Thursday, October 15, 2015

Page 58: Campus Scares

Continuing our series of campus-related urban legends, another popular student-body rumor concerns a prominent psychic who has predicted a mass murder on campus. The rumor typically claims that the prediction was made on a high-profile TV program, and the occurrence is predicted on some significant date, with Halloween being a popular choice. Details of the upcoming murder scene vary to suit the local campus (a high point or low point, a building shaped like a certain letter, etc.). Brunvand (2001) has documented examples of these scares in “virtually every year during the 1980s and 1990s” (59). One even hit my hometown (Michigan) in 1998.

Could Strunk and White's Elements of Style be the scariest thing on campus?
By moving the rumor scare in The Billionth Monkey to an English composition class, I centered the scare around the rumor-spreader rather than the psychic. As for Nicholas Young’s disturbing short story, I suppose it’s a reflection of the “zero tolerance” expulsions that have been in the news lately. Such as the South Carolina teen who was suspended when, for his school assignment, he made up a story about buying a gun to shoot a dinosaur. Or the nine-year-old from Texas who was suspended for saying his Hobbit ring could make a classmate disappear…which was somehow interpreted as a terroristic threat rather than a way of hiding from danger. Or the seven-year-old from Maryland who was suspended for nibbling his breakfast pastry into the shape of a mountain and making an “inappropriate gesture.”

Relocating the scare to an English comp class also allowed me to pay homage to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, which I think is still the best guide to writing out there.

For Further Reading
Jan Harold Brunvand. Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001, 58–9.

David Emery, “Psychic Predicts Halloween Campus Massacre: An Urban Legend,” n.d.,

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