Urban legends are a genre of story that permeate entire cultures and serve as word-of-mouth tales of mysterious happenings. Unlike other fictional works, these legends are regularly circulated as if they were true, often having happened to a friend of a friend or some other distant relation. The stories themselves can range from terrifying to funny and goofy, but they tend to have a strange appeal that allows them to stick around in the mind, ready to be passed on to the next unsuspecting subject.
The legends themselves can serve as entertainment but often do include material that warns of dangers to avoid. They can also act as confirmations of moral principles, prejudices, and society-wide problems. These stories often spread through in-person conversation but with the advent of quicker forms of media are now proliferating through online platforms like email and social media. One of the most amazing things about these legends is how consistent the stories can remain even as they originate from sources in different regions of the world. It's likely that you've heard one of these stories before and dismissed it as pure fantasy. While it may be the case that most urban legends aren't true, here are 10 that have a surprising grounding in real fact.
10. Charlie No-Face
This urban legend revolves around a man who allegedly burned off his face and several parts of his body. The story continues, stating that this person eventually grew older and hid himself in an abandoned house. From there, he would continue to haunt the Pennysylvania area, slowly developing a reputation as a specter that walked the highways and streets. In reality, this myth comes from the real life of Raymond Robinson, a man who was severely disfigured in a childhood electrical accident and who liked to take night-time walks. In the end, he was no ghost or monster but just an unfortunate and misunderstood individual.
9. Laced Halloween Candy
This classic bit of folklore has stuck around in the minds of concerned parents everywhere, especially when the season for scares and ghosts rolls around. It's long been a fear that unsavory parties might stick dangerous objects or poison into Halloween candy meant to be given to trick or treating young children. Unfortunately, it turns out that this bit of mythos is true. Though poisoning is not known to have happened there are many cases of trick-or-treat loot containing pins, needles, and razor blades. One particular incident involves James Joseph Smith, who was charged for putting needles in snicker bars.
8. Cropsey The Child Kidnapper
Cropsey was an urban legend that spawned from the minds of people living on Staten Island in New York City. This mysterious figure was rumored to be a homicidal lunatic, one who fell within the classic trope of being an escaped mental patient that liked to hunt children and drag them back to his underground lair. While all the details don't quite match up, Staten Island did have a real child kidnapper in the form of Andre Rand. Originally working as a janitor at the Willowbrook State School on the island, before becoming homeless, this man would eventually be tied and convicted for the disappearance and murder of a young girl, among other crimes.
7. Window Pane Pain
A common story is the tale of the business executive who accidentally threw himself through a window to his death. How did this happen? Well, as a test meant to demonstrate the strength of the windows, this particular man liked to heave himself at the glass in front of assembled guests. It turns out that this story is based on the true inclinations of Garry Hoy, who did really have the unusual habit of bodychecking windows in his office. This eccentric quirk ended in tragedy when the window popped out of the frame, taking him down several stories to his untimely demise.
6. Killers from the Medicine Cabinet
The classic movie Candyman features a scene where the eponymous Candyman attacks the main character, Helen, through the mirror of her medicine cabinet. It turns out that this horrifying development was actually a real-life case that happened in a southern Chicago Housing Authority Project known as ABLA. Ruthie Mae McCoy was the sad victim of a group of invaders, shot to death and left lying on the floor of her bedroom. What makes this particular murder stand out from the rest is that her killers entered her apartment through her medicine cabinet, making it a case where real life imitated fiction.
5. Poisoned Medicine
It's an old and eternal fear that one can be poisoned while taking what they thought was a harmless or helpful substance, in this case, specifically over the counter medication. But this common horror actually did happen in 1982 before over the counter medications had developed tamper-proof seals, in a series of cases, called the Tylenol Murders. Mary Kellerman, a 12-year-old girl from a suburb of Chicago, and 27-year-old postal worker Adam Janus, of Illinois, were two people who took Tylenol only to die from the deadly potassium cyanide that had been mixed into it. As a result of these never solved murders, tamper proof protections were introduced and adopted as an industry standard.
4. The Too Real Corpse Decoration
Another common story is the one describing the decoration of a human body that ends up being too real. That is, it turns out that what was thought to be a prop is actually the real corpse of some poor deceased soul. This unfortunate story actually happened to the American bank and train robber, Elmer J. McCurdy. After being murdered in a police shoot out in 1911, his body somehow ended up getting mummified and preserved before being put on display at funeral homes and later traveling carnivals and sideshows. His body would continue circulating around till it was buried and put to rest in 1977.
3. Bodies Under Hotel Bed
Few things are scarier than waking up from a nice night in a hotel only to find that you've been sleeping over a corpse the whole time. This urban legend supposedly originated from 1991 and is a gruesome tale that sticks in the memory. This story has a lot of basis in reality as its shockingly common how often dead bodies are stashed within beds and how often they are only discovered after complaints of strange smells. An example case is the 2003 discovery of a man's body in the Capri Motel, east of Kansas City, found by cleaning staff in an advanced stage of decomposition.
2. Alligators in the Sewers
There have been longstanding stories about alligators living in and emerging from sewers. In fact, stories of their existence date back to the late 1920s and early 1930s. The tale goes that would-be pet owners who bought baby alligators would abandon them and flush them down the toilet when they grew out of hand. From there they would subsist in the sewers, eventually growing to a terrifying size. While in most cases they are just a legend there have been real-life sightings of these creatures crawling through manmade sewage systems, like when a baby alligator was caught in the sewers of Queens, New York.
Polybius is an urban legend that came into being in the early 2000s. The legend describes this mythical game being created as part of a government-run science experiment on unsuspecting gamers. Supposedly based in Portland, Oregon, the game was said to produce intense psychoactive and addictive effects in any who played it. The publically located machines were then alleged to be regularly visited by government agents who collected the data and analyzed the noticeable effects it had on the populace. Though definitive proof of this game has yet to be found, the story has inspired the creation of mock-up arcade cabinets and several games named after it, making it real after all.
About the Author
Alice Chen is a freelance writer based out of the Toronto area. She's written for community newspapers, magazines, and websites, all the while enjoying every second of it. Now, she's on the path to honing her skills further and seeing where her writing can take her.
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