Do grains of truth lurk behind some urban legends?: Internet Scambusters #642
Half-truths and enduring mysteries feature in the latest installment of our alphabetical, state-by-state tour of urban legends.
Did Warren Buffett propose new government legislation? Is there really an ancient "Stonehenge" in the US? And did a shoeless vagrant gamble his Social Security check for a fortune?
We have answers -- well, some of them -- in this week's issue.
Let's get started...
Urban Legends from Nebraska, Nevada and New Hampshire
From the Mid-West, then out West and finally back East, we're rolling through Nebraska, Nevada and New Hampshire in the latest installment of our state-by-state tour of urban legends.
On the way, we've encountered the usual crop of monsters, weird laws and tales that are enough to test the imagination.
So let's get started.
Nebraska Urban Legends
Who's the most famous Nebraskan? One possible contender would be the investment guru and one of the world's richest men, Warren Buffett, sometimes called the Wizard of Omaha.
Buffett is a somewhat controversial and straight-talking man, around whom many legends have accumulated.
One of the best known is a report that gained widespread currency a couple of years' back that he had formally proposed a constitutional amendment that would be considered by Congress.
Under this proposal, all Congress members, regardless of political complexion, would be ineligible for re-election if the nation's budget deficit exceeded a certain level.
The story was widely reported and is commonly held to be true, but is it?
Well, like so many urban legends, there are elements of truth. But the fact is that, no, Buffett never actually made a formal proposal.
He made a comment on the subject in a TV interview that was shown online and happened to be followed by a separate news report about a constitutional amendment on a quite different subject.
Viewers put two and two together and concluded that Buffett's idea had become a formal proposal.
The story shows how urban legends grow around a few grains of truth.
You can actually see another one in the making at the moment -- starting with a field full of cars in Pierce, Nebraska.
Rumors began to sweep the international world of classic car collecting in 2013 that almost 500 classic cars, some of them never driven, had been found gathering dust in a field.
All sorts of stories and explanations circulated about it being a hidden cache or the hoard of a wealthy mystery collector.
The vehicles actually did exist but the explanation was quite straightforward -- though still with a twist of fascination.
The vehicles were overstock and trade-ins from a family car dealership, which the owner just never got around to selling.
After he died, the cars, which included a '58 Chevy Cameo pick-up with one mile on the clock, were eventually auctioned off by the family, with buyers from all over the world attending.
The cars are all gone now but the legend will no doubt persist and grow.
Of course, Nebraska also has its share of strange and sometimes ghostly legends, notably the stories surrounding Omaha's Hummel Park.
They range from a mythical community of albino people to animal sacrifices and lynchings, none of which have been shown to have any basis in fact -- but that doesn't stop one paranormal website from referring to Hummel as "quite possibly the most haunted place in the city, if not the state."
Nevada Urban Legends
Another famous piece of land that has attracted more than its fair share of legends is to be found 83 miles north-northwest of Las Vegas. But it's not a park.
It's a remote part of Edwards Air Force Base known as Area 51 -- not a very exciting name but one riddled with mystery and conjecture, mainly because the Air Force and other government agencies have never actually said what goes on there.
Its real name is Homey Airport and Groom Lake, but others have preferred to confer names like Dreamland and Paradise Ranch.
The CIA finally confirmed its existence in 2005 and it's actually thought to be used for experimental aircraft and weapons testing. But those with a vivid imagination claim it's connected with UFO research -- the road that runs near the area is nicknamed The Extraterrestrial Highway.
Back in Las Vegas, surely the home of make-believe, there's inevitably a rags-to-riches story.
In this case, a supposed shoeless vagrant wandered into a casino and staked his $400 Social Security check to win a fortune of $1.6 million.
No one can say for sure if it really happened, though it DID materialize in an episode of the TV series "Las Vegas."
But it's misfortune rather than good fortune that's in play at Pyramid Lake, near Reno, where an unlucky fisherman is said to disappear each year into the 350-feet deep waters.
A monster with a big appetite? There are no documented cases of this ever happening, but paranormal investigators still claim there's a ghostly presence hanging around the lake.
New Hampshire Urban Legends
Did you know that the US has its own "Stonehenge," a North American version of the famous stone circle found in southern England?
Sometimes known as Mystery Hill, the site, in Salem, New Hampshire, is of obscure origin, abounding with theories that range from a 4,000-year-old pre-Colombian structure to a 19th century folly.
Actually though, it's nothing like the British Stonehenge. Instead, it's a mixture of caves, structures and scattered rocks.
Although some of the rocks have been carbon-dated as ancient, we may never know the true origin because early settlers moved things around and the site was even partly used for quarrying.
Finally, one urban legend that turns out to be true is that in New Hampshire it's illegal to collect seaweed at night!
The law, which was only enacted in 1973, is based both on environmental concerns and the need to control the lucrative sea grass harvesting market.
Urban legends, huh? You couldn't make them up. Or could you?
Alert of the Week
Students are being targeted in a new work-from-home scam.
The "job" involves working for the payroll department of a bogus company, with students allowing checks to be deposited into their accounts, which they then wire to equally bogus employees.
Unlike advance fee scams, these deposits are genuine but the money is stolen from other companies and the student unwittingly becomes a middleman in the fraud.
Victims risk prosecution, while the real crooks are never traced.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!