Example: [Collected on the Internet, 1997]
A man was working on his motorcycle on his patio and his wife was in the house in the kitchen. The man was racing the engine on the motorcycle and somehow, the motorcycle slipped into gear. The man, still holding the handlebars, was dragged through a glass patio door and the motorcycle dumped onto the floor inside the house. The wife, hearing the crash, ran into the dining room, and found her husband laying on the floor, cut and bleeding, the motorcycle laying next to him and the patio door shattered. The wife ran to the phone and summoned an ambulance. Because they lived on a fairly large hill, the wife went down the several flights of long steps to the street to direct the paramedics to her husband.
After the ambulance arrived and transported the husband to the hospital, the wife uprighted the motorcycle and pushed it outside. Seeing that gas had spilled on the floor, the wife obtained some paper towels, blotted up the gasoline, and threw the towels in the toilet.
The husband was treated at the hospital and was released to come home.
After arriving home, he looked at the shattered patio door and the damage done to his motorcycle. He became despondent, went into the bathroom, sat on the toilet and smoked a cigarette. After finishing the cigarette, he flipped it between his legs into the toilet bowl while still seated. The wife, who was in the kitchen, heard a loud explosion and her husband screaming.
She ran into the bathroom and found her husband laying on the floor. His trousers had been blown away and he was suffering burns on the buttocks, the back of his legs and his groin. The wife again ran to the phone and called for an ambulance. The same ambulance crew was dispatched and the wife met them at the street. The paramedics loaded the husband on the stretcher and began carrying him to the street.
While they were going down the stairs to the street accompanied by the wife, one of the paramedics asked the wife how the husband had burned himself. She told them and the paramedics started laughing so hard, one of them tipped the stretcher and dumped the husband out. He fell down the remaining steps and broke his ankle.
- What the explosive substance is and how it gets into the toilet varies:
- Pesticide or hairspray is spritzed into toilet to kill a bug (roach or scary spider).
- Paint thinner is dumped into toilet to dispose of the substance.
- Hairspray or perfume is liberally spritzed around the room as the woman primps.
- Gasoline or aircraft fuel is used to clean the toilet.
- Pesticide or hairspray is spritzed into toilet to kill a bug (roach or scary spider).
- Sometimes the "dropped stretcher" motif completes the legend; sometimes it doesn't.
- The exploding toilet legend has at times been tacked onto other hilarious accidents legends (e.g., the "pulled over the house" tale).
- No matter how the details are shifted around, the unfortunate victim is always male whereas the one who unwittingly lays the trap is most often female.
Origins: The following "blast from the past" is one of the older print sightings of this legend:
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."
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 . . .
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 13 July 2004 touched off an explosion that blew the top off the port-a-loo and inflicted third-degree burns to 20 percent of the man's body. Jenkins managed to drive himself to the Clay-Battelle Community Health Center in Blacksville. From there he was transported to Ruby Memorial Hospital to be treated in its burn unit. He received skin grafts on his forearms and spent a week in the hospital recovering from the blast.
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 leads to a fellow and the toilet he's sitting on being blasted to Kingdom Come. (In a few non-standard tellings, the one who laid the trap is said to be a maintenance man or washroom attendant, both characterizations stereotyping that individual as being of lower intelligence.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sightings: In an episode of TV's L.A. Law ("Smoke Gets in Your Thighs"; original air date 15 November 1990), Douglas Brackman tries out the office men's room just as Murray (Roxanne's father) finishes remodeling it. He lights a cigar, unaware that Murray has dumped turpentine into the toilet; the resulting explosion sends him to the hospital with burned buttocks. (Although paramedics are shown wheeling him out of the office, they don't drop him or tip over the gurney.)
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 23 September 1964). Rob is injured while trying to demonstrate a judo throw using a stuffed monkey. When the ambulance crew learns he lost a fight with a toy, they laugh so hard they drop their patient into the rose bushes.
Also Told in:
Franks, Norman. Air Battle of Imphal.
London: William Kimber, 1985. ISBN 0-7183-0552-3 (p. 130).
Healey, Phil and Rick Glanvill. Now! That’s What I Call Urban Myths.
London: Virgin Books, 1996. ISBN 0-86369-969-3 (pp. 40-41).
Scott, Bill. Pelicans & Chihuahuas and Other Urban Legends.
St. Lucia, Queensland: Univ. of Queensland, 1996. ISBN 0-7022-2774-9 (pp. 16-18).
The Big Book of Urban Legends.
New York: Paradox Press, 1994. ISBN 1-56389-165-4 (pp. 112-113).