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What is an Urban Legend

Updated on August 13, 2014

Didn't you know that Walt Disney had his body cryogenically frozen, and that Mr. Rogers was a Navy Seal?

Just like other legends, urban legends claim to be historical in nature and claim the occurrences happened to real people. And, just like in the legends of Robin Hood and King Arthur, the tales cannot be proven.

Urban legends are popular stories passed by word-of-mouth that often relate common misconceptions and unsolved mysteries. These legends are passed down generations as true stories that are sometimes horrific, embarrassing, or ironic. Usually told as entertainment around a campfire, urban legends sometimes have their origin in truth, though the final story is usually some twisted, dramatic version of what really happened.

Urban legends can be funny or scary, and are sometimes just people playing pranks on the rest of the world. Most people are familiar with the stories told in the legends, whether they are aware these tales are urban legends or not.

A few of the most well known urban legends:

  1. Probably the most well-known legend is one that most children hear at their first sleep-over during a game of Truth-or-Dare. The dare is to go into a locked bathroom with the lights out and chant the name of a witch who was burned at the stake, Mary, three times. If done correctly, the legend says that the witch will appear in the mirror.
  2. Most people have heard that if enough people fill out “Jedi” under the religion section of a census form, then the government would be forced to recognize it as an official religion. At one point thousands of people were scribbling Jedi as their religion, but, unfortunately for them, this was just a hoax, and the government never made Jedism an official religion.
  3. The legend of the female hitchhiker tells of a woman stranded on the side of the road. A male driver picks her up and follows the directions she gives him to her house, but as he pulls in the driveway he notices that she has vanished from his back seat. When the man knocks on the door to the home, he is told that the woman died many years ago in a car that crashed in the same spot where he picked her up.
  4. Elvis died on the toilet. No, he faked his death. Actually, neither is true. Despite the fact that millions of people knowingly retort that Elvis died whilst using the bathroom, he was actually found several feet away from the porcelain god. However, some people don’t believe the King of Rock and Roll ever left us as all. Though he was said to have departed from this world in 1977, there have been millions of Elvis sightings throughout the decades. Though, these are most likely impersonator sightings or just people lying for attention, many still believe the King is alive and well and ready to perform again.
  5. A babysitter calls the parents after she has put the kids to bed and asks if she can cover up the creepy clown statue in the living room. The father immediately tells the babysitter to wake up the kids, go next door, and call the police. They don’t own a creepy clown statue. The babysitter does this and after the police arrive she finds out that the children have been complaining of a clown terrorizing them at night, but the parents had thought they were having nightmares. The police arrest a midget dressed as a clown who had been living, unknown, inside the house for weeks. When the babysitter had come in the midget hadn't had time to hide and instead froze to look like a statue.
  6. Almost everyone has heard the rumors of alligators living in New York City’s sewer system. This is a legend dating back to the 1930’s telling of a bunch of gators that were brought back to the city from Florida and kept as pets, but when the beasts got too big and violent they escaped into the sewer system where they still live today.

Though none of these stories can be proven as true, most of them haven’t been proven as false either.

“The lack of verification in no way diminishes the appeal urban legends have for us. We enjoy them merely as stories, and we tend at least half-believe them as possibly accurate reports.”

--Jan Harold Brunvand

© 2014 Sckylar Gibby-Brown

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