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Click on Folklore Web Sites to Scare Up Some Weird, Creepy Urban Legends

October 08, 1998|ERIKA MILVY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The facial blemish that spawned a slew of spiders. The hospital janitor who accidentally killed a patient by unplugging his life support. The child actor who died from ingesting Pop Rocks and soda pop.

You know these stories. They're well-circulated at sleep-away camp. They crop up on every college campus. They are urban legends, and they're easy to smell: Any time you hear about an incident that happened to a friend of a friend or was told to a cousin of a neighbor you can bet your bottom dollar that said incident is an urban legend.

If you're too old for either camp or college and you need a quick fix of urban mythology, the Internet is a ripe breeding ground for such rumors. After checking out the creepiest, ickiest and weirdest myths in cyberspace, trot on over to Sony's Urban Legends Web site (http://www.spe.sony.com/movies/urbanlegend), where the sponsors of the recently opened horror flick "Urban Legends" are hosting a sweepstakes whereby e-mailers who submit their own legends win prizes (top winners get a private movie screening for their friends).

Just what exactly constitutes urban folklore? The folks at alt.folklore.urban. explain it thus: "An urban legend appears mysteriously and spreads spontaneously in varying forms, contains elements of humor or horror (the horror often "punishes" someone who flouts society's conventions). In current parlance, such myths are "memes"--a virus-like idea that is self-replicating.

The clearing house for a host of magically multiplying memes is http://www.urbanlegends.com. This site is the archive of urban legends for alt.folklore.urban. You may dish with fellow myth-spinners there or go directly to the site for a barrage of lore.

At the Urban Legend archive you can use the handy pull-down menu to select from a wide assortment of categories--animals, celebrities, movies, sex, Disney and lots more.

The tale-spinners at alt.folklore.urban are of a higher ethical caliber than your typical dirt-digger. In their discussion of the myth that a well-known actress is a hermaphrodite, they conclude: "We don't and will probably never know [the truth] and that's OK. [The actress] has a right to her privacy, and further speculation is tacky."

If the questionable veracity of such lore is getting to you, the Urban Legends Reference Pages at http://www.snopes.com provides the real dope on myriad rumors in a helpful color-coded way. Each rumor is followed by a red, yellow or green light indicating if said myth is true or not. (Red means no; green, yes; and yellow that the jury is still out.)

While it is in fact true that Charlie Chaplin's remains were stolen and held for ransom, it is not true that during the filming of the "Wizard of Oz," a Munchkin's on-set suicide was captured on film, according to the web site.

Now that word of mouth travels at bits per second and folklore has turned into Net lore, mythology may propagate faster, but debunking such myths is as simple as pointing and clicking.

Cybertainment with Erika Milvy moves from Calendar Weekend to the Friday Calendar section starting later this month.

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