HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA — Did you hear about the man who wrote his income tax check on the side of a cow? Did you know that Canada's five-dollar bill shows an American flag flying over the Parliament Buildings? Perhaps you were aware that Warner Bros. threatened to sue the Marx Brothers over their use of the word "Casablanca" in the film title "A Night in Casablanca," or that Ronald Reagan was Warner Bros.' first choice for the lead in Casablanca. You did? Well, it might be time to re-evaluate your trivia belief system since, as the Urban Legends Reference Pages demonstrate, none of these "facts" are true.
If you spend a good deal of time online, there's a good chance that you've occasionally crossed paths with the Urban Legends Reference Pages (also known by its URL of Snopes.com). Webmasters Barbara and David Mikkelson have been collecting these bits of underground culture since 1995, and their work has resulted in a comprehensive collection that includes most, if not all, of the urban legend classics ("Puff, the Magic Dragon" is a coded song about marijuana) as well as recent additions to the genre (a Pepsi can featuring the Pledge of Allegiance with the words "under God" omitted).
ULRP also includes actual events that, if they weren't backed up by facts presented at the site, would be considered apocryphal - such as Charlie Chaplin losing a Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest, or passengers on the Titanic viewing the 1911 version of The Poseidon Adventure as their ship struck the iceberg.
Exploring the collection can be achieved either by keyword search, or simple browsing. (In either case, the visit will probably be longer than planned, as you fall victim to the "just one more" syndrome.) For those who prefer browsing, entries are divided into more than 40 categories, including Autos, Crime, Food, Science, Military and Sports.
Some categories also demonstrate the large number of legends that can be generated about very specific subjects, such as Weddings, the Titanic, the Urban Legendary world of Disney, and -of course- Sex. (In fact, not surprisingly given the nature of urban legends, almost every category seems to hold at least a few items related to sexual reproduction and/or recreation and/or misadventure. Because of this, and the journalistically accurate language related to some stories, consider this site to have a PG rating, and don't let the cartoon-rich design fool you into allowing the kids unsupervised exploration.)
Each story has its own page and is introduced with a one line summary and color-coded ball, indicating the level of certainty the webmasters have in the veracity of the tale. The entries themselves can include impressive amounts of documentation, tracing the origins and evolution of specific legends, and in so doing, frequently revealing such hidden worlds as the Hollywood publicity machine (responsible for both of the Casablanca legends cited above or Madison Avenue (which increased Alka-Seltzer sales by simply telling customers to use two tablets instead of one).
If you prefer your Urban Legends hot off the press, or at least topical, the ULRP home page also maintains a list of the top searches (high on the list at time of writing was the hiring of a Klingon interpreter for psychiatric patients) as well as Today's News gathered from recent press coverage from around the world. If you manage to view everything, a What's New will point you straight to recent additions on return visits.
So, does a favorite scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark" owe its existence to a reported case of dysentery? Do we really use only ten percent of our brains? (Or, in some cases, less?) There's one way to find out.
The Urban Legends Reference Pages can be found at http://www.snopes.com/.