Who hasn’t heard an urban legend, whispered by a campfire or shrieked over at a slumber party? Urban legends are appealing because they are universally creepy in a way that is almost reassuring… they leave listeners thinking, “Well, surely that didn’t really happen.”
And in many cases, that’s correct. But in some cases, those creepy urban legends so many of us grew up on are actually true.
Urban Legend #1: The Body Under The Hotel Bed
A nice couple is on vacation in a city near you (of course). They check into a hotel, and are plagued, all night, by a horrible stench in their room. For some reason, they wait until the morning — mostly so you get to imagine them sleeping on the mattress all night long — and when they call to finally complain, hotel employees discover that the stench is coming from the rotted body of a dead girl who has been stuffed into the box spring of the bed.
That they slept in all night.
And yes, that has happened. In Kansas City. And Atlantic City. And in Las Vegas. And multiple other locations. Because under the bed is second-to-none when it comes to hiding spots, right?
Urban Legend #2: The Sideshow Mummy
A local carnival (near you again, of course) has been using a mummy as a prop for years, believing that it was made out of paper mache. And for years, people have been touching and interacting with this “prop”… until it is eventually discovered that it isn’t a prop at all, it’s a real live… wait, a real dead mummy.
And yup, this happened. And it’s an even stranger story than its urban legend counterpart. In 1976, a camera crew was filming an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man at an amusement park in California. As the crew moved a “hanging man” prop, the arm was accidentally broke off and human bones were discovered inside. Stranger still, the body inside the prop was that of Elmer McCurdy, a famous train robber and criminal who was killed in a shootout in 1911. The undertaker who embalmed McCurdy was apparently super proud of his work, and so he displayed Elmer, allowing people to view him if they paid a nickel — which was deposited into McCurdy’s mouth. This continued until some men claiming to be McCurdy’s brothers showed up to claim him — but they weren’t his brothers. They were actually carnival workers who toured around with the body, which eventually ended up being used as a prop at a real amusement park.
That’s an urban legend that proves fact can be stranger than fiction.
Urban Legend #3: Buried Alive
Someone who died — probably in a nearby town — was buried in a coffin under the requisite six feet of earth. Only that person wasn’t really dead yet. And someone really close to that person, probably a spouse, kept having dreams that the other wasn’t really dead, and finally, in a fit of desperation, exhumed the coffin, threw open the lid…and found scratch marks on the inside of the coffin!
That is indeed the stuff urban legends are made of, right? But… this totally happened. Way more often than it should have, actually. In fact, it happened so much that a man named William Tebb had to start a group called the London Association for the Prevention of Premature Burial. Seriously. The group “campaigned for burial reforms to ensure that those buried were certainly dead.” And he did this because he managed to prove at least 149 cases of actual premature burial, and 219 cases of near-misses. And it wasn’t because people were just really into burying people alive, it was because, back then, there just wasn’t that many established, medically proven ways to certify that someone had actually died.
You know what else Tebb proved? At least a dozen cases where embalming was started on bodies who weren’t yet dead. But no worries on that particular urban legend… it hasn’t happened since at least 2007.
Maybe it’s that little tiny nugget of “it could be” rather than “it couldn’t be!” is what keeps urban legends around.
For more on a popular urban legend that just won’t quit, read about the dreaded poisoned or razor-filled “tainted Halloween candy” here.
[Images via Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark]