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The Husband Monitor Urban Legends

This legend combines the theme of technical incompetence with that of sex and scandal:

In a home’s upstairs nursery a couple of modern young husbands were changing their babies’ diapers while their wives were downstairs getting dinner on the table. The nursery had a baby monitor installed; it’s something like a little radio with the microphone in the baby’s room and the receiver carried around as the parent works elsewhere in the house, so the parent can hear if the baby cries.


The husbands were unaware that the monitor was turned on. The receiver was downstairs with the wives. The husbands began to discuss in somewhat graphic and personal terms what the presence of a newborn in their household had done to their sex lives. Every word they said was broadcast directly to their wives.

A sizeable complex of similar stories dubbed “Lovers Dial M (For Maximum Embarrassment)” was reported by English folklorists. Other means of broadcasting used to relay either talk concerning sex or sounds of actual lovemaking are intercoms, redial buttons on telephones, e-mails, and video cameras. Often a wider audience than just the spouses is included. The setting may be a hotel or guest room rather than a home. Convincing claims have been made that such incidents have actually occurred, some of which may have given rise to the legends.

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Hunting Urban Legends


Hunters in urban legends are routinely depicted as being unlucky, stupid, dishonest, or worse. “Dumb hunters” from out of state (Californians in Utah, Texans in Colorado, Chicagoans in Michigan, etc.) are said to have shot horses, cows, mules, or other domestic stock while deer hunting. But the local hunters are just as confused and ineffective in their own way, according to the stories. Hunting is something of an anachronism in modern life, and those who engage in the sport seem to be pictured in the folk stories as reverting to an earlier, more primitive way of life or mentality.

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The Hunter’s Nightmare Urban Legends

An unsuccessful hunter happens to hit a deer with his car while driving home. Although it is illegal to do so, he stops and puts the deer into the backseat of his car, affixing his state hunting tag to it. But the deer was only stunned; it revives and begins kicking and struggling to escape. The man swings at the deer with a tire iron but hits his hunting dog instead, and then the dog begins to attack him. The man stops the car, jumps out pursued by his dog, escapes into a telephone booth, and calls 911, telling the police that he is trapped in the booth and that a deer is destroying the inside of his car.


Numerous individuals and police departments have copies of what is said to be the original 911 audiotape recording the hunter’s panicky call for help, which is often claimed to have happened between 1989 and 1992 in the local area. However, the only documented case of this kind occurred in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1974, and not all of the tapes circulating have the same wording or details, although most are peppered with the same range of obscenities. Exaggerated claims are made for the number of copies of the tape in existence and for the interest in it on the part of U.S. government agencies. An older tradition of stunned-animal stories exists as well. It seems likely that dubbed and faked copies of the 1974 “stunned-deer/deer-stunt” tape have been passed around and that those who have heard it have assumed that the incident happened locally and recently. Attention to the story by newspaper columnists has encouraged this notion.

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Human Sausage Factories Urban Legends

During and after World War II, rumors and legends circulated about secret factories to which human beings were lured for slaughter and to be rendered into sausages and other meat products. The existence of such sausage factories was “proven” by reference to intended victims who had supposedly escaped or by the claimed discovery of bits of jewelry or clothing in the meat. “Human Sausage Factory” stories were told all over Europe, and some versions made their way to the United States as well, including one published (and debunked) in The New Yorker in 1946. In Estonia in the 1960s and later, children told simplified versions of these legends not as believed stories but simply as “thrillers” or “shockers,” (i.e., Horror Stories or Scary Stories). An example:


A mother had a daughter. She gave her child a ring as a birthday present. Soon she sent her daughter shopping. The daughter went along an asphalt road and disappeared underground. Mother waited and waited, waited but her daughter didn’t come. Mother went and bought some minced meat. At home she began to fry the meat. Suddenly she saw the same ring in the minced meat. Then she realized what had happened to her daughter.

In recent years similar stories of human flesh sold as meat circulated in the United States and were attributed to various minority groups operating restaurants, or to homeless people struggling to survive.

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Human Nature Urban Legends

Although not a clear category based on particular stories’ content or theme, human nature—our ideas of how we think people will normally react—is often illustrated in the behavior of characters described in urban legends. In my words in the source cited below, human nature in urban legends reveals peoples’ tendencies to “jump to conclusions, seize at opportunities, miss the point, fudge the data, complain, criticize, rationalize, sympathize, brag, gloat, miss the boat, jump ship, blindly follow tradition yet yearn to be different.” Part of the appeal of many urban legends is undoubtedly the sense that were we in the same situation, we might well have reacted in the same way and have been similarly embarrassed or injured.


“The Baby Train” provides a good example of human nature supposedly at work: Given the opportunity, the story suggests, couples will “do what comes naturally,” in this instance, have sex if accidentally awakened at an early hour. Other popular legends depict people telling “white lies” or committing minor crimes when they think that nobody will notice. Human nature can work both ways in a story; for example, in “Take My Tickets, Please!” a man leaves a pair of game tickets for a poorly performing local team in a conspicuous place in his unlocked car, believing that someone will probably steal them. Instead, another disgruntled fan following the same psychology leaves his own two tickets beside the originals.

Even when a story illustrating human nature is proven false, as is the case with “Dial 911 for Help” (someone can’t find the 11 button on the phone dial), the story continues to be repeated and believed because “that’s just how dumb some people are!” Perhaps believing in urban legends is itself a good illustration of human nature.

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Horror Urban Legends

Nearly every collection of urban legends, regardless of which country it originates from, has a separate chapter or section containing the most horrifying stories based on accidents, atrocities, contaminations, crimes, and the like. Because every category of urban legends in fact contains some horrors, it is somewhat arbitrary to classify some stories specifically as horror legends. The category was created mainly to highlight urban legends that seem to have horror as their major purpose or theme. Subsections of the category in the Type Index included in this encyclopedia are Baby-sitter Stories, Medical Horrors, and Other Horrors, with some 44 legends cited in total.


Babysitters in urban legends may either be threatened by a killer who has slain the children and now threatens the sitter, or else the sitters themselves are guilty of horrible crimes against their charges. The children in these stories are sometimes gassed, microwaved, or left to starve.

Several medical horror stories play on peoples’ fears of hospitals, operations, and even physical examinations, depicting the horrible ways these may go wrong. Other stories in this category deal with infections, cadavers, and cannibalism.


Other Horrors, always an ambiguous category, includes legends about gruesome deaths, unsanitary living conditions, terrifying experiences, and alleged satanic rituals. Several modern horror legends are actually transformations of old folktales; conversely, some horror stories tend to be told more often nowadays as fictional scary stories than as believed legends.

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The Hook Urban Legends

Most American teenagers, as well as many adults remembering their high school years and fears, will recognize a story that is summarized in a 1990 collection of urban legends from South Africa. The scene is the community of Bloemfontein on “that landlocked city’s rather inaptly named central landmark” called Naval Hill, a favorite parking place for young couples on dates:

The car radio is playing romantic music. The night is warm with promise. Suddenly a news flash interrupts the music. A lunatic has escaped from Groendakkies [a nearby mental hospital], and was last seen in the Naval Hill area. He can be recognised by the gruesome hook which he has in place of a hand.

The girl is nervous, but the boy is feeling amorous. He doesn’t want to leave. She protests but he tries harder. She demands he remove his hands. He keeps them where they are. She reaches out and switches off the radio. Next thing there’s the sound of a scratch on the door. Terrified, the girl insists that they leave. The boy is furious and he pulls away with a squeal of tyres. At home, he goes round to the passenger door to open it for her and promptly passes out.


There, hanging from the door handle, is the bloody stump of the lunatic’s hook. Despite the numerous inconsistencies in the legend of “The Hook” (the maniac’s being furnished a hook? trying to open the door with the hook hand? lurking outside the car just when the radio mentions him? the frustrated boy politely going around to open the door? and so on), the story has been told avidly and with considerable belief by American adolescents since the 1950s. The story has much older prototypes involving hands cut off when a robber threatens a mounted person; the modern version about an automobile has spread around the world and been localized in countless places. “The Hook” is also a favorite of folklore scholars;

there are no less than 33 references to it in the standard bibliography of urban-legend studies published in 1993. The legend has also been incorporated into comic strips, films, and TV programs to such a degree that the very image of a hook dangling from a car-door handle is enough to suggest for most people the whole genre of urban legends. Although this image destroys the suspense necessary for the legend versions, it highlights the fact that “The Hook” is known even better nowadays as a simple scary story rather than a believed account of something that really happened. Parodies of urban legends almost inevitably allude to this story as well, making it in a sense the archetypal example of the genre.

With numerous texts to examine, a long history of the legend to review, and many specific and puzzling details to explain, folklorists have had a field day with interpretations. Best known of these claims is Alan Dundes’s Freudian interpretation, which explains the hook itself as a phallic symbol and its amputation as a symbolic castration. Other scholars have been content to see the story more literally as a warning against parking, a dramatic example of the reason for parental concern for their children, an expression of fear of the handicapped, or a depiction of the danger possible from a rampaging antisocial person. The Swedish folklorist Bengt af Klintberg cites “The Hook” as an example of a story about “a conflict between representatives of normal people who follow the rules of society and those who are not normal, who deviate and threaten the normal group.” Such a reading is encouraged by comparing “The Hook” to other urban legends in which fingers are lost when someone attempts to assault people who are in a moving car.


An early attempt to record audience responses to a telling of “The Hook” was published by JoAnn Stephens Parochetti in 1965. She observed that in group settings, listeners might ask questions about details of the story, while storytellers would tend to fill in details they were vague about by offering “logical deductions from the parts they could remember.” She published an example of a partial telling of the legend with examples of these devices.

American folklorist Bill Ellis reminds us of the importance (but actually a near impossibility!) of attempting to secure complete verbatim texts of urban legends, using as his example a recorded text of “The Hook” as told and discussed by three young women in Ohio in 1981. Ellis indicated momentary pauses in the narration with line breaks, then marked louder dynamics with all capitols. The tones of voice used by the narrator were classified and labeled in square brackets using the terms Conversational, Narrative, Masculine, Feminine, Superior, and Taunting; each level was defined by aspects of pitch, dynamics, and stress. Here is the section of the story with just one woman in the group speaking in which the girl urges the boy to return home and he finally agrees to do so. (The transcription markings here are slightly simplified):

[Narrative] and he’s and the chick’s saying [Feminine] I got to go home I’m late for curfew [Narrative] And he goes [Masculine] no-no it’s nothing it’s nothing
[Narrative] and um
[Conversational] I won’t go into gory details but
[Narrative] they continue on for a little while and finally the chick says [Masculine] NO it’s MIDNIGHT
I’VE GOT TO GO HOME [Narrative] and um
The guy goes well-[Conversational] no- I I I you know I really don’t think this is the time
[Narrative] and she’s going [Masculine] YES it IS.
[Narrative] And all of a sudden the guy’s going well what can I say next and they hear [Feminine] this really odd noise right beside the car-
[Narrative] and he goes [Feminine] you know I think it’s time to go home [Laughter]

Studied closely, it is apparent in this selection that the boy is portrayed as adopting a more feminine style of speaking as he agrees—as a result of an “odd noise right beside the car” to drive the girl back home. Although there is considerable phallic humor later in this version of “The Hook,” Ellis suggests that the maniac may better be described as “a moral custodian” who breaks up the parking teens’ amorous experiments. The hookman’s handicap, in Ellis’s view, is “his own lack of sexuality.” He concludes that “the threat of the hookman [at least in this telling] is not the normal sex drive of teenagers but the abnormal drive of some adults to keep them apart.”

Bill Ellis “reconsidered” “The Hook” legend several years later, reviewing numerous folklorists’ writings about the story, then examining published texts along with the 70 complete narratives filed in the “Hook” folder in the Folklore Archives at the University of California at Berkeley. After tallying the variations in eight major motifs of the story, Ellis was able to describe the makeup of a “standard” or “typical” version, except that no single text actually turned out to be typical. Instead, Ellis concluded, “What is ‘typical’ in the corpus is variability . . . [and] any effort to privilege any particular motif or any ‘typical’ version of the story as a repository of ‘hidden meaning’ is futile.” Probably the next phase of analyses of “The Hook” will focus attention on contexts, performances, and the actual variability of different tellings, as well as the many appearances of the story in popular culture. Folklorists and others are sure to be hooked on this favorite legend (or whatever it is) for a long time to come.

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