Snopes.com is fifteen years old. Snopes became a household word at our home a decade ago when a co-worker warned me against allowing my children to play in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese’s. She insisted that a boy had been bitten by a rattlesnake while playing in the plastic balls, and had DIED. I gave the story little credence until my co-worker became distressed when I wouldn’t promise to keep my children out of ball pits. To help resolve the dilemma, I Googled the tragedy. Snopes appeared on my screen with a concise description of the venomous-snakes-living-at-the-bottom-of-ball-pits story as apocryphal.
Consulting Snopes to learn the stories behind the stories that were showing up in my email, or discussed at work, became a weekly activity. I purposefully selected urban legends from the site to discuss at the dinner table, so we could practice indentifying myths. We all became adept at identifying the mythical, unnamed person known as “a friend of a friend.”
I had always envisioned a team of Snopes researchers, sequestered in a large office building, systematically investigating rumors, half-truths, and urban legends. The recent issue of Reader’s Digest (April 2009) reveals the purveyors of truth to be a middle-aged, couple—David and Barbara Mikkelson—who live in an unpretensious double-wide, stocked with a variety of catalogs, newspapers, and reference books. The couple started checking folklore facts in 1994, as a hobby. Today it’s a full-time profession for the couple, and 6.2 million people visit Snopes.com monthly. In the last fifteen years, the Mikkelsons have researched thousands of stories, and labled them “true,” “false,” or “undetermined.” Legends that have survived for generations have been debunked by the couple. And the Snopes name? It was borrowed from a family in a William Faulkner novel.
So, is it true that the Chineese are raising St. Bernards for their tasty and nutritious meat? You’ll have to Snopes it, to know for sure. 🙂