Tip any cows lately?

I grew up in Manhattan which is home to some of the most sophisticated–and skeptical–people, in the arts, finances, and media. It’s also home to an encyclopedic range of urban legends. I think the first one I ever heard–and believed–was that the NYC sewer system provided the perfect habitat for alligators.

Now, wait a second, before you dismiss this as crazy, back in the ’60s and ’70s there was a brief baby-alligators-as-pets fad. The problem, of course, was that baby alligators turn into BIG alligators. So, the legend suggested that people flushed the small alligators down their toilets before they got too big, creating a flourishing  underground reptile community.

I was reminded of the urban legend slice of our culture when someone posted this image to my Facebook feed.

Is this hydrant story true? Seems (mostly) believable. But I’m going to guess it’s legend (see, I’m much more skeptical nowadays).

What about the legend that folklorists have actually given its own name, “The Kidney Heist”–I bet I don’t even have to explain this to you, regardless of which version you’ve heard.

All of this got me to wondering about “rural legends.” Do they exist in the same abundance as urban legends? Do they exist at all?

A quick scan through Google yielded little. So, I contacted my folklorist friend, Varick Chittenden, who many of you know as the founder of Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY).

Varick seemed to affirm the limited number of rural legends. The closest we could really come up with is cow-tipping.

Here’s the thing, Wiki calls “cow-tipping” an urban legend. Not a rural legend, an urban legend. Okay, does the phrase “urban legend” include all such cultural legends, regardless of whether they are set in the city or country?

Varick also directed me to Snopes, the website for urband legends, old and new, and urban scams. Check out this site. It is fun, and funny. In addition to covering historic and contemporary “urban legends,” they rate each on a kind of “truthiness” scale.

So, this has pretty much stumped both Varick and me. We turn to you. Rural legends? Please share.

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6 Comments on “Tip any cows lately?”

  1. Needles says:

    If may well be an urban legend as it is one that farm kids play on city kids.

  2. Two Cents says:

    there’s the one about the farmer’s daughter…..

  3. Kirby Selkirk says:

    Careful, that’s my sister you’re writing about!

  4. Michael Greer says:

    There’s that very persistent rumor that the CIA dropped rattlesnakes into the mountains to combat something or other… There’s the ongoing discussion about whether there are mountain lions around here, and there’s the argument about coyotes breeding with dogs.

  5. Ellen Rocco says:

    Michael–yes, the animal legends do abound. A couple of years ago I think we satisfactorily cleared up the mountain lion legend: an occasional mountain is spotted or it’s tracks/spore are identified but this is always the result of an escaped exotic pet situation, according to DEC specialists. The late John Green, who taught biology at SLU and studied coyote behavior over decades, always told me that coyote and dogs can’t mate (has to do with estrus cycle, in part) but that coyote can certainly mate with wolves. Recent DNA analysis has confirmed John’s theories. It appears that the Eastern grey wolf has crossed successfully with our coyote population, which is why we are seeing larger and larger coyote (some biologists estimate that those large coyote carry over 50% wolf genetic material). But, no dog DNA found in tested coyote.

    Other animal legends?

  6. Ellen Rocco says:

    Oh, and one more clarification on the mountain lion legend: in the Adironack North Country, no sign of successful long term habitation or procreation.

    And, Kirby, I didn’t know you were my uncle…

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