Urban legends share many similarities with NonScience. Many are told as cautionary tales, confirming suspicions and fears.

Consider Maria Monk. While shelving books at Coe's Stewart Memorial Library one summer, I ran across a copy of The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk — a terrible tale of a New York girl who entered a Canadian convent and discovered all manner of dreadful doings (underground tunnels to a nearby seminary, illegitimate babies buried in quicklime, etc.). First published in January 1836, it was exposed as a fraud almost immediately. However, it fed into anti-Catholic prejudice and fears so nicely that it was repeatedly reprinted, even after repeated exposures as a hoax.

Similarly, an "eighth-grade final exam from 1895" is proof to many that our educational system has declined. However, no one has produced an original of the document, not even the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society, which states that the "Examination Graduation Questions of Saline County, Kansas" were transcribed from an original document in their collection. You can find the text, with slight variations, many places but not one scanned image of an original. The document might actually be an examination for prospective teachers, but this would not be nearly as snappy a story about how good education was then and how rotten it is now.


Seth Finkelstein, "Klingon Language Interpreter" Urban Legend, May 11, 2003. Concise description of how "pack journalism" turned a minor bit of foolery into a tale of bureaucratic insanity.

Urban Legends Reference Pages
Created by kristin. Last Modification: Saturday 31 of January, 2004 16:03:48 EST by kristin.