USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘urban legend’
Folk Beliefs

Pokemon Catching Superstition (Gotta Catch em’ All!)

About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.

I talked to my friend Max about  pop beliefs and superstitions around popular video games he’s played.

Max: “I know this one about Pokemon. It’s actually pretty well known.”

I asked him to elaborate.

Max: “Pokemon is a video game where players have to catch these magical creatures. You wanna catch as many as possible. The actual science behind catching each one is actually kind-of crazy. It depends on the power level of the thing you’re trying to catch, how strong you are, what pokeball you use, etcetera.”

“When I was a little kid, me and all my friends believed that there were secret ways to hack the game, like you could change the results so that you always got your catch. Things like that.”

“The rumor was something like, when you’re in battle with a Pokemon you want to catch, you have to hold down both the “down” button, and the “B” buttons at the same time on the controllers. The funny thing is, it didn’t make a difference at all. It was all in our minds. But everyone I knew did it anyway.”

I asked Max where he felt the beliefs originated from.

Max: “I don’t know. It was just that Pokemon was so popular. My friends were doing the down B thing, so I sort of did it too.”

“It doesn’t help that Pokemon games were really hard.”


A popular belief persists among American juvenile players of the video game “Pokemon”, that monsters are easier to catch if you hold down both the “Down” and “B” buttons. There is no evidence of the trick actually working, but the belief is widespread.

The “down-B” trick that Max informed of me seems to be a tradition observed in American children who played the Pokemon games growing up. I’d actually be interested to know if other cultures had similar luck granting gifts when playing games with large luck-based elements such as Pokemon. It seems similar to the tradition of “blowing on your dice” for good luck. 



The Girl and Her Creepy Chicken Sandwich

The informant describes themselves, “I’m a queer cis-gendered female, I’m part Mexican-American, part Persian-Israeli. I’m a student at USC. I’m Jewish. I’m about to hopefully be an EMT, if all works out.” Also – “I’m a really big cat lady.”




Do you know any legends?

I know an urban legend that used to gross me out. ACTUALLY? I have this aunt. She used to work for a – she was a medical assistant for a hand surgeon. He did reconstruction surgery. And as you can imagine, reconstructive hand surgery is usually because something really bad happened to your hand, like a bad accident. So she would always have – she had this like polaroid picture of some guy’s pinky, just out and about, and she would use to it be like “Don’t do bad things, ‘cause your pinky will fall off and you’ll be like this too.” Actually? She used to tell – I’m pretty sure this is a popular urban legend that probably still rolls around today – that’s actually not really related to her as a medical assistant, just her telling us gross things. And, um – she told us about how this guy went to Jack-in-the-Box, and ordered the spicy chicken sandwich – also, even when I did eat meat, before I was vegetarian, after I heard this story I never wanted to eat another spicy chicken sandwich ever again. Because she was like “Yeah, I had this friend. Who went to Jack-in-the-Box. And he was like “Yo. I want a spicy chicken sandwich. And he asked the guy for a spicy chicken sandwich without mayo. So he gets the spicy chicken sandwich, and he looks in it, and he’s like “Ok, why does my spicy chicken sandwich have mayo? I asked for it without mayo.” And the guy is like “No, we didn’t put any mayo in there.” Apparently after they looked at it, he realized that the chicken had some weird tumor thing, and it was just really nasty. And I know that that’s not really even a thing, but it still grosses me out. So that’s kind of a grody urban legend that’s forever turned me off of spicy chicken sandwiches.

How old were you when this was told to you?

Uhhm, I was probably about 10 or 11.

Did it influence your decision to be vegetarian?

I would sometimes think about it – actually, I – one of the main reason I stopped eating meat is it just creeped me out to begin with. And then one of the solidifying reasons, after I was already creeped out, was that – I’m ashamed to say – I watched this PETA video. I don’t like PETA now, but at the time I was like “This is terrible,” – I mean animals are still treated terribly, but PETA’s just a terrible organization. And I was like “Yo, I can’t eat animals because people are not treating them in the – in an ethical way. And – but, before that happened, I was already grossed out and I didn’t like the idea of cooking meat. Because I would watch my mom prepare chicken, and I remember watching her cut pieces of chicken on the cutting board in the kitchen, and I was just like “HOW DOES THAT NOT GROSS YOU OUT?” and she was like “No, its ok!’ and I would just think about that STUPID CHICKEN SANDWICH and I would be like “That is nasty, how are you eating that?” So yeah, actually – it actually did. Ohh. I never thought about that. Eww. Euughh. So I guess that stupid urban legend has impacted my life.

Do you know where your aunt heard it from?

I don’t know where she heard it from, um, but I do know that a few years later I brought it up – no, a friend of mine brought it up in a class in middle school. And I was like “Oh, I’ve heard the same story too!” And then the teacher was like “That’s totally fake ‘cause I’ve heard it too, and it’s fake,” and blah blah blah. One part of me was like “Dang, I was lied to.” And I felt kinda disappointed. And then the other part was like “All right, wait. That’s not real. So. That’s good. Because that would be super scary.” Heheheheheh.

How often have you talked about this to people?

Actually never after that one time in middle school. I’ve literally never talked about it after that.



This was the best retelling of a story I’ve collected yet. It’s hard to notate inflection in the transcription.
Typical fast-food horror story, reflects collective fear about methods of food production and distribution.



Mothman is a large creature that’s a cross between a man and a giant moth, and he supposedly lives somewhere on the East Coast. He has glowing red eyes and likes to fly at people’s car windshields when they’re driving. People claim that he was the cause of a collapsed bridge. Some news reports attribute Mothman sightings to large flying birds, however.

Informant is not American but knows a lot about contemporary American culture. He frequents Reddit, a “social network” very concerned with current events and urban legends. Mothman is an interesting piece of folklore because many have claimed to have seen it, like sightings of UFOs or Nessie, and the legends surrounding this creature are abound.


The Legend of Slenderman


I was hanging out with my friend, watching Invader Zim and playing horror games, when my friend asked me if I knew what Slenderman was. I had heard of Slenderman, of course, but I did not know what exactly he was. So I asked her about it/him.



Informant: What do you want to know about Slenderman?

Me: Just like; I don’t really know much about it, so first off I guess would be what is it? That kind of thing.

Informant: Well, um, Slenderman is a creature that looks very humanoid in that he has, like, the human body structure, like a head, a torso, two arms, two legs, but is distinctly different in that he has no face, and in every representation he is depicted as faceless. In some representations he is depicted as having like additional tentacles or additional arms, though that isn’t a consistent feature that everybody agrees on.

Me: Okay.

Informant: He’s also said to be very tall.

Me: Okay, like eight-nine feet? Something like that?

Informant: Um. I’m not exactly sure, just like significantly taller than a normal person would be, though some people say that he can change his shape, his size, at will. Um, Slenderman is very fast. He can chase you with unlimited stamina no matter how fast you try to run from him or, um, how persistently you try to get away from him. Like, you can, like, no matter how hard you try to get away from him, if you turn around he’ll probably still be there. Kind of like taunting you in a way. Yeah, like Slenderman is a stalker, and his favorite prey is children, though there have been cases in which people say he has gone after adults. No one is exactly sure what he does with his victims or why he chases them. And Slenderman, as far as his dress, um, is usually thought to wear a black suit with a black tie.

Me: Okay. And how did this phenomenon start?

Informant: It started because there are pictures in which, like pictures that were taken unaware of the fact that Slenderman was in them, but when they were examined later, like a tall, stalkerish, like, faceless figure is seen in the background and these pictures are often of children. One of the better known pictures is of children on a playground and then there is this ominous figure all the way in the background that is just kind of watching them. Like it’s not something that you would notice just looking at the picture, looking at the children, but when looking at the background it’s just like, “when, when did that get there!?”

Me: And then it became a game, online?

Informant: Like the mythos started first, and then people began developing games around it, so the games are inspired by the legends about Slenderman. And there are multiple games, not just the 8 Pages and Arrival which are made by the same person, there are other incarnations of Slenderman.

Me: And Slenderman isn’t noticed in real life, only in the pictures? Like, at first, he wasn’t seen in actuality but just in the pictures?

Informant: Yeah, uh huh.

Me: In pictures taken?

Informant: Yeah.

Me: Interesting. So an invisible stalker guy, who kidnaps children to do who knows what, and no one sees him? Wow. That is freaky.


Informant: Yeah it’s freaky. That’s why it’s such a successful horror thing now.

Me: Exactly. Exactly. Wow.



Slenderman is truly an intriguing urban legend, as it is mainly a digital folklore phenomenon. People do not see Slenderman in real life, it is only in pictures taken that he appears. Furthermore, with the internet boom in the 2000’s, something like Slenderman, which before could not have spread nearly as quickly or as virulently around the, at the very least, American population, as from what I gather Slenderman is a largely American urban legend, as it did with the internet. Also, since Slenderman is largely an internet-based urban legend, it can spread far beyond the borders of America (or wherever it originated from) to nations, to countries worldwide. The legend of Slenderman even, at least to the fanbase, influenced the writers and producers of the British show Doctor Who with the introduction of the race called the Silence in Series 6. The viral spread of this legend via the internet is truly telling of the new media – the worldwide web – that has burst onto the scene and shows how deeply it has changed how we communicate, who we communicate with/to, and what we communicate.


Cram it, Clownie!

The informant grew up in various parts of California, due to his father needing to relocate for work. The contemporary legend described below was first heard by him in Norwalk, CA when he was 9 or 10 years old in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. The informant’s older brother and his friends (older by 3 years) first told the story and the informant overheard them. He remembers seeing the Bozo show, but he does not remember this specific episode. He tells this story when reminded by a story about similar defiant acts by children or when televison-related urban legends are brought up.

The story is as follows (paraphrased):

There was a television show in the 1960’s called Bozo the Clown that had children as guest stars on each episode. It was supposed to be an honor to be one of these guests, and most kids were happy to be there. These programs were not heavily edited and time-delayed like the television shows of today. There was one kid, though, that was not having it. When Bozo asked the child to do something or answer a question as was normally done, the child loudly said “Cram it, Clownie!” This was obviously not the expected response and is probably why this story gets told.

The story caused my informant to laugh as he told the story. My informant had not actually seen the episode in question, and the show was probably not rebroadcast if this did occur. This really shows the unpredictability and unfiltered nature of some children, which was entertaining even to 10-13 year old boys in the 1960’s. This wouldn’t be entertaining if children were ‘supposed’ to be like that, so the fact that the story is still entertaining shows something about how children realize that they are not supposed to behave that way. I think he remembered this legend because he has seen instances of children misbehaving like this in public throughout his life and career and therefore enjoys an example that was publicly broadcast. Because he has raised two children (19 years old and 22 years  old) I think he has a different perspective now as a parent than he did when he first heard the story as a child who wasn’t much different in age from the child in question.



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.