Claim: Thwarted shoplifter yells 'Who threw that ham at me?' when purloined meat slips from under her coat.
[Collected on the Internet, 2002]
A friend of a friend saw two large black women come in a Winn-Dixie grocery store wearing large overcoats. The women rushed through the store and proceeded to stuff their coats with everything in sight: chips, cookies, bags of rice, bricks of cheese, etc. One of them had stuffed a large carving ham in her coat, and as she was rushing through the store, the ham slipped out onto the floor. She glared around suspiciously, defensively and said to anyone who might hear, "Who trew dat ham at me?"
[Collected on the Internet, 1994]
Another friend of mine tells of being in a supermarket in inner-city Detroit waiting in a checkout line when a large ham suddenly fell from the coat of a large (and presumably black) woman making a small purchase ahead of them. After a moment of silence, she said "Who threw that ham at me?"
[Reader's Digest, September 2008]
My first job was wrapping hams at a meatpacking plant. One day, I was heading out the main gate right behind a woman who was rather rotund. Or so I thought. Just as she passed the guard shack, a ham dropped from her skirt. Before the guard could react, she wheeled around, shouting, "All right, who threw that ham?"
Origins: Anecdotal reports date this legend to the 1950s, which is when one of our correspondents recalls hearing it told about a black steward's mate (officer's valet) who dropped a
chicken from under his pea coat while leaving the ship, turned around and shouted "Who threw that chicken at me?" back to the quarterdeck watch.
This is the quintessential legend about the audacity of thieves. Here are hardened shoplifters at work, picking a store clean, and not only are they succeeding at doing so, they are brash about it. When caught, the lightfingered ones brazen it out rather than show any sign of shame, creating an almost reasonable doubt about how their purloined items came to be at their feet.
This legend also contains barely suppressed racist elements. Often the "Who threw that ham at me?" statement is rendered as "Who trew dat
ham at me?" to leave little doubt about the color of the shoplifter. Likewise, in the examples we've so far located, the concealed grocery item is invariably a ham, a foodstuff that bears strong associations to Southern cooking and, by implication, to African-Americans. Were racism not an element in this tale, one would expect to see versions involving pot roasts or thick-cut steaks, yet those are nowhere to be found.
Another legend featuring shoplifted meat is one we've dubbed "The Meathead." In it, a hapless thief who attempts to conceal a chicken under her hat is caught when the frozen loot renders her unconscious.