There are a plethora of “urban legends” floating around, some for years. Not ghost stories, mind you. I`m referring to myths that are incredibly odd yet somehow they invoke vulnerability in the listener . Certain cultural myths don’t fade because they play on the human psyche: what if? is there a small possibility that…? Like broken telephone, many of these stories are told with different players or different endings or both, but doubtless they play on our innate fears of human fallibility.
The Vanishing Hotel Room
This is my favourite myth probably because this one (although unlikely) is possible. It is a warning about being a stranger in a strange land. The original version places it in Paris, France in 1888. it is during the Great Exposition when thousands of tourists are filling the streets of Paris. A young Englishwoman and her elderly mother are travelling to France from a vacation in India. When they arrive there, they stay in separate rooms (so the neighbours won`t talk haha). The mother signs in under room 342. They go upstairs but soon, the elderly woman takes ill and falls into bed. Her daughter rushes to the front desk and the manager contacts the hotel doctor (didn`t know there was such a thing…must be a Paris thing). The doctor arrives and has a brief exchange, in French, with the general manager, who looks very worried. Oddly, the doctor informs the girl (in English, obviously) that her mother is very ill and the girl must go to the doctor`s house where his wife will present her with a suitable medicine. This in itself makes no sense and probably renders the entire story unbelievable, but that`s how it unfolds. The daughter hurries off with a coachman, who certainly takes his time going about the city, weaving in and out of streets that lead virtually nowhere.
Finally, they reach the doctor`s house and here is where two different versions of the story emerge. The first is, the house is deserted and it is obvious that no one has lived there in years. Creepy. The second is that the doctor`s wife is indeed there and presents the daughter with a small vial of what later is determined to be water (how anyone figured that one out who knows). The daughter returns to the hotel and this is where it gets truly weird (as if it isn’t yet). She enters the hotel with the `medicine“ and approaches the front desk receptionist ( a gentleman, as it were). In one version the receptionist and the hotel manager are completely different people. He looks at her blankly and says he has no idea what she is talking about. She sends for the hotel manager, who says the same and doesn`t recall anyone bearing her mother`s description arriving at the hotel, much less getting sick. The girl insists on seeing the register and when she does she sees someone other than her mother has signed in under room 342.
Frantic, the poor girl rushes to the room and opens it. Everything is different. The curtains are a different fabric, the furniture is changed and even the wallpaper is a different colour and pattern. The girl, feeling that she must be going nuts, insists her mother was staying here and hurries to the English Embassy in France. Alas, after a brief investigation they are unable to help her and no one believes the poor girl`s story. She has to return home without her mother, no doubt, questioning her sanity. The solution behind the story is that the mother was indeed a patron of the hotel, but fell ill with a deadly plague she had contracted while in India. Concerned about the thousands of tourists and revenues that would be lost during the Expose if word got out on the street that the plague had reached Paris, the hotel manager, police, and hotel doctor concocted a scheme to get the girl out of the hotel, dispose of the mother`s body (who has died in the meantime), re-decorate the room and sign in new guests. Hence, the mystery is solved…at least for us if not the unhappy daughter. This tale arouses our fear of being abandoned and disbelieved during an emergency especially in a foreign country where we have no family or friends to assist us. Yikes.
The Dead Roommate
Speaking of daughters and death, this myth unfolded during the 70`s when young women were more commonly leaving home and heading off to college. This one plays on our fears about `things that are alien“ that cross boundaries and borders and enter our personal space. Two roommates share a small apartment on a university campus. One Friday night, one roommate decides to go out and the other stays in, snuggled up with a book. It isn`t long before she falls asleep. Hours later, a scratching noise at the door wakes her. She gets up and goes to investigate when she hears a dreadful gurgling sound. Noticing the door is unlocked, she hurries to shut it then returns to the couch where she hides underneath a blanket.
She wakes up in the morning, opens the door and finds her roommate, dead, with her fingers scraped down to bloody stumps as she tried to get her friend`s attention, and her throat slit. Normally this story takes place with a freshman (newbies), always a young female and during a holiday break when the college is mostly empty. The legend grew as more and more females began to attend post-secondary school.
Incredibly a system known as SafeCore exists. It is a section of a house turned into a security bunker where food and supplies, as well as all the comforts of, well, home, are sufficient for a 30-day stay without contact with the outside world. Even the doors are made of steel and are bullet-proof. They have complex locking systems. The bed frame deflects gun blasts from below. There is a system of cameras that displays the outside environment and potential intruders. If an intruder makes it inside your house and gets to the bunker, you can deliver shotgun blasts from the ceiling as he tries to bust the door in or send out 4“ spikes through the floor, piercing the intruder`s feet and delivering a 100-amp shock. Instant intruder barbecue. You know what I think. This might be the type of room the President resides in whenever he travels overnight. Except for the bullets and barbecue, it’s possible hotels have such a room just for extremely important heads of states and major celebrities, isn`t it? That means I will never stay in one.
Here’s one that presents only as a ghost story and we know it doesn’t even border on plausible, but it’s fun enough that I’ve included it on the list. From hotels to houses to hospitals, this one involves the patient that wasn’t human. A dreadful looking woman, expressionless (of course), very pale with black, disheveled hair and covered in blood, walks into an emergency room in a hospital. She stands at the reception desk looking at the shocked receptionist who stupidly asks her what she wanted. The stranger removes part of her tongue and throws it on the floor then falls down unconscious. Patients scream and run out of the hospital as if their pj’s are on fire. The patient is placed on a gurney and when a young doctor enters the room she simply stares at him, saying nothing. He attempts to have her restrained and to give her a sedative but she rips his throat out with her teeth. Security rushes in and she kills them too (must have some pretty strong teeth).
Only one fortunate nurse survives. She names the entity The Expressionless. The Expressionless names itself God. Eesh. We hope not.
The Woman in the Cupboard
You’re going to tell yourself this one couldn’t be true….but it is! We’re back inside a house again (hopefully not yours). In 2008 a Japanese man reported feeling he was “being watched” while living in his home. And food was disappearing and things were being moved around a lot. After setting up a camera he discovered a 58-year-old homeless woman had been living in his cupboard for a year. She would sneak out to steal food and take showers. She was described as “neat and clean.” She was only a few feet away from him the entire time! Can you imagine if she’d been an axe murderer? This would have been a much shorter story.
A woman named “Tracy” who lived in Rock Hill, South Carolina, was a single mother of 5 children. One night she heard a thump above her bedroom ceiling then nails started popping out. Her ex-boyfriend from 12 years ago had just been released from prison and was hiding in her attic. He slept in the heating unit. Also found was several cups filled with his feces and urine. Gross!! The creep also rigged the heating vents so he could look down at Tracy in her bedroom. She should have charged him rent.
The Body Under the Mattress
Back to hotels, only this time it would be great if somone sick and dying had vanished, but didn’t. This is not only a rumour but has actually happened on more than one occasion, being documented in Los Vegas, New York (1987) Kansas City, Atlantic City, Montana and New Jersey. It states that a couple rents a hotel or motel room and lie down for the night. The mattress emits a strong, repulsive odor and they contact the front desk. The manager arrives and when she checks beneath the mattress she finds a rotting corpse. Seriously. This has happened to people several times. My guess is someone was murdered in the room, the killer hid the corpse between the box spring and the mattress and somehow it wasn’t discovered until its body liquids became truly putrid. Another scenario suggests that two or more drug users might be shooting up and one of them overdoses. In order to cover his tracks, the partner hides the body under the bed and splits, without even paying his bill. How rude. If this happens to you, it might be comforting to know you will not be sleeping alone that night.
The Clown Statue
The clown and the woman who hid in the Japanese man’s cupboard should get married. They certainly share the same mindset. A family of four has a babysitter over to look after the two kids, while the parents go out for the night. While she is watching the children, the father calls to check on them. At this point the babysitter asks him if she can cover up the creepy clown statue in the corner of the living room. The father reacts by telling her to grab the kids, get out of the house and using the neighbour’s phone to call police. He won’t tell her why but she does as she is told and good thing. The clown statue is actually a …. get this, midget dressed up as a clown, and an escapee from a mental hospital for the criminally insane. He hides in the house and watches the children at night. The children had complained about the clown to the parents but they’d written off their stories as nightmares.
Once you get past the creepiness of this story, you realize how many elements it plays on your mind. Clowns have always had the capacity to entertain and to terrify. I never did get that concept until I read about John Gacey. The other effective element to this story is the stranger hiding in the house and in this case, hiding in plain sight, without the girl having any knowledge of that fact. The young, female babysitter, alone with vulnerable children, is also at the heart of this myth, as she is in many. The mental hospital is so done yet it’s used over and over because it seems to add a nice touch. It plays on our fears and stereotypes about the mentally ill. Finally, the rescue and escape scenario is always a thrill. The get the kids and get out of there effect is always good for a creepy ending.
Is this a true story? Of course not. Why would anyone dress up as a clown and live in someone else’s house, only coming out of the shadows to watch their kids sleep? Even though we know people have been known to hide in houses, I’m reasonably sure none of them have ever dressed up like clowns. I should think the intruder would want to remain unobtrusive. A clown costume tends to be a rather attention-getting detail.
The Second Stall
Michelle was a gorgeous blonde sophomore. She was also a bitch. She bullied people. She laughed when people tripped or otherwise hurt themselves, but she was so attractive no one noticed that she was actually very mean. One night while removing her makeup, her cell phone rang and a creepy voice hissed “I want your face.“ Michelle hung up but the next day she felt jumpy. Her friend Dawn noticed and asked her what was wrong. When Michelle told her about the weird phone call, Dawn assured her it was a prank call and not to worry about it.
Eventually Michelle went to the washroom. She was looking in the mirror when she heard the horrible voice coming from the second stall of the washroom. She pushed the door open and there sat Dawn with a thread and needle, groaning in that terrible voice. ``I want your face.`` Michelle gasped and asked her what she meant, when suddenly Dawn jumped up and ripped Michelle`s face off! Okay, by this time we know this story is nuts. Anyway. Michelle screams and dies a horribly painful death while Dawn sews Michelle`s pretty (if bloody) face onto her own. Dawn hangs up Michelle`s corpse on the hook of the second stall and walks out, heading back to class unnoticed and perfectly calm I should think.
Okay this is wrong on so many levels and no one is meant to truly believe it because it`s nuts. This tale is actually a moral, rather than an attempt to fool the listener. Satisfaction from the story comes in an extremely attractive yet nasty person getting a just punishment for being born so pretty and using it against others. It satisfies jealousy and revenge fantasies. Of course, the person is mean, not nice, or else the story would be entirely unfair. Mind you, nice people get killed in other urban legends. Just not in this one.
The New Wife
This myth is interesting because it is a variation on an actual event that occurred in the early 20th century. In this story, Henry meets a beautiful woman named Loretta, falls in love with her and marries her. However, Loretta takes ill and within only a month she dies. Henry is heartbroken. Everyone is surprised when Henry “remarried” only one month later. Loretta’s sister Marie was outraged when she heard of Henry’s remarriage, feeling it was too soon. However, one day she decided to pay the two a visit to wish Henry well and put old hurts aside.
Marie arrived at their home and knocked but no one answered. She pushed the door open and called out but still no answer. Heading inside, Marie spied a woman wearing a sunhat sitting in the sun room. She called out to the woman but got no response. You can see where this one is going, can’t you? Marie said hello again and again got no response. She walked up to the woman and accidentally knocked the woman’s sunhat off her head. Marie was about to apologize when she looked at the woman’s face and screamed. It was Loretta’s corpse. Henry had pretended to bury her when in fact there was no one in the coffin. Now why he would do that then pretend he had re-married who knows? He could have kept old Loretta and kept mum on her whereabouts without pretending he had re-married. That would have been much more sensible. People are so strange.
The real life story about a man who kept a beautiful corpse in his home for several years is documented on the internet, in books, documentaries, etc. and is based on the bizarre case of Dr. Carl Tanzer von Cosel. I can’t help but find this story to be rather hilarious. In his early life, Tanzer claimed he received visions of a dead ancestor, Countess Anna Constantia von Cosel, who revealed the face of his true love, an exotic dark-haired woman. The radiologic technologist had a wife and two children whom he left in Zephyrhills (wherever that is) in 1927 to travel to the United States and begin his own life over again. Whether or not he intended to send for his family is unclear. At any rate, he fell in love with a pretty, young woman named Maria Elena (Helen) Milagro de Hoyos who died of tuberculosis, a common occurrence in the 1920s and 1930s. Helen was legally married to a man named Luis Mesa, who abandoned her after she miscarried his child. Tanzler paid for her funeral, and with the permission of her family, commissioned an above ground mausoleum in the Key West Cemetery, which he visited almost every night. He sat there and sang Spanish love songs to his dead lover. That’s not at all weird.
His obsession with the dead girl didn’t abide and two years after her death, he exhumed her body and wheeled it to his home in a toy wagon. Seriously. Such dignity. You know that kid’s song bumping up and down in my little red wagon by Raffi? Well, just use your imagination. Tanzler kept Helen in his home for seven years until he was caught by her family and local authorities. Tanzler had attached the corpse’s bones together with wire and coat hangers, and fitted the face with glass eyes. As the skin of the corpse decomposed, Tanzler replaced it with silk cloth soaked in wax and plaster of paris. As the hair fell out of the decomposing scalp, Tanzler fashioned a wig from Hoyos’s hair that had been collected by her mother and given to Tanzler not long after her burial in 1931. He kept the body in his bed and had sex with it. Ick.
After the discovery of Helen’s body, her remains became a side show attraction for hundreds of people who paid money and lined up to view her. As if sleeping with the crazy Tanzler wasn’t degrading enough…
This one is truly creepy and it is also a ghost story, rather than an urban myth. The Slit-Mouth girl, or Kuchisake-onna, is a Japanese girl who lived hundreds of years ago. One day her husband caught her having sex with her lover, a man younger and better-looking than him. Furious, he cut his beautiful wife’s mouth from ear to ear, leaving her with the crude slit-mouth in the picture (nasty). Cursed by her jealous husband, the pissed-off Kuchisake-onna walks the earth eternally and on occasion, bumps into an unlucky individual while she is wearing a surgical mask. She asks the person if s/he thinks she is beautiful. Normally the answer is “yes. “Then the ghost pulls off her surgical mask to reveal her wounded face and kills her unfortunate victim.
The Japanese culture is very obvious in this legend. Many Japanese people commonly wear surgical masks to protect them from diseases (actually, a surgical mask doesn’t prevent disease from entering the body….it prevents a person from spreading bacteria, hence the reason surgeons wear them in the operating room). The slashing of the mouth appears in other versions of the legend if the woman’s husband is a Samurai warrior, in which case he slashes her mouth with a sword. Ouch. The slitting of the mouth reminds me of Elizabeth Short, or the Black Dahlia and that horrid Glasgow smile. She has nothing to do with this story. I just threw that in there.
Well to Hell
Sometime in 1989, Russian scientists in Siberia drilled a borehole 14.5 kilometers deep into the Earth’s crust. The drill broke through into a cavity, and scientists lowered equipment to see what was down there. The temperature was more than one thousand degrees celsius. Ouch.
The scientists claimed they captured about seventeen horrifying seconds of audio before the microphone melted. Convinced that they’d heard the screams of the damned in Hell, many of the scientists quit the job immediately. Those who stayed were in for an even bigger shock. A plume of luminous gas burst out of the borehole, the shape of a gigantic winged demon unfolded, and the words “I have conquered” in Russian were seared into the flames. Even though today it is considered to be a hoax, there are many who believe that this incident really happened; the “Well to Hell” urban legend remains alive to this day. Unlike the poor souls in the well, I should think. This myth reminds me of a creepy short called The Ten Steps.
This myth, completely ridiculous as it is, places Hell geographically beneath the earth. Now why is that I wonder? Oh, maybe because some cultures from ancient times to contemporary have stated or implied that Hell is a nasty place far beneath us that burns like….. well, Hell. I believe the scientists drilled down to an extremely hot cavity. I do not believe the souls of the damned hang out there. And the “conquered” thing is confusing. When you end up in hell, what have you conquered anyway?