Have you ever wondered whether people in other times and other places spread urban legends the way folks do today? Well, they couldn’t do it exactly the same way, because internet. But rumors and terrifying tales were passed around that only tenuously had anything to do with reality. The scares and panics from Victorian London were well documented so that we can enjoy them today. Here’s one that kept folks off the streets for a while.
1. The Great Garroting Panic of 1862
What they believed: A band of criminals were stalking the capital, garroting anyone unfortunate enough to come into their path. One unfortunate M.P., Hugh Pilkington, had already fallen victim to them as he made his way home from his club.
Why they believed it: Pilkington was mugged and quite possibly choked - this much is true. But this random incident exploded in the public’s imagination. And that was due to magazines and periodicals, who were keen to stoke up a frenzy about the end of transportation to Australia and the activities of ticket-of-leave men (offenders released on a provisional licence), as well as the apparent ineffectiveness of reform programmes for criminals. As a result, in 1863 Parliament passed the Garrotters Act, which reintroduced corporal punishment for armed or violent robbery, and in 1864 the Penal Servitude Act, which made mandatory the police supervision of ticket-of-leave men.
That’s only the beginning. People also feared pigs roaming in the sewers, ghosts, mutant humans, wild animal attacks, and more, which you can read about at Buzzfeed.