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เพจAround the world และเพจANYAPEDIA ด้วยจ้า

Earwig Stories Urban Legends
The earwig got its name from an ancient folk belief claiming that this insect likes to enter the human ear and then bore its way deep into the head. The idea was probably strengthened by the earwig’s appearance, with a sharp, pincer-like appendage extending to the rear. However, earwigs are herbivores, and they are no more likely to enter an ear than are ants, bees, flies, or any other small insect. Even when earwigs do occasionally find their way into human ears, they cannot burrow through the skin and into the brain.

Modern urban legends about earwigs elaborate upon the theme of earburrowing with accounts of a doctor supposedly extracting an earwig from the opposite ear from its entry point and declaring it to be a female that must have laid eggs during its transit of the brain. A further elaboration of this notion is an anonymously photocopied “Earwig Alert” that pretends to be a medical bulletin advising patients infested with earwigs to take vitamins fortified with large amounts of iron and then have the
“wiglets” (or “larvalettes”) extracted with a strong electromagnet. Earwig stories have entered popular culture in science-fiction plots involving small voracious creatures put into the ears of enemies. There is also a punk-rock song with the chorus “You got an earwig, crawling toward your brain.”

The Eaten Pets Urban Legends
The common folk idea in the West that some foreigners, especially Eastern Europeans and Asians, eat cats and dogs as a regular part of their diets has given rise to numerous rumors and legends claiming that immigrants are stealing our cats and dogs for their dinner tables or to serve in ethnic restaurants. Such stories have a long history in Europe and Australia but have emerged more recently in the United States, especially with waves of new immigrants coming from Asia since the late 1960s. Local police, health officials, and journalists have repeatedly investigated such stories, almost always concluding that they are untrue. Spokespersons for the targeted immigrant groups have explained that
dogs and cats are seldom eaten in their home countries and that in the United States, with so many other kinds of meat readily available, there is no motivation for hunting down people’s pets for food. Besides the ethnic stereotyping evident in such stories, the actual disappearance of many pets seems to lend credibility to the claim. (“If those Asians are not eating our missing pets, then where are they disappearing!?”) Often these eaten-pet rumors and legends, as well as news stories about them, imply that even though such practices have not been documented locally, they do exist in other states, California being a leading example to be cited. A degree of skepticism about the stories is suggested by a sick joke that a new Vietnamese cookbook is titled 100 Ways to Wok Your Dog.

The Eaten Ticket Urban Legends
A European legend that appeared in the mid-eighties in Denmark. The story was first quoted in a Swedish collection as having been received in a 1989 letter from Viborg, Denmark. The story began, in the original, “En äldre dam och en punkara satt mitt emot varandra I ett S-tåg.” (“An elderly lady
and a punker were sitting opposite each other in an S-train.”) The clothing, hairdo, and loud ghetto-blaster of the punker offended the lady, who sounded off in a loud voice to all of the other passengers saying what she thought of the guy. The punker bore the criticism without replying, but when the conductor arrived in the car to take tickets, he snatched the lady’s ticket, chewed it up, and swallowed it. In spite of her explanation and protest, the lady had to pay a fine of 200 crowns. After the conductor left the car, the punker pulled out his wallet and repaid her, saying the cost was worth it just to see her reaction.

Variations of the story soon spread to Finland, Germany, France, and Switzerland. In 1987, the story was used in Norway as the basis for a short film intended to urge people to buy season passes for public transportation instead of daily tickets. In 1993, short films based on the same story were also made in Germany and Belgium. “The Eaten Ticket” shares with urban legends like “The Elevator Incident” and “The Packet of Biscuits” the theme of “Prejudice Rebuked” or “Tolerance Taught.”

The Economical Car Urban Legends
Someone’s new car gets phenomenal gas mileage—sometimes as much as 1,000 miles per gallon. The driver is astounded and mentions it to the dealer from whom he bought the car. The dealer  realizes that the customer has accidentally been sold an experimental model that the factory was desperately trying to locate and recall. The man is given a huge cash bonus for returning the car, or else is promised a new car annually for the rest of his life. Variations of “The Economical Car” have circulated at least since the late 1940s when, supposedly, new cars would improve greatly by  incorporating the technical advances pioneered in the recent war. The legend resurfaces periodically with different details, especially in times of oil crisis and high gasoline prices. The reason for the claimed miracle mileage is usually said to be a revolutionary carburetor that the oil companies, in a conspiracy with automobile manufacturers, are suppressing.

Despite the complete lack of any scientific or engineering support for such claims, the economical-car and miracle-carburetor rumors and stories continue to circulate, and some people always seem eager to purchase or invest in the phantom products, even in the face of fantastic claims, such as that the device will allow automobiles to be fueled by water. The development of commercially viable hybrid and all-electric cars in the early twenty-first century, to some extent, made this legend come true.

Education and Urban Legends
Teachers, especially in English composition classes, from middle school through college, find urban legends to be effective subjects for class discussions, essay topics, and research projects. Whether using stories already known to students or introducing legends from published sources, teachers have found such material fascinating to their classes and useful as an introduction to literary analysis,  research methods, and critical thinking. Of course, specific urban legends must be selected with some caution for the classroom, to find examples appropriate to the age and sophistication of the students.

Gail de Vos outlined three possible general topics for classroom use:
“Studying the Functions of Contemporary Legends,” “Comparing Variants,” and gathering “Contemporary Legends in Your School.” Her first two topics are based on analysis of published stories, while her third topic suggests assembling “an anthology of legends gathered in the community or at school.” Besides the educational value of such projects, de Vos mentions that “Folklore is an inexpensive source of material for financially strapped schools.”

Mary B. Nicolini described her approach to using urban legends in the classroom of an Indianapolis high school showing how her seniors “become hooked on tales of their own culture before being immersed in literature centuries old.” Besides reading and discussing urban legends from published collections, her students collected and analyzed stories told by classmates, other teachers, staff members, and parents. “Teens are skeptics; they demand proof,” Nicolini found, as her classes examined the truth claims and improbabilities of the urban legends they collected. They also discovered urban legends alluded to in movies, television, cartoons, and other media. A high point of the project was on an overnight field trip when one chaperone spontaneously “shared an amazing story about something which had happened to ‘a friend of a woman at work.’ ” It turned out to be the “Spiders in the Cactus” legend. Not only did the American students recognize this as a “new” urban legend, but an exchange student from Martinique said the same thing had supposedly happened to “a friend of my mother’s in France.”

A specific goal of teaching critical thinking via urban legends is the subject of the first chapter of Joseph Calabrese’s book Legends, Lore, and Lies. Reprinting my essay on the “Lights Out!” legend along with three other selections, Calabrese suggests such discussion and writing topics as these:

• What details do various e-mail versions of the story present?
• What steps were taken by sources to lend the tales an official appearance?
• Campus life revolves around academic routines familiar to any college student. What are some of these routines, and how do the legends exploit them?
• The “Lights Out” legend focuses on gangs. Find several more tales that involve gangs and analyze them to determine what fears they prey on.

The Elephant That Sat on the VW
An elephant in a circus parade, or one recently retired from a circus now giving rides in a zoo, spots a red Volkswagen. Apparently believing it to be the red stool on which it sat during its act, the elephant lumbers over to the VW and sits on it, crushing the front end. Driving home in the badly damaged car, the VW owner stops for a drink to calm his nerves, then is pulled over by the police who ask about the damage to the car. He explains that an elephant sat on his VW; the police breathalyze him, then cite him for driving under the influence.

Variations of this story have been around since the early 1960s, and it was debunked in the  Volkswagen company’s periodical Small World in 1970, but it persists. The legend is well known in England, Germany, Sweden, France, Canada, and in Australia, where it was retold in Peter Carey’s 1981 novel Bliss (involving a red Fiat) and depicted in the 1985 film based on the novel. Bill Scott included the following version full of specific local details in his 1985 collection of “Australian yarns”: There was a doctor in Brisbane who bought a new Mercedes with all the latest fittings and power operated windows. The first weekend he had it he took his wife and children to visit the Lion Park at Beenleigh. The kids were in the back seat, and feeding the elephant through the back window,
buns or something. They stopped feeding the elephant who then reached through the opening to feel around for more food. One of the children panicked and pushed the button to wind up the window, trapping the animal’s trunk. The elephant reacted by kicking the new car and denting and damaging it severely.

The irate doctor cut the visit short and decided to take the children home as punishment. About the Kingston turn-off he came to a very bad road accident, and pulled up to see if he could give any help to the injured. While he was busy helping, the police arrived. They eventually began to question him as to his part in the accident. When he protested, and said that he had simply arrived afterwards, they pointed to the damage to his car. “How did that happen, then?” they asked. “It was kicked by an elephant,” he replied. They then charged him with driving under the influence, giving false information, etc. Scott devotes several pages to Aussie variations on the elephant-car mishap story involving Minis, Datsuns, or VWs, as well as repeating a French version he heard involving a red Renault. American versions are invariably localized to a particular zoo, amusement park, or circus. Sometimes the story is told to explain an insurance claim for a badly dented small car.

Elevator Accidents
In the 1940s, a legend circulated about a disturbing dream that warned someone away from a fatal elevator accident. In 1959, Richard Dorson wrote of “another macabre legend” about elevator accidents said to have occurred in various Michigan settings. He summarized three versions he
had heard:

In J. L. Hudson’s Department Store in Detroit, a woman entered an elevator car before it had completely stopped, and was caught with her body hanging inside the shaft and only her head visible to the passengers inside. The body fell down the shaft twelve floors, while the head was decapitated
and rolled into the car. The hair had turned completely white from the shock, and all the women in the car fainted. Another account places the blame on a careless operator, who closed the doors too soon. A third party states, “This really happened in Flint, in the building where my father worked. And it wasn’t due to a careless operator. The cable broke and that is why the car fell.”

These legends apparently did not survive into the later twentieth century, perhaps because elevators have proven to be extremely safe and because nowadays stores and shopping malls primarily use escalators to move people between floors.

The Elevator Incident
This is one of the most durable and popular urban legends of the late twentieth century. The modern form of the story emerged in the early 1980s, telling of a large black man with a dog on a leash entering an elevator that contained just two or three white middle-aged women. He says “Sit!” or “Sit, lady!” and the women, thinking him a mugger, sit on the floor. He laughingly explains that he was talking to his dog. Later they learn that the man was baseball star Reggie Jackson.

With innumerable variations in the setting, the command, the identity of the celebrity, and the aftermath, the legend continues to circulate nearly two decades later both at home and abroad, although foreign versions usually set the scene in the United States. Generally the incident is said to take place in a major resort city such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or New York City. The victims are either vacationers or people from out of town on a business or shopping trip. Sometimes they are set up for their misunderstanding by repeated warnings to be careful in the big city. The accidental supposed mugger in the legend has also been identified as Lionel Richie, Wilt Chamberlain, Arsenio Hall, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, O. J. Simpson, and many others, but especially in recent years
Eddie Murphy. The command may be quoted as “Hit the floor!” or “Hit fo!” (i.e., hit the button for floor four). Following the incident, the black celebrity may send the victims a note, money, roses, or champagne, and/or pay their hotel bill, their restaurant bill, and so on.

The obvious racist themes in “The Elevator Incident” include the notion that whites cannot tell black people apart or understand their accents. Since the white victims expect the worst from the black man on the elevator (who is sometimes accompanied by his dog and/or bodyguards), they misinterpret the man’s words in the worst possible way. Seemingly “excusing” this racism is the fact that the black man turns out to be good-humored and generous. The comic persona of Eddie Murphy in his popular films helps to fit the legend to him, although Murphy has strongly denied that any such thing ever occurred. Older versions of an elevator-incident legend do not involve a black man but instead a person named Neil. When someone calls out the name, bystanders misunderstand it as the command to “Kneel!” and immediately obey. Victims in the Neil/kneel versions are usually intimidated by someone in a position of authority or who has a “commanding” appearance.

A scene evidently based on an “Elevator Incident” prototype appeared in the episode of The Bob Newhart Show first broadcast on December 1, 1973. A black client (not a celebrity) of Dr. Bob’s has a large dog named “Whitey.” When he commands the dog, “Sit, Whitey!” a white character in the scene hastily sits on the edge of a desk. Although the characters are not on an elevator, the doors of the office elevator are visible in the background. The pun on the name of the dog sounds like a  scriptwriter’s addition to what was probably at that time a traditional story beginning to take shape as an urban legend.

The Elizabethan E-mail Hoax
A long essay, widely circulated as e-mail, purports to describe “Life in the 1500s,” specifically the primitive living conditions of Anne Hathaway (wife of William Shakespeare) and her family. Each description of tough times (such as having only dirt floors) is followed by an invented etymology
for a familiar expression (this is the supposed origin of “dirt poor”). Among the sayings included are “to throw the baby out with the bath water,” “raining cats and dogs,” “to chew the fat,” and “graveyard shift.” The purely nonsensical nature of these explanations reveals the whole document as a hoax, that is, a deliberate attempt to foist off humor and whimsy as fact.

Numerous urban legends depict people suffering various degrees of embarrassment because of something foolish they have said or done. In telling or hearing such stories, people are reminded of their own past slipups and indiscretions. Perhaps people suffer vicariously, to some degree, the same embarrassed feelings; but the telling of these legends also allows us to laugh a little at our former embarrassments.

Simple ignorance is one cause of embarrassment described in urban legends: someone using a computer or following a recipe or responding to an order, for example, simply gets it wrong, usually in a particularly hilarious way. Another typical theme is mistaking the identity of another person with results that may be embarrassing to one or both of the parties. The social blunder (or faux pas) is a third common means of someone embarrassing himself or herself in legends. Specific examples of such legend types include “Bungling Brides,” “Buying Tampax,” “The Elevator Incident,” and “The Crushed Dog,” among many others. Probably the greatest anxiety reflected in urban legends—and hence the major cause of embarrassment—is represented by the sexual theme. People are constantly chagrined and left red-faced in legends by such things as being caught in the nude, or caught in a sexual act, or caught otherwise straying from the straight and narrow path of virtue. In other words, when people act naturally and impulsively in legends they can expect to be observed and  embarrassed.

It might be argued that virtually all urban legends about such themes as human nature, jumping to conclusions, poetic justice, revenge, scandal, and even some accident and horror stories involve a degree of embarrassment. Thus, the examples mentioned above and listed below merely suggest the range of potentially embarrassing situations found in urban legends.

Emergent and Ephemeral Legends
Personal experiences, rumors, anecdotes, and news reports that are odd, sometimes humorous or horrifying, that involve coincidence or irony, and are unverified may evolve into urban legends that have a plot, then circulate more widely and develop variants. Such “urban legends in the making” have been labeled “emergent legends.” The process by which such items become legends has been called “folklorizing.” In one example, reported without a source in a newspaper column about steroid misuse by athletes, “Fake steroids were sold to athletes via the black market. One male athlete bought, and used, birth control pills, thinking them to be steroids.” Another item, similarly unverified but said by a columnist to be true, is this: “A teamster asked to take a urine test for drug use brought a sample from his wife instead; the teamster was supposedly found to be pregnant.”

Donna L. Wyckoff documented a good example of a legend emerging from an odd, humorous news story. In February 1996, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on the frustration of a local man attempting to buy tickets for events in the Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta by telephone. Both a customer service representative and a supervisor refused to process the order because “we can’t sell tickets to someone who lives outside of the United States.” The story quickly became folklorized with the elaboration and addition of certain details as well as via commentary by storytellers
who had never read the news report. Some storytellers added further examples of “New Mexico” being confused with “Old Mexico” by unaware Americans. Since, as Wyckoff wrote, the story was an example of the process to “capture the public’s imagination, become folklorized, and enter and fade from folk conduits quickly,” this was also a good example of an ephemeral legend.

England Urban Legends
Stewart F. Sanderson, who at the time was director of the Institute of Dialect and Folk Life Studies at the University of Leeds, published the earliest extended study of urban legends in England: “Folklore of the Motor Car,” appearing in the journal Folklore in 1969. Then, in 1981, when the study of contemporary legends had finally become established among British scholars and writers, Sanderson chose as his topic for the first Katharine Briggs Lecture for the Folklore Society “The Modern Urban Legend.” In that lecture (published in 1982 by the Folklore Society as a separate pamphlet), he included these encouraging words: The modern legend constitutes one of the most, may indeed even constitute the most widespread, popular, and vital folklore form of the present day; and what strikes me as perhaps its most outstanding feature is the creativity, imagination, and virtuosity brought to its performance by all kinds of people, old and young, well read and barely literate, educationally  privileged and educationally deprived. Sanderson also mentioned in his lecture that he had discussed the genre of modern legends at a 1963 conference in Portugal with his compatriot Katharine Briggs and with the American folklorist Richard Dorson, and that Briggs shortly after began to collect examples and to publish them first in 1965.

Scattered notes in various English folklore journals appeared in the 1970s on legends including Chinese-restaurant stories, “The Packet of Biscuits,” and “The Double Theft.” More substantial studies were Jacqueline Simpson’s essays (“Rationalized Motifs in Urban Legends,” Folklore 1981) concerning “The Robber Who Was Hurt” and Simpson’s study of “Urban Legends in The Pickwick Papers” (Journal of American Folklore 1983).

A landmark work from outside the academy in England was Rodney Dale’s The Tumour in the Whale (1978), a compilation of many stories that introduced the enduring term “FOAF” (friend of a friend). Dale’s second collection, It’s True . . . It Happened to a Friend, appeared in 1984. A similar popular collection published in 1992 by Phil Healey and Rick Glanvill was somewhat inaccurately titled Urban Myths. Yet another term was employed in two popular books compiled by Paul Smith, The Book of Nasty Legends (1983) and The Book of Nastier Legends (1986). Smith, then attached to the Center for English Cultural Tradition and Language (CECTAL) at the University of Sheffield, organized the first international conference on contemporary legends, which was held at Sheffield in 1982. Papers from that conference were published by CECTAL in 1984, followed by four additional conferences and their resulting published papers. In 1988, the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research (ISCLR) was founded, with Paul Smith as president; Smith himself moved to the Memorial University of Newfoundland, continuing his research on urban legends and his activities as a promoter and organizer of conferences and publications. The ISCLR returned to England for its annual conference in 1996, convening at the University of Bath, and it has alternated conferences in the United States, Canada, and abroad since then.

Most of the urban legends circulating in England will be familiar to Americans; indeed, the English repertoire of such stories overlaps in large part with the contemporary legends of the rest of Britain and Europe as well as of Canada and Australia. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to identify the country of origin for a particular popular legend. Such localized legend titles as “The Surrey Puma” or “The Exmoor Beast,” for example, merely refer to English examples of the international legend type that might be called “Big Cats Running Wild.”

Distinctive English legends, however, have been identified and studied. To cite just three examples published in the Perspectives volumes of conference essays (contained in the bibliography of this book), see Ervin Beck’s study of “The Meat That Never Spoils” (1984), Georgina Boyes’s study of “The Curse of the Crying Boy” (1989), and Michael Goss’s study of “The Halifax Slasher” (1990). Especially notable in the same series are the essays by Gillian Bennett, ranging from her study of “The Phantom Hitchhiker” in the 1984 volume to her anatomizing of a storytelling session in the 1989 volume. Works by other English students of contemporary legends (e.g., Marion Bowman, Brian McConnell, Venetia Newall, et al.) may be located using Smith and Bennett’s compilation Contemporary Legend: A Folklore Bibliography (1993). Smith and Bennett’s 2007 collection Urban Legends: A Collection of International Tall Tales and Terrors is the latest such work to include many examples from the UK. Here is a version of “The Grateful Terrorist” reported to me via e-mail
in November 2005 by a woman from West Yorkshire, England. It “has all the ingredients of an urban legend,” as my correspondent suggests, including oral transmission, variation, the friend-of-a-friend attribution, and the vague description of an otherwise nonthreatening “Asian man” as someone with supposed ties to terrorists:

I heard this from my hairdresser today, and it seemed to have all the ingredients of a new urban legend. My hairdresser said that a friend of one of her clients was walking behind an Asian man in Huddersfield town centre, and the man dropped his wallet on the street. The client’s friend chased after the man and returned the wallet. The Asian man was thankful for this, and he told the client’s friend that one good turn deserves another. So he told her to avoid going to the Trafford Centre (a large shopping complex near Manchester) between certain dates in December.

My hairdresser then told me that one of her colleagues had heard a similar tale from one of her clients, but this differed in that the Asian man advised the finder of his wallet not to go to Meadowhall, a large shopping complex near Sheffield between other dates in December. The inference is that there were planned terrorist attacks at these centres when hordes of people are doing their Christmas shopping. Three periodicals compiled in the United Kingdom, issued as a continuous
series of small “miscellanies” of folklore materials, provided an outlet for publishing much contemporary legend material both from Britain and beyond, especially as these materials appeared in the media. Dear Mr. Thoms [DMT] (Numbers 5–36, 1987–1994), edited by Gillian Bennett, began as Forum, Occasional Newsletter of the British Folk Studies Forum (Numbers 1–4, 1986–1987), while Letters to Ambrose Merton [LAM](Numbers 1–28, 1995–2002), edited by Sandy Hobbs and David Cornwell, carried on until lack of subscribers and diminishing contributions of material defeated the effort. The whimsical titles of these miscellanies refer to William J. Thoms who coined the word “folklore” in 1846 and sometimes used the pseudonym “Ambrose Merton.”

A wealth of ephemeral source material—some items as short as half a page but always well documented—as well as essays and reviews were contained in these publications. The last number of Ambrose Merton contains an index to the whole series, which is a useful starting point in mining these sources. Sandy Hobbs at the University of Western Scotland in 2011 began putting the major folkloric examples from both DMT and LAM online, where they may be viewed at http://ambrosemerton.org. The site includes a history of the complete series, an archive arranged chronologically, and a search engine. Contemporary Legend, the journal of the ISCLR, was published in England from 1991 to 1994, and the term “contemporary legend” remains the favorite designation for urban legends used in that country as well. Perhaps England’s best known international legend subject is the card-collecting effort focusing on Craig Shergold.

The Escalating Medical Problem
Someone goes to a clinic or hospital for treatment of a minor ailment, but the rules and procedures require a full physical examination, which in turn reveals a potentially more serious condition. However, when treatment of this condition is botched, the patient is left worse off than before. After a long convalescence, when the person is finally ready for release, it is noted by the same intern who had admitted the patient that the original minor problem has still not been corrected.Sometimes called “The Kafkaesque Hospital Visit,” this story may begin and end simply with the patient’s ill-fitted eyeglasses, with an inept proctoscopy leading to peritonitis or other complications in the middle (so to speak). Other medical horror stories, some with a basis in fact, tell of wrong organs being removed, flopped X-rays, fatal colonic explosions (it does happen; see reference below), and endless hospital and insurance paperwork that delays or even prevents proper medical care. Obviously, deep suspicions and fears about health care providers underlie these stories.

Another medical horror story involves a priest visiting a parishioner who is in an intensive care unit. He finds the patient connected to many tubes and wires but still able to greet the priest cheerfully. But as the priest watched, the man grew visibly worse and seemed to be fighting to breathe. The patient motioned for a pencil and paper from his bedside table and scribbled a note, but then became unconscious. The priest stuffed the note into his pocket and summoned help; however, the man died before anything could be done. The priest offered a silent prayer for the departed and went home, deeply shaken. Then he remembered the note and pulled it from his pocket and uncrumpled it. The note read, “PLEASE, FATHER YOU’RE STANDING ON MY AIR HOSE.”

Long an important center of collecting and researching older traditional European folktales, Estonia has proven in recent years also to be home to various urban legends. These have become known to other urbanlegend researchers mainly through the work of two folklorists—Mare Köiva and Eda Kalmre—both from the Estonian Folklore Archives in Tartu, who have published notes on Estonian urban legends in FOAFtale News and also given papers at ISCLR conferences. For two prominent Estonian urban legends, see the entries for “Cats Out of their Skins” and “Human Sausage Factories.”

Suggesting that international urban legends migrated to Estonia along with aspects of popular culture from abroad, Köiva reported that when American-style hamburger stands became popular in the late 1980s, “a kiosk in the market square in Tartu was said to have dogskins near it all the time; the owners were said to catch vagabond dogs and make hamburgers of them.” Similarly, when AIDS became a serious problem in Estonia starting in the early 1990s, various AIDS narratives similar to stories told in other countries about the origin and spread of AIDS also appeared in Estonia. Likely there are many other urban legends circulating in Estonia (as, indeed, in many other countries), just waiting for a folklorist to record them. Kalmre has noted just two others in a brief report: that “certain
models of Sony digital camcorders can be used . . . for seeing through clothes,” and that a young woman had died in a Tallinn nightclub from a drink spiked with eyedrops containing deadly nightshade (a product not even available in Estonian pharmacies).

Köiva has also noted the popularity in Estonia, especially with children aged about 7 to 10 years old, of “horror stories” that borrow somewhat from traditional folktales but incorporate other stock themes like mysterious black dots, sinister yellow curtains, skeletons, corpse eaters, ghosts, and vampires into rather simple and unelaborated stories, often with absurd endings. These stories are told at camps or other gatherings when children are usually not with adults. “With their simple structure and presentation,” Köiva writes, “they resemble memorates and are close to urban legends.”
Back issues and current issues of FOAFtale News are now maintained online by folklorists at the Estonian Folklore Archives.

Exploding Animals
Birds that eat rice thrown at weddings followed by a drink of water supposedly swell and explode. Seagulls that eat Alka-Seltzer tablets thrown to them by sailors also blow up. Small pet birds treated by inept or student veterinarians burst into flame and disappear in a puff of smoke and feathers when an electric cautery is used after giving the bird ether. Bees sucked up in a vacuum sweeper blow up when the person trying to remove the pests from a kitchen directs oven gas into the sweeper and it ignites from a spark in the motor. The exploding-animal theme becomes more detailed and specific in legends about pets or wild animals wired with explosives or put into a microwave oven.

The Exploding Bra
A woman (sometimes a flight attendant) is wearing an inflatable brassiere on an airplane trip. As the cabin pressure changes, her bra expands alarmingly. She rushes for the restroom, sometimes making it in time to deflate her bra discreetly, but in other versions the bra explodes en route. Alternately, the inflated bra may be stuck with a pin—either by the wearer trying to stop the extra expansion or (in nonairplane versions) by a young man pinning a corsage onto his date’s dress.

Inflatable bras do, of course, exist, but the stories of surprising expansion due to changing air pressure are highly doubtful and always told second-or thirdhand. Similar stories are sometimes told about silicone breast implants, although the claims for their further expansion are even more dubious with these products.

The popular television series MythBusters ran an elaborate series of experiments to test both implants and inflatables under strong pressure, replicating both high altitudes and the strong pressures encountered in deep-sea diving. There were no explosions, so the “myth” was deemed (with no pun intended) “Busted.”

The Exploding Butane Lighter
This story was summarized in his column of December 21, 1979, by the legendary San Francisco columnist Herb Caen: It came to me on official-looking U.S. Dept. of Transportation stationery, but it’s a hoax. I mean the story that two Union Pacific welders were killed when a spark ignited their butane lighters, which exploded “with the force of three dynamite sticks.” Sighs UP Flack Al Krieg: “That story swept the country the past month but we have no record of such an accident. It keeps
popping up everywhere. Some myths die hard.”

Photocopied fliers—bogus warnings—circulating in the late 1970s and early 1980s described this supposed accident involving welders, usually said to be Union Pacific workers. (Disposable butane lighters were introduced by the Bic Corporation in 1972.) The rating of the explosion as equal to three sticks of dynamite was a consistent detail, yet the entire story was fictional. However, in the mid-1980s, dangerous problems with such lighters began to surface, and in 1986, the first case against a manufacturer of butane lighters went to trial and ended in a $3 million settlement against the company. However, neither this case nor others involving such lighters involved welding sparks or actual explosions; instead, the problems were caused by flare-ups of lighters that had failed to extinguish completely after use.

The folk legends evidently did preserve the general memories of such accidents, which had been settled out of court for years, while at the same time confusing and inventing some details. Another legend involving a welding accident describes contact lenses becoming fused to a person’s corneas.

The Exploding Toilet
Some kind of volatile substance—typically insecticide or hair spray—is put into a toilet, usually by a man’s wife. She does not flush. When her husband uses the toilet while smoking a cigarette, he flips the butt under his butt and blows himself off the pot. Paramedics carrying him to an ambulance, hearing how he was injured, laugh so hard they drop the stretcher, causing him further harm.

There are endless variations of this story, sometimes linking several household accidents and nearly always ending with the laughingparamedics motif. For example, the wife may have caused an earlier accident that sends her husband to the hospital, and she paints the bathroom while he is gone. She disposes of paint thinner into the toilet, and the second and third accidents follow after her husband’s return.

A popular recent variation of “The Exploding Toilet” describes the husband accidentally driving his new motorcycle through a plate-glass window or door into the house. While he is being treated for cuts and bruises, his wife cleans up the mess, pouring the mopped-up gasoline into the toilet, with predictable results.

In 1988, “The Exploding Toilet” was reported as a news item from Tel Aviv. Before the story was debunked as mere oral tradition a few days later, this account of “A Blast Heard ’round the World” had spread internationally and was widely reprinted.

“The Exploding Toilet” derives from a rural gag about a volatile substance (kerosene, naphtha, gasoline, etc.) poured into the pit under an outhouse. The Canadian poet Robert Service elaborated this traditional story in his poem “The Three Bares” published in 1949, but the anecdote surely circulated much earlier, and it was known at about the same period in Australia as well. Punch lines of the joke versions generally follow the formula, “It must have been something I ate.”

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