Urban legend is commonly seen as one of the most important and versatile forms of verbal folklore as its applications can be synthesized by anyone anywhere. In my research paper I will be diving deeper into an urban legend local to my hometown of Mahopac, NY. This urban legend is the legend of “Oniontown”, a supposed haven for “In-breds” and “mutants” this town features people who will do anything to remove outsiders from their secretive community. The legend of Oniontown plays off of several aspects of the genre of verbal folklore Urban Legend such as the connection to cultural anxieties like incest and ocioeconomic class.
For my research, I will be analyzing an interview of my friend Matt, whose older brother has had first- hand experience with this legend, a documentary from Vice as well as scholarly articles on urban legend. With my research, I hope to look deeper into the veracity of this legend, how this legend was transmitted and how it gained such a large following among high school students. In my opinion I think that this urban legend is nothing more than a rumor blown out of proportion with a false sense of veracity based on the structure of a typical urban legend.
The story of Oniontown is one that as gained a great deal of notoriety and has even been featured on the popular investigative journalism publisher “Vice. ” According to news stories, Oniontown peaked in popularity in the summer of 2008 when 2 teenagers from the town of Mahopac, NY were attacked and put in the hospital by Oniontown’s residents after they drove in to check it out. Shortly after this event the story took off and its identity as a true urban legend was beginning to show. According to Jan Harold Brunvan in his publication New Legends for Old he states that urban legends often conform to concrete standards.
They are usually rafted with believability in mind and they “Gain credibility from specific details of time and place or from references to source authorities” (Brunvan 382). Brunvan goes on to state that Urban legends are also usually “set in the recent past and involve normal human beings rather than gods and demigods” (Brunvan 382). Another key standard associated with urban legend that is also present in the legend of Oniontown is the idea that the story is passed along and evolved over time.
This is seen in Joel Best and Gerald T. Horiuchi’s publication The Razor Blade in the Apple: The Social Construction of Urban Legends when he says that “Whether a legend begins with a real incident or as a fictional tale, it is told and retold, often evolving as it spreads. On occasion, urban legends appear in newspaper stories, reinforcing the tale’s credibility” (Best & Horiuchi 492). When looking at these articles on urban legend many parallels can be drawn between the key features of an urban legend and the motifs seen in the story of Oniontown. Through the use of articles that analyze urban legend and its structure, a basis for this genre of folklore can be established for my research on the specific legend of Oniontown.
An urban legend similar to the legend of Oniontown is the famous American story of The Hook. The Hook is a story that has seen lots of variation but features main motifs of a teenage boy and girl going out to a secluded location in their car while a killer with a hook hand is on the loose. Some versions of the story have the couple drive off to find a hook still in their car when they get home while others have the man getting murdered by the killer. This story is absolutely an urban legend and likewise shares the same components as the legend of Oniontown such as a focus on ultural anxieties.
In William M. Clements article Mythology and modern legend: Interpreting “The Hook” he goes deeper into this idea of all urban legends sharing components but focuses on the urban legend of The Hook. Clements goes on to talk about the connection between psychoanalytics and urban legend, he says that psychoanalytics is “an emphasis on the unconscious segment of the human psyche. “(Clements 41) When paired with urban legend it is essentially cultural anxieties that people unconsciously don’t address but when it is brought up in a legend it becomes interesting to them.
In the case of The Hook, Clements quotes Dundes who said that the story is “primarily among adolescent girls” and “argues that “The Hook” symbolically addresses their fears of male sexuality. ” (Clements 41) Clements is stating that because of the common adolescent girls fear of male sexuality they unconsciously never talk about it but when it is brought up it becomes interesting and the urban legend gains popularity. This same concept can be applied to the legend of Oniontown with its motifs of incest and seriocomic class which are common cultural anxieties that aren’t discussed.
I believe that analyzing this background information will prove beneficial to my research on the legend of Oniontown. The urban legend of Oniontown is one that has always been of great interest to me since I first heard it when I was a freshman in high school. In choosing this legend I took into account my close relationship to it as well as the cultural anxieties of incest and socioeconomic class that have drawn so many people to the urban legend before me. In conducting my research, I performed an interview with my friend Matt whose brother was friends with one of the teenagers who was attacked at Oniontown. I also researched an article from Vice called Peeling Oniontown which takes an in depth look into the people of Oniontown. With the interview of my friend Matt I set out to try to gain a greater understanding of this urban legend with my knowledge of folklore in mind.
I asked questions such as if Matt has heard any variation in the story or if he believes that there are any cultural anxieties in play in the legend to keep a focus on the folkloric aspects of the story. In response to my first question “Can you tell me the story of Oniontown? Matt responded with he answer I expected, stating that “If you go into the town you will be attacked by mutants or inbreds that inhabit the town and they will do anything to get you out. ” From this I learned that Matt has already heard the stereotypical story of Oniontown which features “Inbreds” and “Mutants” instead of normal people. When I asked Matt if he had ever visited Oniontown himself his response was a firm “No” and he then went on to say that he would never visit Oniontown for fear of his own safety.
This response shows the true fear instilled in the people who have heard the story which may be a result of the effort by the tory teller to prove its veracity by using names or even news stories. I then went on to ask Matt if any of his older brothers have visited Oniontown themselves. Matt responded with “Um, my brothers haven’t visited Oniontown, but my brothers friends did visit Oniontown and appartently when he pulled up him and his other friend had rocks pelted at their car and their windows blown out and actually had one of the kids sent to the hospital. This story seems to line up with several news stories dating back to the summer of 2008 which contributes to the credibility of ome of the claims of the story and in turn contradicts my claim that the story was blown out of proportion. Moving along, I began to move into Matts actual feelings regarding the veracity of this legend.
When asking Matt if he believed in this urban legend his response was “Um, I don’t believe that there is mutant people and I’m really unsure about the uh, inbred, but I do believe that if you go into the town of Oniontown you will be attacked if you are not welcome there or you don’t belong there. I felt that this response was very important because it shows that Matts feelings on the subject align with my ypothesis as I believe that many aspects of the story such as the “Mutants” or “Inbreds” are fake and blown out of proportion. Going deeper into why Matt believed there was so much intrigue in this story he responded by saying that he felt like kids who just got their licenses were yearning for adventure and wanted something to do on a Friday night and a drive up to Oniontown was what they chose to do.
Moving more towards a focus on the structure of an urban legend I asked Matt if he felt like there were any cultural anxieties that played a part in the popularity of the story. Matt said that he felt like the “In-bred” spect of the story might have been a cultural anxiety that the fueled the popularity especially since it kind of evolved into “Mutants” in many cases. Overall, I believe that my interview of Matt was extremely helpful and provided me with a lot of first- hand knowledge that aligned with as well as contradicted my initial claim that Oniontown was simply a story blown out of proportion.
Another source that I researched to gain a greater understanding of Oniontown was an article published by Vice called Peeling Oniontown. In this article, the author Aaron Lake Smith tried to get to the bottom of the legend by visiting Oniontown and talking to many of its residents. Smith first talks about how the story came about and states that it was an early YouTube video from three teenagers that started the phenomenon of going “to gawk at the supposedly inbred hillbillies who’ve been popularized by urban myth. (Smith 2) In the article Smith also directly supports my claim that people may have been interested in this because of the cultural anxiety of socioeconomic class when he asked the question “What was the root of this fascination and fear of rural poverty? ” (Smith 3)
Researching further into this idea Smith states that the eenagers who came to look at Oniontown were from affluent suburbs such as Westchester or “The wealthy town of Mahopac. (Smith 2) From this It becomes clear that the privileged and sheltered teens like the ones who ventured up to Oniontown might have been interested in the poverty that plagues it because they have never experienced it themselves. This aligns with Clement’s claims from earlier, socioeconomic class seems to have been the “Psychoanalytic unconscious” cultural anxiety that fueled the meteoric rise to this story because the teens that went there have never had a reason to hink about it until then.
Another area of Smith’s article that aligns with my hypothesis and fits with the structure of an urban legend is seen when he says that “The incident made national news, adding to the place’s infamy. The situation was exacerbated by state police investigator Eric Schaeffer’s ominous warning to the press: “Anybody that doesn’t belong there, anybody that’s not a resident, just stay out of Oniontown. ” (Smith 2) By saying this smith is showing that the large media following and statements by the authorities of this story was contributing to and exacerbating the situation.
This supports my hypothesis as it shows another way the story was blown out of proportion as well as fitting the structure of an urban legend as many people look to news stories and authorities to verify the truth in the legend. In consulting this article by Vice, I believe that the use of skilled investigative journalism proved to be extremely beneficial to my research. When looking at the urban legend of Oniontown the veracity, and origins of its claims were not quite concrete.
From my interview of Matt as well as consulting the Vice article Peeling Oniontown it becomes clear why this story has enjoyed such as large following and what exactly is the truth behind the story. Like many urban legends the truth behind the supernatural claims of Oniontown was defended whether they were true or not. However, after interviewing an individual with vast knowledge on the subject and consulting a credible Vice documentary with an in-depth investigation of the story! believe that my hypothesis of the story simply being blown out of proportion holds true.