Are Urban Legends Real?
Every society has its own particular urban legends that they believe in and spread to their friends and family. These stories — which all come from nebulous origins that may or may not be based in reality — are an important part of who we are as a group. They give insight into our common fears, beliefs, and sense of history.
Urban legends are generally built on the foundation of an easily understandable narrative. As such, the facts don’t necessarily need to be true, but the circumstances around them generally make sense to most people. This same logic can explain why some fairytales and legends are so popular. For example, in the story of Little Red Riding Hood, the idea of a wolf eating a woman whole is absurd. However, the trope of a young child visiting her grandmother is comfortable and familiar. The same logic can be applied to urban legends. As they pass from person to person, the facts which may or may not have existed at one time become distorted by the fanciful details that people use to make the story more interesting.
Just like a good fairytale, there are many urban legends whose origins we can now trace back to their inception. This doesn’t make the urban legend any less fun. It just illustrates how we’ve embroidered the details over time and shows what kind of stories that we collectively enjoy.
Some urban legends, it turns out, are actually based in fact. Here are some of the most popular urban legends in the world, along with an explanation of the real-life events that served as their foundation.
The Alice Killings – Japan
One of the creepiest and most terrifying urban legends is the myth of the Alice Killings in Japan. Surprisingly, it got its start recently.
The story that spread around the country was that there was a serial killer, who was supposedly active between 1999 and 2005. They killed dozens of people — none of whom knew each other or were connected in any way. The only evidence that the killer left on the scene was a playing card with the word “Alice” written in the victim’s blood.
This urban legend was later traced back to a serial killer named Alfredo Galan. Galan was convicted of six murders in Spain in 2003. He marked his victims with playing cards, which is likely how the urban legend of the Alice Killings got started.
Charlie No-Face – Pennsylvania
One of the most popular American urban legends is the story of Charlie No-Face, also known to some as the Green Man. The story went that if you were traveling on State Route 351 between New Galilee and Koppell, Pennsylvania, you could potentially catch a glimpse of Charlie No-Face, a man — or demon, depending on who you asked — with no eyes, no nose, and only one arm.
The truth of the story is that the person known as Charlie No-Face was actually a man named Raymond Robinson. He was horrifically burned on electrical wires when he was a child. Robinson would get fresh air at night to avoid the horrified stares that followed him during daylight hours, which is how the legend first began.
The Dog Boy – Arkansas
Another popular American urban legend is the Dog-Boy, a werewolf-like figure who roamed the small town of Quitman, Arkansas. People said that he was once a man. Unfortunately, after he died, his ghost stayed in the area and now goes about on all fours with shaggy hair like a dog. Other people claim that he’s actually a tall man wearing a brown jacket and bow tie.
While the ghost part of the urban legend is false, there was a man in Quitman named Gerald Bettis. He was so terrifying that his neighbors began to concoct legends around his very existence. Born in 1954, Bettis was a strange and cruel child from birth. His father died under mysterious circumstances and his mother was eventually removed from their home by adult protective services. His mother testified against him and he died in prison in 1980.
Medicine Cabinet Portal – Chicago
No one wants to believe that there are parts of their home that are extremely vulnerable to forced entry. The urban legend of the Medicine Cabinet Portal — which was most famously portrayed in the 1992 movie Candyman — involves a murderous creature bursting through a medicine cabinet to wreak havoc on the home.
Although the stories that spread after that movie all cited a supernatural being using the medicine cabinet as an entry portal, there are some true aspects to the story. In 1987, a Chicago woman was murdered after a group of intruders gained access to her house through her bathroom medicine cabinet. They were able to easily hack through the cabinet from the apartment on the other side of the wall.
The Bunny Man – Virginia
Another American urban legend whose origin is at least partially based in fact is Medicine Cabinet Portal. In Virginia, adults and children alike have told the story of the Bunny Man. He’s a murderous lunatic who enjoys skinning rabbits, and frequently kills passersby and hangs their bodies over the Colchester Overpass.
It turns out that these stories were all based on a few anecdotal cases that happened in the 1970s. The first was a young couple who were parked by the side of a field when their car window was smashed in by a man in bunny ears wielding an axe. A week later, another man saw a figure standing on a porch who was dressed in a bunny costume and wielding an axe.
Le Loyon – Switzerland
In Switzerland, near the Maules Forest, locals used to gossip about a secretive figure that they called Le Loyon. Le Loyon was a tall man who would roam around the forest dressed in a long camouflage boiler suit and a gas mask.
Although there were some rumored sightings, people mostly considered the figure an urban legend. That was until someone took a clear photo of Le Loyon in 2013. After that, people started streaming into the forest to try and see him for themselves. Later that year, hikers found a folded camouflage suit with a note from Le Loyon explaining that he was a real person and only came into the forest in his mysterious gear for “happiness therapy.” Also, Le Loyon seemed quite upset that his relaxing forest walks had been ruined.
The Catman of Greenock – Scotland
People in Scotland love their urban legends. You can’t throw a stone there without hitting some kind of Loch Ness Monster memorabilia.
One of the more unusual urban legends in Scotland that turned out to be true is the legend of the Catman of Greenock. The Catman is a feral, balding figure who makes his home around Greenock and is often seen eating rats. Most people shrugged off sightings as urban legends until someone actually caught the mysterious figure on video in 2007.
Rumors about his origin are just as confusing as his strange appearance. Now, there’s a whole Facebook group dedicated to Catman and his unusual habits. However, there haven’t been any new sightings since 2017.
Polybius – Oregon
In the 1980s, an urban legend about a video game called Polybius started to spread around Oregon. Young people who enjoyed arcade games were being told about a video game that was really a government experiment and was designed to give children nightmares and seizures. There were also rumors that government agents would come into the arcade through the game console and extract information from the players who would be too hypnotized to resist.
In truth, this urban legend is almost entirely false. It was most likely based on true news reports that several people had had epileptic reactions to another game called Tempest.
Gator in the Sewers – NYC
One of the most popular urban legends in New York City is that there is a colony of alligators living in the sewers. It’s an especially popular story to tell tourists, whose wide-eyed acceptance of the story as fact makes locals chuckle.
However, there has been at least one alligator found in New York City. A baby alligator, which most likely started as a pet, was found in a sewer in 2010. In more temperate areas of the country, where alligators live in the wild, finding a few alligators in the sewers after large storms are common.