Cheap bulk wine is imported from Algeria in tank ships, either arriving in Marseilles or by barge direct to Paris. The story always involves the slow draining of the tank into a bottling line, the departure of the bottles, and then the discovery at the bottom of the tank, too late to recall the bottles, of the dead Algerian. In one version the Algerian has a knife in his back; in another he has been strangled or hanged and still has the rope around his neck.
The closest approach to an Australian version of the overseas tales I have heard was a tale that went around bars in North Queensland in the fifties about a bloke who fell into the huge molasses tank at a sugar-mill once and how he wasn't missed for a couple of days, and that the only way they ever found out what had happened was that one of his boots eventually got jammed in the valve in the bottom of the tank. They used to say he was perfectly preserved, even after two years in the molasses, so they just hosed him down and fitted him into a coffin.
[Collected on the Internet, 2001]
For years now, I've heard the recurring story of a brewery worker who fell into a large vat of beer and drowned. As the story goes, the beer was bottled and distributed and the body of the dead worker wasn't found until the vat was being cleaned. A variation on this story is the brewery was forced to recall hundreds of flats of beer - some of which had already been sold and drank.
- What substance the unnoticed worker falls into varies: beer, wine, soft drinks (especially Coca-Cola), molasses, tomato juice, and various prepared sauces have all been mentioned, as has a paper pulper which was churning used girlie magazines into cardboard for cereal boxes. Common completing explanations given about this legend state that these bodies aren't found until it's too late to do anything about retrieving the finished product (because it has already been shipped), or that it would cost too much to ditch the run. Thus the adulterated product is knowingly allowed to reach consumers.
- In another version of the legend, the decomposing body of a worker is found in a town's water tower years after he went missing.
- A non-human version features snakes who supposedly fall into wine vats and whose decomposing remains are not discovered until long after the wine is bottled and sold.
- Although tales from all branches of the legend usually conclude with the consumers either caught at the moment of just realizing what they've been ingesting or becoming ill over it, some end with their dying of a dread illness brought on by contact with whatever the corpse had been stewing in.
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:
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
Brunvand, Jan Harold. The Choking Doberman. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. ISBN 0-393-30321-7 (pp. 114-118). Brunvand, Jan Harold. Too Good To Be True. New York: W. W. Norton, 1999. ISBN 0-393-04734-2 (pp. 197-198). Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill. Now! That's What I Call Urban Myths. London: Virgin Books, 1996. ISBN 0-86369-969-3 (p. 128-130). Morgan, Hal and Kerry Tucker. More Rumor! New York: Penguin Books, 1987. ISBN 0-14-009720-1 (pp. 182-184). Scott, Bill. Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends. St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland Press, 1996. ISBN 0-7022-2774-9 (pp. 46-50). Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle. New York: Doubleday, 1906. The Associated Press. "4-Year-Old Vanished Playing on Sidewalk." 11 August 1996. Shadows of Death. Library of Curious and Unusual Facts. Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1992. ISBN 0-8094-7719-X (pp. 78-79).