State urban legends tour recalls popular mysteries and strange sightings: Internet Scambusters #612
After a lengthy spell off the road, we're back on our alphabetical, state-by-state tour of urban legends this week.
We'll introduce you to some of the best-known myths, as well as true stories, from Mississippi, Missouri and Montana.
And for our alert of the week, we're returning to last week's small business topic with a warning about a deceptive bill for trademark monitoring services.
Let's get started...
Urban Legends from Mississippi, Missouri and Montana
A three-legged woman, a Robin Hood-style hold-up by Jesse James and the supposed arrest of Ronald McDonald -- we've got them all in our latest collection of urban legends.
This week, we continue our alphabetical state-by-state tour of the U.S. with visits to Mississippi, Missouri and Montana.
As usual, we encountered a whole stack of hauntings and UFO sightings, several of which -- like Bigfoot -- we've seen elsewhere. But there were also some unique legends to investigate, some of which, surprisingly, turned out to be true.
Mississippi Urban Legends
The "Magnolia State" is the most popular location for a widely circulated email legend about hurrying police to a crime scene.
The story claims a local newspaper in Meridian reported an incident in which a homeowner, frustrated at police disinterest in trespassers in his back yard, called them a second time and untruthfully said he'd shot all the invaders.
They were at the house within minutes.
You might have seen this email and even thought it was a clever trick, but it's neither true (though there are tiny grains of truth in reports from other locations) nor a good tactic. You could land yourself in big trouble with the law if you tried it!
Mississippi is also the home of an urban legend that became quite widespread in the 1950s -- about a mythical disease called Mercritis.
Said to have originated in Europe, the virus was alleged to have been the cause of a 1959 riot.
The disease was supposed to cause men's bodies to emit a scent that drove women to attack and even kill them!
Even today many people in the South will tell you they know-someone-who-knows-someone who witnessed the riot or lost a relative in it.
But there's no evidence to support the stories, so we'll have to assume either it's untrue or all the victims were lost in the heat of the moment!
Other Mississippi urban legends include:
- Legendary 1930s blues legend Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil in Rosedale in return for musical talent.
- A three-legged woman, supposedly seen in several parts of the state -- having attached to herself the limb of her dead husband. Gruesome!
- The state has its own "crybaby" bridge (similar to one reported in our Georgia "visit") in the community of Dennis -- from which travelers are supposed to be able to hear the cries of a child who fell off it.
- And a true one: In 1999, the state legislature voted to remove fractions and decimals from secondary school curricular, to make math easier for students to learn.
Missouri Urban Legends
Traveling northwest across Arkansas into Missouri finds us in the vicinity of what is claimed to be one of the most haunted places in the U.S. -- the Lemp Mansion in St. Louis.
This place, with a long history of tragedies relating to members of the famed Lemp brewing family, supposedly has a multitude of ghosts who move and steal items, knock on doors and make other eerie sounds.
The mansion is now a restaurant and, no doubt, the haunting reports are good for business. It also offers lodging -- for those bold enough to stay!
Talking of dining, it was also in Missouri that the outlaw Jesse James and his gang were said to have stopped at a house and demanded the owner provide them with a meal.
The owner, a widow, fed them regally and, afterwards, James is said to have learned that she faced eviction because she owed $1,500 in mortgage payments due to be collected that day.
The outlaw allegedly gave her the money and then lay in wait for the banker to arrive to collect his money. The widow paid the banker and the James gang held him up, grabbing back their money!
Other fascinating urban legends from Missouri include:
- A true and gruesome one that many find difficult to believe: The 2003 discovery of a decomposing body under a Kansas City motel bed after three days of complaints about the smells by the room's renter.
- A remarkable and famous UFO "crash" in Cape Girardeau in 1941. A local pastor was said to have been called to the site of a crashed, disc-shaped craft where he prayed over the bodies of three dead aliens. Shades of Roswell!
Montana Urban Legends
Montana has also had its share of UFO "sightings", most notably a wagon wheel-shaped flying saucer allegedly spotted hovering over Yellowstone County, and a glowing object reported by a Frontier Airlines pilot outside Billings in 1977.
Meanwhile, below ground, a series of old tunnels, also in Billings, which were used to channel water to local businesses in the early 20th century have also given rise to numerous urban legends.
They were said to have been used by bootleggers and as opium dens, though there's no evidence to support this.
Most of the tunnels have now collapsed or been filled in.
Staying below ground, this time on the email legends circuit, one of the most common ones from Montana claims hundreds of billions of barrels of oil reserves lie 1,000 feet below the surface in the eastern portion of the state and across into North Dakota.
There's definitely oil there but the figures and potential for recoverability are said to be wildly optimistic.
Not surprisingly, the rumors themselves appear to have come from someone promoting investment in an oil exploration company.
One true report: An emailed photo you may have seen of a pair of elks standing in a shallow river with a forest fire raging all around them.
This turns out to be a genuine photo taken by a ranger in the Bitterroot National Forest in 2000.
The picture is so remarkable, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's a digital forgery, but it's not. If you haven't already seen it, check it out.
Another fascinating photo that gave rise to an urban legend was a picture of the supposed arrest of fast-food celebrity Ronald McDonald in Billings.
This was widely circulated on the Internet and in email but what it actually showed were two policemen carrying a recovered stolen statue of Ronald.
That just about rounds off our urban legends tour this week. Just time for our...
Alert of the Week
Add a warning about bogus trademark notifications to last week's Scambusters report on scams targeting small businesses.
If you run a business with a trademark, watch out for what seems to be a bill for around $400 for a monitoring service to ensure the copyright is not infringed.
The back of the document does carry a small-print disclaimer pointing out that it's a solicitation, and that the service is not mandatory, but the front looks like a bill. Don't fall for it!
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.