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What are the real-life origins of urban legends? Why are there so many stories about babysitters in distress? And how did a real human corpse end up on display at an amusement park haunted house?

Erin (@erincmccarthy) breaks down the origins of the Mothman and the Goatman, along with some scary stories you probably heard at a sleepover at some point in your life.

In case you forgot, The List Show is a trivia-tastic, fact-filled show for curious people. Subscribe here for new List Show episodes the first and third Wednesday of each month: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpZ5qUqpW4hW4zdfuBxMSJA?sub_confirmation=1

For more real scary stories (and some not-so-real ones), check out our article on the spookiest ghost stories from all 50 states: http://mentalfloss.com/article/504950/spookiest-ghost-stories-all-50-states


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In the not too distant future, director Nia  DaCosta will be ushering in a new version of Candyman, the popular 1992  horror hit about a vengeful spirit who is summoned by saying his name five times.

In  one of the movie’s most terrifying scenes, the villain bursts through a medicine cabinet in  the bathroom to attack his victim. While Candyman himself isn’t an urban legend—the character  is based on a short story by Clive Barker—the idea of a killer attacking you through  a bathroom mirror is rooted in fact.

In 1987, a woman named Ruth McCoy was killed  when a burglar crawled through a false wall behind her medicine cabinet, which was put  there to make it easier to assess plumbing issues in the Chicago Housing Authority  project. Like many famous modern myths, there can be a good deal of truth in the fiction. Whether intentional or a strange coincidence, two of the characters in the 1992 film actually shared  the last name McCoy with the real-life victim.

I’m Erin McCarthy, and we’re taking a look at  the origins behind some of the most popular urban legends in this episode of The List Show. The List Show. The List Sho--Okay, I’m done.

Urban legends are supposed to be disturbing—the  kind of thing you tell your teenaged friends under a sofa cushion fort at a sleepover. Naturally, a lot of them revolve around killers. And since a lot of teenagers take  on babysitting jobs for friends and family, it’s not surprising that one of the most  disturbing urban legends involves a killer targeting this vulnerable demographic.

For  decades, stories have circulated about a babysitter home alone who receives harassing phone  calls. When the call is finally traced by police, the babysitter is horrified to discover  it’s coming from inside the house. While that exact scenario doesn’t seem to  have ever been documented, there have been unsettling reports of babysitters being assaulted.

In 1950, 13-year-old Janett Christman was killed by an intruder while babysitting in Columbia,  Missouri. Police suspected a man who had been friends with the family of the 3-year-old boy  she was watching, but he was never charged. This legend probably picked up steam because  it struck a psychological chord.

The 1970s was an era of women’s liberation, and some argue  that the idea of a man lurking out of sight was, in a way, a rejection of that new paradigm. You  could consider it anti-feminist propaganda, but either way, being a babysitter meant being alone  in a strange house. It was a relatable fear.

If you like killer-animal mash-ups, there’s the  Goatman, a purported half-man, half-goat fond of devouring dogs and attacking people in Prince  George’s County in Maryland. While the Goatman had been whispered about for years, he got an  explosion of publicity in 1971 after a reporter named Karen Hosler delivered a one-two punch  lending credibility to his existence. In one Halloween article, Hosler passed along research  from state folklore archives that presented the Goatman as a former researcher at the Beltsville  Agricultural Farm who experimented on goats.

One day, he lost his mind and ran into the  woods, growing his hair long and attacking cars that passed by. Just two weeks later, Hosler  reported on a family that awoke to the sounds of what they later described as a two-legged animal  on their property that was howling and squealing. The next day, the family found their dog, Ginger,  decapitated.

Then people reported seeing an animal walking on its hind legs near Fletchertown Road,  where poor Ginger was found. From that point on, teens in Maryland learned to fear the Goatman. And no urban legend rundown is complete without mention of the Mothman, a strange creature who  purportedly terrorized West Virginia in the 1960s.

This winged menace was spotted numerous times,  including by a grave digger and two couples sitting in a car in 1966. They described it as  having bright red eyes and a massive wingspan 10 feet long. When they drove away, the creature  allegedly chased after them.

Both sightings took place in a small community named Point Pleasant,  and the Mothman myth has persisted ever since. The truth? Eyewitnesses might have seen a sandhill  crane, which is nearly as tall as a human and has bright red flesh around its eyes.

Not the kind of  thing you want to see late at night, but probably not a mortal danger, either. After all, the  birds live on grains and small animals. The only problem with this explanation is that sandhill  cranes aren’t all that common in the area.

Not all tales of killers result in people dying. Sometimes, it’s the near-misses that prove to be effective stories. In one urban legend, a person  wakes up in response to some strange noises.

As they let their hand dangle at the bottom  of the bed, they feel a reassuring lick from their family pet. The next morning,  the pet is found dead, and a note reads,   “Humans can lick, too.” This O. Henry-esque twist  ending dates as far back as 1871, when a story made the rounds in England about a jewel thief  who hid under a bed and licked the hand of the homeowner so he wouldn’t get up to investigate.

Another near-miss urban legend involves a driver who is seemingly harassed by a car  following hers. When she finally stops, it turns out the other driver was trying to  warn her of a killer hiding in the back seat. It’s actually hard for murderers to try and  hitch a ride in a back seat without being seen, but this story does have some basis in reality.

In 1964, an escaped murderer hid in a car. In a twist, the car belonged to a police  detective, who shot the criminal. Ever hear the one about the haunted house that  left a real corpse on display?

You’re probably not going to find a dead body at your local haunt,  but if you were a crew member on The Six Million Dollar Man in 1976, you would have realized this  was no myth. A man working on the show was setting up a sequence at a fun house at the Nu-Pike  Amusement Park when he tried to adjust what he thought was a fake corpse. As the LA Times put  it, “A technician moved it—and an arm fell off.” It was the arm, and the body, of Elmer McCurdy, an  outlaw who was shot by authorities after a train robbery in 1911 and then embalmed in Pawhuska,  Oklahoma.

Elmer’s body was then taken on tour. At the time, it was common for people to want to  see the corpses of famous criminals. Eventually, McCurdy got mixed up with some wax dummies  and wound up in Long Beach, California, where he had become a macabre prop.

He was  given a proper burial in Oklahoma in 1977. The Six Million Dollar Man was a big hit in  the 1970s, and so was Mikey, the star of the Life cereal commercials where it’s declared  that a picky child approves of the cereal. Soon, word spread that Mikey had  succumbed to a dangerous combination of soda and the effervescent candy Pop Rocks.

The rumor grew so widespread that in 1979 the mother of child actor John Gilchrist, who played  Mikey, got a condolence call from a stranger. The story likely stemmed from schoolyard  discussions about Pop Rocks, which were fizzy carbonated candy, and how eating them seemed  dangerous. It wasn’t, but the story was so widely believed that it seriously damaged sales of the  candy.

General Foods, which owned Pop Rocks, even begged John Gilchrist’s parents to let him film a  commercial letting people know he was still alive, but they refused. The grisly story continued  for years and all the negative publicity forced General Foods to discontinue Pop Rocks soon after. They have made a comeback, however, in case you’d like to test this theory out for yourself.

For some reason, people just can’t get enough of urban legends about food causing living  creatures to explode. For years, couples planning their wedding have been warned about not  throwing rice at the ceremony because birds will be tempted to eat it, causing them to blow up. That can’t actually happen.

Rice, whether it’s cooked or uncooked, poses no threat to birds. But Connecticut state legislator Mae Schmidle tried to introduce a bill in 1985 that would  ban rice-throwing. She called the bill “An Act Prohibiting the Use of Uncooked Rice at  Nuptial Affairs” and insisted birds can’t digest uncooked rice.

Schmidle said ministers had  told her they found dead birds after weddings, victimized by innocent rice celebrations. The  myth was repeated in Ann Landers’ advice column. In 2002, a project conducted by a biology  professor at the University of Kentucky tested this theory and found that while rice  expands in size by 33 percent when soaked, birdseed expands by 40 percent.

Since your bird  feeder isn’t surrounded by detonated birds, rice is probably fine. The professor even fed  rice to birds and noted no adverse effects. From birds to—well, more birds.

Have  you ever heard about the munchkin who was believed to have taken his own  life on the set of 1939’s The Wizard of Oz and was left dangling in the background? People who watched the movie would swear they could see a shadowy figure as Dorothy and her new  friends stroll along the Yellow Brick Road. There is something a little off in the background, but  it’s not a dead munchkin.

Because the movie was shot on an indoor set, filmmakers allowed birds  to roam around to give it more of an outdoor feel. That strange figure is almost certainly just  a bird hanging out and spreading its wings. For years, gamers have traded stories about  a strange arcade game titled Polybius.

The all-black machine was said to be a CIA  operation meant to study players or even induce strange physical effects—sort of like MK  Ultra, the infamous mind control experiment, only this time with pixels. Polybius never existed—that  we know of—but elements of the story are true. In 1981 Portland, a video game player at an  arcade contest drank too much soda and got sick during a 28 hour marathon gaming session..

A few  days later, news reports appeared saying federal authorities had raided Portland arcades to seize  cabinets that had been declared gambling devices. There was even an East German arcade machine  from a few years later called Poly-Play, and some versions of the story credit  Polybius to a mysterious German firm. Put all these elements together and you  have a recipe for urban legend success.

If you’re a Beatles fan, you’ve probably had  a discussion at some point about whether Paul McCartney died all the way back in 1966. That’s  because a rumor persisted that McCartney had perished in an automobile accident and the rest of  the group, fearing they’d be finished without him, hired a lookalike as a replacement, then  left subtle clues in future albums hinting at McCartney’s actual fate. The cover to 1969’s  Abbey Road, for example, features Ringo Starr dressed in black, like a pallbearer.

McCartney  is in bare feet, because he’s actually dead. According to conspiracy theorists, this was  common burial practice in England at the time. Who started this theory is unknown, but Beatles  scholars have a good idea of how it spread.

In 1969, a college sophomore named Tim  Harper wrote a story for The Times-Delphic, Drake University’s college newspaper,  laying out the theory. It was based on a rumor Harper had heard from a friend who  had heard it from some traveling musicians. It’s possible the rumor picked up momentum because  the Beatles broke up in 1970 and fans wanted to believe it was for a reason other than the fact  the group just wasn’t getting along anymore.

The more famous you are, the more urban  legends tend to circulate about you. And few people have had more tawdry rumors about  them than Fred Rogers, the late and very much missed host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. In  the most persistent urban legend about Mr.

Rogers, it’s said that he was a Navy SEAL or possibly  a military sniper with confirmed kills. The reason he favored long-sleeved sweaters was  supposedly to cover up his numerous tattoos. In fact, Fred Rogers was a sharpshooting  marine—but it was a different Fred Rogers.

According to the screenwriters behind the  recent Fred Rogers biopic, that Rogers used FredRogers.com for his security business  for a brief period of time, and that's likely what led people to confuse the two Freds. That’s almost as silly as picturing Doctor Ruth Westheimer, the amiable sex therapist and  media personality, as a trained sniper who was seriously wounded in a bomb blast. Or Julia Child  serving in the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA, during World War II.

Except both of those stories are actually true. Maybe that’s why some people had no trouble  believing Rogers also had a secret military past. Some of the most effective urban legends  take familiar things and give them a sinister connotation.

And while you may not have warm  feelings about sewers, it is disturbing to think alligators might be lurking in them. This  scenario stems in large part from writer Robert Daley’s 1959 book, World Beneath the City. In it, Daley describes an eyewitness account from Teddy May, who was New York City’s  superintendent of sewers.

According to May, sewer workers had been telling him about  alligators as far back as 1935, but he didn’t believe them. Eventually, May went down  to see for himself and spotted several alligators averaging two feet in length. They appeared to  be quite content, according to May.

It was later said that he was prone to tall tales, so it’s a  bit hard to separate gator fact from fiction. Though there are reliable accounts of  the occasional alligator in the sewer, according to the New York Times, New York’s Animal  Care and Control rescues two to four alligators, crocodiles, or caimans a year, but they’re usually  above ground—the bacterial load of your average sewage system makes it pretty inhospitable to  alligator life. Beware, though—some animals have been known to crawl through plumbing and  into residential toilets.

Rats are particularly adept at this, which is good information to  have if you never want to be able to go the bathroom in peace for the rest of your life. Finally, some kids and their parents had second thoughts about temporary tattoos when it  was rumored that some of the stickers were spiked with LSD. Adults were warned about tattoos  that featured blue stars or cartoon characters.

This urban legend was prevalent in the 1980s, but  the concept of contaminated sticky stuff goes back to at least the 19th century. In 1885, The Lancet  gave an account of a man who habitually took large quantities of morphine. One day the opiate  enthusiast licked the adhesive surface of an envelope and sent it off.

The recipient,  for what I’m sure were very good reasons, opened the envelope and then decided to lick it  shut again. As The Lancet described it, quote,   “The mere touch of the tongue of the taker of  morphia had rendered the gum intensely nauseous. If this could happen, obviously  there must be grave peril of the transmission of disease by such means.” Many years later, police warnings over blotter acid mentioned kids could be susceptible.

This was misinterpreted to mean that kids had been exposed to acid. To date, no one  with a temporary Care Bears tattoo has ever been unknowingly dosed with LSD, though watching  the cartoon might make you feel like you have. Our next video is all about cryptids, animals  which people claim exist despite a lack of proof.

Think Bigfoot, The Loch Ness Monster, and the  like. If you know about a cool creature of dubious veracity, let us know about it in the comments  for a chance to be featured in that episode. And remember to check out Mental Floss every  Wednesday for new videos.

We’ll see you soon!