Old Wives' Tales
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Toxin du jour
Legend: Child on amusement park ride is fatally bitten by snakes lurking within.
In the legend's most usual form, a small child (almost always a girl) complains while on an amusement park ride of being bitten or stung. Her parents, who are watching from a location in front of the contraption but who are never on it with the child, ascribe the cries to the youngster's excitement and so don't realize something is going horribly wrong until the ride ends. By then it is too late — though medical help is summoned, it does not arrive in time to save the tot.
Such tales have been told of just about every amusement park in the nation. The deadly snake is said to have been lurking in the ride itself (having made a nest in a rotting wooden carousel horse or roller coaster car just unhoused from winter storage), or to have dropped from above into the open kiddie car, or to have fatally fanged a hand carelessly trailed in the water by a rider in a tunnel of love boat.
As in so many other legends, xenophobia (an unreasonable fear of people or goods that come from other countries) plays a major role, in that often the snake-infested carousel horses or ride cars are explicitly said to have been imported from overseas, the implication being the carnival operator put profits ahead of his patrons' safety by purchasing hardware from dubious foreign suppliers. (Another example is the "Snake in the Coat" legend wherein a shopper at a discount store is killed by the viper that had made its home in a coat's lining back in the garment's country of manufacture.)
Regionalism can also play a role, in that a few tellings specify the ride's components had been stored across the winter in the warmer American South, where
A non-amusement park version of the legend that instead positions the mayhem in fast food restaurant ball pits surfaced in the
Ball pit, carousel horse, or roller coaster car, the message is clear: danger lurks amidst the gaiety, and a wise parent never takes his eyes off his kid. The juxtaposition of venomous snakes and amusement areas makes an even stronger statement than if these selfsame snakes were putting the chomp on youngsters in less carnival-like settings — say, a schoolyard or a department store. Such legends work to caution parents to not relax parental vigilance even in presumed safe settings.
Barbara "rued awakening" Mikkelson
Last updated: 6 November 2007
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