There are legends, and then there are urban legends! Urban legends are stories that have often been elaborated over time and are not necessarily authenticated.
The term urban legend is often used interchangeably with the term myth and in a city as big and historical as New York, there are sure to be more than a few urban legends floating around!
Some of the more classic ones or widely known ones are as follows:
Buried Treasure on Liberty Island
The story goes that the famous pirate, Captain William Kidd, buried his treasure on the island where Lady Liberty stands today. There are numerous legends surrounding the location of the treasure spanning all along the Eastern coast of Canada and the U.S. but many believe it to be in the very location of one of the Country’s most popular landmarks. According to the urban legend, two soldiers found the treasure but a ghost appeared and scared them off; when they returned both treasure and ghost were gone. People have been recounting the urban legend for centuries and although there is no authentication to the story, its captured the attention of treasure hunters for centuries.
Just don’t get any ideas about digging it up, because Liberty Island is government property.
Alligators in the Sewers
The idea that ‘monsters’ are lurking below the streets of Manhattan has gripped residents and tourists’ attention for decades. The legend that alligators are swimming and living in the sewer system of New York is one of the city’s most popular myths. The legend comes from the story that city kids flushed baby alligators down into the sewer system where they matured to become full size. Some versions of the legend even say that the alligators are albino and blind!
Tossing Pennies Can Kill
Do you remember hearing as a child that if you drop a penny off a tall building you could kill someone? Well, this is one of New York’s most prominent urban legends, which many people believe well into adulthood. In NYC the story goes that dropping a penny from the observation deck of the Empire State Building would kill someone standing below if struck. This is often told as a cautionary tale but it has also been discredited by the popular television series MythBusters. There are so many updrafts and other obstacles a penny would have to get around that the likelihood of it even injuring someone are minimal. But please don’t do it!
The fashionable pinstripe look became the subject of an urban legend when the Yankees changed their uniforms to include the design. According to the story many believe that the famed and beloved New York Yankees baseball team changed their uniforms to the slimming look because of Babe Ruth’s weight gain. However, this story is proven untrue as Babe didn’t join the club until 1921, and the stripes were first worn in 1912. So while the story may be somewhat charming and the stripes may have been beneficial for Babe’s appearance, it is completely false.
Gargoyles Come to Life
In the city that never sleeps, there is an urban legend that says the gargoyles lining rooftops come to life after the sun goes down. Gargoyles are prevalent throughout the city, yet often go unnoticed as they are perched high above our line of sight. Some people believe these statues come to life in the night but this is more of a fun tale people like to joke about.
While out walking the streets and touring the city be sure to look up. These architecturally significant statues are quite neat to see. They generally adorn older buildings such as the Chrysler Building. Some of our favorites include the ones perched atop the Lincoln Building, 81 Irving Place apartments, and the Herman Behr home.
There are other urban legends floating about the city, however the aforementioned are by far the most popular. Other well-known stories in the city often include ghosts, and aren’t really considered urban legends but more ghost stories. If you feel like trying your hand at finding a ghost though, check out our Most Haunted Places blog!