The Baby on the Track: A Newspaper Legend with Roots in the 19th Century


  • Bengt af Klintberg Stockholm University


urban legend, newspaper legend, railway folklore, medical folklore, prankster, William Osler


In a novel by a Chinese author, Yu Hua, the birth of the main character takes place in a train toilet. He falls down on the track and survives. During the last 30 years news stories with this content have been reported several times. The event is generally said to have taken place in China or India. From a folkloristic perspective the story can be defined as a newspaper legend. Like contemporary legends in oral tradition newspaper legends often are about accidents where babies are involved. As opposed to the orally transmitted legends they generally have a happy ending; they are published as a counterbalance to all the real accidents that daily papers have to report. The oldest version of “The Baby on the Track” was published in 1888 in a medical journal. The author, the famous physician William Osler, had a reputation for being a practical joker, and today it is difficult to judge if his story is based on a real case or if Osler invented it.


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