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9 Urban Legends That Just Aren't True

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The subject of urban myths and legends is one that I have been interested in for a couple of years now. It occurred to me, one day at lunch with friends on the Isle of Dogs, that many long rambling conversations (and ours are certainly long and always rambling) will include a tall tale or two. One person will then be reminded of a story he or she once heard which is then presented as near or actual fact. The story will be introduced like this: "That reminds me of a story I once heard . . ." or "I remember my uncle/aunt/sister/hairdresser telling me what happened to a friend of theirs . . ."

So urban legends are easy to spot and always have a ring of truth about them. The events they describe could happen or might have happened to any of us. Each of us could have been as unfortunate or stupid as the character(s) in the story, and that is one of the reasons we all enjoy urban legends so much: that the misfortune involved didn't happen to us but to somebody else. And that makes us laugh. The stories come in many different forms. Some involve ghostly goings on, some are about love found or lost. Some center on plain stupidity and some on unfortunate coincidences, although some do have happy endings.

The connecting feature is that all are told and then retold and come back around in altered forms, and all of them are passed around by word of mouth or, especially these days, via the internet, where they spread like wildfire. These "legends" (so-called "urban," although they don't need to have an urban setting) are the modern-day version of medieval folklore and all of the anecdotes in this collection can be recited the next time you are at lunch, dinner or in a bar with friends. They can make even the most unimaginative person seem interesting, I promise. They seem to be working for me, at any rate.

Albert Jack is the author of Phantom Hitchhikers and Other Urban Legends: The Strange Stories Behind Tall Tales.

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