Everyone loves a good urban legend, tales about weird creatures that shouldn’t exist, murders straight out of M and other unexplained phenomena.
Many of these tales are terrifying, yet we laugh them off when we reach a certain age and dismiss them as pure hogwash. In some cases, that isn’t strictly the case.
Although we can write off Bloody Mary, Walt Disney’s cryogenic freezing and claims that the Great Wall of China is visible from space as pure fiction, other folklore is much tougher to discredit, especially when there’s compelling evidence in its favor.
The most unsettling campfire tales are those which end with the words ‘and it’s all completely true’, and in select instances, the storyteller has evidence to prove it. Every now and then, an urban legend turns out to be based on reality.
From dead bodies under the bed to an Atari cartridge graveyard in the New Mexico desert, these are the urban legends with more than a nugget of truth to them.
1. The Atari Cartridge Graveyard
The legend: Atari’s grossly misjudged the demand of their video game adaptation of E.T – and the game is bloody terrible hardly helped matters. Though the game was actually one of the Atari 2600’s best selling titles, the computing firm was still left with around three million unsold copies on their hands. What was the solution? Obviously to bury a tonne of them deep in the New Mexico desert, along with copies of its reviled Pac-Man port.
The truth: The mass cartridge burial was first reported in the early 1980s, and over the years, it descended into the realm of myth. That changed in 2014 when a team led by folks from Fuel Industries and Microsoft worked with the New Mexico government to excavate the landfill site where the games were believed to have been dumped.
Not only did they find copies of E.T., but dozens of other Atari games such as Centipede and Missile Command along with unsold hardware. Around 1,300 cartridges were unearthed, many of which were given up for curation.
The excavation process was filmed and the footage was used in a documentary called Atari: Game Over, which chronicles the North American video game crash of 1983.
The legend: A bogeyman stalked Staten Island in the 1970s and ’80s, a monstrous child killer the locals came to refer to as Cropsey. He was said to have lived in the tunnels beneath the Willowbrook State School for children with developmental disabilities and preyed on kids as they wandered in the nearby woods.
The truth: Chillingly, Cropsey was more than just the subject of a tall tale Staten Island parents used to scare their kids straight. The myth appears to be loosely based on the terrible deeds carried out by Andre Rand, a convinced child kidnapper who lived in a makeshift campsite on the grounds of the school.
Rand is serving 25 years to life in prison for the kidnapping of two youngsters, but his crimes are believed to be more severe. He is the chief suspect in the disappearances of four other kids, who are presumed dead, and is thought to be a serial killer.
The subject of Cropsey and how the myth intertwines with Rand’s crimes was explored in Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio’s hit documentary Cropsey.
3. Premature Burial
The legend: Like Ryan Reynolds in the aptly-titled movie Buried, a number of people have been committed to their eternal rest prematurely. Scratch marks and other signs of desperate escape bids have been found inside exhumed coffins, suggesting some poor sods suffered the nightmare of being buried alive.
The truth: Not only has this happened, it used to occur on a frighteningly regular basis. In the 19th Century, Dr. William Tebb conducted a study into premature burial and discovered 149 instances of it, as well as 219 cases of near-premature burial and a handful where dissection or embalming was attempted before death.
Although this sounds shocking, it’s important to note that healthcare obviously wasn’t what it is today back in the 1800s. Methods to establish death were barely more scientific than shaking the patient really hard to see if they woke up.
Surely such a thing as premature burial could never happen in the modern age? Well, that’s almost true. There are many recorded cases of people waking up in metal boxes in mortuaries. According to news reports, this is what happened to Sipho William Mdletshe after he was involved in a traffic collision in Johannesburg.
Sipho is said to have spent two days in storage at the mortuary before hospital staff heard his cries for help.
4. Alligators In The Sewers
The legend: Reports of sewer-dwelling alligators lurking under New York City date back to the 1920s. Most accounts claim they started out as pets which were flushed down the toilet by their owners once they had grown too large.
The truth: Although the original reports should be taken with a grain of salt, sewer gators aren’t entirely the stuff of folklore and bad B-movies. In 2010, the NYPD fished a baby alligator out of a sewer near a Chinese restaurant in Queens.
In the movies, these creatures usually grow to terrifying proportions, living off sewage and rats, but experts pointed out that this particular gator would never have lived to see adulthood once the freezing New York winter had kicked in.
Gators are often spotted in drains in Florida, where their natural habitats back onto waste outlets. They are known to shelter in sewers during storms and cold snaps.
5. The Body Under The Bed
The legend: You’ve probably heard this one before. A couple checks into a hotel and notices a foul odor in their room. They report it to the staff the following morning, who quickly establish the offending smell is coming from under the bed.
Nothing good ever came from looking under the bed in a seedy guest house, and in this story, it’s no exception. The staff remove the mattress and reveal the couple spent the night sleeping over a rotting corpse, crammed into the bed base.
The truth: Unfortunately for the guests involved, this has happened on more than one occasion. Bodies have been discovered under beds in hotels in Vegas, Florida, California, New Jersey and other locations across America.
An alarming amount of people seem to die in US guest houses, but what’s more disquieting is that guests often spend the entire night tolerating the smell of rotting flesh before complaining. That’s gotta be worth a significant discount on your stay.