Nostalgia hit like a summer rainstorm the other day, prompting bittersweet longing for the lazy, crazy days spent sharing scary stories in my 1960s childhood Here’s a look at three urban myths we shared as gospel at slumber parties and around campfires.
The story: A teen ratted her hair into a beehive, sprayed it into stiffness and neglected to wash it for weeks due to the hassle of ratting and spraying. Unbeknownst to her, a black widow spider crawled in, built a nest and laid eggs. When they hatched, the baby spiders bit the teen, killing her.
True or false? False, according to snopes.com, which researches urban legends.
The story disappeared in the 1970s when straight, long hair rendered beehives old-fashioned. However, it washed back into popular culture in the 1990s with some modifications: The victim was a man. The hairdo, dreadlocks. The spiders, unidentified.
Aspirin and Coke
At slumber parties in the late 1960s, we sometimes dissolved two aspirins in a bottle of Coca-Cola after the parents were asleep upstairs. Contrary to legend, it did not make you high, some of us learned from personal experience.
The myth may have started in the 1930s, according to snopes.com, when an Illinois doctor wrote the Journal of American Medical Association “to warn that teenagers were dissolving aspirin in Coca-Cola to create an intoxicating beverage” that was as serious a threat to teenagers as “narcotic habituation.”
Coke in aspirin turned out to be harmless for society’s young people. It later was discovered that both products can be worrisome for kids, but not because either makes you high.
Too much soda has been linked to obesity. And aspirin taken during the flu can result in Reye’s syndrome, a sometimes fatal reaction.
The hook hand
The story: A couple parks on lovers lane. A crazy man has escaped from an insane asylum. (Pardon the insensitive language, but it was the 1960s.)
The escaped man (for unknown reasons) has a hook for a hand. The girl is nervous about reports that a lunatic is on the loose, and is not in the mood to put out.
Her angry boyfriend puts the car into gear and speeds off. When he gets home, he discovers a hook hanging from the car-door handle, ripped away from the hook man as he was about to open the door.
What’s fun about this one? Its deeper meanings in the context of the 1960s.
The urban legend spoke to societal fears that women were getting “looser” just like the loose boys who couldn’t be expected to control themselves, theorizes Neal Litherland, a blogger and writer from Indiana who describes himself as a “genre-hopping tale teller who isn’t shy about taking his readers to some of the stranger corners of the human heart.”
In an online essay about this urban legend, Litherland writes: “Though sexually frustrated and upset, the boy realizes that if his girl had let him have sex with her, the maniac would have killed them both. Thus it shows that it is a woman’s responsibility to take the reins of sexual behavior firmly in hand, and that men should always bow to the woman’s lead.”
And the story, told around every campfire in the 1960s, reflected Cold War worries, too.
“The hook is often portrayed looking like a Soviet sickle,” Litherland writes. “It was thought that ideas like communism, and its elimination of religion and morality, would destroy youth’s upstanding honor and American traditions.”