Urban Legends

How many times have you received an email about a dying child wanting to be in the Book of Records for most postcards, or an especially sad story about some missing child? Often, these emails are based on urban legends or just plain phoney stories some prankster starts.

A number of sites can be used to verify these stories. Here are 2 well known ones.

Snopes dot com

Urban Legends at About dot com

Here is a great sample.

From The London Times:

Outside the Bristol Zoo, in England, there is a parking lot for 150 cars and 8 coaches, or buses.

It was manned by a very pleasant attendant with a ticket machine charging cars 1 pound (about $1.40) and coaches 5 (about $7).

This parking attendant worked there solid for all of 25 years. Then, one day, he just didn’t turn up for work.

“Oh well”, said Bristol Zoo Management – “we’d better phone up the City Council and get them to send a new parking attendant…”

“Err … no”, said the Council, “that parking lot is your responsibility.”

“Err … no”, said Bristol Zoo Management, “the attendant was employed by the City Council, wasn’t he?”

“Err … NO!” insisted the Council.

Sitting in his villa somewhere on the coast of Spain, is a bloke who had been taking the parking lot fees, estimated at 400 pounds (about $560) per day at Bristol Zoo for the last 25 years. Assuming 7 days a week, this amounts to just over 3.6 million pounds ($7 million).

And no one even knows his name.

Analysis: If ever there was a story too good to be true, this is it. Not only have reporters at the Bristol Evening Post investigated and found the tale of the phantom car park attendant to be “nothing more than an urban myth,” they have also pinned down its point of origin: the Bristol Evening Post!

“A version of the story did appear in the Evening Post two years ago,” explains an article in the June 13, 2009 edition of the paper, “in a feature on urban myths published to coincide with April Fools’ Day.”

So it’s a two-year-old April Fools prank gone viral, nothing more to it than that. For the record, the article further states that Bristol Zoo actually has several car parks — none of which are open to coaches — with a number of duly-hired attendants on duty.

So …… the next time you get some form of sob story asking you to forward it to EVERYONE you know, check it out first using one of the authority sites. Save some email bandwidth by stopping the stories in their tracks.

(p.s. I find the “kid with cancer”, or “missing kid” ones especially bothersome, as they get so many people’s emotions going when in fact they are fake stories)