Urban legends are terrifying, though fortunately most of them aren't true...right?
Actually, more urban legends than you might think are rooted in true events. Sometimes knowing the truth about our favorite stories makes them even sadder; often it shows that the stories were born more out of fear than actual horror.
Here are six urban legends rooted in true events.
1. Charlie No-Face
This is a particularly sad story. Many people in Western Pennsylvania today tell stories about a horrifying man who haunts an abandoned train tunnel. In some stories, the man glows; in others, his skin emanates radiation.
Actually, the legend is most likely based on the fate of a poor boy named Ray Robinson, who was electrocuted by a trolley wire. As a result, his face was forever disfigured. He would sometimes take walks at night, and when villagers saw him they sometimes spun wild tales about his identity, turning him into a Boo Radley-esque figure even though really the guy was probably just trying to get some air.
2. Corpses Rotting in Hotel Rooms
Body Found In Hotel Room
You've probably heard some version of the story: A tired traveler enters a hotel room, only to smell something awful coming from under the bed, or out of the sink…
Unfortunately, these legends are somewhat rooted in reality. At Los Angeles's Cecil Hotel in 2013, guests complained of a terrible smell coming from the water for days before the body of 21-year-old Elisa Lam was discovered, having been decomposing in the hotel's water tank for two weeks.
Then there was the time when a couple in Atlantic City discovered a dead body in their mattress—and the time guests at the Budget Motel in Memphis discovered the body of a missing person named Sony Millbrook under their bed… Maybe we'll just stay away from hotels for now.
3. Subterranean Cities and Tunnels
Atlas Obscura - Puebla Tunnels
Many places have rumours about underground cities that exist just below ground, and the underground city concept has been fodder for countless fairytales (i.e. Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere).
But sometimes, just sometimes, there actually is an underground city humming just a few hundred feet below. Though most conspiracy theories about an underground city below Denver Airport have been debunked, Las Vegas actually has an underground city—which is sadly meant to shield tourists from the city's unhoused population.
As police's limitations prevented unhoused people from camping aboveground, more and more people began living in the city's underground flood tunnels. Pretty damn devastating if you ask me.
In slightly better news, for hundreds of years, residents of Puebla City, Mexico had told tales of an underground city that existed just beneath theirs. In 2015, a construction crew discovered a vast network of tunnels underneath the city's streets, which were believed to have been constructed in the 16th century and which are now open to tourists today.
4. The Killer Who Comes in Through the Bathroom Mirror
They Came In Through the Bathroom Mirror
The movie Candyman features a famous scene in which old medicine cabinets connect two apartments, allowing an interloper to enter through the mirror. This actually happened in real life.
In 1987, a woman named Ruthie Ann McCoy was shot to death by an intruder who came in through her medicine cabinet.
Tragically, Ruthie Ann called the police before she died, telling them that there was someone trying to knock down her medicine cabinet. The cops arrived, but when she didn't answer, they left—only to return to a grisly scene the next day.
5. The Funhouse Mummy
Children have long been entertained by stories of haunted house mummies actually being real corpses. Horrifyingly, this story is rooted in reality. In 1976, a movie crew filming The Six Million Dollar Manattempted to move what they thought was a prop corpse in a haunted house—and its arm came off, revealing human bone.
The body belonged to criminal mastermind Elmer McCurdy, who had been killed after robbing a train in 1911. McCurdy was embalmed and propped up in the funeral home as an exemplary showcase of the embalmer's work. After a while, two people who claimed to be family members showed up—but they were actually wily carnival workers looking to score a spooky attraction. McCurdy's body was shown all around the country on carnival tours before settling at the haunted house in Long Beach. Finally, after all these years, McCurdy's body is underground—but his legend lives on.
6. Staten Island's Cropsey
Cropsey Staten Island
A legendary boogeyman supposedly living in a condemned asylum on Staten Island turned out to be...real.
Rumours said Cropsey lived in the woods and murdered children, bringing them back to the remains of an old tuberculosis sanatorium where he lived. In actuality, the boogeyman was a former employee of the Willowbrook School, which was condemned in 1987. It had been home to over 6,000 developmentally challenged people (as opposed to the 2,000 it was supposed to hold). Cropsey was actually Andre Rand, a janitor who was arrested in connection with a number of disappearances shortly after the school closed. Rand has been linked to at least five murders.
So there you have it. The rumors of the boogeyman living in your walls might not be rumou]rs at all. Of course, if you really wanted true horror stories, you could just turn on the news.