A hellish discovery

In the early 1980s, a group of geologists were working in remote Siberia. They drilled a hole some 14.4 kilometres deep into the earth. Suddenly, the drill bit began to rotate almost out of control.

Mr. Azzacov, the project manager, later said, “We decided the centre of the earth is hollow.”

The workers measured temperatures of over 2,000 degrees in the hole. They lowered supersensitive microphones into the shaft. To their astonishment, they heard the sounds of thousands, if not millions, of people screaming in torment.

Hell had finally been discovered!

Sound convincing? It’s quite the entertaining tale, if nothing else.

I vividly recall when this hellish discovery was made. There were sane and intelligent hellfirepeople who accepted it as the gospel truth. Indeed, I first read about it in a newsletter produced by a well-known group of evangelical Christians.

The truth is, those who swallowed this story hook, line and sinker had fallen for what’s commonly known as an “urban legend.”

An urban legend has been defined as an “apocryphal, secondhand story told as true and just plausible enough to be believed, about some horrific, embarrassing, ironic or exasperating series of events that supposedly happened to a real person.” It’s also known as urban myth, urban belief tale, contemporary legend and migratory legend.

Here are a few examples for your reading pleasure.

*Don’t use public payphones because a gang is applying skin-eating acid to the receiver and buttons.

*Getting your belly button pierced can cause cancer. This won’t happen to me, though, because it’s been so long since I’ve actually seen my navel.

*Check seats in a movie theatre in advance. A girl sat down and felt a prick. Ahhhh, perhaps I should rephrase this. Anyway, you get the point, pun intended. When the movie ended, she was bleeding. Sticking out of the chair was a needle with a virus on it.

*People put drugs in licky tattoos.

*A friend of a friend of a cousin of an aunt found a razor in an apple her child had received as a Halloween treat.

*There’s a kidney theft ring operating in New Orleans. People whose kidneys are stolen wake up in a bathtub full of ice.

*Never stick your finger in a payphone coin-return slot because some bad people might shove deadly needles up there to hurt you.

*A well-known department store in New York was selling cookies. A customer asked the cook, “What’s the cost of the recipe?” He said, “Two.” The lady, thinking he meant two dollars, said, “Just put it on my credit card.” Unknown to her, the man meant two hundred dollars. To get back at the cook and company, she threatened to reveal the recipe to everybody she met.

I will never forget a frightening story I heard about a family friend. Charles – not his real name – was traveling across the island when he spied a hitchhiker on the side of the road. Wanting to be friendly, he slowed down to take him aboard.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, the driver saw another man, scrambling up the bank to the road. In his hand was a large chain, which he was wielding wildly. It caught in the antenna. Charles gunned the motor and flew away.

Several miles down the road, he stopped to inspect the damage to his vehicle. Imagine his horror when he discovered the man’s thumb caught in the chain in the antenna.

“And that’s the truth,” I was assured. “I heard it from your aunt, who told it to her brother, who told it to his father.” In that case, who was I to question it?

It was an urban legend.

Which brings me back to the discovery of hell in Siberia.

In 1984, an article about an experimental well in Russia’s Kola Peninsula appeared in Scientific American magazine. The well was 12 kilometres deep and the temperature was 180 degrees.

However, once the real event took place, it was embellished into a captivating legend.

You can go online and download audio clips claiming to be the screams of the damned from this well-hell in the ground. I like what a commentator had to say: “all of them sound like they could be the noise from a typical bar on a busy Friday evening.”

Jan Harold Brunvand has made it his life’s work to debunk urban legends; indeed, he has written the definitive Encyclopedia of Urgan Legends. He suggests the most important features of an urban legend are “a strong basic story-appeal, a foundation in actual belief, and a meaningful message or ‘moral.’ ” His bottom line is that “any legends are ‘too good to be true,’ that is, unverified and too coincidental to be taken as literal truth.”

Now that we know where hell is, I wonder where heaven is.

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