Why do we believe in urban legends?

Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from howstuffworks.com.

Josh Clark: Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. There's Chuck Bryant. This is Stuff You Should Know. Let's get to the intro.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, Jeri said we're wasting too much time in the beginning.

Josh Clark: Yeah. She said that she wished she had a third mike so she could ask a question every once in a while so we could get to the intro.

Chuck Bryant: So what'd you have for lunch, Josh?

Josh Clark: I have not eaten lunch yet. Actually, that's not true. I had a Ghirardelli square, chocolate with caramel inside. I had a baby Baby Ruth. I ate a granola bar, courtesy of Discovery Channel.

Chuck Bryant: Thank you.

Josh Clark: Yeah, raising D bar. I had a Cherry Coke and -

Chuck Bryant: That's healthy, my friend.

Josh Clark: I think that's it. That's all I've had.

Chuck Bryant: That's good.

Josh Clark: I'm gonna live forever.

Chuck Bryant: I had a green apple and some almonds and green tea.

Josh Clark: You are all about the almonds right now, aren't you?

Chuck Bryant: It's a super food.

Josh Clark: That reminds me. I've gotta give you a recipe for roasted almonds. One of my friends told me last night. It sounds really good.

Chuck Bryant: Don't you just roast them?

Josh Clark: Well, there's some other stuff mixed together. It's an Alton Brown recipe.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, really?

Josh Clark: He's on the Alton Brown diet. I watched him eat a seaweed salad last night.

Chuck Bryant: Ooh, I love those.

Josh Clark: And I was just like, he's gonna weep it any moment.

Chuck Bryant: Jeri's so frustrated right now.

Josh Clark: She is, yeah. Her calf muscles are about to burst out of her legs.

Chuck Bryant: Well, maybe we should send her to Vegas.

Josh Clark: No, no, no. I got something else. Chuck?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Did you know that National Gang Week has come and gone?

Chuck Bryant: Is there such a thing?

Josh Clark: No.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: [Bleep] that just ruined the whole thing.

Chuck Bryant: Well, Josh, tell me about National Gang Week.

Josh Clark: Okay. National Gang Week is when all of the gangs around the United States get together and come up with a clever plan to murder unwitting and innocent people. So the Crypts and the Bloods -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: - get together, one imagines, with the Mongols and the Hell's Angels -

Chuck Bryant: Sure, and the Warriors.

Josh Clark: - and M14, M13. I'm gonna get shot in the head for this again.

Chuck Bryant: I know.

Josh Clark: What is it?

Chuck Bryant: I can't remember.

Josh Clark: MS13?

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: Well, man. Anyway, all the gangs get together and they come up with a plan that they're all going to perpetrate. This year, this December, it was a baby, a fake baby or possibly a real live baby, if they had any female gang members who were willing to give up their infant child for a little while, in a baby seat on the side of the road, covered in blood, although uninjured, just kind of doctored to look like they were bleeding, in an effort to trap female motorists who would inevitably stop.

Chuck Bryant: Female what?

Josh Clark: Female -

Chuck Bryant: Motorists?

Josh Clark: Yeah, that.

Chuck Bryant: Passersby?

Josh Clark: Curse my thick tongue. The drivers by, not to be confused with a drive-by -

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: - which is a gang activity, to trap female motorists who would stop and try to see if the baby's okay, help it, and then out of the bushes comes some gang members who beat and rape and murder her.

Chuck Bryant

That sounds to me like an urban legend, Josh.

Josh Clark: Two -

Chuck Bryant: Two urban legends?

Josh Clark: Two police departments issued warnings about this -

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: - this past December.

Chuck Bryant: So ridiculous.

Josh Clark: When pressed about their sources, they both said, you know, actually we can't verify any of this so don't pass it along. It was just an idea somebody had.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you know the other big gang one - I remember hearing this one myself - was if someone flashes their headlights at you and you flash them back, then it's a gang and they'll turn around and follow you and kill you.

Josh Clark: The one I heard was if you see somebody driving without headlights on and you flash them, they'll turn around and kill you.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that's what it is.

Josh Clark: As part a gang initiation.

Chuck Bryant: So not true.

Josh Clark: No, it's not, and what we're talking about obviously are urban legends, but more specifically, the article is called How Urban Legends Work. We decided to call this podcast Why Do We Believe Urban Legends?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: You know?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, we'll get to that for sure.

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: I mentioned Vegas early on, though, because of the very popular old story that the man goes to Vegas and he chats it up with a nice lady at the bar and goes back to the room with her, and then he wakes up dazed and confused in a tub of ice the next day with his side hurting and with a note saying call 911, and clearly his kidneys have been removed.

Josh Clark: Yeah, upon examination his kidneys are removed. This actually gave me a moment of terror, Chuck, because if you'll remember in the organ donation podcast, we talked about a guy named Mohammed Solene Kahn, who had his kidney removed, and I thought, did we get taken and pass along bad information.

Chuck Bryant: No, that's true though.

Josh Clark: Thanks to Tom Sheve, right? Turns out Tommy was right! I went and double checked his sources, and I saw a picture of the guy with like the huge sewn up incision where his kidney was removed, and it was an ABC news story.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah. That was real.

Josh Clark: That is pretty much verifiable, right?

Chuck Bryant: But that story was around long before that happened to him.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and I think we even postulated that that urban legend gave rise to actual fact, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And that does happen. Sometimes life imitates art and the other way around. Sometimes it's something from a plot of a horror movie or sometimes an urban legend is inserted into the plot of a horror movie, like the hook killer.

Josh Clark: You wanna tell that one?

Chuck Bryant: Well, yeah. That one's been around since the 1950s when teenagers first started going parking, which is when they would drive out to Inspiration Point and make out and neck and the story goes that - they hear the story and it's always someone who's escaped from an insane asylum.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Back when you used those words -

Josh Clark: - who has a hooked hand.

Chuck Bryant: A hooked hand and then they hear someone scratching on the car and they don't do anything and they just leave, and they get home later and find that a hook is sticking into like the door handle.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Not true.

Josh Clark: No. And it's that and the Vegas one, the Vegas kidney one are considered cautionary tales, right.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, a very common hallmark of many urban legends. They are cautionary tales.

Josh Clark: Right, and most cautionary tales also involve some sort of morality twist to them, right, like in the most extreme cases, the guy who was in Vegas who was chatting with the girl was actually married and he went back to her hotel room. So the moral of the story is don't cheat on your wife, right, or else something really horrible's gonna happen to you. In the case of the teenagers in the 50s, it was teenagers necking, as you put it, old man, and the moral of the story is, don't have premarital sex, right.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, you shouldn't go park your car and do things like this.

Josh Clark: You shouldn't. No, nothing.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: So the - what's interesting about this is that urban legends reflect our own morality, our own values -

Chuck Bryant: Our own fears many times.

Josh Clark: Think about that, from the 50s to the - 1990, when the first folklorist, I guess, chronicled that Vegas kidney story, in 40 years it went from necking to cheating on your wife, right, and one could argue that our values had expanded like that or devolved to that same degree in that same period of time.

Chuck Bryant: Good point.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Did you hear a bunch of them when you were first going to college?

Josh Clark: When I look back on some of the stories I've passed along as fact, I couldn't be more ashamed.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, I heard these. I never passed them along.

Josh Clark: You didn't?

Chuck Bryant: Nah.

Josh Clark: Even if I didn't pass them along, I believed some of them.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, there was a couple of common ones. One is the - be careful in a dorm room, man, of someone you don't know because you'll wake up every day and feel all groggy and like you've been taken advantage of for a very good reason because your roommate was knocking you out and performing indecent acts on you while you slept.

Josh Clark: Sodomy?

Chuck Bryant: Not true. Very much an urban legend, as is, if your roommate kills themselves, you get straight A's that quarter.

Josh Clark: Which, I have to say, forms the premise of one of the greatest Zach Morris movies of all time.

Chuck Bryant: What's that?

Josh Clark: Dead Man on Campus.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, gosh.

Josh Clark: Dude, did you ever see that?

Chuck Bryant: No.

Josh Clark: That was a great movie.

Chuck Bryant: That was the plot, though?

Josh Clark: Yeah, that was the whole plot. He smokes a bong in that movie. It's kind of startling for having grown up on -

Chuck Bryant: Who's Zach Morris?

Josh Clark: - Saved by the Bell.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, is he - was that his character name or is that his real name?

Josh Clark: Yeah, I don't remember his real name.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, Zach was his character in Saved By the Bell?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: He was the blond guy.

Josh Clark: Zach, if you're listening, send us an email telling us your real name.

Chuck Bryant: No, we'll look it up in a second, so don't bother emailing me.

Josh Clark: I'd prefer an email from him.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: Okay. So, Chuck, like we said, that these things kind of tend to reflect our own morality, our own values, and you said they reflect our fears, and that's absolutely true. There's a lot of urban legends. I would even say the vast majority of them have to do with some sort of fear, right, and that's one reason we pass them along is because they resonate with us. We have loved ones in our lives.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: There's people we care about or at the very least, we're having a good day and we don't want some stranger to fall into some horrible misfortune, so we pass these along.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: And if they're passed along to a person who maintains the same kind of fears and maybe the same level of fears and the same dopey believability, they'll absorb them, fear them, and pass them along themselves, right.

Chuck Bryant: Sure. Many times it's also regionalized so what may be - if you're in Seattle, it could be a neighborhood in Seattle where this happened. If you're in Atlanta, it could be East Lake. So they get regionalized, and all of a sudden you think, well, it may not be true, but I should tell my friends this on the Internet so I should send an email out just in case because it's happening right here.

Josh Clark: Right, and because it's in a place that you can visualize, it has that much greater of an impact on you.

Chuck Bryant: Fear, once again.

Josh Clark: Sure. I mean, if you can visualize your fear, you can fear even more.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, good point.

Josh Clark: Thanks. That's gonna be on my tombstone.

Chuck Bryant: Should we talk about some dead giveaways that you're, in fact, hearing an urban legend and not the real thing?

Josh Clark: Totes.

Chuck Bryant: It happened to a friend of a friend. That's the classic.

Josh Clark: Definitely.

Chuck Bryant: FOF is what they call it.

Josh Clark: And actually, if it happens to a friend of a friend, usually when you pass it along, you're not gonna say a friend of a friend because you just immediately lost credibility right there.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: So you're going to say it happened to my friend Chuck's friend or it happened to Chuck's friend. You know Chuck. It happened to one of his friends, who neither one of us have ever met.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: Right. That personalizes it a little more, brings it home a little further or, if I were a real liar, or really desperate for attention, I would say it happened to Chuck, even though Chuck told me it happened to a friend of his.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: But I'm just gonna gloss over that part because I really want you to believe what I'm saying because if you believe what I'm saying, then I can more easily believe what I'm saying.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Right?

Chuck Bryant: And people innately wanna believe their friends when they hear things and people innately wanna tell a good yarn. So a couple of those together spin a good yarn and then - is that what they - it's called spin a yarn.

Josh Clark: That's what the hip kids call it.

Chuck Bryant: Put those two together and you get urban legends.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: I actually remember the first urban legend I heard and my buddy, Rad, in Montana, my best friend in high school, actually said -

Josh Clark: Radcliff?

Chuck Bryant: Radford.

Josh Clark: Radford.

Chuck Bryant: He told me - I remember this so distinctly about the Eddie Murphy in the elevator that used to be Reggie Jackson before that. The story is the lady gets on the elevator, and it's some African American with this large entourage -

Josh Clark: Or a dog. It's a dog.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, it's a dog.

Josh Clark: He has a dog, yeah. It's the crux of it.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, okay. Well, see, it changes. That's the hallmark of an urban legend, too. It changes per story.

Josh Clark: Okay, sorry. Go ahead.

Chuck Bryant: But the lady will clutch her purse in fear and then later on, she finds out it's at a hotel, that her hotel stay was paid for and it's like courtesy of Eddie Murphy. We got the best laugh I've had in weeks because we scared you.

Josh Clark: Oh, yeah. That's not how mom told it.

Chuck Bryant: How does your mom say it?

Josh Clark: She said that - and I think - if I remember correctly - she told me that it had happened to a friend of hers or someone she works with friend -

Chuck Bryant: Well, that's what Rad said. I remember it was his mom - someone his mom worked with.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Then clearly not true.

Josh Clark: In this case, it was Lionel Ritchie or Reggie Jackson. I think the other variation I heard was Reggie Jackson to Lionel Ritchie. I never heard Eddie Murphy.

Chuck Bryant: Depends on what decade.

Josh Clark: But he's in - they're in like a very nice hotel that allows huge dogs and the guy has a dog with him, so he's even more intimidating and the woman is trying to avoid eye contact, is scared, clutching her purse, that kind of thing, and then all of a sudden the guy goes, sit, lady, and then the woman sits down in the elevator, and the guy's like, I was talking to my dog. And then her hotel stay is paid for by Reggie Jackson or Lionel Ritchie or Eddie Murphy, or one imagines Pee Diddy.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, sure. Or Jay Zee. But I just - Rad, if you're listening, you lied to me, Buddy.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Way back when, when we were eating turkey sandwiches after school, you lied to me. I remember distinctly, and I'll never forget it. So Josh that was a lot of time to give up the one dead giveaway, friend of a friend!

Josh Clark: It really was.

Chuck Bryant: We'll go through some of these other ones quickly. Actually, we already did. There are many variations.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: That's a dead giveaway. The topic is one that is often on the news or one that people gossip about.

Josh Clark: Yeah, that's a big one like we got - Stuff podcast got a forwarded email about census workers.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: The census is about to happen so now don't open your door unless they have a confidentiality agreement and certain other things -

Chuck Bryant: I just got one of those.

Josh Clark: - or else they'll murder you. Yeah, we got it this morning.

Chuck Bryant: Okay, is that what it was?

Josh Clark: Isn't that ironic?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. But that actually happened when the census worker we thought was killed, but it turns out it was a suicide. So oftentimes, it will spin off of a real news story and get morphed.

Josh Clark: Yeah, which is kind of scary because a lot of urban legends have been portrayed as fact in the news, in newspapers?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Well, that's another reason people believe them is because they trust the news when they ought not.

Josh Clark: Which is sad, because really, frankly, you shouldn't - you should take all news stories with a grain of salt, you know.

Chuck Bryant: It's just some dude or chick reporting something.

Josh Clark: Trying to file a story.

Chuck Bryant : Just like we do. We get things wrong all the time, clearly. Why you shaking your head?

Josh Clark: You just gave us away, Dude.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, people know. We call ourselves out.

Josh Clark: But it's true. I think it's funny that we do that, and we need to do that, because in this day and age, pretty much our entire job, or at least a significant portion of it, Chuck, is avoiding giving out false information. We have to go through and verify it, which is getting increasingly harder.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, we try.

Josh Clark: We definitely do.

Chuck Bryant: We were talking about pop culture and sometimes movies will work it in or the other way around. In the movie, Good Will Hunting, remember? They tell the story about the guy who gets pulled over by the cop because he's drunk and then an accident happens and the cop has to run to the accident, and the guy jumps in his car, goes home, the cop comes the next morning, and the guy denies that he was ever out drinking until he looks and notices in his driveway that he had jumped in the squad car by accident.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Not true.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: But it's an urban legend. It was in Good Will Hunting.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: The Simpsons.

Josh Clark: Which one?

Chuck Bryant: You know how you always hear the story about like a mouse in a Coke bottle? Remember the Simpsons when Barney and Homer visit the Duff Brewery and the guy's on the line - Phil is on the line checking the bottles as they go by and he's like good, good, nose, good, needle, and then he turns his head and like Hitler's head goes by in a bottle.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: That's a good one.

Josh Clark: Did you see the YouTube clip of Hitler finding out that Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate seat?

Chuck Bryant: I did. You sent it to me.

Josh Clark: That's good.

Chuck Bryant: Is that an urban legend or did Scott Brown really win the Senate seat?

Josh Clark: He really did.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, I thought it was made up.

Josh Clark: Oh, there's a pretty - it's pretty much impossible to trace the origin of a - any urban legend really.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. No one ever knows where they come from.

Josh Clark: One of the reasons why is because it follows oral tradition, or it used to generally, right.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Folklore.

Josh Clark: It is folklore. And it's actually studied by cultural anthropologists and folklorists, which I think is probably a subset of cultural anthropology, and the hey day - have you seen the Encyclopedia of Urban Legends?

Chuck Bryant: No. I used to have a cartoon book, though, of urban legends. It was pretty cool, nice.

Josh Clark: Well, the Encyclopedia of Urban Legends is fairly anthropological in nature. It's pretty thick-tomed. It's on Google books. You can check it out. But the author of it, Jan Harold Brunvand - Harold - why are you doing this to me today?

Chuck Bryant: Are you talking to your mouth or to me?

Josh Clark: Both.

Chuck Bryant: Okay.

Josh Clark: The author, Jan Harold Brunvand, kind of laments that the Internet has removed that aspect, the oral tradition, by digitizing it -

Chuck Bryant: And now all you do is click forward.

Josh Clark: Right and Brunvand suggested that the golden age of urban legends was the 60s to the 80s.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Although they've been around a lot longer than that, right?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, since the 30s and 40s, they said.

Josh Clark: I found even further back than that. Apparently, F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 20s referred to contemporary legends, the critic took to mean the same thing as an urban legend. And then even before that, I think in the 1890s, there was a French columnist who asked, do cities maintain folklore just as rural areas do?

Chuck Bryant: Interesting.

Josh Clark: The answer to that is a big fat yes, obviously.

Chuck Bryant: Urban legend.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: So that's when they were actually called out as urban legends. Like we said, it goes back centuries, tradition of folklore. Historians are big on verifying and writing things down and folklorists tell stories with their mouths like we do.

Josh Clark: Right. That sounds like a T-shirt. Folklorists do it with their mouths.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, that should be.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and like you said, Chuck, these things go back centuries, if not further, and again, all legends reflect the feelings, the fears, that kind of thing of the culture at the time. So where before, in the preindustrial age, most fairy tales that had something bad happening to them were set in the woods, like Hansel and Gretel or Snow White or whatever.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, yeah.

Josh Clark: These fairy tales were set in the woods because the woods were still very scary places filled with bandits and bears and -

Chuck Bryant: Scary monsters.

Josh Clark: Yeah, super freaks.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. One thing I thought was interesting is the famous website, snopes.com, clearly can put an end to a lot of these Internet, if you're smart enough to go look at Snopes, these Internet rumors that get started, but one thing I thought was interesting was, reading this article, is that Snopes evidently gets a lot of angry emails because people want to believe their friends so much that their friend's not made this up, that they will email Snopes angrily and say, you're calling my friend a liar, this really happened. He said it happened to his best friend.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: And Snopes is like - I doubt if they even respond to those.

Josh Clark: They're like; send us your address so we can send a guy to come hit you with a tack hammer.

Chuck Bryant: Right and I have some swamp land in Florida I can sell you.

Josh Clark: Exactly. We were talking about the origins of these things, Chuck, right?

Chuck Bryant: Indeed. Right.

Josh Clark: So folklorists, anthropologists and pretty much any smart person can point to actual events that are maybe misinterpreted or expanded upon, become the source of urban legends, e.g., temporary tattoos laced with LSD.

Chuck Bryant: Right, that could have been birthed out of the real practice of chemists, who make LSD, would oftentimes would put it on - or I guess still do - put it on like a stamp with a cartoon character, and so that might have gotten confused with temporary tattoos so the word spreads and all of a sudden - and what I love is that the story goes - they give them these LSD tattoos to get the kids hooked on LSD, which is just silly.

Josh Clark: Yeah. It's not physically addicting at all, nor psychologically addicting.

Chuck Bryant: I doubt it.

Josh Clark: I imagine it's much more psychologically aversive than anything.

Chuck Bryant: Probably so.

Josh Clark: I'm getting nostalgic.

Chuck Bryant: Halloween. Lots of urban legends around Halloween with the tainted candy and the razor blades in the apple!

Josh Clark: You know what's crazy is, we were talking about how the organ thief actually probably got the idea from the urban legend. There have been instances of people tainting Halloween candy after the urban legend was around.

Chuck Bryant: Oh, really?

Josh Clark: Uh-huh.

Chuck Bryant: Interesting.

Josh Clark: Most of the ones that have like razor blades - and I have to say this is from Snopes. There is a pretty long article on Halloween candle with razor blades and needles, but most of the ones that have actually been perpetrated were hoaxes or they wanted to get attention or something like that. But poison candy actually has come up many, many times around Halloween and non-Halloween days, the other 364 days, where kids have died. Apparently -

Chuck Bryant: Oh, really?

Josh Clark: Yes, and this is not an urban legend. Apparently, in - I don't remember what state it was in - but a friend of a friend told me that a little kid died after getting into his uncle's stash of heroin.

Chuck Bryant: Awful.

Josh Clark: And so the family actually sprinkled his candy, Halloween candy, with heroin from the uncle's stash to protect the uncle to make it look like somebody had poisoned the kid with heroin.

Chuck Bryant: And that really happened?

Josh Clark: It happened.

Chuck Bryant: Wow. What if Snopes is wrong about all this stuff?

Josh Clark: I don't know. I've had that horrible feeling before, horrible thought, sat upright in bed, been like, Tootsie Roll Pops.

Chuck Bryant: - like Snopes is just this one dude, this big fat guy -

Josh Clark: And he doesn't even bother to research.

Chuck Bryant: He's just like, oh, let's say this is true.

Josh Clark: It's all just an illusion. He's like the wizard behind the curtain.

Chuck Bryant: That'd be pretty cool. I guess we should point out a few of these email urban legends just so you don't forward them around to your friends and family. Be wary of anything free, obviously. That's a dead giveaway usually.

Josh Clark: Well, that's just like the pigeon drop.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, sure.

Josh Clark: You just - if anybody starts talking to you about money and you've never met them, you don't wanna respond.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Another dead giveaway, Josh, is if you ever get an email that starts with a line, if you forward this email: or if it says, this is not an urban legend, then it's probably an urban legend.

Josh Clark: Yeah. And then, of course, there is the famous Neiman Marcus cookies email which I have actually received.

Chuck Bryant: I have received this one as well.

Josh Clark: I've never made them, have you?

Chuck Bryant: No. Well, they're just regular old cookies.

Josh Clark: Tom Harris says they're delicious.

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: I think he made them for this article.

Chuck Bryant: That is research, pal.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, well, detail this one. This is a very famous one.

Josh Clark: So back in, I think the 90s, late 90s, there was an email that was sent around where it talked about the Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookie recipe, which made some delicious chocolate chips they say or chocolate chip cookies. And a woman apparently asked for Neiman Marcus, somebody at the store, to give her the recipe for the cookies and they gave it to her, but they charged her for it. They said $2.50 and then when she gets her bill later than month, she sees that they charged $250.00.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Instead of $2.50 for this recipe. The woman finds it outrageous, contacts Neiman Marcus and they're like, well, our cookies are really good, we're not gonna refund your money. So she decided that to get them back, she would forward the recipe in an email to everybody -

Chuck Bryant: And spread it around to get back at Neiman Marcus.

Josh Clark: You are my crutch, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant: Not true, Josh. They didn't even make the chocolate chip cookie at the time. In the 80s, it was Mrs. Fields, not Neiman Marcus, and before that it was the Waldorf Astoria Hotel's red velvet cake.

Josh Clark: Take that, stupid people, who believe forwarded emails. I'm sad to say, not only did my mom pass along bunk information with the Lionel Ritchie/Reggie Jackson story, but my dad, I found out, is a birther.

Chuck Bryant: Really? Are you kidding me?

Josh Clark: Yeah. He's not in any kind of structured or organized capacity, and as a matter of fact, he wasn't even aware of the term birther, but he believed a forwarded email that was birther in nature, which again, that was a real occurrence. There were people out there who wanted to see Barack Obama's birth certificate -

Chuck Bryant: Claiming he was not born in this country is what that originated from.

Josh Clark: Yeah, they said that his birth certificate was doctored, that he was really born in Kenya -

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Yada, yada, yada, and therefore he shouldn't be president, right. But that has taken on a life of its own. So out of this original idea, it's become an urban legend and a forwarded email urban legend, which are really the dregs of urban legend society frankly.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Because you're not even taking the time to spin a good yarn at that point!

Josh Clark: No, and that's why Brunvand was saying like, it was best from the 60s to the 80s, you know. There's spider eggs and Bubble Yum and hook hands hanging from car doors and the calls coming from upstairs, and the great part about it was that everybody was personalizing it because it happened in East Lake or it happened in Peoria, Illinois, depending on where you are and so there was - it took effort and there was personalization done to it and so people were engaging in oral folklore tradition without even realizing it, and it kept it alive and vital and now it's just forwarding. That's it.

Chuck Bryant: Well, you and I remember clearly - I remember Rad lying to me in the 9th - I'm sorry, 10th or 11th grade. You remember your mom telling you stories like - I remember this specifically in his kitchen. I remember that day specifically, but I don't remember whatever jackass forwarded me the gang headlight thing.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: Should se talk about a couple of real ones real quick before we wrap it up?

Josh Clark: Yeah, these are great, Chuck. Chuck found some on cracked.com, and the more fantastic ones we actually did go and doublecheck with Snopes, the big fat guy who doesn't check anything, right.

Chuck Bryant: Yes.

Josh Clark: Okay. So, Chuck, take it away.

Chuck Bryant: Well, one of them has happened recently, is the famous Halloween ones. There's all manners of Halloween ones, like we said, where someone hung themselves in their yard -

Josh Clark: Yeah, what podcast did we talk about that?

Chuck Bryant: I can't remember.

Josh Clark: I can't either, but we definitely did.

Chuck Bryant: And the story goes that someone hung themselves and people thought it was a Halloween decoration so they - the body stayed there for several days until they realized it was real, and this actually really did happen.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and there's the one about the couple who spend the night in a hotel room and they can't figure out where the stench is coming from and when they finally go downstairs to ask for their money back the next morning, the hotel management investigates and finds a dead body under the bed.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Apparently, that has happened a bunch of times.

Josh Clark: Yeah, Kansas City, Atlantic City.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, Florida, California. It's very distressing.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and the cracked blogger makes a good point that in these cases, in just about all of them, what's insane is that the people spent the night in the room the whole time, almost invariably.

Chuck Bryant: They're so great.

Josh Clark: Tell them the best one.

Chuck Bryant: Cracked is awesome. They're so funny.

Josh Clark: Yeah, I agree.

Chuck Bryant: I love that website. I know it's one of your faves. The funhouse mummy - this one is the best one ever. The myth is that a prop at a carnival was - I guess in the scary funhouse - was not a prop mummy, but it was in fact a real dead body.

Josh Clark: So if this story couldn't get any more fantastic, you're wrong, right.

Chuck Bryant: It's so great.

Josh Clark: Here's how the urban legend goes. The crew for the Six Million Dollar Man was filming an episode and they needed a funhouse, so they went down to Long Beach to the new Pike Amusement Park, right, and there was a dummy hanging in the shot, and the director filmed the shot apparently and was like, I don't like that dummy there, somebody get rid of it. Some guy goes to grab it, the arm comes off, and they notice a human bone inside.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Right.

Chuck Bryant: And you thought, well, that's pretty realistic.

Josh Clark: Yeah, and so they did a little more investigating and figured out that it was a real corpse, a mummified, embalmed human corpse, that was actually hanging in a funhouse that people took as a dummy, right.

Chuck Bryant: Six Million Dollar Man.

Josh Clark: Chuck, is this true?

Chuck Bryant: It is true.

Josh Clark: Isn't that crazy?

Chuck Bryant: And it doesn't end there because apparently the body - the undertaker had done such a swell job with the embalming process that he put this body on display for a matter of years, you pay a nickel to come see this body, and then two guys that worked for the amusement park - no, the traveling carnival - disguised themselves as what?

Josh Clark: His brothers.

Chuck Bryant: His brothers to come claim the body and they actually stole the body and it traveled around the country, eventually ending up in Long Beach.

Josh Clark: Yes. What's even more amazing is that we know whose body this is.

Chuck Bryant: Yes, we do.

Josh Clark: It was a bank robbing bandit named Elmer McCurdy, who lived out his violent career at about the turn of the last century.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah.

Josh Clark: Early 20th Century. He was killed in a shootout for 46 bucks and two jugs of whiskey and like you said, the undertaker did such a good job embalming him, he charged people a nickel to come look at this bandit, and that was that. So when they finally laid him to rest, I think in like 2006 -

Chuck Bryant: Really?

Josh Clark: No, it couldn't have been.

Chuck Bryant: No, no way.

Josh Clark: It would have been a couple of years after the Six Million Dollar Man thing in '76.

Chuck Bryant: Right.

Josh Clark: Okay. They supposedly put cement over his casket so that nobody could dig him up.

Chuck Bryant: And do the same thing all over again?

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Wow.

Josh Clark: Yeah, true story.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. So cracked actually has about 11 of them over a span of a couple of articles, and then I saw other sites that said they h ad real ones, but again, you can't always believe everything. I don't know if I believe cracked.

Josh Clark: So that's why I went and checked it out at Snopes and they had the same story, different - slightly different, but all the facts were the same. Same name, same everything.

Chuck Bryant: Friend of a friend.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: Is that it?

Josh Clark: That's it, man. I mean -

Chuck Bryant: This is urban legends.

Josh Clark: - we could go on all day.

Josh Clark: Yeah, this could be in an 11-hour podcast.

Chuck Bryant: Sure.

Josh Clark: But let's not make it that way. If you wanna learn more about urban legends, you can look it up in the handy search bar at howstuffworks.com. Chuck, it's time for listener mail.

Chuck Bryant: No, it's not, Josh.

Josh Clark: What?

Chuck Bryant: We are not gonna do listener mail today because we are going to plug this thing like a finger in a dyke.

Josh Clark: So, Chuck, go ahead then, if you're going to do that. Let's do it.

Chuck Bryant: Well, first of all, we wanna plug the new science podcast that we've talked about for a while and it is called -

Josh Clark: Stuff from the Science Lab.

Chuck Bryant: With our comrades, Robert Lamb, who you might remember from doing the -

Josh Clark: Hell of a writer.

Chuck Bryant: - rendition, the reading of the Jack the Ripper letter.

Josh Clark: Yeah, deep voice.

Chuck Bryant: He doesn't do that voice in the podcast unfortunately.

Josh Clark: Yeah.

Chuck Bryant: And Allison. They do a great job with sciencey stuff.

Josh Clark: Hell of an editor.

Chuck Bryant: And we are going to plug Strickland's podcast, TechStuff, even though he talks smack about us.

Josh Clark: He really does, doesn't he?

Chuck Bryant: Yes. We are going to plug Stuff You Missed in a History Class with our colleagues, now Katie - it used to be Jane and Candace - now it's Katie and Sarah Dowdy, full time. They do a great job.

Josh Clark: Sure.

Chuck Bryant: And what else do we have? High Speed Stuff?

Josh Clark: Yeah, Scott and Ben.

Chuck Bryant: Scott and Ben do a great auto podcast, very funny.

Josh Clark: Ben and Matt also do Stuff They Don't Want You to Know. It's a video podcast on conspiracies, which is awesome.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Coolest Stuff on the Planet is another great travel video podcast, and what are we forgetting? Yeah, SMNTY, our SMNTY gals.

Josh Clark: Yeah. How could we forget SMNTY? Did you see that email we accidentally got that was intended for them today?

Chuck Bryant: Yeah. Fan mail. Stuff Mom Never Told You, of course, is the - some people liken it to the female version of what we do.

Josh Clark: Yeah. They have a huge cult following.

Chuck Bryant: They do. They're great. They're really funny. Quality stuff.

Josh Clark: Oh, of course. There's Stuff for Genius and BrainStuff, both of which feature our esteemed founder, Marshall Brain.

Chuck Bryant: Yeah, and Stuff for Genius is really short, and if you're into like cool Monty Python [inaudible] graphics, you're gonna like it.

Josh Clark: Yeah. And of course, there's the blogs.

Chuck Bryant: Always.

Josh Clark: You can just type in the blogs at howstuffworks.com.

Chuck Bryant: Right. Plug fest is over.

Josh Clark: Plug fest is over.

Chuck Bryant: We haven't done it in a while.

Josh Clark: No. If you want to send us an email, we probably will do reader mail again, right.

Chuck Bryant: Starting next week.

Josh Clark: If you want to send us an email on absolutely anything, you can wrap it up and send it to stuffpodcast@howstuffworks.com.

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