WBEZ | Urban Legends http://www.wbez.org/tags/urban-legends Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Just another bull shark story http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-another-bull-shark-story-112347 <p><p>It&rsquo;s the kind of &ldquo;fact&rdquo; that makes you blink and wonder if you read it correctly. The Global Shark Attack File, a listing of every documented shark attack in recent history, compiled by the non-profit Shark Research Institute, <a href="http://www.sharkattackdata.com/gsaf/attack/united_states_of_america/illinois/1955.00.00.c" target="_blank">lists a shark attack in Lake Michigan in 1955</a>. The details are thin. The name of the victim: George Lawson. The species: bull shark. Lawson was bitten on the right leg. The bite was unprovoked and non-fatal.</p><p>It sounds impossible, right? Sharks live in the oceans, and while you sometimes hear of them in brackish rivers, Lake Michigan is nearly 2,000 navigational miles from the nearest ocean. The story persists in various <a href="http://news.travel.aol.com/2010/09/22/chicago-mythbusters/" target="_blank">mythbusting columns</a>, and while most experts think the story is probably an urban legend, Chicagoans keep bringing it up. Curious City got two very similar questions, one from Adam Kovac of Chicago, and another from Hilary Winiarz of Hawthorn Woods. Winarz&rsquo;s wording summons the frustration of many Chicagoans about the ongoing lack of a satisfying answer.</p><p dir="ltr" style="text-align: center;"><em>Can we please get a final ruling on whether or not one young George Lawson was actually attacked by a shark, in Lake Michigan in 1955?</em></p><p>We&rsquo;d love to help Hillary, Adam, and the unsatisfied masses. The problem is, there&rsquo;s very little evidence either way. And it can be very difficult to prove that something did NOT happen. Nevertheless, we took a three-pronged approach to answering this question.</p><p>Approach 1: Find a witness or participant in the event itself.</p><p>Approach 2: Locate the original source of the story, and evaluate its reliability.</p><p>Approach 3: Examine the scientific plausibility of a mature bull shark entering Lake Michigan, surviving long enough to attack a person in 1955.</p><p>Following this trajectory, we found a few clues about the origins of the story, and learned that a shark in Lake Michigan may not be as implausible as you would think.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Approach 1: Can I get a witness?</span></p><p>The Shark Research Institute sent us the names of the two people involved in the Lake Michigan shark attack; the victim, a boy named George Lawson, and the rescuer, John Adler. We searched public records for those names (including spelling variations) in the Chicago area, and found two George Lawsons and two John Adlers who could have been the right age in 1955; the Lawsons would have been under 16 and the Adlers over 18. We called the listed phone numbers. One phone line was disconnected, and we left messages on the other three. We heard from one respondent that he was NOT the John Adler we were looking for. Nobody else returned our calls. It seems clear that if a remaining John Adler or George Lawson were involved in a shark attack, they were not interested in discussing it with Curious City. Nor does it appear that any George Lawson or John Adler has ever given an interview about the shark attack.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Approach 2: Where did this bull shark story come from anyway?</span></p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/man eating sharks book.jpg" style="float: right; height: 328px; width: 250px;" title="The book Man-Eating sharks, which we purchased for exactly 1 cent. (WBEZ/Logan Jaffe) " />The Global Shark Attack database actually does list a source as &ldquo;F. Dennis P &nbsp;52&rdquo;. After a little sleuthing, we found a <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Man-Eating-Sharks-Terrifying-Compilati/dp/0706405544/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&amp;qid=1436195032&amp;sr=8-3&amp;keywords=man-eating+sharks" target="_blank">picture book</a> published in 1975 called Man-Eating Sharks: a Terrifying Compilation of Shark-Attacks, Shark-facts and Shark-Legend! &ldquo;F. Dennis&rdquo; refers to <a href="http://www.felixdennis.com/" target="_blank">Felix Dennis,</a> who, as it turns out, is a famous and eccentric book and magazine publisher in the UK. He is known for founding several successful magazines including Maxim, Blender, PC World, and several others.</p><p>Unfortunately, he died of cancer in 2014, but his estate kindly put Curious City in touch with one of the authors of Man-Eating Sharks, Christopher Rowley, now based in upstate New York. Rowley remembers the book quite clearly: &ldquo;Felix wanted to carve out a chunk of the enormous money flowing due to the Jaws phenomenon in 1975.&rdquo;, he says.</p><p>Of course, he means Steven Spielberg&rsquo;s mega-hit film, which sparked tremendous fascination and fear of sharks. In the midst of the Jaws craze, Dennis hired Rowley and two other writers to find out everything they could about sharks. &ldquo;When Felix wanted something like that, it was like crash diving,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;Klaxons are roaring, go out and buy everything you can. It was all about being nimble and quick in those days.&rdquo;</p><p>Rowley spent five weeks at the library, reading about sharks, compiling information, and writing passages of the book. He doesn&rsquo;t remember where the story of the Lake Michigan shark attack comes from, but definitely recalls reading about bull sharks. He admits they may have made up some of the details &mdash; fast and loose fact-finding didn&rsquo;t begin with the internet age &mdash; but doesn&rsquo;t think they made up that particular story. &ldquo;There&rsquo;s too much little detail there,&rdquo; he says. &ldquo;On the other hand, I can&rsquo;t remember how much invention went into it, and how much we found in the libraries.&rdquo;</p><p>So if you believe Rowley, it suggests there may be another mysterious source of the Lake Michigan shark attack, possibly in another newspaper or magazine somewhere. If so, nobody involved with Man-Eating Sharks remembers what it was. Or, it&rsquo;s possible Rowley or one of his collaborators just made up the story out of whole cloth, possibly after reading of the bull shark&rsquo;s notorious habit of swimming up freshwater rivers. Which brings us to our next approach ...</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">Approach 3: So you&rsquo;re saying there&rsquo;s a chance?</span></p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/bullsharkillustration.png" style="height: 421px; width: 620px;" title="While most shark species can only survive in saltwater, bull sharks have the unusual ability to survive in freshwater, too. (Illustration from the book Man-Eating Sharks)" /></p><p>Scientists enjoy a good hypothetical situation, and several we spoke with indulged us by entertaining the possibility of a shark entering and surviving in Lake Michigan. Phil Willink, the Senior Research Scientist at the Shedd Aquarium, says the bull shark &mdash; the kind of shark named in the Global Shark Attack File &mdash; is notorious &nbsp;for entering freshwater: &ldquo;It is able to control the salt and other compounds in its blood, to maintain a balance with the water that&rsquo;s around it, and is able to move back and forth between freshwater and saltwater. So, yes, bull sharks can swim into freshwater and we think they can stay there for several years possibly.&rdquo;</p><p>Furthermore, Willink says bull sharks have been documented as far as 2,000 miles upstream in the Amazon River, a few hundred miles farther than the distance between Lake Michigan and the nearest saltwater. So it is theoretically possible for a bull shark to swim to Lake Michigan, if it could find a viable route.</p><p>One path a shark could take to Lake Michigan is the St. Lawrence seaway, entering the St. Lawrence River north of New Brunswick, Canada, and swimming through Lake Ontario, The Wellend Canal near Niagara Falls, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, and finally into Lake Michigan. Scientists agree this is probably impossible because of the great distance, the navigational obstacles, and most importantly, because the water of the Gulf of St. Lawrence &nbsp;at the entrance to the Seaway is far too cold for bull sharks. Their <a href="http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/gallery/descript/bullshark/bullshark.htm" target="_blank">northernmost range is Massachussets</a>, seven hundred miles to the south.</p><p>The more likely route, according to scientists, would be via the Mississippi River and Illinois River and Canal System. There are few obstacles to prevent a bull shark from reaching the Illinois River, and in fact, bull sharks have been occasionally spotted near St. Louis. But if you&#39;re curious what all it would take for a shark to get from the Mississippi River Delta to Lake Michigan in the first place,<a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/5f15087581297692d20d2c039b06eb5d/the-more-likely-but-still-unlikely-journey-of-the-shark-that-might-have-attacked-george-lawson-in-lake-michigan-in-1955/index.html" target="_blank"> we&#39;ve put together the details:</a></p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><a href="http://s3.amazonaws.com/uploads.knightlab.com/storymapjs/5f15087581297692d20d2c039b06eb5d/the-more-likely-but-still-unlikely-journey-of-the-shark-that-might-have-attacked-george-lawson-in-lake-michigan-in-1955/index.html" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/the%20most%20unlikely%20png.PNG" style="height: 483px; width: 620px;" title="" /></a></div><p>If the shark did somehow manage to get through all eight locks and gates, it would face another immediate problem:The water is too cold. Bull sharks prefer water <a href="http://oceanofk.org/tag/Tagmigrate/ddisttemp.html" target="_blank">warmer than seventy degrees fahrenheit</a>, and Lake Michigan&rsquo;s water is <a href="http://coastwatch.glerl.noaa.gov/statistic/avg-sst.php?lk=m&amp;yr=0" target="_blank">only that warm during a few weeks each year</a>. That means the bull shark would have to accomplish all of this in a very short period of time, or, as Kevin Irons points out, find one of the places warm water is discharged into the lake by power plants. Neither Irons nor the Shedd Aquarium&#39;s <a href="http://www.sheddaquarium.org/Conservation--Research/Conservation-Research-Experts/Dr-Phillip-Willink/" target="_blank">Phillip Willink </a>will go so far to say a shark could never make it to Lake Michigan and survive long enough to attack a person, but both consider the odds to be outlandishly high. &nbsp;</p><p>Of course, the shark may have had help. A shark could certainly have been brought to Lake Michigan &nbsp;in a water tank on a truck, an airplane, or helicopter, perhaps in a<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9dghbyBaQyI" target="_blank"> similar scenario</a> to the one faced by Batman in the 1966 film, Batman. We know this kind of thing happens, because at least two dead saltwater sharks have been found in Lake Michigan.</p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/milwaukee2.png" title="One of the two known hoaxes involving sharks in Lake Michigan. (Source: Chicago Tribune, 1969) " /></div></div><p>One was later revealed as a prank, and scientists think the <a href="http://www.neatorama.com/2008/08/30/shark-found-in-lake-michigan/" target="_blank">other</a> may have been a prank, or possibly a discarded pet. Phillip Willink admits the Shedd aquarium has several sharks swimming in tanks just a few feet from the waters of Lake Michigan, but promises &ldquo;We keep them in the building at all times.&rdquo; Kevin Irons allows a baby shark could arrive in a cargo ship&rsquo;s ballast water tank, but it would most likely die in the lake. It would need to survive several years, living through the frigid winters, avoiding predation, until it was large enough to attack a child. Again, all of this is exceedingly unlikely.</p><p><span style="font-size:24px;">The um, shark&rsquo;s tooth in the coffin?</span></p><p>If you&rsquo;ve been anywhere near a television or national newspaper in the last few weeks, you have seen reports of shark attacks in the Carolinas. Shark attacks make the news. Editors and reporters know there&rsquo;s something fascinating and horrific about toothed death emerging from tranquil waters in a vacation spot to ruin somebody&rsquo;s week. If a shark did attack somebody in Chicago, you would expect to see it in the Chicago newspapers. You would expect anniversary stories, stories pegged to &ldquo;Shark Week&rdquo;, and &ldquo;where are they now?&rdquo; stories about Lawson and Adler. We have access to digital, searchable archives for both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Defender and neither paper carried a shark attack story. This, more than any other piece of evidence, really makes the case that the bull shark story is an urban legend</p><p>And one further point. Often, urban legends have their grounding in some true but prosaic story. Over time the details are exaggerated and enhanced into an enduring fiction. But there appears to be absolutely nothing CLOSE to the 1955 shark attack in any records. Until 1975. There are references to Lawson in the Tribune&rsquo;s &ldquo;Action Line&rdquo; column, and the earliest one: October 1975, and it references a magazine called <a href="http://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/killer-sharks-jaws-death-vol-jaws-408438933" target="_blank">Killer Sharks: The Jaws of Death</a>, also published in 1975, the same year as Felix Dennis&rsquo; Man-Eating Sharks. All three verifiable references of George Lawson occur in 1975, the year of Jaws, and a year characterized by intense shark interest world wide. This cluster of references suggests a likely scenario: Somebody, possibly one of Felix Dennis&rsquo; authors, possibly the Jaws of Death publishers, possibly the publishers of another mysterious book or magazine designed to capitalize on the Jaws phenomenon; somebody just made the whole thing up to sell magazines and make a quick buck. If that fabricator would only come forward, it would save our questioners, and the city of Chicago, a great deal of frustration.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/jesse%20and%20question%20asker.jpg" style="float: left; height: 180px; width: 320px;" title="Producer Jesse Dukes, left, and questioner Hilary Winiarz. " /><span style="font-size:24px;">Our questioners</span></p><p>Adam Kovac asked his version of the question back in 2012, in the early days of the Curious City project. He was surprised and pleased when he heard we were finally tackling his question, three years (and several swimming seasons) later. We were unable to talk to him due to scheduling difficulties. Hilary Winiarz&#39;s day job is as a writer in corporate communication and a mother of a ten year old boy, Matty, who also likes sharks. In what spare time she can scrape up, she writes fiction. Perhaps, it&rsquo;s the romance novelist in her that makes her say she wants the shark story to be true: &ldquo;I would, actually. I mean he lived, so it&rsquo;s not terribly tragic.&rdquo; Still unsatisfied, she mentioned the possibility of going through hospital records to find a patient named George Lawson in 1955. &nbsp;When we suggested that may prove a wild goose chase, she wasn&rsquo;t sure: &ldquo;The jury is still out on the goose chasey-ness of this of this, but it&rsquo;s enough potential for a goose chase to say I might be spinning my wheels.&rdquo;</p><p><em>Jesse Dukes is Curious City&rsquo;s audio producer, and he knows a<a href="http://www.vqronline.org/essay/lions-deep" target="_blank"> thing</a> or two about sharks. Thanks to Emily Charnock for sharkival assistance.</em></p><div>&nbsp;</div></p> Wed, 08 Jul 2015 16:42:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/curious-city/just-another-bull-shark-story-112347 Chicago's favorite ghost: Resurrection Mary http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-31/chicagos-favorite-ghost-resurrection-mary-93531 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-31/10-31--Res Cemetery.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>I first heard the story at one of the Duke's Halloween parties. That would make it when I was in college, in the late 'sixties.</p><p>The way the Duke told it, this guy he knew had been driving north on Milwaukee Avenue near Lawrence, by the Holiday Ballroom. Suddenly a young woman in a white dress jumped in front of the car. The guy screeched to a halt, the woman got in the car, and asked for a ride.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" height="355" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-29/10-31--Holiday Ballroom.JPG" title="" width="490"></p><p>Now the driver figured he was getting lucky, so he agreed. The woman told him to head up Milwaukee toward Niles. Other than that, she didn't say much.</p><p>Getting into Niles, they passed the main entrance to St. Adalbert's Cemetery. "Stop the car!" the woman shouted. The driver stopped the car. When he turned to look at the woman, she had vanished.</p><p>Sound familiar? Substitute Archer Avenue, the Willow Brook Ballroom, and Resurrection Cemetery. Now you have Chicago's most famous ghost story, the tale of Resurrection Mary.</p><p>At the time I hadn't heard anything about Resurrection Mary. Neither had any of my friends. We only knew that this was a great story.</p><p>As the years went by, I became better acquainted with Chicago folklore. Then I realized that the Duke had picked up the Resurrection Mary story somewhere, and simply adapted it to his own purposes. That was a habit of his. Last I heard of him, he was a long-term guest of the federal government. Something about counterfeiting.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-27/10-31--Res Mary.jpg" style="width: 293px; height: 460px;" title=""></p><p>The first sighting of Resurrection Mary occurred in 1939. Since then there have been dozens. The story has been related in newspapers and magazine articles, in books, in songs, and in a movie. In 2011, Mary is all over the internet.</p><p>Who was the real Resurrection Mary? Researchers have nominated a number of candidates. My vote goes to Anna Norkus.</p><p>Anna was born in Cicero in 1914, and later lived in Chicago near Archer and Harlem. On her 13th birthday--July 20, 1927--she rode along with her father and some friends to the Oh Henry Ballroom (today's Willow Brook). After an evening of partying, they drove home.</p><p>Along the way they passed Resurrection Cemetery. On Harlem near 67th Street, the driver lost control of the car and plunged into a deep ditch at the side of the road. Anna was killed in the crash.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" height="356" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-29/10-31--Res Cemetery.JPG" title="" width="490"></p><p>The dead girl was supposed to be buried at St. Casimir's Cemetery. But because of a grave-diggers' strike there, Anna was temporarily interred at Resurrection Cemetery. Later, when the strike ended, her remains could not be identified.</p><p>That account fits the main elements of the Resurrection Mary story. As noted, there's plenty of information available, and you're welcome to come up with your own theory.</p><p>As for me, I've driven past St. Adalbert's Cemetery hundreds of times, and never had anything unusual happen. But I've never driven by Resurrection Cemetery at night. And I don't intend to.</p></p> Mon, 31 Oct 2011 12:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-10-31/chicagos-favorite-ghost-resurrection-mary-93531 The Cider House story http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-07-19/cider-house-story-89141 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-July/2011-07-15/schmidt_ciderhouse.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-July/2011-07-14/2121 N. Hudson Ave..jpg" style="width: 495px; height: 374px;" title=""></p><p>Chicago history is more than just a fire. But sooner or later, there's bound to be a story of the Great Conflagration of 1871. The house at 2121 North Hudson Avenue is at the center of this tale.</p><p>The Chicago Fire started on the Near South Side. Pushed on by strong southwest winds, it burned through downtown, jumped the river, and continued moving north. Nothing in its path seemed safe.</p><p>By the second evening the fire had passed Center Street (Armitage). Here the buildings were fewer and farther apart. On Hudson Avenue, the only house was a little wooden cottage belonging to a policeman named Richard Bellinger.</p><p>As the fire approached, Bellinger was determined to save his home. He tore up the wooden sidewalk, then collected all the water he could, in whatever bucket or bottle or cup was handy. Then he waited--but not for long.</p><p>Sparks from the fire started to hit the house, and Bellinger quickily doused them. The fire kept coming, Bellinger kept pouring water. He ran around the four sides of the little cottage, he climbed on the roof, he dropped back to the ground. Wherever the flames lit, Bellinger was there to put them out.</p><p>He grew tired. He lost track of time. But he was winning. The fire around him was almost gone. And then--he ran out of water!</p><p>Was all his hard toil for nothing? All he needed was a bucket or two more! Oh, cruel twist of fate!</p><p>But wait! Bellinger remembered the barrel of apple cider in the cellar. He told his wife to draw some of the cider into buckets. And with this bit of liquid, the valiant policeman was able to extinguish the remaining flames, and save his home.</p><p>The Triumph of Policeman Bellinger became a part of Chicago folklore. It was even reprinted in school textbooks. On October 8, the anniversary of the fire, teachers would march their classes to the cottage on Hudson Avenue, and tell the story of how it had been saved by cider. Besides the Water Tower, this little frame house was the only building that had survived the disaster.</p><p>Then one day in 1915, a little old white-haired lady appeared at the door of 2121 North Hudson Avenue. It was Mrs. Bellinger, come back to visit the old homestead. She was invited in and looked around. Then she began to reminisce about the events of forty-four years before.</p><p>Yes, she said, her late husband had worked mightily to save the house. After the fire, they had sheltered 21 people in the tiny cottage. However, that cider business had been invented by some reporter with an over-active imagination.</p><p>"We did have a barrel of cider in the basement," Mrs. Bellinger declared. "But we didn't use it because we were able to get enough water from the dugout across the street."</p><p>That destroyed one myth. And more recently, historians have determined that at a couple of other wooden cottages on Cleveland Avenue also came through the fire. So the Bellinger house is not even unique as a survivor.</p><p>But it still makes a damn good story.</p></p> Tue, 19 Jul 2011 12:15:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-07-19/cider-house-story-89141