Archive for the 'Urban Legends' Category

19
Aug
08

Urban Legend: Old Ironsides

Sifting through myth and finding only the facts creates problems for historians and for someone not trained in history can lead to accepting myth for fact.  An urban legend that surrounds “Old Ironsides” illustrates the problem quite well.  I had another blog before I started this one.  An experimental blog that taught me about posting on the Internet and how people would react to those posts.  One of my posts for that blog was as follows:

 

Old Ironsides

The U.S.S. Constitution (Old Ironsides) as a combat vessel carried 48,600 gallons of fresh (remember that figure) water for her crew of 475 officers and men. This was sufficient to last six months of sustained operations at sea. She carried no evaporators (fresh water distillers). However, let it be noted that according to her log, “On July 27, 1798, the U.S.S. Constitution sailed from Boston with a full complement of 475 officers and men, 48,600 gallons of fresh water, 7,400 cannon shot, 11,600 pounds of black powder and 79,400 gallons of rum.”

Her mission: “To destroy and harass English shipping.”

Making Jamaica on 6 October, she took on, according to her log, 826 pounds of flour and 68,300 gallons of rum.

She then headed for the Azores, arriving there 12 November. She provisioned with 550 pounds of beef and 64,300 gallons of Portuguese wine. On 18 November, she set sail for England.

In the ensuing days she defeated five British men-of-war and captured and scuttled 12 English merchantmen, salvaging only the rum aboard each. By 26 January, her powder and shot were exhausted. Nevertheless, and though unarmed, she made a night raid up the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her landing party captured a whiskey distillery and took aboard 40,000 gallons of single malt Scotch aboard by dawn.

Then she headed home.

The U.S.S. Constitution arrived in Boston on 20 February 1799, seven [7] months after her departure, with NO cannon shot, NO food, NO powder, NO rum, NO wine, NO whiskey, and 38,600 gallons of stagnant water.*

*According to my calculations that is two and a half gallons of alcohol per man per day.

 

This post got the attention of a few people who then commented.  Here is one of those comments:

 

True story(ask the Navy):
http://www.navy.mil/navydata/people/secnav/dalton/speeches/aapa1008.txt

 

That comment got a rather spirited reply from Henry Sirotin, who is apparently well-versed in the history of that time period.  Henry made a compelling argument for why he felt this story is nothing more than an urban legend.  He refutes the validity of the claim by breaking down the inconsistencies with the story and placing them within known facts.

I don’t care if Dalton gave this story and the Navy included it in his speech list. It is false on the face of it- we weren’t fighting the British in 1798-1799, we were fighting the French, so this whole scenario would have been a declaration of war on Britain, and the Constitution never made European waters until 1803. And anyone who knows where the Firth of Clyde is would know that such a raid would be more than suicidal- totally constricted waters, for which you would need a pilot, no means of escape if pinned in, and a general location where she would easily be trapped, unarmed, and forced to run the gamut of the entire Irish Sea and RN units at Liverpool, Bristol, and Plymouth if the North Channel to the Atlantic were blocked.

I thanked Henry for his help with this story and was glad to have a great illustration on how to tell myth from truth.

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06
Apr
08

Darwin Awards: Flying…um…High!

May 23, 2007 044a

 

Plane Stupid
1981 Honorable Mention
Unconfirmed by Darwin

(February 1981, California) Phoenix Field airport in Fair Oaks had been subject to recurring petty thefts from neighborhood teenagers, so a security firm was retained to patrol the grounds. Thefts decreased sharply, but fuel consumption was on the rise. This puzzling situation continued until late one night, when a passerby noticed a flaming airplane on the field.

By the time the fire department arrived, the plane had completely melted into the tarmac. While they extinguished the residual flames, the passerby noticed a uniformed figure lying facedown several yards away. It was a security guard!

He was revived and questioned.

Turns out he had been siphoning fuel from small planes to use in his car. The plane he selected that night had a unique fuel storage system involving hollow, baffled wing spars. When the determined guard shoved the siphon in, it stubbed against the first baffle. No matter how he twisted, pushed, and pulled the hose, he could not siphon any fuel from the plane.

Exasperated, he lit a match to see inside the tank… and the rest is history.

4-1-0 Club
2004 Darwin Award Nominee
Confirmed True by Darwin

(14 October 2004, Missouri) When Peter and Jesse wanted to see what their new ride could do, like many young men, they got more than they bargained for. It was all fun and games until the vehicle stalled. In most cases this wouldn’t be a serious problem — but Peter and Jesse stalled at 41,000 feet.

You see, they weren’t pushing the old man’s car to the limit. They were flying a 50-passenger jet, a Bombardier CRJ200. Fortunately, there were no passengers aboard to share the fatal consequences.

“Paging the Darwin Awards, please pick up
the white courtesy phone.”

Jesse, 31, was captain of Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3701, and Peter, 23, was the co-pilot. They were transporting an empty plane from Little Rock, Arkansas to Minneapolis, where it was needed for a morning flight. They decided to see what that baby could do. Their fun began while ascending, as they pulled 1.8 G’s in a maneuver that activated an automatic stall avoidance system.

Then they decided to “forty-one it,” take the jet to 41,000 feet–eight miles–the maximum altitude the plane was designed to fly. The thrust of the engines pressed them into their seats with 2.3 times the force of gravity as they soared ever higher, laughing and cursing in a friendly manner, ignoring the overheating engines, and the stick shaker that warned they were operating outside of safe aerodynamic parameters.

At this point, Air Traffic Control contacted the pilots to find out what they were up to. A female controller’s voice crackled over the radio: “3701, are you an RJ-200?”

“That’s affirmative.”

“I’ve never seen you guys up at 41 there.”

The boys laughed. “Yeah, we’re actually a, there’s ah, we don’t have any passengers on board, so we decided to have a little fun and come on up here.”

Little did they know that their fun was doomed when they set the auto-pilot for the impressive climb. They had specified the [I]rate[/I] of climb rather than the [I]speed[/I] of the climb. The higher the plane soared, the slower it flew. The plane was in danger of stalling when it reached 41,000 feet, as the autopilot vainly tried to maintain altitude by pointing the nose up.

“Dude, it’s losing it,” said one of the pilots.

“Yeah,” said the other.

Our two flying aces could have saved themselves at that point. An automatic override began to pitch the nose down to gain speed and prevent a stall. Unfortunately, Jesse and Peter chose to overrule the override. Oops. The plane stalled.

“We don’t have any engines,” said one.

“You gotta be kidding me,” said the other.

Jesse and Peter still might have saved themselves. They were within gliding range of five suitable airports. Unfortunately, they did not reveal the full extent of their difficulties to the controller. They said that they had lost only one of the two engines. They glided for 14 full minutes, losing altitude all the way. As they drifted closer and closer to the ground at high speed, still unable to get the engines restarted, they finally asked for assistance: “We need direct to any airport. We have a double engine failure.”

Unfortunately, it was too late. “We’re going to hit houses, dude,” one of pilots said, as they desperately tried to reach an airport in Jefferson City. They missed the houses and the runway, crashing two and a half miles from the airport. Both men died in the crash.

“It’s beyond belief that a professional air crew would act in that manner,” said a former manager of Pinnacle’s training program for the Bombardier CRJ200.

Lawn Chair Larry
1982 Honorable Mention
Confirmed True by Darwin

(1982, California) Larry Walters of Los Angeles is one of the few to contend for the Darwin Awards and live to tell the tale. “I have fulfilled my 20-year dream,” said Walters, a former truck driver for a company that makes TV commercials. “I’m staying on the ground. I’ve proved the thing works.”

Larry’s boyhood dream was to fly. But fates conspired to keep him from his dream. He joined the Air Force, but his poor eyesight disqualified him from the job of pilot. After he was discharged from the military, he sat in his backyard watching jets fly overhead.

He hatched his weather balloon scheme while sitting outside in his “extremely comfortable” Sears lawnchair. He purchased 45 weather balloons from an Army-Navy surplus store, tied them to his tethered lawnchair dubbed the Inspiration I, and filled the 4′ diameter balloons with helium. Then he strapped himself into his lawnchair with some sandwiches, Miller Lite, and a pellet gun. He figured he would pop a few of the many balloons when it was time to descend.

Larry’s plan was to sever the anchor and lazily float up to a height of about 30 feet above his back yard, where he would enjoy a few hours of flight before coming back down. But things didn’t work out quite as Larry planned.

When his friends cut the cord anchoring the lawnchair to his Jeep, he did not float lazily up to 30 feet. Instead, he streaked into the LA sky as if shot from a cannon, pulled by the lift of 42 helium balloons holding 33 cubic feet of helium each. He didn’t level off at 100 feet, nor did he level off at 1000 feet. After climbing and climbing, he leveled off at 16,000 feet.

At that height he felt he couldn’t risk shooting any of the balloons, lest he unbalance the load and really find himself in trouble. So he stayed there, drifting cold and frightened with his beer and sandwiches, for more than 14 hours. He crossed the primary approach corridor of LAX, where Trans World Airlines and Delta Airlines pilots radioed in reports of the strange sight.

Eventually he gathered the nerve to shoot a few balloons, and slowly descended. The hanging tethers tangled and caught in a power line, blacking out a Long Beach neighborhood for 20 minutes. Larry climbed to safety, where he was arrested by waiting members of the LAPD. As he was led away in handcuffs, a reporter dispatched to cover the daring rescue asked him why he had done it. Larry replied nonchalantly, “A man can’t just sit around.”

The Federal Aviation Administration was not amused. Safety Inspector Neal Savoy said, “We know he broke some part of the Federal Aviation Act, and as soon as we decide which part it is, a charge will be filed.”

18
Mar
08

Urban Legend: Roping a Deer

Darwin says, “I cannot find an original soure, nor any confirmation. Snopes has not (as of 2/2008) addressed the veracity of this account. Its widespread presence on the Internet, and overall tone, leads me to consider it an Urban Legend. My edited version is shown below.”

Names have been removed to protect the stupid!

I had this idea that I was going to rope a deer, put it in a stall, sweet feed it on corn for a few weeks, then butcher it and eat it. Yum! The first step in this adventure was getting a deer.

Since they congregate at my cattle feeder and do not have much fear of me (a bold one will sometimes come right up and sniff at the bags of feed while I am in the back of the truck four feet away) it should not be difficult to rope one, toss a bag over its head to calm it down, then hog tie it and transport it home.

I filled the cattle feeder and hid down at the end with my rope. The cattle, having seen a roping or two before, stayed well back. They were not having any of it.

After 20 minutes, my deer showed up, 3 of them. I picked a likely looking one, stepped out, and threw my rope. The deer just stood there and stared at me. I wrapped the rope around my waist and twisted the end so I would have a good hold. The deer still just stood and stared at me, but you could tell it was mildly concerned about the whole rope situation.

I took a step towards it. It took a step away. I put a little tension on the rope, and received an education. The first thing I learned is that, while a deer may just stand there looking at you funny while you rope it, it is spurred to action when you start pulling on that rope.

That deer EXPLODED.

The second thing I learned is that, pound for pound, a deer is a LOT stronger than a cow or a colt. A cow or a colt in that weight range I could fight down with some dignity. A deer? No chance.

That thing ran and bucked, it twisted and pulled. There was no controlling that deer, and certainly no getting close to it. As it jerked me off my feet and started dragging me across the ground, it occurred to me that having a deer firmly attached to a rope was not such a good idea. The only upside is that they do not have much stamina.

A brief ten minutes later, it was tired, and not as quick to jerk me off my feet and drag me. It took me a few minutes to realize this, since I was mostly blinded by the blood flowing out of the big gash in my head.

At that point, I had lost my appetite for cornfed venison. I hated the thing, and would hazard a guess that the feeling was mutual. I just wanted to get that devil creature off the end of that rope. But if I let it go with the rope hanging around its neck, it would likely die slow and painful somewhere.

Despite the gash in my head, and several large knots where I had cleverly arrested the deer’s pell mell flight by bracing my head against large rocks as it dragged me across the ground, I could still think clearly enough to recognize that I shared some tiny amount of responsibility for the situation we were in. I didn’t want the deer to suffer a slow death.

I managed to get it lined up between my truck and the feeder, a little trap I had set beforehand, like a squeeze chute. I backed it in there, and I started moving forward to get my rope back.

Did you know that deer bite? They do!

I never in a million years would have thought that a deer would bite, so I was very surprised when I reached up there to grab hold of that rope, and the deer grabbed hold of my wrist. Now, when a deer bites you, it is not like a horse, it does not just bite and let go. A deer bites and shakes its head, like a pit bull. They bite HARD and won’t let go. It hurts!

The proper reaction when a deer bites you is probably to freeze and draw back slowly. I tried screaming and wrenching away. My method was ineffective. It felt like that deer bit and shook me for several minutes, but it was likely only several seconds.

I, being smarter than a deer (though you may be questioning that claim by now) tricked it. While I kept it busy tearing the bejesus out of my right arm, I reached up with my left hand and pulled that rope loose. That was when I learned my final lesson in deer behavior for the day.

Deer will strike at you with their front feet. They rear right up and strike at head and shoulder level, and their hooves are surprisingly sharp. I learned long ago that when an animal–like a horse–strikes at you with its hooves and you can’t get away, the best thing to do is make a loud noise and move aggressively towards the animal. This will cause them to back down a bit, so you can make your escape.

This was not a horse. This was a deer. Obviously, such trickery would not work. In the course of a millisecond, I devised a different strategy. I screamed like a woman and turned to run.

The reason we have been taught NOT to turn and run from a horse that paws at you, is that there is a good chance that it will hit you in the back of the head. Deer are not so different from horses after all, other than being twice as strong and three times as evil. The second I turned to run, it hit me right in the back of the head and knocked me down.

When a deer paws at you and knocks you down, it does not immediately depart. I suspect it does not recognize that the danger has passed. What they do instead is paw your back, and jump up and down on you, while you are laying there crying like a little girl and covering your head.

I finally managed to crawl under the truck, and the deer went away. Now I know why when people go deer hunting they bring a rifle with a scope. It’s so they can be somewhat equal to the prey.

http://darwinawards.com/legends/legends2007-02.html

17
Mar
08

Urban Legend: Unfortunate Husband

This guy pushed his motorcycle from the patio into his living room, where he began to clean the engine with some rags and a bowl of gasoline, all in the comfort of his own home. When he finished, he sat on the motorcycle and decided to give his bike a quick start and make sure everything was still OK. Unfortunately, the bike started in gear, and crashed through the glass patio door with him still clinging to the handlebars.

His wife had been working in the kitchen. She came running at the fearful sound, and found him crumpled on the patio, badly cut from the shards of broken glass. She called 911, and the paramedics carried the unfortunate man to the Emergency Room.

Later that afternoon, after many stitches had pulled her husband back together, the wife brought him home and put him to bed. She cleaned up the mess in the living room, and dumped the bowl of gasoline in the toilet.  

Shortly thereafter, her husband woke up, lit a cigarette, and went into the bathroom for a much-needed relief break. He sat down and tossed the cigarette into the toilet, which promptly exploded because the wife had not flushed the gasoline away. The explosion blew the man through the bathroom door.

The wife heard a loud explosion and the terrible sound of her husband’s screams. She ran into the hall and found her husband lying on the floor with his trousers blown away and burns on his buttocks. The wife again ran to the phone and called for an ambulance.

The same two paramedics were dispatched to the scene. They loaded the husband on the stretcher and began carrying him to the street. One of them asked the wife how the injury had occurred. When she told them, they began laughing so hard that they dropped the stretcher, and broke the guy’s collarbone.

15
Mar
08

Turn on the Air Conditioning

The 3 Goldberg brothers, Norman, Hiram, and Max, invented and developed the first automobile air-conditioner.

On July 17, 1946, the temperature in Detroit was 97 degrees. The 3 brothers walked into old man Henry Ford’s office and sweet-talked his secretary into telling him that 3 gentlemen were there with the most exciting innovation in the auto industry since the electric starter.

Henry was curious and invited them into his office. They refused and instead asked that he come out to the parking lot to their car.

They persuaded him to get into the car which was about 130 degrees – turned on the air conditioner and cooled the car off immediately. The old man got very excited and invited them back to the office, where he offered them $3 million for the patent.

The brothers refused, saying they would settle for $2 million, but they wanted the recognition by having a label, “The Goldberg Air-Conditioner,” on the dashboard of each car that it was installed in.

Now old man Ford was more than just a little anti-Semitic, and there was no way he was going to put the Goldbergs’ name on 2 million Fords.

They haggled back and forth for about 2 hours and finally agreed on $4 million, and that just their first names would be shown.

And so to this day, all Ford air conditioners show Norm, Hi and Max on the controls.

Now you know.

12
Mar
08

Urban Legends: The Letter

In Berlin, after World War II, money was short, supplies were tight, and it seemed like everyone was hungry. At that time, people were telling the tale of a young woman who saw a blind man picking his way through a crowd. The two started to talk. The man asked her for a favor: could she deliver the letter to the address on the envelope? Well, it was on her way home, so she agreed.

She started out to deliver the message, when she turned around to see if there was anything else the blind man needed. But she spotted him hurrying through the crowd without his smoked glasses or white cane. She went to the police, who raided the address on the envelope, where they found heaps of human flesh for sale. And what was in the envelope? “This is the last one I am sending you today.”

11
Mar
08

Urban Legend: The Watchful Painting

About 15 years ago, a man was attending university outside of London. The school is famous for its art gallery that draws visitors from all over England. His final exams were given in a cavernous hall with dozens of enormous oil paintings covering the walls, from floor to ceiling.

He noticed that one painting hanging to his right had been covered with a large British flag. Although he didnt think much of it at the time, he asked several of the 3rd year students if they knew anything about it and they told him the following story.

Apparently, the university had always given exams in this hall because it was the largest building on campus. A number of years ago, there was one student who could not concentrate on his final exams. He just kept staring at a certain painting, oblivious to everything around him. He stared and stared at this one particular painting.

While everyone else was scribbling down answers, he took two of his sharpened pencils, inserted them into his nose and slammed his head into the desk. The pencil tips penetrated straight into his brain, killing him instantly.

Ever since then, there has always been one painting in the gallery that is covered up during final exams. He went into the gallery one day to see the painting, and it is a portrait of a British nobleman from the 19th century. It is utterly unremarkable except for the fact that his eyes stare straight back at you the kind of painting that follows you wherever you move.

The only certainty in this story that he can vouch for is that every year hundreds of students shuffle into the hall to take their final exams and try, against all instincts and urges, to keep from continually glancing up at the British flag hanging from the wall above them.




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