Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Legend: Brewery employees discover the body of a worker in a vat of beer.
Lone Star was far from the first firm to have been deviled by a contamination whisper of the 'putrifying body' nature. In 1934 the Chesterfield cigarette company was dealt a particularly telling blow by a rumor (likely started by a competitor) that a leper had been working in that factory, therefore all Chesterfield smokers risked handling cigarettes that had been through his diseased hands.
Our particular legend is quite an old one, though, as this excerpt from a 1906 novel shows:
As for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting — sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham's Pure Leaf Lard!Manufacturing versions of the "ingestible contaminated by a dead body" legend are easy to dismiss because no verifiable instances of stewed workers have made it into the news. True, on rare occasions folks have died from falling into a foodstuff or potable that was being prepared, but they have always been fished out promptly. (One such case was the 1952 demise of San Francisco brewery worker John Reid. He had fallen into a vat of barley while it was being emptied and suffocated before rescuers could dig him out.) The "unnoticed deceased worker" is a figment of lore, not of
The one class of "liquid contaminated by a dead body" stories that has anything to it centers on water tanks and city reservoirs. It has occasionally been true that bodies (human and animal) have been found in these containers. The remains of four-year-old Kali Poulton was one such find
We tell "deceased worker" tales for a couple of reasons. They speak to our ongoing mistrust of food and beverage companies ("Should we really count on them to be all that careful about what goes into whatever they're preparing?") and to our fear of ending up an unnoticed death ("In our overly-mechanized and impersonal society, I could have a terrible accident and nobody would even know, much less be motivated to come to my rescue"). Both are powerful deeply-internalized themes which cause us to at least somewhat believe stories of this nature (especially when they are passed along to us by folks we trust) and to further spread them ourselves.
A closely related legend, one which also features decomposing corpses polluting a potable, is the venerable Bier Barrel. In it, folks who have been celebrating through libation their good fortune in happening upon a full barrel of excellent rum in the cellar of the house they just bought go on to discover once the cask is empty and they cut it open to make planters of it that there had been a dead body moldering away in there all along.
Barbara "roll out the barrels!" Mikkelson
Last updated: 3 February 2007
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