Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The Legend of the Zodiac Shack

Informant: The informant is Briana, a nineteen-year-old freshman at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Vacaville, California, in the Bay Area, and has lived there for her entire life, until she moved to Los Angeles for college. She is of African descent.

Context of the performance: This performance was done while we were sitting on the grass outside of my dorm building on USC’s campus.

Original Script:

Informant: There’s a legend of a shack out far in the country of my hometown, Vacaville, California. So there’s this little abandoned shack or storage unit, where the Zodiac killer would take and murder his victims. The Zodiac killer, who came up with his title himself, goes murdered multiple women and couples. My friend, April C., told me about this legend in Vacaville. April had visited the shack before, and a lot of people do, for the excitement of exploring the scene. High school students tend to go to the shack most, once they learn to drive, because it’s in the middle of nowhere.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece?

Informant: I like this piece because it’s connected to my hometown and an interesting story to tell visitors. My family and friends from home and I like this piece because even though we don’t believe it to be true, it’s something exciting for a small town to have. We can get together and visit the site at any time of the year, mainly at night.

Personal Thoughts: I found this piece to be very interesting because I had never heard of the Zodiac Killer and assumed he was created by Vacaville. After Briana shared her town’s side of the legend, I looked into the Zodiac Killer and was appalled yet fascinated by the results. In the late 1960s, he allegedly murdered at least five people and injured two, though he admitted to killing thirty, in the San Francisco Bay Area. After his murders, he would taunt the police and members of the community, providing hints as to who he was, including a three-part cipher, letters, phone calls, and fingerprints. Yet, the police could not solve the case. Perhaps the townspeople in Vacaville came up with the idea that the legend that the Zodiac Killer took his victims to this shack because they felt lost without answers as to his identity. Therefore, they may have used this story for a sense of comfort and relief, so that they could feel that they know some information about him and his whereabouts. For more information, visit http://www.zodiackiller.com/.

 

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Stepping Over Someone

Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.

Context: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: Basically, if you’re sitting or lying down, you can’t have someone walk over you. It will bring bad luck. If they do, they have to cross back over you so that you’re safe. I learned this from my parents who were both born in Greece, and I believe that it is a Greek tradition. They taught me and my four siblings this when we were little. My friend actually does it too, and her mother told me once that I actually don’t have to do it anymore because, apparently, stepping over someone will stunt your growth. Since I’m done growing, she said that I don’t have to do it, but I still do.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s important. Everyone has that piece of superstition that they follow. I know it’s not real, but I feel better doing it. Also, one time at soccer practice, I was sitting down with my legs stretched, and one of my teammates stepped over my left leg. I wanted to tell her to come back but didn’t want to bother her or sound weird. Then the next day, during a game, I pulled my hamstring in my left leg. I knew I should have told her to come back and step over me again.

Personal Thoughts: I find it interesting that although Aliki heard that she no longer had to perform this piece of folklore, she did anyway. Her decision to continue with it demonstrates the power folklore, especially folklore that people learned growing up, has over people. What is also unique about her piece is that she experienced an unfortunate event after not having followed the superstition, so she blamed herself for pulling her hamstring.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle
Old age

Compliment or Curse?

Informant: The informant is Thomas, a fifty-five-year-old man who has lived in Westchester, New York for his entire life. He is a financial consultant for hospitals, has two children, and is of English and Russian descent.

Context: We sat across from each other at the kitchen table in Thomas’s house one afternoon during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: When I was little, my grandmother always told me about her belief that if I, or anyone for that matter, complimented something in her home, she felt that I wished her dead because I wanted the item. I was at her house one day when I was about twelve years old, and she had just gotten a new coffee table in her living room. I admired it, and she responded, “You wish me dead!” Then she went to my dad and said, “Your son wishes me dead; she wants my coffee table.”

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like this piece of folklore because after she died, my family said that I should be the one to get the coffee table. It’s still in my living room today, and every time I look at it, I smile and recall what she told me.

Personal Thoughts: I think that this piece of folklore is interesting because I had never heard of someone being offended by a compliment, or taking a compliment as a curse. What I like most about Thomas’s story is that his family got involved in accepting and appreciating the folklore after his grandmother had passed and gave him the coffee table. In a sense, the tradition can then say alive through Thomas.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

The Colors of the Devil

Informant: The informant is Janet, a fifty-six-year-old woman from Yonkers, New York. She has lived in the Bronx and Westchester County, New York throughout her entire life. She is of Italian descent, is married, and has two children.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on a couch in the living room of her house in Yonkers, New York over my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: In the late 1980s, I was working at Whitehall Laboratories in New York City. One day at work, I wore a beautiful black skirt and a purple jacket with black trim, with matching purple and black suede shoes. While walking through the office, a coworker I barely knew said to me, “Oh, you’re wearing the colors of death.” A little while later, when I was back at my desk, my phone rang, and I was told that my cousin Maria died. Years later, my nephew was attending College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and he gave me a purple and black coffee mug, to represent his school’s colors, for Christmas. I refused to use it for months, until I thought that I was being ridiculous. So I used it one day, and that night, I got a call that her aunt was very ill and was rushed into the hospital. I wouldn’t throw the mug away because I was scared that it would only add to my bad luck. So I left it at the top of the cabinet and haven’t touched it since then, in 2012. Ever since, I totally avoid the colors purple and black together, and purple in general.

Interviewer:Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: This idea is very important to me. I feel unsafe wearing this mix of colors and won’t let my children do it either. I always warns people who wear these colors together to be careful because I truly believes that they are the colors of death.

Personal Thoughts: I think that this is very interesting because I’d never thought of purple as a color associated with the devil. Also, what’s interesting is that Janet has two instances of hard proof of this superstition. These pieces of proof could not have occurred because this superstition was in her head. These unfortunate events happened and were entirely out of her power.

Adulthood
Childhood
Initiations
Musical
Protection

An Extra Birthday Candle

Informant: The informant is a twenty-two-year-old named Samantha. She graduated from Providence College last year and is currently working in New York City as an Advertising Sales Assistant for VERANDA Magazine. She lives in Yonkers, New York with her parents and has lived there for her whole life. She is of Italian, English, and Russian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on the living room floor at her house in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: I learned that you when celebrating someone’s birthday, you always need to have one more candle than necessary on the birthday cake. This candle has to be left unlit. I learned this from her grandma. For kids, this extra candle is one to grow on, so it symbolizes the hope that they will grow big and strong in the following year. On the other hand, for adults, this extra candle is for a long life and luck.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s a family tradition. It reminds me of my childhood because I always had an extra candle on her birthday cakes. Also, this concept always excites children who want to grow and become big and strong. As an adult now, I likes the idea of having this candle to promise a lucky year. I definitely plan to pass this tradition on to my children one day.


Personal Thoughts: This tradition is interesting to me because it highlights the fact that superstitions and traditions in general are not only for children; they are important to adults too. While kids love the idea of growing up to be big and strong, adults do not easily forget such traditions they celebrated growing up. They keep the tradition alive by changing its meaning to something which they want in their lives no matter how old they are- good luck in the next year.

Folk Beliefs
general
Holidays
Protection

Spare Change in a Purse

Informant: The informant is a twenty-two-year-old named Samantha. She graduated from Providence College last year and is currently working in New York City as an Advertising Sales Assistant for VERANDA Magazine. She lives in Yonkers, New York with her parents and has lived there for her whole life. She is of Italian, English, and Russian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on the living room floor at her house in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: I learned that whenever I would give a wallet or handbag as a present, I’d have to put a few coins inside. This represents the idea that that the person receiving the gift will always have money in his or her bag or wallet. My mother taught me this when I was little because every bag or wallet she gave me contained spare change.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like this idea because it’s a really nice gesture. When you give a gift to somebody, it shows that you are wishing that person to never be without money. Following this makes me feel good. I love wishing luck for others, especially people I love, and I usually only give these nice gifts to people I really care about.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed learning about this piece because it promotes a sense of selflessness. Not only is someone giving a gift, but they are also providing the receiver with what they think is good luck. This is interesting because typically, at least in most folklore I’ve heard to do with good luck, people act in a way to give themselves good luck. In this gift-giving, people seek to give others good luck, which is rather unique.

Childhood
Protection

An Hour Wait Before Swimming

Informant: The informant is a twenty-two-year-old named Samantha. She graduated from Providence College last year and is currently working in New York City as an Advertising Sales Assistant for VERANDA Magazine. She lives in Yonkers, New York with her parents and has lived there for her whole life. She is of Italian, English, and Russian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on the living room floor at her house in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: When I was a kid, my grandma told me that I couldn’t go swimming after eating until one hour had passed. I couldn’t even go out and put my toes in the water. Whether I was at the pool or at the beach, I had to abide by this rule. If I did not, I was told that I would drown immediately, probably because I would get a cramp. My grandmother went so far as timing the hour after their last bite.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like this piece of folklore because it reminds her of her childhood and going to the beach or the pool with her grandma. Even though this idea is irrational and clearly not true, it created memories for me and my grandma to share and to look back on and laugh. I want to pass this rule on when I have children, even though I understand that the true reason behind this notion is that you can get a cramp if you try to swim too soon after eating. The wait, however, provides  a sense of suspense and excitement and a chance for quality time. I remember that my grandma would tell me stories by the pool while we waited for the hour to go by. It brings back memories of carefree summer days when I was growing up.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoy this piece because I heard the same thing growing up. I never really thought that I would drown if I were to swim less than an hour after eating, but I did fear cramps. I like that Samantha was able to form memories from experiencing this piece and look back on it fondly. This example truly shows how folklore impacts people’s lives and, in particular, their childhood. The fact that she will pass this tradition on so that her children can also form these memories is good to hear, knowing that the folklore will continue. Perhaps, they can pass it on as well and keep the tradition alive.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Paying for Pearls Superstition

Informant: The informant is Janet, a fifty-six-year-old woman from Yonkers, New York. She has lived in the Bronx and Westchester County, New York throughout her entire life. She is of Italian descent, is married, and has two children.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on a couch in the living room of her house in Yonkers, New York over my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: I learned that you cannot give pearls as a gift, not even anything that contains a pearl. Pearls represent tears, meaning sadness, so if you give someone something with pearls, they must give you money in compensation, even if it as little as a penny. Then, it’s like they purchased the pearls from you and did not receive them as a gift. My mother taught me this at home when I was a teenager when she gave me a piece of jewelry with pearls. She asked me for a penny.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: This piece of folklore is important to me because I don’t want tears brought into my life because I associate crying with something bad happening in my life. I also don’t want this to happen to others. I am very superstitious, so I feel better and safer following this tradition, even though none of my friends had heard of this.


Personal Thoughts: I think that this piece is interesting because I had never heard of something like this. Providing compensation for a gift is unusual, and I have never participated in anything like that. I also like this tradition because while it requires the receiver to provide money, it promotes the selflessness of the giver. The receiver must only provide a single penny, and the giver is not only giving a gift but also looking out for the the luck of the receiver.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection

“Rabbit Rabbit” Superstition

Informant: The informant is Janet, a fifty-six-year-old woman from Yonkers, New York. She has lived in the Bronx and Westchester County, New York throughout her entire life. She is of Italian descent, is married, and has two children.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on a couch in the living room of her house in Yonkers, New York over my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: I was taught a habit of making sure that the first two words I say at the start of each month are “Rabbit, rabbit.” Doing this apparently provides good luck for the month. I learned this idea from one of my co-workers at American Home Products Corporation in 1980. I have followed it ever since. Later, another one of my co-workers from England said that they only say “Rabbit, rabbit” on the first of March in England. I don’t know which story is “true,” so I say these words every month just to be on the safe side.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece?

Informant: I likes this piece because I was told that if she were to start the month off with this phrase, I would be safe throughout the month. So I likes this piece of folklore because it gives me peace of mind. It’s almost like a security blanket for the month in my opinion. I even have a paper on my bedside table where I wrote “Rabbit Rabbit” so that I don’t forget to say it.


Personal Thoughts: What interests me about this piece is that the words she says are “Rabbit Rabbit.” Why would the tradition be to say that specific word, and why twice? I looked into it online and found an article written by a woman whose family follows this tradition as well. She, however, only says the word once. She found that this sort of superstition has been around for hundreds of years and originated in England and that some say the word three times in a row. Yet, the meaning behind saying that particular word is unknown, though it might suggest jumping into the future of the new month with happiness. For more information on her experience and research, visit https://newengland.com/today/living/new-england-environment/ rabbit/.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Entrance and Exit Superstition

Informant: The informant is Janet, a fifty-six-year-old woman from Yonkers, New York. She has lived in the Bronx and Westchester County, New York throughout her entire life. She is of Italian descent, is married, and has two children.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on a couch in the living room of her house in Yonkers, New York over my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: When you enter a building or home, I was taught that you must exit from the same door you entered through. Doing so would ensure that you avoid bad luck, which you would receive if you were to exit through a different door. I learned this piece from Joan DeLuca, a longtime friend whose children attended the same elementary school mine. We were together at a friend’s house for dinner. Joan made sure to leave from the same door we entered through and explained the idea to me.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece? Why is it important to you?

Informant: I like this piece because I’m very superstitious and feels safer following this routine. If I didn’t, I would feel very uncomfortable. It would haunt me. This piece is very important to me because I feel that if I were to exit through a different door and something unfortunate were to occur, whether it be something small like tripping or major like a death, I would blame it on my foolishness of not exiting through the same door.

Personal Thoughts: I find this piece of folklore to be quite intriguing because she feels so strongly about this superstition. She would truly blame herself for an unfortunate event, were it to occur after she exited through a different door from the one through which she entered a building or home. There seems to be a balance which must be met to avoid bad luck within a lot of folklore. If you do one thing, you must eventually turn around and go back to “make it even” in a sense, or balance it out.

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