Spiders and Surveyors

Informant: This story is a bit goofy… not sure if it’s what you’re looking for.

Interviewer: Let’s hear it.

Informant: So my father, was a bit of a trickster. He worked for a time as an urban surveyor – one of the men who plot out sewer systems and those sorts of things. Mostly urban planning. Anyways… he uses this surveying tool, a sort of telescope, and these tools have to be very accurate. If they’re not, your instruments are off. So their crosshairs are very precise (pause)

Interviewer: Ok…

Informant: My father liked to trick people – so he loved this trick. While he was using this tool, he asked one of his friends how the crosshair was so precisely made. His friend… well, he had heard an explanation before, and so he began to talk about spiders. See, someone had told them that spiders, with the sort of.. Natural geometry of their webs, were able to accurately make these crosshairs. Factories would sort of… uh, train them, to make these crosshairs.

Interviewer: Did your father believe this?

Informant: (Laughs) He thought it was a bit ridiculous, but still, it’s just… just reasonable enough to pass under the radar. I’m not sure he ever believed this was true, but at the same time, he never did disprove it. He always talked about how he’d visit a factory and see the machines just to settle the matter, but I never did hear whether it was spiders or machines.

Context: My informant is an eighty year old woman from a very scientifically/factually inclined Midwestern family. This performance was done over Facetime with my informant, since she lives in Seattle. Otherwise, however, it resembled a classic storytelling situation.

Background: My informant loves this story because of her scientific background, to a part. Everyone from her family was bent on things making sense. This story, however, is stupid and preposterous, but not quite stupid enough to immediately dismiss. So, if people don’t immediately accept it, they waste a bit of time searching around before finally ending up in this limbo of knowing it’s not quite realistic, but not being able to verify it.

Analysis: This is a great example of an urban legend. This piece seems preposterous, yet it also has its own sort of logic to it that makes one consider its truthfulness – seeing as how some of the informant’ father’s acquaintances believed and spread this story. Once someone has heard it, the story is good enough to keep on passing around, and so it keeps on circulating. I personally don’t believe it, seeing as how machines can probably do the exact same thing for far cheaper, but still, spiders making the crosshairs is not completely outside of the realm of possibility.