Our urban legends "tour" reaches Idaho, Illinois and Indiana: Internet Scambusters #504
You probably notice how strange tales and urban legends that drop into your email inbox often include photographs that seem to authenticate the story they accompany.
In fact, many of these pictures are either changed using photo editing software or they are "snagged" -- clicked and copied from other sites -- and have nothing to do with the story.
This is certainly the case in the latest issue of our occasional state-by-state series on urban legends, which this week takes us to Idaho, Illinois and Indiana.
And now for the main feature...
Snagged Photos Used to Support Urban Legends
Urban legends -- tales of dubious origin and authenticity -- often are accompanied by photos that claim to provide proof that they're true.
That's a recurring theme in this week's collection of urban legends, part of our continuing alphabetical tour of the states of America that has now reached Idaho, Illinois and Indiana.
Of course, these days computer technology makes it fairly easy to manipulate the contents of photos. The camera may not lie but the photo editor certainly can!
That, however, is probably not the case in our first urban legend in this selection...
Idaho Urban Legends
Wolves have been a controversial subject and a political hot potato in Idaho since Canadian gray wolves were formally reintroduced into the state in the 1990s.
We're not going to enter that debate! But inevitably, urban legends have sprouted concerning the spread of wolves in the state, the growth of populations and the size of the beasts themselves.
According to the latest urban legends, some of these creatures have grown into real giants.
Photos that have circulated online for the past few years show hunters with truly gargantuan wolves that allegedly were shot in Idaho.
Experts say the photos haven't been doctored but the suggestion they were taken in Idaho is untrue.
They have been copied -- "snagged" -- off the Internet and are mostly of one animal being held by different people; it's thought they came from remote parts of Canada or even another country.
For the true picture of what's happening in the wolf world of Idaho, visit the state's Department of Fish and Game website.
Some fascinating photos have also been produced in support of Idahoans' claims to their share of Bigfoot sightings.
One of the nation's foremost Sasquatch experts, Jeff Meldrum, actually hails from Idaho State University, where he is a professor of anthropology.
Meldrum is really an expert on footprints, which is why he gets drawn into the Bigfoot debates. However, he doesn't claim to have seen the rumored man-beast.
On the other hand, plenty of other Idahoans do, including supposed sightings at six locations listed on one of the sites that collates Bigfoot information.
In fact, the vast majority of urban legends nationwide relate to sightings of mythical creatures and ghosts.
Idaho has its fair share of these, notably the ghostly full-time residents of Boise's Egyptian Theatre, supposedly so intensely haunted it even features on TV travel shows.
Illinois Urban Legends
Genuine photographs are also erroneously used to support one of the most commonly circulated email urban legends about the state of Illinois -- a jail where inmates apparently lead a life of unadulterated luxury.
The pictures show a modern, beautifully landscaped building, equipped with high tech facilities, huge exercise and leisure areas, and comfortable furniture of the sort most of us would be delighted to have in our homes -- if we could afford it.
This, says the legend, is the Cook County Correctional Center in Chicago. Occasionally, another location in the US or even the UK is named instead.
Well, the photos are genuine but the location is not Cook County, not Illinois, not even the US -- but a detention center in Austria.
Another misleading photo on which an urban legend has been built shows what is claimed to be a deadly tornado in Harrisburg in early 2012.
While a ferocious tornado did hit this Illinois city, it was not the grim scene shown in the photo, which is believed to be from Orchard, Iowa, a few years earlier.
Turns out the picture has, in fact, been used in a number of other tornado-related emails and Facebook messages.
The motive of the perpetrators is unclear, although the Harrisburg tornado, which killed seven, was also the focus of several bogus charity fundraising scams and the photo might have been used as part of those.
We can't leave Illinois without stopping off at Oak Ridge Cemetery, Springfield, where President Abraham Lincoln is interred. Or is he?
Thousands of people believe Lincoln's final resting place was the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC and not Springfield.
But no, they ARE in his Illinois hometown, apparently encased in steel under 10 feet of concrete -- though, according to another urban legend, his family once discussed the idea of a reburial in DC when the monument was built.
Who knows? The only thing we can say with certainty is that the man certainly was, and is, a real legend!
Indiana Urban Legends
Back to hauntings for our visit to Indiana, where perhaps the most famous urban legend concerns the so-called House of Blue Lights. And you thought it was just a line in a popular Little Richard song!
According to this 20th century tale, a millionaire eccentric named Skiles Test turned his house into a sort of mausoleum for his deceased wife, whose favorite color was blue.
The legend says he kept his wife in a glass casket in the living room and lit up both the house and the surrounding gardens with blue lights.
It's said the blue glow could be seen for miles around and became a macabre tourist attraction, with all kinds of lurid tales about eerie sounds and gunshots.
Test died in the 1970s and no casket was ever found in the house, which eventually fell into disrepair. But, to this day, people claim to see a faint blue glow over the deserted site where the house once stood.
Other famous Indiana hauntings include the Edna Collins Bridge in Rockville, a covered bridge where the ghost of a child killed nearby supposedly will appear if you sound your car horn three times.
And at the 100 Steps Cemetery in Hillsdale, if you count the 100 steps going up but find only 99 when going down (actually an easy thing to do depending on whether you include the top or bottom of the climb in your count), your time on Earth is said to be just about up.
In fact, an online search suggests there seem to be more haunting and ghostly urban legends in Indiana than almost any other state -- with lots of photographic "evidence" to back it up.
Come Halloween, urban legends or not, it must be the place to be!
Time to close today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!