Tag Archives: urban legend

Did Jack Kerouac really write his masterpiece in 3 weeks?

Rumors have it that Jack Kerouac wrote his cult classic, On the Road, in three weeks while heavily under the influence of various drugs. While there is some truth to this legend, on the whole it is more false than true.

There are a number of legends surround On the Road. Some say that Kerouac was possessed the Holy Spirit when writing it in 1951, while others say that he was just under the influence of various drugs, and that he wrote the entire book on napkins, with no punctuation.

While some parts of these legends are probably exaggerations, it is difficult to know what the truth of the matter may be. What we know is that after a sports injury Kerouac quit Columbia and started traveling around the country. Eventually, he sat down to write a book, and 20 days later On the Road was born.

Kerouac insisted to not have taken drugs; he said that he was consuming coffee at near-supernatural levels, which is what gave him the energy finish his book so quickly.

Furthermore, we now know that the original script of On the Road did have punctuation. The famous “20-day period” was more of a stich-job – Kerouac used the best sentences from previous versions of his work in order to create On the Road.

However, even this version wasn’t final. The publisher required a number of changes in order to make the book appealing to a wider audience. Kerouac agreed, and made a number of changes between 1951 and the book’s eventual publishing in 1957. He toned down the language, expanded on certain episodes, and refined some of the metaphors used in the book.

In light of this, the characterization of On the Road as a spontaneous masterpiece seems a little far-fetched.

Photo: John Cohen

Do the lions of Budapest’s Chain Bridge really have no tongues?

According to a Hungarian legend, the architect had been so embarrassed that he committed suicide.

At the time of its construction, Chain Bridge was considered to be one of the wonders of the world. Chief engineer Adam Clark was supposedly so proud of his masterpiece that he challenged people to find a flaw in it. When it was pointed out that the guardian lions had no tongues, he was so ashamed that he jumped off the Chain Bridge, becoming the first person to kill themselves there.

The lions were sculpted by János Marschalkó in 1852, who also created other iconic sculptures around Budapest. Béla Tóth (a noted collector of Hungarian anecdotes) writes that the lions having no tongues was indeed a popular topic of conversation in 19th century Budapest.

Apparently, Marschalkó let the rumors swirl for a bit before issuing a public challenge: he bet a considerable amount of money that when a lions open their mouths like his sculptures do, their tongues would not be visible. He then took his doubters to a circus, where he proved he was right. According to an article from November of 1897, he then donated the money he won for charitable purposes.

But to address to original legend; neither Adam Clark, nor János Marschalkó committed suicide. And the lions do have tongues – although they cannot be seen from the angle that pedestrians see them from.

Photo: Zsolt Andrasi/flickr.com

The legend of the paperclip

Why did Norwegians wear paperclips during World War II? Did it really become a symbol of resistance because of a misconception?

A blog post on Today I found out delves into the historic significance of paperclips in Norway. During World War II, Nazi Germany invaded Norway in order to make the transport of Swedish steel easier. The royal family and government fled to London, and the country was governed by the puppet government led by Vidkun Quisling.

According to the Today I found out article, students of the University of Oslo found an unorthodox way of expressing their hatred of the occupying forces: they started wearing paperclips, paperclip bracelets and paperclip jewellery. Symbols related to the royal family and state had already been banned, and they wanted a clever way of displaying their rejection of Nazi ideas. According to the article, the paperclip was chosen because (in addition to binding things together and signifying unity) it was invented by Johan Vaaler, a Norwegian inventor and patent clerk.

However, the paperclip wasn’t invented by Vaaler. In addition, it’s fairly possible that this misconception had nothing to do with why the students chose the paperclip as their symbol of non-violent resistance.

While Vaaler did indeed file a patent for a certain paperclip design in 1899 (in Germany) and then in 1901 (in the United States); it was never manufactured. This is because there was already a more functional design already being mass produced in Europe.

Despite this, a number of encyclopaedias wrongly identify Vaaler as the inventor of the paperclip, and there have been monuments and stamps created in his honour (depicting a design Vaaler had nothing to do with). The misconception seems to originate from the 1920’s, when Norwegian patent agent Harald Foss identified Vaaler as the inventor of the paperclip, not noticing that he patented a different paperclip design.

However, even though the legend of Vaaler inventing the paperclip originates from the 1920’s, it didn’t become well-known until the 1950’s. Norwegian encyclopaedias from the 1950’s make no mention of the paperclip being chosen because it was invented by Vaaler, and one from 1974 suggests that the idea of the paperclip symbolizing resistance originated from France. Therefore, the assertion of Today I found out is uncertain at best.

Just to illustrate how quickly legends like this begin to mutate: in 1998, high school students from Tennessee decided to collect paperclips in order to commemorate murder of 6 million Jews during World War II. During this campaign, a couple more misconceptions were born. One site referencing the campaign states that “Norwegians wore them on their clothes to show support for Jews during World War II”, while another site wrote that the “symbol of resistance originally honored Johan Vaaler, the Norwegian Jew who invented the paper clip”.

As for who actually invented the paperclip; while there are plenty of claimants, no one is quite sure. In the 1870’s, the British Gem Manufacturing Company has already mass produced them. While it’s uncertain whether these clips were similar to the ones we use today, an advertisement from 1894 depicts one nearly identical to today’s paperclips.

Photo: flickr.com/TRIUMF Lab

Was Franz Ferdinand’s Car Really Cursed?

According to the rumor, the car in which Archduke Franz Ferdinand sat when he was assassinated caused the death of multiple people over the years. According to Smithsonian.com the legend of the cursed car originated in the 50’s, but it seems that the rumor is much older.

On the 28th of June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie Chotek were assassinated by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist. This event is widely acknowledged to have sparked the outbreak of World War I.

The car in which Franz Ferdinand sat in at the moment of his death was a Gräf & Stift made in 1910. The rumor has it that the subsequent owners of the car had their fair share of “troubles” as well:

“The first owner after the Archdukes’ death was a General Potiorek. He developed mental problems and later died in an insane asylum. An army captain, the next owner; died in an accident after hitting and killing two peasants on the road. The governor of Yugoslavia bought the car, he had four accidents in four months while driving the car; the last resulted in the amputation of his right arm. The governor sold the car to a doctor, who lost his life when the car overturned and crushed him. With each successive owner the tragedies continued. They were either injured or killed in accidents while in possession of the car. In all, thirteen people associated with the car died—it was then taken out of service. Today this supposedly haunted Graf & Stift automobile is displayed at the War History Museum in Vienna—the bullet holes from the assassination are still visible.”

While it’s certainly true that the car can be found in the Museum of Military History in Vienna, the other details of the rumor could not be verified by either Smithsonian or Snopes. According to Smithsonian, the story of the cursed death car did not begin to make the rounds until decades after Franz Ferdinand’s death. The article suggests that the legend dates only to 1959, when it was popularized in a book called Stranger Than Science, written by Frank Edwards, who was a relatively well-known American ufologist in the 50’s and 60’s.

However, according to the archives of the Hungarian newspaper Délmagyarország, the legend of the cursed car is much older. An article from 1927 reports on the Berlin correspondent of the “Ewening Post”, whose job would have been to investigate another accident related to Franz Ferdinand’s car. According to Délmagyarország the reporter was sent to Hungary; only to find that the story was completely false.

evening_franz

This article is important in showing that the legend was well-known overseas well before Frank Edwards’s book came out.

As for anyone interested in another account of Franz Ferdinand’s car; we’d recommend the book titled “Das Auto von Sarajevo”. According to its writers, the aforementioned car was put on exhibition in the Museum of Military History in Vienna from 1914 to 1944. The car was severely damaged during World War II, and was moved to its current place (a different wing of the same museum) after its restauration was complete.

Photo: Hemmings Daily / Délmagyarország

13 scary horror legends and myths from around the world

Horror-related urban legends from Singapore to Scotland; as told by Reddit users.

  1. Singapore

A user told the story of how he couldn’t sleep because of the sounds of dropping marbles:

“I grew up in Singapore. Almost every night, if you stay awake long enough, you can hear marbles being dropped on the floor of the apartment above you. This happens to almost everyone I know; we’ve just gotten so used to it that we don’t notice it anymore. It’s still really creepy though since most of the time the apartment above us is owned by an elderly couple who don’t have children (and who obviously don’t play with marbles at 3AM) or it’s empty. It’s just something that we can’t explain and it’s something that immigrants often ask us about.”

Another user attempted to explain this by saying that these sounds probably came from the water pipes, caused by a phenomenon known as water hammer. This however, proved to be a controversial explanation.

  1. Scotland

According to a legend, after someone found an underground passage beneath Edinburgh Castle and City Council, they sent a young boy to investigate:

“In Edinburgh, a passage was supposedly found underneath Edinburgh Castle and the City Council were obviously concerned about the security risk. The opening, however, was extremely small, so they decided to send down a young boy with a drum (so he could beat it and they’d know where it led.) The elders then followed the boy’s drumming from above ground as it led them down the High Street. The drumming stopped just next to the Tron Kirk. They decided just to block up the tunnel to prevent anything coming out of it, leaving the boy to his presumed fate. Apparently, to this day, on quiet nights, a faint drumming can be heard beneath the High Street just near the Tron…”

  1. England

An English user shared a horror story regarding the underground:

“A young woman gets on the last overground train out of central London that night. Most people are sleeping, nodding off, reading. She sits down on one of the few remaining seats and pulls out her book. After a little while she realises she’s being stared at intently by the girl opposite her. Sitting between 2 men, who themselves are staring at her, this girl continues to keep intensely staring at the woman. Unnerved but determined to keep her cool she continues reading and doing her best to ignore the people opposite.

A few minutes pass and they reach the next stop. A man walks on board and sits in the only remaining place – the seat next to the woman – pulls out a newspaper and starts doing a crossword. The train starts running again and she settles back into her book, still doing her best to ignore the 3 intimidating people opposite. The man doing the crossword lets a piece of his broadsheet paper flop onto her book. Annoyed, the woman is about to brush it off her page when she sees a message scrawled in pencil and underlined in such a way as to implore urgency: “get off train next stop”.

Her heart beating hard and feeling the tight walls of the train closing in on her, she decides to take heed of the message and hastily exits the train next stop, ready to attack the man if he attacks her.

As the train pulls away, the young woman and man stand on the platform. She turns to him and asks why she had to get off the train.

“That girl opposite you, staring at you… you didn’t notice?” he asks, visibly unnerved

‘Yea, some people are just like that I guess, it’s London bu-“

“She wasn’t staring” he interrupts “she wasn’t alive”

The next day 2 men were arrested for the murder of a 16 year old girl. They were taking her body out into Epping forest to dispose of her. Unable to find a car, they took her on the train, eyes rolled open, wedged inbetween them to keep upright.”

According to a different version of this story, there were only 5 people on the train: the victim, the killers, the girl and the stranger. There are other versions of this legend out there, too, some of which can be found on Snopes.

  1. Philippines

A university-related story from Philippines:

“One is at a medical school, where a student is about to go home after studying cadavers alone at night. As she enters the elevator (a man is already inside), they both hear a woman running, asking the student to wait and not close the elevator door as she will also use the elevator. But the student quickly pushes the button to close the door, prompting the other man inside the elevator to ask the student, “Why did you close the door? You just made her wait at the dark floor!” To which the student replied, “She’s wearing a red tag on her wrist! And that red tag is only for cadavers!” The man was shocked, then said, “Ohh… so something like this?” as he raised his arm to show the red tag on his wrist.”

  1. Brazil

“In Brazil there’s an urban legend about a man who kidnap children with a bag if you are not near your parents or alone, people call him “Homem do saco”, something similar to “Bag man” in a literal translation. If he got a children, you will never see that children again, some say he ate then.”

The “Homem do saco” stories seem to originate around the 19th century, with some saying that it was born of the fear of immigrating gypsies at the time.

  1. Poland/Russia/Ukraine

A kidnapping-related horror story from Eastern Europe, found on Wikipedia:

“Black Volga refers to an urban legend widespread in Poland, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Mongolia, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s. It was about a black (in some versions red) Volga limousine that was allegedly used to abduct people, especially children. According to different versions, it was driven by priests, nuns, Jews, vampires, satanists or Satan himself. Children were kidnapped to use their blood as a cure for rich westerners or Arabs suffering from leukemia; other variants used organ theft as the motive, combining it with another famous legend about kidney theft by the KGB.”

7-8. Sweden

Two short stories regarding immigrants:

“- Immigrants moving in to a new apartment, breaks up floor and starts growing potatoes there. Some might say this is based on one real incident, but I haven’t found any evidence of it. What’s funny about it is that the ethnicity of the immigrants change according to the latest big wave of immigrants, so chronologically: The immigrants of the story have been Greeks, Turks, Chileans, Yugoslavs and Arabs.

– Related legend, though more obscure: Immigrants raising pigs in the bathtub for food.”

  1. France

A French Reddit user told an old story from Orleans:

“It says that in the 60’s, there was a clothes and lingerie shop in Orleans where the fitting rooms were in fact traps. Women were kidnapped and sent to some prostitution network.”

Certain versions of this legend may include Jewish shop owners, crooked cops, secret tunnel systems and submarines.

  1. India

“In India there was this urban legend in Delhi about a mad scientist creating a monkey-man. This creature escaped and haunted Delhi for a long time. People were supposedly attacked. Nobody ever found out what happened. In the end, years later, we got a bunch of good movies and a comic book series on it.”

  1. South Korea

A story about a honeymoon gone wrong:

“There is a story about this newly weds who go on their honeymoon to either China or India. During the trip, the wife disappears without a trace, and the husband is forced come home, failed to find out anything about what happened to the love of his life. Couple years later, he goes to see a circus with friends, and there, he finds his missing wife, performing as a freak. Luckily, she was perfectly alright, except she now has no legs, arms, nor ability to speak.”

12-13. China

And last, but not least, two bus-related stories from China:

“One night around midnight, some drunk gets on a bus and falls asleep on his seat. There’re about a dozen people inside the bus. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then the drunk wakes up to an old guy getting on the bus. The old guy looks around the bus, and chooses to sit next to the drunk. The drunk is a bit annoyed, but doesn’t think too much of it. He then drifts off again. Suddenly, he wakes up again to the old guy grabbing his collar and shaking him violently. The old guy yells at him, “Little fucker pretended to be asleep and tried to steal my wallet!” Of course he does no such thing. So he defends himself, “No I didn’t! I was drunk and sleeping, you crazy old man!” They causes too much of a ruckus, so in the end, the driver has to throw them both off the bus. As soon as they get off, the guy immediately lashes out. Yet the old man holds up his hand and stops him. “I just saved both of our lives, young man,” he says. “You were too drunk to notice. None of the other passengers had feet!” (Here’s the deal with “no feet.” When Chinese ghosts “walk,” their heels don’t touch the floor, or they just downright flow).”

“One night, a young female driver is driving a bus full of passengers along a dark and quiet road in between cities. All of a sudden, three guys appear by the road asking for a ride. Since they are all willing to pay the fee, the driver has no choice but to let them in. However, as soon as she gets the money and is ready to take off again, one of the guys holds a knife against her side. And the other two starts to walk down the aisle, also with their knives out. Turns out they are robbers. After taking the passengers’ valuables, the robbers notice the driver is a young and attractive woman. So they rape her, in front of everybody. There is this one guy who tries to stop the rape from happening, but eventually gets beaten by the bad guys. After the rape, the bad guys demand the driver to keep driving. But the driver looks that the good Samaritan and screams, “I want him out of my bus!” The guy is dumbfounded. “You didn’t stop them, you useless piece of shit! Get off my bus!” So the poor guy is thrown off the bus by those robbers. He has to walk all night to get to a small town for help. While in the police station, the news is on the TV, saying that a bus full of passengers goes off a cliff, and no one on the bus, including the female driver, survives the crash.”

This story inspired an award-winning short film:

Photo: pexels.com

Did a man really die while watching a horror movie, then disappear from the hospital?

A man died while watching The Conjuring 2 in an Indian cinema. His body was taken to a nearby hospital, from where it allegedly disappeared. I tried to investigate the story based on Indian newspaper articles.

According to a Times of India article, a 65-year old man started complaining about chest pain, then fainted after watching the movie. He was swiftly taken to a hospital, but they were not able to save him. After the man’s death, his body was sent to another hospital for post-mortem examination, but the body disappeared along with the person who was supposed to take it there. This story quickly started circulating around the world, with all sorts of paranormal explanations of how the body disappeared.

Since most media outlets contain no additional details beyond the information provided by the Times of India article, I decided to look into other Indian sources. It seems no other newspaper has presented this story quite as mysteriously and dramatically as Times of India; but then again, their reports didn’t end up getting picked up by half the world, either. The additional reports don’t contain many additional facts, but at least provide an alternative version of the story compared to “Shocking!! Two People Disappear without a Clue after Watching a Horror Movie”.

The Indian Express and the Hindustan Times, for instance, don’t even mention disappearance. They reported that the family of the deceased “did not prefer to file a case and the body was taken to Andhra Pradesh for last rites”. The Hindu reported that the accompanying man “took the body with the help of an auto rickshaw to the place where he was staying.”NDTV suggests that this accompanying man was indeed asked to take the body to another hospital, but he decided to take it home instead.

The New Indian Express reports that the two men watched the movie drunk, and the man left with the body after he was asked to transport it over to the other hospital “so that the police may file a case and send the body for autopsy”. However, he did not do this, and disappeared with the body. According to this report, “since no complaint was lodged, police can’t inquire into the issue”.

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