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The Daughter’s Letter from College
Parents receive a long-awaited letter from their daughter at college and are dismayed to find it a catalog of appalling disasters. However, the letter concludes by denying all of the problems and mentioning instead the fact of her low grades. She writes:
There was no dormitory fire; I did not have a concussion or a skull fracture; I was not in the hospital; I am not pregnant; I am not engaged. I do not have syphilis. . . .However, I am getting a D in history and an F in science, and I wanted you to see these grades in the proper perspective. This letter usually circulates in anonymous photocopies, sometimes titled “Perspective,” and is occasionally reported as a prank by a college student wanting to alarm and amuse her parents. Some variations contain
class-based, anti-Semitic, or racist elements, implying that the daughter is living with a partner who would be anathema to her conservative parents. From a parent’s viewpoint, the letter exposes the
supposed pernicious influence of modern, ultraliberal college life; from a student’s perspective, the letter suggests, perhaps, the desire to experiment during the college years, finally free of the parents’ immediate control.

The Day Trip
This is an English story about travel troubles whose flavor is best revealed in a direct quotation from a native source. It is summarized by Rodney Dale in The Tumour in the Whale (1978), with a few explanatory notes inserted:
A party of Cambridge people on a gasworks outing [a factory workers’ group vacation] to Yarmouth [a seaside resort town] had to help one of their number back to the coach [the tour bus] because he was helplessly drunk.
On reaching Cambridge, they took him home and put him to bed to sleep it off. When he woke, he was astonished to find himself at home in Cambridge because he hadn’t been a member of the coach party but was in the middle of a fortnight’s [two weeks’] holiday in Yarmouth and had merely fallen in with the crowd of his workmates who happened to be on the works outing.
Meanwhile, his wife [who was with him in Yarmouth] had reported him missing to the police.
In another version of the story, the man is on his honeymoon when he meets with strangers in a pub and gets drunk. They identify him from his wallet contents and ship him home, leaving his bride in the honeymoon suite wondering what has become of her husband. Both of these stories portray the dangerous possibilities of misbehaving while traveling, a lesson familiar from the much more widely known legend “AIDS Mary.”

The Dead Cat in the Package
A thief steals a package or plastic bag from a shopper but gets only the body of a dead cat that the other person had been intending to dispose. Sometimes two packages are accidentally switched—the cat’s corpse with a package of steaks, a ham, or the like. This classic urban legend of poetic justice—the thief gaining only an undesirable item—is extremely widespread and varied. In the United States, the story can be traced as far back as 1906, though it reached its peak popularity in the 1950s, and it has persisted ever since. “The Runaway Grandmother” tells much the same tale, with a different stolen corpse, and “Alligators in the Sewers” is another urban legend about the disposal of a dead pet.
Most older versions describe someone’s pet cat dying; the owner, an apartment-dweller, wraps the dead pet with the intention of giving the package to a friend whom she will meet in a department store; the friend will bury the cat in her suburban yard. But the package is stolen by a little old lady who passes out in public when she peeks into the package.

An Australian version of the story published in 1993 in the local newspaper The St. George Leader renders the typical plot using some Aussie dialect and place names: From a reader who swears it really happened to his wife’s mother’s best friend: A cat belonging to a little old lady who lives in a home unit at Caringbah died suddenly two weeks ago. Unable to give puss a proper burial in the backyard, she placed it in a plastic bag in the boot of her car and drove to Westfield Shoppingtown
Miranda, thinking to dispose of Mog in one of the many rubbish containers to be found there.
As she was rummaging around in the boot, a woman walking past snaffled the plastic bag containing the remains, thinking she had got her hands on something valuable.

When she later took a peek, she got such a fright she fainted dead away; ambulances were called and she and the plastic bag containing Mog were transported to Sutherland Hospital. Which all goes to prove that you can’t trust anyone and sometimes the punishment does fit the crime. Later versions describe a shopper accidentally running over a stray cat in a shopping mall parking lot. She puts the cat into a plastic bag with a store logo, leaves it on the top of her car, and it is stolen. Often these versions end with the unconscious thief being carried from the mall on a stretcher with the unopened plastic bag placed on her chest by a helpful bystander. The details of the cat’s death, the mall, the store logo, and the thief’s behavior are all made very specific and local in these versions. When the story includes the accidental switching of two packages, usually the pet owner has wrapped the package, intending to dispose of it during the day. But each time he or she tries to abandon it, the package is returned by a “helpful” stranger. Back home that evening, the owner discovers the switcheroo. “The Dead Cat in the Package” has inspired numerous cartoon illustrations, at least two songs, and a poem in mock Middle English. The Russian author Yevgeny Yevtushenko included a version in his novel Wild Berries (1981).

Dear John’s Revenge
A young man—often a soldier or sailor serving abroad—receives a “Dear John” letter from his sweetheart back home. She not only wishes to break off the affair, but also asks him to return her photograph. In revenge, the man collects all the female snapshots that his friends can supply, sends
them to the girl, and claims that he cannot remember which one she is. He requests that she pick out her own photograph and return the rest. Researchers have traced versions of this story as far back as 1881, and it continued to be told and published through the years of World War I, World War II, and beyond. Among Latter-day Saints (Mormons), the same story is told about a young Mormon missionary serving abroad.

The Death Car
A late-model car, often a luxury model, is offered for sale cheaply at a dealership because the original owner died in the car and the body was not discovered for a long time. The smell of death cannot be removed from the vehicle, despite heroic efforts. This classic cheap-car fantasy has evolved from a $50 Buick in the 1940s to a $500 Porsche or Corvette in the 1990s. The death may be said to have occurred in a remote forest or in the desert. The local dealership is never positively identified, but the storyteller knows someone whose friend actually saw, and presumably smelled, the very car. Other legends about remarkably inexpensive cars are “The 50-Dollar Porsche” (abandoned wife sells car) and “The Bargain Sports Car” (unaware mother sells dead son’s classic car). “The Body in the Bed” is another legend about the smell of death permeating a location. Despite the wide circulation of “The Death Car” in myriad variations, Richard M. Dorson believed that he had found the legend’s origin in an actual incident involving an old Model-A Ford that occurred in a small Michigan town inhabited mostly by African Americans in 1938 about which people were still talking in the 1950s. An informant told Dorson, after the folklorist had described the legend in a talk on folklore, “You got that story wrong. It happened right here, you know.” The man said the incident happened in 1938 to a “white fellow . . . named Demings” who committed suicide in his 1929 Ford via the car’s exhaust
and was not discovered for a couple of months, by which time the body had rotted, leaving a terrible smell. The story concluded: A used-car dealer in Remus sold the car at a reduced price to Clifford
Cross. Cliff did everything possible to get the smell out; he upholstered it, fumigated it, but nothing worked, and in the middle of winter he would have to drive around with the window wide open. . . . Finally he give up trying to get the smell out, and turned the car in for junk. Dorson’s claim was disputed by English folklorist Stewart Sanderson and others who identified key differences between the Michigan event and the legend tradition, as well as the likely influence of the ancient motif “The Ineradicable Bloodstain” (Motif E422.1.11.5.1). Also suggesting a much wider tradition of “The Death Car” and a possible origin overseas are the several versions from Poland and from various ex-Soviet republics published by Czubala in 1992. Most of these texts were highly localized and full of details about the source and nature of the contamination, the cost of the car, how owners attempted to remove the smell, etc. A genuine death-related luxury car—a low-mileage 1959 Cadillac held
as evidence for years after the owner had been murdered in it—was reported in the July 1990 issue of Automobile magazine. Although the editors were reminded of the legend, they verified this instance as true, but significantly different, since the car did not smell. The legendary version of the story had been circulating for decades before the “Death Cadillac” was discovered, bought, and installed in a museum. “The Death Car” can probably best be understood as a legend of wishful thinking (for a good, cheap car) that had its first popularity in the postwar years when new cars of any kind were scarce and expensive. The death motif would seem to be updated from older traditional legends about the lingering “proofs” of a murder or other tragic death remaining at the site of the incident. In a modern updating of the legend, a car owned by a victim of AIDS cannot be sold, or is sold for a very low price, because people are afraid of contracting the disease themselves.

The Death of Dr. Charles Drew
Did Dr. Charles R. Drew (1904–1950), the scientist responsible for developing blood banks, die from injuries suffered in an automobile accident because a Southern hospital refused to give a black man a lifesaving blood transfusion? The story is told in numerous reference books and has been repeated with variations by many speakers, some quite prominent people, but it’s just that—a story. Dr. Drew did die on April 1, 1950, after being in an auto accident near Burlington, North Carolina, but he was given timely and appropriate, but unsuccessful, treatment in a nearby hospital. The “tragic irony” of personnel in a “white” hospital denying him aid from the very medical innovation he had invented is an urban legend. The legendary version of Dr. Drew’s death is included in many reference sources on African American history still found in libraries, from which it has been quoted by countless speakers decrying racism in modern life. Scot Morris, writing in Omni magazine, first scored the story as true in his “Games” column, but later reversed his decision and explained its falsity in detail. Morris pointed out that a similar apocryphal story was told about the death of blues queen Bessie Smith.

The Death of Little Mikey
This story was nicely summarized in a short item headlined “Rocks
Redux,” published in Adweek (Western Advertising News edition) on
July 20, 1987:
Because rumormongers had Life cereal’s little spokesguy biting the dust
after biting into one of the carbonated candies, Pop Rocks were pulled
from the market in 1980.
Now that Mikey is back to Life—he appears on new cereal ads—so are
the nonlethal Rocks. The sweet fizzies have been reintroduced to a rockstarved
public in several Western markets.
“Mikey,” played by actor John Gilchrist, actually never spoke in the
Life cereal TV commercials introduced in 1971 when he was three years
old. But he did eat the new cereal offered to him by his older brothers,
leading them to exclaim, “Hey! He likes it!” Shortly after Pop Rocks—a
hugely popular effervescent candy—was introduced in 1974, the rumor
arose that Little Mikey had drunk soda after eating Pop Rocks and had
died when his stomach exploded.
General Foods defended the safety of its product in full-page newspaper
ads but never mentioning the Mikey rumor. Eventually, however,
the product was withdrawn and the story died. Later both Mikey (as a
teenager) and Pop Rocks reappeared, still never officially linked in any
advertising or news releases issued by the companies involved.
Although this represents a textbook example of how corporations are
best advised to handle negative rumors, the fact is that a product and possibly
also an actor did suffer from the oral tradition.

Decapitated Riders and Drivers
Probably since the advent of family automobiles, parents have been warning
their children to keep their heads and limbs inside the car: “If you hang
out the window, you may have your head cut off!” In one of his classic
books of safety and behavior lessons for children, Safety Can Be Fun
(Philadelphia and New York: Lippincott, 1938), artist and writer Munro
Leaf depicted the supposed fate of the “Head-out-the-Window Nit-Wit”
who “has its head out the window of this car right now. It may get it back
in before another car or something else bumps it, but we doubt it.”
In the typical legend based on this scenario, a child or a dog has its head
out the car window while riding on a busy highway. Another vehicle passes
the car very closely and takes its head clean off. Sometimes the decapitation
is so quick and neat that others in the car do not notice the incident for some
time. Similar decapitations are said to have been caused by rocks or cliffs
along the road or by a surfboard that comes loose from another vehicle.
Further variations may involve a taxi passenger or a roller-coaster rider.
In other versions, a motorcyclist is passing a large truck loaded with a
stack of thin steel plates. One plate slips out sideways and takes the head
clean off the cyclist. The headless body continues to ride past the truck,
frightening the driver.
The former version of the legend is more common in the United
States, the latter in England. Further variations are told in Canada,
Ireland, and Australia. In 1982, when I was on a tour bus going to York,
England, sitting near the front, I was told by the driver as a large “lorry”
loaded with steel plates passed our bus, “Very dangerous, that kind of
load. Very. Just last year a sheet of steel from a load like that came loose
and cut a motorcyclist’s head right off!”
A character in Charles Dickens’s Pickwick Papers (1836) described the
decapitation of a woman riding atop a stagecoach passing under a low
arch; she had a sandwich in her hand but “no mouth to put it in.” In some
modern American versions of the dog story, the pet is sitting on the lap of
a child who keeps on petting the headless animal. In the motorcycle
story, sometimes when the truck driver sees the headless cyclist, he has
a heart attack, loses control of his huge vehicle, and plows into a group
of people at the edge of the road.
The tabloid Weekly World News seems to have an affinity for this
legend. In a 1987 issue, a story headlined “Bus Rider’s Greeting Was a
Deadly Mistake” told of a 13-year-old girl in New York City who supposedly
lost her head when she stuck it out of a bus window to greet a friend.
In 1992, WWN published a variation on the story, summed up neatly
(if rather vulgarly) in the headline “DRUNK’S HEAD RIPPED
OFF . . . When He Leans out Truck Window, Puke!”

The Deer Departed
A deer hunter has dropped a huge buck sporting a magnificent rack of
antlers with a single shot. He decides to take a picture of himself with
his prize, placing his new rifle across the deer’s rack. But while the hunter
is arranging his camera on a tripod, the deer—merely stunned from a
flesh wound—gets up and walks into the woods, carrying the expensive
rifle (scope, sling, etc.) away.
This story is one of several dumb-hunter stories repeated annually
during the deer season. The theme of an animal’s revenge is found in several
other urban legends, including “The Kangaroo Thief” and one about
tourists in Yellowstone Park posing their child for a photo on top of a
bear. The bear, like the stunned deer (and the kangaroo), departs with
its load.

Define ‘Courage’
In this legend, a college student is faced with a single examination question:
“Define ‘Courage.’ ” She writes only, “This is courage,” then hands
in the otherwise blank sheet of paper. She receives an A on the examination.
Sometimes the question is a crucial entrance requirement, or the
only question on a final examination in a philosophy class, or the entire
preliminary examination for a doctoral degree.
This is one of the most popular stories about tricky questions and
answers on college examinations. It is known in England and New
Zealand as well as the United States. A French version asks the students
to define l’audace, and a Dutch version asks “Wat is lef?” (“What is guts?”).
Usually, the professor’s seemingly impossible demand is easily solved
by a clever student, that is, the question is merely “Why?” and the winning
answer is “Because” or “Why not?” In another case, however, the
professor tests his students’ excuse that they were delayed by a flat tire
and missed his final exam; the first question on the makeup test is
“Which tire?” and the students are placed in separate rooms to write their
answers.
Reflecting an actual practice of some professors, a student is supposedly
asked to write his own examination question and then answer it.
One student asks himself, “Do you play the tuba?” then answers, “No.”

Definition of “Legend” and “Urban Legend”
Folklorists have difficulties defining the individual genres of material that
they study in a precise way, and, in fact, even in defining “folklore” in a
manner that satisfies all scholars studying the subject. Still, there is general,
tacit agreement on both the dimensions of the entire field and on
the individual categories of material to be studied.
“Legends” are generally assigned to the folkloric category of Oral
Narratives and are distinguished from the related forms of Folktale and
Myth. Complications arise when we consider that transmission of all of
these stories nowadays may occur via print, broadcast, or electronic
media as well as oral tradition and that “narrative” itself is not easy to
define.
Still, the term “oral narrative” is widely accepted as useful for anonymous
stories passed on in variants, mostly by word of mouth. Within this
general category, “myths” are defined as once-believed ancient accounts
of deities and the creation of the world; “legends” as believed accounts
of incidents in the historical past; and “folktales” as stories with fictional
plots (fairy tales, jokes, tall tales, etc.) not intended to be believed
literally.
Although the legend criteria—narrative, belief, set in the historical past—
seem clear enough, each criterion has numerous exceptions when applied
to actual examples. This frustrating situation led folklorist Robert Georges
to declare in a 1971 essay that “a legend is a story or narrative that may
not be a story or narrative at all; it is set in a recent or historical past that
may be conceived to be remote or antihistorical or not really past at all; it
is believed to be true by some, false by others, and both or neither by most.”
Criticizing the viewpoint of “traditionalists” among folklorists who promote
the “presented as truth but in fact untrue” definition of legends,
Linda Dégh in a 1989 conference paper offered instead this list of features
of a legend in context: “It is . . . the product of conflicting opinions
expressed in conversation and manifested in discussions, contradictions,
additions, implementations, corrections, approvals and disapprovals
during some or all phases of its transmission from inception through
elaboration, variation, decline and revitalization.” Few, if any, legend
texts or performances have been documented since then at this level of
detail, either in Dégh’s own work or that of others.
One solution to the definitional problem as proposed by Timothy R.
Tangherlini was to survey a large body of possible definitions and examples
of legends in folklorists’ own writings and extract the common traits. The
short form of the definition that emerged from this approach was stated
thus: “A ‘legend’ is a monoepisodic, localized, and historicized traditional
narrative told as believable in a conversational mode. . . . Psychologically
[it is] a symbolic representation of folk belief [that] reflects the collective
experiences and values of the group to whose tradition it belongs.”
Applying these concepts specifically to medieval materials, Tangherlini
contributed the very useful entry “Legend” to Medieval Folklore: An
Encyclopedia . . . (2 vols., Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2000).
Older traditional legends are often religious, supernatural, or historical
in subject matter and are frequently attached to specific persons, places,
and events. Reflecting each legend’s individual emphases, the stories
could be subclassified in categories such as Hero Legends, Ghost
Stories, Place-name Legends, and many others.
Besides abstract explanations of legends’ characteristic forms, definitions
also need to take into account the contexts in which legends are told
and the manner of their telling (i.e., their “performance”). Further, we
need to distinguish the migratory legends’ fixed and variable content features
as they are localized to different settings. Going beyond definitions
based on narrative content, context, and performance are proposals to
characterize legends—indeed, all folklore—in terms of the social structures
from which folklore emerges plus the reciprocal effect of folk materials
themselves upon social structures. Identifying this “third force in
American folklore,” Gary Alan Fine urged more attention to “how folklore
fits into the social order.” Donna Wyckoff applied such an approach
to sexual abuse claims told either as first- or third-person accounts and
presented as true. While past definitions would tend to exclude these
claims as constituting “urban legends,” Wyckoff suggested that their most
relevant feature is the “social force of the story as a story” (italics hers).
Bill Ellis has compared and appraised these approaches in several essays,
most directly in the 2007 article cited below.
Defining “legend” in general, thus is indeed no easy task, and defining
“urban legends” more specifically as a subtype of legends is equally
challenging. It is certainly not simply a matter of calling these stories
merely modern or contemporary manifestations of traditional legends
(whatever they may be). Further complicating this aspect of legend definition
is deciding what constitutes “urban,” “contemporary,” and
“modern” subject matter and, again, how to define “narrative” and to distinguish
the various means of legend transmission. One attempt at a concise
definition states that an urban legend is “an apocryphal
contemporary story, told as true but incorporating traditional motifs,
and usually attributed to a friend of a friend” (Brunvand, American
Folklore Encyclopedia, 1996, p. 730).
Evidence of a continuing effort to define legend genres consistently is
found in the 1997 reference work Folklore: An Encyclopedia (edited by
Thomas A. Green) wherein three prominent folklorists offer three individual
statements as basic definitions of related genres. For “legend,”
Linda Dégh began, “Short, oral prose narrative based in the reality of
performers and audiences.” Defining “contemporary legend,” Paul
Smith offered, “A short traditional narrative, or digest of a narrative, that
has no definitive text, formulaic openings and closings, or artistically
developed form. . . . Contemporary legends are primarily nonsupernatural,
secular narratives that are set in the real world.” And for “urban
legend,” Bill Ellis wrote, “A popular term for a narrative concerning some
aspect of modern life that is believed by its teller but is actually untrue.”
To encourage further discussion of definitional problems, and as a
guide for reviewing the matter, Paul Smith in 1999 drew up a list of more
than five dozen “persistently recurring definitional characteristics” of contemporary
legends, grouping them as Primary Characteristics (legends
described as what they are or are not) versus Secondary Characteristics
(legends described in terms of what they may or may not be). These characteristics
fall into 13 main categories, most of them having several subsections.
The main groupings Smith uses are Narrative Status, Form,
Structure, Style, Dissemination, “Narrators,” Context of Narration,
Content, Truth, Belief, Selection, Meaning, and Function. On the crucial
matter of “truth” in contemporary legends, Smith wrote:
A contemporary legend may or may not, in whole or part, be true. This may
not necessarily be literal truth, but perhaps truth which comes from typifying
life in the twentieth century.
In the 2007 book Urban Legends by Paul Smith and Gillian Bennett,
Smith’s earlier list of characteristics is reduced to nine “guidelines” for
recognizing whether a tale is an urban legend; this effort is bolstered by
a collection of some 155 actual legend types presented with copious
examples and full annotations. In this work, on the matter of “truth,”
the authors write:
It is almost impossible to be absolutely certain whether the events
described in an urban legend ever took place, and most attempts to track
the origin of a legend have failed.
On the specific question of the contemporaneity of modern legends,
Smith published another useful statement in the journal Folklore. Here he refers to a “contemporary legend”
as “a ‘body’ to be ‘clothed’ in performance . . . in order to provide a
vehicle for the discussion of relevant contemporary issues.” Despite the
mixed metaphor, this observation along with the rest of the short article
help to clarify the senses in which any legend is or is not “contemporary.”
One of the most comprehensive discussion of the definition of urban
legends appears in the long first section (“The Life of Legends,” pp. 3–
92) in Bill Ellis’s 2001 book Aliens, Ghosts, and Cults: Legends We
Live. Beginning with the recognition that the contemporary legend is
“an emergent form best understood as a folk process, not a static form,”
Ellis closely examines legends as narratives, as traditions, in terms of their
contemporaneity, and through the lens of the recent interest in memetics.
Replete with examples of actual legend performances, and buttressed
by a thorough review of the scholarly literature on the subject,
this section should be studied by anyone interested in working seriously
in the field of legend study.
After doing the reading suggested in the paragraphs above, the scholar
in search of an adequate definition of “legend” next needs to study the
even longer disscussion by Elliott Oring published in 2008. Adapting
the rhetorical language of Aristotle’s Poetics, Oring closely applies to a
large body of legend texts—many of them contemporary legends—some
three dozen tropes of legend rhetoric under the headings Ethos (“matters
concerning the narrator that bear upon the credibility of the account”),
Logos (“the argument of the narratives and their attendant commentaries”),
and Pathos (“the dispositions of the audience”). Concluding that
a legend might be defined as “a narrative performance that invokes a
rhetoric of truth,” Oring posits that such a definition” would shift the
assessment of legends from matters of belief to the performance of
truth.” The argument—barely sketched out here—is complex and
abstract, the style in Oring’s presentation is so lucid, and the examples
so numerous and convincing, that this technical academic essay surely
will have a major influence on the concept of “legendry” both among
scholars and even casual readers of folklore studies.

Denmark
Danish folklorists have collected a number of urban legends from their
country, publishing them mostly in their own language. An exception is a
short discussion of “The Unzipped Fly” that included a text from
Copenhagen in an English translation sent by Carsten Bergenhøj to
FOAFtale News (no. 24, 1991). Other modern migratory legends (vandrehistorier)
reported from Denmark include “The Runaway Grandmother,”
“The Kidney Heist,” and the one about immigrants stealing people’s pets
and eating them, in one variant of which the dog has been shaved for
butchering before it is rescued. A good example of the latter theme from
a text found in a Danish folklore archive is given in both Danish and
English by UCLA folklorist Timothy R. Tangherlini. His translation:
I heard the story of the dog which was stolen and eaten by Turks about four
years ago. It was in a circle of reasonable people, but the teller knew the
people it happened to. These people took a walk with their dachshund
when all of a sudden a couple of Turks snatched the leash out of their hands
and disappeared with the dog. When the police found the culprits, dinner
was just finished. The entire family of Turks sat around the table and only
the gnawed bones were left.
Recent Danish oral tradition also includes two versions of stories based
on “The Baby Lure” motif that incorporate “The Severed Fingers” story.
Again, from Tangherlini’s report:
One dark, late night, with fog, a lady who had helped with house work—or
was that a nurse?—is on her way home from a farm in the middle of
nowhere. She drives slowly, because the visibility is bad. All of a sudden,
she thinks that she hears a child crying. She stops the car and goes out into
the dense fog to look in the direction of the sound. At once she feels insecure,
and she hurries back to the car, jumps in, and starts and drives as
quickly as possible home. When she gets home and opens the car door,
she sees that the four outermost extremities [i.e., four fingers] of a hand
are caught in the door!
In the second Danish version the victim is “a young nurse in Århus” who
stops when she sees “a bundle lying in the middle of the road” that appears
to be a baby wrapped in a blanket. The nurse, too, senses danger and
escapes the would-be attacker by driving quickly away, later finding “a
bloody finger caught in the door.”
In 1998, author and university professor Robert Zola Christensen published
his collection titled Det døde barn I hoppegyngen: Moderne danske
vandrehistorier (The Dead Child in the Swing: Modern Danish
Migratory Legends). The title story is the legend “Baby’s Stuck at
Home Alone,” and the titles of several chapters confirm the presence of
other international legends and legend themes, such as “Døde katte og
andre dyr” (“Dead Cats and Other Animals”), “Gys og gru” (“Shudders
and Horror”), “Mikrobølgeovne og moderne teknik:” (“Microwave Ovens
and Modern Technology”), and “Sex og skandaler” (which needs no
translation). Among other Danish variations of international urban
legends are “The Philanderer’s Porsche” (sold for a mere 250 kroner),
“The Shoplifter and the Frozen Food,” “Old Versus Young,” and the following
interesting variation of “The Roommate’s Death” (my translation):
Two Danish girls were working in a hotel in England where they shared a
room. One evening one of the girls went out on the town while the other
stayed home and went to bed early. The first girl took off, but soon realized
that she had forgotten her purse. She came back to their room, but—not
wanting to awaken her roommate—opened the door just a bit, reached
in, and got her purse which was lying on a dresser just inside the door.
After she had been out for a while, she returned to their room and found
that a police car was just outside the building where they lived. She ran up
to their room and found that her roommate had been raped and murdered.
Out in the entrance to the room, on a mirror, was written in lipstick “Be
glad that you did not turn on the light or you would have been dead yourself.”
(Du skal vaere glad for, at du ikke taendte lyset, for ellers var du
også blevet draebt.)
So the killer had been there when she came back for her purse.
In 2001, Robert Zola Christensen and his colleague Henrik Lassen
published a small collection titled Havestols piloten: Vandrehistorier om
det bizarre, det makabre og de saftige (The Lawn Chair Pilot: Migratory
Legends of the Bizarre, the Macabre, and the Juicy). This collection draws
heavily from international tradition, taking many of its examples from the
Internet, but still including some Danish texts.
There are a few further examples of Danish urban legends available in
English translations in Reimund Kvideland and Henning K. Sehmsdorf’s
book Scandinavian Folk Belief and Legend, including yet another version
of “The Severed Finger” as told by Danish folklorist Bengt Holbek while
visiting a Swedish archive:
I heard this story from the wife of a lawyer. She had heard the story from an
acquaintance who worked at the police station in Hørsholm.
A woman was driving on Hørsholm Road (now Helsingør Road), on her
way home from Copenhagen. When she got to an area where there are not
many houses, a gang of motorcyclists drove up behind her. Her car was
small and not very fast. The motorcyclists passed her and tried to push
her to the side of the road. They were trying to get her to stop, and she
knew they would probably rape her. Just to scare her, one of them drove
right up to her slowing car and struck the windshield with a chain, knocking
a hole in it. Of course, she was terrified, but she pushed the gas pedal to the
floor and drove away from the motorcyclists. To her surprise they did not
follow her. She drove to the nearest police station to report what had happened.
There she realized that the chain was tangled in the windshield, and
two of the motorcyclist’s fingers were stuck to one end of it.

Dental Death
When a patient dies in the chair, supposedly the dentist will carry the
corpse to the restroom, leaving him to be discovered. This happens sometimes
when a dentist has two treatment rooms and tries to work on
patients alternately in both chairs at once. One time, supposedly, a dentist
had his “corpse” come walking back in, since the trip downstairs to
the restroom had applied a sort of accidental CPR that revived the
patient, who was only deeply sedated.
Such stories stem from people’s dread of dental work and distrust of
dentists, but they are completely impossible, not only because of medical
ethics but also because a dental assistant, receptionist, or another patient
would surely observe the crime or a relative would know where the person
was going that day. Besides, if such were a general practice, sooner
or later a guilty dentist would be caught, leading to massive publicity.
An elderly dentist named Joe Ono (true!) in Salt Lake City once assured
me that it was a standard joke when he went to dental school that if a
patient should die in your chair you should carry the corpse to the restroom
and leave it there.

The Devil in the Dance Hall
A handsome stranger, often dressed all in black, enters a dance hall and
sweeps all the young women off their feet. He dances on and on with
partner after partner, until late into the night. Then one of the women
notices that he has chicken feet (or cloven hoofs, or a tail, etc.). She
screams “The Devil!” and the stranger rushes out in a cloud of sulfurous
smoke and gallops away on his fiery black stallion. He may leave burn
marks on the floor or even scars on his last dancing partner.
This is an old and widely distributed supernatural legend with prototypes
in European folklore. In the New World, it is especially popular
among French Canadians, French-speaking Louisianans, and particularly
Mexicans and Mexican Americans. An older form of the legend in which
several Mexican men go to a dance, following the sound of “faraway
music,” only to discover that they had come upon a witches’ ball where
“the women had chicken feet, and all the men had hooves instead of
feet.” The men beat a hasty retreat, and “For a long time afterward they
did not go out at night.”
Modernizations of the story have the devil appear at a bar or discotheque
or even a casino (particularly at one run by Native Americans)
and to arrive and depart in a flashy car.
In a chapter about his fieldwork conducted in South Texas from 1979 to
1981, folklorist José Limón provides a vivid account of pursuing the legend
as told especially by young Mexican American women, one of whom
assured him “Don’t worry about the devil, he only appears to women”
[“nomas se la aparece a las mujeres.”]. These informants described the
dancing devil they had heard about as being “real cute,” with big shoulders,
dressed in elegant clothes, and “blond, like Robert Redford” [who actually
has red hair which, however, might be called “strawberry blond”]. Another
South Texas folklorist, Mark Glazer, in a 1984 essay, reported that by that
time he had collected 83 dancing devil stories, 58 of which were modernized
to place the devil in a disco rather than a traditional dance hall.
Modern versions of the story retain some ancient devil lore, such as how
the devil is recognized, but an equally typical older legend, “The Devil at
the Card Party,” has not turned into an urban legend. It is possible, however,
that the card-party legend had some role in the development of
the dance-hall story, since both may describe the devil’s cloven hoof as a
recognition motif (Motif G303.4.5.3.1, Devil detected by his hoofs).

Dial 911 for Help
The emergency telephone number should be publicized as “nine-oneone,”
not “nine-eleven,” because one time someone was unable to place
a 911 call because he or she could not find the 11 button on the telephone.
It’s supposedly an easy mistake to make under the pressure of a
life-or-death situation.
This notion has circulated as a serious warning as well as a joke and
shows up periodically in newspaper advice columns and on radio talk
shows. Some tellers include a detailed account of exactly what the emergency
was and the dire consequences that ensued because of the
misunderstanding.
Not only has the 911 problem never been authenticated as an actual incident,
but there was a “LittleMoron” joke of the 1940s that centered on the
same sort of dialing mistake. When nine-eleven was chosen for the emergency
dialing code, perhaps it was inevitable that the old joke would spawn
a new urban legend. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the
numbers 911 took on a new and more sinister connotation.

Disaster Rumors and Stories
Rumors, legends, personal experience stories, jokes, and other oral lore
are often triggered by natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, hurricanes,
volcanic eruptions, blizzards, etc.) as well as disasters caused by human
actions (riots, wars, toxic spills, nuclear reactor failures, crashes, terrorist
attacks, etc.). These folkloric traditions circulate among the direct victims
and witnesses of such events as well as among outsiders who are fascinated
and horrified by the damage and its human toll.
Typical earthquake lore includes personal experience stories, claims
about supernatural predictions of quakes, conflicting reports of a quake’s
severity, talk of conspiracies to suppress the extent of quake damage,
miraculous-rescue stories, rumors of unpaid insurance claims, and
accounts of bizarre behavior during and following the event. A good
example of an urban legend developing after a recent earthquake is the
one about a car thief who was crushed while escaping during the
Northern California earthquake of October 17, 1989.
Hurricane Andrew, which struck South Florida in August 1992,
spawned a series of rumors and legends typical of such disasters. Those
reported fell into four main themes. “Miraculous Protection” stories
claimed holy intervention in sparing some people and property from
destruction. Rumors of “Uncounted Corpses” claimed a government
cover-up of the actual numbers of victims and described secret disposal
of bodies at sea using submarines. Stories of “Wild Beasts and AIDS”
described the supposed escape of AIDS-infected monkeys from a medical
research lab. And “Hurricane Babies” were the supposed result of a
“Baby-Train” type of human behavior during the days without power.
The horrendous toll that Hurricane Katrina took of southern American
lives and property in the summer of 2005 spawned a veritable flood of
rumors and legends. David Remnick’s essay in The New Yorker in early
October reported widespread claims in New Orleans that “the
government” (whether federal, state, or local) had deliberately breached
the levees to direct flood waters away from property owned by the wealthy
to inundate the poorer neighborhoods. As one resident told Remnick,
“This was a premeditated disaster. They flooded the city. It happened on
a pretty, sunshiny day, two days of rising water. You tell me: where the
rich people at?” Four years earlier in France when rivers were rising at
alarming rates, a similar rumor circulated, as reported by Véronique
Campion-Vincent. One source claimed (in her translation), that
“ ‘Someone’ [had] deviated the water of the Seine toward the river
Somme so as to protect the capital which was going to welcome the
Selection Committee of the Olympic Games.”
Following the disastrous earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, an old
rumor/legend was revived of a pact made with the devil by early founders
of Haiti leading to a “curse” upon the country. The quake also “by chance
evoked [a] completely forgotten legend of Polish descendants in Haiti,”
as a Polish folklorist discovered. Shortly after the Haitian quake rumors
(possibly spread by a prankster as a hoax) circulated in Ghana about a
similar disaster striking that country, and online comments reported further
earthquake rumors in other countries, a situation described by the
folklorist as “the legend that sleeps silently perhaps to wake up one day
in some distant place.”
Spring 2011 was a period of extreme flooding throughout the
American Midwest and South and a series of tornadoes that swept across
the region, causing great losses of life and property. Tuscaloosa, Alabama,
was hard hit by a tornado that struck on April 27, after which—true to
form—a number of alarming rumors immediately began to circulate.
The Tuscaloosa News set up a rumor-blog to evaluate the stories that
were flying around. Among the false stories that the newspaper
debunked were those claiming that deaths far exceeded the official body
count, that corpses were stacked up in makeshift morgues, that the entire
University of Alabama had been leveled, that bodies had been found on
top of shopping malls or in landfills, that bodies of several children were
found in the ruins of a Chuck E. Cheese restaurant where people were
gathered for a birthday party, that several bodies were revealed when a
local lake was drained, and that a child who took shelter in a refrigerator
had been found alive days later. Tuscaloosa News writer Mark Hughes
Cobb wrote an article for the May 15th edition of the paper showing
how Facebook and other social media had kept such rumors circulating,
even after they had been thoroughly investigated and proven to be false
(“Rumors, Tall Tales Spread Rapidly in Wake of Devastating Tornado”).
On May 18, the News editorialized urging citizens to stop spreading
rumors. Unfortunately, the June issue of Sports Illustrated, in an article
on former University of Alabama football stars returning home to help
with relief efforts, one false rumor was repeated: “three bodies lay on
the mall’s roof, thrown there by the storm.”
About a month later when an even more devastating tornado hit Joplin,
Missouri, similar rumors spread, also largely via social networking sites. A
typical post began, “A friend of mine has a cousin whose little boy was
sucked out of the house through a window. All they found, so far, is his
little T-shirt and pants wet and sticking to a telephone pole.” A persistent
message often forwarded as e-mail stated that Children’s Mercy Hospital
in Kansas City had a number of unidentified injured children from the
disaster waiting to be identified. Even after hospital officials repeatedly
denied the claim, the rumor continued to circulate, encouraged by the
typical tagline on e-mails “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE KEEP THIS
GOING!”

The Dishonest Note
A driver returns to his parked car to find it damaged from a collision with
another car leaving the lot. A note placed under the windshield wiper
reads, “The people watching me think I am leaving my name and address,
but I am not.”
“The Dishonest Note” has been repeated as a story since the 1960s
both orally and in newspaper columns, but it has also actually happened
a number of times, as attested by both victims and perpetrators who have
come forward. Some tellers expand on the details, describing a crowd of
people watching the guilty party write the note; but nobody ever seems
to have taken down his license-plate number.
In a column published on Sept. 22, 1963, the San Francisco Chronicle’s
popular columnist Herb Caen printed a local version of the story followed
by this one he found “last week” in the London Daily Mirror:
A chap I know returned to his parked car to find that somebody had bashed
his wing in. There was a note clipped under the windscreen-wiper. It read:
“Some people saw me back into your car and they are now watching me
write this note to you. They think that I am giving you my name and
address. They are wrong.”
In a 1973 book of “Andy Capp” cartoons, the English lowlife character
Andy is shown riding his bike while slightly tipsy (indicated by a loud “hic”
coming from him as well as his large ruddy nose). In the second panel,
Andy has run into something, revealed in panel number three to be a
car, now with a broken window. The last panel shows the note Andy
leaves behind:
Dear Sir
I’ve just smashed into your car. The people who saw it are watching me.
They think I’m writing down my name and address to stick under your
windscreen wiper . . . TWITS!

Dissertation Legends
The importance of a doctoral dissertation in an academic career and the
stresses involved in writing an acceptable dissertation have given rise to
a number of legends. They are based on such very real possibilities as
deliberate plagiarism, inadvertently duplicating work done by others, lost
or corrupted data needed for the dissertation, whimsical objections to the
dissertation topic by the approval committee, and (most common of all)
loss of the final sole copy of the dissertation itself.
What distinguishes legend from reality here is that the apocryphal
stories have anonymous generic characters (e.g., a graduate student in
a California college) and the crisis in the legends always occurs after
many years of hard work and cannot by any means be overcome.
Another legendary trait, of course, is that variations of the same stories
are told in many different parts of the country and, indeed, around the
world.
Plagiarism stories usually involve a graduate student stealing from an
obscure source, only to have one of his committee members happen to
be acquainted with the same work. Lost-data stories are typical of scientific
topics where carefully designed experiments may go awry because
of something as simple as a power outage or someone opening the wrong
door or window, exposing the controlled laboratory atmosphere to outside
air or light.
The single existing complete copies of dissertations were supposedly
lost, in earlier legends, as a result of fires, floods, thefts, or even by such
simple means as blowing page by page off the backseat of the student’s
convertible as he drove to campus to deliver the work to his adviser.
Although such disasters are certainly possible, the stories fail to identify
the supposed victims, and they ignore the institutional requirements for
multiple copies as well as the prudent student’s understanding of the
necessity of making backups.
Recent versions of dissertation legends describe the demoralizing loss
as the result of a computer crash, naturally (ignoring standard computer
procedure) without a backup of any kind. Although outlines, proposals,
drafts, chapters, or subsections of works are truly lost when computers
fail or, more often, when users make irreversible errors, the possibility
of someone risking an entire dissertation in a single computer copy seems
unlikely. The implications of the legends, perhaps, are that anyone this
foolish probably does not deserve a doctorate anyway, and also that qualifying
for an advanced degree is no guarantee of common sense.

The Dog in the High-Rise
A man comes to pick up his date, who lives in an apartment in a high-rise.
While she is getting ready in another room, he tosses a ball for her dog to
fetch. On the third throw, the ball bounces out the open door, onto the
balcony, and over the railing into the street far below. The dog jumps
after the ball.
Writer Truman Capote told this story frequently in lectures, on talk
shows, and to interviewers, with variations, either as a personal experience
or as a true incident about a model, her blind date, and her Great Dane.
Other versions, usually about smaller breeds of dogs, also circulate.
Another author who liked to tell this story was Australian-born novelist
and playwright Sumner Locke Elliott (1917–1991). A short version titled
“Fetch” appeared in Boy’s Life magazine in January 1975 and was
reprinted in an anthology used as a school reader. Similar to “The
Crushed Dog,” this legend describes a pet’s unfortunate death as a result
of a nervous visitor’s faux pas. The plot has been used in at least two TV
productions, one a sitcom episode and the other a beer commercial.

In his “Beat the Devil” column in The Nation, Alexander Cockburn alluded to “The Dog in the
High-Rise” as a metaphor for the performance of President Reagan giving testimony during the Iran-
Contra investigation: It’s hard to read a newspaper without being reminded of that macabre
urban legend about the fellow picking up his girlfriend at her penthouse apartment. She shouts from the bathroom for him to wait in the living room. Idly he throws a ball to her frisky dog. One last time he tosses it, a shade too strongly. It bounces through the balcony door and up over the railings followed by the eager retriever. You’d think by now, after almost a decade, the press would have learned not to be fooled by Ronald Reagan. But no. He had only to toss the ball. Cockburn characterized the president’s performance as that of “a smart old actor effortlessly bamboozling the lawyers and the newshounds.” He concluded his critique “Out the window sailed the ball, and after it plummeted the dogs.”

Dog’s Corpse Is Stolen
A large dog—the pet of a woman living in a New York City apartment—
dies. A call to the humane society or other agency reveals that she must
deliver the body to them for burial, so she puts her dead dog into a large
suitcase or trunk and heads for the nearest subway station. A stranger
offers to help her boost the heavy case over the turnstile, but when she
gets inside and turns to receive the load, the man keeps the suitcase
and runs up the stairs to the street.
This incident was reported, tongue in cheek, with varying details
in 1987 and 1988 by columnists for two New York newspapers who
attributed it only to hearsay. One version said the dog was a Great
Dane, the other a German shepherd. The initial problem in the story of
dead-pet disposal, followed by the unwitting theft of the corpse, marks
this as a likely transformation of the much older “The Dead Cat in the
Package.”
Proof that the dog story continues to circulate orally came in
August 2010 when a Michigan woman on a kayaking outing on Hebgen
Lake near Yellowstone Park told a version she had heard from a friend
of a friend to her fellow paddlers. Another tourist in the group had mentioned
that her old pet dog was in failing health and might pass away
during her vacation. This reminded the storyteller of a woman she had
heard about in New York City who was pet-sitting with a friend’s quite
large old dog. The dog died, and she arranged to deliver the body to the
humane society, where it could be cremated. She put the dog’s body in
a large suitcase, and she struggled to get it to a bus stop, where a kindly
stranger offered to hand the case up to her after she had boarded.
Instead, he ran off with the suitcase.
“Wow, that was karma for sure,” commented one listener, and they all
chuckled at the thought of how the thief would react when he opened the
suitcase. One folkloristically aware listener (my wife Judy) held her
tongue, but later reported the story to me, and I eagerly tracked down
the narrator, listened to her repeat the story, and gently informed her
that it was a well-known urban legend.

The Dog’s Dinner
A couple traveling in the Far East with their toy poodle are dining in a
Chinese restaurant where nobody speaks English. They want to get a
meal for their pet, so they use sign language—pointing to the dog, then
to their mouths. The waiter nods, smiles, and scoops up the little dog
and carries it off to the kitchen. Later they are served from a large
covered dish, inside of which they find their pet dog roasted and
garnished with pepper sauce and bamboo shoots.
This story circulated as a news item about a Swiss couple in Hong Kong
in 1971 and was widely reprinted. The story is a favorite of newspaper
columnists, and it has been integrated into several works of fiction and
films. Oral versions have circulated internationally since the late 1930s,
sometimes with the dog identified as a Chihuahua and the waiter explaining,
“Your dog was dish number eight.” “The Dog’s Dinner” is sometimes
told as a story about deaf travelers trying to make themselves understood
in an ethnic restaurant by means of sign language.
“The Dog’s Dinner” reveals both uneasiness about travel in a country
where one cannot speak the language, as well as the common fantasy that
Asians include dog meat as a regular part of their cuisine. Among the discrepancies
in the story is the fact that most countries require a quarantine
period before pets may be brought in, so that casual vacation travel with
one’s pet is an unlikely situation.

The Dolly Parton Diet
In 1981, the story spread orally and by means of photocopies that Dolly
Parton had lost weight following a strict diet that consisted of essentially
all you wanted to eat of one food each day, plus servings of “T. J.’s
Miracle Soup.” Numerous people, mainly in the Midwest, followed the
diet, some claimed with great success. None reported any enlargement
of bust size, a stated hope of some women who had tried the diet.
Some copies of this diet were titled “The Hollywood Diet” or claimed
that it had been developed by “Sacred Heart Hospital–Spokane.” A
parody called “The Stress Diet” was circulating at about the same time;
this one began each day with a light breakfast, then progressed through
the day with more and more cookies, pizza, beer, and snacks. The parody
also included a list of “Diet Tips” such as, “If no one sees you eat it, it has
no calories” and “Snacks consumed in a movie don’t count.”
Ricki Fulman’s investigative article on this story in the New York News
is a case study in debunking an oral tradition by means of following up on
each person’s stated source. Fulman’s search found no verification for the
story, only a chain of friends of friends, and she concluded that “after
interrogating close to 50 persons about this, enough is enough.”

Don’t Mess with Texas
In 1987, the State Highway Department of Texas began an antilittering
campaign that was promoted by the slogan “Don’t Mess with Texas” used
in advertisements, bumper stickers, T-shirts, refrigerator magnets, and
the like. Supposedly, when a Texas businessman sought backing for a new
venture from a New York City bank, he was turned down. Asking why,
the Texan was shown “Don’tMess with Texas” stickers posted in the bank’s
offices, a reference to falling oil prices that had hurt the Texas economy.
Unable to verify the story, Texas Monthly magazine suggested,
“Perhaps it’s just the latest urban legend.”

The Dormitory Surprise
Here’s how I summarized this campus story, sometimes called simply
“The Surprise,” as I remembered it from Michigan State University in
the mid-1950s:
Forgetting that it was visitor’s day, one resident of a men’s dorm went down
the hall to the shower leaving his two roommates chatting in the room.
Coming back, wearing only a towel, the freshly showered man heard voices
coming from the room and assumed it was his roommates still chatting.
He decided to make a dramatic entrance. He whipped the towel off,
held his penis in one hand, kicked the door open, and jumped in yelling
“Bang bang, you’re all dead!”
The voices he’d heard, however, were those of his mother, father, and
hometown girlfriend who had just arrived to visit him. (Baby Train, p. 305)
Widely told, but never by eyewitnesses, on countless American college
campuses from the 1950s to the present, this is a typical caught-in-thenude
legend. The campus setting is appropriate because for many students
it is their first experience at living away from the restraints of home
and family for any extended period. Both parents’ and students’ concerns
about dormitory living are reflected in the legend. Another theme is students’
propensity to sometimes play crude pranks.
Variations of the story involving a young woman returning from the
shower wearing only a towel may describe her wrapping the towel around
her head so that nobody can recognize her. A male counterpart version
with this detail has the young man wrap the towel around his head like
a turban before making his grand entry, penis in hand and shouting in a
faked foreign accent.
All stories of nudity in campus housing seem to have been more
common before the days of coed dormitories, despite the fact that such
confrontations would seem more likely in the present. Perhaps students
have become more liberal or are simply jaded by the constant presence
of the opposite sex in the same living unit.

The Double Theft
A thief steals one item as a preliminary to stealing further and more valuable
items. There are two typical scenarios:
The first is that a woman’s purse is stolen by someone reaching under
the partition between stalls in the restroom of a large department store.
The woman reports the theft to the store management and goes home.
Later she receives a telephone call from someone saying that the store
has found her purse. But when she returns, nobody at the store has made
such a call, and she finds that her home was burglarized in her absence by
someone using the keys taken from her purse to gain entry.
The second version describes someone’s car being stolen, but it is
returned the next day with a note of thanks saying that the thief needed
transportation for an emergency. Two tickets to a popular show are
enclosed. When the car owners return from the theater, they find that
their home was burglarized while they were out. This version is the basis
of a short story by Colin Dexter, “Neighbourhood Watch,” found in
Morse’s Greatest Mystery and Other Stories (New York: Crown, 1993),
pp. 101–114.
Both versions of “The Double Theft” have had wide international distribution
(from Scandinavia to Australia) at least since the early 1970s.
In each country, the story is localized with names of specific department
stores and of particular theaters or performances. In the United States,
often it is just the car’s battery, or even something as minor as a barbecue
grill, that is stolen. The tickets sent to the victims may be for ballet or
opera performances at one end of the cultural scale or for hockey games
or rock concerts at the other end. A Dutch version of the car story, for
example, specifies that the tickets were for a performance of La
Traviata. In a Dutch variant of the stolen-purse story, a woman gets a
call, supposedly from the police, saying that her purse containing her
credit card had been found. When she shows up at the police station to
recover it, the police know nothing about either the purse or the call,
and the woman returns home to find the place burglarized.
Although criminals may actually sometimes use similar ploys to gain
access to a home or to assure the owners’ absence, the schemes outlined
in “The Double Theft” are more elaborate and risky than necessary.
There are simpler ways to burglarize a home safely without securing
expensive tickets or setting up tricky scams.

The Double Whammy
An Australian automotive accident legend similar to “The Body on the
Car” in that a creature is struck and killed, then (sometimes) later found
embedded on the grill of the car. As told beginning in the 1990s, an
Aussie motorist runs over an animal, usually a cat. He stops and discovers
the creature lying comatose on the roadside and decides to put the poor
thing out of its misery; he either wrings the animal’s neck or dispatches
it with a tire iron, shovel, fence picket, or the like. In some versions, a
woman rushes from a nearby house to protest his action, and they find
the actual dead pet stuck to the car’s grill. In other versions, the man
drives home, and his wife finds the feline victim embedded on the grill.

Do You Know Who I Am
A college student writes for a few minutes after time is called on an essay
examination for a large class and is told by an officious proctor or by the
instructor that his blue book will not be accepted. He will fail the course.
“Do you know who I am?” the student asks. The class is large, and the
reply is, “No, and I don’t care.” The student says “Good!” and shoves
his own examination booklet into the middle of the large pile of blue
books on the desk. (Sometimes he knocks the pile to the floor before adding
his own booklet to the mass.)
This is another academic legend about examinations, similar to “Define
Courage,” “The One-Word Exam Question,” and “The Second Blue
Book” in that the clever student outwits the demanding instructor. In
some versions, the instructor accuses the student of cheating on the test
but still does not know that student’s name. The theme of the unknown
student also appears in “The Bird-Foot Exam,” while the general Do
you know me? theme occurs in stories with nonacademic settings, including
a popular military story in which a private accidentally insults a
general on the telephone, then asks “Do you know who I am?” (“No, I
don’t but . . . ”); then the private hangs up.

Drugged and Seduced
Here is a composite summary of the legend from the 1973 article cited below:
A young college girl, usually a freshman, goes on a blind date with a fraternity boy to a party at his fraternity house. In the course of the evening, the boy slips a drug into the girl’s drink, which causes her to lose consciousness. He begins to molest her, but she wakes up just in time. In some versions,
however, the girl does not regain consciousness until the next morning, and can only realize what happened at that time. A variant form of this legend ends with the girl’s drinking punch to which LSD had been secretly added. In this case, she is either raped while drugged or else experiences various unpleasant effects from the drug.
“Drugged and Seduced” was a common story circulated on college campuses in the 1960s and 1970s, especially near the beginning of the academic year as a warning to new students. The tellers, however, had neither experienced the incident nor knew anyone personally who had. In the 1990s, however, with the appearance of Rohypnol, the so-called date rape drug, the legend became reality, to some degree, as a number of actual cases of date rape facilitated by the drug occurred. A similar story describes a dentist taking advantage of female patients while they are under anesthesia for treatment.

Drug Horror Stories
Rumors and stories grossly exaggerate the dangerous effects of drugs, particularly LSD and PCP (known on the street as “angel dust”). The most common “mythic tale,” as one investigator has labeled them, is that a group of college students in the 1960s, high on LSD, stared directly into
the sun until they lost their eyesight. A similar story claims that people high on PCP have plucked out their own eyes. Other violent selfdestructive behavior supposedly typical of crazed drug users includes jumping off roofs and extracting their own teeth; some addicts allegedly gained enough strength when high on drugs to tear themselves free from locked handcuffs. Stories of users cooking babies or of smugglers using an infant’s hollowed-out corpse to smuggle drugs are also part of the drug horror story tradition.
As bad as drug addiction and drug crimes are in today’s world, none of the above stories is literally true. Still, they are sometimes repeated by antidrug groups and even by police authorities as dire warnings against the evils of drug use. Irish folklorist Peter McGuire reported in an e-mail that “A friend told me a story about a guy on LSD who captures a ‘goblin’ or perhaps a ‘troll’ which turns out to be a little boy with Down’s Syndrome.” This seems to combine a traditional Irish (or Scandinavian) legend theme with a modern drug horror story.

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  1. This is it, the list you thought we’d never dare to do. Today we’re concluding our series of the best video games per generation to bring you our picks for the top ten video games of all time. If you’ve been following our video games per generation series, you’ll know that fifty games were selected as some of the best.
    TOP 10 VIDEO GAMES OF ALL TIME

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