Background on informant: Informant is a sophomore at Harvard, from Los Angeles, and studying psychology. He is also involved in an outdoor club and intramural crew.
Informant: This is a story that’s been told and retold within my outdoors community. So, on a trip for freshmen, the two leaders decided to play a prolonged prank on the participants. They had a “sleeper cell” in the participants, that is, one of the participants was really an upperclassman in on the prank. Anyway, the trip was going well until one night, one of the leaders when off to set up the prank. OK, now the prank was set up. Again, the trip was going well. Now it’s nighttime, and everyone was sitting around the campfire. And suddenly, everyone realized one of the participants was missing — this of course was the sleeper cell guy. And then everyone went looking for this missing participant, obviously concerned about the “where the hell is Joe?” issue. So they all arrive at this clearing, a really creepy looking clearing with like 10 or so trees all in a circle around the clearing and just like pine needles strewn all about the forest floor. And, oh, there was a tree in the center of the circle. Now tied to this tree with a fake stake through his chest, hung a very bloody, very seemingly dead participant. There was some iron-reddish fake blood oozing from his mouth and some fake intestines around his chest where the stake was driven in. So everyone stared, freaked the hell out, at their dead freshman friend as he slowly raised his head.
He uttered one word: “RUN.”
Taking the advice of their dead freshman friend, everybody started running like it was the end of the world and he leaders who organized this poorly thought out prank apparently had to get help from a rescue squad to ultimately find everyone. One participant was a cross country runner who apparently ran some 15 miles straight before being found. The leaders were apparently expelled and everyone freaked out with good reason.
Analysis: This story is a great legend because the truth value is questionable to say the least but the story itself is more than plausible. One could definitely see it happening. Moreover, the informant said the specific story did not occur at his school, which only further contributes to the legendary quality that it assumes. Furthermore, there is clearly a purpose to telling this story. The narrative has a clear message, actually several. 1) Don’t wander off from the group 2) Hiking is serious; don’t play stupid pranks 3) Make sure to fully evaluate a given situation before reacting.