Superstorm Sandy Inspires Urban Legends

By Chris Jordan | Asbury Park Press
|  Sunday, Oct 27, 2013  |  Updated 7:58 PM EDT
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Superstorm Sandy Inspires Urban Legends

AP

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It was only hours after Superstorm Sandy made landfall when the first incredible stories of the storm became known.

Watch: Sandy Victims Deal With Challenges

Many were true, some not.

So powerful was Sandy that the storm generated a mythology all its own _ one that grew in the days following the unprecedented event, due in part to a lack of media availability because the power was out in much of the region.

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"I heard there were body bags in the frozen food section of the A&P in Ortley Beach,'' Tim Donnelly, an Asbury Park-based writer and producer, told the Asbury Park Press. "There were shots of sharks going down the street. That was a good one. I totally believed that one.''

Fueled by the Internet and word-of-mouth, the fake stories and images included victims being buried upside down in the sand of the Shore, water covering the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan, and sharks swimming at the bottom of an escalator in a Jersey mall.

"It was social media,'' Donnelly said. "You had Facebook and Twitter, but you couldn't watch TV (as there was no power), and unless you could get to a store to buy the Asbury Park Press, the only way you could get news was on social media, for better or worse.''

The Press also published 24/7 on the Web, its mobile app and on social media, even starting a
"rumor control'' page to tamp down all the false reports.

The actual images of destruction and the real stories of Sandy survival made the fantastic stuff on the Internet plausible. Sharks were not in malls, but 800 pounds of fish and six sea turtles were removed from St. Rose High School in Belmar. Bodies were not buried in the sand, but Mike McDonald rode a boogie board out the window of his Union Beach home to safety, as confirmed by the Press. The New York Stock Exchange did not flood, but New York City subways did.

"They followed the pattern of the classic urban legends,'' said Angus Kress Gillespie, an American studies professor at Rutgers University. ``The body bags in the supermarket or the sharks in the street have an element of shock, but the other thing is that they are on the edge of plausibility. They may or may not be true.''

The iconic, and shocking, image of the Jet Star roller coaster in the wash off the Seaside Heights beach would come to define the Shore's Sandy experience. It looked like an Internet meme, but it was true.

"The roller coaster is a more universal thing that we can all identify with,'' Gillespie said. "It's the loss of youth, innocence _ the loss of fun.''

The juxtaposition of what appeared to be an intact roller coaster in the ocean made the image all the more striking.

"If I saw that in the movies, I would never buy it _ nothing falls like that in one piece,'' said Cliff Galbraith, a Red Bank-based comic book artist and promoter of the Asbury Park Comicon. "It's a post­apocalyptic image. It didn't fall into the ocean, it is the ocean saying, `It's mine. This will all be mine eventually.' "

The Jet Star provided a contrast of the Jersey Shore, pre-Sandy and post-Sandy.

"It's normally a happy place,'' Galbraith said. "A place that people go to enjoy themselves, and it's that juxtaposition of the horror and the holiday.''

The storm has fundamentally changed the culture of who we are.

"In Jersey, we think of ourselves as survivors,'' said Jeff Mach, an entertainment promoter from Hackensack. "We say, `the superstorm, we'll just shrug it off, this is OK.' But no matter who you are, it's hard to be OK.''

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