Church Folklore That Sounds Like It Started as an April Fools’ Day Joke

bigfoot rumors urban legends

While rumors can be harmful (and often just straight up mean), sometimes they’re so ridiculous that you can’t help but laugh — i.e., that Nicolas Cage is a time-traveling vampire (although, okay, this one’s probably true judging by this picture), that Elvis and Tupac are secretly still alive, and that alligators are living in the NYC sewers.

In a church that’s been around for almost two centuries, it’s no surprise that sometimes rumors get spread around among its 16 million+ members… And while they’re probably not on par with the conspiracy that the American government is actually run by evil lizard people, there are some pretty good ones.

Rumor #1: Cain is Bigfoot

via history.com

This is one of the most well-known LDS urban legends out there. Due to a highly circulated, unvalidated story, many people believe that Cain (the son of Adam and Eve, and the world’s first murderer) was condemned to wander the Earth forever as Bigfoot. The story, which was first told in Lycurgus Wilson’s biography on David W. Patten, goes as follows:

As I was riding along the road on my mule I suddenly noticed a very strange personage walking beside me. … His head was about even with my shoulders as I sat in my saddle. He wore no clothing, but was covered with hair. His skin was very dark. I asked him where he dwelt and he replied that he had no home, that he was a wanderer in the earth and traveled to and fro. He said he was a very miserable creature, that he had earnestly sought death during his sojourn upon the earth, but that he could not die, and his mission was to destroy the souls of men. About the time he expressed himself thus, I rebuked him in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by virtue of the Holy Priesthood, and commanded him to go hence, and he immediately departed out of my sight.

So is it true? Uh, probably not. Here’s what FairMormon has to say about it:

This account was published in a biography of Patten written by Lycurgus Wilson in 1900. Wilson had a letter from Abraham Smoot giving his recollection of what Patten said. In historical parlance this is what is called a late, third-hand account—the sort of thing most historians would dismiss. This kind of testimony is simply unreliable, tainted by the passage of time and the fog of memory.

In addition to the historical unreliability of the statement, it also conflicts with the scriptural record in a few respects. First, Genesis records that during the flood, “all flesh died that moved upon the earth, … every man. … Every living substance was destroyed … , both man, and cattle. … And Noah only remained alive, and they that were with him in the ark” (Gen. 7:21-23). No explanation is offered for how Cain would have survived the flood, or why he should be an exception to the widespread destruction.

Also, the described state of perpetual deathlessness sounds like being “translated,” such as were Enoch’s followers, Moses, Elijah, Alma the younger, the three Nephites, and John the apostle. For this notion of Cain being translated to be true, it would be the only example of a wicked person receiving this unparalleled blessing, when in every other instance, it is reserved for only the most righteous.

Note also that in Wilson’s account above, Patten never identifies the mysterious figure as Cain. So even if we were to grant the account was accurate, it doesn’t inform us in any way about Cain. The idea that Cain still walks the earth is simply folklore.”

So there you have it, folks: “simply folklore.”

Rumor #2: BYU students can’t have a beard because Jesus no longer does

via holyfetch.com

This is a favorite rumor of mine because it’s so hilariously outlandish. The rumor asserts that an apostle (although exactly who said it changes in various stories) spoke at BYU and told students the reason they can’t have beards is because the last time he saw Jesus, He was beardless.

Holy Fetch, a site dedicated to Latter-day Saint urban legends, addresses the validity (or obvious lack thereof) of this claim:

Although members, and especially BYU students, love to spread this rumor, there is no documented proof that this event ever took place. The story has been around long enough that the apostle named in the story often changes to whichever apostle or prophet is popular at that time. [Nowadays], it is hard to believe that such an event could happen without having someone recording it on his or her iPhone and posting it to YouTube the next day.

Rumor #3: Albert Einstein said James E. Talmage was the smartest man he ever met

albert einsteinI don’t know how this rumor started, but I’m mad at whoever started it because I want it to be true so badly. So rumor-spreader, if I ever meet you, Imma give you a swift kick to the shin.

This urban legends purports that Einstein, who had a genius-level IQ of at least 160, said that James E. Talmage was the smartest man he had ever met.

The only problem? There is no record that Einstein and Talmage ever met.

Although Talmage and Einstein were contemporaries, they were in totally different fields of study. Talmage was a preeminent geologist, while Einstein was involved in the study of advanced theoretical physics.

So while it would be awesome if this rumor were true, it is sadly wishful folklore.

Rumor #4: The Smithsonian used the Book of Mormon as an archeological guide

smithsonian institute
The Smithsonian Institution

At some point during the 20th century, a rumor circulated that the Book of Mormon was being used by the Smithsonian Institution as an archeological guide. In fact, it’s such a widespread rumor that the Smithsonian has had to draft a form letter for when they receive questions about their use of the Book of Mormon.

Long story short: the Smithsonian has never used the Book of Mormon for archeological research.

Here’s what their letter says when they receive questions about this topic:

Your inquiry of [date] concerning the Smithsonian Institution’s alleged use of the Book of Mormon as a scientific guide has been received in this office for response.

The Book of Mormon is a religious document and not a scientific guide. The Smithsonian Institution has never used it in archaeological research, and any information that you have received to the contrary is incorrect.

Your interest in the Smithsonian Institution is appreciated.

It’s a nice letter that basically says, “Please stop asking us this question.” Sorry, Smithsonian!

Rumor #5: Steve Martin is a secret Latter-day Saint

Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Back in the 90s, Steve Martin gave an interview where he was wearing a ring that some people thought looked like a CTR ring — and that seems to be where this urban legend began… But sadly, it’s not true. Steve Martin is NOT a member of the Church. *Wipes tears from eyes*

FamousMormons.net received the following amusing letter regarding this rumor:

I was present at the birth of the “Steve Martin is a Mormon” rumor. It was sometime in the early 90s. I had been a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for a few years when a member of the Choir told us one Sunday morning that his son had baptized Steve Martin back in Hilton Head, South Carolina. I’m sure that many Choir members did what I did. I told everyone I met about it. I even announced it [on] Scott Card’s Nauvoo site on AOL. But the following Sunday when I asked that Choir member for more info about it, he said, ‘Oh, I misunderstood my son. He said he baptized a  man named Steve Martin, but it wasn’t the famous one.’

That poor missionary probably never guessed he’d accidentally spread a rumor that thousands of people would hear… Whoops.

As Max Holloway said, “Heroes get remembered. Legends never die.” And these urban legends? They JUST. WON’T. DIE.

These are just five out of tons of Church-related urban legends. What are some favorites that you’ve heard? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!

Amy Keim is the site manager and editor for LDSBlogs.com. She served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love mountains and despise snow. She has a passion for peanut butter, dancing badly, and most of all, the gospel.