Gone But Not Forgotten
- Aug 18, 2002
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A general thread for weirdness and oddity from Kentucky.
Its part of a wider range of threads themed on local issues:
Its part of a wider range of threads themed on local issues:
Daily Feature Sunday, August 22, 2004
Kentucky's Urban legends
Some are false, some are true, and some are just Internet rumors
By Larry Muhammad
Heard about the headless woman haunting Iroquois Park in Louisville? The UFO abduction on Ky. 78 near Stanford? How about Col. Harland Sanders leaving KFC millions to the Ku Klux Klan?
Welcome to the world of urban legends — those fantastically titillating rumors, hoaxes, myths and mysteries that seem to spread like kudzu over the Internet.
Several sites, including Urban Legends Research Centre (http://www.ulrc.com.au); snopes.com, which has an Urban Legends Reference page with 40 categories; and urbanlegends.about.com, trace the genealogy of the tales and rate their veracity.
Here's a representative sample from the online magazine http://www.scambusters.org:
,000 in UPS uniforms are purchased by suspected terrorists (denied by UPS, FBI, Department of Homeland Security).
Amazon.com promotes "Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion" (actually the site called it "a pernicious fraud").
Al Gore transposes biblical scriptures John 3:16 as John 16:3 in campaign speech and didn't know the difference (never happened).
Heroin overdose kills 3-year-old Texas boy after he falls on a hypodermic needle in a McDonald's play area (a hoax).
Typically, these whoppers materialize as if from nowhere, says Erika Brady, a professor in Western Kentucky University's Department of Folk Studies.
"It's a little like asking where a joke comes from," Brady said. "No one can really quite put their finger on it.
"What's clear is that they take on variations, depending on local circumstances or details of a particular region, so that stories in Louisville about children being attacked will be in a men's room in The Mall. But in Nashville, it will be Green Hills Mall, and Greenwood Mall in Bowling Green."
To folklorists, "legends" are stories from the past based on truth, such as George Washington and the cherry tree, Brady said.
But she credits Jan Harold Brunvand, English professor emeritus at the University of Utah and author of such books as "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," "Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends" and "Curses! Broiled Again!" (all from WW Norton & Co.), with popularizing the term "urban legend."
And Kentucky has its share....
No, a slave's remains aren't buried in Daniel Boone's grave, despite a century-old rumor that a mix-up occurred in 1845 when Boone was dug up from his original resting place in Defiance, Mo., and re-interred in Frankfort.
State legislators did not seek to change the value of pi to exactly 3.14 because Kentucky schoolchildren are mathematically challenged.
Yes, there really is gold in Fort Knox, although few eyes have seen it, and Internet stories to the contrary keep proliferating from the likes of conspiracy theorist Sherman Skolnick (to investment newsletter Freemarket Gold & Money Report, among many others).
And as nearly everyone knows, Harland Sanders sold Kentucky Fried Chicken before he died.
Says Snopes.com, "One of the curiosities of urban legendry is that nearly every founder of a fast-food chain who is publicly identifiable by virtue of having appeared in his company's advertisements has become the subject of rumors associating him (and his company) with the most unsavory groups society has to offer: Satan worshippers and the KKK."
But even bona fide happenings can be so amazing or ridiculous that they become legends. Like the song "Happy Birthday to You" being written by kindergarten-teaching sisters, Patty and Mildred Hill, in 19th-century Louisville. It's true.
Or the state House of Representatives considering a facetious 2002 resolution, HR256, to buy a submarine to blast casino riverboats out of Commonwealth waters: "The House of Representatives does hereby authorize the notification of the casino riverboat consulate of this resolution and impending whoopin' so that they may remove their casino vessels to friendlier waters." They did it as a joke.
Then there are the mysteries — questionable occurrences that can't positively be disproved or that fall under official jurisdictions that deny their reality.
For instance: Did a private jet fly Saudi royals from Tampa, Fla., to Lexington's Blue Grass Airport two days after Sept. 11, during a general ban on air travel?
Though reputable newspapers — the Tampa Tribune, St. Petersburg Times and Lexington Herald-Leader — published stories that named names and quoted a former Tampa police officer and former FBI agent who made the trip as hired security escorts, the White House and federal aviation and law enforcement officials insist it never happened.
Snopes.com produced a related 14-page report in its Urban Legends Reference Pages titled "Flight of Fancy," concluding that yes, "the U.S. government allowed bin Laden family members to fly within the country during a general ban on air travel."
And while we're on the topic of airborne phenomena, in 1976, three Casey County women — Mary Louise Smith, Mona Floyd (then Stafford) and Elaine Thomas — claimed they were abducted by a UFO. The three attracted UFO investigators, passed polygraph tests, went on national television, and the case remains a mystery.
Reached by telephone at her Liberty, Ky., home, Floyd said, "Elaine and Louise both have passed away, but I can remember it just as clear.
"I've thought they would come back to get me, like they might be watching me, listening to what I'm saying right now, for all I know. I know this sounds childish, but I'm a 63-year-old woman, and I'm very sane."
Legendary for being haunted is Bobby Mackey's Music World, a Wilder, Ky., nightclub and former speakeasy during the '20s, site of several unsolved murders and inspiration for the book "Hell's Gate" by Douglas Hensley. Patrons reportedly see ghosts in the building. In 1994 one guest sued, claiming a ghost assaulted him in the bathroom.
There's also the image of a dead young woman etched in the window of a cemetery sexton house in Russellville, Ky., which supposedly happened the minute she was struck by lightning while cursing the heavens during a thunderstorm that spoiled her picnic plans.
Other times, fictional creatures thrive in the public consciousness, like the Pope Lick Monster, a half-man, half-sheep whose hypnotic gaze lures people to the 90-foot high, 772-foot long train trestle in eastern Jefferson County, and ultimately to their death. This one inspired a 16-minute movie in 1988, "Legend of the Pope Lick Monster" by Ron Schildknecht.
Brady, the Western Kentucky University professor, said, "In almost every city there will be a bridge or trestle on the outskirts of town that will have a similar story. And there's a tradition of going and visiting these sites.
"Kids will go out there who have their driver's license, sometimes with beer involved, sometimes combined with a romantic rendezvous. 'Legend tripping' is the term, and it's a social practice of visiting the sites of urban legends to see if maybe you can get any evidence."
Keith Age, president of the Louisville Ghost Hunters Society, remembers, as a teenager in the 1970s, looking for the headless woman who haunts Iroquois Park.
"She supposedly lived right there next to the park, she and her husband had gotten into a fight and he beheaded her," said Age, 41. "This supposedly happened in the 1960s, but there was no documentation, nothing to resemble it on police blotters anywhere.
"There's a woman supposedly runs through Waverly Hills Sanitarium with her wrists slit, screaming 'Help me! Help me!'" Age said. "Much time as I've spent up there, I never saw her."
Urban legends seem to materialize from nowhere and have a life of their own. Often they hold a moral lesson, reinforce stereotypes, appeal for empathy and are truthful-sounding enough to be believable.
The acknowledged expert is Jan Harold Brunvand, English professor emeritus at the University of Utah and author of such books as "The Vanishing Hitchhiker," "Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends" and "Curses! Broiled Again!" (all from WW Norton & Co.).
Several Web sites trace the genealogy of the tales and rate their veracity:
http://www.ulrc.com.au, Urban Legends Research Centre
http://www.snopes.com, which has an Urban Legends Reference Page with 40 categories
For more on the Fort Knox rumors:
See conspiracy theorist Sherman Skolnick's take at http://www.skolnicksreport.com/hoodwink.html
See what investment newsletter Freemarket Gold & Money Report has to say at http://www.fgmr.com/right2know.htm.
Check the U.S. Department of Treasury for government facts at http://www.usmint.gov/about_the_mint/fun_facts/index.cfm?action=fun_facts13.
For more information on the Saudi family flight rumors:
Get the Herald-Leader story at http://www.kentucky.com/mld/kentucky/news/state/8885976.htm
See the St. Petersburg Times story at http://www.saintpetersburgtimes.com
Read Snopes.com's report at http://www.snopes.com/rumors/flight.htm