Urban legend: n (1979), an often lurid story or anecdote that is based on hearsay and widely circulated as true; often called urban myth.
The term “urban legend” may have been coined in 1979, but these kinds of tales have been in existence since man began storytelling. Many of them may have a basis of truth, but it’s so far buried in embellishments as the story is circulated that it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction. Some of these stories are now termed “folklore.” Others are so engrained in our history that they’re considered accurate accounts of actual events.
An odd story I heard recently made me ponder what makes a good urban legend, and how they get started.
This spring a local man purchased two pigs, a male and female. He never penned them, neither did he feed them, turning them loose to run wild and forage on their own instead. This has been going on for three or four years – every spring he buys two pigs, and turns them loose for the season. No one quite knows why, or what he does with them – whether he catches them in the fall, and takes them to slaughter, or if they are still left to roam the woods, neighboring farms, and property of other residents in the area.
There were nine pigs total this summer – the boar, sow, and their seven piglets. They’ve been charging through the area and leaving in their wake a swath of destruction likened to “a snow plow run amok” in farming fields and residents’ yards. As the pigs root for food they’ve created networks of ruts more than a foot deep. The neighbors have been “terrorized.” My boss, who told me the story, has a friend who is one of victims of the feral pigs. Not only has her yard been destroyed, but her dog, “Honey Bear,” has been chased by the boar.
The pig owner has been cited and fined numerous times in past years by Animal Control; this year was no exception, although it doesn’t seem to have any effect. In fact, he reportedly told the Animal Control officer that he didn’t care what happened to the pigs, and to do with them what they wanted. Since then, four of the young ones have been caught in large catch-and-release Havahart traps.
It’s a sad story – sad that the irresponsible pig “owner” has so much disregard for the animals he’s supposed to provide for, and sad for the pigs that are left to fend for themselves (although they seem to have no problem doing so). But the story also has the makings of an urban ... or in this case ... rural legend. “Feral Pigs Terrorize Local Inhabitants,” the headline would read.
Sound incredulous? Take then a headline from 2006 on the ABC World News web-site. “Hog Wild! Feral Pigs Invade Texas” begins with “Millions of dangerous pigs are roaming Texas soil …” The article goes on to explain the hogs were brought to America in the 1500s by a Spanish conquistador and are now running wild, eating crops, chicken, and sheep.
The Internet abounds with stories across the country of feral boar attacks on man. It’s known that feral pigs, feeling pressure from being hunted, will become almost nocturnal, staying hidden during the day and feeding at night. They will eat almost anything, even killing other animal species to do so. Sows are extremely protective of their young. And pigs are intelligent – one of the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. Are the feral pigs in this area intelligent enough to realize they’ve been wronged? Can pigs hold a grudge? Are they vindictive enough to seek revenge?
Of course not ... but all it would take is for one chicken to disappear in the dark of night. A family pet runs into the house, quivering with its tail tucked between its legs as the sow protects her young. Perhaps an anxious mother fears for her child’s safety while playing out in the yard. Or a man is attacked by a charging boar. Take the element of fear; add a bit of imagination, a whole lot of embellishment and “The Legend of the Feral Pigs of Fennville” is born. The band of feral creatures roams the night, seeking revenge on any unfortunate soul that crosses their path.
Just like the Melon Heads …
I kicked off my Halloween season this year by attending a book signing here in town. The books are two in the “Haunted America” series: Haunted History of Kalamazoo coauthored by Nicole Bray and Robert Dushane, and Ghosts and Legends of Michigan’s West Coast by Amberrose Hammond. It was a fun evening of telling ghost stories, and listening to the authors’ experiences of the supernatural, many of which take place in this area.
Flipping through Ghosts and Legends of Michigan’s West Coast, one story caught my eye. It was ...
“The Legend of the Melon Heads”
I first heard about the “Melon Heads” just a few weeks ago when I related something strange I saw one morning to my co-workers. It was still dark, and I was sitting on the back porch, drinking coffee while I let Quetta out. Suddenly she stopped in her tracks. The fur along her back rose, and she growled low from the back of her throat. A white ... thing ... bounced up the hill from the ravine. Bounced. It did not run, hop, or leap – it bounced. Like a ball. And it was round. Like a ball – about the size of a basketball, actually. It “sat” there for a few seconds, Quetta started barking wildly, and it bounced away, back down the hill and through the ravine. It was weird; I couldn’t – and still haven’t figured out what it was.
“Melon Heads!!!” my co-worker cried in mock terror.
She grew up where the Melon Heads supposedly live and ever since she can remember the story has existed. “You gotta be kidding,” I said when she explained the Legend of the Melon Heads.
The legend goes that once there was a hospital that treated children with hydrocephalus – water on the brain that causes the head to swell to an extremely large size, hence the very cruel name “melon head.” Experiments were supposedly done on these poor children, leaving them incapable of the thought process we would consider normal. When the hospital was forced to close, the children were abandoned to the wild, banded together, and lived in the woods in what is now Saugatuck Dunes State Park – one of the most beautiful places in the area which I’ve visited many times, I might add, without ever once seeing a Melon Head. But many others have ... and still do insist they’ve seen small bodied, large-headed feral creatures roaming the woods and peering into steamy windows of parked cars inhabited by teenaged couples doing what teenagers will do in parked cars in remote areas.
Apparently, some of these creatures have kin in Ohio. Stories down there are nearly the exact same as the stories here, right down to the hideous experiments done in the hospital, excepting the Ohio Melon Heads are more vicious than the Michigan Melon Heads. Ohio Melon Heads will rip you apart limb from limb if given the chance. Michigan Melon Heads just scare the crap out of you. A two-minute drill on the Internet produced stories of Melon Heads that inhabit areas of Connecticut and across the sea in England as well.
None of this is true; there is no record of a hospital in the area, let alone one that performed hideous experiments – or no insane asylum as another version of the story goes. There was though, a school for disabled children in the early 1900s, and speculation says it’s quite possible some of these children suffered from hydrocephalus. And because kids can sometimes be cruel toward what they don’t understand or those they perceive as different, it’s also quite possible some of these hydrocephalic children were taunted and called names ... like Melon Head.
Despite the many theories, myths, and that it’s all improbable, Melon Head sightings are still reported to this day. As ridiculous as the Melon Head myth is, or that it’s beyond unlikely that a herd of feral pigs is roaming the countryside seeking revenge, we have a fascination with tales such as these. I love a good creepy story … even a bad one, especially during this time of year with Halloween right around the corner.
Ludicrous perhaps, but walking through the woods on a cool autumn evening, the rustle of leaves triggers a recall in the back of our minds of a story we once heard. We feel a prickle along the back of our necks, and we wonder what’s lurking behind that tree, or around the next bend. Ravenous pigs? Melon Heads? Or perhaps something else; something sinister ... something conjured up by the imagination and retold over and over until it becomes a local legend.
They’re out there ... so let’s hear ’em. What haunts your neck of the woods?