During the middle of last summer an old lady wearing a thick coat and large hat was walking out of the supermarket when she collapsed. A doctor who happened to be going through the checkout at the time rushed forward to see if he could do anything.
Expecting her to be suffering from heatstroke he was very surprised to find it was actually a case of hypothermia! The riddle was finally solved when, to make the lady more comfortable, they removed her hat only to find she had been attempting to shoplift a frozen chicken under it.
I heard this one while working for a local grocery chain. While the store was full of local retirees, an older gentleman was seen slowly exiting the store with a drop of blood coming from under his hat. The manager rushed over inquiring about the blood, wondering if the man fell, etc. The man nervously explained that he just wanted to leave. The store manager, while trying to help the man out, lifted the hat to find an unpackaged steak sitting on the man's bald head. The man was promptly arrested for shoplifting.
- The boosted items generally come from the meat aisle, with steaks, chickens, and turkeys usually named.
- Although the purloined item of this legend is usually stashed under a hat, a 1992 "news story" out of Sweden claimed a failed shoplifter had fainted and been discovered thanks to the frozen chicken she'd hidden in her brassiere.
- Sometimes blood from the melting item dripping down to where others can see it attracts solicitous attention to the person trying to slip away unnoticed; sometimes the chill from the stolen item fells the miscreant. The common element is how the thief's act comes to
light — inboth versions, the stolen item gives the booster away.
- Although the legend commonly ends with the discovery of the shoplifter's act, in some flamboyant "come to justice" tellings the thwarted thief dies of a "frozen brain."
This telling marked the first appearance of the legend in print. How long prior to that the story had been circulating orally is anybody's guess, but a 1962 Reader's Digest article on supermarkets contained the following intriguing line: "Once a policeman lifted his cap, and a steak fell out." True, it lacks the 'frozen brain' or 'dripping blood' elements of what has come to be the common legend, but it does prove the lore about supermarket shoplifters hiding their booty under their hats was around that long ago.
We thrill to 'frozen chicken under the hat' stories because they confirm a world view we'd very much like to believe: that the misdeeds of bad guys will always come to light and the guilty will always be brought to justice. If such moral vindications can also be accomplished through the baddie's making a fool of himself, so much the
The prototype of the current legend comes from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, an 1885 novel by Mark Twain. In
Another legend featuring a foodstuff mistaken for oozing brains is the popular
One last "under the hat" legend deserves mention even if it doesn't fit all that closely with the theme:
A friend's dad is a desk sergeant in the West Midlands Constabulary. Although his job these days is a long way from the frontline in the fight against crime, in his younger days he pounded the beat around Handsworth.
This was well before the days of joyriders, ramraiders and serial killers; criminals in those days were an altogether nicer breed. At the time one of his colleagues had an interesting experience. The copper was patrolling a particularly ill-lit street. With his torch blazing, he flashed into each doorway and ginnel, weeding out the homeless and stopping every black BMW he saw, and generally keeping 'em peeled.
It was just as well, because his vigilance soon paid off. The flashlight illuminated the front of a cosy old tobacconist's with the door slightly ajar.
Steeling himself for possible violent confrontation, he slowly pushed open the door. Nothing appeared to be amiss, so radioing the station the flatfoot poked around the shop. Then he checked no one was looking and helped himself to
The flustered shopowner arrived shortly, bursting with gratitude, and after checking his goods he praised the policeman's diligence and dedication to the job. Then he insisted on giving the officer a little 'thank you' for his trouble. 'Here, take these two hundred ciggies,' he offered.
'No, no, sir, that really won't be necessary. I'm only doing my job,' the bobby protested uncomfortably. 'Anyway, I don't have anywhere to put them.'
'Nonsense,' replied the shopkeeper, reaching up. 'You can hide them under your helmet.'
Last updated: 3 September 2011
Brunvand, Jan Harold. Curses! Broiled Again! New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. ISBN 0-393-30711-5 (pp. 178-179). Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Mexican Pet. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986. ISBN 0-393-30542-2 (pp. 143-144). Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good to Be True. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04734-2 (pp. 312-314). Bryson, Bill. The Blook of Bunders (Bizarre World). Great Britain: Sphere Books Ltd., 1982. de Vos, Gail. Tales, Rumors and Gossip. Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, 1996. ISBN 1-56308-190-3 (pp. 37, 180-181). Morison, Don. "I Live with Grocery Carts." Reader's Digest. August 1962 (p. 21). Smith, Paul. The Book of Nastier Legends. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986. ISBN 0-7102-0573-2 (p. 53).
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