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Urban Legends
From nj.com:

If you want to bombard a township with calls from angry people, start a rumor that cats and dogs are going to die.
That's exactly what happened Tuesday and today, when an Internet rumor claiming the local animal shelter in Montgomery was going to close and all cats and dogs remaining there would be euthanized.
And it happened across the country, too, as a viral rumor with countless incarnations made similar claims about shelters in communities named Montgomery. Only one shelter, located in a Texas County by the same name, is closing and its operator was working to find homes for all the pets, according to a local newspaper there.
(Thanks, Joe!)
Categories: Animals, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 23, 2009
Comments (3)
Dog owners in the town of Basildon are concerned that someone may be trying to poison their pets. They've organized meetings to discuss the danger. Not that any dogs have been poisoned so far. No one has even seen any signs of poison around. But an email rumor has everyone spooked.
Categories: Animals, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Sep 08, 2009
Comments (4)
Magazines have begun to note the 40th anniversary of the Paul is Dead rumor (although they're two months early... the rumor began to circulate widely in September 1969).

Contact Music managed to get a quotation from McCartney about the rumor. He claims to still be laughing it off. But interestingly, he also get the details wrong about how the rumor started:

MCCartney's barefoot appearance in the photo [on the cover of Abbey Road] sparked wild rumours the rocker had died in a car crash - and the 67 year old admits he still has to reassure some fans he's not an impostor.
He explains, "The idea was to walk across the crossing, and I showed up that day with sandals, flip-flops. It was so hot that I kicked them off and walked across barefooted, and this started some rumour that because he's barefooted, he's dead. I couldn't see the connection.

McCartney barefoot on the cover of Abbey Road was one of the major clues that fueled the rumor, but it didn't spark the rumor. The event that really launched the rumor was when Detroit DJ Russ Gibb played the song "Revolution Number Nine" backwards on his show and claimed to hear the words "Turn me on, dead man."

There's been several books and a number of scholarly articles written about the Paul is Dead rumor. I wonder if McCartney has ever read them.
Categories: Death, Music, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 17, 2009
Comments (10)
It's not what you think it is. The Urban Legend Awards will honor "contributions made by volunteers, local leaders, businesses, churches, partners and community members to the urban AIDS response in Swaziland." Maybe the term "urban legend" doesn't mean the same thing in Swaziland that it means in the US and UK. [Swazi Observer]
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Jul 03, 2009
Comments (2)
Mythbusters did an episode on the urban legend of a bullet being stopped by a Bible (or a Zippo lighter). They found that a hardcover book of at least 400 pages might stop a bullet, but anything less (including a Zippo) didn't have a chance. Nevertheless, police in Sao Paulo, Brazil are saying that the wad of cash a woman had stuffed in her bra slowed down a bullet enough to save her life. I'm sure the woman is very lucky, but I suspect the cash had nothing to do with her good fortune.[Yahoo!]
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 15, 2009
Comments (13)
Red Mercury, according to a decades-old rumor, is a key component in the manufacture of nuclear bombs and worth millions of dollars. But now a new variant of the rumor has surfaced in Saudi Arabia, claiming that Red Mercury
can also be used to find treasure and ward off evil spirits (in addition to its nuclear-bomb-making abilities). Plus, old Singer sewing machines are said to contain the substance in trace amounts. As a result, many Saudis are in a frenzy to acquire these old sewing machines, whether by paying tens of thousands of dollars for one, or by stealing one. [BBC News]
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Apr 15, 2009
Comments (4)
The authors of The Science of James Bond note that the movie Goldfinger has spawned two enduring urban legends: 1) That if you shoot out the window of a plane flying at 35,000 feet, the resulting depressurization will create enough force to suck a person through the hole. Not true! The authors say the airflow wouldn't even be enough to lift a person.

2) It is possible to suffocate by completely covering yourself in gold paint. Therefore, professional dancers who paint themselves know to leave a small bare patch of skin for air. Again, total myth. The authors state that the only danger of being covered with gold paint is "pores being clogged by the paint, causing overheating."

Link: Pasadena Star-News
Categories: Entertainment, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Feb 03, 2009
Comments (8)
Dani Garavelli, writing for Scotsman.com, examines the psychology of urban legends. The article doesn't offer any new insights into urban legends. There's the standard observation: urban legends "hold a mirror up to our culture, giving us an often unflattering reflection of our preoccupations and prejudices." But what I found interesting is that the article listed some urban legends specific to Scotland:
  • For several days, [north-east Scotland] was gripped by a rumour that pop star and convicted paedophile Gary Glitter – who was recently deported from Vietnam – was staying at the Findhorn Foundation, a new age spiritual community. Suddenly, Glitter was being spotted across the North-east, from the Asda cafe in Elgin, where he was said to be tucking into egg and chips, to the streets of Forres. Sightings of the sex offender began to outnumber sightings of Elvis, until the authorities were forced to reassure the local community, he was not, in fact, in the area.
  • Red Road flats are the highest in Europe.
  • Deep-fried Mars Bar originated in Glasgow.
  • The tale about the maths Higher which was so hard pupils all over Scotland staged a walk-out played on another major childhood fear: that of failure. Pupils and even teachers were said to have been reduced to tears by the very sight of the examination in 2000, although the SQA strenuously denied there had been any protest and the pass rate was said to be slightly up on the year before.
  • The rumour that Jimmy Chung's restaurant in Dundee was serving seagull affected trade so adversely the restaurant was forced to issue a formal denial.
  • One of the most common post-9/11 stories involved the shopper who, noticing a Muslim man dropping his wallet, picks it up and hands it back to him. "Thank you," the Muslim says. "And now I am going to return the favour. Do not go to Braehead/Silverburn/Princes Street in the week before Christmas." This anecdote gained such currency in Inverness in 2006, that Northern Constabulary Police had to reassure the public shopping arcades such as the Eastgate Centre were safe. [Same legend as we had here in America, but with different place names.]
  • There are those... who are convinced traffic police play "speed snooker", targeting particular colours of car in a particular order, but interspersing each with a red one. This, they insist, explains why drivers of red cars are more likely to receive a fine or prosecution than others. [I doubt this is specific to Scotland.]
Categories: Places, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 15, 2008
Comments (9)
Thanksgiving is approaching, which means the "turkey makes you tired because it has high levels of tryptophan" urban legend shall once again be heard at tables throughout America. Baylor College of Medicine dietitian Rebecca Reeves debunks this legend in an interview with the Houston Chronicle:

Q: So the tryptophan in turkey doesn't make you sleepy, right?

A: I am not sure how (that) gained wide acceptance. The urban legend is that the tryptophan in turkey is what makes you sleepy on Thanksgiving. Yes, the amino acid tryptophan is present in turkey, and in certain doses it can make you sleepy. But in reality, you'd need to eat an entire 40-pound turkey to get enough tryptophan to make a difference.

But her explanation of why people actually get tired after Thanksgiving dinner raises more questions in my mind than it answers:

Q: So why do people take a nap on the couch?

A: It's probably more due to alcohol. Or it could be that you got up that morning early to travel. Or it's been a long, beautiful day, and you're just tired. I hate to even mention this, but I've seen claims that because you're increasing your carbohydrates, you're increasing your blood sugar, maybe this could lead to sleepiness. But I'm not sure I agree with that.

Why is she doubtful that increasing carbohydrates (and thereby increasing blood sugar) can make you tired? She doesn't offer an explanation. Wikipedia offers a good summary of the "increased carbohydrates makes you tired" theory, and it sounds reasonable to me (more reasonable than the theory that the drowsiness is all due to having had a few beers, or the fact that it's been "a long, beautiful day"):

It has been demonstrated in both animal models and in humans that ingestion of a meal rich in carbohydrates triggers release of insulin. Insulin in turn stimulates the uptake of large neutral branched-chain amino acids (LNAA) but not tryptophan (trp) into muscle, increasing the ratio of trp to LNAA in the blood stream. The resulting increased ratio of tryptophan to large neutral amino acids in the blood reduces competition at the large neutral amino acid transporter resulting in the uptake of tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system (CNS). Once inside the CNS, tryptophan is converted into serotonin in the raphe nuclei by the normal enzymatic pathway. The resultant serotonin is further metabolised into melatonin by the pineal gland. Hence, these data suggest that "feast-induced drowsiness," and in particular, the common post-Christmas and American post-Thanksgiving dinner drowsiness, may be the result of a heavy meal rich in carbohydrates which, via an indirect mechanism, increases the production of sleep-promoting melatonin in the brain.
Categories: Food, Science, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 23, 2008
Comments (12)
Another case of the Collecting Junk for Charity hoax. Aleta Brace of Parkersburg, West Virginia collected 20,000 bottle caps, believing that the caps could be redeemed for money which would aid cancer patients. And she wasn't alone. Churches, schools, businesses, and individuals throughout West Virginia have been collecting the bottle caps all summer.

The caps would all have gone to waste, but now the Aveda skin care company has announced it'll take the caps and recycle them into new caps for its products.
Categories: Health/Medicine, Scams, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Sep 03, 2008
Comments (7)
Posted recently by Tobester in the Hoax Forum:



I couldn't resist doing some research on this. Here's what I found.

a) It's definitely an urban legend.

b) I can't find any record of it ever appearing in the New York Times.

c) The earliest mention of it I can find in print dates back to July 10, 2000, when it was discussed in the Sydney Morning Herald. Apparently, in a version circulating back then, they were identified as the source of the tale. They denied this, pointed out the tale was an urban legend, and noted that in earlier versions of the story American Airlines was referred to as the carrier.

d) Despite being an urban legend, it has occasionally been reported in papers as real news. For instance, the Belfast News Letter reported it on April 19, 2003. The Scotsman reported it on February 2, 2001. And The Gleaner reported it on March 13, 2004.
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Literature/Language, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 29, 2008
Comments (6)
NPR's Storycorps gave the air this week to 94-year-old Betty Jenkins, who tells the tale of an inflatable bra her mother gave her when she was younger. She decided to wear the bra on a plane trip to South America. Unfortunately, as she sat in the unpressurized cabin, her bra started to get bigger and bigger:

"As the thing got bigger, I tried to stand up," Jenkins said, "and I couldn't see my feet."
The instructions said that the bra's pads could be inflated up to a size 48.
"I thought, 'What would happen if it goes beyond 48?'" Jenkins recalled.
"I found out what happened," she said. "It blew out."
Only one of the cups burst, Jenkins said. But the noise was loud enough to seize the attention of everyone on the plane.
"The co-pilot came into the cabin with a gun, wondering what had happened. The men all pointed to me."

Next week Betty will be telling the story of how she once accidentally microwaved her poodle. But seriously, I wonder if NPR realized that Betty's story is the classic urban legend of the exploding bra? As David Emery points out, you can find variants of it dating back to the 1950s. And was Betty just pulling everybody's leg, or does she actually believe this happened to her? Who knows. But David makes a good point:

chivalry forbids calling Ms. Jenkins out on her embellishment of this well-known urban legend, especially since, as the StoryCorps website clearly states, its mission is to collect "the stories and legends of everyday America" (emphasis added).
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Jul 01, 2008
Comments (4)
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