Spotlight on Urban Legends
Well, tough luck! There is no such place. But everyone from California to Maine has heard rumors of its existence. Many of us assumed it was real and told our friends, who told their friends, who told their friends, and so on. Thus, an urban legend was born.
Some stories have such great hooks (literally, in at least one case) that people never get tired of them. Eventually, they take on lives of their own as they are further embellished with each retelling. Most people quite easily accept these tales as true (or mostly true), even though they always happen to a "friend of a friend" or a "cousin's friend's brother's uncle's neighbor," making them nearly impossible to prove or disprove.
The distance between us and these twisted tales might be part of our attraction to them. If any of us actually popped a pimple just to have hundreds of spiders crawl out of it, it's doubtful that we would be too keen on gleefully rehashing that trauma over and over around the campfire! There are some campfire tales, though, that practically beg to be shared. These stories become legendary because they speak to some primal fear within us all.
Although each new generation spawns their own mythical stories, the following urban legends are our favorites because of their staying (and scaring) power.
5. Room For One More - A houseguest in an old manor hears a carriage outside his bedroom window. When he goes to the window to investigate, he sees that it is an old hearse with several people in the coach. The driver beckons to the man and says, "Room for one more." Shaken, the man runs back to bed and convinces himself that it was all in his imagination. The next day, he goes shopping at a department store in town. Wanting to go from the top floor down to the first level, he starts to enter the elevator. Among the crowd of people, the man locks eyes with the elevator operator who says, "Room for one more." His face is that of the hearse driver from the night before! Stunned, the man backs away and the elevator doors close shut. Suddenly, there is a rush of air as the elevator cable snaps, plummeting the car of screaming passengers to their deaths.
The 1906 short story, "The Bus-Conductor," in which the man's prophetic dream saves him from taking a doomed bus ride, is the original version of this legendary tale. Another version makes the central character a woman, who either escapes the aforementioned elevator accident or an airplane crash. The most famous adaptation may be the classic "Twilight Zone" episode, "Twenty-Two," in which the harbinger of doom is a hospital nurse who uses the famous line to lure a female patient into the morgue.
4. Bloody Mary - Mary is most often described as a witch with a disfigured face who was burned at the stake long ago. To call upon her spirit, you must chant "Bloody Mary" a certain amount of times in front of a mirror in a dark room. Now, depending on who's telling the story, the number of times you have to say her name and what will happen to you when she appears varies. The most widespread version of the legend says that she will reach out of the mirror and scratch your face.
Any girl who's ever been to a slumber party has probably been dared to summon Bloody Mary at some point, but not many are brave enough to try it…even as adults!
3. Off the Hook - A young couple pulls over to the side of a desolate country road for a make-out session. Just as things are heating up, they hear a report on the radio that there is an escaped psycho killer on the loose in the area. Making him all the more menacing is the fact that he has a hook for a hand. The girl gets very upset and demands to be taken home. The boy keeps trying to sweet talk her, but she becomes more and more agitated, convinced that someone is watching them. Her boyfriend finally gives up and abruptly speeds away to take her home. Soon after arriving at the girl's house, the two realize that they narrowly escaped death when they discover a hook hanging from the car's passenger-side door handle.
This may be the best-known urban legend of all, and is one of many that was probably started to discourage high school hanky-panky. Forget the dangers of pregnancy and STDs, kids! Teen sex is a one-way ticket to a gruesome death at the hand, er, hook of a mental patient.
2. He's Upstairs! - A babysitter is watching TV while the children sleep. The phone rings, and the girl answers to a man's voice menacingly saying, "I'm upstairs with the children." (In some versions, the man just laughs, breathes heavily, or says "I know you're alone.") Thinking it's a prank call, she quickly hangs up, but the harassing calls continue.
Frightened, she phones the police and asks them to trace the calls. When the man calls back, she starts screaming at him, trying to keep him on the line long enough for the cops to trace it. Suddenly, the phone rings again, and this time it's the police. They tell her to get out of the house immediately because the calls are coming from the upstairs line! She runs to the door just as the killer is coming down the stairs after her. The cops get there just in time to save her, but he has already murdered the sleeping children.
This legend was made famous as the plot of the 1979 flick, "When a Stranger Calls."
1. The Vanishing Hitchhiker - Late one night, a man is driving through a small town when he suddenly sees a young woman in a party dress by the side of the road, thumbing a ride. She gives him her address, and he agrees to give her a lift home. As they pass by a cemetery, the driver turns to speak to the girl and, to his astonishment, she has disappeared! Not knowing what to do, he heads for the house where she said she lived. After knocking on the door, an elderly woman answers, and as the man starts to explain what just happened, the sad woman nods knowingly. She explains that he is not the first person to come to her door with such a tale. The lady drops the bomb that the hitchhiker was her daughter, who died ten years earlier.
Sometimes the driver picks up the hitchhiker and they attend a dance. On the way back, the man offers her his coat since the evening air is chilly. When she disappears from the car and he gets the shocking news from her mother, he doesn't believe the woman and goes to the cemetery to investigate. There, he finds the girl's tombstone with his jacket draped over it.
Vanishing hitchhiker stories have been around for centuries. Every city in every state in every country seems to have its own version of this tale.
Now it's your turn. Turn out the lights, put a flashlight under your face, and share your favorite urban legends with us!
By the way, we must warn you that if you don't leave a comment and forward this article link to all of your friends, the ghost of a girl who was killed by a MySpace stalker will crawl out from under your bed tonight at midnight, eat your face, and then steal your kidneys. Now, aren't you glad you read this all the way through?
Story by Becky Broderick
Starpulse contributing writer
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