Urban legends are told as true, local, recent occurrences. They often contain names of places or entities located in close proximity to the teller. According to Snopes.com, urban legends are a specific class of legends that are provided and believed to be an account of something that really happened and was witnessed by someone the teller almost knows.
Urban legends often put our fears and concerns into stories which people then use as cautionary tales that warn us against risky behaviours. These legends also often seem to confirm our suspicion that our world is a big and dangerous place. While it is true that most urban legends are fictional, some do originate from actual incidents. There are different types of these urban legends; while some are creepy, others are deemed rather humorous.
Famous Urban Legends
Urban legends stories get passed around in a variety of ways. They may be told as a story or written down and mailed to recipients. They may also be shared over the internet via email or social media. This list of urban legends includes a wide variety of some of the most recognizable legends that we consider true stories:
- Mr. Rogers was a Navy SEAL. Rumours often circulate about unassuming television personalities holding important military positions in their past. The legend was that Mr. Rogers was a sniper for the SEALs during the Vietnam War, although he was never in the military.
- Bloody Mary. Chanting “bloody Mary” at a mirror thirteen times in a dark room will summon a vengeful spirit. The spirit may scratch your face, kill you, or pull you into the mirror to live with her.
- Kennedy and the Jelly Doughnut. When President John F. Kennedy made a speech in Berlin after the erection of the Berlin Wall, he was accused of making a grammatical error that made his intended statement “I am a Berliner” translate into “I am a jelly doughnut”.
- The Dissolving Tooth. This legend says that if you leave a tooth in a glass of soda overnight, the acid present in the soda will dissolve the tooth.
- The Good Samaritan. This legend focuses on a motorist that helps someone who is stuck on the side of the road fix a flat tire. The person the motorist assists asks for the motorists address to send a thank you. A few weeks later the good Samaritan receives $10,000 in the mail as a reward.
- Walt Disney is Cryogenically Frozen. Although Walt Disney was cremated after his death, rumours have circulated for decades that he had his body cryogenically frozen so that once modern medicine advanced they could bring him back to life.
- Sewer Alligators. According to this legend, people brought baby alligators from Florida to New York City to keep as pets. However, as the alligators began to grow into adults, they were released into the city’s sewer systems. The rumour can be traced back to the 1930’s and has been proven false, yet continues to circulate.
- The Vanishing Hitchhiker. In this legend a motorist picks up a female hitchhiker on a lonely stretch of road, once he arrives at her home he sees that she is gone. After knocking on the door at her home, he is informed that she died years ago in a car accident in the same place where the motorist picked her up.
- The Kidney Heist. This hoax says that a travelling businessman meets a stranger who buys him drinks. The businessman later wakes up in a bathtub covered with ice along with a phone and a note instructing him to call 911. He learns at the hospital that his kidney has been removed so that criminals can sell it on the black market.
- The Killer in the Backseat. This tale is about a woman who notices she’s being followed by a man in a car. He follows her to her home where he warns her to run inside and lock the door. He is her hero because there was actually a killer in her backseat waiting to murder her and the man noticed the killer slouching down in the backseat.
- The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs. A babysitter begins receiving increasingly disturbing phone calls from a stranger. When he asks if she’s checked on the kids, she calls the police who tell her the calls are coming from inside the house. When the police arrive, they find the man in the children’s room after having brutally murdered them.
- Humans Can Lick Too. A girl goes to bed with her dog. When she awakens several times during the night, she reaches over so the dog can lick her hand reassuring her that all is well. In the morning, she wakes to find the dog dead and a note saying humans can lick too.
- Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn on the Light. A girl returns to her dorm room after a party and goes straight to bed without turning on the lights. When she wakes in the morning, she finds her roommate brutally murdered and that phrase written in blood on the wall.
- The Jedi Religion Form. This hoax claims that if enough people fill out “Jedi” on their census forms as their religion, the government will then have to recognize it as a legitimate religious group.
- Snuff Films. A movie funded by the twisted and wealthy, during which a person is killed.
- The 9/11 Tourist Guy – A photo began circulating after 9/11 of a tourist standing on top of the World Trade Center just as a plane was coming in to hit the building. The story said that the camera was found in the wreckage but the tourist was missing.
- USA, Japan. There is a town in Japan called USA. This was done so the Japanese could stamp their exports with “Made in USA” and have it be the truth.
- The Poisonous Daddy Long Legs. The rumour here is that the daddy long legs is the most poisonous spider on earth, but they can’t affect humans because its fangs are too small.
- The Hook. A couple drive into the woods and hear on the radio that a killer with a hook for one hand has escaped from a nearby mental hospital. The girl protests saying that it’s time to go, but her boyfriend insists that everything is fine and locks the car doors. When the boy finally agrees to take her home, they find a bloody hook hanging on the outside handle of the door.
- The Boyfriend’s Death. This legend says that a young couple pull over on an abandoned road. The boyfriend gets out to use the bathroom but doesn’t return. After some time passes, the girlfriend decides to go look for him, but instead sees a dark figure. When she runs back to the car, she finds that the bumper has been tied to a tree and that her boyfriend is hanging from the same tree.
- The Clown Statue. A babysitter calls the parents she is working for to ask if she can cover up a creepy clown statue, but the parents tell her that they don’t have a statue. The sitter flees the house with the kids and they find out that the clown is a munchkin who has been in their home and watching the children sleep.
- The Fatal Hairdo. A woman grew tired of spending hours carefully “ratting” (teasing) and spraying her hair to attain the perfect beehive. She decided to make it so she wouldn’t have to do her hair every day by washing it in sugar water and then allowing it to harden in the style she desired. She would sleep on a special pillow with a towel wrapped around her head to protect her hair. One morning, the woman was found dead in her bed. When the towel was removed, it was revealed that her head had been gnawed until she died by bugs or rats (depending on the version told).
- Dead Body Under the Mattress. This legend is also steeped in truth. In this tale, a couple gets a hotel room and notices a bad smell. When they have the hotel staff investigated, they discover a dead body beneath the mattress.
- The Halloween Hanging. The story here is that a boy participating accidentally hangs himself from the “fake” gallows for the play. This one is based on several true stories.
- Buried Alive. This one is actually true. So many people have in fact been buried alive that there were precautions put in place, such as a string inside the coffin to alert undertakers if the corpse was actually alive.
The Scariest Urban Legends
It’s no surprise that many consider one of the most frightening urban legends to be ‘bloody Mary’. For years, screaming girls at sleepovers have attempted to summon the apparition. Urbanlegends.about.com lists the following as some of the scariest urban legends that are circulating. Many of these are also found on the most popular list since an essential part of urban legend lore is the ability of the tale to scare or shock us.
- Bloody Mary
- The Hook Man
- The Clown Statue
- The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs
- The Russian Sleep Experiment
- Humans Can Lick, Too
- The Killer in the Backseat
- The Hanging Boyfriend
- The Killer in the Window
- The Fatal Hairdo
- Bride-and-Seek (The Missing Bride)
- The Choking Doberman
- Aren’t You Glad You Didn’t Turn on the Light
- The Knife in the Briefcase
- The Breast Infestation
- The Premature Burial
- Carmen Winstead
- Ants in the Brain
- The Body Under the Bed
- The Fatal Tan