Hoax Museum Blog: Urban Legends

The Dissolving Bathing Suit Hoax of 1930

A 1930 news story about women pranked by a dissolving bathing suit turned out to be a hoax — but it had a long subsequent career. more…

Posted: Wed Mar 16, 2016.   Comments (0)

Did Cleopatra Drink a Pearl Dissolved in Vinegar?

Ancient legend tells of Cleopatra drinking an extravagantly expensive beverage — the world's most expensive pearl dissolved in vinegar. But modern scholars disagree about whether she ever really drank such a concoction.

Posted: Sat May 30, 2015.   Comments (0)

The Man on Page 602

Was a male model's genitalia really visible in the 1975 Sears Fall/Winter catalog? We add some new evidence to this old debate. more…

Posted: Thu May 14, 2015.   Comments (5)

Touching wires means instant death and prosecution!

Throughout the 20th century, a brief story ran repeatedly in newspapers about a sign at a power plant that read, "To touch these wires means instant death. Anyone disregarding this notice will be placed under arrest." The story was most likely an urban legend masquerading as news. There's no good evidence that this sign ever hung anywhere. more…

Posted: Fri Apr 17, 2015.   Comments (3)

The Myth of the Poisonous Poinsettia

Millions of poinsettias are sold every year at Christmastime. But are these plants highly poisonous? For decades, many believed so. "One poinsettia leaf can kill a child," was a warning repeated often over the years. more…

Posted: Wed Dec 10, 2014.   Comments (1)

The Legend of the Chloroformed Turkey

The tale of the chloroformed turkey usually involves two women living in the city who decide to get a fresh turkey for Thanksgiving or Christmas. But after the turkey has been delivered to their door, they realize they need to kill it. Unwilling to tell the local butcher that they're too squeamish to cut off its head themselves, they search for a "humane" way of ending the bird's life, and come up with the idea of using chloroform. more…

Posted: Tue Nov 25, 2014.   Comments (3)

Posted: Wed Nov 05, 2014.   Comments (1)

Posted: Tue Aug 26, 2014.   Comments (0)

Posted: Wed Jul 09, 2014.   Comments (5)

Posted: Mon Jul 07, 2014.   Comments (3)

Calling 999 does not charge your mobile phone battery — Idiotic things people will believe: The Bedfordshire Police recently posted a statement on their website, informing everyone that calling 999 and then disconnecting immediately will not actually boost the battery life of your mobile phone battery, despite a rumor to the contrary. Apparently emergency operators have been receiving a lot of these phone-charging calls.

There's a similar rumor that claims you can recharge your mobile phone by putting it in a microwave for a minute. Also not true.
Don’t Ring 999 to Charge Your Mobile – It Doesn’t Work!
Bedfordshire Police would like to warn mobile phone users not to phone 999 to charge their mobiles.
It is known that a rumour or urban myth suggesting that calling 999 and disconnecting immediately will boost the battery life of a phone has been circulating for some time throughout the country.
Over the past 6 months the Force Control Room (FCR) has received numerous calls from members of the public who believe the myth and are incorrectly trying to get more power out of their mobile device.
Inspector Claire Ackerman, of the Force Control Room, said, “This myth has been circulating for some time now and we are not the only force to have suffered from these false calls. Calling 999 for anything other than an emergency or a non-police matter puts additional pressure on resources, ties up an operator and wastes valuable time that could be better spent helping genuine callers possibly in a life-threatening situation. The only way to boost a mobile phone battery is to use a charger.”

Posted: Fri Jan 17, 2014.   Comments (2)

Pathetic story of a Nigerian man whose kidney was stolen — The 'kidney thieves' urban legend has resurfaced in Nigeria, as evidenced by the story below which is circulating on Nigerian news sites (such as here and here).

This version of the tale has a slight twist. After having his kidney removed, the victim doesn't realize what's happened until weeks later. He doesn't even realize he's been cut open, because the closure of the incision was "perfectly done and skin was used to cover up the stitch."
Pathetic Story Of A Nigerian Whose Kidney Was Stolen In Malaysia [MUST READ]

We saw this story and we thought it wise to share it. It's touching and shocking and we hope we all learn from it.

I'm 26 years old and last year after graduating from one of the Polytechnics in Nigeria, I couldn't get a job. I needed to travel out of the country to better my life and that of my family. I planned on going to Turkey but fell into the hands of dupes who gave me fake documents and I was thrown out of the Turkish embassy during my interview and almost got arrested.

Standing outside, I met an old acquaintance, a young guy I met through a mutual friend. I found myself telling him about my plight and how I had been duped into paying for fake documents.I told him how my dad sold his plot of land to ensure I traveled. How was I going to tell them their money went down the drain?

He then told me the best thing was to tell them I got the visa, so when my dad sends money for my flight ticket, I use it to go to Malaysia. He said he had an agent who would help me and also give me a job once I get there. He said several guys had gone to Malaysia too.

I told my excited parents that I got the Visa and would need money for my flight. I raised 600 thousand naira which was sent to the agent I had never met and was given a 1 month visa. I got to Malaysia expecting to see the agent but never did. It was 3 weeks, no job, and paying my hotel bill, I had exhausted all my money. The so-called agent I had been calling suddenly switched off his phone. It was one week to the expiration of my visa.

So I decided to step-out and find other Nigerians who could help me. I was unsuccessful as the two guys I knew way back in Nigeria were club bouncers and had no connections. Was shocked because they claimed to be big boys.

I was on my way back from one of my unsuccessful outings. I was wondering what to do when a short Indian man intercepted me. "Hello my friend you looking for a job? I have a job for you. How will you like to earn 3 thousand dollars a month? I was speechless" He told me "Lets go and have a drink and talk about it"

I was so happy. He took me to a spot not far from where we met. It was like a private house and I saw two other Black boys who the man introduced me to saying they were also beneficiaries of the job. I was just about to ask what the job was when a waiter brought me a drink and he told me to give him a minute to bring papers which would show me my job description.

I don't know what happened next. I found myself in an uncompleted building. I was confused at first and felt I was dreaming. But the cold was unbearable to be a mere dream and the sharp pain on the side of my belly was too intense to be real. I saw my shoes on the floor. I was confused. How did I get here? What about the job? Did I loose my chance by getting too drunk? Then I recalled I didn't drink alcohol. I decided to put on my shoes when I noticed my legs were so swollen my shoes didn't size me anymore.

I left the place with no money in my pocket, didn't even know where I was. I tried to ask some Arabs to help but no one even listened to me. As I kept walking, I saw 2 security men and walked up to them. They were Nigerians and after telling them about my plight, they took pity on me and asked me to sleep in the factory where they worked for the night. They gave me some pain killers to relieve me.But advised me to go for a test the next day. The next day I told them I had no money to even go for a checkup and I was probably going to be deported as I had just one week for my visa to expire.

The elderly one told me there was a job opening as a life guard at some private beach. I couldn't be more grateful.

I took up the job but the reoccurring belly ache which I kept suppressing with pain killers was getting more intense. Then after rescuing someone who almost drowned, the intense stress which accompanied that made me fall ill. And after several tests, they couldn't ascertain what was wrong with me. I had used up all the little money I earned from my job as a life guard and I had no option but to give myself up to the authorities so I could be deported since I couldn't pay for my flight ticket.

I returned to Nigeria seriously ill and my parents took me from one hospital to the other and they couldn't detect what was wrong with me. We went to several prayer houses even very popular miracle pastors who claimed it was evil people from my village chasing me. Destiny killers they said. I was ordered to fast for 21 days and four days later I collapsed . Then my father ran into an old classmate who owned a hospital. He told him about my plight and he told my dad to bring me over.

He ordered a full scan to be run on me and while I was alone, he came to me and said" Young man, why did you have one of your kidney's removed?" I was shocked 'My Kidney? Sir I don't get". He smiled"At least if you want to have your kidney removed, do it well. You must have earned a few millions from it so what did you do with the money? Why didn't you treat yourself properly?"""

I was confused and I insisted I knew nothing and he showed me the scan. Yes one kidney was missing. He also said the closure was perfectly done and skin was used to cover up the stitch. He said only Indians did such perfect cover-ups. After insisting there was a mistake somewhere, the doctor said the fact was one of my kidneys was removed and he told me the dangers of selling my kidney which many Nigerian youths do these days to make quick cash I was in tears and I told him I didn't know what he was talking about then I recalled the Indian man I met who told me he had a job for me.

It hit me that that man had me drugged and took me to an unknown place and had my kidney removed and then dumped me in that building.

Now I'm a 26 year old man who put my parents through hell and I'm now living on one kidney and very ill. I keep hoping this one doesn't develop a problem. I want youths to be careful of where they go to and who they interact with.I just found-out its a cartel and several African jobless youths have been trapped and have their kidneys removed without their knowledge.

It's a wicked world.

Posted: Tue Jan 07, 2014.   Comments (0)

Saved by the Myth of Poisonous Poinsettias —
According to a decaces-old urban legend, the leaves of poinsettias (aka the Christmas Plant) are extremely toxic, and can be fatal if ingested.

But the reality is that poinsettias aren't toxic at all. They're not edible, but if you do eat them the worst that will happen is you'll get an upset stomach. You're not going to die.

One of the most thorough debunkings of the "poisonous poinsettia" legend can be found in a Nov. 1996 article in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine: "Poinsettia exposures have good outcomes... just as we thought."

The authors of the study reviewed 22,793 cases of poinsettia exposure reported to health care facilities during an 8-year period from 1985 to 1992. This data represented "the largest compilation of human exposures to the poinsettia, as reported to poison information centers."

Out of all these cases, the number of fatalities was zero. And 92.4% of the cases resulted in no effect at all.

The vast majority of the cases (over 90%) involved young children eating the leaves, and their terrified parents then rushing them to the nearest emergency center, fearing the worst.

But the authors did note the existence of a peculiar subset of cases:

"The poinsettia has no chemical abuse potential and, despite its notoriety as a poisonous plant, it is not used as a homicidal or suicidal agent with any frequency. However, the poinsettia was used by 16 individuals for abuse purposes and by 27 people as a suicidal agent."

So 27 people tried to commit suicide by eating poinsettias, evidently after hearing the legend about them.

It's like a reverse Darwin Awards. Instead of dying because of doing something stupid, their lives were saved because they believed an urban legend.
Posted: Thu Dec 26, 2013.   Comments (2)

New York City Urban Legends (according to People magazine) — People magazine recently posted an article that it titled "N.Y.C.'s 8 Craziest Urban Legends Debunked."

But that title is misleading, because it turns out the article only lists 3 urban legends, and then the writer must have been unable to find anything else when doing a google search for "New York urban legends," because the other 5 things on the list are random bits of NYC trivia and paranormal speculation.

I guess I shouldn't have expected anything more from People magazine.

To save everyone the trouble of having to read the article, the 3 urban legends the writer managed to come up with were:
  1. Pennies thrown from the top of the Empire State Building can kill
  2. Alligators live in the city sewers
  3. The Yankees Wear Pinstripes Because Babe Ruth Wanted to Look Slimmer
And here's the rest of the items that made their way onto the list:
  • "There's a Secret Train Platform Beneath the Waldorf-Astoria" — not an urban legend, because it's true.
  • "The Restaurant One if by Land, Two if by Sea is Haunted" — People lists this as true!
  • "The City's Gargoyles Come to Life at Night" — This is on the list because gargoyles come to life in Ghostbusters, which was set in New York. People has concluded this movie was fiction.
  • "The Poem 'A Visit From St. Nicholas' was Inspired by N.Y.C." — Again, this is true.
  • "There Are Ghosts in Central Park" — People has decided this is "probably false."

Posted: Thu Dec 19, 2013.   Comments (0)

The Myth of Holiday Suicide — According to urban legend, the holiday season sees a spike in suicides. But Scientific American notes that November and December actually have the lowest rates of suicide.

The reason is perhaps because "The increased emotional and social support during holiday time temporarily dims the feelings of despair and anguish for many depressed children and adults."

But unfortunately the holiday lull is followed by a peak of suicides in the Spring: "As winter thaws into spring, there is the hope for renewal that if not delivered can set into motion agitation and despair."
Posted: Tue Dec 17, 2013.   Comments (0)

Help Save the Blondes — Assuming this story is true, it sounds like this woman has fallen for that urban legend about the gene for blonde hair being driven out of existence due to the greater percentage of dark-haired people in the world. According to the legend, the World Health Organization has predicted that in 200 years there will be no blondes left.


Say hello to Maria de Jesus-Lucungo... Maria has made it her life goal to campaign for the protection of the UK's blonde population. She believes that England's flaxen-haired brothers and sisters are under threat of extinction and that, if they disappear, "the world will not be so attractive in beauty any more".

Maria de Jesus-Lucungo has a petition you can sign if you want to help her campaign to raise awareness of the disappearance of blondes.

Posted: Sun Dec 01, 2013.   Comments (2)

The World’s Leading Authority on Poisoned Candy — In 1985, Joel Best published an article in the sociology journal Social Problems analyzing reports of children receiving dangerous treats on Halloween (razor blades in apples, poisoned candy, etc.).

After doing an extensive review of newspaper databases for all cases between 1959 and 1984, he couldn't find a single instance of a child being killed by a Halloween treat, although there were a handful of cases (18) of minor injuries, and a larger number of reports of the discovery of contaminated treats without injury. Although he suspected that most if not all of these discovery reports were hoaxes.

So he concluded that the idea of "Halloween Sadism" was an urban legend that emerged into national prominence during the early 1970s because of fears about the safety of children:

The Halloween sadist has become an annual reminder of the fragility of the social bond — an expression of growing doubts about the safety of children, the trustworthiness of strangers, and the strength of the modern urban community.

In an article recently posted on the website of the University of Delaware (where he teaches) Best looks back on that article and notes that ever since its publication he's been the go-to guy for reporters writing about Halloween safety:

Every October since 1985, I've continued to get calls from reporters. Usually, it's a young person working for a newspaper who's been assigned to write a piece about Halloween safety. There's a pretty good chance that a reporter who goes online to review last year's stories about the topic will see me quoted, so I get called and re-interviewed.

Because of the ongoing interest in this mostly non-existent problem, Best has continued to scan newspapers for reports of Halloween injuries, and he says that "I still haven't found a documented case of a child who was seriously harmed by a contaminated treat."

Though he notes that this shouldn't be taken to mean that Halloween isn't a potentially dangerous holiday. It is. But for another reason altogether. On Halloween the risk of a child being struck by a car is four times higher than on other nights.
Posted: Sat Oct 26, 2013.   Comments (2)

Alcohol Myths — Mental Floss has an interesting, brief article on "6 Absurd Alcohol Myths People Believed During Prohibition". The myths were:
  1. Alcohol turns blood into water
  2. Merely smelling alcohol could deform unborn children
  3. Some bootleg wines were made with cockroaches
  4. Most beer drinkers die of dropsy
  5. Alcohol can give you a 25-pound liver
  6. Drunkards' brains can be used as torches
The cockroach wine myth reminds me of the Army Worm Wine that I posted about back in 2005, except that Army Worm Wine was apparently real.

Posted: Fri Oct 25, 2013.   Comments (0)

Oops! We forgot the elevators —
From Europe comes a good example of the absent-minded engineer urban legend. The most common variant of this legend, which seems to be repeated on almost every university campus, is that the library is sinking, because the engineers forgot to include the weight of the books when designing the building.

The version that recently reared its head in the European press is that the Edificio Intempo skyscrapers currently under construction in Spain, which will be Europe's tallest residential towers when completed, won't have elevators on the top 27 storeys because the engineers forgot to design them in. The story, as repeated in newspapers such as El Pais, is that the buildings were originally going to be 20 storeys high, but developers later decided to make them 47 storeys, but "neglected to allow the extra room required by a lift ascending over twice as far." So whoever lived on the 47th floor would have to climb a lot of stairs!

Rafael Ballesta, sales manager for the towers, has described the allegation as "ridiculous": "We are constructing the highest residential skyscraper in Europe so how is it possible to build without elevators?" And reporters who have now visited the construction site have confirmed that there are indeed elevators going all the way up. [dezeen.com]
Posted: Wed Aug 21, 2013.   Comments (1)

Hippo Eats Man — Thanks to Tah for giving me a heads up about this article. The hippo didn't eat a dwarf, but it does give an idea about how it would feel to become hippo food. My favorite line is, "Time passes very slowly when you're in a hippo's mouth."

Experience: I was swallowed by a hippo

There was no transition at all, no sense of approaching danger. It was as if I had suddenly gone blind and deaf.
I was aware that my legs were surrounded by water, but my top half was almost dry. I seemed to be trapped in something slimy. There was a terrible, sulphurous smell, like rotten eggs, and a tremendous pressure against my chest. My arms were trapped but I managed to free one hand and felt around – my palm passed through the wiry bristles of the hippo's snout. It was only then that I realised I was underwater, trapped up to my waist in his mouth...
I remember looking up through 10 feet of water at the green and yellow light playing on the surface, and wondering which of us could hold his breath the longest. Blood rose from my body in clouds, and a sense of resignation overwhelmed me. I've no idea how long we stayed under – time passes very slowly when you're in a hippo's mouth.

Posted: Tue May 07, 2013.   Comments (2)

Page 1 of 7 pages  1 2 3 >  Last ›