No. 61                                                                                                                April 2005

ISSN 1026-1001




New Editor for FTN

Mikel J. Koven

University of Wales, Aberystwyth


I am very pleased to announce that we have a new editor of FOAFtale News. Gillian Bennett has graciously stepped forward and offered her services to the society by agreeing to be the newsletter’s editor. The newsletter will still be published here at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and I’ll still maintain the FTN webpage. She is currently looking into getting a new email address for FTN, but until that happens, please send all materials for inclusion to the old email address –  On behalf of the Executive Board for ISCLR, I would like to thank Gillian for stepping forward and taking this mantle on, and I’m sure you all will wish her the best success with this publication. Now lets send her some great stuff!




The Titanic Headline

Sandy Hobbs,

University of Paisley


A conversation at dinner recently in Aberdeen led me to return to a story I first looked into thirty years or so ago. It concerns the reporting of the sinking of the Titanic. The satirical magazine The Onion neatly summed up the role of the Titanic in popular consciousness with the cod headline: “WORLD’S LARGEST METAPHOR HITS ICE-BERG” (

The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 has been used for over 90 years to indicate not only a great catastrophe but also hubris (because of the supposed claim that the ship was unsinkable). Such events naturally give rise to stories and rumours. The web site gives the following examples:

The construction of the ship was at such a fast pace that at least one worker was accidentally sealed up in hull and left to die.

Catholic workers in Belfast almost stopped construction on the ship because the hull number 3909 04 seemed to spell out “NO POPE” when viewed in a mirror.

A cursed mummy that had already caused several deaths was in the cargo hold when the ship sunk.

The Titanic was the first ship to use SOS as a distress call.

One example of such a story which seems to be going strong is that a local newspaper reported the tragedy under the headline: ABERDEENSHIRE MAN DROWNED AT SEA: HE WAS A BUTCHER IN UNION STREET

I quote this from an article in The Times (Hamilton, 1982). The author had taken the trouble to check the local newspaper supposedly guilty of this extreme parochialism and found that in fact the headline it used was: MID-ATLANTIC DISASTER: TITANIC SUNK BY ICEBERG.

Even without checking, a reader of the local press would have suspected the headline Hamilton gave would be apocryphal. A butcher from Union Street would be referred to as an “Aberdeen” man not an “Aberdeenshire” man.

        Other examples I have seen quoted are more plausible but no more true:

Tome Shields in his Diary column in the Glasgow Herald (1987) cited it as an “old story”:             NORTH-EAST MAN DIES AT SEA.

More recently, the same journalist in the same newspaper, now entitled The Herald, and in collaboration with a colleague (Shields and Smith, 2001) cited it again but more explicitly questioned its reality by calling it “apocryphal”. Another journalist writing in the rival newspaper, The Scotsman (Kirkpatrick, 2004) also used the term “apocryphal” and said it “may or may not have made it into print”. His version was: NORTH EAST MAN LOST AT SEA – TITANIC.

        Growing up in Aberdeen, and on the look out for parochialism, I liked the story but my doubts about it grew as I became aware of the fact that similar claims were made about newspapers in other parts of Britain. After I mentioned it in an article in Glasgow News (Hobbs, 1973) it was suggested to me that I had got the location wrong, Greenock and Gateshead being suggested alternatives. A search of a variety of local papers failed to provide any evidence for this type of headline. However, I did find confirmation that many Scotsmen had been victims of the tragedy, including at least one from Aberdeen (Daily Record & Mail, 16 April 1912).

        A programme dealing with Norwich in the series A Place in History, broadcast on ITV (7 November 1974), contained an interview with a local journalist. He illustrated his claim that local people were inward looking by quoting a headline: NORWICH MAN DROWNED IN ATLANTIC.

        Referring to the chauvinism inherent in the attitudes of many French people have towards the Tour de France, Geoffrey Nicholson (1978, page 168) compared them to the authors of the headline: TITANIC DISASTER: AUNT OF BIDEFORD MAN FEARED LOST.

        A web search has made it clear to me that the story is still current. Amongst example I have found are the following. First, in a paper posted on there is an even more extreme version of parochialism, once again ascribed to The Press and Journal of Aberdeen: TITANIC SINKS: LOCAL MAN LOSES POCKET WATCH.

        Also a candidate for the description “extreme parochialism” is the headline cited at

The author, a former editor of the Bolton Evening News, said people often referred to a headline from his paper, which supposedly ran: NO-ONE FROM BOLTON LOST IN TITANIC SINKING.

A sermon posted at .html warned against being committed to our own agenda and not God’s. To illustrate the error of attending to the wrong agenda, the author reports having been told of the following headline on a Titanic report: GLASGOW MAN LOST AT SEA.

Another religious site - - contained a “Vicar’s Viewpoint” dated July and August, 2001, which had the version: ABERDEEN MAN LOST AT SEA.

Glasgow is a much bigger city than Aberdeen, so the implied parochial might seem less plausible. I found on an electronic forum at: a version where the story is ascribed to a much smaller town in North East Scotland: LOSSIEMOUTH MAN LOST AT SEA!

Dundee, a city about the same size as Aberdeen has also been cited. I found the following “probably apocryphal” headline at http://www.personal.dundee. - TITANIC SINKS! DUNDEE MAN FEARED LOST!

The Vice-President of the Newspaper Society in a speech in 2003 reported at http://www.newspaper. - said that “a remote, rural, weekly newspaper” (unnamed) ran a 48 point headline: LOCAL MAN LOST AT SEA.

The sub heading in 16 point italics supposedly referred to a total death toll of 1,516.

        I had undertaken this web search after the dinner table conversation I mentioned at the outset. Ian Hamilton, of Aberdeen magazine The Leopard, had made a suggestion about the origin of the story. He had heard it claimed that the words quoted had appeared, not in the newspaper headline, but on a newsvendor’s billboard.

        A few days later, he drew my attention to an article which had just appeared in the current issue of The Press and Journal, under the heading “P&J victim of urban myth over Titanic story” (Lindsay, 2004). The article reported that the organizers of an exhibition on the Titanic had great difficulty in accepting that the reason the paper could not supply a copy of the headline from its archives was that it had never appeared.

        The author also offered what she considered the “most likely explanation behind the myth”. Pointing out that the earliest reports of the sinking would not have contained information about specific passengers, she hypothesised that on a later date “a news bill outside a shop” might have read: TITANIC LATEST: NE MAN DEAD.

This explanation has a certain plausibility, but I have a reservation. Since a news bill is much less likely to be preserved than a newspaper, the chances of verifying this version are very small indeed.           

I have assumed so far that this story is essentially a statement about parochialism. In support of this I would cite the maiden speech in the House of Commons of Anne Begg, MP for Aberdeen South, in which she dispelled “the myth of the parochial nature” of the Aberdeen press by pointing out that the headline story was untrue (Hansard, 1 May 1997, column 741). It should be noted, however, that I found one version where another moral seems to have been intended. In a discussion of hype at, the following headline from an unnamed newspaper is given as “arguably the finest example of understatement”: J.J. ASTOR DROWNED IN LINER MISHAP.

        However, I suspect that parochialism is the most common target of those who tell the Titanic headline story. This raises the question of whether there are other headline stories aimed at ridiculing parochialism. Ron Mackay (1995), whilst accepting that The Press and Journal did not carry the Titanic headline, suggests that its account of the death of Charlie Chaplin had the headline: NAIRN WAS FAMOUS COMEDIAN’S FAVOURITE HOLIDAY SPOT.

Ethan Coen in the introduction to the published screenplay of the film Fargo (Coen and Coen, 1996) notes that Trotsky lived for a time in New York, this accounting for the headline which appeared in a local paper in October, 1917: BRONX MAN LEADS RUSSIAN REVOLUTION.

There are probably many more but are any as widespread as the Titanic headline?




Coen, Ethan and Coen, Joel (1996) Fargo. London: Faber and Faber

Hamilton, Alan (1982, 15 April) Sunk at last: Some myths about the Titanic, The Times.

Hobbs, Sandy (1973, 24 April) Aberdeen Man Drowned: Titanic Sinks, Glasgow News.

Kirkpatrick, Stewart (2004, 5 February) Journalism is a headline act, The Scotsman.

Lindsay, Morag (2004, 4 June) P&J victim of urban myth over Titanic story, The Press and Journal.

Mackay, Ron (1995, 23 July) Ron Mackay’s Week, Scotland on Sunday.

Nicholson, Geoffrey (1998) The Great Bike Race. London: Methuen

Shields, Tom (1987, 13 April) Diary, Glasgow Herald.

Shields, Tom and Smith, Ken (2001, 9 May) Diary, The Herald.




The Legend of Dog Lady Island

Daniel P. Compora

University of Toledo


I'll never forget the first time I heard of Dog Lady Island.  I was 12 years old and stranded at a friend's house during the Blizzard of 1978.  He told me the story which would be repeated to me, in its various forms, many times over the next several years.   In Monroe Michigan, a relatively small community located between Detroit Michigan and Toledo, Ohio, there lies a small, nondescript island that, for years, has been the home of Monroe’s most prevalent urban legend.  My friend told me that an old woman had lived on the island many years ago and, following the death of her husband, surrounded herself with many Dobermans.  The dogs were there to protect her, but one day they attacked her, leaving her incapable of speech and partially blind.  She became quite reclusive and jumped onto the cars of anyone who dared park near the island.  Several of his friends knew someone this had happened to.  At the time I was told this story, Dog Lady had recently been murdered by members of a motorcycle gang, and they were the new occupants of the island.  As a symbol of their presence, they allegedly kept Dog Lady's body in a coffin on the island itself.

Over the next several years, I continued to hear stories of Dog Lady Island, but there were many variations and explanations of the elements.  As a high school student, I became aware that nearly everyone knew about the island and its rather strange reputation.  Even though the stories of Dog Lady were not really believed by people of this age group, the island was still feared because it was the alleged "hang out" of a local motorcycle gang.  Until recently, when the island was cleared and used to host a concert by a local band, stories continued to circulate and the same basic elements I heard as an adolescent growing up in the early 1980s remained intact.

In every variation, Dog Lady inhabited a small island off of Dunbar Road near Laplaisance Road on Monroe’s east side.  The island is very small and nondescript; the entire area can be walked around in less than 15 minutes.  Supposedly, a house used to be located on the island, but Lake Erie flooding and the low level of the island make this highly unlikely.  No evidence of a house is present, but something resembling a small, cement foundation is. It is impossible to tell what this once was because of the plant growth in and around it.  The once isolated general location has now been commercially developed, but the island itself remains secluded.  The development has, however, seemed to reduce some of the fear associated with the island.  Almost everyone who lives in Monroe has been in the general area many times: this was not the case just ten years ago.  The development has made this a heavily travelled area and has reduced the isolation element of the story.  Even so, the island still is known by the dubious title.

When I first heard the story, I clearly remember the lady being referred to as Dog Woman.  Now, I am constantly corrected when I refer to her as Dog Woman instead of Dog Lady.  I guess that people feel that since she is the focus of so many stories, she has earned the title of lady. Still, her name is always associated with dogs but for various reasons.  The most popular reason is that, being a widow, she has surrounded herself with several large dogs (usually Dobermans, but sometimes German shepherds) for protection.   Others believe that she resembles and sounds like a dog and even eats off the ground with them.  This bizarre transformation from woman to dog occurred after the death of her husband.  A more interesting theory is that she has survived an attack by several large dogs that ripped her tongue out and left her speechless.

The theory of the dogs ripping out Dog Lady's tongue is important for another reason: she is always incapable of speech.  Sometimes the morbid attack is attributed to the motorcycle gang members, but either way, Dog Lady has been left speechless.  The only sounds she can make are grunts, which make her sound like a dog.  There are stories of a phone number that was supposedly Dog Lady's.  People would call just to hear an old woman who couldn't articulate the word hello properly.  I don't remember the number, but I do remember calling it.  I cringe when I wonder who we were terrorizing.  Several years later, a few of my high school friends told me that they too remembered calling the number and getting the old lady to answer.  Although I have heard this element several times, it is not one of the most common features, but is consistent with the Dog Lady's inability to speak.

Dog Lady has been known to jump on the cars of young lovers.  Often, people who get too close to the island are the victims of such attacks.  This element is similar to another Monroe folktale from the 1960's.  A Bigfoot-like creature, known as the Mental Road Monster, was also reputed to attack automobiles. Supposedly, hair samples were analyzed only to find that they were bristles from a paint brush.  Young lovers do often seem to be the target of these types of attacks, and the Dog Lady legends are no different.

Dog Lady supposedly sleeps in a coffin that has somehow made its way to the island.  In some versions, Dog Lady fails to survive the attack by the motorcycle gang or the dogs, and the coffin is her final resting place.   Others believe that it is merely the symbol of the motorcycle gang.  Almost every variation of the story mentions the coffin, possibly because there is an object on the island that does resemble a coffin lid.  I have seen the half buried object but cannot tell if that is what it really is.

Another important aspect of the stories is the presence of the motorcycle gang.  They are a real motorcycle club and are quite visible in Monroe County.  Many believe the island was their meeting place.  I have no proof if this is true, but the litter left on the island indicates that someone had been using the island for parties.  This gang does provide a source of legitimate fear.  While the Dog Lady myth has somewhat unbelievable, even supernatural, elements to it, the gang is indeed real. 

        The Dog Lady stories have stood the test of time in Monroe.  Even though the story is known almost exclusively to high school students and people of my general age group (ages 18 to 30), I have located a few older people that had some familiarity with the story.  One man claimed that she was a nice lady but, when I pressed him for a little more information, apparently didn't know a thing about her. Another woman gave me Dog Lady's name which, of course, could not be found in any city directory dating back to the early 1900's.  Many feel that there has to be some basis for truth, since so many people know about the island and its unique inhabitant.  There are certain consistencies which give the story a certain amount of credibility and truth: the credibility of being a true urban folktale.

The Dog Lady stories, even though there are many variations, do maintain several consistent elements: a bizarre, speechless widow, Dobermans, the motorcycle gang, a coffin lid, attacks on young lovers in a car, and an isolated island.  These elements seem to classify the Dog Lady stories as urban legends.  Jan Harold Brunvand defines an urban legend as "realistic stories concerning recent events (or alleged events) with an ironic or supernatural twist" (Hitchhiker xi).  The Dog Lady Island stories do have a certain amount of believability to them, but some elements, such as the eccentric inhabitant, seem implausible.

     Dog Lady is the central figure of the legend.  She is always an old, repulsive woman who is incapable of speech. Her inability to communicate removes two of the most important elements of humanity: the ability to speak and reason.  Dog Lady cannot be reasoned with and she cannot speak.  Her attacks are usually unprovoked and her resemblance to dogs is almost always noted.  As a theme, the image of strange women living alone is popular in many fairy tales, usually in the form of witches.  While I've never heard of Dog Lady being referred to as a witch, people often indicate that the events often happen on Halloween.  This does give her a witch-like presence to go with her unkempt, animal appearance.

One popular element in fairy tales and other oral traditions is the presence of Dobermans.  Bruno Bettleheim states that ferocious dogs in fairy tales "symbolize the violent, aggressive and destructive drives in man" (cited. in Brunvand, Doberman 16).  In some versions of the Dog Lady stories, Dog Lady has been attacked, either by men or Dobermans.  Dog Lady, indeed, appears to be a victim of a predominantly male society.  Being a widow, combined with the alleged attacks, seems to stress the helpless situation the old woman's husband has left her in.  Some versions have a very chauvinistic viewpoint:  Dog Lady reverted to acting like a dog following the death of her husband.  This version points out the perception of male superiority that exists in our society.  Even though she attacks the cars of young lovers, Dog Lady is as much a victim of her husband's desertion as she is of some strange Doberman attacks.

Usually, Dog Lady keeps the large dogs for protection. Jan Harold Brunvand states:

Dobermans are traditionally used as guard dogs, sometimes trained as attack dogs, and always look rather lean, hungry and active.  The Doberman's very demeanour, then, suggests something sinister, and if it isn't specifically a Doberman in the story, it's always some large and threatening-looking dog. (Doberman 17)

Being a widow, she possesses these dogs for the security she has lost.  She must have some protection from the many intruders that supposedly frequent the island.

     In most variations, teenagers venture out to the island to "make out" or to drink.  Despite the reputation of the island, teenagers are drawn to the island to do things they are not supposed to be engaging in.  As the adolescent moves into young adulthood with adult responsibilities, such as owning a car, he or she may seek an isolated place to explore social taboos, such as underage drinking and premarital sex.  The stories of the Dog Lady attacking the car may be somewhat of a moral reminder to the adolescent that he or she should not be doing these things.  As Brunvand relates:

One consistent theme in these teenage horrors is that as the adolescent moves out from home into the larger world, the world's dangers may close in on him or her.  Therefore, although the immediate purpose of many of these legends is to produce a good scare, they also serve to deliver a warning: Watch out!  This could happen to you!  Furthermore, the horror tales often contain thinly-disguised sexual themes which are, perhaps, implicit in the nature of such plot situations as parking in a lovers' lane.... (Hitchhiker 47-48)

Ironically, even with the reputation of the island, the elements of partying and sexual foreplay have not subsided. I know of many people who claim to have been to parties on the island, and although nobody I know has actually been to the island for sexual exploration, people have heard of the location being used as such.  Despite the horror stories, the island and its immediate area is still considered a "lovers' lane."  Bill Ellis supports this by stating:

Still more incongruously, many legend-trip sites are used for both scares and sex.  Some frequently visited locations, in fact, appear first to have been lovers' lanes, yet when frightening legends became current, visits for sexual experimentation did not diminish. (65)

The island is secluded enough to have once been a lovers' lane.  There are few, if any, streetlights and the lake could be considered romantic.  However, access to the island itself, by car, is very difficult if not impossible.  There really aren't many places to actually park off the island either: just the side of the road.  Young lovers may not be too picky, though.

The connection between adolescent sex and fear, which Ellis mentions, does seem to be present in the Dog Lady stories.  Perhaps the fear of sexual maturity and the anxiety over sexual exploration contribute to these stories. Dog Lady may be a tangible manifestation of previously unidentified fears.  It is also ironic that, in almost every version I have heard, Dog Lady never succeeds in entering the vehicle she has pounced but does succeed in thwarting an adolescent sexual encounter.  Her inability to penetrate the automobile may be symbolic with the adolescent's inability to complete the sexual encounter.  The car is like a virginal womb in that both are close to being violated, but the sanctity of both is preserved.  The car protects the naive adolescents from the dangers of the outside world.

The Dog Lady legend in Monroe, Michigan always contains certain essential elements even though there are several variations of the tale.  I do not doubt some of the elements, especially that people once partied on the island, or even once used the island as a lovers' lane.   In fact, the island was recently sold and marketed as a "party island."   I do not even dispute the presence of the motorcycle gang, though there is no proof that they ever actually frequented the island.   Though some elements are plausible, many, including the central figure herself, seem more mythic and legendary than factual.


Works Cited

Brunvand, Jan Harold.  The Choking Doberman.  New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1984.

---. The Vanishing Hitchhiker.  New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1981.

Ellis, Bill.  "Legend-Tripping in Ohio: A Behavioral Survey."  Papers in Comparative Studies 2

(1982-83):   61-73.



2 for 1 Powercards

Joel Conn

Glasgow, UK


[Editors note: I’m always a bit dubious about publishing full newspaper extracts, but as Joel’s commentary requires some contextualization about the story, and that the story is still available on-line at the below website, readers may wish to explore the news article first at the following URL.]


From: 119442002 (Accessed 21 October 2004)

Edinburgh Evening News

Thursday 31 Jan 2002


This article comes from Scotland’s Edinburgh Evening News, a middle market newspaper which is read and, as with most evening papers no doubt, swiftly discarded by commuters on the train or bus.

Powercards are thin, disposable credit-card size pieces of cardboard with a metallic strip on one side, not dissimilar from a photocopier card purchased in many academic libraries.

They are used to operate a special “powercard meter” and almost exclusively as a payment of last resort by those who have had previous financial difficulties and whom, were they not afforded the opportunity to pay in advance for electricity in this fashion, would otherwise risk having their supply disconnected.  Often the meter is calibrated so that part of the card’s credit is deducted not towards current supply but towards repayment of historic arrears. 

(Powercard meters are also found in some less desirable rented accommodation; although whether this is due to untrusting landlords or ScottishPower’s refusal to supply electricity on any other basis is unclear.  Students often tell of unwelcome night-time walks to a 24 hour shop to buy a powercard when the electricity suddenly goes off in their grimy flat.)

Those who require powercards are therefore those on low income and/or with existing debt problems for whom ‘something for nothing’ is especially attractive.  An ideal breeding ground for such a commercial urban legend…

A telling of this tale I collected is from a former colleague with whom I discussed the article shortly after its original publication in 2002.  She is a legal secretary, then in her late-20s, originally from one of Glasgow’s less salubrious areas.  She insisted she had witnessed her friend cut a powercard in two down the middle of the metallic strip and then successfully use it in her powercard meter. 

My colleague indicated that she was thus convinced powercards could be used in the way discounted by ScottishPower in the article.  She chose not to do so herself however as she was too nervous about carrying out such a dishonest act and also as she had heard that ScottishPower tallied up the supply through the meter against their records of value of cards purchased and charged you the difference anyway.

Who’s myth-ing whom?




Cite Unseen

Mikel J. Koven & Kelly V. Jones

University of Wales, Aberystwyth


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Wirtz, Kristina. “Santeria in Cuban Consciousness: A Religious Case of the Doble Moral.” Journal of Latin American Anthropology 9.2 (2004): 409-38.

Wood, Marcus. “Celebrating the Middle Passage: Atlantic Slavery, Barbie and the Birth of the Sable Venus.” Atlantic Studies: Literary, Cultural, and Historical Perspectives 1.2 (2004): 123-44.

Wortley, John. “The Legend of Constantine the Relic Provider.” In Rory B. Egan and Mark A. Joyal (eds.). Daimonopylai: Essays in Classics and the Classical Tradition Presented to Edmund G. Berry.  University of Manitoba Centre for Hellenic Civilization, Winnipeg, MB, 2004.

Zaradija, Kis, Antonija. “Between West and East: A Particularity of the Croatian Island Cult of St Martin.” Narodna Umjetnost: Hrvatski Casopis za Etnologiju i Folkloristiku/Crotian Journal of Ethnology and Folklore Research 41.1 (2004): 41-52.




Next Issue:


Deadline for submissions

June 30, 2005.


Next issue out

July 2005




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£20 to Mikel J. Koven, Department of Theatre, Film and TV, Parry-Williams Building, Penglais Campus, UWA, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 2AJ, UK. Institutional rates available upon request.  Members also receive Contemporary Legend, a refereed academic journal.  Some back issues of FTN are available on-line at, while others can be requested from the Editor.   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 



FTN Web page :

ISCLR Web page:


ISSN 1026-1001