Urban Legends

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Ask The Fiddler #12: Everybody Discovered America!

Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Urban Legends, You Decide

fiddler-75Editor’s Note: Ask The Fiddler is a lifestyle advice column that aims to remedy more chaos and confusion than it creates. Questions may be submitted to us here at Art of the Prank, and good luck.

Dear Fiddler:

Much as I appreciate a holiday in honor of Columbus, I”™ve seen reports that he may be getting undeserved credit. So, who discovered America?

Annie in Montpelier

Dear Annie:

This is a subject steeped in considerable controversy.


There are those who contend that the real problem is, the whole thing is taught back-asswards. The truth of the matter is, as these contrarians see it, Native Americans discovered Europe. We”™ll delve deeper into that matter in a bit, but first let”™s have a look at some other contenders for the exploit attributed to Columbus.

It might be worth noting that boats without motors can be unpredictable vehicles. Over the vast expanse of human time, wouldn”™t you suspect that a great many drifiting boats from afar inadvertently “discovered” America?

Further, there is the factor that might be called the macho double-dare. “Buddy, I”™ll bet you ten conch shells and a bucket of whale blubber the world ain”™t flat.” How many reckless young sailors set off to see what lay beyond the horizon?

And we can”™t discount greed, the search for riches.

Lastly there is the incentive provided by barbaric hordes coming over the hill. How often in the violent history of mankind was it time to pack your shit and git, possibly sailing off for parts unknown?

The thing is, dang near everybody discovered America. A bit of research will reveal that, whatever your heritage, you can probably make a claim of relatedness to a discoverer of America. (more…)

Roosevelt Riding a Moose: 1912 Political Fakery

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Filed under: Political Pranks, The History of Pranks, Urban Legends

From Joe K & Deborah T:

Myths debunked: Sadly, Theodore Roosevelt never rode a moose
by Heather Cole
September 20, 2013

Many of Theodore Roosevelt”™s adventures seem like something out of a tall tale: he survived an assassination attempt; nearly died while exploring the Amazonian jungle; and became the first president to drive a car and fly in a plane; among many others. Despite having been a larger-than-life figure, this is one thing that TR never did:


Read the full article by Heather Cole, Assistant Curator of Modern Books & Manuscripts and Curator of the Theodore Roosevelt Collection

Loch Ness Confession… again

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Filed under: Practical Jokes and Mischief, Urban Legends

From Joe King:

‘My Nessie picture IS a hoax!’
by Lizzie Edmunds
October 5, 2013

Cruise boat skipper who took ‘the most convincing Loch Ness Monster photo ever’ admits he faked the image with a fibre-glass hump


Boat tour guide George Edwards, 61, published image in August last year

Skipper re-photographed a fake hump that featured in a National Geographic documentary in 2011

Mr Edwards admitted yesterday he’d created fake for ‘just a bit of fun’


Expert Steve Feltham says skipper is ‘nothing more than a faker and a liar’

Image will join host of phoney pictures of the monster, including the famous ‘Surgeon’s Photograph’ taken by Dr Robert Kenneth Wilson in 1934

Read the whole story here.

East German Performance Enhancing Music Authenticity Questioned

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Urban Legends, You Decide

From Marcy LaViollette: It wasn’t until I was telling someone else about this album created to inspire the Olympic athletes of East Germany that I began to doubt the validity of the back story. Great premise and great music!

Olympic-Sized Hoax? ‘Lost’ Krautrock Warm-Up Tapes Mysteriously Surface
by Philip Sherburne
June 10 2013

Does a new compilation provide the missing link between cosmic synth music and athletic doping?

a2392005402_200As any runner can tell you, there’s a fine art to selecting the right music to keep you going, mile after mile. As a result, a whole mini-industry has sprung up to supply athletes with performance-enhancing playlists, from websites like Jog.FM and Rock My Run to Nike’s Original Run series of asphalt-friendly mixes from A-Trak, Cassius, and LCD Soundsystem. Yay, capitalism! But, as it turns out “” and is so often the case where sports are involved “” the Communists were way ahead of us. In the 1970s and early ’80s, the East German Olympic program employed the electronic composer Martin Zeichnete to create workout soundtracks for the GDR’s teams “” shimmering, motorik pulse-music that, in combination with a top-secret doping program, would aid the athletes in their goal to become the ultimate Menschen-Maschinen. (more…)

Florida’s Myth of the “Fountain of Youth” Decoded

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Filed under: Urban Legends

From Delancey Place

This is an excerpt from Finding Florida: The True History of the Sunshine State by T.D. Allman: Ponce de Leon, Washington Irving, and the Fountain of Youth — and how the name “Florida” was chosen.

findingflorida-200If you go looking for the Fountain of Youth in its reputed location in St. Augustine, Florida], you’ll know you’ve almost reached your destination when you find yourself peering up at an ancient-looking arch. Across the top you’ll see displayed, in Ye Olde English-type lettering, an inscription. It reads: FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH. The lettering is meant to evoke long-vanished times of chivalry and derring-do, but one detail marks it as indubitably Floridian: the sign is made of neon tubing. In the gathering subtropical twilight, the FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH sign glows and sputters like the VACANCY sign on a state highway motel. According to press releases provided by the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park, which is what this venerable tourist attraction currently calls itself, this is the very spot where ‘Ponce de Leon landed in St. Augustine in 1513 searching for a Fountain of Youth.’ …

Juan Ponce de Leon never visited and never could have visited St. Augustine: St. Augustine was not founded until forty-one years after his death, in 1565. Ponce did not discover Florida. Many Europeans had been to Florida before he got there; many more knew of its existence. The first European to sight Florida may not have been Spanish at all, but Portuguese or Italian. … (more…)

Discovery Channel’s Fishy Story: Megalaton, Serial Killer of the Seas

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Urban Legends

Sharks, Lies, and Videotape
John Oliver on The Daily Show
August 7, 2013

The Discovery Channel almost actually discovers something during “Shark Week.” (03:29)

Sasquatch Genome Sequenced?

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Urban Legends, You Decide

From Larry C.:

Bigfoot Is Real, And We Have DNA To Prove It: Researchers
by Lee Rannals
February 14, 2013

sasquatchscience-200We thought the first evidence would emerge from some backyard video footage, or a smartphone photo, but the real proof of the existence of Bigfoot actually lies in the DNA.

A team of scientists has published the results of a five-year study of DNA samples from Sasquatch in the journal DeNovo Journal of Science.

Researchers claim they have sequenced three whole Bigfoot nuclear genomes, helping to prove that the legendary creature exists in North America, and is a human relative that arose 13,000 years ago.

The scientists hypothesize that the Bigfoot creature is a hybrid cross of modern Homo sapiens, with a novel primate species, giving it the species name Homo sapiens cognatus. (more…)

Dracula’s Serbian Cousin

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Filed under: Urban Legends

From Linda:

Vampire Threat Terrorizes Serbian Village
by Dragana Jovanovic, Belgrade
November 29, 2012

For the people in a tiny Serbian village there is nothing sexy or romantic about a vampire. In fact, they are terrified that one of the most feared vampires of the area has been roused back to life.

Rather than ‘Twilight’s’ Edward, the people of Zorazje fear that Sava Savanovic is lurking in their forested mountains of western Serbia.

They believe that he is on the move because the home he occupied for so long, a former water mill, recently collapsed. Savanovic is believed to be looking for a new home.

“People are very worried. Everybody knows the legend of this vampire and the thought that he is now homeless and looking for somewhere else and possibly other victims is terrifying people,” Miodrag Vujetic, local municipal assembly member, told ABC News. “We are all frightened.”

Vujetic said villagers “are all taking precautions by having holy crosses and icons placed above the entrance to the house, rubbing our hands with garlic, and having a hawthorn stake or thorn.”

“I understand that people who live elsewhere in Serbia are laughing at our fears, but here most people have no doubt that vampires exist,” he says. (more…)

Bear With Fish Impersonates Wooly Mammoth, Fools Millions

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Urban Legends

Woolly Mammoth Video From Siberia Faces Credibility Issues
Huffington Post
February 9, 2012

A woolly mammoth has reportedly been seen and videotaped in Siberia, offering irrefutable proof that the giant hairy prehistoric elephants — believed to have gone extinct thousands of years ago — still exist.

That is, of course, if this new video shows an actual mammoth crossing a Siberian river. According to The Sun, a government engineer, conducting a survey for a potential new road last summer, saw the beast in question in the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug region of Siberia.

He supposedly filmed the creature. And here is where so many questions come to mind: (more…)

The Mary Todd Lincoln Portrait Fraud

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Urban Legends

Mrs. Lincoln, I Presume? Well, as It Turns Out …
by Patricia Cohen
The New York Times
February 11, 2012

For 32 years, a portrait of a serene Mary Todd Lincoln hung in the governor”™s mansion in Springfield, Ill., signed by Francis Bicknell Carpenter, a celebrated painter who lived at the White House for six months in 1864.

The story behind the picture was compelling: Mrs. Lincoln had Mr. Carpenter secretly paint her portrait as a surprise for the president, but he was assassinated before she had a chance to present it to him.

Now it turns out that both the portrait and the touching tale accompanying it are false.


Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

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Filed under: Urban Legends

Bonfires, fireworks mark Guy Fawkes Day in the UK
Associated Press
November 5, 2011

London (AP) – Children and the young at heart across Britain are preparing fireworks and building bonfires to celebrate Guy Fawkes Day.

Fawkes plotted with other conspirators to blow up Parliament with explosives and install a Catholic monarch in the botched “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605.

The failure of the plot is remembered every year on Nov. 5 with fireworks and the burning of effigies known as “guys”.

Although not widely known outside Britain, the folk hero’s story has recently been gaining attention worldwide because many protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement wore a stylized Guy Fawkes mask.

The design of the mask, with a clownish and sinister mustachioed smile, originated from the comic book “V for Vendetta,” a story about an anarchist movement.

Successful people who never existed

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Urban Legends

From Don:

Successful people who never existed
by Adam K. Raymond
CNN via Mental Floss
April 1, 2011

(via Mental Floss) — The dream student

George P. Burdell was a man born of a simple mistake. In 1927, someone in the admissions office at Georgia Tech accidentally sent student Ed Smith two registration forms instead of one.

Sensing an opportunity for mischief, Smith filled out one form for himself and the other for George P. Burdell — a student he completely made up. When Smith arrived at school, he kept the ruse going by enrolling Burdell in all of his classes and even turning in assignments under his name.

In fact, Smith did so much work on behalf of his imaginary friend that Burdell eventually graduated. When other students found out about the hoax, they helped keep Burdell’s story going. (more…)

LiteratEye #47: A Tale of Theft & Murder Behind “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Urban Legends

Here’s the forty-seventh installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #47: A Tale of Theft & Murder Behind “The Hound of the Baskervilles”
By W.J. Elvin III
January 15, 2010

Sherlock Holmes Movie Poster-200Some reviewers say Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must be rolling over in his grave in response to the new Sherlock Holmes film. Typical is the comment in The New York Times that Robert Downey, Jr.’s version of Sherlock “frequently bears little resemblance to the one Conan Doyle wrote about.”

Well, there are a great many Sherlock Holmes stories that Conan Doyle had nothing to do with other than to provide the basics, and who knows how many actors from the big screen to the small theater have portrayed our hero, each in their own way. So the current situation is nothing new, Sir Arthur has already been given plenty of reason to roll over.

More to the point, who can say how Doyle might have reacted? His famous detective novels give the impression he was as much a man of science as Sherlock, pragmatic, principled, scoffing at fantasy. Not entirely so. He was into fairies, séances and, it has been charged, murder.

Doyle continues to suffer ridicule for falling for fake photos of fairies. It’s said that in the 1920s he spent a million dollars in an effort to prove the existence of the tiny folk.

Probably the strangest story involving Doyle found him accused of plagiarism, conspiracy and murder. (more…)

LiteratEye #46: Who Discovered the Americas? Egyptians, Irish, Chinese and Your Uncle Bob

Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Urban Legends

Here’s the forty-sixth installment of LiteratEye, a series found only on The Art of the Prank Blog, by W.J. Elvin III, editor and publisher of FIONA: Mysteries & Curiosities of Literary Fraud & Folly and the LitFraud blog.

LiteratEye #46: Who Discovered the Americas? Egyptians, Irish, Chinese and Your Uncle Bob
By W.J. Elvin III
January 8, 2010


“Nowhere, alas, does bullshit and bang-me-arse archaeology flourish so well these days as in America where foolish fantasies pour from the press every month and sell like hotcakes.”

-Noted archaeologist and detective novelist Glyn Daniel, quoted in the book, Fantastic Archaeology.

Do you get lured off down a rabbit hole by claims of lost civilizations, fantastic explorations, bizarre archaeological discoveries and all that? Welcome to the club.

My membership dues have included books I’ve bought, bang-me-arse fabrications or not, about visits to the Americas by Chinese, Welsh, Scot, Irish, Basque, Libyan, Egyptian, Norse and other travelers in the days before Columbus.

There’s no shortage of fascinating tales. Take, for instance, the one about the Roman-Jewish settlement in the Tucson area, dating back a thousand years or so. Has to be a hoax, but if so how did it fool several respectable investigators? (more…)

Top 10 Urban Legends of 2009

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Urban Legends

Top 10 Urban Legends of 2009
by David Emery
About.com Guide

Here, in ascending order of popularity as gauged by reader interest and site traffic, are the Top 10 Urban Legends, Rumors, and Internet Hoaxes of 2009:

ladygaga-20010. August ‘Mars Spectacular’
Circulating for the sixth year running, this email hoax describes a “once in a lifetime” celestial phenomenon “” the closest encounter between Mars and Earth for the past 5,000 years “” which already occurred in 2003. Read more…

9. Burundanga Drug Warning
“In Katy, Texas a man came over and offered his services as a painter to a female putting gas in her car and left his card,” begins this overwrought message. “She said no, but accepted his card out of kindness and got in the car. Almost immediately, she started to feel dizzy and could not catch her breath. She tried to open the window and realized that the odor was on her hand; the same hand which accepted the card from the gentleman at the gas station.” Read more…

8. Breast Infestation
“The picture is horrible but I felt that I should share with you. After anthropologist Susan McKinley came back home from an expedition in South America, she noticed a very strange rash on her left breast. Nobody knew what it was and she quickly dismissed it, believing that the holes would leave in time. Upon her return she decided to see a doctor after she started developing intense pains. To Miss McKinley’s surprise, they found larvae growing and squirming within the pores and sores of her breast.” Read more… (more…)