Urban Legends: believe what you will

The other morning, conversation over coffee turned to a past event in Enumclaw. A disgruntled husband, rather than share a house in a divorce settlement, got a demolition permit and bulldozed the dwelling into splinters.

"I heard of something real similar," said Vern as he put his coffee cup down. "A few years ago, down in Tacoma, there was this guy who drove a cement truck. Well, his girlfriend was goin' out on him, so one night he drove up to her house and just filled her new boyfriend's Cadillac with cement."

Well, Vern, I hate to burst your balloon, but the Enumclaw story was a verifiable fact. Your story about the Cadillac - well, it's one of those stories that always happened to "a friend of a friend" and can never be proved.

The cement story is an Urban Legend. We've all heard some of them.

Prof. Jan Harold Brunvard of the University of Utah English department has filled two books with Urban Legends - "The Vanishing Hitchhiker" and "The Choking Doberman" - and is working on a third. Some of the stories that we've heard and retold as truths turn out simply to be examples of modern folklore.

Years ago, my father came home with one. He had heard of a brand-new Chrysler Imperial for sale for only a few hundred dollars. "It's only got 300 miles on the odometer, and other than the smell, the car's perfect."

"What smell?" I asked.

"Well, seems the former owner took it up in the hills and committed suicide in the car," Dad said. "They didn't find him for a few weeks."

Another car-related Urban Legend that I've heard is about a new car that had a disturbing rattle. After many trips back to the dealership, the noise was finally traced to an inaccessible area inside one of the rear fenders. In desperation, the dealer had the fender cut open - only to find a Coke bottle hanging from a coat-hanger. It contained a note stating that it will "rattle like hell."

Not all of the stories have to do with cars. We all know the famous tale that went around about the same time microwave ovens made their first appearance. You know, the one about the woman who gave her poodle a bath. Because she was in a hurry to go out, she thought she'd just put the dog in the oven for a second to dry its coat.

The end of the story can be easily imagined, but the key point to remember is that it never happened.

Some Urban Legends do exist for a meaningful reason. The story is usually a mini-morality play in which the consequences are so horrible that the listener never considers that course of action again. Sort of like the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel.

An example is the tale about the child who wanders off from her mother at a large shopping mall. The mother discovers the child is missing, and a frantic search of the nearby area doesn't turn up the kid. Mom goes out into the parking lot to check if she's gone back to the car, but there's still no sign of her.

The mall's security office is notified and the entire mall is searched. Finally, the little girl is found in one of the restrooms. Her hair has been cut like a boy's and she is clothed in a little boy's garb in preparation for an abduction.

After hearing that story, not many kids wander off anymore.

There are equally scary stories about hitchhiking and picking up riders, altered Halloween treats and almost anything that needs warning about.

Me? I prefer to think that somewhere out there, there really is a warehouse full of crated Army Jeeps, all in pieces, for only $100 a crate.

The Discovery Park cougar, though - that was real.

Gary McDaniel lives in Magnolia. He can be reached via email at the address mageditor@nwlink.com.[[In-content Ad]]