#FolkloreThursday: Don’t Lick the Blue Star Tattoo

This week’s theme is body parts and ornamentation, including tattoos. I’ll be honest and say that the first thing I thought of when I saw tattoos mentioned was an urban legend that haunted my childhood: the LSD-laced lick-and-stick blue star tattoo. I didn’t quite follow the assignment but I was assignment-adjacent. And, urban legends may not necessarily be folklore right now, but honestly, how do y’all think folklore begins?

I was born in 1976 so I came up through grade school and middle school in the ’80s. It was a time of absolutely wild urban legends but one of the big ones was that, if an older kid gives you a blue star lick-and-stick tattoo THROW IT AWAY! IT’S LACED WITH LSD!! This was especially important on Halloween night, when nefarious gangs of older kids might be roaming the streets, handing out LSD to unsuspecting grade schoolers… yea, I don’t know. It made sense at the time.

For those that aren’t in the know, lick-and-stick tattoos are exactly what they sound like. You’d usually get them in Cracker Jack boxes or from those coin-operated candy/toy dispensers. They were cheap, usually with simple shapes, and you’d lick them and press them to your skin, et voilà ! You have a tattoo! But even this simple childhood joy could be perverted by those older kids I mentioned before, who apparently had nothing better to do. And y’all, this stuff was apparently so potent that you could get it JUST FROM TOUCHING THE PAPER!

It didn’t help matters that police departments in different parts of the country perpetuated this myth, which in and of itself isn’t surprising, even if it’s really stupid. Law enforcement agencies aren’t known for their common sense when it comes to things like this. Giving this story credibility with no actual evidence only fanned the flames.

The blue star tattoo though…according to Snopes, this tattoo myth dates back to at least the late 1970s but could be older. The actual images on the tattoos have been known to change–including Mickey Mouse and Bart Simpson–but the warnings are always referred to as “blue star tattoo warnings.” In the northeast there were flyers that went around, supposedly signed by a “J. O’Donnell” of the Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Service at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut, however, when looking into this J. O’Donnell:

The hospital says it has never employed anyone by that name, and they’ve been inundated with Blue Star calls every year since 1992.

Snopes-LSD Tattoos

Every year since 1992. EVERY. YEAR. SINCE. 1992!

Looking back on this, it seems absurd, right? And it is. The inherent danger, though, is in the fact that law enforcement agencies were so quick to begin passing out warnings when they had no evidence that anyone had ever actually experienced this. Zero investigatory work was done and while Google may not have been possible back then, it can’t have been that hard to try to get to the bottom of this. But they didn’t. They started a weird candy-related panic and they’re still doing it, decades later, only this time edibles are the thing to look out for. So if you see hyperbolic warnings from law enforcement about some new craze that is MOST DEFINITELY COMING FOR YOUR KIDS maybe take a beat and Google it before you become another link in the ridiculous rumor chain.

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