USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘urban legend’

The Candy Apple


“One night uh a girl was alone in her bedroom and her parents said they were going out for dinner so they left the house, she heard them go out, so she decided it was time to get personal. She grabbed a uh broomstick from the closet and started playing around a little bit down there. Then her parents, all of the sudden came home because they had forgotten something and burst into her room in an untimely fashion and in uh surprise she jumped onto the broomstick and it actually went through her out the top of her head, and she became a human candy apple.”


This humorous story was popular at the informant’s high school in New York City.


The story reveals societal mentality on the subject of masturbation. The moral of the story is essentially, ‘don’t get caught masturbating.’ That there is such this fear of getting caught and that people feel it normal to hide their masturbation habits point to masturbation’s position as a societal taboo. The story can also be viewed as a cautionary tale warning against the dangers of masturbation, but I side with the first interpretation because of the story’s probable origins among teenagers.


The Formaldehyde Bucket


“So in my town, Montclair, New Jersey, we have a street called Mission street, and it is broadly known as the ‘crime street’ in town. So, I’ve never actually been down this street. I know that there’s crime there (I read police reports about it), someone got shot there last year, he died. So anyways the story is, this person is at the corner of Mission and Bloomfield, the cross street. And there’s this man standing there with a bucket. So the person, whoever was the originator of this story, goes over to the man with the bucket and said ‘what’s in the bucket?’ And the man with the bucket explains that it’s formaldehyde and that for five dollars the guy can dip his cigarette into the formaldehyde and smoke it.”


This anecdote is a rumor that the informant overheard at his high school.


This story a great example of a wacky, neighborhood urban legend. Regardless of where you are from, everyone knows little anecdotes like this that may or may not be true, but are remembered and passed down because of their originality and tie to the specific area that they circulate within.



New Form of Kidnapping (Ladies – be aware – worth a read)


Please take a minute to read this. This is very scary and could happen to
any of us.. Seems like every nice thing people do for one another can be
A new twist on kidnapping from a very smart survivor:
About a month ago there was a woman standing by the mall entrance passing
out flyers to all the women going in. The woman had written the flyer
herself to tell about an experience she had, so that she might warn other
The previous day, this woman had finished shopping, went out to her car and
discovered that she had a flat.
She got the jack out of the trunk and began to change the flat. A nice man
dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase walked up to her and
said, ‘I noticed you’re changing a flat tire. Would you like me to take care
of it for you?’
The woman was grateful for his offer and accepted his help. They chatted
amiably while the man changed the flat, and then put the flat tire and the
jack in the trunk, shut it and dusted his hands off.
The woman thanked him profusely, and as she was about to get in her car, the
man told her that he left his car around on the other side of the mall, and
asked if she would mind giving him a lift to his car.
< BR>She was a little surprised and she asked him why his car was on other
He explained that he had seen an old friend in the mall that he hadn’t seen
for some time and they had a bite to eat, visited for a while, and he got
turned around in the mall and left through the wrong exit, and now he was
running late.

The woman hated to tell him ‘no’ because he had just rescued her from having
to change her flat tire all by herself, but she! felt un easy . (Trust that
gut feeling!)

Then she remembered seeing the man put his briefcase in her trunk before
shutting it and before he asked her for a ride to his car.

She told him that she’d be happy to drive him around to his car, But she
just remembered one last thing she needed to buy (Smart woman!!)

She said she would only be a few minutes; he could sit down in her car and
wait for her; she would be as quick as she could be

She hurried into the mall, and told a security guard what had happened, the
guard came out to her car with her, but the man had left. They opened the
trunk, took out his locked briefcase and took it down to the police station.

The police opened it (ostensibly to look for ID so they could return it to
the man). What they found was rope, duct tape, and knives. When the police
checked her ‘flat’ tire, there was nothing wrong with it; the air had simply
been let out.  It was obvious what the man’s intention was, and obvious that
he had carefully thought it out in advance. The woman was blessed to have
escaped harm.

How much worse it would have been if she had children with her and had them
wait in the car while the man fixed the tire, or if she had a baby strapped
into a car seat? Or if she’d gone against her judgment and given him a lift?

I’d like you to forward this to all the women you know. It may save a life.

A candle is not dimmed by lighting another candle. I was going to send this
to the ladies only; but guys, if you love your mothers, wives, sisters,
daughters, etc.., you may want to pass it on to them, as well.

Send this to any woman you know that may need to be reminded that The world
we live in has a lot of crazies in it. Better to be safe than sorry.



This email was originally received by my real estate agent, she resent it to me with the message that I should be, “extra careful!” especially since I am a single woman living away from home.

What first threw me off about this narrative was that the woman remembers the man put his briefcase in the trunk of her car; however, when she is narrating what he put in the trunk, she doesn’t mention the briefcase. It was inattention to detail like this that made me look it up and as it turns out, it’s an urban legend that’s been around since at least 1998.

My real estate lady is older, and she sent it to me because as a single young woman living in a big city like Los Angeles by myself, she thought I was more at risk. I guess this goes along with the stories and legends you hear about how dangerous and gang-infested big cities are.

Folk Beliefs

Gate to hell

“So there are seven gates to hell, and this is one of them. It’s this old cemetery in the middle of nowhere, it used to have a church and a small town, and it’s in the middle of nowhere, and people just think it’s a portal to hell. And there’s just sketchy stuff that happens there all the time.”


Here my informant is talking about a cemetery near her hometown in Kansas. She remembers growing up hearing supernatural stories about the area, and she told me that she refuses to go near it to this day. As the story goes, there are seven gates to hell, but only five have been found (she was unclear about where the other five are located). Some of the “sketchy stuff” involves the disappearance of animals and people; she remembers stories from when she was in high school about friends of friends going missing, never to be found again.

This is a classic urban legend; a local spot is chosen because it is “spooky” looking, and it is said to be supernatural in some way. There must be thousands of similar spots across the US.


Caroline’s Haunted Mansion

The informant detailed a mansion in his hometown that is believed to be haunted.  Interestingly, he is a friend of the kid whose family now owns the house and learned most of the story from him.  This story reminds him of talking with his friends at his high school about the haunted mansion at lunch.  Below are the details of the story of the haunted mansion.

In the early 1900s there was supposedly a young girl who was murdered on the property. And they found her body on the property, either in the attic or on the side of the road – something clearly sketchy.  And supposedly the spirit or the soul of the girl still haunts the lands and oddly enough one of my friends, whose very wealthy, now owns the mansion and he has not experienced any, spirits or haunting, but, the legend still lives. 

This story of a haunted mansion relates closely to many stories of haunted mansions around the United States.  Often the stories involve someone who has died or has been killed in the mansion and that person remains to haunt the property.  I think the frequency of these types of stories details people in that regions of the U.S.’s curiosity with the undead and ghosts.  The frequency of these stories displays people’s possible belief in ghosts.  It is also interesting that the informant is a friend of the kid who lives in the mansion now.  This gives further insight into the story of the mansion and testimonies on whether it is haunted or not.



Rat Chihuahua

“Somebody goes to Mexico on vacation, right, and they buy the cheapest Chihuahua in the world, and they’re so excited, they’re like ‘wow this is a pure bred Chihuahua let me buy it’ and they’re gonna buy it and bring it home to whatever Suburban town they’re from. And they have the thing and they’re like it looks weird but whatever, and then one day, grim turn, they find that it’s like attacking their child in the night and they take it to the vet and he’s like ‘this is a shaved rat’ and it’s a terrifying huge city rat brought into your home and now you have rabies and like whatever else the rat has.”

Informant Analysis: “It was always somebody’s cousin or somebody’s second cousin or something went to Mexico. We just accepted it completely because we were little kids who, when we imagined Mexico, it’s just a place that isn’t here and of course a scary thing like that could come from there. And I thought it was true until I read this book “scary stories to read in the dark” and the story was there and I was like oh, that’s it, it’s just a story.”

Analysis: This urban legend serves as a way to somehow relate to or understand a place that otherwise seems exotic to the informant. The legend uses something familiar–a chihuahua–and makes it something scary as a result of being bought in Mexico. The legend not only makes Mexico seem like a dangerous or untrustworthy place based on the transaction, but it also makes the family who was fooled by the trick seem a bit stupid for having believed that a rat was a dog. The informant also points to the fact that the story was somehow always personal because it “actually” happened to a relative or a relative of a relative, and this “five degrees of separation” idea is the case with many urban legends, so they can seem more plausible or realistic when in fact somebody random probably just made them up. That could be why the informant believed the story for so long past childhood.


Folk Beliefs

AIDS Needles

“Whenever I went swimming, if I stepped on something in the water, I thought it was an HIV infected needle. And all of my logic would be like ‘no, it doesn’t exist in the air that long, it’s really hard to do that…all this stuff. But all my friends would talk about it, how these needles were everywhere and they were gonna get us if we weren’t careful”

Informant Analysis: “The AIDS needles thing scared the crap out of me, and the idea still kind of does, which is insane, because like, I’m old enough now to know that one, that is impossible, that’s not how transmission occurs, and two, even if you get infected somehow, it is nothing like a death sentence the way it was back then. But I’m still enough of a child of the 80’s that it resonates with me”

Analysis: The fact that this urban legend had such an effect on the informant is a good indication of the culture in which he grew up. When he was growing up, AIDS was much more publicized and controversial, so this particular belief would have had more of a foothold in society, especially among kids. Even though he understands it better now, and knows it can’t be real, it still resonates with him. These kinds of “threatening” Urban legends and superstitions, when told and reinforced in childhood, seem to have a particular hold on those they are told to, even as adults. The element of this particular legend that makes it seem real is the reality of the disease, something that overshadowed much of the informant’s childhood politically and socially. Growing up now, we know about AIDS, but we aren’t seeing it on the news everyday and we are not being given as much misinformation as they were speculating about at the time. This urban legend seems to have taken advantage of the uncertainty surrounding the disease at the time, so people would more readily believe and fear the elusive “needles.”

Folk Beliefs

Hidden Razor Blades

“The idea was that Satanists, or people like them, were slipping needles into apples, or like, razorblades into apples, and poisoning candy, and whenever I got a pixie stick, my parents would make me pour it out, like if I got one for Halloween they would make me pour it out, saying ‘no, they could have put drugs in that, you can’t have that.’ And then if, ah, like, one year, and this was the only year they did it but the urgent treatment center was doing an X-ray where you could bring your kids’ candy in and they would X-ray it and be like ‘okay, no needles here ma’am, no razorblades in your apples’ My parents still believe this, even now.”

This urban legend affected many of the informant’s Halloweens, as his parents would “screen” his candy before he could have it. It also becomes part of the Halloween ritual in a way, because the “checkpoint” has to happen before the informant can have the candy. This urban legend was so widespread that the Urgent Care Center in his area actually allowed people to use an X-ray machine! This translation from legend to real life fear shows how pervasive urban legends can be. This fear also reveals who people were most afraid of at the time (the informant grew up in the eighties). Satanists were apparently the biggest threat, those who seemed most evil and likely to do something like this to innocent kids. Though the informant left this belief behind, it seems that his parents have not.


Tunnels Under Edwards Air Force Base

Contextual Data: My informant had read this on the Internet, and he shared it with me over Spring Break one night after we came back from New York City. We had been chatting about his car, and as we got home, he remembered this story that he had recently read on the Audi forum of which he was a part. He said he thought it was a crazy story and I asked him if I could record it for the archive. The following is an exact transcript of his story.

“So Edwards Air Force Base has this like, you know, long history of being like this kinda creepy place that, you know, has like a very sketchy military history. They do a lot of really secret, you know, testing and all this other stuff there that, uh… Very classified things, cutting edge stuff happens in Edwards Air Force Base—‘cause it’s in the middle of the desert, and um… whatever. So, uh, it’s also one of the largest bases, so they have a lot of ground, so there’s like, you know, there’s like random buildings and just things from the sixties and when they’re doing all this random testing like way out in the desert of the base that, you know, it’s just land that they own.

“Um… So, this one guy, you know, he’s in the Air Force and, um… I guess he was like on a patrol duty at the base, so they go to this one like place where pretty much nothing has happened since the sixties. It’s like an abandoned, uh, building — couple of buildings way out there. Um, so they get out of the car and, you know, they’re checking around on foot, and uh, they go to this one building and it’s got no doors or windows—anything, except for just one door in the front of it, right? And it’s made of concrete. Uh, it’s just got a single door. And… the guy, you know, just pulls the door—you know, the door handle to make sure it’s locked. Figured it’s definitely going to be locked, and it was unlocked. It was open. And, uh… The door opens and he looks at his buddy and he’s like ‘…Should we?’ And the other guy’s like, ‘Hell yes.’ [Laughs.] ‘Let’s do—Let’s go.’ So they walk inside and it’s just, um, one giant room in this building, right? There’s just the one door on the outside, one giant room, it’s all concrete, and there’s nothing but a set of stairs just going down in the middle of the room, right? And uh… They pull their flashlights out ‘cause there’s no lights, that, you know—no light switches or anything. And they… And so they pull out, you know, their flashlights and their pistols, you know, the way that they — you see them in movies. [Mimes with his hands in front of him, the “flashlight” on top in his left hand and the “pistol” below it, in his right.] They kind of hold it like this—one over the other. And they start going down this stairwell. Now it’s, you know, it’s daylight outside but it’s dark in this thing and they’re going down these stairs. And he says the stairs go down for…What he thinks is like a hundred feet. Like ten stories. He’s just going down these stairs and they’re just like—it’s just like this narrow stairwell they keep going down. It’s like a tunnel basically. Um, and you know, he’s like at this point things are getting—already feel very weird. It’s already really sketchy.

“Um, and they get to the bottom, and then it’s just this hallway that goes forward and they go forward in the hallway and there’s this door. And he looks at the other guy and uh, then they walk in. And he says all that’s in this room—again it’s like this one large concrete room. They’re now like, you know, he thinks like a hundred feet underground. There’s nothing but cameras on the walls, like near the ceiling. And in the middle of the room is this giant chair. [Mimes really wide with his hands], like metal chair. It’s got like wrist straps and feet straps—like ankle straps or whatever. And underneath the chair is a drain, like a metal drain. And the whole concrete floor, the whole place just kind of slopes gently down in the middle. So you don’t know like… What was there, but there, you know—could’ve been torture, whatever. But, um, he… At this point he’s getting like really weirded out, and there’s this other room on the side, and he looks in there. And um… There’s like these huge stretchers and these huge things that are bigger than they’re—than the ones that are meant for people. It’s literally like—and the chair is bigger than one that’s meant for people. You know, it’s like, very freaky. And then he…He talks to the other guy, and he—The other guys just points up and one of the cameras had just turned and was looking right at them. Um… So they just freaked out. He’s like, ‘We gotta go.’ And they just got way—you know they went all the way back upstairs. And as soon as they got back upstairs, the guy’s cellphone rings. And it’s like the base telling him they need to get back to base right now. And they didn’t explain why or whatever. But they’re just like, ‘You need to get back. We’ve called you like three times. Why was your cellphone off?’ He’s like, ‘It wasn’t off. I just didn’t have service.’ And they’re like, ‘What’d you mean you didn’t have service?’ He’s like, ‘Wha—Never mind.’ [Laughs.] And then that was it. He, like, never found out anything more about it.”

- End Transcript – 

When I asked my informant about the significance of this story, he alluded back to how he began the story: that Edwards Air Force Base has a history of being this “creepy” place, surrounded with all sorts of conspiracy theories. He was a little skeptical of this story — he first read it online on the forum where he actually finds information about his car; some guy had posted it  there as a first hand account. But he’d read some of the guy’s other posts, and he seemed like a respectable enough person, who had “his head screwed on right.” Given all the other things that my informant has heard about military bases — especially the remote ones out in the middle of the desert — he wouldn’t be surprised if such a place as the one described actually existed, which is one of the reasons why he found it interesting to share. But he doesn’t believe the larger conspiracies surrounding the base (i.e. that there were actual alien encounters there.) Beyond that, he just thinks that this is a fun, creepy story to tell, and he has shared it with a few other friends.

On it’s own, this story is more of a memorate than a legend, as it’s a personal account that contributes to the larger urban legends and conspiracy theories that surround Edwards AFB. There are many different stories about such bases and military sites having underground tunnels and being the sites of extra terrestrial encounters. Some people would therefore enjoy telling this story because they think it’s true, others because they think it validates the conspiracy theories, and others simply because it’s a great story to tell to spook people out. For my brother, it was a combination of the first and the last reason.


The Murder House North of 23rd Street

Contextual Data: A couple of weeks prior, a friend and I were driving from her apartment to Hollywood, and on the way, she pointed out this one house that she and her friends refer to as the “murder house.” We laughed about it and I later asked her to tell me a bit more about the house. The following is an exact transcript of our conversation.

Informant: “Um… I dunno. We have a few stories about what happens north of 23rd Street, because people don’t really live up there. Um, and so we kind of started to create stories to make fun of stuff that happened while we were live there. Um, that’s bad [laughs]. It’s like my favorite place to live. But anyway, um. Okay, so the first thing that happened was, um, we started telling the story about the murder house. And… basically, one day, my friend who lives on 22nd Street was walking me back home to where I live off 23rd Street, and there’s this house and it’s kind of like a one story house and it’s green, and um… There’s always this guy that like hangs out outside the murder house [Laughs]. And he’s like really creepy and, um, he’ll like talk to you when you walk by and sometimes he like punches the air [Mimes punching the air] like…Nobody’s there, but, yeah. Anyway…Um and then one day we were walking back—she was walking me home and it was kind of late. It was probably like after midnight and we heard two men—I think they were…I don’t know, we heard arguing in the room. And all of a sudden we heard this like giant thud. And it sounded like someone—like, a body hitting the wall. And so, um, my friend, being the great friend that she was, was like, ‘Well, goodbye!’ And then she just, like, ran away, and so [Laughs]… And so I was left home to walk back to my house by myself. Um… And we’d heard like apparently—she, I mean she lived closer to the house than I did, but she’d like heard stuff going on there…for a while. And so as she was walking back she said that they were actually passing—she was passing by the door, and…There was the hard, like the solid door inside, and there was a screen door, and then the guy had the inside door open and he was standing behind the screen door and he was watching her as she walked all the back. And so I didn’t really, like—I didn’t really notice all of this, I just noticed her freaking out, and then she told me about it later…And she was basically—she was certain that someone had…died, which was kind of morbid. I don’t know, I didn’t here a lot of it. But then after that we kept—she would—kept referring to it as the murder house, and every time we would—she would walk over to my house, she would be like, I don’t really want to walk by the murder house. And then another girl who lives in my house had, I think, some other weird experiences, and so she started referring to it as the murder house as well. And now, basically, my entire house and that other house know that house as the…murder house.”

Me: “And so everybody in your house now knows that house as the murder house?”

Informant: “Yeah…And we kind of—It’s weird because the guy’s still around. And we actually don’t know what was, you know, actually what happened. Maybe, just kind of, in my friend’s paranoia she made up the whole thing, ‘cause I didn’t really hear…as much as she says that she did. And she seems to think it was more, like, definitive than it was. But she kind of coined the term and then it just kind of…stuck as a landmark of 23rd Street.”

Me: “Yeah.”

Informant: “People kind of have been having weird experiences by the house, and my friend did, like on multiple occasions ‘cause she had to walk by that house all the time—it’s kind of far away from my house, but, um…So, other people kind of adopted the term, because they had experienced weird things too. And we don’t know, like—maybe the guy is, you know, maybe the guy is just kind of…I dunno, doing his thing, you know… I mean, I’m hoping—hopefully nothing terrible actually happened at all, but—but it was definitely kind of a weird, like, middle of the night experience. Um, and a lot of weird stuff has happened near that house. So… Yeah.”

Me: “Why do you think you guys have so much fun saying it? Or like sharing it—spreading it around?”

Informant: “I don’t know. Part of me sort of feels like it’s irresponsible because if we actually did think that someone had been murdered there then we should try and so something about it. And I don’t—I don’t anybody, like, fully believes that anything bad happened there, because otherwise, it would be really serious and we wouldn’t laugh about it. But I think that just because, um… You know, like, DPS doesn’t really patrol up there and while I—while I feel, like, really safe in the neighborhood, there is sometimes some kind of weird stuff that goes on, like, you know people get arrested. Like yesterday I was walking to the bus and on the corner of my street there were two guys in handcuffs, and it’s just kind of like, that’s just the way it is. And I don’t really feel, like, you know, unsafe about it—like just that kind of stuff happens. Um, and so…People, I don’t—I think that if we thought it were true, it’d be really serious, but it’s almost like a way for us to make fun of, like, the unpredictability of, like, the community. [Laughs.] I mean, like, you guys—you know what I mean by…I don’t know. Sort of like the random kind of weird stuff that happens up there, but we can kind of give a name to it, but calling this one house the murder house and kind of… I think by, like, giving stuff—I don’t know, sort of like… In some way it also makes the neighborhood feel like our home as well, because we sort of have started assigning names to certain things and certain places, like, you know, we know that Thursday nights, like the helicopter ratio is so much higher than it is normal nights [Laughs]. And we don’t really know why, but we’re all kind of used to it at that point. Um, and—I don’t know. I just feel like it’s sort of part of making that place your home—you start personalizing things…Yeah.”

- End Transcript – 

My informant did a fairly thorough job of explaining the significance of this joke/urban legend. In part though, it does also seem to speak to the relationship between the USC students and the surrounding neighborhood. In particular, and as my friend hinted at, the fact that the university is located in South Central Los Angeles in an environment where the sound of police sirens is part of the norm. There is therefore an understandable interest and also a kind of a fascination that exists regarding  crimes that take place in the area, which is partly why people spread these stories around and share these kinds of jokes. In some ways then, a joke like the “murder house” works to reinforce this perception of the place, while simultaneously acting as a way of “making this place your home,” as my informant discussed. Adding on to this, when people from outside the area come to visit her, she does share this little joke with them, as she points out the “landmarks” of her neighborhood.