Continuing our state-to-state urban legends tour: Internet Scambusters #458
We’re back on the road with our urban legends tour of the US this week, visiting California, Colorado, Connecticut and Delaware.
Is there a real Hotel California, as featured in a famous rock anthem? Or a mystery behind the construction of Denver Airport? Or a Connecticut animal that screams like a woman being attacked?
We have all the answers — and more — in this round-up.
And now for the main feature…
Urban Legends, From Vampires and Hauntings to Cockroaches and Laxatives!
Our alphabetical, state-by-state tour of American urban legends takes us to California, Colorado, Connecticut and Delaware this week.
In this occasional series, we spotlight some of the best-known or unusual urban legend stories, though obviously we can’t cover them all — since there are possibly thousands.
When we find firm evidence that stories are true or untrue, we say so. But most urban legends persist precisely because evidence is lacking.
That doesn’t mean we believe them — we just leave you to make up your own mind.
Also, we find that many urban myths show up in more than one state, and that yet others come in numerous variations. So you may know of a different version.
Now, let’s hit the road.
California Urban Legends
It’s not in California but it’s probably one of the most famous urban legends about the name: The Hotel California featured in the famous song of the same name by rock band The Eagles is supposedly located in Baja California, Mexico.
Earlier this year, Scambuster Keith joined the throngs of tourists who regularly visit this establishment in the southern Baja town of Todos Santos.
He says it exudes all the mystery evoked by the song and clearly enjoys the commercial benefits of visitor curiosity, but the Hotel California makes no claim itself about being the inspiration for the song.
Which is just as well, since musician Don Henley, who penned it, later said the song was a figment of his imagination and wasn’t based on a real Hotel California, either in Baja, or (in another variation), a former hotel in Norco, California, that became a state prison.
Nor, for the record, says Henley, was the song about black magic — also a common urban legend story.
Read more about this urban myth and see Henley’s denial at Hotel California, Tequila, Todos Santos and the Eagles.
Another figment of someone’s imagination is the gruesome urban legend about a California woman who gets a cockroach growing inside her tongue after licking an envelope infested with cockroach eggs.
Impossible as well as untrue; but it’s the subject of various “pass-it-on” emails that no-doubt have boosted the sale of self-seal envelopes!
This story is also a variant of other untrue urban legends about the glue on certain ATM envelopes containing cyanide!
You can read about that and other urban legends at the Scambusters Urban Legends and Hoaxes Resource Center.
California, notably the state’s northwest corner, also is probably the source of the most sightings of “Bigfoot,” the supposed human-like, furry creature that inhabits remote forests.
Hundreds of sightings have been reported.
We’re not going to stick our necks out and say whether this particular urban legend is true or not, although there have been several proven hoaxes based on it.
But we can tell you that he (or she!) pops up in just about every state. There’s even a website that provides a state-by-state breakdown of Bigfoot sightings.
Colorado Urban Legends
In addition to at least two-dozen of its own Bigfoot sightings, the state of Colorado was also the alleged location of the discovery of a miniature dinosaur, shown in what is believed to have been a doctored 19th century photograph of a cowboy or hunter who shot the mini-beast.
Full-sized versions of these creatures did roam North America in prehistoric times but the 2010 story of a more recent descendant has been dismissed as a hoax.
Most people feel the same way about the suggestion that a grave in Lafayette, Colorado, contains the remains of a human vampire, supposedly a Transylvanian named Fodor Glava.
The grave certainly exists, and so did old Glava. Out of the gravesite, though, springs a tree which, locals say, grows roughly where a stake driven through the vampire’s heart would be located.
And, of course, there have been numerous sightings of him sitting on top of his gravestone.
But, according to Pam Grout, author of Colorado Curiosities, Glava was most likely a regular, old Romanian immigrant who died during a 1918 flu epidemic.
More here at RoadsideAmerica’s Vampire Grave.
Other haunting Colorado urban legends include Ghost Bridge or Third Bridge, a remote location at Kiowa Creek outside of Denver.
It was supposedly the location of all sorts of gruesome events from car accidents to Indian massacres, and visitors allegedly can hear the spooky sounds of drum beats, horse hooves and squealing tires.
Not too far away, conspiracy theorists promote a modern-day urban legend about Denver Airport, suggesting it has all sorts of mystery underground rooms and strange symbols that supposedly confirm it as a key location for a shadowy group planning a world revolution.
Although the features all have rational explanations, the urban legend persists. Read about it at The Denver Airport Conspiracy.
Connecticut Urban Legends
Ghostly goings-on provide the focus for many New England urban legends of Connecticut. In fact, there’s a whole book full of them — Spooky New England by S.E. Schlosser.
Most famous is the story of the Black Dog of Hanging Hills — a creature that supposedly shows up out of nowhere and tags along with hikers who then suffer a fatal walking accident.
A real animal that has become the subject of urban legends in Connecticut is the fisher cat, which is actually a forest-living relative of the bushy-tailed martens, wolverines and minks.
Source of the legends is the animal’s bloodcurdling cry which is imaginatively described as sounding like “a screaming woman being murdered.” If you hear it, so the legend goes, terror lurks ahead.
Get the full story at Beware the Fisher Cat.
Finally, how boring would student life be if there weren’t a clutch of urban legends to accompany every college in the nation?
We picked up three from the University of Connecticut: Dining hall food contains a laxative; scores of dogs with the same name as the college mascot (Jonathan) are buried in the school’s gardens; and more than half of the students have the same disease arising from intimate relationships.
Happily, there’s no evidence for any of these.
Delaware Urban Legends
It may only be small, but the state of Delaware has its fair share of urban legends including a haunted Governor’s Mansion and, harking back to those college tall tales, an unfounded legend that the University of Delaware makes the Top 10 list of campus party venues!
The state was allegedly also the location of one of those weird litigation stories, in which a local woman supposedly won damages for injuries suffered when she fell while trying to climb through a nightclub window to skip paying the entry fee.
The tale pops up as a claimed entry for the well-known Stella Awards, which list outrageous lawsuits. The awards were named for the case of Stella Liebeck who sued a fast-food chain after allegedly spilling their hot coffee in her lap.
But the award organizers say the Delaware nightclub story is bogus.
Check out The Stella Awards for more true and not-so-true stories.
That’s a wrap for this latest round-up of state-by-state urban legends. Mostly, they make us smile — life would be duller without them.
But, as always, one of the side benefits of learning about urban legends is to encourage skepticism — a key weapon in the fight against hoaxes and scams.
That’s all we have for today, but we’ll be back next week with another issue. See you then!