Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: Wife throws something flammable into toilet, unsuspecting husband seats himself on the throne and proceeds to light a cigarette — with pyrotechnic results.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1997]
[Elgart, 1953]That joke formed the plot of a 1949 Robert Service poem, "The Three Bares." In that version, Ma soaks her soiled garden slacks in a bucket o' benzine to get them clean. She decides to dispose of the used liquid in the outhouse and chooses to pour the mixture down the middle hole. The next morning, after a full breakfast, Grandpa visits the little house, sets down on his personal throne, lights his pipe, drops the used match down the middle hole
Granddaughter was cleaning the tool shed when she came across a partly used gallon can of gasoline. The family was of meager means, so she thought that it would be a thrifty thing if she could find some use for the gasoline. There was no car in the family, but there were many things which could be cleaned by gas. Granddaughter decided to clean the privy.
She scrubbed the walls, the door; the dessus de toilette. Everything was spick and span.
No sooner had Granddaughter finished than Grandpappy came down the path toward the privy. His glasses were perched on his nose, his pipe was cocked in his mouth, and a copy of Over Sexteen was tucked firmly under his arm. Just before he entered, he struck a match to light his pipe. A deafening explosion filled the air.
Granddaughter rushed to the scene. The privy door was blown off. The walls were blackened and shattered. She found Grandpappy sprawled in a clump of bushes about fifty feet from the site of the explosion. His glasses hung from one ear, a pipe stem drooped from his mouth and the book, torn and battered, was still tucked under his arm.
"Grandpappy," she screamed, "what happened?"
"I dunno, Granddaughter," he replied, "it musta been somethin' I et."
Grandpa's final exclamation ends the poem and sums up the tale: "For what I aim to figger out is — WHAT THE HECK I ET?"
Grandpa wasn't the only one left pondering what he'd swallowed. In 1988, the highly respected wire services Reuters and United Press International ran as a news item the following specious tale gleaned from The Jerusalem Post:
TEL AVIV (Reuters) — An Israeli housewife's fight with the cockroach that wouldn't die landed her husband in hospital with burns on "sensitive parts," a broken pelvis and broken ribs. The Jerusalem Post reported Thursday that the wife was frightened by the insect when she found it in their living room. She stepped on it, threw it in the toilet and the sprayed a full can of insecticide on it when it refused to die. Her husband came home from work, sat on the toilet and lit a cigarette. He threw the cigarette butt into the bowl, igniting the insecticide fumes. This "seriously burned his sensitive parts," the Post wrote delicately. There was worse to come. When paramedics arrived, they quickly placed the afflicted man on a stretcher. But when told the cause of the accident, they laughed uncontrollably and as a result dropped the stretcher down the stairs. This led to the broken ribs and pelvis. The man is recovering.The hoax got as far as it did thanks to a lack of fact checking. A reporter for The Jerusalem Post heard this story, then rushed it into print without first verifying it. Reuters and United Press International picked it up from there.
"The Post was not the victim of a deliberate hoax," the newspaper said in a statement. "Rather, a good tale got so tangled in the telling that it assumed a newsworthiness it should never have had."
The exploding Israeli toilet story worked its way into the October 1993 Weekly World News (a publication best described as one that makes up interesting items on slow news days, and it's always a slow news day at the Weekly World News). This time the victim had a name: Saul Frankel. He was also quoted as saying, "Next time I hope she just stomps the roach."
The legend's undeniable charm resides in the wonderful picture it creates in the mind's eye. One can't hear the story without seeing the fellow still seated on his commode, half-charred and smoldering, a rueful look upon his face.
Brunvand mentions the story was a rural gag about outhouses long before it began to circulate as an urban legend adapted to indoor plumbing.
The "dropped stretcher" motif shows up in another legend, that of a naked man clawed or cold-nosed in an sensitive part of his anatomy. Legends can sometimes share the same memorable motif.
Every now and then at least part of a legend will come true years after the full version has been in circulation. In April 1998, various news agencies reported on a German camper who died from injuries received when a camp-site toilet exploded as he tried to light a cigarette, the resulting blast throwing him through a closed window. The incident supposedly happened in Montabaur, a town south of Bonn. The suspected culprit was either gas leaking from the septic tank or a defective natural gas pipe. The unnamed man died in hospital two days after the explosion.
I'm still not entirely sure I believe it. Every one of those reports read almost word-for-word like all the others, leading me to conclude the story issued from only one source. Though the text of it did read like a news item, the victim was never named. Color me still a bit disbelieving but willing to be persuaded.
However, in 2004, a man in West Virginia was hospitalized for burns after his lighting a cigarette in a portable outhouse caused that structure to explode, an instance of ostension. Bodily gases were not the culprit in that accident, but rather a breach in a pipe that carried gas underneath the portable toilet. The cigarette unsuspectingly lit by 52-year-old John Jenkins of Brave, Pennsylvania on
A version of the legend came true in August 2010 in England. A 28-year-old man dispatched by his wife to deal with a spider lurking behind the toilet sprayed the beastie with the contents of an aerosol can. The light bulb in the bathroom was blown, so in an effort to check on whether he'd succeeded in killing his prey, the man used a cigarette lighter to illuminate the room. Said process ignited the gas fumes and caused an explosion that was so strong that it blew the man off his feet and lifted the loft door off its hinges. The hapless spider-slayer suffered flash burns to his head, legs, and torso, necessitating a trip to the hospital to have his wounds attended to.
In its most common form, the legend requires that a woman's folly
Predating them all is this item gleaned from a 1943 armed services newspaper where it was presented as a true story:
During war-time your life isn't safe even in the latrine! With Americans, the growler has always been a place in which to sit with an air of quiet dignity, smoke a cigarette, read the morning paper or just meditate while attending to the biological amenities.Urban legends rely on stereotypes to make them work, and in the world of contemporary lore, women, maintenance men, and washroom attendants are totally clueless about complex matters (such as those involving explosive substances). Dumping gasoline down the crapper, using liquid fuel as a cleaner, or spraying hairspray into the bowl in an attempt to kill a bug (wouldn't a quick flush have solved the problem?) are seen as activities no typical man would be foolish enough to engage in but are of course well within the realm of what the little woman is capable of.
Lt. David Hunter, a cryptographic officer up in Assam, however, learned a while back that all is not beer and skittles when he made his customary morning call. He calmly lit a cigarette and tossed the lighted match down the hole in the thatched officers' meditation booth.
The resultant explosion not only singed his eyebrows but gave him a quick impression of a latrine version of Dante's Inferno.
No - the boys don't have acidosis up there. British sanitary engineers had mixed a bit of gasoline with the oil they normally pour in as a hygienic measure.
A man's home is his castle, and the bathroom is seen as his throne room. His being blasted off it is nothing short of a palace uprising.
Barbara "royal flush" Mikkelson
Sightings: In an episode of TV's
The "dropped stretcher" motif shows up in an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show, titled "My Mother Can Beat Up My Father" (original air date
Last Updated: 5 November 2012
This material may not be reproduced without permission.
snopes and the snopes.com logo are registered service marks of snopes.com.
Also told in: