European urban legends tend to have similar themes to those told in America and other parts of the world. The stories center around the culture of the country represented in an effort to shock and frighten while delivering a dire warning. Like most urban legends, those from Europe usually involve an unsuspecting victim. Urban legends from Europe and elsewhere may be used to explain something that has no explanation, although most end up being fantastical tales.
The Red Spot
The red spot is a shiver-worthy urban legend that originated in England during the late 1960s and ran rampant during the 1970s. The tale freaked out many Europeans planning holidays. The story centers around a young English lass, often a university student, who had traveled abroad. Sometimes the story claimed she's spent her holiday in South America. Other stories set her holiday in India, Malaysia, Africa, and various other popular holiday destinations.
Upon the young woman's return home to England, a spider bite she'd mysteriously received on the cheek while on her trip began to grow redder and larger. Thinking it would simply subside, she treated it with topical creams, but the welt began to bulge and at times seemed to pulsate. The wound was very painful when she touched it, so the young woman made a doctor's appointment for the following day.
The next morning, as the woman dressed for her doctor's appointment, she looked in the mirror at the swollen spider bite and noticed it was undulating. Pressing her fingers to the sore, it suddenly erupted, and a mass of tiny black spiders poured out from the sore. She screamed in horror at her reflection in the mirror as more and more tiny black spiders crawled out from the gaping sore on her cheek. The warning people took from this urban legend was don't travel to foreign countries or you might end up with a spider bite or red spot.
Kidnapping of Children and Women in Public
In Belgium, two urban legends about kidnappings gripped the citizens for several decades. One story tells about children being abducted from large store restrooms. The other story is about women abducted while trying on clothes in a store dressing room.
In the 1960s, an urban legend popped up about a shop in Brussels where white women were said to have been abducted while trying on clothes. According to the tale, these unfortunate women were sold into white slavery through a secret slavery route in Morocco. The urban legend reigned until the late 1980s. Unfortunately, it was so powerful and terrorized the general population that many women stopped shopping for clothes. Many boutiques and other shops suffered financial losses as a direct result of the false story. When women began to brave stores again, they never went alone, especially when shopping for clothes.
The tales of the unsuspecting being kidnapped while in a public building resurfaced in the mid-1990s. This time, the story told how unaccompanied children would go into a restroom at a hypermarket (big box store) and disappear without a trace. The children were presumed to have been kidnapped. Worried parents began accompanying their children to the restrooms.
Gassing Train Passengers
This urban legend comes from Russia during the Cold War era. It has been retold over the decades, morphing into different details. However, the overall gist is a diabolical and elaborate form of theft.
In this story, a tourist invariably falls asleep on the train. He/she is wearing either a money belt or a fanny pack. The amount of cash the person is carrying changes with each version. The most popular story is about a man who is carrying 150 Euros in his money belt tucked securely underneath his clothing. Somewhere along the train ride, the man falls asleep, and upon awakening, discovers he only has 15 Euros. He questions if he counted his money correctly and eventually convinces himself that he simply miscounted the funds.
The urban legend concludes that in actuality, he and the rest of the train passengers were gassed into unconsciousness by the KGB's elite criminal team. These thieves supposedly gas train passengers on a regular basis in order to rob them. However, being clever KGB agents, they always leave money behind in an effort to confuse and play a mind game with the unsuspecting passengers. Their goal is for passengers to remain unsuspecting and invariably conclude they simply miscounted their funds. Since the passengers don't discuss such a trivial thing with each other, the robbers go undetected and continue their thievery as a way to fund covert operations.
Corpse Found in Wine or Rum Barrel
This macabre European urban legend varies from a barrel of wine to a barrel of rum. New castle or manor owners find a long-forgotten barrel of wine or rum in the cellar and tap it. They discover the brew is still good and drink it over the course of time until the liquor stops pouring, even though they've only consumed about half of the contents. Upon opening the barrel to investigate what has stopped the flow, the wine drinkers discover the decomposing remains of a man.
This story comes from Hungary. It is easily traced to a news article published in 2006 by NBC News that was taken from Reuters. The story claimed that workers discovered the body of a pickled man inside a forgotten barrel of rum. Supposedly, two decades before, the man's wife had shipped him home from Cuba. The workers claimed the rum was still good and had filled several bottles of the rum.
The story was later withdrawn by Reuters when the news outlet was unable to confirm the story. However, the story continues to be retold as fact, often shifting from rum to wine. There are many scenarios told about who discovers the barrel and how they consume the liquid before discovering it was tainted by a corpse. Of course, none of the versions mention that the contaminated wine or rum would certainly smell and taste putrid.
Melody Is Dead!
One of the most prevalent urban legends in Spain that surfaced in 2005 and continued until 2008 was about the popular Spanish singer Melody. This urban legend claimed that Melodia Ruiz Gutierréz, simply known as Melody, had died in a plane crash. This relentless rumor just shows that a celebrity cannot simply disappear from the public eye without creating speculation and eventually a persistent urban legend.
Melody was MIA for three years. One story had her committing suicide, perpetuated by a report claiming she suffered from depression. The story was misconstrued from a true account of a woman named Melody who committed suicide, but it wasn't the singer Melody. In 2008, Melody resurfaced with the release of her album, Los buenos días (Good morning). Seems she'd been taking a creative sabbatical to work on her fifth album and its release quickly put an end to the urban legend about her death.
London's Wild Parakeets
Anyone who has visited Southwest London has seen the wild parakeets. They are estimated to be a flock of over 60,000. This well-known urban legend lays blame on either Jimi Hendrix or Humphrey Bogart and company.
In the 1960s, Hendrix lived in a flat in Mayfair. His favorite pets were rose-ringed parakeets, the same as London's current flock. The urban legend states that Hendrix turned his parakeets loose to live freely in London.
The more likely claim states that a pair of parakeets escaped the 1950s movie set of The African Queen, starring Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart. The movie was filmed at Worton Hall Studios that was located in West London. The massive set was used to create jungle scenes that included parakeets. It's speculated that some of the prop birds flew the coop and are responsible for the current population.
Song Causes Suicides
"Gloomy Sunday" is a song that was blamed for causing people to commit suicide. This urban legend claims that the 1933 Hungarian song The World Is Ending, composed by Rezső Seress, a Hungarian pianist/composer, made people so depressed that they committed suicide. Seress wrote the song as a ballad about the desperation and hopelessness that war brings and included a prayer at the end of the song. The lyrics made this song extremely depressing, and 19 suicides were blamed directly on the song. It was quickly nicknamed Hungarian Suicide Song. Eventually, the song was banned from being played on the radio.
New lyrics were written by the poet László Jávor and the song that was re-titled"Sad Sunday." However, the song was still too macabre since the new lyrics conveyed a man desiring to commit suicide after his lover dies. Finally, in 1936, Sam M. Lewis wrote new lyrics and re-titled the song "Gloomy Sunday." Billie Holiday recorded the new version and it became a huge hit.
Exploring Urban Legends From Europe
Urban legends from Europe and throughout the world typically end with a warning or reveal the deadly consequences of taking specific actions. Many European urban legends find fodder in regional and cultural fears and superstitions.