Top 10 Urban Legends & Myths

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We’ve all heard them. Usually, they happened to a friend of a friend’s second cousin, and in almost every case they’re completely untrue. Still, some urban legends have managed to gain a remarkable amount of credibility. From creepy folklore to rumors about celebrities and politicians, here are the top ten urban legends that have managed to gain a popular following.

10. The Automatic 4.0

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This one has been making its way across college campuses since the 1970s, and it’s been popping up as a plot point in movies and TV shows for years. It says that any college student whose roommate commits suicide will automatically receive a 4.0 grade point average for the semester as part of the college’s bereavement policy. Other versions tweak it a bit to include murder or an accident, but all stick to the basic principle of dead roommate=good grades. Not a word of the story is true, of course, and it’s said that the rumor most likely started out as a joke among stressed out college students.

9. Mr. Rogers Was a Navy Seal

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Fred Rogers and his classic children’s show Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood were legendary in the TV world, so it was only a matter of time before a few scandalous rumors started floating around about him. Probably the most popular and downright ridiculous was the legend that claimed Rogers was a Navy Seal during the Vietnam War, and that he had numerous confirmed kills as a sniper. This same rumor often asserted that the only reason Rogers wore sweaters was to cover up all the tattoos he had gotten during his time in the service. Both tales are completely untrue, but this is one urban legend that refuses to die, and it is often applied to other clean-cut, wholesome celebrities, most notably John Denver.

8. Bloody Mary

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Although it’s more folklore than an urban legend, the Bloody Mary story is so old and well known that it had to make this list. A common game at children’s slumber parties, the story states that the ghost of Mary Worth, a woman who was supposedly executed for being a witch, will manifest when summoned. This usually involves going into a darkened room and shouting her name three times, at which point her face will appear in a mirror. There are a number of variations on the story, with some claiming that the face of Satan appears or that the mirror turns red, and others stating that the name must be said 13 times, but all follow this same general theme.

7. JFK and the Jelly Doughnut Speech

jfk speech Ich bin ein berliner jelly doughnut

The story dates back to 1963, when then-President John F. Kennedy traveled to Germany to give a speech. Wanting to express solidarity with the people of Berlin, Kennedy said to them “Ich bin ein Berliner,” which translates to English as “I am a Berliner.” But since a “Berliner” was also a certain kind of popular pastry in Germany at the time, many have surmised that the phrase translated to the crowd as “I am a jelly doughnut,” and over the years a number of stories have surfaced saying Kennedy was nearly laughed off the stage after saying it. It’s hard to say where the story originated, but it has been proven to be a myth, and reports have shown that not only did Kennedy have the phrase translated by a professional interpreter before using it, but that the crowd understood him perfectly.

6. Cokelore

Over the years, there have been so many urban legends about the popular soft drink Coca-Cola that they’ve been given their own name: Cokelore. Probably the most famous urban legend in this regard is the old claim that eating Pop Rocks candy and then drinking Coke will cause stomach damage. Meanwhile, another legend says that the acids in the soda can dissolve a tooth if it’s left in a glass of the drink overnight, and still another asserts that mixing Coke with aspirin produces a drug-like high. All these claims are false, but another popular claim, that Coke originally contained cocaine as a part of its formula, is verifiably true. The drink was created in the 1880s, and even after the negative aspects of cocaine were uncovered, the company continued using trace amounts of the drug in its soda until the 1920s.

5. The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan legend has been around for years, and it’s been attributed to a number of famous rich people, from Bill Gates to Nat King Cole. As the story goes, a motorist stops to help a man change a flat tire. The man asks for the motorist’s address so that he might send a reward. A few weeks later, the motorist receives a thank you note in the mail with a check for $10,000 signed by a famous celebrity. The story tends to vary depending on whom the grateful celebrity is, with one popular version claiming that Donald Trump paid off a helpful stranger’s mortgage. Trump himself has even tried to confirm this, but all proof points to it being nothing more than an often-repeated rumor.

4. Walt Disney Is Cryogenically Frozen

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This is another rumor that’s been around for a long time, and it seems that everyone has heard it at some point or another. It says that Walt Disney arranged for his body to frozen upon his death in the hope that future technology would be able to bring him back to life. No one’s exactly sure how this one got started, but records show that Disney was cremated when he died in 1966. It is suspected that the amount of secrecy surrounding his funeral, coupled with his reputation as an inventor, led to the creation of this long-standing myth.

3. The Sewer Alligator

Sewer Alligator

This story, one of the most popular of all urban legends, asserts that the New York City sewer system is infested with deadly alligators. In the most popular versions, the animals were brought north from Florida by people who wanted to keep them as pets. When the gators started getting too big and violent, they were released into the sewers. This story dates back to the 1930s, when sensationalist newspapers started reporting countless stories of alligators being found in and around New York City, with some even claiming that police were making regular trips underground to hunt the creatures down. Nearly all of these stories are false, and the few that are true almost undoubtedly concern animals that escaped from local zoos, but the sewer alligator story has continued to be passed down through the years, and it still exists today in many different forms.

2. The Vanishing Hitchhiker

One of the oldest and most often repeated urban legends, the vanishing hitchhiker story comes in many forms. The most popular version involves a man who picks up a young hitchhiker (usually a girl) on a deserted country road. He drives her to her house, but when he turns to say goodbye he finds that she has inexplicably disappeared from the back seat of the car. Confused, the man rings the doorbell of the house, whereupon he learns that the girl has been dead for years, killed in a car accident on the very spot where he picked her up that night. There are a number of variations of this story, and it dates back so far that earlier versions take place on horseback or in covered wagons.

1. The Kidney Heist

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The most ubiquitous and persistent urban legend, “the kidney heist” story has been immortalized on the internet, TV shows, and even a few movies. It supposedly dates back to 1997, when an e-mail started circulating warning people of a new and frightening crime that was catching on in some cities. In most versions, a business traveler is relaxing in a bar when a stranger strikes up a conversation and then offers to by them a drink. After taking a few sips, the traveler becomes woozy and then blacks out, only to awaken in a hotel room bathtub covered with ice. There is a phone next to them, and a note that says to call 911 immediately. When the paramedics arrive, the person learns that their kidney has been harvested by people who hope to sell it on the back market. This story is completely false, but it has been circulating for years, and its appearance on the internet is one of the oldest e-mail hoaxes. In order to quell the rumor, The National Kidney Foundation has even asked supposed victims of the crime to contact them, but to this date they haven’t had any takers. A scary tale, but still an urban legend.


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37 Comments

  1. I never heard that Mr. Rogers was a Navy Seal, but I did a search and sure enough that urban legend is everywhere. Nice job, Evan. I learned something today. Of course, I learned something that wasn't true, so I'm not sure the value. 😉

    It was interesting to read though.

  2. Actually, in German "Ich bin Berliner" is the appropriate way to say that you are a Berliner. "Ich bin ein Berliner" is, in fact, I am a donut. I learned this in German classes.

    He was probably understood perfectly but it was a mistranslation. English to German cannot be a direct word for word translation.

  3. Collectable Figurine on

    I hadn't heard the Mr Rogers one either…I wonder happens if you eat Mentos with Coke, we've seen them react strongly in a bottle!

  4. I always thought Bloody Mary was referring to Queen Mary. I also have never heard of the Mr. Rogers Navy Seal myth. Guess you learn something new every day!

  5. Ein Berliner on

    I'm not sure which part of the JFK story you are claiming is false – I would like to point out that it is not a complete fabrication.

    It is true that JFK made a minor error by saying "Ich bin ein Berliner", instead of "Ich bin Berliner", and that by objectifying himself it could have been interpreted as meaning that he was a Berliner pastry, which is similar to a Danish.

    It is false that the crowd laughed him off the stage. They were gracious enough to understand what he meant and responded with applause.

  6. The one about 6 spiders drop in your mouth while you sleep is a myth. So is the one about having to drink 8 glasses of water a day. 🙂

  7. the white rabbit on

    I like how this person is "debunking" these happenings as folklore and myths without citing a single resource to back them up.

  8. Lola Lufnagle on

    In the Charlie the unicorn video on youtube, at the end the pink and blue unicorns stole charlies kidney.

  9. Kennedy had it right the first time. "Ich bin Berliner" without the "ein" makes no grammatical sense, I have just been informed by an expert on the subject. End of.
    BTW, a "Berliner" nowadays is also a type of hotdog with a criss-cross pattern of ketchup and mustard over it.

  10. Just another comment on the “Berliner” mix-up. The myth is based on some mis-understandings in German. Firstly, it is ok to say “Ich bin ein Berliner”. Just not the most common usage. I listened to the speech again, and of course there was an interpreter who translated during the whole speech, and it is normal for the translator to repeat any statements made in German, and thus said “Ich bin Berliner” which the crowd responded positively to. Then JFK said, “I would like to take this opportunity to thank Hr. Schmidt(?) for translating my German into German.”

    Second, while it is true that in some parts of Germany, a “Berliner” refers to a kind of jelly donut; not actually in Berlin. In Berlin, it is called a “Pfannkuchen” or “pancake”.
    In the south (i.e. Bavaria) it is called a “Krapfen”.

    • Correct, although leaving out the indefinite article is common when stating your profession or your home town this way in German, it’s perfectly OK to emphasize such a statement by putting the indefinite article back in, and no one but the most obtuse language pedants would object or even misunderstand.

      And yes, it would be pretty weird if Berliners called their jelly donuts Berliners, but even in those areas of Germany where people shorten “Berliner Pfannkuchen” to just “Berliner” it’s pretty unlikely that anyone hearing a political speech on radio/TV held in Berlin in those days would have thought of bakery products first.

      It’s an Urban myth, pure and simple.

      • As yet another followup, I remember discussing this with my German wife who commented that “Ich bin Berliner” would have been completely wrong in this case because it means that JFK is from Berlin, which isn’t the case. “Ich bin ein Berliner” was *correct* because it means that JFK was expressing his support of the people of Berlin, thus the audience was “Begeistert” (enthusiastic).

  11. I always thought the story about Walt Disney was true. I am sure I saw that mentioned in a documentary about cryogenics a few years back. Just goes to show how strong these urban myths can become. I like to think wealthy people are no different.

  12. I knew some folks (years ago) who were selling insurance to have yourself frozen upon death. This always was met with skepticism, but they would reply to the effect, “what are you alternatives?”. Whatever… they pointed out there is a difference between cryonics, and cryogenics. I think having yourself frozen in hopes of future ressurection falls under the catagory of cryonics.

    • Blair witch was never an urban legend. the campers showed up on tv a week or so before the movie premiered, basically ruining the mystery if it was real or not.

      I honestly don’t know what thirteen book is

  13. The Ghost hitchhiker is true but this version is twisted
    It’s two people in Spain who were travelling and then they got confused they found HER on the street. She told them where she lives. She requested that they close the camera but then the guy secretly opened it again. Then she pointed out that she had a car accident on that certain point and she died. They 2 people got confused and then they got into a car accident themselves. One of them died but the other survived and his camera survived. They were later questioned by the FBI and stuff

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