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We’ve all heard these. They are often told in pubs by men who will swear blind that they are true, having had the original story from someone ‘who was actually there and saw it with their own eyes’.
Such as the story of the couple who came home from a night out to find their german shepherd dog choking on the landing. An emergency dash to the vet ensues and the vet, appalled, pulls two human fingers from the dog’s throat. The dog owners call the police and a fainting burglar is found bleeding under their bed.
Or the one about the joy riders in a stolen mercedes who are stopped by police who discover a dead body and 10 kilos of cocaine in the boot.
We all love these stories but it is given to few of us to start one.
Yes, I started an urban legend. Since I first told the story I have had it repeated back to me three times in increasingly embellished forms.
What happened was, a youth organisation asked if they could have a ‘spooky Hallowe’en tour’ of the castle then let us know at the last minute that they were bringing 30 kids ranging in age from 4 to 17. Panic. “You’ll have to do it too,” the boss said so I did, and naturally she took the little easily impressed kids and left me to deal with the bored jaded world weary teenagers.
Nobody is less impressed with anything than a fifteen year old girl. I engaged the boys all right by talking about impalements, the rack and the scolds bridle, but the girls just stood there hipshot, twirling their hair with one hand and texting each other with the other.
After 20 minutes or so I had run out of ghouls ghosts and gore so I started grafting made up stuff onto true stories to see how far I could go before someone noticed.
The final tale that broke the ice was about the great storm of 1938 [true] where the lightning was so bad that it struck the east tower of the castle and a huge chunk broke off, rolled down the bank and bounced into a back garden in Mill Street [true], flattening the chicken house and killing all the chickens [true].
“So if it’s a dark and stormy night,” I said, “and you are walking along Mill Street all alone and you hear …” *convincing chicken noises* [it’s probably my best impression] “then you will know you have heard the Phantom Chickens of Mill Street, the hearing of whom is supposed to presage doom and disaster for the inhabitants of ….”
And they finally cracked and had a good laugh and we could all go home, thank goodness.
About 18 months later two middle aged ladies caame into the museum and talk turned to ghosts, as it often does.
“Here’s a story you won’t have heard,” one of them said.
Yes, her auntie heard the phantom chickens in 1944 the night before she had a telegram from the War Office to tell her that her husband wouldn’t be coming home and again in 1952 the night before the death of George VI.
Each time the story gains in complication and power. The chickens have been prize birds that the owner hoped might pull his family out of poverty. The owner mourns too, his sobs mingling with the manic cackling. Stories want to be told and grow in the telling.
So that’s how I started an urban legend and I hope it’s still out there, flailing around with listeners saying “Naaaah, you’re having me on,” or drinking it in, altering it to suit their circumstances and passing it on in game of noisy Chinese Whispers.
What’s your favourite urban legend?