Urban legends are just that: Often epic, legendary stories that wend their way across towns and neighborhoods, scaring the pants off of unsuspecting children.
Today, we’re taking a look at some of the most famous fables, where they came from, and whether there was any truth behind their warnings.
Then, we’re going to ask you to weigh in with your own classic urban legends. What yarns did you and your friends spin at campouts and sleepovers? Email us — email@example.com — and we’ll round your tales up in a future article.
Were there really razor blades in Halloween apples?
A fear of razor blades in apples and/or poisoned candy bars is one of the most famous country-wide urban legends.
Let’s be honest: Anyone who gives out apples instead of candy on Halloween is not someone most kids want to encounter. But is a fear of something much more treacherous hidden in the fruit rational or sensational?
Concern with tampered Halloween candy started in 1959, when Dr. William Shyne gave out laxative chocolates as a “trick” instead of “treat,” making plenty of children sick and hospitalizing at least one. Since then, paranoia about Halloween treats has grown and became more inventive.
In 1970, five-year-old Kevin Trost went into a coma and died after ingesting candy apparently laced with heroin. Upon further investigation, it turned out the child had accidentally gotten into his uncle’s heroin stash, and in order to try to cover for their relative, his parents had sprinkled some of the drug on a candy bar to send authorities off the trail. Police did discover the truth, but not before panic had spread over the news.
In 1974, an eight-year-old boy died after consuming poisoned Pixy Stix, which were later discovered to have been tampered with by the boy’s father, who had just taken out life insurance policies on his children and was hoping for some quick cash.
Professor Joel Best studied the legend and in fact found about 80 cases of sharp objects hidden in fruit or candy, but most were put there by children or parents intent on scaring younger siblings, freaking out their guardians, or even framing less favorable neighbors.
Bottom line: Researchers weren’t conclusively able to identify a single case of a deranged neighbor setting out to seriously harm folks around them, indicating that word of mouth is the nastiest culprit in this legend.
Were there really alligators in the NY sewer system?
Whether you’re a New York resident or not, chances are you’ve heard of the infamous sewer alligators. But could the animals actually survive in the dismal underground conditions, and are there recorded cases of their existence down there?
The urban legend starts with the actual trend of rich Manhattan parents bringing baby alligators from trips to Florida and attempting to raise them in apartments. This didn’t work out so well — especially for the alligators, which are unsuited for cold climates. They also grow very big and eat a lot along the way. The animals were then discarded, many in inhumane ways … perhaps including a trip down the toilet.
A popular, specific version of this story is about a young boy who allegedly got a baby alligator for his birthday and flushed it down the toilet in a “What do I do with this extremely inappropriate present?” panic. The story goes that the same boy years later reached down a sewer grate to retrieve a lost baseball and — lo and behold! — the very same discarded alligator (who apparently had been following the boy through the underground sewer system) was finally able to get its revenge by tearing off the boy’s arm.
In 1935, there was a famous alligator sighting in Harlem, when a group of teenagers found, wrestled, and killed the 125-pound animal. The beast apparently escaped from a steamboat traveling up from the Everglades and ended up in the Harlem River. However, it would likely not have been there for long, and it certainly wasn’t joined by a tribe of other uptown gators.
The story has been repurposed in plenty of horror stories through the decades, though sewer bureau spokesman John T. Flaherty tried to debunk it in 1982.
“I could cite you many cogent, logical reasons why the sewer system is not a fit habitat for an alligator. But suffice it to say that, in the 28 years I have been in the sewer game, neither I nor any of the thousands of men who have worked to build, maintain or repair the sewer system has ever seen one, and a 10-foot, 800-pound alligator would be hard to miss,” he told the New York Times.
Now, it’s your turn.
Do you remember a story that scared you as a kid and wondered if it was true? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us your tale — we’ll pick some of the best to post.
And please be sure to specify whether we can use your name and town on Considerable.com!