From Tripping on Legends:
We rarely break into commentary when we post the articles we gather from news sources, but as this one hits close to home and we specifically did a show on it, we feel the need to drop a little something in about the nature of urban legends, folklore, and the haunted stories that are often too strong to be killed by facts.
And the facts are these; the song American Girl is not about the suicide that happened on the campus of the University of Florida.
As we talked about in the episode Bundy, Books, and Bikinis, the suicide at the college never happened but made sense to the students who came after as a warning on the dangers of drugs and falling into the bad element once the shackles of your parents are off. For those who do not know the full story (and the article only gets into parts of it) a beautiful freshman at UF was experimenting with LSD or another mind altering drug (sometimes even just marijuana in the more extreme retellings) when she thought she could fly and jumped from Beaty Tower. Other times the drug just instantly shoot her into a suicidal spiral and she takes her own life by jumping. It was believable enough, and it symbolised the loss of innocence many college campuses and the small towns which often make their identity on the universities in them were feeling at the time. Places like Gainesville are reflections of their schools. Then there is the old legend about colleges covering them up to not tarnish their image, which leads to some saying the untrue parts of legends like these are in fact true but cleaned from the records.
Petty, heard the story and felt its influence on the community and wrote the song to express his emotions. In fact, if you read the lyrics (or feel free just to sing them out loud), with the myth in mind, it seems clear what he is talking about.
All of this is untrue. As the article will tell you, there is another inspiration for the story which contains much of the same thematic ideas as the urban legend. No student ever jumped from Beaty Tower under the influence of drugs. The story serves a purpose, so it continues to exist. Petty’s song reference is actually only part of what students still tell; most can recite the legend but have never heard American Girls is about it. No matter how many times the connection and the source story are proven wrong, people still believe, like every community thinking a bus of children died at an intersection of their town even when confronted by facts.
Facts are not relevant in this situation. It is not a matter of fake news or agenda, it’s just need fulfillment. The story rings true because it could be true. It is more true than truth.
The other question to consider it the impact on the ghostly legend attached to the story. If the woman never killed herself, who is the ghost seen in the hallway, and on the elevator, and on the roof? Why is she seen jumping if no one in fact jumped? Is it a thoughtform created by the student body or a lonely ghost hoping playing out a legend will get people to pay more attention?
The story continues to compel. The urban legend explains the haunting and the haunting supports the details of the urban legend, like a house of card. And Tom Petty ties it all together.
Does it matter if any of them are true?
…and now the article
From: Showbiz Cheatsheet
by Jason Rossi
Tom Petty was nothing short of a titan of American music. The songwriter and guitarist channeled his love for the George Harrison-penned Beatles’ tune “Here Comes the Sun” into a successful career of his own. Among Petty’s many hit songs is “American Girl,” the tune that put him and The Heartbreakers on the map. The urban legend says the song is about the suicide of a college student, but Petty debunked that myth and revealed the truth years before he died.
The urban legend, as Mental Floss reports, is that Petty wrote the song about a suicide at the University of Florida in his native Gainesville. As Petty once revealed, the truth is far more pedestrian, and the inspiration is there in plain sight….
Haunted Ocala is now ready for order…
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