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According to a rumor that circulates among the population of South Carolina's Hilton Head Island, there's a group of Mexican immigrants living on top of one of the local supermarkets. It may be the Bi-Lo Supermarket, or the Port Royal Plaza, or the Harris Teeter. Supposedly this tent city of roof-living immigrants tapped into the store's electricity and even diverted the air conditioning system to cool their tents.

The Island Packet News is pretty sure that the story of the rooftop tent city is just an urban legend:
by all official accounts -- and satellite imagery available through Google Maps -- there's never been a sign of anyone squatting on a grocery store roof on Hilton Head. The Sheriff's Office says it has never had any evidence of people living on the roof of the store, and Bi-Lo officials say the story is just an urban legend, though a particularly potent one. Company officials would not agree to let a photographer on the roof of the store, but a Packet reporter who was able to get near the roof also saw no signs of habitation.

This urban legend is new to me, though I'd be surprised if other towns don't have similar rumors. I'll have to do some research into this.

My wife and I often think we hear things moving about on our roof. We assume it's possums, rats, or crows. They can make a lot of noise. I assume a belief that an entire tent city of immigrants is living on a roof must stem from similar causes.

(Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Jan 03, 2008
Comments (6)
In the summer of 2004 pranksters used herbicide to trace the outline of a giant phallus in the football field located inside Harman-Geist Stadium in Northeastern Pennsylvania. When the grass died, the phallus became visible.

Maintenance crews did their best to hide the phallus by painting it green, but eventually the paint wore away. And now the prank has succeeded in reaching an even wider audience, thanks to satellite technology.

Overhead satellite imagery of the stadium -- and giant phallus -- has shown up on google maps. You can see it for yourself by searching for the address "300 N. Cedar St., Hazleton, Pa." and then zooming in to see the stadium.

An interesting thing I noticed. One of the streets leading to the stadium is called Shaft Rd., which seems very appropriate.

The organization that does the satellite imagery says that it plans to resurvey that region in early 2009. Until then, the football-field phallus will remain on google maps.

Categories: Places, Pranks, Sports
Posted by Alex on Thu Dec 06, 2007
Comments (2)
The website for Porthemmet Beach advertises that it is the best beach in Cornwall. It also claims that it's the only beach in the UK to allow topless sunbathing. So how does one find this beach? These are the directions on the website:
Porthemmet is very easy to get to from anywhere in Cornwall. Head north up the A30 until you see the signs. They are very clear, you can't miss it! It should be noted that there is a private joke in Cornwall whereby locals will pretend to not know where Porthemmet Beach is. Don't be fooled, every Cornish person knows about this beach, they are just having some fun. Tell them that you are an "emmet" (someone that loves Cornwall, see below) and that "there'll be ell-up" (nothing to do) if they don't tell you.
Apparently in recent months tourists have been trying to find this idyllic beach. But with no luck, because the beach doesn't exist. It's the tongue-in-cheek creation of Jonty Haywood, a teacher from Truro. According to the BBC, if people were actually to follow the directions to Porthemmet, they'd find themselves leaving the county. In an interview with The Independent, Haywood explained why he created the hoax website:

"Although I would like to claim there is an important underlying point being made here, there isn't. Sending tourists off to find an imaginary beach is funny."

(Thanks to Sarah Hartwell, messybeast.com)
Categories: Places, Websites
Posted by Alex on Thu Sep 27, 2007
Comments (17)
Joe Littrell forwarded me a St. Petersburg Times article, Dismembered Again, about the town of Vernon, Florida. It was so weird that I first I thought it was one of those joke articles, the kind that magazines such as the Phoenix New Times sometimes run. But all the references in it check out, so now I'm pretty sure it's real.

Vernon used to be known as Nub City, because the main source of income for town residents was dismembering themselves in order to file insurance claims. People there would come up with all kinds of ingenious ways to lose limbs:
L.W. Burdeshaw, an insurance agent in Chipley, told the St. Petersburg Times in 1982 that his list of policyholders included the following: a man who sawed off his left hand at work, a man who shot off his foot while protecting chickens, a man who lost his hand while trying to shoot a hawk, a man who somehow lost two limbs in an accident involving a rifle and a tractor, and a man who bought a policy and then, less than 12 hours later, shot off his foot while aiming at a squirrel.

Eventually insurance companies refused to insure anyone in the area, but Vernon went on to achieve some fame as the subject of a film (titled Vernon, Florida) by Errol Morris:
What Morris produced instead was 56 minutes of surreal monologues from an idle police officer, an obsessive turkey hunter, a pastor fixated on the word "therefore," a couple convinced that the sand they keep in a jar is growing, and, among others, an old man who claims he can write with both hands at once.

It sounds like a fun place to visit.
Categories: Body Manipulation, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 04, 2007
Comments (6)
Elliot's latest addition to the Hoaxipedia details scams involving the Brooklyn Bridge. I like this one in particular:
In 1886, not long after the Brooklyn Bridge opened, another famous scam was perpetrated by a Brooklyn bookie named Steve Brodie. According to the story, Brodie’s scam originated in a bet with a Brooklyn bartender named Chuck Connors. The bookie wagered Connors that he could jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and survive the fall.
Steve Brodie ultimately won the bet and wound up becoming a major New York City celebrity and legend.
It was discovered years later that Brodie had actually pushed a dummy off the Bridge and hid under a pier.
Categories: Con Artists, Places
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 30, 2007
Comments (5)
The Proceedings of the Athanasius Kircher Society has posted an interesting geographical puzzle. An article, "The Story of Ink," in the 1930 issue of the American Journal of Pharmacy included the following statement:
Iron tannin inks are sometimes formed naturally; such a phenomenon has been observed in Algeria, a country in northern Africa, where there exists a "river of ink." Chemical examinations of the waters of the streams combining to form this river revealed that one of the streams is impregnated with iron from the soil through which it flows while the other stream carries tannin from a peat swamp. When the two streams joined, the chemical action between the tannic acid, the iron and the oxygen of the water caused the information of the black ferric tannate, making a natural river of ink.
Does this river of ink actually exist? And if so, where is it on a map?

The earliest reference to this mysterious river I could find occurred in The Athens Messenger on May 25, 1876. The short blurb read:
"A river of ink has been discovered in Algeria. Let them find a mountain of paper, and then send for William Allen."
For the next seven decades, similar passages -- almost verbatim to what ran in the Am. Jour. of Pharmacy -- appeared regularly in newspapers. They were typically thrown in as an odd bit of trivia to fill up column space. However, the name and location of the river itself (except for the fact that it was in Algeria) was never identified.

More recently, Bruce Felton and Mark Fowler included a passage about this river in their 1994 book The Best, Worst, & Most Unusual: Noteworthy Achievements, Events, Feats & Blunders of Every Conceivable Kind:
Most Unusual River: The comingling of two tributary streams in Algeria forms a river of ink: One brook contains iron; the other, which drains from a peat swamp, contains gallic acid. Swirled together, the chemicals unite to form a true black ink. (Black Brook in upstate New York is formed by a similar chemical blend.)
Though the chemical composition of this "river of ink" sounds plausible, the other details about it are so vague that it sounds a bit like a geographical urban legend.
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Places
Posted by Alex on Fri Aug 17, 2007
Comments (9)
Cats are disappearing from the town of Stourbridge in the West Midlands. Up to 40 lost cats have been reported so far, all from the same small neighborhood. Metro.co.uk reports:
The pets disappeared from just a few streets and no signs of any of them have ever been found. Some families lost as many as three cats, one after the other.
But there is one resident who, like others in the town of Stourbridge, refuses to believe it's just a coincidence.
'It really is a bit of a Bermuda Triangle for cats,' said Julie Wottoon. She has started a campaign to try to solve the mystery after her cat, 15-year-old Norman, went missing in May.
She has drawn up a list of the vanished felines in the hope of finding some clues.
It reminds me of that bridge in Scotland I posted about two years ago, which dogs keep leaping off of, apparently to commit suicide. Perhaps the cats of Stourbridge have gotten tired of life in the town and are wandering off to find new homes. Unlikely. Or perhaps there's a cat-napper in the area. Or perhaps it's just a statistical fluke.
Categories: Animals, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 14, 2007
Comments (12)
image On Flickr someone with the screenname "melastmohican" has uploaded a picture of a "moving rock" located in the Racetrack Playa region of Death Valley, California. The caption reads:
Deep in the heart of the California desert lies one of the natural world's most puzzling mysteries: the moving rocks of Death Valley. These are not ordinary moving rocks that tumble down mountainsides in avalanches, are carried along riverbeds by flowing water, or are tossed aside by animals. These rocks, some as heavy as 700 pounds, are inexplicably transported across a virtually flat desert plain, leaving erratic trails in the hard mud behind them, some hundreds of yards long. They move by some mysterious force, and in the nine decades since we have known about them, no one has ever seen them move.
I should have known about the moving rocks of Death Valley (after all, I live only a few hours drive from there), but I have to admit that, before seeing the picture, I hadn't known about them, and so immediately I thought the picture was a hoax

It reminded me of Dan De Quille's "Traveling Stones of Pahranagat Valley" hoax from 1867. De Quille, a newspaper columnist (and roommate of Mark Twain) invented a story about some stones which "when scattered about on the floor, on a table, or other level surface, within two or three feet of each other, they immediately began traveling toward a common center, and then huddled up in a bunch like a lot of eggs in a nest."

But unlike Pahranagat Valley's traveling stones, Death Valley's moving rocks are a real phenomenon. The mysterious force that moves the stones, scientists speculate, is most likely the wind. When the floor of the racetrack playa gets wet, the ground becomes extremely slippery, allowing strong winds to cause the stones to skid across the ground. Either that, or giants go bowling there.
Categories: Photos/Videos, Places
Posted by Alex on Tue Aug 14, 2007
Comments (27)
image Kevin Keeble stirred up a lot of excitement when he sent pictures to the Newquay Guardian showing a great white shark that he claimed to have spotted about a mile off the coast of Cornwall. At the time he said, "We were out about one mile off Towan Head and I saw this fin in the distance. We were reeling in the mackerel but I picked up my camera and caught a picture with my telephoto lens. The shark was about 100ft away. It was only there for a few seconds before it disappeared."

A shark mania ensued. Others sharks were spotted, but they turned out to be harmless basking sharks.

Now Keeble has changed his tune, confessing that it was all a hoax. He's told a rival paper that he actually took the photo of the shark, "whilst I was on a fishing trip in Cape Town and just sent it in as a joke. I didn't expect anyone to be daft enough to take it seriously."

So it's once again safe to go swimming in Cornwall.
Categories: Animals, Places
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 09, 2007
Comments (1)
image A 180ft image of a donut-waving Homer Simpson recently appeared on a hillside in Dorchester, beside the famous Cerne Abbas Giant. The image is part of the publicity for the new Simpsons movie. However, the stunt has not pleased local pagans, who believe it to be disrespectful. Catherine Hosen, Wiltshire representative for The Pagan Federation, says, "I find it quite shocking and very disrespectful. It's just a publicity stunt for a film and we are talking about a monument which is definitely of great historical significance and a lot of people feel has important spiritual significance as well."

However, the pagans should keep in mind that the Cerne Abbas Giant may not be as old as they think. As I note in the article about the Giant in the Hoaxipedia:
the first written reference to the giant only occurred in 1694. This was not because early descriptions of the Cerne Abbas landscape were scarce. Quite the opposite. Many pre-seventeenth-century surveys of that region have survived, but none of them mention a giant. By contrast, the presence of the Uffington Horse was noted as early as the eleventh century... [Joseph Betty has] argued that a local landowner called Denzil Holles created the giant in the seventeenth century during the English Civil War. Holles harbored a passionate hatred of the puritan commander Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell’s followers often represented their leader as a modern-day, club-wielding Hercules. Therefore, what better way for Holles to satirize the commander, Betty suggested, than to plaster a 180-foot rude caricature of Hercules on a hilltop in the middle of England? But Betty noted that given the dangerous political situation during the Civil War, Holles would have been careful not to make his authorship of the figure too obvious or too widely known.
Categories: Advertising, Places
Posted by Alex on Wed Jul 25, 2007
Comments (8)
Next time you visit Chicago, consider skipping the normal city tours and instead take the "Ghetto Bus Tour." It takes tourists on a guided tour in a yellow school bus "through vacant lots and past demolished buildings on a tour of what was once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the country." You get to see the former housing projects. The tour guide is Beauty Turner. The Chi-Town Daily News reports:
Turner leads her captivated audience from site to site in a beat-up yellow school [bus]. Sitting in the back, listening to her point out the sites, the We The People Media Bus Tour feels like an eccentric elementary school field trip. Turner's mostly white charges are reporters and employees of non-profit organizations. Elinor Krepler is there as part of her rabbinic training program in Philadelphia. There is a group from the Field Mueum’s Cultural Understanding and Change program. There are reporters from National Public radio and a history professor from Roosevelt University, Brad Hunt, who is writing a book about the history of public housing. Many on the tour snap pictures of public housing projects as if they were tourist attractions. They turn their microphones toward CHA residents who are not used to being listened to.
This reminded me of something, but I couldn't immediately put my finger on it. And then I remembered -- Joey Skaggs's Hippie Bus Tour. Back in 1968 Skaggs rented a greyhound bus, filled it with long-haired hippies, and then took them all on a guided tour of a middle-class Queens community, allowing them to snap photos of guys mowing their lawn, washing their cars, etc.

So the Skaggs version of the ghetto bus tour would, presumably, be to take residents of the housing projects on a tour of Chicago's wealthy suburbs. That might be pretty interesting.
Categories: Places
Posted by Alex on Mon Jul 23, 2007
Comments (11)
image
Jesus on Google Maps
Brian Martin claims that he saw the shape of Jesus in the clouds above Mount Sinai.
(Thanks, Madmouse.)

Cat Gives Birth to 'Puppy'
Following on from the Japanese poodle scam hoax, this made me laugh.
A cat in Zhengzhou, China has supposedly given birth to a litter of four, one of which looks like a poodle. There are no pictures to accompany the article, however.
(Thanks, Robert.)

Sexism in Tetris
It seems a lot of people didn't realise the April 1st post on this computer site was a joke.
(Thanks, ponygirl.)
Categories: Animals, Literature/Language, Places, Religion, Websites
Posted by Flora on Wed May 02, 2007
Comments (6)
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