True and Untrue Urban Legends

ByABC News
February 26, 2002, 12:35 PM

Feb. 19, 2002 -- -- 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, 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.