Legend Tripping

I ran across an Atlas Obscura video about one of my favorite oddball tourist attractions—Highgate Cemetery in London. The video was about a “vampire panic” in 1970 with rampaging teenagers, armed with stakes and crosses, hunting for vampires in the famous, Victorian graveyard. The story was wild and I couldn’t help but wonder how contemporary social media—known for both accelerating the spread of rumors and disseminating calls to action—would have raised the panic to a volcanic frenzy.

The video described the teens’ motivation as ‘Legend Tripping.’ It’s an interesting phenomenon, a self-fulfilling, self-fueling, game of telephone in which rational thoughts and brakes on outrageous behavior crumble in the midst of a group’s devotion to a story.

Everyone remembers ghost stories shared around campfires or at sleepover parties. Sometimes they feature a local haunted house, an abandoned insane asylum or a defunct prison once filled with incorrigible criminally insane convicts.

The stories build over years of retelling and when believers visit the site associated with their story, they leave something behind (pentagrams, burnt offerings, etc.) that subsequent teen visitors interpret as evidence of black magic, hauntings, possessions or un-dead activity.

The kids who accept a dare and visit the legendary site contribute to its power and the legend grows, taking on a life beyond the initial spooky story.

While the teens rampaging through Highgate in 1970 were responding to a classic ‘this is a spooky place’ story about a vampire in the beautiful cemetery, the 13-year-old girls who stabbed their friend and left her for dead (she survived) in Wisconsin in 2014 were legend tripping on the ‘Slender Man’ myth that began as an Internet meme. Slender Man—a completely fictional character—has devotees enamored with the idea of meeting him and some are obviously willing to do horrible things to get his attention.

I’m taken with the notion of Legend Tripping—but, even as an impressionable teen, I never did more than visit a spooky, old graveyard in the moonlight. Yes, I did that once. Didn’t you? Admit it if you dare.



Atlas Obscura Vampire Panic Article…



  1. It’s very bad but I don’t even remember the run on Highgate Cemetery.and I must have been living in London round about that time.
    The place itself fascinates me for it’s Gothic buildings and memorials and the reported tombs with bells attached in case the corpse woke up underground. A fear that seems to have plagued many Victorians.
    What is a surprise is that Highgate wasn’t opened to be anything special. If I remember rightly it was just one of four cemeteries opened as overflow to a spreading population of London in outlying areas. Of the four only Highgate seems to have achieved prominence.

    I’ve spent many a time in a cemetery without having felt spooked once. I found them peaceful. I’m quite sure you’re right though Candy that the media spread these stories that come out like wildfire until certain groups begin to think they must all be true.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

    • Candy Korman

      I’ve visited Hihgate twice—once in the early spring and once in the late fall. I enjoyed the tour and the historical significance, but it was the atmosphere that hooked me and, I think, inspired the panic. It feels like a place where strange things can happen. That being said, it is also peaceful, beautiful and full of fanciful tombs and headstones that give anyone interested in Victorian culture a great deal of insight into that fascinating time.

      Glad you visits to graveyards were always peaceful!

    • Candy Korman

      My story worthy—or potentially worthy—graveyard adventure was in my early 20s. I bunch of us were visiting a friend’s family place in New England. There was an old, basically abandoned, graveyard in the woods. There might have been a church there or, more likely, it was a family’s plot. Old, old stones and we went in the moonlight. I think our purpose was to scare ourselves. Not my usual thought process, but… a little bit of hive think for a small hive of people?