Ask a Librarian

Urban Legend

Q: What is an Urban Legend? Does TCPL have any resources on this topic?

A: Urban legends are modern folklore. They are stories meant to scare you or make you laugh. For example, when I was a kid my older brother told me that if I ate Pop Rocks while drinking soda pop, I would explode. After several nightmares about my own demise, my sister convinced me that my brother's story was merely a rumor made popular by the media in an effort to explain the sudden disappearance of the Life cereal star, Mikey. The truth is that "Mikey", also known as John Gilchrist, simply got too old to continue making commercials. He was in fact, alive and well and enjoying the spoils of his career in a mansion somewhere in L.A. The rumor became so widespread however, that it became an urban legend.

The term urban legend was coined in late 60's, but didn't become mainstream until it was introduced by an English Professor in the early 80's. These tall tales have actually existed throughout history. One of the greatest unsolved mysteries now considered legendary is that of the Bermuda Triangle, an area of ocean located off the Florida coast. For over a century, numerous planes and ships have lost their way in this small patch of ocean, disappearing without a trace. Scientists have speculated on the possible cause of the disappearances, but no explanation has ever been found. Our inability to find answers about the Bermuda Triangle helps sustain the urban legend that surrounds it; unlike the urban legend about pop rocks and soda, which has more or less "fizzed" away.

As humans we are born storytellers; our greatest tales emanating from events we cannot understand or explain. While we all take comfort in the idea that the truth is out there, until we find it, urban legends help make meaning of a world still filled with mystery.

TCPL has a wealth of resources on Urban legends, including the following:

Mythbusters. Collection 2 (DVD 398 M)
Two men work together to disprove urban legends using scientific evidence.

Books:

The Bell Witch: An American Haunting by Monahan, Brent (F Monahan)
The story of an 1818 ghost who haunts and commits murder in a rural Tennessee home.

The Bermuda Triangle by Berlitz, Charles (910.09 Berlitz)
Explores the facts and speculation surrounding shipwrecks in the Bermuda Triangle.

The Watercooler: A Psychologist Explores the Extraordinary Power of Rumors by Difonzo, Nicholas (302.24 Difonzo) Difonzo discusses rumors as a cultural phenonmenon, explaining how and why
we start them, why they spread, and why we believe them.

Where Big Foot Walks: Crossing the Dark Divide by Pyle, Michael Robert (001.944 Pyle)
Discusses people's desire to believe in urban legends in spite of evidence or professional speculation that creatures like Big Foot do not exist.

Prepared by Susan Naylor 4/20/09

Page last modified May 3, 2012