Santa Fe Municipal Judge Fran Sena Gallegos thought she was helping fight the war on drugs Wednesday morning, but instead she became a pusher of an urban legend.
Using a copy machine, a fax time-honored conduits of urban legends and an official Municipal Court cover sheet, Gallegos alerted two newspapers and several local radio stations of a horrifying form of a hallucinogenic drug.
"Please print," was the handwritten message on the cover sheet. The attached sheet read:
"A form of a tattoo called 'Blue Star' is being sold to school children," the message began. "It is a small piece of paper containing a blue star. They are the size of a pencil eraser, and each star is soaked with LSD.
"The drug is absorbed through the skin simply by handling the paper.
"There are also brightly colored paper tattoos resembling postage stamps that have the pictures of the following: Superman, Disney Characters, Mickey Mouse, Bart Simpson, Clowns, Butterflies ...
"If your child gets any of the above, do not handle them. These are known to react quickly and some are laced with strychnine."
The warning says it is from "PTA of Willow Tree Day Care Center," without naming the city. It also lists "J. O'Donnell" of the "Danbury Hospital Out-patient Chemical Dependency Treatment Service."
"Lives have already been taken," the fax says. "This is growing faster than we can warn parents and professionals."
The fax invites recipients to "feel free to reproduce this message and distribute it within your community and workplace. Get the word about this danger to our children."
After a court employee showed her the message, Gallegos did just that, faxing it to local media.
However, according to a 1984 book by folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand, tales of cartoon-character LSD so powerful it goes right through your skin and zaps your brain have been around for years and are completely unsubstantiated.
Brunvand is a professor at the University of Utah and a past editor of Journal of American Folklore. He has written several books about urban myths, purportedly true stories about alligators in New York sewers, poodles in microwaves, and serial killers with hooks for hands including The Vanishing Hitchhiker, The Mexican Pet and Curses Broiled Again.
Brunvand's book The Choking Doberman and Other "New" Urban Legends (W.W. Norton) contains an entire chapter on "Mickey Mouse Acid." The chapter discusses a similar warning that criss-crossed the nation's fax lines in the early 1980s and was distributed in at least one local elementary school several years ago.
That warning came with a poorly-drawn picture depicting Disney's famous rodent in his Fantasia sorcerer's garb.
"I am not aware of any documented instance of LSD being absorbed into a cartoon-character sticker or transfer," Brunvand wrote.
Brunvand says a possible source of the LSD rumors are actual police bulletins describing various batches of blotter acid. Blotter acid is LSD sold on pieces of paper paper thicker than the type used in children's tattoos sometimes imprinted with a picture or design. This, however is ingested, not absorbed through the skin.
However, the true root of the urban legend might go back much further. Brunvand cites a 1840 rumor concerning British postage stamp with poisoned gum that put the licker in danger of contracting cholera.
At least one local radio station took the judge's warning seriously and broadcast the warning Wednesday. Mark Bentley, manager of KVSF, said Wednesday afternoon his station would retract the story.
Told Wednesday that the acid warning probably was an urban legend, Gallegos said, "I really don't know much about these kind of things. I lead a semi-sheltered life."
Then she said jokingly, "If my son comes home hallucinating with a blue star in his mouth, I'm going to blame you."