True and Untrue Urban Legends

A woman on a flight from Scandinavia to the United States had to be pried free by a rescue team after a high-pressure vacuum flush sealed her to the toilet seat of a Boeing 767.

At least that was the story in mid January, when it was featured in dozens of newspapers, Web sites, and TV reports. According to Reuters, the unnamed woman had filed a complaint with Scandinavian Airlines System.

"She could not get up by herself and had to sit on the toilet until the flight had landed so that ground technicians could help her get loose," an airline spokeswoman said. "She was stuck there for quite a long time."

Only days later, the story turned out to be untrue. The airline claimed it mixed up a fictional exercise from staff training with the real thing. No woman ever filed such a complaint.

But the "Sky Toilet" story won't die that easily. It's likely to live on as an urban legend that will haunt gullible air travelers for years to come — just like the tale of the tourist who was drugged by organ thieves and woke up with both kidneys missing. Great story. Never happened.

But many urban legends are true — or at least "based on a true story," as they say in Hollywood.

Here's a bone chilling story that's undeniably true: On the day that American Airlines Flight 587 crashed in New York, both of New Jersey's winning Pick 3 lottery combinations included the numbers 5, 8, and 7. The morning drawing was 5-7-8. The later drawing was 5-8-7.

"Urban legends are not the same thing as fictional tales," says Barbara Mikkelson of Agoura Hills, Calif., who runs www.snopes.com, one of the leading Web site that investigates urban legends.

"A story becomes a legend when it is circulated widely and regarded as the truth. Whether they actually occurred or not is irrelevent."

Some classic legends are completely false (The brassiere was invented by Otto Titzlinger). Others have a basis in fact (Coca-Cola once contained cocaine). And the stories change with the time. Snapple was once said to be owned by the KKK, now it is rumored to be run by Osama bin Laden.

"When you look into legends, you see that they tell us a lot about our fears and obsessions" said Mikkelson. "That's why they make for good storytelling."

With the help of Snopes.com's terrific database of some 1,500 urban legends, here are some strange but true tales. You may have heard variations that have fictional embellishments. At least this much is for real: True Urban Legends

The Leaping Lawyer — A lawyer demonstrating the safety of windows in a Toronto skyscraper deliberately crashed through a pane of glass and plunged to his death. Garry Hoy, 38, fell from the 24th floor of the Toronto Dominion Bank Tower in 1993 as horrified witnesses watched.

The Accidental Video Porn Star — In 1986, the sheriff of Council Grove, Kansas, (population 2,300) accidentally returned an erotic video of him and his wife having sex to his local rental store. Soon, everyone in town seemed to have a copy.

Cadaver Kin — In 1982, A student at the University of Alabama School of Medicine recognized one of the nine cadavers taken to her class for dissection. It was her great aunt, who had at one time discussed the merits of donating one's body to medical science.

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