Three Mile Island and the Folklore of Disasters from 1979 to the Present

James Deutsch (Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage)

The partial meltdown of a nuclear reactor at Three Mile Island near Harrisburg on March 28, 1979, spurred folk beliefs, legends, and jokes about the disaster. Interviews with local residents serve as primary sources for this investigation into those expressions of folklore and how they may resemble similar beliefs, legends, and humor from other nuclear disasters—particularly Chernobyl and Fukushima. Moreover, the folklore collected during the COVID-19 pandemic may shed further light on the functions of folklore during times of heightened anxiety to amuse, educate, validate beliefs, and maintain a group’s stability, solidarity, and continuity within the larger mass culture.

Part of 54-05 Folklore of Conflict, Disaster, and Survival, Friday, October 22, 2:00 pm–3:30 pm