Tripping on Legends...

Standing at the Crossroads…

The Autistic Penguin

Urban legends run in cycles.  Most of the stories we enjoy so much have been around for decades, popping up every now and again with new details and updated for a modern time.  They lie dormant until something happens that awakens them, and because they seem so timely, so in step with what is happening today, we assume it to be true.

One such urban legend is the case of the autistic boy and his new pet penguin.  If you’ve heard it over the past few months and were told it was one hundred percent true, you were one hundred percent lied to.

The story goes that a woman and her autistic son were visiting the New England Aquarium on day last fall.  He disappeared for a while, but his mother eventually found him and took him right home and sent him to his room.  A short time later the mother heard an odd noise coming from the bathroom upstairs and went to investigate.  When she opened the door she found her son and his new pet penguin, recently smuggled out of the aquarium in the boys backpack, swimming around the bathtub.

This story is false, and the incoming calls to the New England Aquarium about the boy and his pet sparked them to hold a press conference in late November to tell all that it had never happened and to please stop calling.

Some of the details change, but the general story remains.  At times the boy is found in the bathroom of the aquarium playing with the penguin in the sink and other times he is found at home but the new best friend has found the toilet. ,reported the tale to be at least ten years old and to have been told in Ireland, France and parts of the United States.  In other versions the animal has been a snake, often poisonous, or another small and usually lethal animal.

In their release reported by the Boston Globe, the New England Aquarium claimed all the penguins were safe and accounted for.  They went on to say there was no way a child could climb the fence, land safely on the other side, swim the freezing waters, take the animal and then make it all the way back without anyone seeing them.  They doubt an adult could accomplish the abduction.

As of May of 2006 the aquarium was still receiving calls about the case.  When contacted they said the humor of the legend had disappeared sometime before Christmas for them, and while the calls have slowed, they still get several dozen a week.

But why did the urban legend, alive for over a decade, suddenly resurface in Boston?  It should be noticed the rebirth of the bird tale coincided with the release of the “March of the Penguins” on DVD and had enough steam to make penguins popular in Massachusetts through the holiday gift buying season.

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