Author Archive
Legends

The Devil’s Kettle

Piece:

Interviewer: “Can you tell the story of the Devil’s Kettle?”

Informant: “So the Brule River in Cook County, Minnesota has an interesting attribute. Above the upper falls, there is a large hole into which about a third of the river empties, and it has always been known as the Devil’s Kettle… and the folklore has it that umm… nobody knows where the water that goes into the Kettle actually comes out. There are rumors that it goes to China, that it goes to Hell, hence the name Devil’s Kettle, or that it empties somewhere else downriver, or out into the lake itself, the great lake known as Gitche Gumme, otherwise known as Lake Superior. Over the many years there have been people who said they would try and dam the Kettle so they could go down and check it out, rappel down with mountain climbing gear… umm, there have been reports of people throwing die and things like that to see where the die would come out, if they would come out at all. I don’t actually know if any of them are true or if any of those things have ever happened. I’ve been hiking the Brule River trail since I was a small child, so fifty some years, and the Kettle was always that legend and always that mystery and out end objective of the hikes was always to get to the Kettle, to see what water was going in, to see what sticks and other debris were going in, those kinds of things. Um, I’m not aware of any legends of people falling into the Devil’s Kettle but it wouldn’t surprise me. I know it’s been the… uh, been a part of a couple of novels along the way, that use the Kettle as part of their plot.”

Background:

The informant’s family owns a cabin nearby the Brule River in Minnesota that is used for vacation, so the informant has been immersed in this legend since childhood. When asked what theories he believes about where the water goes, the informant instead noted that he prefers it remains a mystery as that is what makes the location itself special.

Context:

This conversation was recorded in the living room of the informant’s home, but the legend in question addresses a location in northern Minnesota.

Thoughts:

This is a great example of a geographical legend. I have visited the Kettle many times, and have often dreamed of being able to swim into the hole to discover myself where the water might lead. This legend has become a defining factor of the local towns, and it would be very interesting to interview local residents in Minnesota and compare their contributions to the theories mentioned above.

Game
Humor

ZAIDS

Piece:

Interviewer: “Can you explain the concept of ZAIDS?”

Informant: “Oh god. Yeah… I guess I can. Basically in high school there was this fake disease called ZAIDS. Obviously it came from AIDS, but we put a Z in front of it to make it different. We had this one friend who we said got it originally, we made him patient zero. So when he finally kissed another girl we all made the joke that she had ZAIDS too. Soon enough the entire grade was tracking the spread of ZAIDS from him and that girl, and people were drawing out diagrams to figure out who exactly had the ‘disease’. At the very end of our senior year, at a point where most of the class had ZAIDS, we decided the only way to break the curse was for our friend who was patient zero to kiss that same girl again. I guess it was a funny way of ‘breaking’ the curse.”

Background:

The informant participated in this game in high school. Obviously he recognizes this ‘disease’ is fake but still thought it was a good excuse to give friends a hard time if they had ZAIDS. Before the ‘breaking of the curse’ described above, the informant was even a carrier of ZAIDS according to his classmates.

Context:

Because I went to the same high school as the informant, I was familiar with the story. This conversation was recorded while we were reminiscing about high school experiences after I realized the folkloric connections this game had.

Thoughts:

This game is clearly a more mature version of cooties, the game played by elementary school boys and girls. Instead of simple physical contact spreading the disease, however, in this version a kiss is required to transfer ZAIDS from one person to another. I think the significance of this game is simply an evolution of the significance of cooties. The game cooties allows kids to grapple with the ‘taboo’ topic of contact with the opposite gender. In this case, the ‘taboo’ topic is romantic involvement with the other gender, which is a natural progression of cooties. The game was most prevalent during early high school, like 9th grade, and faded from view as the class became older and the topics of romantic involvement became less taboo. The final moment of ‘breaking the curse’ during the senior year almost represents the class recognizing the absurdity of such a game or concept and shutting it down for good in a poetic way.

Humor
Musical

Miss Susie Song

Piece:

Interviewer: “Do you mind if we go back to that song we were talking about earlier?”

Informant: “Sure.. I will do my best to remember all the lyrics, but I don’t know the name of the song if there is one.”

Interviewer: “Cool, go ahead when you are ready.”

Informant: “Miss Susie had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell / Miss Susie went to heaven, the steamboat went to / hello operator, please give me number nine / and if you disconnect me, I’ll cut off your / behind the fridgerator, there was a shard of glass / Miss Susie sat upon it, and cut her big fat / ask me no more questions, I’ll tell you no more lies / the boys are in the bathroom, zipping up their / flies are in the field, the bees are in the park / Miss Susie and her boyfriend are kissing in the / dark, dark, dark, dark / dark is like a movie, a movie’s like a show / a show is like a video and that’s not all I know / I know your ma, I know your pa, and your sister with a forty acre bra!”

Background:

The informant learned this song from young friends during elementary school. It was a common tune that kids liked to sing during recess.

Context:

The informant sung me the song during a phone conversation about childhood songs and stories.

Thoughts:

The purpose of this song is clear: kids use it as an excuse to utilize taboo words without technically saying anything wrong (e.g. instead of stopping at ‘big fat ass,’ the next line is used to change ‘ass’ to ‘ask’ so as to disguise the usage of the disallowed word). This way, kids are able to use words they traditionally would not be allowed to without fear of getting in trouble for misbehaving. This is a classic example of children’s folklore being used to toy with the idea of authority. Through folklore, children are constantly pressing the boundaries of what is acceptable.

Folk speech

Straight Pocket Bet

Piece:

Informant: “My grandfather loved the Reds, the Cincinnati Reds, but he didn’t hear well, so he had this radio that he would put up on a ledge at his house, it was just about your height. So he would go stand by that, with his good… with his better ear up against the radio and listen to a ball game from start to finish. And we would see them every Sunday, this was part of our routine, and he would always want to make a bet… I think I did this with you guys too… so we would negotiate a bet about the Reds or something and we would finally shake hands and he would say straight pocket bet. ‘Well, what’s that mean grandpa?’ I would say. And he always responded: ‘no matter what happens we each keep our money in our pocket.’”

Background:

The informant learned the expression “straight pocket bet” from his grandfather and their tradition of listening to Cincinnati Reds games together. To the two it was a way of instilling friendly competition without the actual need for financial stakes, and it allowed them to bond over sports, which has always been an interest for the family.

Context:

This expression and the conversation leading up to it were recorded during a scheduled meeting at my home in San Diego, CA.

Thoughts:

My initial reaction to this was that it provided an easy platform over which to debate sports topics, or anything that might be negotiated with a bet for that matter. However, another interesting potential use of this could be to deceive someone who has no knowledge of this expression into making such a bet, and only letting them know what it means in the case of a loss (although this might be potentially dangerous if used in the wrong situation).

Folk speech
Proverbs

College/Education Proverb

Piece:

Informant: “I went to college to get a diploma, it would have been just as easy to get an education.”

Background:

The informant learned this saying from his grandfather upon graduating from high school in Ohio. He found it highly impactful, not only in the context of college, but as a general life lesson as well, and took care to heed this advice going forwards.

Context:

This expression and the conversation leading up to it were recorded during a scheduled meeting that took place at my home in San Diego, CA.

Thoughts:

Although on the surface this saying may seem very specific, I think the lessons it implies can be applied to all walks of life. It stresses the importance of finding value in all aspects of an experience, as opposed to seeing something simply as a means to an end. It is certainly an expression I will remember and perhaps help spread in the future.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie

Piece:

Interviewer: “What about the Thanksgiving tradition with pumpkin pie?”

Informant: “So the ingredients in pumpkin pie are largely consistent. Um, most pumpkin pies contain eggs and cinnamon and nutmeg and ginger and salt and pie crust. What you generally do is whisk it all together and bake it. Our family does not bake it at all, we instead use egg whites and all the same ingredients as well as the most important ingredient which is gelatin, which is used to make jello in many recipes. Also, we do not heat it up and it is served cold.”

Background:

The recipe for this pumpkin pie has been handed down for generations for use during Thanksgiving. It is important because it is the family’s signature Thanksgiving dish and pays homage to the ancestors who originated the tradition.

Context:

The informant (my mother) and I discussed this tradition at our home kitchen table, but the recipe itself is only used during Thanksgiving.

Thoughts:

Although normal pumpkin pie is a very common Thanksgiving tradition, this cold gelatinous variant introduces the family’s personal twist on the traditional recipe. Because of this unique identifier, participation in the tradition brings one closer to the heritage of the family and also provides a family bonding activity in the form of cooking the pies the day before Thanksgiving.

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Christmas Eve Fondue

Piece:

Interviewer: “Can you explain the fondue Christmas Eve tradition?”

Informant: “Yep! So, fondue goes way back when to me being a kid… and we did this at Christmas Eve with the Hardy family, and we called it ‘hunkso’ – I’m sure you’ve heard that – ‘hunkso meat’ or a ‘hunkso party’ and… I don’t know, we started the fondue tradition in the 70s and it is something that has carried with us ever since, and now we do cheese and it’s a lot more elaborate.”

Background:

The informant has grown up with this tradition as a part of her family since childhood. The piece is important because it is representative of Christmas Eve and family camaraderie during the holiday season.

Context:

The informant (my mother) and I discussed the tradition at our home kitchen table, but the tradition itself that she is describing is performed only on Christmas Eve with extended family.

Thoughts:

Given that I am an active participant in this tradition, hearing about its origins was very interesting to me because I was able to witness how it has evolved over time. The family no longer calls it ‘hunkso’ for whatever reason (this was actually the first time I had ever heard it referred to by this name, despite what my mother said during the interview) and we have expanded the tradition to include cheese fondue, shrimp, and chicken in addition to the original beef. This is the perfect tradition for a holiday meal because the fondue format forces the meal to progress very slowly since each person can only cook one or two bites of food at a time, meaning the time in between bites is spent enjoying the company of extended family.

Folk speech

If Kentai Can Tie a Tie

Piece:

Interviewer: “Do you know any Kenyan riddles or jokes?”

Informant: “I don’t know about jokes, but there is this one tongue twister my parents learned in Kenya.”

Interviewer: “That’s perfect, let’s hear it.”

Informant: “Okay.. haha. They learned this in primary school in Kenya I think, from their instructors. Here it is: If Kentai can tie a tie, then why can’t I tie a tie as Kentai can tie a tie?”

Background:

The informant learned this tongue twister from his parents, who learned it in school in Kenya. He is unsure that it has any significance beyond the play on words between “can tie” and “Kentai,” which sound especially similar with a Swahili accent.

Context:

This conversation occurred when the informant and I were speaking about the class’ readings on the Maasai tribes since he is from Kenya. He mentioned he might know some Kenyan or Maasai folklore since he grew up under Kenyan parents and has visited the country before. At this point I started recording and asking him probing questions.

Thoughts:

I thought this example was particularly interesting because the informant’s parents learned this tongue twister in primary school. I personally cannot remember being taught a tongue twister during any of my schooling years, except for maybe encountering one from a fellow student during recess. Also interesting is the fact that the informant’s parents learned an English tongue twister in Kenyan school. Perhaps tongue twisters such as these were employed in English classes in Kenya to familiarize students with speaking in English in a potentially fun way. Because there is far less emphasis in US education on learning a new language, especially in elementary school, we are not as familiar with the same strategies.

Legends
Narrative

The Haunted Hotel del Coronado

Piece:

Interviewer: “Can you try and explain the story of the haunted Hotel del Coronado?”

Informant: “To be honest I’m not sure how much I remember, but Hotel del Coronado is a uhh… historic hotel on Coronado island near San Diego. I’ve been there once as a kid but I mainly remember people around my elementary school saying that it was haunted and that there was some connection to Bloody Mary or something. Maybe there was a girl who went to the hotel and didn’t come back? Anyways, I don’t believe the stories but whenever I hear the song ‘Hotel California’ I think of that hotel in Coronado. There are definitely some lyrics in that song that deal with being haunted, so I’ve always wondered if there is a connection there… Probably not, but it is interesting to think about.”

Background:

The informant knew about the haunted hotel from his peers in elementary school and his visit to the location. He does not personally believe the stories that it is truly haunted.

Context:

This description came in a phone conversation I had with the informant while we were discussing childhood stories and songs.

Thoughts:

I found the informants connection to the popular Eagles song ‘Hotel California’ very interesting, so I went ahead and researched some of the lyrics of that song, where there were indeed references to not being able to leave the hotel, which is eerily similar to the informants description of the girl never returning from the hotel. While it is unlikely the two are explicitly connected, I think the similarities showcase the archetypal nature of legends like ghost stories and haunted hotels; even if the buildings being discussed are not the same, the stories behind their haunted nature probably stem from a common archetype. Furthermore, I did some research into the legend of the haunted Hotel del Coronado, and found that the hotel itself is even advertising its haunted nature, showcasing how this urban legend has been commercialized in the name of tourism by the hotel itself.

Annotation:

For the “canon” version of the story behind the haunted hotel provided by the hotel’s website, see the hotel’s website:

“Ghostly Goings-On at the Hotel del Coronado.” Hotel del Coronado, Hilton, hoteldel.com/press/ghostly-goings-hotel-del-coronado/. Accessed 23 Apr. 2019.

Customs
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Animal Senior Pranks

Piece:

Informant: “When I was in high school, ah…. friends of mine, a year ahead of me, they were getting ready to graduate and there was kind of a tradition of doing some sort of prank, senior pranks. Well that group of guys went out and stole a bunch of turkeys off a turkey farm (laughs) and broke into the high school and put the turkeys in there on like Friday night. So the turkeys are in there wild, poopin’… and turkeys are crazy, they’re out of their surroundings, they just go nuts (laughs). So they are running all over. Of course they got caught and expelled. They finally let them get their degree but they couldn’t attend graduation or something like that. So, you know, they were kind of bragging about their stunt. And I said, ‘you know I hate to tell you but this has been going on for a while.’ When my dad graduated he and his buddies put a cow in the high school (laughs). And it was a four story building and they took the cow up to the top floor because cows will go up stairs but they won’t go down. So the same thing: they left the cow in the school for the whole weekend, cow poop all over… and the top floor was where the offices were, the principal’s office and all that stuff. So cow poop all over the fourth floor they had to get a crane to get it out cause it wouldn’t go down the stairs! (laughs)”

Background:

The informant witnessed the first practical joke mentioned in person, and was told the story of the cow variant by his father. Although he did not engage in the same pranks himself, it was clear from body language and speech that the informant found this highly humorous.

Context:

This excerpt was recorded during a scheduled meeting at my home in San Diego, CA.

Thoughts:

Although I have heard of and witnessed many senior pranks, few of them compare to this one. Pranks at my school were much more tame, such as flipping every piece of artwork on display upside down, whereas these required significant cleanup and even a crane in one case. It was very interesting that both of the pranks were very similar in that they involved animals at school, although it was implied in the story that the kid’s who used the chickens were unaware of the informant’s father’s previous exploits. If I had to guess, either the usage of animals in senior pranks was commonplace in rural schools during that time period, or the kids caught wind of the informant’s dad’s idea and acted as if it were original.

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