Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Brock. Brock Wonders, “Why do people believe in urban legends?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Brock!

Have you ever been to the Big Apple? That’s right. We’re talking about New York City. If you visit anytime soon, you might want to be careful if you go underground to use the subway. After all, danger lurks under the streets of the city.

What kind of danger? The kind that has sharp teeth and a powerful bite! Did you know that the sewers under the city are teeming with alligators? According to a friend of ours, it’s like a southern bayou swamp down there.

Apparently, many years ago, visitors from the south moved to New York City and brought alligators with them as pets. Over time, some people got tired of them and simply dumped them into the sewers, where they’ve multiplied over the years.

Is this true? Nope! But you might be surprised to learn how many people believe it is. The “alligators in the sewers of New York City” story is one of the most enduring urban legends of our time.

An urban legend is a modern fictional tale that passes from one person to another. They are told as the truth, but most of them end up being mostly, if not totally, false. Despite being false, they reach a wide audience, because they are passed along from person to person like the latest news.

Of course, there are a few urban legends that are mostly true. These may be tales that are based on actual events but have evolved over time into fantastic tales with bits of truth in them.

No one knows for sure how urban legends get started. Because they are so widespread, it’s almost impossible to trace them back to their source. Instead, they seem to appear out of nowhere.

Some urban legends take the form of “facts” that turn out not to be true. Others are passed along as stories. Some urban legends are intended to be cautionary tales that serve to warn people about certain types of people or behavior. Other urban legends are purely for entertainment.

Why do urban legends spread so quickly? Part of the reason has to do with the stories themselves. They’re simply interesting. They’re also often passed along as if they came from a friend. If a story has the ring of truth to it and was passed along by a friend and is entertaining, too, why not pass it along?

Here are a few popular urban legends you may have heard at one time or another:

  • The Good Samaritan: This story has been around for many years in various forms. The basic gist of the story is that a Good Samaritan stops to help someone with a flat tire. The motorist asks for the Good Samaritan’s address, so he can send a reward. Sometime later, the Good Samaritan receives a check for $10,000 from a well-known celebrity who happened to be the stranded motorist.

  • Frozen Disney: It has been rumored for years that Walt Disney, upon his death, was cryogenically frozen, so that he might be brought back to life in the future when technology advances. Of course, this story is absolutely false, but it continues to be passed around!

  • The Vanishing Hitchhiker: Another popular tale that has been passed around for many years in various forms is that of the vanishing hitchhiker. As the story usually goes, a driver picks up a hitchhiker on a lonely country road. When he drops off the hitchhiker at her house, he turns around to discover she has disappeared from the backseat! When he rings the doorbell of the house, he learns that the hitchhiker has actually been dead for many years and died on the stretch of road where he picked her up. Creepy, huh?

Some urban legends are a little bit scary. Others are funny. Some even try to teach a lesson. Do you know any other urban legends? These stories are fun to tell, but make sure you always look into them! It’s never a good idea to pass along a story as true if you know that it’s fictional.

Standards: CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day is written in permanent ink…or is it?