From Alabama to Arkansas -- the first installment of our new urban legends series: Internet Scambusters #443
Urban legends -- mostly they're harmless but some can scare us out of our wits or even cause genuine stress.
And although it's been responsible for the proliferation of many urban myths, the Internet also makes it relatively easy to check them out -- and exercise caution before passing them on.
Over the years, Scambusters has played its part in exposing some of these tales, and this week we embark on a state-by-state tour of the US, trawling for some of the better-known urban legends.
Time to get going...
Join Our Urban Legends Tour Around the US
Today we kick off a new occasional series about urban legends across the US, visiting each state alphabetically.
This week we're in the "A" states -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona and Arkansas.
Most urban legends, true or not, gruesome or not, develop and change over time, as the tellers embroider and exaggerate the tale.
Mostly, they're historical stories with an unexpected, weird or spooky angle. Sometimes, they can cause distress, especially to those of a nervous disposition!
We think it's important to be skeptical about the outrageous stories you sometimes encounter online and in conversation.
Certainly, we encourage you to think twice about passing on emails that purport to be genuine and supposedly circulate to offer advice or serve as a warning to others, when, frankly, they're just too weird to be true.
After all, life has enough dramas, and inboxes have enough email, without adding a stack of worrisome fictions on to the pile.
Of course, in the space available we can only sample a couple of urban legends from each state and we don't say our subjects are the best-known, but we've added the source of most of our urban legend stories in case you want to dig deeper.
Also, where possible, we've tried to say whether these urban legends are true or not, though some of them remain undecided.
So if you disagree with our view, we'll just warn you that we don't have the resources here at Scambusters to respond to individual comments!
That said, on with the show...
Alabama Urban Legends
Crooner Nat King Cole, or more precisely his widow, is the subject of a famous Alabama urban legend.
According to the story, Mrs. Cole flagged down a passing motorist after her car broke down on the way to a hospital where her husband lay dying.
The motorist didn't know who she was but gladly provided his address to her as he dropped her off at the hospital.
Later, he received a surprise delivery of giant color TV with a thank you note, signed by Mrs. C.
The tale, related at truthorfiction.com is untrue. The singer died in California.
More gruesome is the story of a construction worker who supposedly was accidentally concreted into the wall of a railway tunnel in Jacksonville, AL, and was left there.
Who knows if it's true? But locals say anyone passing by feels mighty cold when they pass the supposed tunnel tomb. (From oxfordparanormalsociety.com)
Alaska Urban Legends
If you regularly receive unusual stories in your email, we'd be surprised if you haven't received a photo of a supposed Alaskan forest worker alongside the body of a giant grizzly bear he allegedly shot.
The beast was said to weigh over 1,600 pounds and stood more than 15 feet high -- a world record.
The US Forestry Service apparently receives inquiries about this story almost every day.
So much so, they investigated and issued a statement explaining that a US airman did kill a large bear in Alaska's Prince William Sound but it was only 10 feet and probably weighed about 1,000 pounds, which is well short of a record.
The Anchorage Daily News carried a story in 2001 about the steadily increasing size of the bear under the headline "Legend Brewin'" but it no longer seems to be online.
Another popular Alaska urban legend claims Eskimos have scores of words meaning "snow."
In fact, the truth is that there are numerous Eskimo-Aleut languages with some dialectical variations but no more than one finds in the English language.
However according to the online knowledge-base Wikipedia, where we verified this story, the European Sami people, nomads who wander the Arctic circle, do have many words, possibly hundreds, referring to snow!
Arizona Urban Legends
Did a couple of southern Arizona cowboys sight and shoot down a Thunderbird, the American Indian mythical bird? Or was it a US Cavalry troop?
You can take your choice from this and other encounters with the legendary creature, almost as numerous as sightings of the Sasquatch or even the Loch Ness monster.
The bird, said to resemble a prehistoric pterodactyl, is also supposed to have been seen in Texas and Alaska.
The cowboy incident allegedly was reported, along with a photo, in the Tombstone Epitaph, but (conveniently) no copies exist today.
But that apparently hasn't stopped numerous other claimants showing pictures of the dead beast, which later proved to be phony. (From multiple sources; corroborated via Wikipedia.)
Bogus photos often accompany urban legends and often turn up in emails.
Like the story of newly widowed Arizona resident Jeff Green who couldn't bear to be parted from his wife, so he had her body preserved in a glass case that he used as a coffee table in the living room!
Be sure to check out the photo!
The story, which still circulates on the Internet, originally appeared in the December 1992 issue of Weekly World News. Enough said.
Arkansas Urban Legends
For some reason, Arkansas seems to be the haunting capital of the US.
Our researches for this urban legends series turned up more stories about ghostly encounters from this southern state than anywhere else in the nation.
The ghost of the King Opera House in Van Buren is the most enduring, going back to the early 1900s, when a young actor planned to elope with the daughter of a disapproving doctor.
The doc got wind of the escapade and allegedly killed the young "Romeo" with his horsewhip.
The story was actually turned into a play produced at the theater.
Needless to say, the ghost, in Victorian garb, supposedly turned up for the premier. Or at least, in the words of the producer, that's what it felt like. (From squidoo.com)
Arkansas, it turns out, also has its own monster to rival giant bears, Thunderbirds and the Sasquatches -- a 7-foot tall creature supposedly seen in the Fouke district in the 1960s and subsequently the subject of the movie The Legend of Boggy Creek.
A local gift shop apparently sells monster memorabilia and is said to be worth a visit -- unlike the movie! (From LittleRock.about.com)
In most cases, it's easy to check if a story you hear, by mouth or by email, is true or just an urban legend story.
Just put a few key words from it -- like "movie theater ghost in Anytown" (where "Anytown" is the name of the area) -- into an Internet search box, and you'll learn all about it.
That's about it for this week. But if you've been bitten by the urban legends bug, you can always check out our Urban Legends and Hoaxes Resource Center.
Meantime, look out for the next in our around-the-states series of urban legends.
That's a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!