With over 4 million articles, Wikipedia is an invaluable resource, whether you're throwing a term paper together at the last minute, or reading synopses of old Sherlock Holmes mysteries to try and guess who’ll be the villain next season on Sherlock. But follow enough links, and you get sucked into some seriously strange places. We explore some of Wikipedia's oddities in our 4,439,538-week series, Wiki Wormhole.
This Week's Entry: Legend Tripping
What It's About: Want to see a dead body? Say yes, and you’re part of a grand tradition of legend tripping, the name folklorists give to friends making a pilgrimage—often secretive, usually by dark of night—to some macabre or haunted locale. The practice seems to be most prevalent in America, although it exists everywhere.
Strangest Fact: There’s something called the Pope Lick Monster. While a legend about a monster licking the Pope would no doubt be entertaining and a legend about the Pope licking a monster even moreso, this particular story involves Pope Lick Creek in Louisville, Kentucky. (Wikipedia does not divulge where the creek gets its name). Louisville is home to “the most haunted neighborhood in the country,” and the city’s most enduring legend is of a half-man, half-goat who lives under a train trestle over the creek. Depending on who’s telling the story, the monster uses hypnosis to lure its victims in front of an oncoming train, causes them to leap from the trestle in fright of its gruesome appearance, or murders them with a bloody axe. In any case, even despite an 8-foot fence protecting the trestle, it’s a common destination for thrillseekers.
Controversy: When your parents panicked over you playing Dungeons And Dragons back in the '80s, that was probably because more adventurous kids were out legend tripping. Legend trips that involved vandalism, graffiti, and occult rituals inspired a panic over Satanism, which encompassed fear of everything from role playing games to heavy metal music, although very little actual Satanism was ever involved.
Thing We Were Happiest To Learn: Legend tripping has inspired some great works of fiction, from Tom Sawyer exploring Injun Joe’s cave, to Stand By Me, to legends of all sorts of people meeting the Devil at the crossroads at midnight (perhaps most famously, Robert Johnson, who supposedly sold his soul in exchange for talent and success.) But the original legend trip story may be the 16th-century Scottish ballad of Tam Lin. Also known as Tamlin, Tomlin, or Tom Line, he was an elf who lived in the forest of Carterhaugh in southern Scotland. If a maiden passed through the forest, Tam would take her virginity (or in the PG version, an article of clothing or other possession). In the ballad, a woman named Janet (sometimes Margaret) encounters Tam and becomes pregnant. She seeks him out again, and he reveals he was once a mortal man, entrapped by the queen of the fairies. When Janet tries to rescue him, the fairy queen turns him into various animals, and finally a burning coal. Janet picks up the coal and throws it into a well; the spell is broken and Tam becomes an ordinary man again.
Thing We Were Unhappiest To Learn: Sometimes the reality behind the legend is scarier than the legend. Old Alton Bridge, in Copper Canyon, Texas, is home to a legendary half-man, half goat, similar to the Pope Lick Monster, and the railroad bridge is a popular legend trip destination. But a secondary version of the legend is more likely based in fact. In this version, the Goatman is no monster, but an African American goat farmer whom the Klan resented for his success. They hung him from Old Alton Bridge, but when the Klansmen looked down to make sure he was dead, they found only an empty noose, and no sign of the farmer. Still wanting blood, they murdered his wife and children, and his ghost supposedly haunts the bridge.
Also Noteworthy: While New Jersey is the most heavily populated state in the Union, a full quarter of the state is a largely undisturbed forest called the Pine Barrens. For New Jerseyans living along the NYC-Philadelphia corridor, the mere presence of so many trees and so little asphalt must be unsettling, but awaiting intrepid travelers into the woods is also one of America’s most famous legends, the Jersey Devil. Stories of the Devil date back to a Lenape legend of a dragon that haunted the woods. But New Jerseyans also tell the story of Mother Leeds, who in 1735 was pregnant with her 13th child, and declared that the baby would be the Devil. The baby was born with hooves and bat wings, and killed the midwife before flying off into the night. The Pines are also home to tales of an escaped Russian hit man who still roams the night and subsists on ketchup and relish packets.
Best Link To Elsewhere On Wikipedia: The page also includes a few legends that aren’t necessarily legend trip locations. One such is the Siguanaba, an evil spirit who haunts the El Salvador-Guatemala border. She appears at first as a beautiful long-haired woman, naked or barely dressed, usually bathing in a river or body of water. She lures men to her, but then turns to reveal her face is that of a horse, or a skull. The man either dies of fear, is driven mad by the site, or is a Brony, in which case this is probably a weirdly specific fantasy.