"It's a very dangerous thing to believe in nonsense." -- James Randi
|Volume 3 Issue 4||April 1995|
Legends in Their Own Time
by David Bloomberg
We all know that albino alligators roam the sewers of New York City, that there is a poor kid dying of brain cancer who needs our postcards to get in the Guinness Book of World Records, and that the library at Northwestern (or was it University of Illinois?) is sinking because the architect forgot to take into account the weight of the books, right? Well...
These are just three examples of well-known urban legends. What is an urban legend? It can be described as a story told as if it were a true account, but which is actually a piece of modern folklore. Why is it of interest to us? First, many of these legends describe events which are paranormal in nature. Indeed, the first popular book on the subject, The Vanishing Hitchhiker, takes its name from a legend many of us have heard as a ghost story, but is often told as truth. Briefly, this legend generally tells of a man who picks up a teenage girl as a hitchhiker and drops her off at a house. After she leaves, he realizes that he had leant her his jacket, and goes back to get it. When he gets there, he is told that the girl was the young daughter of those living there, but she died tragically a number of years earlier, on this very night. The missing jacket is usually found on the headstone of the girl's grave. More
It is a capital mistake to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts. [Sherlock Holmes]
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, "A Scandal in Bohemia"
There is no belief, however foolish, that will not gather its faithful adherents who will defend it to the death.
-- Isaac Asimov