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10 Crazy Urban Legends With Way More Truth To Them Than You Imagined

by Gregory Myers
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The Internet is stuffed to the gills with urban legends of every kind. In general, they exist to shock you or make you believe something ridiculous in order to get a few more clicks. While sites like Listverse do their best to debunk these legends, some of us become so tired of all the nonsense that we simply dismiss anything absurd-sounding as soon as we hear it.

However, while most urban legends are indeed nonsense, some of the crazier ones have way more underlying truth than you would have ever imagined. Sometimes, the truth is even more disturbing than the legend.

10 The Real Russian Sleep Experiment Kept Puppies Awake Until They Died

We’ve all heard of the crazy urban legend of the so-called “Russian Sleep Experiment,” an alleged experiment that later turned out to be a story made up for a creepypasta. The legend tells of several political prisoners who are offered their freedom in exchange for taking part in a sleep study where they are kept awake with gas for weeks in order to see how lack of sleep affects their behavior and functioning. By the time the entire ordeal is over, the test subjects have gone entirely and disturbingly insane, and the story seems unclear how much of it was lack of sleep and how much of it was gas.

While these experiments were not performed on people, a Russian scientist named Maria de Manaceine did perform some forced wakefulness experiments on live subjects during the 1890s.[1] While it may not have been considered ethical to perform this experiment on people, she decided that puppies would be the next best thing to test. Multiple dogs were tested over a period of weeks and were kept awake through forced handling and walking. They were given more than enough food and water but quickly developed lesions on their brains and died within just a few days. The experiment, while horrendously cruel, proved that even with all other nutrients properly taken care of, the brain simply cannot handle a lack of sleep—we need it like we need food and water.

9 Black Cats May Not Be Sacrificed On Halloween, But They Are Used As Costume Accessories

One of the most persistent urban legends of all time, going back countless ages, is the belief that cats, especially those that are black or at least a solid color of some kind, are responsible for luck of various sorts. Black cats in particular are often thought of as bad luck, and other people accuse those who practice Satanism or witchcraft of using black cats in their alleged evil rituals—especially in ways that would injure or otherwise mistreat the animals.

The most persistent legend that has sprung up around all of this is that those who practice dark rituals are going out and adopting black cats during the days around Halloween so that they can sacrifice them during some kind of evil black mass. However, to date, there is no evidence whatsoever that this is happening in any kind of widespread form. This doesn’t mean that placement services that adopt out animals are keen on letting people just go and adopt a black cat during the days around Halloween. While a few have relaxed restrictions, some have made them stronger due to more realistic concerns: They’re worried that people looking to get a cat, especially a black one, right around Halloween may just be looking for a costume accessory and won’t properly take care of the animal in the long run.[2]

8 Tug-Of-War Games Have Taken Off Fingers And Entire Arms

A game of tug-of-war is a staple of picnics and other large events and is also one of the most wholesome and safe games you can play, as far as most people are concerned. It’s a team exercise that generally bonds people and leaves everyone laughing and enjoying themselves when one team wins and the other gets dragged along across the line. However, tug-of-war can be one of the most dangerous games in the entire world, especially when proper safety is not being accounted for. Now, we don’t want people to get the wrong idea; if you’re playing with just a few friends per side, these kind of issues are unlikely to be a problem, but the more people involved, the greater the chance that things can go terribly, terribly wrong.

As the old saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye . . . or a hand. And tug-of-war has a history of people losing lots of hands and fingers—far more than most people would ever have imagined. Back in the 1970s, a group of 2,300 middle school students in Pennsylvania attempted a world-record tug-of-war game.[3] The rope snapped, and over 200 students were injured, with several losing their thumbs. In a 650-player game at a Boy Scout event in Germany in 1995, over 100 children were injured and two killed when the rope snapped. In another celebration competition in Taiwan in 1997, at least 40 people were injured, and two people lost their left arms, in a 1,600-person tug-of-war match.

There simply isn’t a rope designed to hold the pulling force of thousands of human beings, and when it inevitably snaps, the forces have to go somewhere. With so many people involved, deaths and serious injuries are almost a certainty.

7 A Lawyer Jumps Through A Plate Glass Window To His Death To Test Its Strength

The story of someone accidentally face-planting themselves through a glass window of a skyscraper and falling to their deaths is a rumor that has been thrown around for as long as skyscrapers have existed. While most people do think of skyscraper windows as pretty strong and figure they could withstand some serious abuse, they’re still happy to be careful around the windows and not tempt fate, even if the fear is unjustified. However, one man named Garry Hoy, back in 1993, decided that he didn’t believe any of that nonsense about windows not holding human weight and decided to put it to the test.[4]

He first started by making it look like people were, indeed, foolish to believe that it was a bad idea to try to run face-first into a skyscraper window. He pulled off his stunt multiple times, each time believing that the chance of anything happening was exactly zero. However, one day, he tempted fate one too many times. He was showing off to some law school students at the high rise of the firm where he worked as a law partner and ran into the same window twice. Why he gave a second attempt on the exact same window we will never know, but on the second run at the window, it gave way, and Garry plummeted all the way down to his inevitable death.

As far as anyone knows, Hoy was a very bright young lawyer who wasn’t suicidal and just had a trust for windows that he shouldn’t have had. When interviewed, a building engineer said that the windows simply weren’t built to stay in their frames when a 73-kilogram (160 lb) human goes flying into them. The engineer seemed more surprised that the tragedy hadn’t happened on one of his earlier attempts.

6 Dogs Were Used As Living Drug Mules And Then Sliced Open Upon Reaching Their Destination

Some of the most horrific stories that have made the rounds involve smuggling, especially the evil lengths that some smugglers will go to, even involving their own children or pets if necessary. One of the most enduring urban legends claims that drugs were stuffed inside an already dead baby, and a woman was asked to pretend it was her child to get it through customs. Unfortunately for the smugglers, and the sanity of customs officials, she was caught with her macabre cargo. However, this popular story has never been proven to be true, and every account is from a site that can actually be fairly labeled as “fake news.”

While there’s no evidence that anyone ever stuffed a dead baby full of drugs, that doesn’t mean that drug traffickers haven’t gone to horrible lengths in order to hide their drugs. Dozens of people in Italy were arrested in 2013 when their heinous plot was uncovered: They were making dogs swallow drugs, using the dogs to sneak through customs, and then slicing the canines open upon arrival at their destination in order to get the drugs back.[5] The whole plan finally started to unravel when a customs agent noticed that one of these dogs seemed sick and ordered an X-ray, finding the drugs in question and bringing an end to the smugglers’ diabolical scheme.

5 Dozens Of Contact Lenses Became Fused Together In A Woman’s Eye Over The Years

Photo credit: Rupal Morjaria

We’ve probably all heard the legend that if you leave a contact lens in your eye for too long, it can become fused with the eyeball and permanently stuck. In some versions of this legend, the contact cannot be removed, while in others, it just requires incredibly painful surgery to get it unstuck. However, while countless people have temporarily had a contact lens get stuck for a little bit, there is no evidence that contact lenses can actually become permanently fused with the eye, and most people go to the doctor and get a stuck contact taken care of before it becomes a bigger problem.

However, one woman from the UK went to the doctors in 2017 for cataract surgery and ended up having the procedure postponed because of the absolutely shocking thing that they found inside her eye. When they pulled up her eyelid, they found a blue mass that turned out to be multiple contact lenses fused together. After another examination, they found several more, for a total of 27 contact lenses that had been stuck in her eye for years.[6]

Apparently, the woman had experienced multiple occasions where she couldn’t find the contact in her eye, assumed it had fallen out, and just went ahead and put in another one, without ever bothering to consult a doctor as to whether that made sense as a strategy. While it is probably relieving for those with contacts to know that they won’t permanently fuse to your eyeball, it is also quite shocking to know that someone could manage to live having that many foreign objects stuck under their eyelid without going mad.

4 People Think Of Dangerous ‘Challenges’ As An Urban Legend, But Chubby Bunny Has Killed

Nearly every year, we hear about yet another stupid “challenge” that teens or children are undertaking in order to prove themselves and be silly in front of their peers. Many of these are a controversy over nothing and are quite harmless, and others simply aren’t happening on the level some parents imagine. For example, much of the hysteria lately centers around a “challenge” involving Tide Pods, but while the media would have you believe this is a horrific epidemic, and calls to poison control about the issue have spiked, there is no evidence yet of any death because of it.

However, while some challenges such as the above are overhyped, or actually do good like the Ice Bucket Challenge, some of the more innocent-sounding challenges are actually quite dangerous. The Cinnamon Challenge has caused people to go to the emergency room on more than one occasion because they started to choke, and the Chubby Bunny challenge has caused the deaths of children and adults alike. The challenge consists of the individuals involved trying to stuff as many marshmallows into their mouths as they can and then say “chubby bunny” with the proper articulation.[7] If you spit, cough, or choke, you lose. Unfortunately, games like this can be a choking hazard, especially when unsupervised children are involved, and Chubby Bunny could claim yet more lives if people continue to play it. Luckily, its popularity seems to have waned greatly over the years in favor of other challenges.

3 Skinny Jeans Can Actually Cut Off Circulation And Cause Medical Complications

Many people have heard the urban legend of a woman who wore her tight skinny jeans so much that she could no longer properly use her legs. The only solution was to amputate them from her body entirely, leaving her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. The story has been passed around by dozens of news outlets, but they all go back to the same tabloid story that has nothing whatsoever to truly back it up. However, that doesn’t mean that wearing skinny jeans is entirely safe or all that good for you.

Now, if you’re worrying about getting a blood clot and dying, you should rest easy. Doctors don’t believe the tightness from skinny jeans can actually cause a blood clot. However, they do believe that if you wear them tightly enough and do a lot of moving around, you could potentially squash the nerves (not pinch them, though) and temporarily give yourself serious discomfort and make it very hard to walk on your own. A case study in Australia tells of a woman who wore her skinny jeans while helping a friend move.[8] She did a lot of bending and squatting, and she started to feel sore, swollen, and numb in the legs as the day wore on. When she went to walk home, she collapsed from the numbness and had to be taken to the hospital. She kept her legs just fine, but it was a few days of treatment before she was let out and was able to walk normally again on her own.

2 Hanging Your Head Out The Window Of A Car Might Not Decapitate You, But You Can Still Die

Many of us have stuck an arm, or even a whole head, out the car window occasionally to enjoy a breeze or even allowed a child or a pet to do so. It would seem on its face as harmless fun to most people, who don’t really consider just how close cars often get to each other or to other things they are passing. Now, there has long been the legend going around, perhaps started by the more worried mothers of the world, that if you stick your hand or head out the window of the car, you may just hit something and have that entire body part sheared clean off.

This is simply not the case. Unless you’re actually hitting a sharp enough surface, it is unlikely that you’re going to have your head ripped from your body. And likewise, unless your arm hits an edge or is caught on something, it is unlikely to be pulled clear off. However, this doesn’t mean that there is no danger. There have been multiple recorded incidents of people banging an arm while holding it out the window and breaking it or hitting their head while hanging it out and dying because their neck was snapped internally.[9]

1 There Is Little Evidence That Cell Phone Use Causes Cancer, But Landlines Can Kill You

The risk of getting some kind of cancer or other brain damage from using a cell phone is something that has been tested and speculated on since essentially the beginning of cell phones but has never been truly proven or disproven to anyone’s satisfaction. Even if there were some risk, it would likely be to those who are constantly holding the phone up to their ear—a way of using phones that is becoming less common with each passing generation.

However, while older people tend to like to decry the dangers of new technology, in this particular case, when it comes to telephones, the greater and more proven danger relies with landlines, the older kid on the block. While deaths from doing so are relatively rare, the warning to not use your landline during a thunderstorm is a very good one that should be heeded. If the lightning strikes the telephone line while you’re using it, the risk of electrocution is real, and there are indeed well-documented deaths that have been caused by this phenomenon. The younger generation should beware, though: Talking on or using a cell phone that is plugged into a charger could potentially hold a similar risk, especially if the charger isn’t plugged into a surge protector.[10]

fact checked by Jamie Frater