Myth-busting the best urban legends

  • Article by: REBECCA NAPPI , Spokesman-Review
  • Updated: September 29, 2013 - 4:03 PM

A hook on a car door? Sounds like a bad horror movie. But back in the day, stories like that kept us up past bedtime.

For many baby boomers, the stories were told while huddled around campfires or during basement sleepovers.

Over the years, however, these tales took on a life of their own, transforming into urban myths and half-truths. Remember the one about the hook hand on the car door? Or the baby sitter and the hiding man? Can aspirin dissolved in Coke really make you high?

Today, these stories are just funny bits of nostalgia. But were any of them true?

Aspirin in Coca-Cola makes you high

At slumber parties in the late 1960s, two aspirins dissolved into a bottle of Coke was a secret practice kids did after the parents were asleep upstairs. It didn’t make you high, some children learned (from personal experience).

The myth may have started in the 1930s, according to Snopes (a website that researches urban legends), when an Illinois doctor wrote to the Journal of American Medical Association “to warn that teenagers were dissolving aspirin in Coca-Cola to create an intoxicating beverage” that was as serious a threat to teenagers as “narcotic habituation.”

Coke in aspirin turned out to be harmless for society’s young people. It later was discovered that both products can be worrisome for kids, but not because either makes you high.

Too much soda has been linked to obesity. Aspirin taken when children have the flu can result in Reye’s syndrome, a sometimes fatal reaction.

Baby sitter and hiding man

The story: A baby sitter answers the phone. A creepy man asks her whether she’s checked on the children. He keeps calling back. She calls police, who finally trace the call and tell her to leave the house immediately because the man is calling from within the house.

The children are later discovered murdered by the man who had been hiding either upstairs or in the basement, depending on which version you heard.

This story had many holes — even in the low-tech, highly gullible 1960s. For instance, when you called your own number, you got a busy signal. The police didn’t trace calls, even in the 1960s. The phone company could do traces, but it was an elaborate process that took a while.

Despite its implausibility, the plot line has been incorporated into several movies, including “When a Stranger Calls,” which was made in 1979 and remade in 2006.

This urban legend would be more plausible in modern times, because the dangerous man could be hiding in the house, making menacing calls from a cellphone.

The hook hand on the car door

The story: A couple are making out on Lovers Lane. A man has escaped from an insane asylum (excuse the insensitive description of both mental illness and the institutions that help people with mental illness, but it was the 1960s).

The escaped man (for unknown reasons) has a hook for a hand. The girl is nervous about the reports that a lunatic is on the loose, and she’s not in the mood to kiss or do anything else. The boyfriend, angry at her resistance and unfounded fear, speeds off.

When he gets home, the boyfriend discovers a hook in the car door, ripped away from the hook man as he was about to open the car door.

What’s fun about this one? Its deeper meanings lie in the context of the 1960s.

The urban legend spoke to societal fears that women were getting “looser” just like the loose boys who couldn’t be expected to control themselves, theorized Neal Litherland, a blogger and writer from Indiana who describes himself as a “genre-hopping tale teller who isn’t shy about taking his readers to some of the stranger corners of the human heart.”

In an online essay about this urban legend, Litherland wrote: “Though sexually frustrated and upset, the boy realizes that if his girl had let him have sex with her that the maniac would have killed them both. Thus it shows that it is a woman’s responsibility to take the reins of sexual behavior firmly in hand, and that men should always bow to the woman’s lead.”

And the story, told around every campfire in the 1960s, reflected Cold War worries, too.

“The hook is often portrayed looking like a Soviet sickle,” Litherland said. “It was thought that ideas like communism, and its elimination of religion and morality, would destroy youth’s upstanding honor and American traditions.”

Black widows in beehives

The beehive — the big, ratted hairdo that indeed looked like a beehive — backcombed its way into mass popularity in the early 1960s.

The story: A teen ratted her hair into a beehive, sprayed it into stiffness and neglected to wash it for weeks because of the hassle of ratting and spraying. Unbeknownst to her, a black widow spider crawled in, built a nest, laid eggs and when dozens of the eggs hatched, they bit the teen’s skull, killing her.

True or false? False, according to snopes.com. The urban legend disappeared in the 1970s when straight, long hair rendered beehives old-fashioned.

However, the urban legend washed back into popular culture in the 1990s. With some modifications.

The victim was a man. The hairdo, dreadlocks. The spiders, unidentified.

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