New York City Mythbusters

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New York City Mythbusters

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There are many myths about our wonderful city, and I've heard some of the greatest ones. Those who are born and reared in NYC fully understand the truths, as well as the inaccuracies. And I'm here on a New York City mythbusters quest to break it down for all of you who are unaware.

So, before you come to our city with a head full of myth-based brainwashing, let me clear up the top five New York City urban legends that have plagued our city and crowded the minds of those visiting.

Some of these seem too funny to be believable, yet folks will come up to a New Yorker, much like myself, and say, "Hey, is it true that New York...blah, blah, blah," with no hesitation. Well, let's jump straight into some of these New York City mythbusters and find out.

1. Alligators live in NYC sewers.

"Do y'all really have alligators in your sewers?" This is one of the most commonly asked questions by tourists. Sounds unbelievable, right? Yet, it's almost too creepy not to embrace. But believe it or not, this New York City urban legend began with a grain of actual truth. In February of 1935, the New York Times covered a story as follows:

Several teenage boys had been clearing East 123rd Street by shoveling snow into an open manhole when they saw something large in the water below. Turns out it was a seven-foot plus alligator that had somehow become stuck. The boys used a rope to pull it to the surface and upon reaching safety, the reptile snapped at one of them. The teens responded by beating it to death with their shovels. At a nearby auto repair shop, the alligator was weighed and found to be 125 lbs.

The Times speculated that the alligator had escaped from a ship traveling from the mysterious Everglades, swam into the Harlem River and then came up 150 yards to a storm conduit where it was discovered by the boys.

Other evidence however, indicated this wasn't the only gator that escaped and plagued the NYC sewer systems, thus starting the scary New York City urban myth about our "sewer gators."

There was some talk, based on a 1959 book by Robert Daley, World Beneath the City that there were many gators discovered and exterminated in the sewers. However, the basis of these tales came from NY Sewer official Teddy May, who was known for his embellished stories.

So, do we have alligators in our sewers? Snapping, hissing gators getting ready to crawl out of manholes and torture our town folk? The answer is no. There have been some random reports of gators popping up here and there, but the fact is that they couldn't survive in the polluted filth and cold temperatures of a NYC sewer. And while there was some truth to the way this myth began, it does remain just that. A New York City urban myth.

2. New Yorkers are some of the rudest people on earth.

If I hadn't heard the gator question so frequently, I would have definitely made this #1.

It seems every time I have a tourist ask me for directions or some help (probably because I have such a friendly face and demeanor), I hear, "Wow, thanks so much! You guys aren't mean at all! I've had a great time in New York. Everyone's so helpful and friendly – not at all what I expected!" Well, duh is what I say. Sure, we're helpful and friendly and why shouldn't we be?

I admit we live in one of the toughest cities in the world. This isn't based on crime or murder ratio. I'm talking about lifestyle. This is an extremely competitive city career wise, with some of the hardest real estate to obtain and definitely the most expensive to get and hold on to. So, can we sometimes have a chip on our shoulders? Perhaps, but does that mean we're going to take it out on visitors that are embracing our city and trying to learn more about it? Definitely not!

If anything, every New Yorker I know works hard to help visitors and assure they leave here with a sense of delight in meeting our residents. We get a bad rap in the movies, online and elsewhere. That's a shame because we are truly some of the nicest people around.

I'm extremely protective when I see visitors being taken advantage of. At the end of the day, no matter where you travel, you're going to have to be on your toes. Con and scam artists reside everywhere and are looking to pounce on the naïve.

So, feel free to roam around our city, map and camera in hand, taking pictures in Times Square. You may get a bit rushed in the morning or during the lunch hour from our midtown working crowd trying to get to work on time and grab lunch and run back to their desks. However, I promise that your experience will be one that is a pleasant surprise. After all, New Yorkers are actually some of the friendliest folks that you will encounter. This New York City urban myth? Busted!

3. Pennies falling from the Empire State Building can kill people.

This New York City urban legend is definitely as big as the gators and rude New Yorkers. Interestingly enough, my youngest son recently asked if it was true. If a penny were dropped from the top of the Empire State Building, could it kill someone? Would it crush your skull? Could it crash through a car roof or windshield? Embed itself in the sidewalk?

I had heard about this all my life, but it always sounded a bit off to me. After all, this is one of the biggest tourist sites in our city. I don't hear on the 11 o'clock news that another passerby has been killed or maimed in a "penny incident." Why is that?

Well, when my son asked me this, I said to him, "I...think...I mean, that's what people say. You know, I'm actually not sure."

I couldn't leave this question unanswered in my mind or his. And apparently this is such a huge New York City urban legend that ABC News conducted an experiment just to see if the hypothesis was true or untrue.

Well folks, the results are in, and again it's false. Pennies can't cause any more damage than your basic bird droppings, and are a lot less messy. Would you feel it if it hit you? Sure. But, no worries, your skull will remain perfectly intact. And you will live to walk the streets of this fine city another day.

Empire State Building
350 Fifth Ave
Manhattan, NY 10118
(212) 736-3100
Hours: 8AM-2AM daily (last elevators go up at 1:15AM)
Admission: Adults $18.45, Children $12.45, Seniors $16.61

4. Gargoyles in our city come alive at night and return to stone by morning.

I know you guys have heard this one. It was such a huge New York City urban myth that someone at Disney borrowed the theme and actually made it into a very popular television cartoon.

Hopefully there aren't still people out there that think we have huge grotesque creatures that come alive and fly around, protecting our city at night. Cool as it may seem, I have to burst the bubble. Seems too crazy to be true? That's because it is!

Gargoyles exist all around our city. You'll find them on churches and many residential as well as commercial buildings. However, they are and will remain made of stone, unable to convert themselves to flesh during the hours while we are sleeping. But you better believe they are watching!

5. The Empire State Building is haunted.

Yet another Empire State Building myth, and although this isn't as popular as the other four New York City mythbusters, it's still a story that circulates in whispers among many sightseers.

I had some friends in from out of town and wanted to make sure they enjoyed a true New York tourist experience, so we visited the Empire State Building, my first visit since I was a child. We were in the elevator to the top of the viewing deck and heard a group talk about the "haunting" of the building. This is just one of many scary New York City urban legends. But I found it quite amusing.

Apparently, the story goes that Howard Hughes had an apartment at the very top of the Empire State Building back in the late forties or early fifties. When he died, the apartment was sealed, never to be opened again. At night, workers in the building have seen his ghost going into and out of the sealed door. Floating? Walking? Who knows?

Anyone who knows of Howard Hughes knows that he was a recluse, so it's unlikely that he would keep an apartment at the top of a world-renowned building. Secondly, the Empire State Building has always been strictly commercial. There are no sealed doors with ghosts hiding behind them, waiting to scare you as you head to the observation deck for one of the most famous views of the city in all its splendor. Boo! Another scary New York City urban myth is busted.

So wonderful people, I hope I've been able to shed some light on the many New York City urban legends and myths, and I 'm hoping you can use this knowledge to pass on to other folks. I will remain on my New York City mythbusters quest to provide just the facts!
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