Thursday, May 5, 2016

Cinco De Mayo

Cinco De Mayo, Spanish for May 5th, celebrates Mexico's unlikely victory over French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is not Mexico's Independence Day, as many American's believe. That day is September 16th and is honestly a much bigger deal in Mexico. Cinco De Mayo isn't even a national holiday in Mexico, though kids do get the day off from school. Why is Cinco De Mayo important? Why do we celebrate it in the United States? Well, we have to go back a little ways.

Mexico had just been trounced by America in 1848 during the Mexican-American War, which basically gave us all of southwest America. Ten years later, Mexico would be split between Conservatives and Liberals on how the government would be run, resulting in a three year civil war. The Liberals came out on top, but then the Treasury didn't have any money due to the war, so the Mexican President, Benito Jaurez, decided to put a halt on paying foreign debt for two years. Sounds great for Mexico, right? Get some time to get their legs back under them and build the treasury back up! Well that didn't work for those countries that lent them the money and expected interest payments. France, Britain, and Spain decided that they would make an example out of Mexico and formed a coalition to get their money back, which included sending their naval armadas to Mexico. France was the big proponent to this whole thing, but it was less about the money they lent out, and more about the money they could make from invading Mexico and snatching up their resources. When Britain and Spain found out that France was planning to take Mexico for themselves, they quickly left the coalition and worked out a deal with Mexico. France was alone but still determined to take over Mexico.

France could not only use the plentiful silver mines in Mexico to build their riches, but also use the country as a foothold in Latin America. If they installed a puppet government in Mexico, they could use that to open up other Latin countries to trade. The best part was that the U.S. was now involved in their Civil War and would be too busy to help the Mexican government. The French, at the time one of the most formidable armies in the world, landed on the eastern coast of Mexico in Veracruz and easily drove out the Mexican forces. Slowly the French forces worked their way toward Mexico City and assured victory. The French forces met unsuspected heavy resistance close to Puebla and the 6,000 French troops attempted to crush the much smaller and poorly equipped 2,000 strong Mexican troops. To everyone's disbelief, the small Mexican force was able to decisively defeat the French forces. The Mexican army was able to stave off the French for another year, until the 30,000 strong French troops were finally able to push the Mexican forces from Mexico City and install their own government, led by Emperor Maximilian I, who was Austrian royalty that had agreed to help France conquer the Mexicans. The Mexican forces were still very active during the three year reign of Maximilian, using mostly guerrilla warfare. Maximilian ruled his puppet government from 1864 to 1867, which abruptly ended when he found himself in front of a firing squad. Where did it all go wrong? Things started to go downhill when America finished its Civil War and could more explicitly give aid to Mexico. Then, the French troops officially vacated Mexico in 1866. It was only a matter of time before the Mexican troops re-took Mexico City and had Maximilian put to death. Benito Jaurez, the Mexican President who decided to stop paying Mexico's debts was re-established as their ruler. Fun side note, this was the SECOND time France tried to force Mexico to pay its debts, the first being called the Pastry War, though that one only lasted a few months.

Going back to the Battle of Puebla, this was a huge deal at the time. Mexico was still very divided, but this victory gave the nation a lot of pride. The meager Mexican forces had trounced the well-organized French troops. Historians agree that the battle wasn't a huge strategic win in the overall war, it was a huge victory in terms of boosting the morale of Mexican troops. The win was important for another reason, and this had to do with the U.S. When France first invaded, the Union had a fear that if the French ran right over the Mexican troops, they could provide aid to the Confederacy. The fear was real, as this was exactly what France was planning on doing. This was early in the Civil War, when the Union was consistently being bested by the Confederacy. Thanks to the unlikely victory at Puebla, Mexican forces were able to keep France from taking power until 1864. By this time, the momentum was clearly with the Union forces and France decided not to aid the Confederacy. Had Mexico not won at Pueblo, our own war may have turned out much different. This is one of those great "what-ifs" of history, though many Americans don't even know anything about the background of Cinco De Mayo.

Cinco De Mayo celebrations came immediately to America in the 1860's, though they were completely confined to California for almost 100 years. Mexican miners in California started impromptu celebrations when they heard about the Mexican victory, and celebrations started every year to celebrate Mexican pride. It wasn't until the 1950's that the celebration spread to other parts of western America, thanks in large part to the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. The holiday truly grew in the 1980's when marketers, especially beer companies, capitalized on the celebratory nature of the day and began to promote it. It started as Mexican miners in California celebrating their country's victory in the 1860's to a generic celebration of Mexican culture and heritage. The holiday is huge in cities with large Mexican-American populations, but you can find celebrations basically everyone in America now. As stated before, in Mexico, this is "Battle of Puebla Day" and kids get a day off of school. The holiday is a much bigger deal in Puebla and Veracruz, where it is an official holiday, meaning everyone gets a day off. Cinco De Mayo is even celebrated in large cities around the world like Tokyo, Paris, and London, where they celebrate both American and Mexican culture.

Cinco De Mayo has become a day less about unlikely military victories and more about celebrating Mexico as a whole. Most celebrations boil down to going to a Mexican restaurant or making tacos at home. That's good enough for most people, and that's alright. For me, it's just fun to see why we have these holidays and why we are celebrating at all. That being said, I'm still going to get some Mexican food.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Hinterkaifeck

Hinterkaifeck was a small homestead 70 km north of Munich, Germany. It was a little ways from the main town of Kaifeck, thus the name Hinterkaifeck, Hinter being German for behind. Why do I mention this little speck on the map? Well, Hinterkaifeck is home to one of the most baffling murders in all of German history. On March 31st, 1922, six inhabitants on the farm were brutally murdered with a mattock, a tool similar to a pickax. The victims were Andreas Gruber and his wife Cazilia; their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel and her two children Cazilia and Josef; and the maid Maria Baumgartner. It all started a few days before the murders, when Andreas told his neighbors that he discovered footprints in the snow leading from the edge of the forest to his farm, but none leading back. Don't worry, it gets creepier. Andreas also told of hearing footsteps in the attic and finding an unfamiliar newspaper in his barn. At this point its very surprising that Andreas wouldn't have done some investigative work, or taken his family and left. He must of thought these things were not too unusual, because he literally did nothing apparently. The house keys were also missing in the days before the murders happened, but that wasn't reported to police. I'm beginning to think Farmer Gruber wasn't the brightest man in Germany. Probably unrelated, but still creepy was the fact that their previous maid had left the house six months earlier, claiming that it was haunted. The new maid arrived just a few hours before she was murdered, so that has to be the worst timing ever, right?

Part of the mystery is exactly how the murderer, or murderers, got each member of the Gruber family sans Josef, to go into the barn on the night of March 31st. Josef and Maria the maid were found in their rooms. A popular theory is that the killer lured each member out one by one to the barn and then murdered them with a mattock. The killer then went inside the house and finished off the rest of the residents. After the neighbors began to notice that the Grubers had not left their house in several days, the went to investigate and found the horrifying scene. Police investigations into the murder lasted years and over one hundred suspects were questioned, but to no avail. Viktoria's ex-husband was even suspected, though he had supposedly died during WWI. The last instance of questioning took place in 1986, but students of the area police academy did another formal investigation in 2007 using modern technology. Unfortunately, too much time had passed, with little physical evidence left and all suspects being dead. The murders will most likely never be solved, though many amateur investigators love trying. The farm has long since been torn down, though there is a shrine in the former spot of the Gruber homestead.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Night on Bald Mountain

The only reason that anybody outside of  Russian classical music aficionados know about this piece of haunting and dramatic music is because of Disney's Fantasia. Night on Bald ( or Bare) Mountain was that scary piece of music that went along with the cartoon segment featuring none other than the devil himself! Hooray! I admit that I was a bit freaked out by this part of Fantasia when I was little, but it quickly became my favorite due to the scary nature (if you couldn't tell, I'm all about scary). Disney still gets complaints to this day about the Night on Bald Mountain sequence in Fantasia. Disney even left it off of its original video release. Of course it has now been added back on, as it should be. What may be surprising to some, and certainly was to me, is that the Night on Bald Mountain that we hear is one of many compositions of the original, created by Modest Mussorgsky in 1867. While many of us may recognize Fantasia's version, it is by no means the original, nor even the preferred version.

Modest Mussorgsky was born in Russia in 1839. He was mentored by Miliy Balakirev, who didn't actually approve of his composition of what was first called St. John's Eve on Bald Mountain. Doesn't exactly have the same ring to it. St. John's Eve was the celebration before the holy day celebrating John the Baptist, which occurs on June 24th every year. St. John's Eve is still celebrated all over the world, and usually involves starting a fire. No, not like on Devil's Night. The bonfires, usually referred to as St. John's Fire, are burned as a tradition to ward off evil spirits and witches. Think of St. John's Eve as sort of a Halloween. Some kind of thing, the eve is when evil is afoot, and the next day is a holy one. When Mussorgsky wrote his tone poem, he focused on a witches' sabbath happening on St. John's Eve, while Chernobog (slavic deity, meaning dark god) gathers evil forces around him. Mussorgsky called it a "musical picture," but as I mentioned before, his mentor didn't like it enough to want to perform it, so Mussorgsky tried to insert his composition into different pieces. That didn't really work out, and Mussorgsky never got to hear his "musical picture" performed. After his death, his friends raided his stuff so they could try to piece his unfinished work together. One friend, Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov decided to come up with a different composition of St. John's Eve on Bald Mountain, and thankfully shortened it to the title we know today.

Rimsky-Korsakov didn't have Mussorgsky's original tome to work with, (it didn't show up until the 1920's) so he based it off of one of Mussorgsky's later versions that was supposed to be used for Sorochinsty Fair. They are pretty similar, but you can definitely tell he changed quite a few lines. He finished his version five years after Mussorgsky died, with its publishing coming shortly after. The piece became a concert favorite, and was undeniably a success for Rimsky-Korsakov.Though the biggest exposure the song has attained was from Disney. Seventy years later and you still hear this played at concert venues during October, and it's all thanks to Fantasia. Leopold Stokowski, Fantasia's composer, didn't have Mussorgsky's original work either, so he had to do a mix of both Mussorgsky's and Rimsky-Korsakov's. He took the form and content from Rimsky-Korsakov, but used the orchestration from Mussorgsky. While recognizable to this day, this version is not considered the best, and is passed over in favor of Rimsky-Korsakov's interpretation. You can definitively see that Disney and their animators took the context of the original tome poem and put it to screen beautifully. The last section of Fantasia is probably the most memorable of them all. Listen to each version and see if you can tell the differences between them. It's a favorite piece of mine to listen to, though mostly during the Halloween season, which is almost upon us. The song is epic, and it's a shame Mussorgsky never got to hear it performed.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mail Order Homes

Mail Order Homes, also known as Kit Homes or Catalog Homes, were a type of housing popular in the first half of the 20th century. The most famous, and most successful, company to sell these homes were Sears, Robuck and CO. Sears started selling various home goods through catalog in 1888, after noticing that many farmers were having to spend lots of money at overpriced general goods stores. Their solution was cutting out the middle man and sending the product straight to the consumer. Sears was very successful in this endeavor, recording record profits for years to come. By 1906, most of their products were selling famously, except for their lumber. It ended up just sitting their in their warehouses and they weren't sure what to do about it. Frank W. Kushel, who was put in charge of the fledgling building materials department, came up with the idea for getting together all the components needed for building a house and selling it to consumers. Richard Sears loved the idea and the company started selling Kit Homes. Sears was by no means alone in this idea, as many companies starting in and around that same time developing whole house kits. The Aladdin Company, based out of Bay City, MI, is credited as being the first company to offer Kit Homes, starting in 1906. What Sears had that Aladdin and many other companies didn't was a hugely successful catalog that was in just about every American's house.

Kit Homes were shipped by railway and then typically trucked to a home site. Depending on the size of the home being built, it could include anywhere from 10,000-30,000 pieces of lumber which filled just about two boxcars. While everything needed to build the actual house was included, there were no bricks, cement, or mortar. This meant that you would have to at least get a handyman or contractor to help you with the house, that is if you weren't up to it yourself. With help, the Kit Homes could be put together within a few weeks, or a few months. Each home was delivered with detailed instructions on how to build it, so you weren't completely lost if you wanted to do it yourself. Constructing Kit Homes became a family or neighborhood event, similar to a barn-raising. It was all very different from house building today. Today, you have a company put one together for you, like a subdivision house, or you have an independent contractor do it for you. All those companies back in the 20th century made it easy for even the most dimwitted person to build a house. It wasn't the affair that we all see now. My grandfather built his house by himself, and so did his father. While Kit Homes may have been easy to build thanks to instructions, I still believe that earlier generations were just more educated on handyman work. I have never heard of anyone building their own house these days. It just doesn't happen unless you're already a builder. Even then, they typically need other builders to help with specialties.

Kit homes were by far the more economical choice back then. Kit Homes could cost you as low as $300 and no more than $3,000 (prices would eventually go up until about 1930). By doing the work themselves, people could cut out the contractors for most of the building process. Companies like Montgomery Ward and Sears also could get building materials at much lower prices than a lumber yard, so they were able to pass the savings down. Mortgages were also affordable and didn't discriminate like many real estate agencies and banks. All these companies wanted to know was whether you owned the land you were building on, and whether you had a primary income. Considering how hard it was for many African-Americans and certain immigrants to get decent mortgages at that time in America, the Kit Houses were a miracle. The Kit Homes could be bought completely pre-cut with instructions, or many other ways to cut down the cost. You could have the pieces sent without being pre-cut, or have cheaper materials sent, or even just the house plans with no materials. It all depended on what was the most cost effective for the customer. Depending on where the customer lived, it may be more economical to buy materials from a local shop that happened to have cheaper materials. Sears and Montgomery Ward also knew that tastes changed all the time and included additions to past models. You could even design your own house and send the blueprints to the manufacturer so they could make all the pieces for you. There was not a shortage of options when it came to Kit Homes.

House prices depended on the size of the house, grade of materials, and amenities inside. Electricity and indoor plumbing were still pretty novel early in the 1900's and it cost a little bit more to have them in your home. For most of the companies, the houses all had fancy names like, The Washington or The Ardmore. Advertisements for these homes wasn't limited to catalogs. You could find ads inside lumber yards, hardware stores, and any other home improvement center. Ads were also put out in popular magazines like National Geographic, Saturday Evening Post, and Good Housekeeping. You could even take a tour of a Kit Home if you were willing to drive to one of the manufacturer's outlets. The advertising for Kit Homes really paid off because it became a huge sensation. It didn't matter if you were a blue collar worker, or incredibly wealthy, you wanted to get one of these unique homes. Walt and Roy Disney even bought a couple for themselves in 1928.

Alas, the Kit Home bubble burst during the Great Depression. Many companies dropped their Kit Home divisions and went back to selling building materials. Montgomery Ward decided to get out of the business when they weren't making a profit in mortgages anymore. The reason for the bubble bursting was not because people couldn't pay their mortgages, in fact, the New Deal encouraged people to refinance existing mortgages to a lower rate. People just lost interest in building their own homes, and the fad died away before WWII with Sears ending their line of Kit Homes in 1940. Many families instead went for the new inexpensive tract houses found in subdivisions. The three Bay City, MI companies, Aladdin, Sterling, and Liberty, stayed in the business the longest, though they would all go out by the 70's and 80's. You can still buy Kit Homes today through manufactured home companies, but they mostly are for log cabins. The closest we've come to seeing a resurgence of Kit Homes were the Katrina Houses sold by Lowe's Home Improvement starting in 2006. These homes were meant to be permanent solutions for housing issues in post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans and other Gulf Coast areas. They were designed specifically to withstand hurricanes and high water. While they filled a certain niche, Gulf Coast politicians feared that they would drive down property costs, so they eventually died away too in 2011.

Kit Homes are very hard to find, unless you know where to look. Sears sold by far the most, and all their records were destroyed during some routine "house cleaning" in the 60's. That being said, there are still many ways to identify a Kit Home. There are whole websites dedicated to it, so if you are curious whether you live in a Kit Home, or if that house down the road is, then go do some research! There are a surprising amount of Kit Homes in my area (Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor, MI) and my wife and I even saw one yesterday in Lansing. Once you see the designs, the houses are pretty hard to miss. Happy hunting!


Monday, January 20, 2014

Paul Bunyan

There are many stories that involve Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack who is always accompanied by his animal companion, Babe the Blue Ox. Most tell of his involvement in shaping our country today. Let me share a few. When Paul was born it was said that it took five storks to deliver him to his parents. Even as a child, his claps would shatter glass in the windows. He took an early penchant for wood cutting, evidenced by his sawing the legs off his parent's bed. Some tales claim that Paul found Babe in the cold and saved him, thus becoming fast friends, while other tales claim that Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett gave Babe to Paul. With his large blue friend in tow, Paul set about to clear out all the trees across the northern U.S. Along the way Paul and Babe managed to create many waterways and landmarks. Paul created the Great Lakes when he needed a watering hole big enough for Babe. While Paul and Babe were trekking across Minnesota in a deep blizzard, their footsteps ultimately became the 10,000 lakes. Paul created the Grand Canyon when he dragged his giant ax behind him. Paul made the Missouri River to ship his logs downriver. He also created Pike's Peak just so he could see where else needed to be logged. I could go on and on with these, but you get the picture. Paul and Babe were two larger than life characters that were the epitome of westward exploration and expansion. 


According to writer James Stevens, the first Paul Bunyan myth came from the French Canadians during the Papineau Rebellion in 1837 (Canada's answer to America's Revolutionary War, though this one failed). This assertion is under a bit of scrutiny, as many folklorist claim that there is no mention of Paul Bunyan in writing until James MacGillivray's story, The Round River Drive, published in 1910. Some peg it a bit earlier at 1906, in other MacGillvray articles published in the Oscoda (Michigan) Press. Jennifer Granholm, our last governor, has decided that 1906 is good enough proclaimed that starting on the centennial, August 10th (the first articles publishing date) would forever be known as Paul Bunyan day. The funny thing about MacGillvray's stories is that they don't say anything about Paul being a giant, or that he was friends with large blue ox. That came in early 1910 when J.E. Rockwell described Paul as being eight feet tall and weighing three hundred pounds. The Paul Bunyan and all the tales we know and love all came in 1914 when William Laughead, who had once worked in lumber camps, reworked the tale for Red River Lumber company as an advertisement pamphlet. Laughead named Babe and made both character humongous giants. In fact, basically everything we know about Paul Bunyan comes from this guy and his ad. 

This has caused a lot of controversy in terms of the validity of Paul Bunyan being a American folktale. I'm not sure what the statute of limitations is on folktales, but apparently Paul Bunyan doesn't meet it. That's what historian Carleton Ames believes, calling the whole character part of "fakelore". Bunyan was just a creation of the 20th century, passed off as a 19th century lumber camp legend, he believed. Now, this is pretty interesting, since I'm sure there was a Paul Bunyan like character out there since the 1800's, but like I mentioned before, that version was not a giant or owned an ox. So, is that Paul Bunyan, or is the one we know now Paul Bunyan? I would say that the real one was created by Laughead, since what we all know is what he made up, it just happens to not be as old as we thought. I'm not sure it's as big of a problem for me as it might be for others. It hasn't seemed to stop many cities from claiming to be the hometown of Paul Bunyan, ranging from California, all the way to Maine. In my book, it would probably have to be Oscoda, or maybe Grayling, MI. That's where MacGillvray got most of his inspiration for his stories. So yeah, suck it other northern states! There are a ton of statues and parks dedicated to Bunyan, and as you've probably guessed, I've been to a ton of them. There's a bunch in my home state and the Paul Bunyan Land theme park located in Brainerd, MN was a favorite of my families when we visited our family's old stomping grounds. Yes, it was an awesome theme park. Paul Bunyan even talked to you as you came in to the park, even calling you by name. Fun or terrifying? The answer will not surprise you. America doesn't have a whole lot of folklore compared to countries in the old part of the earth, so it's not surprising that many Americans love Paul Bunyan, a larger than life character who reminds us of the early days of America.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Legend Tripping

Legend Tripping, otherwise known as ostention, is a name that has been recently bestowed by folklorists and anthropologists on an adolescent practice in which a nocturnal pilgrimage is made to a site which is alleged to have been the scene of some tragic, horrific, or possibly supernatural event or haunting. Yup, totally had to go with the official definition there. Anyway, I'm pretty sure everyone has gone legend tripping at least once in their life. I personally have only done it once that I can remember. While visiting my cousins in New Jersey, I learned of the Atco ghost, the ghost of a young boy who had been run over in the street and now haunted the road. Knowing full well that I loved ghosts and spooky stuff, but also that I was incredibly afraid of ghosts and spooky stuff, my cousin decided that we should all drive out to the lonely road late at night. The legend was that if you flashed your lights, a bright light would appear on the road, which I guess signified the ghost. I don't remember much more, except that I didn't see anything and that I really had to go to the bathroom, so it wasn't that I was scared, I just wanted to get out of there. Don't ask any of my family members because they will disagree with this statement, but they are liars and big jerks. Needless to say, my experience with legend tripping wasn't that momentous, but that doesn't mean yours can't!

The first documented instance of legend tripping, though I'm sure this has been a thing dumb kids have been doing for thousands of years, is in Mark Twain's 1876 novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It's alright, you've probably never heard of it. The book contains several instances where the main characters visit a supposedly haunted site or an alleged lair for thieves. For there to be legend tripping, there first has to be an urban legend. Most communities has at least one urban legend/ghost story that they keep going, mostly just to make the town sound more interesting then it actually is. When I was growing up there were a few places in the surrounding towns that were said to be haunted. I've visited them all, as they have the benefit of also being places of business, but I wouldn't consider that legend tripping. I'm pretty sure I would've had to break in at night for it to be legend tripping. The point of \legend tripping is to test the veracity of the legend itself. The urban legend storytelling turns into a dare and someone has to make a trek into a cave or old house to prove that Old Man Jenkin's ghost doesn't capture little boys and girls that enter his house and make them watch Matlock with him. A good example of the dare format of legend tripping is the beginning of Tim Burton's Big Fish. In it, a young group of kids gather outside of a old woman's house who is supposed to be a witch. The main character is dared to go up there and knock on the door, testing the legend of this witch. The legend turns out to be true, with a future-seeing witch and everything. Many scary stories in my youth revolved around legend tripping and what would happen to kids if they dared go into haunted houses. Some of the stories involved a person having to do a ritual to get something to happen. Bloody Mary is a urban legend that can be tripped. It's the perfect example of legend tripping that involves a ritual. This, like many other dares stemming from legend tripping, often lead to the person's friends coming out and scaring them. What separates legend tripping from any other sort of tourism is the danger involved. Not only does legend tripping often lead to trespassing, but potentially injury or death. While kids may think they'll get hurt by a supernatural entity, when in reality they'll end up falling through the floor of an abandoned building. So, if you do decide to go to a dilapidated house, please be careful.

Legend tripping takes place in many different locales. Cemeteries, houses, caves, woods, bridges, tunnels, and roads are the most popular. Some locations are hard to get to and may be dangerous, so local police try to keep people from entering. As you can imagine, this just makes legend tripping in these locations that more enticing. You'll notice in bigger towns and cities that the chamber of commerce encourages people to go legend tripping. This, of course, is to make money. If you aren't being charged to go on a haunted tour, at least the town is having you spend money there so you can check out the supposedly haunted cave on the north side of town. If a town endorses legend tripping, it isn't going to be dangerous. The most exciting legend trips are done without endorsement. Typically there will be at least three kids going to a legend site, where someone will re-tell the story. Then, someone attempts whatever ritual is required, if any, and they see what happens. Rituals can even involve sex, drug use, or alcohol. I don't know, kids do stupid stuff when they're scared. A lot of legend tripping involves graveyards. Kids are supposed to stand on graves or headstones, remove headstones altogether, or walk around a grave several times. Any combination of asinine rituals will eventually lead to something happening, or so the kids think. Successful or not, most are just happy that they had the courage to do the ritual. One common legend attributed the graveyards are the chair monuments. Most of these monuments are pretty old and were meant as a comfort for those grieving for loved ones. Now people call them devil chairs and fear that if one sits on them, they will be plagued with bad luck, or even summon the devil itself. Some legends surround gravestones and their ability to heal themselves. If a person knocks down an old grave, the grave will be found in its original position the next day.

There are too many popular legend tripping areas to talk about, so I'll let you do some research. There are plenty of websites and books to help you locate popular locales. Legend tripping isn't just for kids, either. Sometimes it's just fun to go to legendary places and test your courage. Just don't expect anything spectacular to happen. Who knows though, these places are legends for a reason. Tell me in the comments about legend tripping that you've done!




Urban Legends Part Two

Another urban legend from my youth was the Killer in the Backseat. One version of the story has  a young woman getting into her car after she has had a few drinks with her friends and heads home. While on a deserted highway she suddenly sees a car behind her coming at her very fast. The car keeps flashing its lights at her and surging forward and it starts to freak the young woman out. It keeps happening again and again and eventually she decides to just gun it home as fast as she can. She finally gets home and bolts out of the car, but so does the person from the other car. The person yells for her to get inside, lock the doors and call the police. After the police arrive, the woman find out the terrible truth: there was a murderer in her backseat, and every time he was going to stab her, the car behind her would turn on his brights to frighten him off.  Another version has the woman stopping at a gas station and the attendant sees the murderer in her backseat and tries to warn her, but she doesn't believe him and gets back into the car. You can guess what happens next. This is one of those stories that has actually happened to people, so I can't assure you that this won't happen to you. The story stems from an incident that happend to a police officer in 1964, where an escaped killer had hid out in the back of his car. Another similar incident happened to a college girl in 2007 where she found an assailent hiding in her back seat. She hit the brakes hard and was able to jump out of the car in time. The funny thing about the first version of the story is what's stopping the killer from stabbing the girl? Why does having bright lights on him keep him from stabbing her. Maybe he didn't want to be seen in the rear-view mirror or something. I don't know, but to me this story is pretty silly. Yup, just a silly ol' story that has actually happened to people.

Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story, Bride-and-Seek. Sorry, I just had to throw in a Are You Afraid of the Dark reference in there. A young woman (seeing a trend here?) is about to get married and decides that she wants to have the wedding in her parent's back yard. The wedding goes off without a hitch and for part of the reception they decide to play hide-and-seek. It comes to be the groom's turn to be "it" and the bride really wants to win, so she sneaks into the attic of her childhood home and gets inside of an old chest. The groom searches everywhere for the bride but can't seem to find her. He assures the other guests that she is around here somewhere and that they could feel free to leave. When the bride's family can't find her after a few hours they start to become nervous and eventually fill out a missing person's report. Eventually they give up the hunt after a few days and the groom waits for the bride to eventually come home. A few years later, the bride's mother dies and her father decides to go up into the attic to look at some old photo albums. He happen upon an old chest and has to really try to get it open, seeing as the locking mechanism is all rusty. Inside he finds the corpse of his daughter, who had been trapped inside the whole time. When she closed the lid the clasp had gotten stuck on the rusty lock and kept her from escaping. The moral of the story is never get married! Wait...that's not it. Never get married at your parent's house! Nope...not that either. Oh! I got it! Never hide inside of an old chest, no matter how much you want to win a silly game of hide-and-seek. *Pours water on the fire*

One legend that has actually caused parents to freak out is the Blue-Star Tattoo legend. Every couple of years a parent will come across flyer telling them that there are temporary tattoos being passed around to children at elementary and middle schools and to get rid of them if found. The tattoos most commonly have a large blue star on them, or famous cartoon characters. The catch is that they are soaked in LSD and will hook your kids if they use the diabolical lick and stick tattoos. The legend stems from the fact that sometimes LSD solution is soaked in blotted paper and sold. There had never been any known accounts of this ever happening, but that didn't stop parents from circulating the flyer.
The legend has been around apparently since the 1970's and probably won't completely fade for awhile. I would compare the blue-star tattoo legend with other child centered ones like rainbow parties, sex bracelets, and poisoned candy. All of these tales are meant to scare parents, and most kids have no idea they are even a thing.

One that I've seen on TV a lot, but I doubt ever happens is the Kidney Heist. A well organized crime group has men go out to bars and other places to drug unsuspecting victims. The victim would then wake up the next day in a tub full of ice with a large cut on their side. Someone had taken one of their kidneys! Oh no! The person then gets away from the mobsters, or is killed, depending on which version you read. Geez mafia guys, I would have given you my kidney if you just would've asked! An e-mail warning about people who were drugging unsuspecting businessmen and women at airports and bars and taking their organs made its rounds in 1997. People flipped out so police departments in major cities had to issue statements telling the public that the story was completely made up. The National Kidney Foundation even had to issue a statement asking anyone who actually had their kidney taken to please contact them. Nobody ever has. While the story is very scary, it has never actually been confirmed, so don't be so paranoid about drinking at bars.

The last urban legend that I will cover is called, The Clown Statue. A young girl is asked to babysit at a neighbor's house and look after two boys. When she gets there the father tells her that once the boys go to sleep, she can go into this one room and watch TV. The house is very large and the father doesn't want the girl going around to different rooms I guess. Once the boys are asleep, she goes into the room and starts to watch TV, but is wary of a clown statue in the corner. She tries to stay in the room and ignore the creepy statue, but it's too much for her. She goes downstairs and calls the father, asking him if she can move to another room because of the creepy clown statue. He tells her to immediately grab the kids, go next door, and then call 911. She does what the father tells her and call him back. He tells her that they don't have a clown statue. The boys had been complaining of a clown watching them at night, but they had just assumed it was nightmares. The police come and arrest who turns out to be a midget wearing a clown costume. He had been living in the house for weeks, and hadn't been detected since the house was so big. This story was another that was passed around by e-mail, but nothing like it has ever happened. That is, unless you count John Wayne Gacy. That definitely happened, but he's long gone. No, this tale is just a piggyback from the babysitter and the man upstairs story, but with a clown twist. Nobody likes intruders, and nobody likes clowns. Double whammy!

There are a ton more urban legends out there. I don't think we are going to have a shortage of them anytime soon. With more and more technology being invented, I wouldn't be surprised if our urban legends started to focus on our fear of technology and the unknown.