Urban legends round-up in Louisiana, Maine and Maryland: Internet Scambusters #559
Most urban legends have been around for a long time, sometimes stretching back centuries.
But a few are quite recent and based on real events, as we explain in this latest installment of our state-by-state "tour" of myths, legends and tall stories.
And there's a surprising and interesting twist in our final report about HIV scares from Maryland.
Now, here we go...
Hurricane Myths Add to Urban Legends Collection
Most of the urban legends we encounter on our alphabetical around-the-states "tour" seem to concern spooks and monsters, and we've got our fair share of them this week as we visit Louisiana, Maine and Maryland.
But what really stood out in our research this time was the number of mysterious, uncertain and untrue stories surrounding the disastrous Hurricane Katrina of 2005.
As if the disaster didn't bring enough real-life drama and tragedy, many stories built on rumor and speculation seem to have gained credibility, even when they've subsequently proven to be untrue.
So let's start with our round-up there...
Louisiana Urban Legends
The dramatic events of August 2005, which claimed almost 2,000 lives when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and other cities, left not only a trail of havoc in its wake but also a stack of urban legends.
We found more than 30 Katrina-related myths online but most of them were politically or racially motivated, and we'll steer clear of them. But among the others are claims that:
* Water snakes driven out to sea took refuge on an oil rig. Not so, though. Photos purporting to show the snakes on the rig appeared online long before the hurricane struck.
* The flood waters were so poisonous they would leave a permanent residue making huge areas uninhabitable. Not true. With the exception of one area where an oil leak polluted floodwaters, toxicity levels were within usual ranges for this type of flooding.
* Dolphins trained for security duties by the US Navy and "corralled" in the Gulf of Mexico were swept away by the storm. The story appeared in the British newspaper, The Observer, but there's no evidence it was true.
Among the non-Katrina urban legends, one of the best-known is the story of the Rougarou (sometimes called the loup-garou), which is Louisiana's own version of a werewolf -- a creature that is a cross between a human and a wolf.
Only sighted at night, it apparently tries to terrorize people in hopes it will be shot and put out of its misery!
Maybe by day it lurks in one of the miles of underground tunnels rumored to exist below Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge.
In fact, there are several miles of tunnels there, built to convey utilities, but urban legends attach much more mystery to them -- like Native American workings, military activity and even that they were built so the son of a past State Governor could get from his dorm to football games without getting wet!
Maine Urban Legends
Subterranean workings also figure among the urban legends of Maine.
In this case, it's an old well or mineshaft in the small town of Sabbatus, a few miles east of Lewiston.
According to the story, which has recently resurfaced, a young boy was goaded by his friends to rope-climb down the excavation.
After a while, not hearing from him, his friends pulled the rope up to find either a different person on the end, or the same boy transformed into an older, crazy man who had to be sectioned in a local mental institution.
Obviously, it's a far-fetched story but whether it's based on an actual incident is not known.
For its size, Maine also seems to have more than its fair share of hauntings, including a spirit at a museum in Wiscasset, a phantom ship in Harpswell, ghosts at the University of South Maine, and multiple child spirits at an old nursing home in Waterville.
For much more on these and other Maine hauntings, visit hauntedplaces.org -- a good source for spooky legends.
A great story with more than a grain of truth surfaced in 1960 when a server at a Rangeley restaurant encountered a "robot monster" inside a walk-in refrigerated store-room.
She ran, screaming into the street, followed by all the startled customers.
When a deputy sheriff arrived, he discovered the life-sized creation of a local inventor, who'd spent two years building the "beast" for use in a spooky freak show.
Apparently, he put it in the refrigerator to test its ability to withstand low temperatures, so he could take it to Alaska. But it seems he forgot to tell the serving staff.
(See the monster and its creator on the Strange Maine page.)
Maryland Urban Legends
So that brings us back to the always-hot topic of monsters.
Perhaps the most famous in Maryland is the goatman who, as his name suggests, is half man, half goat.
Prior to his transmutation, he was supposedly a scientist at an agricultural research station.
His experimenting went wrong, turning him into an axe-wielding maniac -- though, of course, there are no records of any real-life victims!
Interestingly, his local hangout was supposedly the scene of a common haunting legend we've encountered in other states -- the "Crybaby Bridge" in Beltsville, where there actually happens to be an agricultural research station.
The "crybaby" story is basically the same as the one we previously investigated in Georgia -- a child was supposedly either thrown off the bridge or died close by.
The story goes that passers-by can hear the sound of the poor child screaming from below the bridge.
Another gruesome story that recently cropped up in Maryland but also occurs elsewhere exploits fears about contracting the AIDS virus, HIV.
In this instance, a driver checking her oil at a service station in Towson is supposed to have been stabbed in the arm with a hypodermic syringe by a vagrant who allegedly said something like: "Welcome to reality -- you now have HIV."
The twist is that this particular variation of the legend seems to have been partly true.
According to news reports, an incident did take place and the alleged perpetrator was arrested and jailed -- but happily he did not have HIV and the needle was not infected.
A more common version of this story surfaces in a widely circulated email that tells the tale of a movie-goer who sits on a needle and finds a note warning that they've been infected with HIV.
There's no evidence that this has ever happened, though the Maryland incident helps add to its presumed credibility.
And it helps demonstrate that, true or not, at their base, most urban legends are rooted in human fear and our taste for stories of shock, drama and mystery.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!