5 of My Favourite Urban Legends

I DO NOT believe that Jamie Lee Curtis was born a hermaphrodite. I think it is probably one of the more blatantly spurious assertions I’ve ever heard. My husband, on the other hand, insists he thinks that one is true. (Mostly to wind me up, I suspect).

Richard Gere and the gerbil? Didn’t happen either.

“Life is so much more interesting with monsters in it. It’s the same with these legends. They’re just good stories” says Mikel J. Koven, a folklorist at the University of Wales.

Heather Whipps interviewed him in an article for Live Science (27/8/06) called “Urban Legends: How They Start and Why They Persist

“Urban legends are also good indicators of what’s going on in current society, said Koven, who is part of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research (ISCLR) and is editor of its peer-reviewed journal, Contemporary Legend.

“By looking at what’s implied in a story, we get an insight into the fears of a group in society,” he told LiveScience. Urban legends “need to make cultural sense,” he said, noting that some stick around for decades while others fizzle out depending on their relevance to the modern social order.

It’s a lack of information coupled with these fears that tends to give rise to new legends, Koven said. “When demand exceeds supply, people will fill in the gaps with their own information…they’ll just make it up.”

About.com has a list of the (current) Top 25 Urban Legends and the two I mentioned at the start of this post are amongst them.

Here are some other personal favourites

The Old Lady who dried her pet poodle in the microwave

An elderly lady apparently washed her miniature poodle and decided it would be quicker and better to dry him in the microwave. So she put her beloved little dog inside, set for “defrost” and turned it on.

A few moments later as she getting his lead to take him for a walk, she heard a muffled explosion from the kitchen…

Alligators in the New York sewers

Versions of this story have apparently been around since the 1920’s and 30’s. The story goes that families would illegally bring baby alligators home with them from vacation in Florida for their children to keep as pets, but flush them down the toilet when they grew too large for comfort. According to the legend, the alligators survived and bred within the sewers, feeding on rats and rubbish, growing to terrifying sizes.

Souvenir cactus full of poisonous spiders

The version I first heard of this story was that a family bought a strange and beautiful looking cactus on an overseas holiday and didn’t bother declaring it at airport customs so that they could keep it. They put it inside the house, in a prominent spot in the living room.

A few days later the cactus appeared to be “breathing” – the sides of the plant seemed to be moving in and out slightly. At first they thought nothing of it, but soon the “breathing” became more pronounced, so the father decided to call the local plant nursery and ask about it.

When he described the “breathing” phenomenon he had observed in the plant, The nursery owner was horrified, and told the him to told to “Get the cactus outside, out of the house! Immediately!!”. The father complied, dropping the phone and racing to get the plant out into the back yard.

He had just made it back to the house when the cactus erupted and thousands of baby spiders leapt out from inside it.

Organised organ thieves

In 1997, the following email began circulating

Subject: Fwd: Travelers BEWARE!!!!!!

Neighbors, beware!

Dear Friends,

I wish to warn you about a new crime ring that is targeting business travelers. This ring is well organized, well funded, has very skilled personnel, and is currently in most major cities and recently very active in New Orleans.

The crime begins when a business traveler goes to a lounge for a drink at the end of the work day.

A person in the bar walks up as they sit alone and offers to buy them a drink. The last thing the traveler remembers until they wake up in a hotel room bath tub, their body submerged to their neck in ice, is sipping that drink. There is a note taped to the wall instructing them not to move and to call 911. A phone is on a small table next to the bathtub for them to call.

The business traveler calls 911 who have become quite familiar with this crime.

The business traveler is instructed by the 911 operator to very slowly and carefully reach behind them and feel if there is a tube protruding from their lower back. The business traveler finds the tube and answers, “Yes.” The 911 operator tells them to remain still, having already sent paramedics to help. The operator knows that both of the business traveler’s kidneys have been harvested.

This is not a scam or out of a science fiction novel, it is real.

It is documented and confirmable. If you travel or someone close to you travels, please be careful.

Actually, it’s not documented anywhere and not one single case of this happening to a person has ever been confirmed.

“There is absolutely no evidence of such activity ever occurring in the U.S. or any other industrialized country,” says the United Network for Organ Sharing. “While the tale sounds credible enough to some listeners, it has no basis in the reality of organ transplantation.”

The Princess of Amen-Ra

My all time favourite urban legend had to be this incredible story…

The Princess of Amen-Ra lived some 1,500 yrs before Christ. When she died, she was laid in an ornate wooden coffin and buried deep in a vault at Luxor, on the banks of the Nile.

In the late 1890s, 4 rich young Englishmen visiting the excavations at Luxor were invited to buy an exquisitely fashioned mummy case containing the remains of Princess of Amen-Ra. They drew lots. The man who won paid several thousand pounds and had the coffin taken to his hotel. A few hours later, he was seen walking out towards the desert.

He never returned. The next day, one of the remaining 3 men was shot by an Egyptian servant accidentally. His arm was so severely wounded it had to be amputated. The 3rd man in the foursome found on his return home that the bank holding his entire savings had failed. The 4th guy suffered a severe illness, lost his job and was reduced to selling matches in the street.

Nevertheless, the coffin reached England (causing other misfortunes along the way), where it was bought by a London businessman. After 3 of his family members had been injured in a road accident and his house damaged by fire, the businessman donated it to the British Museum. As the coffin was being unloaded from a truck in the museum courtyard, the truck suddenly went into reverse and trapped a passer-by. Then as the casket was being lifted up the stairs by 2 workmen, 1 fell and broke his leg. The other, apparently in perfect health, died unaccountably two days later.

Once the Princess was installed in the Egyptian Room, trouble really started. Museum’s night watchmen frequently heard frantic hammering and sobbing from the coffin. Other exhibits in the room were also often hurled about at night. One watchman died on duty causing the other watchmen wanting to quit. Cleaners refused to go near the Princess too.

When a visitor derisively flicked a dustcloth at the face painted on the coffin, his child died of measles soon afterwards. Finally, the authorities had the mummy carried down to the basement. Figuring it could not do any harm down there. Within a week, one of the helpers was seriously ill, and the supervisor of the move was found dead on his desk.

By now, the papers had heard of it. A journalist photographer took a picture of the mummy case and when he developed it, the painting on the coffin was of a horrifying, human face. The photographer was said to have gone home then, locked his bedroom door and shot himself.

Soon afterwards, the museum sold the mummy to a private collector. After continual misfortune (and deaths), the owner banished it to the attic.

A well known authority on the occult, Madame Helena Blavatsky, visited the premises. Upon entry, she was seized with a shivering fit and searched the house for the source of “an evil influence of incredible intensity”. She finally came to the attic and found the mummy case.

“Can you exorcise this evil spirit?” asked the owner.

“There is no such thing as exorcism. Evil remains evil forever. Nothing can be done about it. I implore you to get rid of this evil as soon as possible.”

But no British museum would take the mummy; the fact that almost 20 people had met with misfortune, disaster or death from handling the casket, in barely 10 yrs, was now well known.

Eventually, a hard-headed American archaeologist (who dismissed the happenings as quirks of circumstance), paid a handsome price for the mummy and arranged for its removal to New York.

In April 1912, the new owner escorted his treasure aboard a sparkling, new White Star liner about to make its maiden voyage to New York.

On the night of April 14, amid scenes of unprecedented horror, the Princess of Amen-Ra accompanied 1,500 passengers to their deaths at the bottom of the Atlantic.

The name of the ship was “Titanic.”

So why wasn’t that in the movie??