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Urban Legends
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)
Last month a rumor began to circulate alleging that Santas were being banned from saying "Ho, Ho, Ho" because "Ho" is a slang term for a prostitute. As is often the case with such rumors, there was an event that triggered the rumor, but that event had been twisted and blown out of proportion in the course of being repeated.

What really happened was that Westaff, a firm in Australia that trains Santas for appearances in shopping malls, had cautioned its trainees that many small children are initially scared by Santa. So they told the Santas-in-training "to try techniques such as lowering their tone of voice and using 'ha, ha, ha' to encourage the children to come forward and meet Santa." They never banned their Santas from Ho, Ho, Ho-ing.

Westaff's words of caution transformed into the Ho-Ho-Ho-Banned rumor. And as the rumor spread details were added, such as a claim that two Santa trainees had quit the course in disgust.

The ho, ho, ho rumor has been widely debunked, but it's still circulating around. Here's a recent sighting of it in UIC's Chicago Flame:
Westaff sent a memo out to encourage Santas to say "ha ha ha" because "ho ho ho" may scare children or offend women. Unless a woman is a "ho," she most likely won't be offended by the phrase.
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 10, 2007
Comments (6)
Pie in Santa's Face
"A 22-year-old University of Montana student was charged with assault Friday for shoving a pumpkin pie into Santa Claus’ face at a shopping mall while a teen sat on his lap."

Save the Park
Four students in the UK created a hoax website as a social experiment to test the influence of the media. Their website,, claimed there were plans to build a 220,000 tonne waste incineration plant in a South London park. Within a few weeks their site had received thousands of hits, and they had been contacted by a newspaper. They claim that their experiment, "showed how rumours can spread and how easy it is to get information out there that isn't true." But also that, "we are still a community and we can still stand together."

Venezuelan Toilet Paper Shortage
"Venezuelans have been buying large amounts of toilet paper on rumours it could be the next hard-to-find thing amid shortages of products like milk and meat."

Death by Cell Phone Report Disputed
It turns out that the death of a South Korean man was not due to an exploding cell phone, as many media outlets recently reported. Instead, police are attributing the death to a co-worker who backed into him with a drilling vehicle, and then tried to frame the cell phone. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Death, Pranks, Technology, Urban Legends, Websites
Posted by Alex on Mon Dec 03, 2007
Comments (4)
Here's a case that could be described as what you get when you cross Mythbusters with the Darwin Awards.

A 16-year-old boy living in the Tampa area heard a legend that a pipe that ran under the U.S. 301 bridge was filled with gold. Other people told him that it was actually an ammonia pipe leading to a fertilizer company. So the kid decided to test it out for himself and find out what the truth was:
The anhydrous ammonia that flows through the pipeline from the port to fertlizer companies in Polk County is highly caustic. It causes burns on contact and can cause respiratory distress. The teen was burned when he drilled into the pipeline.
The cousins who were with him told the boy not to break into the pipeline and had turned to leave when they heard a noise as he breached the pipe, Carter said. The boys then went home. When the injured teen's symptoms worsened, he told his mother what had happened, and she called an ambulance.

I bet he next sues the county, claiming they should have put a sign up warning people not to drill into the pipe in search of gold.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Sun Nov 18, 2007
Comments (9)
About four months ago (on June 3, 2007) this brief article appeared in the London Sunday Times:
Police moved swiftly to foil a child kidnapping when a witness spotted a boy being locked in a car boot. Officers set up road blocks, flagged down a Mercedes that fitted the description, and opened the boot -where they found mechanic Klaus "Shorty" Mueller, 27, who had climbed in to find the source of a rattling noise. A spokesman for police in Bremen, north Germany, said: "It seems the driver had been worried by inexplicable rattling noises in or near his boot. He called a mechanic, who was very small, and who climbed in the boot to get to the bottom of the problem."

Similar versions of the article appeared in other papers, all with the same vague details. To Peter Kenter of CanWest News Service, the story sounded like an urban legend that had made its way into the news. For instance, Kenter cited old stories of stoned teenagers tossing "leprechauns" into the trunk of their car, only to discover later that the leprechaun was actually a frightened child. Kenter also thought it was strange that Klaus Mueller would have an English nickname, "Shorty." And why was no one but Mueller identified by name?

I think Kenter was absolutely right to be suspicious of the story, but what he did next was even smarter. Instead of just figuring his hunch was correct, he did some more research. He emailed the press officer of the Bremen police, and to his surprise received this reply:
Dear Mr. Kenter:
The story is true. Have a nice day.
Ronald Walther
Polizei Bremen

So unless the press officer was pulling his leg, that means the tale of the dwarf in the trunk was true. But the tale of the dwarf eaten by the hippo remains false.
Categories: Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Tue Oct 16, 2007
Comments (7)
A commercial for Kleenex that aired in Japan during the 1980s became the focus of an urban legend. Derek Bassett last year described the legend on his blog Mohora:
So the story is this commercial for Kleenex tissues was shown on Japanese TV back in 1986 or so. It features an actress in a white dress sitting next to a child made up to look like a baby ogre. There is a really creepy song in a foreign language that when researched, is actually an old German folk song with the words “Die, die, everyone is cursed and will be killed.” Soon after the debut of the commercial, alot of people complained that it was creepy, or 気持ち悪い, and it was quickly pulled off the air. Soon after though, accidents started to befall the actors and crew of the commercial, including the child playing the baby ogre dying of sudden organ failure, the actress being committed to a mental institution where she is either still there, or at some point hung herself (depending on the version of the story).

Here's the commercial, which Derek uploaded to YouTube.

The ad is kind of creepy, but as you can hear, the song is not an old German folk song, but rather "It's a fine day" by Jane & Barton. Derek also notes that there were no strange deaths associated with the commercial. The woman in the ad, Keiko Matsuzaka, is still working as an actress.

There was also an "angel version" of the commercial that aired at the same time as the "demon version," and Derek has uploaded this to YouTube as well. (via The Home of Ads)
Categories: Advertising, Birth/Babies, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Oct 01, 2007
Comments (8)
A real-life version of the "killer in the backseat" urban legend has been reported. Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand gives the following description of this classic tale in his Encyclopedia of Urban Legends:
"Would-be killer lurks in back, detected by motorist or gas-station attendant." In all versions, the intended victim is a woman. In the versions in which another motorist spots the assailant, the driver notices that the car or truck following her keeps blinking his lights or shifting them to the high beam. When she reaches home -- still followed by the blinking vehicle -- the other driver rushes to her car and pulls out the lurking stranger. In the gas-station versions, the driver is asked by the attendant to come into the office because of some problem with her credit card. The attendant then locks the office door, tells her about the threat from behind, and calls the police.
In the incident that was recently reported, a 23-year-old woman reported finding an intruder lurking in the back seat of her SUV as she drove home from a class at Calhoun Community College. From The Decatur Daily News:
McNatt said she arrived for her 4:30 p.m. class at Calhoun, parked behind Harris Hall and locked her SUV.
She remained on campus until about 9 p.m. She used her secret code to unlock the SUV.
As she drove, she talked on her cell phone to her brother.
"When she got on the river bridge on Interstate 65, a white male sat up in the very back of her vehicle," McNatt said. "He said he wanted her to take him somewhere."
The woman's brother heard a scream and then lost the phone connection with his sister.
Nothing happened to the woman. She simply parked the car, got out, and the guy walked away. Police are investigating the incident. It seems harsh to be suspicious of someone who's been through a scary event like this, but it's hard not to be a little skeptical about whether this really happened, given how closely it parallels the urban legend.
Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Fri Sep 14, 2007
Comments (9)
Today was the 100th anniversary of Neiman Marcus. The retailer celebrated by giving away free chocolate chip cookies in most of its stores, as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the $250 Cookie Recipe legend that has caused it so much trouble over the years.

And if you missed the cookie giveaway, you can still download the recipe for its cookies free from its website. One of these days I'm going to have to try them out to see how they are. (via David Emery)
Categories: Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Mon Sep 10, 2007
Comments (1)
Joe Littrell forwarded an interesting story from the People's Daily Online. It reports that police in China have arrested or warned 60 people this year for spreading rumors or threats through text messages and the internet. Wow. If spreading urban legends was a crime here in America, just imagine how many people would be in jail.

Some of the messages that rumormongers circulated:
On July 11, a text message began circulating in Jiangsu, claiming victims of full-blown AIDS were spreading the disease by using toothpicks at local restaurants and returning them to the containers on tables. The message warned recipients against using toothpicks in Jiangsu. The police traced the rumor to two businessmen surnamed Du and Cao through Du''s cellphone.

an Internet user known as Laoshi Heshang (Honest Monk) on July 31 posted a story with the Taiwuliao portal, based in Taizhou, Jiangsu, about police allegedly chasing a man and his pillion passenger son on a motorbike through the streets of Jingjiang city. The man had failed to stop as required by police after he was seen not wearing a helmet. The bike crashed and the son, who had been enrolled at prestigious Qinghua University, was killed. The posting caused outrage against the police, who were obliged to contact all six Jingjiang students who had been enrolled at Qinghua University this summer to confirm the story was a hoax.
Personally, I think the real criminals are not the ones who start these rumors, but the people who feel compelled to forward along every idiotic rumor that lands in their inbox.

Categories: Law/Police/Crime, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 22, 2007
Comments (7)
About a week ago Lydia Irvin gave birth to a daughter while riding on a New York City Transit bus. Apparently it even specifies on the baby's birth certificate that she was born on a bus. So now Ms. Irvin is hoping that her daughter will qualify for free bus rides for the rest of her life. She'll just have to wave her birth certificate at a driver, and be able to go wherever she pleases. After all, according to urban legend that's the freebie that bus-born babies get.

However, the transit authorities have splashed cold water on Irvin's hopes:
MTA officials said if that ever was the policy, baby Lydia missed the bus by some 60 years. "I don't know if we've ever done that," a spokeswoman said. "Maybe in the 1940s, but that's before my time."
Gee, you would think they could at least give her a free one-month pass, or something. (Thanks, Joe)
Categories: Exploration/Travel, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Wed Aug 08, 2007
Comments (2)
An article in the Japanese Mainichi Daily News (which claims to be merely repeating a story that appeared in a magazine called Fushigi Knuckles) tells the story of the attempt to introduce Wormburgers in Japan. An Aomori Prefecture company, so the story goes, tried to market worms as food for human consumption because of the high nutritional value of worms:
Instead of a beef patty, the Worm Burger used ground worms, cut the onions a little, added wheat flour, a runny egg and blended in milk to make it go down easier. The magazine notes that despite the best intentions, the Worm Burger ended up as a major flop. Marketers had been targeting women and young people, but appear to have struggled to overcome worms' image as a bizarre food.
Maybe this really happened, but probably not. It's more likely that this is a recycling of the old Wormburger urban legend from the late 1970s. This urban legend got launched when papers reported that food scientists were experimenting with earthworms as a source of protein. Take, for instance, this UPI article that appeared in a number of American newspapers in mid-December, 1975:
Sacramento, Calif. (UPI)
You may one day be eating earthworm casserole. And redworm cookies.
The lowly earthworm, ignored by almost everybody but the fisherman, is burrowing its way into the world of big business, and may be put to work soon to help man grow crops, dispose of garbage and even satisfy his dietary need for protein.
So says Frank Carmody, market development director for North American Bait Farms of Ontario, Calif., one of the nation's largest growing and marketing businesses ...
If produced in sufficient quantity at a cost competitive with other protein materials, he said, worms could be used as feed for pets, poultry, fish and other animals as well as food for people. Seventy-two per cent of a worm's dry weight is protein.
Sponsor of a worm recipe contest, North American Bait has received ideas for adding dried, crispy worms to salads, casseroles and cookies. Carmody says redworm cookies are "delicious."
After a few articles like this appeared, it was simply a matter of time before tales began to spread of McDonalds and other fast-food chains secretly using worms in their burgers. However, worms are in no way cost competitive with other sources of protein such as beef. So there's little reason to fear that fast-food chains will start padding their burgers with worms any time soon.
Categories: Food, Urban Legends
Posted by Alex on Thu Aug 02, 2007
Comments (10)
On the heels of the "American troops eat babies" myth comes the story of the Giant, Man-eating Badgers of Basra:

Ferocious British badgers an urban myth in Iraq
Categories: Animals, Cryptozoology, Mass Delusion, Military, Urban Legends
Posted by Cranky Media Guy on Sat Jul 14, 2007
Comments (7)
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