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People magazine recently posted an article that it titled "N.Y.C.'s 8 Craziest Urban Legends Debunked."

But that title is misleading, because it turns out the article only lists 3 urban legends, and then the writer must have been unable to find anything else when doing a google search for "New York urban legends," because the other 5 things on the list are random bits of NYC trivia and paranormal speculation.

I guess I shouldn't have expected anything more from People magazine.

To save everyone the trouble of having to read the article, the 3 urban legends the writer managed to come up with were:
  1. Pennies thrown from the top of the Empire State Building can kill
  2. Alligators live in the city sewers
  3. The Yankees Wear Pinstripes Because Babe Ruth Wanted to Look Slimmer
And here's the rest of the items that made their way onto the list:
  • "There's a Secret Train Platform Beneath the Waldorf-Astoria" — not an urban legend, because it's true.
  • "The Restaurant One if by Land, Two if by Sea is Haunted" — People lists this as true!
  • "The City's Gargoyles Come to Life at Night" — This is on the list because gargoyles come to life in Ghostbusters, which was set in New York. People has concluded this movie was fiction.
  • "The Poem 'A Visit From St. Nicholas' was Inspired by N.Y.C." — Again, this is true.
  • "There Are Ghosts in Central Park" — People has decided this is "probably false."
Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 19, 2013
Comments (0)
If you're curious about what it would be like to live in a shanty town, but you don't actually want to set foot in a real shanty town, then perhaps the Emoya Luxury Hotel & Spa's "Shanty Town" might be for you. It's a "unique accommodation experience" located near Bloemfontein, South Africa. The Emoya website says:

Experience an unique stay at our Shanty Town (Mkukhu Villlage / Shack Village) where you have to use the famous "long-drop" outside toilet and make your own fire for hot water in the traditional "donkey". This is the first ever shanty town in the world equipped with under-floor heating and wireless internet access.




This falls under the umbrella of Reality Tourism. Other examples that I've posted about include the "Khmer Rouge Experience Cafe" in Cambodia, where you get to sample the kind of watery gruel that people ate in the Killing Fields, and Croatian Club Med, where tourists are issued convict uniforms and get to pound large stones with a sledgehammer.

A similar example that I once posted about on Weird Universe is London's Rough Luxe Hotel, where for over £200 a night you get to stay in a room where the paint is peeling off the walls.

(Shanty Town story via Gizmodo).
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Nov 27, 2013
Comments (0)
In the first months of 1945, the Allied forces began advancing rapidly on Berlin. But to the press correspondents tagging along behind the military, it seemed as if the going was actually quite slow. They had thought they would be in Berlin in a few days, but instead officers kept telling them that Berlin would be reached soon, but there was just one more stream, one more creek, one more canal, one more small river that had to be taken first.

So Bill Heinz of the New York Sun joked that the path to Berlin would be clear as soon as Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis was taken — the joke being that there was no such town or river. Soon Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis had become a symbol for the press corps of all the obstacles that remained in the way of the Army before Berlin could be reached.

And the story goes that one day the following scene took place. I'll quote directly from the 1945 AP story for the rest:

Once a group of war correspondent was being briefed at the division command post by the commanding general himself. He outlined the battle situation and the progress of his men and then looked around for questions.

"That's great, general," said Johnny Florea of Life Magazine, "but when will your troops take Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis?"

"What town was that?" asked the general, peering uncertainly at his map.

"Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis," repeated Johnny. "We can't get into Berlin before we take Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis."

"Oh," said the general confidently, with a wave of his hand toward the map, "my men will take it in a couple of days at most."

After he left, his public relations officer came over to the grinning correspondents and said with a puzzled expression:

"Say fellows, just why are you so interested in this Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis place?"

"There is an eight-story subterranean hotel there," answered Florea gravely. "Seven stories and big underground penthouse on the bottom. It's absolutely bombproof and shellproof. We want to use it for our press headquarters."

The public relations officer relaxed and smiled.

"Don't worry boys," he said. "We will take care of you. I will grab off that hotel for you myself just as soon as we take the town."

But so far — although many days have passed — no American troops have entered that last German stronghold of the war — historic, quaint, picturesque, cobblestoned old Unterstitzen on the Bleiweis.

[Deseret News - May 16, 1945]
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Nov 12, 2013
Comments (0)
I haven't seen anything on English-language sites about this, but according to dichtbij.nl (with a little help from Google translate), a site calling itself "Green Light District" appeared online several months ago.


It claimed that the municipality of Haarlemmermeer in North Holland was going to put small green windmills on top of 30,000 lampposts in order to generate power for the lights, thereby creating a "green light district". Any excess power would be routed to the electrical grid.

But it turns out that Haarlemmermeer didn't actually have any plans to put up these lamppost windmills. The site was a publicity stunt designed to promote the "Greenest Idea of 2013" campaign.
Categories: Places, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Oct 10, 2013
Comments (1)
The journalist-hoaxer Lou Stone always set his hoaxes in the small town of Winsted, Connecticut, where he lived. His most famous hoax was the time in 1895 when he sent out a report over the news wire claiming that a naked, hairy, wild man was loose in the town, causing reporters from New York City to descend upon Winsted, en masse.

There now appears to be a hoaxer (identity unknown) who draws similar inspiration from the town of DeQuincy, Louisiana (population 4000), because he or she keeps issuing fake press releases, detailing bizarre events in that town.

It began in April with a press release claiming that DeQuincy mayor "Maynard Wilkens" (who doesn't exist) had decided to remove all Koreans from the town. Then, in June, came a story about a zombie attack in the town, followed in August by the claim that DeQuincy school children were all being issued guns.

Now, most recently, comes a press release stating that DeQuincy has banned twerking:

Sep. 17, 2013 – NEW ORLEANS — The dance craze twerking has become such a problem in the small town of DeQuincy, Louisiana that city officials have made it illegal. Maynard Wilkens who is the Mayor of DeQuincy spoke to CNN about the ban on twerking that takes effect at midnight. "Twerking is a defiant act against Jesus and his teachings. The rest of the country can keep their heads in the sand about this sexual act before marriage, but not the great city of DeQuincy," Wilkens said. "We will still allow dancing in DeQuincy, just no jigglin', shakin' and 'dry humping' anywhere in our city limits." Bobby Joe Williams who is the sheriff in the town told reporters about the penalties for those caught twerking. "First time offenders will receive a mandatory 30 days in the county jail. After that it will be a much harsher punishment," Williams said. "We are taking this matter serious. They're ain't gonna be no twerkin' in my city, not no more." 24-year-old DeQuincy resident Brandon Adams told reporters he does not agree with the new law. "There is nothing to do in this town, seriously. Twerking is all us kids had left and now they're taking it away from us," Adams said. "I don't see what the big deal is. At least we weren't out causing trouble, sniffing glue and breaking stuff. I guess we'll now have to go back to doing that to keep ourselves entertained."

The real mayor of DeQuincy, Lawrence Henagan, wishes the hoaxer (or hoaxers) would quit, because each time one of these fake press releases starts circulating online, he gets phone calls from reporters requesting comments.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 18, 2013
Comments (0)
Rozel is a small town in the middle of Kansas. Population: 156. It was founded in 1886 — its main reason for existence being that it served as a stop on the Santa Fe railroad line. Throughout its history, it hasn't been in the news much. The one time it did receive national attention was back in 1897 when it supposedly disappeared, swallowed up by a giant sinkhole.

The report of its disappearance went out in November 1897 and appeared in papers nationwide, including the New York Times:

KANSAS TOWN SWALLOWED UP.
A Bottomless Pit Replaces Rozel on the Santa Fe Road

LARNED, Kansas, Nov. 18—Last night the railroad station at Rozel, on the Santa Fe Road, was supposed to rest on a firm foundation. This morning the place, which the night before had consisted of a station, two or three small elevators, and a few other small buildings, had disappeared completely from the face of the earth.

Investigation proved that the bottom had actually dropped out of the land upon which the village was situated and that it had disappeared into the bottomless chasm, the depth of which cannot be determined. The place was not inhabited.

The hole is about an acre and a half in extent, of an uneven oblong shape, with rough and almost perpendicular walls. It is filled to within about 75 feet of the surface with dark, stagnant-looking water, into which everything thrown, even lumber and light boards, immediately sinks. The depth of this water is unknown, as the longest ropes have as yet been unable to touch bottom.

However, the story of the town's disappearance came as a shock to the residents of Rozel, because as far as they could tell, the railroad station and surrounding buildings were all still there, intact.


Rozel circa 1900, sinkhole-free

No one is entirely sure who invented the story of the giant sinkhole, but the leading suspect is Dick Beeth, a station agent in Larned, the nearest town.

The story goes that the railroad company had recently decided to move the Rozel train depot elsewhere where it was more needed. So workers had loaded the entire building onto a boxcar and shipped it off. This left a shallow hole in the ground that filled with water when it rained. Locals who saw this hole joked that the depot had been swallowed by a sinkhole.

When Beeth heard this joke, it inspired him to send out a story on the telegraph wire claiming that the entire town had been swallowed by a sinkhole. Local Kansas papers picked up the story and ran it, and then it spread to the national news.


Map showing Rozel (on the far left) and Larned (on the right)

The "Rozel sinkhole" became a running joke in the region. But the fact that the story had been reported as fact in major newspapers continued to fool people for decades. In 1935, Professor Kenneth Landes, an assistant state geologist, wrote a booklet titled Scenic Kansas, in which he included the Rozel sinkhole as one of Kansas's more unusual sights, describing it as being one acre in size. A decade later, the Rozel sinkhole made its way into a Kansas school geography.

The town still remains standing to this day, its size and population not having changed much since 1897.
References:
  • "Hoary Western Kansas Hoax Still Being Accepted As Something True," (Oct 20, 1952), The Hutchinson News-Herald.
  • Richard J. Heggen. (2009). Underground Rivers.
Categories: Journalism, Places
Posted by Alex on Sat Jan 26, 2013
Comments (2)
For 100 years, a package marked "May Be Opened in 2012" has been sitting in a museum in Otta, Norway. It was given to the town of Otta by a local resident, Johan Nygaard, back in 1912. There's been enormous speculation about what the package might contain. Money? A diary? Stock certificates?



Finally, last Friday, the 100-year-mark arrived, and the town gathered to open the package. There was a live video feed, so the entire world could share in the excitement. The mayor carefully opened the package, peeked inside... and it turned to contain: "not-too-valuable notebooks, newspaper clippings, community council papers, a letter, small drawing and other bits of paper." In other words, nothing of any value. [time.com].

Some of the newspapers were dated 1914 and 1919, which means someone must have opened the package after 1912 to put them in there. Perhaps they removed whatever was in there and inserted junk in its place.

The affair reminds me the bequest of Francis Douce. When he died in 1834, Douce, who was a wealthy collector, willed a box to the British Museum with instructions that it be opened on January 1, 1900 — in 66 years. The British Museum did wait, as instructed, but when they finally opened the box, it contained nothing but a bunch of worthless papers. According to rumor, there was also a note from Douce in the box explaining that he thought it would be a waste to leave anything of greater value to the philistines at the British Museum.

I wonder if Nygaard had heard of Douce's bequest? He might have read about it in 1900 and decided to do something similar. Probably not. But it's a possibility.
Categories: History, Places
Posted by Alex on Mon Aug 27, 2012
Comments (8)
Bethel, Alaska is a small town. Travel writer Harry Franck, writing in the early 1940s, offered this description of it:
Sidewalk lounging New Yorkers would mistake Bethel at the mouth of the Kuskokwim for the end of the earth. But I found it interesting. For one thing I saw there my first Eskimos, at least in their native habitat. Bethel has a truck, too, and maybe a mile and a half of road... Then there is Bethel's boardwalk, a resounding wooden sidewalk that runs the whole length of the single-row town -- and beyond, vaulting a minor stream by transforming itself into a bridge, reverberating on into what I suppose Bethel calls its suburbs.


Bethel is on the left-hand side of the map, near Kuskokwim Bay


Bethel residents, circa 1940

Bethel isn't much bigger today. It currently has a population of around 6000, many of whom aren't permanent residents. And there are no roads connecting the town to the outside world. You've got to fly, walk, or travel by boat to get there. All of which makes Bethel an unlikely location for what's shaping up to be the most-publicized hoax of 2012.

At the beginning of June, fliers appeared around Bethel announcing that a Taco Bell restaurant would be opening there in time for July 4th. The flier said that positions were available at the restaurant, and listed a phone number for those seeking employment.

Bethel has only one fast-food restaurant, a Subway, so the news that Taco Bell was coming there created enormous excitement. Hundreds of people phoned the contact number -- only to discover they had been taken in by a hoax. The number connected them to a (very annoyed) local resident who wasn't affiliated in any way with Taco Bell.

The fliers turned out to be the result of what local police described as a feud between two Bethel residents. (The names of the two haven't been released... or, at least, I haven't been able to find them.) One of the feuders posted the fliers, listing the other guy's phone number, as a prank. The Anchorage Daily News described it as an "evil hoax."

There was great disappointment in Bethel when everyone realized Taco Bell wasn't opening there. But the story of the taco-loving town made national news, and thereby came to the attention of Taco Bell, whose PR people realized they had a great publicity opportunity on hand.

So Taco Bell arranged for a food truck to be flown into Bethel, and on July 2 gave away over 6000 free tacos to the townsfolk. Most people in the town seemed to appreciate the publicity stunt. Though one resident suggested Taco Bell might try adding some Alaskan-themed ingredients, such as moose or cariboo taco, to its menu.


The Taco Bell food truck arrives by air in Bethel


Bethel residents get their tacos

Taco Bell, of course, is no stranger to hoax-themed publicity. See the Taco Liberty Bell hoax of 1996.

Links: kyuk.org, ktuu.com, Washington Post.
Categories: Food, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 03, 2012
Comments (4)
Apparently it's because the original architects didn't factor in the weight of all the tourists who visit it.

Well, no. Not really. According to the BBC, the real reason is that, "The building's foundations require a steady stream of moisture from the Yamuna River to retain its strength - but the river is slowly drying up." But the headline immediately reminded me of the urban legend of the sinking library.

Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Mar 13, 2012
Comments (3)
The Telegraph recently listed the beach on Queensland's Fraser Island as among the most dangerous in the world. The reasons: sharks, jellyfish, strong rip currents, deadly spiders, the odd saltwater crocodile, and dingoes. But people around Fraser Island disagree. They don't dispute the presence of the sharks, jellyfish, rip currents, spiders, and dingoes. (Though they don't think dingoes are dangerous). But they do insist there are no crocodiles there, except for one — which is fake.

One of the locals owns a fake, but realistic-looking crocodile that he sometimes puts on the beach. Back in 2006 this crocodile made headlines in the Fraser Coast Chronicle when it scared some Korean tourists. And this seems to be where The Telegraph, five years later, picked up the notion that Fraser Island's beach is croc-infested. Links: Media Watch, Sydney Morning Herald.
Categories: Animals, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 25, 2011
Comments (4)
Time magazine offers a list of the Top 5 Disney World Urban Legends:
  1. Walt Disney built a special suite for himself in Cinderella's castle at the Magic Kingdom. (Apparently this wasn't true while Disney was alive, though there is a suite there now in which special visitors can stay.)
  2. Cinderella's castle can be disassembled or made to sink into the ground to protect it from natural disasters such as hurricanes.
  3. In the case of a death at a Disney park, no one can be declared dead until their body leaves the park itself.
  4. There's a whole other park beneath the Magic Kingdom. (No, but there are utility corridors beneath it.)
  5. Disney's body was cryogenically frozen and is kept beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney Land.
The list focuses specifically on legends pertaining to the amusement parks, which I guess is why it doesn't include the most persistent Disney urban legend, about the satanic messages hidden in their movies.

But about the last legend — Disney's body being kept frozen beneath the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. While this isn't true, apparently some people have been suspected of dumping cremated human remains at the ride, as posted by Tah in the hoax forum back in 2007.
Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 04, 2011
Comments (10)
A few days ago a fork appeared in the middle of a Pasadena road. It's located, appropriately, at a fork in the road, where Pasadena and St. John avenues divide. From the Pasadena Star News:

It turns out the fork is an elaborate - and expensive - birthday prank in honor of the 75th birthday of Bob Stane, founder of the Ice House comedy club, who now owns the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena...
The wooden fork, is "expertly carved and painted," to look like metal, Stane said. "It's anchored in 2 1/2-feet of concrete and steel. It's not a public danger - unless someone drives into it."

(Thanks, Bob!)
Categories: Art, Places, Pranks
Posted by Alex on Fri Nov 06, 2009
Comments (6)
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