12 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, October_30, 1998
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Similar stories are told at Yale University,
Northwestern University and the University of
California at Los Angeles.
Sounds too stupid to be believed by college students, does-
Some students at this University believe that the David
M. Dennison Physics and Astronomy Building is sinking into
the ground, only this time "it's true!"
"That one's still around?" said Joe Saul, a University alum-
nus, "I (actually) believed that one."
This story is an example of what is commonly referred to
as an urban legend, and the gradual sinking of a building is
not the only legend circulating on the University of
Many students have already heard the most recent urban
legend circulating around the University - a mass murder
that is rumored to occur on Halloween, in an H-shaped resi-
dence hall, near a cemetery and/or railroad. A psychic on the
Oprah show made this prediction, many students say.
The University's Mary Markley Residence Hall fits this
description. Students living at Markley are nervous, and
many are leaving the residence hall for the Halloween week-
Nicole Proulx, an LSA first-year student, said when she
first heard the story, it was more general - there was going
to be a mass murder in a large university. Eventually, the
rumor "progressed into something more specific," leading to
the most recent variation that claims the murder is going to
occur in Markley.
"Quite a few people are going home that night," said
Prouix, who is a resident of Markley. Proulx intends to stay
in a friend's room in West Quad Residence Hall.
But another Markley resident, Jodie Seshdari, said "I don't
believe it" and was very firm in stating "I'm staying here."
Some students at Markley do not believe that there ever
was such a psychic on Oprah, or that the rumor has any truth
But students have said they are afraid someone may act on
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MIchigan Daily from Nov. 1, 1983, refuted
the urban legend that there would be a
Markley mass murder that Halloween.
Students throughout the country have heard about this psy-
chic on Oprah but Audrey Pass, a senior publicist for the
Oprah show, said that the rumor "is completely false. There
was no such person on our show."
This is an urban legend that has affected this University as
well as several other universities including Michigan State
University, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University
and Kent State University in Ohio.
"The rumor you (are asking about) I heard just 20 minutes
ago about Kent State," said sociology Prof. Jerry M. Lewis
of Kent State University in Ohio.
The same rumor circulated around the University in 1983 but dates back
to 1968, said Saul, who now does consulting for the Information
Technology Division at the University.
"I lived in Markley," Saul said. "The rumor was very big that year. It
was "predicted by Jeanne Dixon."
He said the rumor he heard claimed the murder would take place in a
residence hall near a cemetery shaped like a letter at a Big Ten school
beginning with a "W" or an "M."
"The way most people reacted was by being in large groups," Saul said.
Sociology Prof. Joel Best said that at Southern Illinois University, "Most
of the stories circulate nationally but are given local details."
Jacky Levin, a University of Wisconsin first-year student, heard the
same rumor, with a slightly different variation - there is going to be a
mass murder of 12 people at an H-shaped residence hall (of which there
are three on the campus), near a railroad at her school.
There are even more variations of the rumor.
A popular variation is "all the girls are going to be raped then murdered
by guys dressed up as Little Bo Beep," said LSA first-year Rob Lange, a
Levin, said that she also heard the Little Bo Beep variation of the story.
"I heard that there was going to be a mass murder at some Jewish event"
on Halloween, Levin said.
Rachel Kaplan, a University of Wisconsin first-year student, added yet
another variation of the rumor that circulated around campuses. "I heard
that it was going to be a bomb and over 500 people were going to die."
Kaplan, who lives in the Ogg Residence Hall, an H-shaped residence
hall, believes "the rumor is damaging in it of itself' because "with this
rumor going around there can be accidents due to people trying to be
First-year Indiana University student Lindsay Cohen, who lives in the
McNut Residence Hall, another H-shaped building, agreed with Kaplan.
"You never know if there are psychos out there who want to make the
Kaplan and Cohen will not be staying
in their dorm rooms
Rumors are "attached to particular television programs" and "it's a
familiar way of authenticating" them, Best said.
Often times, when a rumor is discredited by its supposed source, the
origins of the rumor will change, Best said. For example, students who
claimed Oprah as their source may switch to Ricki Lake once Oprah's
show has disconnected itself, he said.
The psychological reason
Simon Bronner, a professor of sociology at Penn State University, said
"the coincidence of the rumors with the darkening fall season, the mistrust
of institutional life -especially for students away from the haven of home
- and the setting of many campuses in isolated arcadias undoubtedly
feeds the rumors."
"It captures ... confusion of campus life" Lewis said. "It has to be rele-
vant to your life."
Bronner said this is a time when colleges are not policing residence hall
life as much as in the past, which makes the campus seem to be "more
open but less protected" and "potentially open to dangerous strangers."
Putting the "urban" In "urban legend"
Hook-handed killers, alligator filled sewers, sinking libraries and
Neaman-Marcus Cookies are all examples of subject matter for urban leg-
Contemporary legend, rather than urban legend, is the widely accepted
name by American folklorists. Best said this is a more appropriate term,
because these legends do not always refer to urban areas.
Folklore is generally a rural thing, Best said. The stories people normal-
ly call folklore refer to rural areas and back country roads where witches
and goblins evoke terror.
"As a society, we don't believe in witches and goblins (any more), but
we believe in criminals," Best said.
Common themes of college legends deal with criminals and death, but
on a deeper level deal with isolation, sexuality and entering the adult world.
"They are ways of talking about anxieties that we have," Best said.
Remember being a first-year student at the University and hearing
legends about the lions of the Natural History Museum or how
walking on the gold "M" in the Diag caused blue book fail-
ends are a lack of community. They lessen the anonymity of the campus
and its inhabitants.
"These kinds of situations invite opinions," he said, "They're asking
advice among peers for cultural guidance of individuals among a mass
Students will talk about these stories, pass them along and then discuss
the hows and what ifs, Bronner said.
Best said legend themes often display embarrassment and hanky-
panky, changes of contemporary life and fears. Students pass them along
because they are exciting, he said.
"If the story is to be believed, it can act as a cautionary measure,"
Comedian or Storyteller?
Four students stay out late partying and oversleep - missing their final
exam. When they arrive the test is over. After lying to the professor and
saying they had a flat tire, the professor grants them a make-up the fol-
lowing week. The students study non-stop for the entire week. When
they get to the exam, there is only one question:
All of the students failed.
Could this potential "Seinfeld" episode be repeating an urban legend?
"The crucial thing is the word 'legend,'" Lewis said, "They persist like
myth, not like a rumor."
"Jokes are usually framed as a joke. They are told differently," Best
Typically, when people relay a legend they claim it is true. They
say things like "It's true!" or "I heard it from a friend who knows
"My wife came home telling a story about her boss' sister and I fin-
ished the story for her," Lewis said, "She honestly believed it was true."
Legends circulate widely through the country and the globe. They are
spread because they are interesting and they capture a truth about society,
"Urban legends are seldom dull. They have structure and logic. They
are easy to remember and tell," he added.
A widely accepted definition of an urban legend can be found on the
Internet newsgroup alt.folklore.urban.
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).
* Makes good storytelling.
Does not have to be false, although most are. Urban legends often
have a basis in fact, but it's their life after-the-fact (particularly in refer-
ence to the second and third points) that gives them particular interest.
Sometimes legends can be true or have true origins, like in the case of
the students with the flat tire.
How about the "If you roommate commits suicide, you
automatically get a 4.0"legend?
Saul said another University legend says that "if
the president can't get from his house to Fleming
(Administration Building) by sidewalk, then class-
es are canceled."
These stories try to familiarize students with
the campus and draw them into college life,