URBAN LEGEND: a modern story of obscure origin and with little or no supporting evidence that spreads spontaneously in varying forms and often has elements of humor, moralizing, or horror

urban legend

Is there a city in this country where it has not been reported that there are alligators in the sewer system?  People in all the cities will swear on a Bible that they have seen them.  And I suppose that there is probably at least one city in the U.S. where it is true.   I recently heard someone in greater Providence (where I live) talk about releasing a growing alligator into the community.

The reality is that it is a story, for the most part, which is an urban legend.   It makes for good storytelling, and it is based upon some level of plausibility.   But in reality, there are probably no alligators in the sewers of Portland, Maine or Albuquerque, New Mexico.   Some people get a big kick out of telling the story, as it reveals people who are scared to death, or grossed out.   And the teller of the story gets some transient credit for knowing something that others didn’t know.

The other day someone told me that there is a cougar in my neighborhood.   I haven’t seen anything in the newspaper about it (and they report when a domestic cat has kittens!)   And nobody in our neighborhood has come knocking on our door to tell us about it.   The likelihood is that it is an urban legend (I hope!) and we will discover that somebody saw a feral cat that was oversized.   There are a host of them around.

There are all kinds of urban legends. Some are creepy and scary, like the babysitter who spotted a clown statue in the corner which creeped her out.   She called the parents of her charge and asked if it was okay if she covered it up.  The father told her to call 911 and get out of the house with the child.  They didn’t have a clown statue.  The story has several iterations, all ending in tragedy.  I’m not sure if anyone has ever verified such a story, but it has created a whole population of people who are frightened to death (figuratively) of clowns as a result.  I’m not fond of them myself.

The latest source of  urban legends is, of course, social media.   There are many places on the internet where such stories are told as if they are true, and some people believe them.   Some are stories said to be true about famous people.   Others are just good, old fashioned campfire tales which are designed to frighten people, especially before they go to bed.

Some social scientists indicate that urban legends probably have some truth to them in the beginning, but get more and more fantastic as they are passed around.   Kind of like the whisper game played at camp, where one person whispers something in someone’s ear.  They pass the message along to the next person (as they believe they have heard it) and so on around the circle.  By the time it gets to the last person, “I danced the rumba with Taylor Swift at a party last year” has become  “Taylor Swift is pregnant and will have her baby in Argentina next year.”  

So with urban legends.  What may have been a true story in the beginning morphs into an unbelievable, horrific story after it has been told by hundreds of people in many different locations.  Each storyteller amplifies it according to local issues.

And, no, Donald Trump is not moving to a small house on S Main Street in  Cedar Springs, Michigan, to grow Michigan cherries in the back yard.

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Photo Credit  galleryhip.com

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