Everybody loves a good story. This part of human culture dates back in time to the days when there was no television, radio, Internet, smartphones, tablets, or any others means of electronic communication. It may be hard to believe, especially for young people, that there was a time in the not so distant past when none of this stuff existed and we had to rely on Urban Myths for fun.
Telling Stories Around a Fire
The first public radio broadcast was on January 13, 1910. It was a performance of the Metropolitan Opera in New York. This was the first time in human history that stories could be broadcast and many people could listen at the same time. Prior to this moment, for the thousands of years of early human history, stories were told at gatherings of people sitting around a fire. This is why President Franklin D. Roosevelt called his weekly Sunday night radio broadcasts during 1933 to 1944, “fireside chats.”
From this ancient human cultural phenomenon, emerged the story telling of urban myths (sometimes called “urban legends”). An urban myth is a story, which sounds incredible, but also potentially possible. Urban myths may be difficult to prove wrong. Even in our current times, people still love to go camping, sit around a fire, and tell stories about scary urban legends and myths.
These urban myths first were passed like gossip from person to person and then they began to appear in print (newspapers, books, and magazines). After this, they invaded radio broadcasts in radio dramatizations and some were promoted on television. Now, urban legends and myths spread like wildfire on the Internet.
Alligators in New York Sewers
A famous example of an enduring urban myth is the story of alligators living in the New York City sewer system. This urban myth started in the 1930s. People were convinced they saw alligators in the sewers and reported this to the police. Later, this myth was enhanced by the claim that people brought back baby alligators as pets from Florida vacations and when the alligators got too big, they released them into the sewers of New York.
The story is probably false; however, alligators are found in New York State lakes and water reservoir systems. An episode of the television show called MonsterQuest (Season 3 – Episode “Gators in the Sewers”) that airs on the History Channel, attempted to debunk the myth. They took a team of scientific experts and video cameras into the sewers to try to find some alligators. They did not find any alligators, but the scientists took measurements of the temperature and concluded the sewer environment certainly had adequate conditions to sustain alligators. The NYC sewer system is so vast. It has over 7,500 miles of pipes of various sizes. Checking the entire system is not feasible, so there is no way to prove with 100% certainty that this urban myth is false.
Urban Myth Quiz
Here is an urban myths list of some famous urban myths. Some are scary urban myths. Some are urban myths that are true. Take this quiz to see if you can spot the true urban myths.
- Under the famous New York luxury hotel, the Waldorf-Astoria, is a secret train platform.
- A photo of a boy (Noah Pozner) reported as killed in the Sandy Hook school shooting in America, shows up two years later, held up by women as part of the photos of students killed during a Taliban attack on a public school on Peshawar, Pakistan.
- One of the wives on “The Newlyweds” television show admitted her brother and cousin planned to kill her uncle for the insurance money.
- The Marlboro Man, in cigarette advertisements, died of lung cancer.
- The “Jimi Hendrix Experience” played as opening band on a national tour of the teeny-pop band “The Monkees.”
- People have been injured by lightning when taking baths or showers during thunderstorms.
- A married couple stayed in a hotel room with a dead body under the bed they slept in.
- People are sometimes buried alive.
- A woman on welfare gave birth to eight babies at the same time, when she already had six children.
- Nancy Reagan used an astrologer to help guide the success of President Ronald Reagan.
ANSWERS: All of these urban myths are TRUE. Were you fooled?
- Waldorf-Astoria’s secret train platform is TRUE.
Here are the photos to prove this. General Pershing was the first person to travel on a train on Track 61 that connected Grand Central Station to a secret underground train station below the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. President Franklin D. Roosevelt used it when he stayed at the hotel in NYC, during late 1930s and early 1940s. Track 61 is no longer in service; yet, the station still contains a train car from those times and a private elevator that leads up to the hotel garage. The elevator and train car were both big enough for President Roosevelt’s Pierce Arrow armor-plated automobile. The car would drive off the train car, into the elevator, and be taken up to the hotel garage. During 1965, Andy Warhol threw a party called “The Underground Party” using the space. It has not been in use since that time except by illegal squatters. Today, the train station is closed to the public.
- Conspiracy theorists were quick to spread the photos of women holding Noah Pozner’s photo while protesting the Taliban attack on the public school in Peshawar, Pakistan, as “proof” the Sandy Hook Elementary school attack in December 2012 never occurred. How could an American boy killed in 2012, be alive to be killed in Pakistan in December 2014, unless the Sandy Hook shooting was fake? The answer is simple. The women who were holding up Noah Pozner’s photo, were doing so as an example of other children killed in similar shooting incidences. The full story about the photo is on Snopes.com.
- Bob Eubanks, the host of the Newlyweds show asked one of the wife contestants what her husband told her not to discuss. She answered that her brother and cousin plan to kill her uncle for his insurance money. Her husband came out from back stage after she gave her answer. When it was his turn to match his wife’s answer, he answered correctly, confirming the murder plot was true on national television. The couple went on to win the show. The full story is on Snopes.com.
- Four of the actors who played the character of the Marlboro Man cowboy died of lung cancer or emphysema. They were, David Millar who was one of the originals featured in the ads during the 1950s, David McLean from the 1960s ads, Wayne McLaren from 1970s ads, and Eric Lawson from the 1980s ads. The full story is on Snopes.com.
- Jim Hendrix’s psychedelic hard rock band opened for the sugar-pop band The Monkees during the 1967 summer tour. Rumours were that Hendrix was kicked off the tour because of his lascivious performances and obscene lyrics. Those rumors are false. The truth is, Hendrix quit after playing only a few shows, because he could not bear listening to teenage girls screaming, “We want the Monkees!” throughout his performance. The full story is on Snopes.com.
- Most lightning strikes that hit people occur outside, but electricity from a lighting strike travels through any conductive material it hits, including wires that lead inside homes or pipes that lead to bathrooms. The full story is on Snopes.com.
- In fact, this particular urban legend has happened more than once. See “Body Under the Bed” for the full story.
- This rarely happens in modern times, but there is one documented case when it happened to a girl as reported by the New York Times newspaper on January 18, 1886.
- Nadya Suleman, the “octomom” is the only woman in the U.S. to birth octuplets (eight babies). She already had six children. She was unemployed and on welfare at the time. During 2014, she pled guilty to welfare fraud for not reporting US$30,000 in income she got from making public appearance while collecting US$24,000 in public assistance for her 14 children.
- Nancy Reagan consulted with two famous astrologers, Jeane Dixon before she dies and then Joan Quigley who died in Oct. 2014. This was a top secret while her husband was in the White House.
False Urban Myths
- The Biscuit Bullet – A woman thought she was shot in the back of the head when a can of refrigerated biscuits exploded from the heat in the back seat of her car.
- Heinz ketchup has 57 varieties. No, the owner and his wife’s lucky numbers are 5 and 7.
- Fully draining a rechargeable battery before recharging, helps condition the battery so it will recharge back to 100%. This is not necessary with lithium batteries
- The government can track your cell phone location even if it is turned off. No, off is off, unless a smartphone is infected by a virus.
- Apple Macs are immune to computer viruses. Not anymore.
- A camera with more megapixels takes better photos. No, this only makes the photo file size larger. The lens, lighting, and settings are more important for photo quality.
- Swimming right after eating will cause muscles cramps. No, jump right in.
- Giant human skeletons were discovered in Greece. Hoax.
- Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen after death. No, he was cremated.
- People have been drugged and then their kidney removed and stolen. No, the Kidney Foundation offers a reward to anyone who can prove this happened. So far, no reward has been claimed.
Urban myths and legends are always going to be around. The best ones, whether true or not, will be re-told, embellished, facts changed, but continue to have that intriguing element, which makes use want to tell someone else about it or pass the story along in an email.
Here is the final BONUS QUESTION. Is this urban myth true or false?
A man committed suicide by cutting his own head off by himself.
The creepy part is, this myth is TRUE. A man decapitated himself, as reported by ABC news. One of the witnesses actually said this, “We can’t ask him what really went through his head.” Our guess is, after the incident, much less blood than before.