A Local legend is usually a rumor or story based on a true, twisted, or fictional event that has little or nothing to do with the outcome of the story. It's basically a story misunderstanding something that really happened or it's just plain made up.
There are different versions of older stories, some are new and some have been passed on for generations. Usually these stories are based on one fact, but have blown the entire story up into something that never happened. Some are based on true tragedies or events yet have never yielded any reported paranormal behavior, however, there have been occurrences that local legends have been investigated and have some proof to their claims. Most local legends are born from pure ignorance or misunderstanding. It basically boils down to someone being afraid of a person or situation.
This was one of the first "ghost" stories I tackled. A rumor has circulated about a particular "castle" in my area that has been haunted since the early 1900's. Squire's Castle in North East Ohio has spawned a scary past, which has never been confirmed in any detail. The ghost was supposedly the owner's wife who mysteriously died in his trophy room after being scared from the heads of Mr. Squire's trophies (so the most famous story goes). It is said you can now see a red light glowing (supposedly her lantern) from the castle while at the roadside at night (the real local story is that the red lights stopped when teenagers were kicked out of the site for making illegal fires). Not being granted proper clearance to the site at first, I spent some time in the local libraries and found several facts that pointed to the contrary. The property was sold years before the woman's death. Looking at area maps of the property back in the time it was sold there was a boy scout camp site on adjacent property. It seemed to me it was nothing more than a campfire story that survived a couple generations. There was also many other decisive facts discovered that swayed me to perceive that it was only a legend. It pays to do background research, trust me it could save you a lot of time and embarrassment.
In the fall of 2001 I ventured out to the site and took many readings and also brought along a "sensitive". There were no "clues" there of any sort of infestation of any particular spirit that we could find, especially that of Mrs. Squire.
There are many of these Local legends today, some of you may be able to think of examples that you have heard other people say. You may have noticed that as the story grows with age it also grows in intensity. Sometimes a story that is blown out of proportion finally comes back to reality when someone fills in the truth. I'm sure everyone has fallen victim to this game at one point in time whether it was paranormal related or just a fabricated story about a co-worker. We are pumped these legends from television and movies more and more frequently since most people are afraid and yet curious about the unknown and unexplainable. It really accelerates when it is believed by part of the public, this in turn threatens to infest many more people into believing a false story.
This can be dangerous to ghost hunters. First, it can lead us in the wrong direction for investigations. Hearing that a house is haunted from a story then trying to prove it seems insightful, but trust me nine times out of ten it will only make you look like a fool. Sometimes it can be helpful, especially if the story is true (which most times common sense will be your guide to the answer - as well as a lot of behind the scenes investigating). Most people who are honest about a ghost would not blab it out to every Tom, Dick, and Harry out on the street and would be selective as to who they would tell. This is because most people first believe there is something wrong with them or that they are crazy for thinking paranormal things are happening to them.
Secondly, Urban legends are known to the press as well as the public and if you try to exploit the legend the press will make you out to be a fool (they will almost always try to do that anyway). If you choose to pursue a legend remember to do your homework. Always do background research and interviews with people actually involved with the site, this will clue you in if it is worth your time to continue.
A good example that comes to mind is the haunted bridge. There are literally hundreds of so-called haunted bridges that claim to have a story behind them. You can hear a baby crying in the distance, or see a person walking, blah, blah, blah. So what happens? You set out to experience this, not see if it is true. In this situation you will most certainly fall victim to the legend. Anything you see or hear you will attribute to the legend and be less inclined to verify anything scientifically. With the legend you have been given set things to look for (which your brain will assume you have experienced every time the wind blows). In a true investigation you're usually not sure (exactly) what to expect and you mind is not given things to assume. Other varieties include the "hands pushing the car over the tracks or up the hill" scenario. These are tricky since you can't convince most with simple science and gravity. They have to pull out baby powder and sprinkle on their bumper...look! hands! Well, I seriously doubt ghosts sit around waiting to push cars up hills and over tracks. The whole thing is funny to watch as people nearly pass out when they see hand prints (do they bother to compare fingerprints?). And why no other means of communication? I visited a location that claimed it was uphill over tracks and deceased children pushed your car over tracks. Merely sitting in their local library I gathered enough data to send even the most prolific ghost child believer (who strangely enough makes money from the gravity induced occurrence) running for cover. I feel bad ruining such beliefs, but when it confuses real life issues it should be explained. It is stories like those that ruin "legitimate" ghost hunting studies.