Urban Legends and Old Wives’ Tales

September 24, 2020 · CLASSMATES FUN

We’re all familiar with “old wives’ tales,” which are unverified or exaggerated claims that an older generation passes on to their children, insisting they’re true. You’ve probably heard that you’re supposed to wait an hour after eating before going for a swim, or if you swallow gum it’ll stay in your stomach for seven years, or if you make a funny face then your face will get stuck that way.

Then there are the more serious stories – spooky legends told at slumber parties or by the campfire that are meant to scare your peers. These stories have been passed down just like old wives’ tales, but the original sources are no longer clear. Here are some of the most common urban legends.

Bloody Mary:

If you look in the mirror and say “Bloody Mary” a certain amount of times, something bad will happen, although what happens varies depending on who’s telling the story. In an early version of the story, if an unmarried woman looks in the mirror, she will see the face of her future husband, or, if she is going to die before getting married, she sees a skull. Modern versions of this tale are much scarier – if you look into the mirror, you’ll see a bleeding ghost named Mary.


Kidney missing:

This common legend tells the tale of a young man seduced by an older woman and then spends the night with her. The next morning, he wakes up in a bathtub full of ice and finds one of his kidneys missing, which the woman has cut out to sell on the black market. Remarkably, some stories of organ theft are true, but transplanting an organ is a complicated process and requires a medical professional, so the “wake up in the bathtub” tale is simply not possible.


Ancient burial ground:

Many scary movies and books center around a house that is built on an ancient burial ground, causing the house to be haunted and those who live in it to be cursed. Most of the time, the urban legend specifically mentions an ancient “Indian burial ground,” but in reality, these types of mounds are not common in the United States. However, the moral of the myth is to survey under the home before you buy it.

Chain letters/e-mails:

A chain letter is a message that tries to convince the recipient to make a number of copies and then pass them on to their other friends. Spam existed even before the internet and social media age, but as those mediums became more accessible, chain letters grew exponentially. It used to be common to receive hoaxes through the mail, but now you’ll see them get passed through emails, message boards, and chats. Most of them claim if you don’t pass the message to a certain amount of people, you’ll be cursed (or some other consequence), but if you pass it on, you’ll find luck.


Call coming from inside the house:

A teenage babysitter, usually a female, puts the children to sleep and then waits for their parents to return home. However, she keeps receiving threatening phone calls, and when she tries to trace the call, she finds out that they’re actually coming from inside the house, and either something bad has happened to the children or somebody is after her. Advancements in technology have certainly changed this urban myth to something more modern, like receiving a text or a social media notification.


What started as a viral competition to use Photoshop to submit photos with a supernatural element turned into a real-life horror story. The controversial Slenderman is a suited, faceless, tall figure who is photoshopped into the background of photos of children, and the artist who created him says Slenderman lures them into danger, much like the Pied Piper. But real tragedy struck when two teenagers stabbed their classmate nineteen times in the woods as a sacrifice to him. This story is a reminder that sometimes internet challenges can get out of hand and you should always practice caution.

Spider bite:

Warning: if you’re afraid of spiders, don’t read this story.

This myth says that somebody is bitten by an insect while on vacation at an exotic location. They don’t think too much of it until the swelling gets worse. Eventually, they go to the doctor to have it lanced out, but it turns out that the bite is infected, and when it pops, baby spiders crawl out. Thank goodness there is no truth to this tale.


Although the story of Slenderman is tragic, these other legends seem silly now, even if they scared you when you first heard them. What other urban tales do you remember hearing when you were younger?