The Strangest, Yet Somewhat Factual, Urban Legends About New York
As we tailspin into 2023, let us find comfort in no matter how bumpy the landing, the year end finale was adequately numbed by highly caloric cocktails, finger foods that don’t subscribe to portion control, reliving family traumas, and the yearly reminder that for the majority of your childhood you were gaslit by the people you trusted, using Santa Claus as the vehicle for control.
To this day, I am still shocked that the entire adult populous was able to shroud us from the truth during our single digit years, letting us live peacefully in a completely illogical alternative reality. If I ruminate a bit too long on this, the wheels of my own life start to fall off and before I know it, I’m having an extensional crisis on the phone to an Amazon customer service representative, forcing them to patiently sit through my self-exploration into the viability of the real-life Matrix theory.
The world is full of urban legends that some people playfully entertain and others run with at 90mph, those we lovingly coin “conspiracy theorists”. NYC is no stranger to these tall tales…yet some are far from fabrication. So without further ado, the most popular myths about Manhattan:
1. The are eight million rats in the city
Rumor has it that there are as many rats as humans in the city. Normally, animal populations are calculated with the “capture-recapture” technique, where marked critters are released and estimates are based on the percentage recaptured. The Department of Health quashed this plan and instead a statistician used 311 calls reporting rodent sightings to calculate a tally: There are only about 2 million, which means we will win the inevitable rats-versus-humans war.
2. There’s a whole society, know as the Mole-people, living in the subway tunnels
With rent as expensive as it is, why wouldn’t there be people living underground? The 1993 book “Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City” contends there’s even an organized society with appointed positions…but there’s little in the way of proof. In the 1980s, the underground community thrived, particularly in a tunnel that runs under Riverside Park. While the city is doing a better job patrolling the tracks these days, there are countless abandoned stations and unused tracks where estimates say thousands of people still live.
3. The ghost ship spotted on the Hudson River
Back when New York was just a small village, reports surfaced of a spooky ship floating on the river. Seen at dusk on foggy days, many say it was the spirit of Henry Hudson’s Half Moon, which ran aground in 1609 due to the crew’s carelessness. Supposedly the craft serves as a warning: Don’t go out on the water that day.
4. The Empire State Building and the “automotive Bermuda triangle”
We’ve heard of that deadly patch in the Atlantic where ships disappear, but years ago in Manhattan, motorists reported a similar phenomenon in an equally nerve-racking spot: midtown. In 2008, drivers stated that within a five-block radius of the Empire State Building, their cars would break down and when tow trucks moved them a few blocks away from the skyscraper, they allegedly came back to life on their own. Just as inexplicably as these reports began, they stopped, leaving only rush-hour traffic to terrify drivers.
5. Can a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State kill someone?
We’ve all heard it before: if you drop a penny from the top of the Empire State Building and it strikes a pedestrian on the street, it would be enough to kill them due the speed the coin would attain on its 1,250-foot journey down. Thanks to physics, his has proved to be false! The light one gram penny actually does not carry enough weight to collect nearly enough speed or energy to kill anyone from any height. However, a roll of pennies is quite a different story.
6. And last but not least – sewer alligators
Many years ago when this was legal, wealthy city dwellers once brought back alligators from Florida to domesticate, and as the story goes, owners who tired of their “pets” would flush them down the toilet. In 1932, The New York Times reported a gator sighting on the banks of the Bronx River, and in 1935, teenagers were said to have seen one crawl out of a sewer on E 123rd. But is it plausible? Experts say the water in New York’s sewers is too cold and toxic for alligators to survive very long, especially if they’re eating rats and raw sewage