shapes and informs first-person performances.  This lore’s very inaccessibility reflects the group’s valorization of the Present–“one day at a time”–and its absolute respect for each individual’s ownership of his or her first-person narrative.  Oddly, Truth is conceptualized exclusively in terms of the Present and of each individual’s own perception of his or her life within the fairly rigid paradigm of the recovery narrative.

Nevertheless, there are third-person legends (whose “truths” are neither analyzed nor debated) about the group’s founders, even while these men’s first-person narratives in The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous remain inviolate–as well as legends that recount events in the group’s early history or demonstrate certain AA principles.  There is a legendary Telephone Road (quite apart from the historical Telephone Road of the past or present) that shapes the beliefs and behaviors of the people who participated in its excesses and are “recovering” therefrom.  There are third-person stories about “legendary” figures such as Carney Mary and Waterfront Joe.  There are local legends connected with the area’s detox centers and half-way houses.

This paper will examine the intricate connections between the mostly inaccessible legendary base of the Telephone Road recovery community’s cultural system and the more obvious fist-person narratives through which its members interact.



FOAFTALE Miscellany


Australian HIV Legend

Albert Braunstein


Last week I was sent an email purportedly from the Australian Red Cross about someone contracting HIV from needles in movie theatres.

"HIV Warning - A few weeks ago, in a movie theatre in Melbourne, a person sat on something that was poking out of one of the seats. When she got up to see what it was, she found a needle sticking out of the seat with a note attached saying... "You have just been infected by HIV". The Disease Control Centre in Melbourne reports many similar incidents have occurred in many other Australian cities recently. All tested needles are HIV Positive.

 The Centre also reports that needles have been found in the cash dispensers in ATMs. We ask everyone to use extreme caution when faced with this kind of situation. All public chairs/seats should be inspected with vigilance and caution before use. A careful visual inspection should be enough. In addition, they ask that each of you pass this message along to all members of your family and your friends of the potential danger. We all have to be careful at public places! This is very important. Just think about saving a life of someone even you don't know by forwarding this message. Please take a few seconds of your time to pass it along."

When I checked with the Red Cross they confirmed that it is a hoax and that a similar message had been circulating in the USA since 1998.

I also asked a friend who is an HIV specialist and he said that he has not heard of anyone contracting HIV from needles in movie theatres in Melbourne or anywhere else. Furthermore, the technology for detecting HIV in dried blood in syringes is very dodgy so the report that "All tested needles are HIV Positive" is implausible. The Victorian Department of Health have also confirmed that it is a hoax.



Escape From New York

Sam Umland


One of my students brought to my attention an alleged internet rumor that MGM was going to digitally alter John Carpenter's Escape From New York prior to releasing the Special Edition DVD later this year or early next. For those who by chance do not know the film, a group of terrorists hijack Air Force One and fly it into one of the World Trade Center Towers in an attempt to kill the President. I've heard no rumors about any possible influence the film may have had on the terrorists who performed the Sept. 11 attacks (highly unlikely). For those interested in the story, go to:


[and from DVDfile…, mjk]


Yesterday, we reported on an alleged news item quickly spreading around the Internet regarding possible digital alterations to the upcoming DVD special edition of John Carpenter's Escape From New York, due sometime next year, MGM has responded to the story and stated that it is not true. Reportedly director John Carpenter was quoted as telling Fangoria magazine that the DVD would be reedited following last month's terrorist attacks on 9-11. But according to an MGM spokesperson, "We have no plans nor did we ever have any plans" to alter or change Escape From New York in any form. Neither John carpenter's office nor Fangoria magazine confirmed this alleged story, so we can chalk this one up to just another Internet rumor. Stay tuned for any further word.



Parody Internet Warning

Norine Dresser


I don't mean to alarm anyone, but...

Don't go to the bathroom on October 28th. CIA intelligence reports that a major plot is planned for that day.  Anyone who uses the bathroom on the 28th will be bitten on the butt by an alligator. Reports indicate that organized groups of alligators hired by Bin Laden are planning to rise up into unsuspecting Americans' toilet bowls and bite them in the butt while they are doing their business.

I usually don't send emails like this, but I got this information from a reliable source. It came from a friend of a friend whose cousin is dating this girl whose brother knows this guy whose wife knows this lady whose husband buys hotdogs from this guy who knows a shoeshine guy who shines the shoes of a mailroom worker who has a friend who's drug dealer who sells drugs to another mailroom worker who works in the CIA building. He apparently overheard two guys talking in the bathroom about alligators and came to the conclusion that we are going to be attacked.

So it must be true.



Urban Legends that are True

Brian Chapman


[The following originally appeared in the Weekly World News, 2 Oct 2001, pp. 12-13. But I thought that this was worth quoting in full. mjk]



By Michael Chiron


NEW YORK -- Ever hear the one about alligators living in the sewers of New York City? That's just one of the dozens of so-called urban legends that have been dismissed by experts as mere myth for years -- and turn out to be perfectly true!

"Many of these tales have been kicking around so long that details such as names, places, and dates have been lost -- and so sociologists assume they were made up," says researcher Brian Trigley, author of the upcoming book, True Urban Legends.

"But with some effort, it was possible to establish the origins of many of the stories."

Here, from the London-based expert, are nine urban "legends" that are totally true:

THE KILLER IN THE BACK SEAT -- You've heard a million versions of this --but it actually happened to Mary-Ellen Soterhand of Anniston, Ala., back in June 1974.

"I'd stopped on the road for gas and as I pulled away, I glanced in the rearview mirror and noticed this big brute of a man run to his car and jump in," Mrs. Soterhand, now 47, recalls in the book. "As I looked back, I saw that he was following me with this wild look in his eyes. I tried going faster to try and lose him, but he kept closing the gap.

"He was honking like a lunatic and waving at me to pull over -- I was terrified."

The chase went on for nine miles and ended when the frantic housewife pulled into her driveway. She got her husband, who charged out with his gun to confront the stranger.

"That's when the man pointed to my backseat -- where there was a creepy little guy clutching a meat cleaver," she said. "He turned out to be an escaped mental patient."

THE MEXICAN PET -- Animal lover Lucille Davisport never imagined she'd be enshrined in an urban legend when she adopted a tiny, pitiful-looking stray she found in an alley while visiting Tijuana, Mexico, in 1975.

The soft-hearted San Diego woman brought the animal she believed to be a Chihuahua home and treated "Pepe" to every luxury, even letting him sleep in her bed.

A few weeks later, when she took her pet to a veterinarian for his shots, she got the shock of her life: The vet told her Pepe wasn't a Chihuahua -- he was a Mexican sewer rat!

I SLEPT WITH THE WRONG HUBBY -- In 1986, a St. Louis couple Trigley calls only "Phil and Sara" were invited to a Halloween party. Sara said she was sick and couldn't go, sending Phil alone in his Devil mask and costume. But this turned out to be a ploy -- Sara wanted to test his fidelity. She showed up an hour later, masked and decked out as a sexy angel. Posing as a total stranger, Sara successfully seduced her hubby.

"We made love in a closet and then left separately," Sara, now 68, told the researcher. "When I got home I asked Phil if he had a 'good time' at the party, ready to blast him.

"He told me he'd been playing poker -- and had lent another guy his Devil costume!"

ALLIGATORS IN THE SEWERS OF NEW YORK -- To retired sewer worker Stan Lucowbiec, this is fact, not legend -- and he has a 10-inch scar on his butt to prove it!

"Back in the early '60s, tourists returning from Florida brought back cute baby alligators," says Trigley. "Later, many tired of them and flushed them down the toilet."

Most experts insist none of the reptiles survived. But in 1982, Lucowbiec, while supervising a crew in a sewer under 57th street in Manhattan, learned otherwise.

"A huge gator splashed out of the water and chased us," he said. "It nipped my rear."

THE TOOTHBRUSH SHOCKER -- A British couple named Bill and Francine Lorwood returned home from a two-week 1989 honeymoon in Jamaica to find their home had been robbed clean -- except for their toothbrushes and camera. For a couple of months, the newlyweds enjoyed the use of both. Then Bill had the film developed.

"One of the photos showed the mischievous thief mooning the camera – with the stems of the couple's toothbrushes sticking out of his butt," Trigley says.

THE DANCING DEVIL -- This oft-told tale took place in 1931 in a Mexico City nightclub.

A sexy senorita named Carmen Di Silva was delighted when a dashing stranger invited her to dance. He whispered sweet nothings in her ear as they danced the night away.

Near sunup, the stranger asked if she would be his, body and soul. Just when she was about to say yes, she noticed that instead of feet he had hoofs. "She screamed and he disappeared," says Trigley. "It sounds unbelievable, but 11 people witnessed this."

THE LIE-DETECTING HELMET -- When grilling a suspect who doesn't seem too bright, cunning cops in New York City really do use "The Helmet of Truth."

They slap a plastic helmet on the guy and every time he claims he's innocent, they tell him, "The helmet says you're lying."

"A stupid criminal will break down and confess -- although the helmet is in reality nothing more than a plastic kitchen bowl with some wires attached," says Trigley.

THE JINXED GUINEA PIG -- In 1990, Lenore Ussels of San Francisco purchased a pet guinea pig for her son. As she drove home over the Golden Gate

Bridge, the tiny rodent slipped out of its cage -- and as she tried to catch it, it scrambled inside her blouse.

"Miss Ussels stopped the car and, as she thrashed around, trying to dislodge the guinea pig, a Good Samaritan leapt out of his car and tried to help," says Trigley.

"Unfortunately for him, a passing truck driver thought the guy was attacking her and punched him out. In all the confusion, the guinea pig escaped."

THE CAT IN THE BAG -- A Danish couple named the Nielsens, vacationing in Fort Lauderdale in 1976, accidentally ran over a cat in their rented car. Seeing a day-care center nearby and afraid of traumatizing the tots, they stuffed the remains in a paper bag, which they left in the backseat, figuring they'd dispose of it at an appropriate dumpsite.

On the way, they stopped for a quick bite to eat and left their car unlocked outside.

While they were dining, they glanced through the window and were surprised to see an old homeless woman reach into the car and steal the bag.

"They followed her around the block and found the woman lying on the street with a crowd around her," says Trigley.

"She'd opened the bag and keeled over from shock!"




"LOUIE, LOUIE" DOESN'T HAVE A SINGLE CURSE WORD IN IT. False, says author Brian Trigley. The hit song by the Kingsmen alarmed parents back in 1963 because they couldn't understand the mumbling singers and were convinced the lyrics were dirty.

According to urban legend, there's actually nothing sexual about the song. "But," says Trigley, "the truth is, the band members can be heard singing the words, 'They f@#* all those girls all kinds of ways.'"

READING IN DIM LIGHT HAS NO EFFECT ON YOUR VISION -- Wrong! How this wacky idea got started is anybody's guess, but common sense tells you that straining to read tiny print in inadequate light will damage your vision over time -- and all the latest research confirms it.

CAPTAIN KIRK NEVER SAID "BEAM ME UP, SCOTTY" -- Nonsense! The intrepid space hero played on TV by William Shatner in the original Star Trek series uttered the famous line at least twice, the expert says.


[Editor’s note: I checked both with Amazon and with Books in Print and could find no reference to the book cited or to author Brian Trigley. Now is that an urban legend, or what? mjk]





Joel Best


Rebecca A. Weldon, "An 'Urban Legend' of Global Proportion:  An Analysis of Nonfiction Accounts of the Ebola Virus," Journal Of Health Communication 6 (2001): 281-94.


Kimberly R. McNeil, Olenda E. Johnson, and Ann Y. Johnson, "'Did You Hear What Tommy Hilfiger Said?':  Urban Legend, Urban Fashion, and African-American Generation Xers," Journal Of Fashion Marketing And Management 5 (2001): 234-40.


Diana Preston, The Boxer Rebellion. New York: Walker & Co., 1999.




Received at FTN

Mikel J. Koven


The FOAFtale News offices, well actually my office – let’s not make this sound any grander than it really is - has received two copies, so far, of the British magazine Magonia, which according to its front cover is dedicated to “interpreting contemporary vision and belief”. This publication deals primarily with debunking UFO, cryptozoological, and other strange belief-based phenomena. The editor is John Rimmer. Subscriptions are £5.00 in the UK, £6.00 in Europe and $13.00 for US-based subscribers (I’m assuming one should contact Mr. Rimmer himself for Canadian and other countries’ subscription rates).  All correspondence and subscriptions should be sent to John Rimmer, John Dee Cottage, 5 James Terrace, Mortlake Churchyard, London, SW14 8HB, United Kingdom. Magonia also have a web page which is worth checking out:



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:

January 2002


Next Issue Out:

February 2002


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 


Web page:


ISSN 1026-1001