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Heaven's Gate

Claim:   A goat (or horse) tied to railway crossing gate is accidentally hanged when the gate goes up.

LEGEND

Examples:

[Smith, 1983]

A friend of mine pulled up at a set of automatic railway level-crossing gates that were in the down position. In front of him was a horse and cart and in front of that another car. As all three were waiting for the train to come, a man walked past with his dog. The dog, for one reason or another, took a dislike to the horse and nipped it on the leg. The horse distinctly did not relish this kind of treatment and kicked out at the dog, missed and kicked the dog's owner instead. He in turn was furious. So, tying his dog by the lead to the automatic gates, before the cart driver could prevent him, he gave the horse a hefty kick.

In some consternation, the horse reared and kicked the boot of the car in front. In panic, it then backed the cart into the front of my friend's car. While all this was going on, the dog owner stood by and laughed at the chaos he had caused. This was perhaps unfortunate for, while he was laughing at the plight of the horse and the various drivers, the train passed, the automatic gates rose, and his dog was hanged.
 

[Collected on the Internet, 1994]

While motorcycling through the Hungarian countryside, Cristo Falatti came up to a railway line just as the crossing gates were coming down. While he sat idling, he was joined by a farmer with a goat, which the farmer tethered to the crossing gate. A few moments later a horse and cart drew up behind Falatti, followed in short order by a man in a sports car.

When the train roared through the crossing, the horse startled and bit Falatti on the arm. Not a man to be trifled with, Falatti responded by punching the horse in the head. In consequence the horse's owner jumped down from his cart and began scuffling with the motorcyclist. The horse, which was not up to this sort of excitement, backed away briskly, smashing the cart into the sports-car. At this, the sports-car driver leaped out of his car and joined the fray. The farmer came forward to try to pacify the three flailing men. As he did so, the crossing gates rose and his goat was strangled. At last report the insurance companies were still trying to sort out the claims.
 

Variations:   What kind of animal gets garroted changes from telling to telling, with different versions leaving dogs, horses, and goats all swinging in the air.

Origins:   The tale about an animal tethered to a crossing gate meeting its demise through hanging while its owner isn't
paying attention has been part of popular lore since at least 1982. Though at times it makes its way around the Internet as a "loony news story," there's little reason to believe it. Horse-drawn carts are a rare enough sight on modern roads; for the story to ring true, we'd have to believe that a horse its owner trusted enough to take right up to a passing train would suddenly turn uncontrollably skittish over a dog's taking a nip at it, or would chomp at a cyclist seated on an idling motorcycle. (Not that a provoked horse won't bite, but it's going to take a lot to get it to go near a motorbike.)

This cautionary tale imparts the message that it's important to consider possible consequences of potential actions. In hindsight it's obvious the animal's owner should have foreseen the potential downside to tying the creature to the crossing gate. Through our laughter at this absurdly tragic imagined tableau, we remind ourselves to perhaps consider things a bit more fully when it's our turn.

Barbara "a la carte and horse" Mikkelson

Last updated:   7 April 2011

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Sources:

    Smith, Paul.   The Book of Nasty Legends.
    London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1983.   ISBN 0-00-636856-5   (p. 85).

Also told in:

    Bryson, Bill.   The Blook of Bunders (Bizarre World).
    Great Britain: Sphere Books Ltd., 1982.

    Flynn, Mike.   The Best Book of Bizarre But True Stories Ever.
    London: Carlton, 1999.   ISBN 1-85868-558-3.   (p. 24).

    The Big Book of Urban Legends.
    New York: Paradox Press, 1994.   ISBN 1-56389-165-4   (p. 24).