Author Archives: Samuel Keeney

Tió de Nadal, A Catalan Christmas Tradition

Main Piece:

“The Tio de Nadal is a Catalan Christmas tradition that some Catalonia immigrant communities brought with them to other parts of the world, particularly in the Western Hemisphere there are big Catalan populations that still do it. But basically what it is a little log that you prop up on a kind of legs or stool or something. You can draw a face on it, you don’t have to. You put a blanket on it but you put it up weeks before Christmas and then it’s something fun for kids to do because you get a stick and you beat on it with the stick. And there’s all sorts of Catalan language chants and little songs, you know like Christmas songs, that they sing to encourage the log to shit out presents. Like small nuts and candies are the traditional idea because its a medieval tradition so like little sweets basically. The idea is that if you hit the log well enough, then on Christmas, you can take off the blanket and then the little kids are gonna have a bunch of little almonds or cheeses or something that they got from the log. There’s all sorts of names for it but there are regional specifications in Catalonia.”

Background:

The informant is a 21-year old male from Kansas City, Missouri who has lived there for the majority of his life. For his elementary and middle-school schooling, he studied at a school with a Spanish immersion program, making him near fluent in Spanish. Furthermore, he now attends Georgetown University where he intends to graduate with a major in History and a minor in Spanish. Last semester, he spent several months living in Madrid as part of a study abroad program.

Context:

This was a conversation we had late at night about Holiday celebrations around the world.

Thoughts: 

This piece, to me, seems very rooted in old Catalan culture. One of the most interesting revelations that came about researching this topic and talking to my informant is how the piece relates to Catalan identity. Catalonia has infamously had issues with the Spanish mainland as it relates to their own identity. Oftentimes, the celebration and practice of Catalan traditions have been restricted in order to better assimilate them into Spanish culture, so by celebrating these old traditions, it seems like a method of rejecting the push to assimilate and a method of maintaining their own unique identity from Spain. The other interesting part to this piece is the timing of the piece as it is close to Christmas, which is a liminal time for a majority of Europe.  As mentioned above, the origins of the practice go as far back as Medieval times and it seems to still be practice in Catalan culture. Furthermore, it does not seem to fit into the Christian canon of traditions associated with Christmas, making me feel like this might have roots back to Pagan rituals. This outlook is only further supported by the emphasis of the piece being wood, which would fit the notion of Pagan holidays that celebrate the natural world. Finally, the informant is not from Spain, but has visited there and taken the culture and reworked it into his own Christmas celebrations which somewhat shows the spread of originally location-specific culture to entirely new places and contexts. This type of reinterpretations across such a large physical location would not be nearly as possible with modernity and the increase in cross-cultural communications.

The Haunted Epperson House in UMKC

Main piece:

“So this house used to be owned by a rich family that, I think, made their money in organs like the instrument and it was the Epperson family. They had a bit of tragic life, there’s a million tales of their trials and tribulations and I honestly don’t remember all of them but I know there are a couple of legends that- one that there did actually use to be a swimming pool in the basement of this big mansion and at some point it got cemented over unexpectedly around the time someone went missing and there was a theory that one of the Epperson lovers is buried in concrete in the pool. There also was a daughter of the family who, I don’t remember if it was from a broken love affair or what it was, they had a big beautiful ballroom with an organ loft and she hanged herself from the organ loft which is a bit of a statement because since they made their money in organs. So anyway, this house has a long, long history in Kansas City of being associated with hauntings and ghost stories, people see lights and movements inside the house even though its been locked up and not used for years and years and years”

Background:

My informant is a 49 year old woman living in Kansas City, Missouri. While originally from Joplin, Missouri, she moved to Kansas City about 18 years ago. The Epperson House is located on the campus grounds of the University of Kansas City, Missouri which is near her home. The house has a series of legends tied to it, with one of the most common practices involving teens interacting with the house for seances and the sort. The informant has friends who grew up in Kansas City and have participated in this tradition. While the house is generally closed to the public, a security guard offered her a tour which led to her fascination with the house and it’s legends. 

Context:

This piece was brought to my attention through research into legends from Missouri which I used to approach my informant. She has told me about this phenomenon several times but this specific conversation occurred in the living room of her house in Kansas City when I asked her about using the story for the archives.

Thoughts:

The Epperson House is a classic haunted house legend. Much like previous iterations, the house represents several different things for the surrounding community. First, the house serves the function of uniting the community with a common legend. Kansas City is a relatively big city, so while the whole city might not have nearly as much folklore about this structure, knowledge of the legend places one within the know of a community. This is also present for the teen culture of Kansas City, who use the structure as a right of passage in order to be considered part of the group. Another interesting aspect of the legend is the indirect tie between wealth and tragedy. Despite having near endless wealth, the Epperson family could not avoid their tragic fate, almost making the legend a cautionary tale of sorts against the massive accumulation of wealth. This is especially interesting because the house is adjacent to a relatively wealthy neighborhood, making the moral of the story also a reminder for the nearby families. Another way of interpreting this legend is that the Epperson House represents old money. The house is ancient, and by making it seem scary and tragic, the overall perspective of the community is placed on the future. In this interpretation, money is not bad per say, but one should not worry about the past but look to the future, because all that remains of the past are ghosts and abandoned structures. 

The Ragman

Main piece:

“So when I was growing up, I was raised by a single mother and my grandmother, my mom’s mom, stepped in to help raise me while my mom was working so I spent a lot of time with her in her house in her neighborhood and she was much older for a grandmother, she was born in 1911 and she didn’t have my mom until she was almost forty so she came from another generation and mostly spoke German at home where she grew up on a farm in Arkansas. I don’t know if this is where the story comes from, but I have no idea where it comes from. But she was a great grandmother and would never use violence or anything to keep us in line but if we were misbehaving, the most ominous threat was that if we didn’t get back in line and start doing what we were supposed to do, that the next time the Ragman came by, she would leave us out and tell him that he could take us away. So my sister and I were terrified that there was this- there also was this man that wondered occasionally in the neighborhood at twilight and I think he was probably, if not homeless then verging something on that, but it was back in the day when I don’t think i’d ever seen a homeless person in my small town. So he was always pushing some small cart and I think when she was first living in that home there was a man who came by to take pots and pans and whatever little knick knacks were broken so he was known as the Ragman and he’d take trash or whatever and take it away. So that’s really it, is that- I think in my sisters and I’s mind we associated it with this specific man but it was this nebulous threat really of this Ragman that was gonna come and- we we’re going to be taken out with the trash if we didn’t get back in line and we did not want to be taken away by the Ragman so we got back on the straight and narrow.”

Background:

My informant is originally from Joplin, Missouri and currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri. She’s lived all across the United States but lives there currently with her husband and three kids. Her mother lived in the Ozarks in southern Missouri for most of her life and so the entire family has ties to that specific area. Her grandmother, who told her the story of the Ragman, was born in Northern Arkansas but spoke primarily German in her household as both her parents had emigrated here.

Context:

This piece was brought to my attention through research into legends from Missouri which I used to approach my informant. She has told me about this phenomenon several times but this specific conversation occurred in the living room of her house in Kansas City when I asked her about using the story for the archives.

Thoughts:

This piece seems to be a variant on the classic archetype of the boogeyman. The goal of the monster in this case is to scare children and teach them to stay in line. The parts I find most interesting about this iteration of the boogeyman-like creature are the name and the legend’s relationship to the grandmother of the informant. First, the term Ragman is usually tied to a street vagrant or another unsavory type individual. As such, this would make sense on why the informant and her young sister might be afraid of the Ragman as he seemed to be a dangerous man. Another common use of the name Ragman is when in association with the devil. This would further emphasize the role of the Ragman as an evil doer. The other major component of the Ragman story is the role of the informant’s grandmother. While it cannot be said for certain, her upbringing was heavily entrenched in German folklore and traditions which might result in the Ragman having ties back to German folklore. This shows the ability for folklore to transfer and adapt to new locations, with this example showing German folklore adopting to the cultural landscape of the Ozarks and Southern Missouri culture.

Saying “Merde” Instead of “Break A Leg” for Ballet

Main Piece:

Saying “Merde” to ballet dancers in place of “Good luck” or “Break a leg”

Background:

This saying was told to me by my informant who has participated in various dance groups for close to 13 years. She is most formally trained in ballet through a local performing arts center known as KCYA. She learned this saying growing up through this system and hearing it said by those with more experience as well as through her mother who used to perform ballet as well. The idea is that traditionally, ballet dancers would perform in large operas visited by upper class individuals and nobility. Due to their primary method of transport being horse-drawn carriage, the ideal situation was to see a lot of horse droppings outside as it meant a lot of people were coming to see the performance and merde means shit in French, where a lot of ballet originated. While obviously this does not apply now, it stuck around as a method of saying good luck for ballet specifically.

Context:

Having known my informant for several years, I knew of the phrase but did not know the context or the literal translation for several years until she told me after a performance. I asked her to tell me even more during a recent phone call conversation which is how I got most of my information above.

Thoughts:

I feel this piece examplarizes the use of folklore as a means of determining who is in or outside of a community. While ballet could be as easily grouped in with other performing arts, those within the community use this a way of identifying themselves as unique. This identity is also supported by the phrase’s history with ballet as it goes as far back as the perceived glory days of ballet where it was performed for nobility. In this regard, saying merde to other dancers is a method of keeping the tradition of ballet alive. Finally, my informant believes that the use of this phrase over the traditional “break a leg” is also in part a result of avoiding any superstition concerning any bodily harm coming to the dancer. Ballet dancers must endure severe physical exercise to perform their dances and while “break a leg” does not mean to literally break a leg, the superstition is that by even saying that it might cause one to suffer an injury and be unable to dance ballet again. In this regard, the phrase also shows the elitism sometimes displayed with ballet wherein they require those with the most skill and physical ability to be able to perform.

There’s A Man in The Woods

“I have a story about the man in the woods at the soccer field. So, as a child, my brothers and I participated in Brookside Soccer, which is you know like your average recreational soccer thing that children do and a lot of my friends, or at least a lot of people in my grade, also had older siblings who did Brookside and there was this one field, I don’t know how old my brothers were, but they would always play on this certain field and whenever I was there I would see people in my grade who also had older brothers who were playing and the big deal with this field was there was a huge forest surrounding it. The thing about the forest is, on the outskirts of it, would grow honeysuckles, and especially as a young child, they looked tasty. So the whole appeal to the soccer field- it was kinda great because we could eat honey suckles. So me and my friends, we would always go the border and get honeysuckles but you wanted to be fast because the whole idea was there was a man living inside- if you went a little deeper into the forest, you would inf a man and a campsite or something. The guy was always depicted as a homeless guy with a big beard and kinda dirty and ruffled. The whole idea was that you didn’t want him to catch you. There’s another part of the story, that in the forest where he stayed, there was an aluminum trash can that you would see around the soccer field. The idea was that as a kid, you would go to the trashcan by the soccer field and he could hear you. There was also a little bit of part of like asking for wishes, through the trash can to the homeless guy. So i don’t understand why we were scared of him but also like he would help us? The idea is that you’d want honeysuckles but you had to be quick because you didn’t want to see the man in the woods.”

Background:

My informant is a 16-year old who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her two older brothers participated in a recreational soccer program when they were much younger based out of a neighborhood in Kansas City called Brookside. The school she attended was the same school her brothers went to and so it was not uncommon for friends of her brothers to have younger siblings she got along with. Oftentimes, she would come along to the recreational soccer matches and play with the other younger siblings. The area the soccer matches happens to contain several large fields, a few of which bordered dense forest as this area was on the outskirts of the town.  

Context:
My informant brought up this story during a walk around her neighborhood when I asked her about scary stories from her childhood. 

Thoughts:

This story appears to be in the vein of urban legends about some crazed killer. In addition, it serves a very clear purpose, that being of regulating where these young children could and could not go. My informant emphasized how this topic came about mostly because her and her friends wanted honeysuckles from the nearby woods. Therefore, they probably created this figure from similar urban legends they had heard in order to justify not exploring the woods any further. This was only reinforced by any figures of authority, who did not want them to explore the woods. The informant mentioned to me that her older brothers might have corroborated parts of her story to instill the fear of the woods and keep her closer to everyone else during these soccer matches. The other interesting component is how a homeless man in the woods is scary for a child living in the city. The informant told me that she lived in a city, and these soccer matches were a time where she and her friends were far away from that environment. As such, their fears as an amalgam of the fear of strange men, which she would have seen growing up, and that of the woods, which were far more unknown and mysterious to her. The man is not supernatural, but to them he represented a very real threat but in a strange environment.

“Shame Shame Shame” Hand-clap Game

Main Piece:

“Shame Shame Shame,

I don’t want to go to Mexico no more more more,

There’s a big fat policeman at the door door door,

He grabbed me by the collar,

Made me pay a dollar,

I don’t want to go to Mexico no more more more,

Shame!”

Background:

This piece was recited to me by my informant in reference to their childhood and elementary school memories. The informant is now a junior in high-school but for their K-8 education, she attended a Spanish immersion public school with a large Mexican population. Kansas City, where the informant lives, has a substantial Spanish-speaking population.

Context:

This piece was shared with me several times throughout my life but was recently brought up by her when asking about memories from her childhood. The exact conversation was conducted via cellphone

Thoughts:

This piece is very interesting to me, mostly because it seems to be another version of a pretty recognizable childhood game. My informant told me that she learned this hand-clap game from friends while attending a Spanish immersion school. However, as she grew up, she learned that this is just a variant of a more traditionally accepted version of the game. Mostly, the policeman in this version is usually replaced with a bully. In my opinion, this is a reflection of the fear of authority and programs like ICE, for Spanish-speaking immigrants. The school my informant attended had a substantial population of Spanish-speaking students who were first generation United States citizens, if that. As such, when assimilating into United States culture, they adopted childhood games like hand-clap. However, they changed it to replace the classic bully figure with that of police, maybe because they would realistically have grown up being told that they were to be wary of police officers, as it could mean deportation or harsh punishments on account of their status as first generation immigrants. It also seems to place Mexico as an bad place, which further reflects the goal of moving forward and becoming part of the culture there. In this respect, the game is almost pushing one to abandon their original culture in order to adapt, as many of these students were the children of Mexican immigrants who were attempting to make ends meet in a new culture. 

The Haunted Tilly Willy Bridge in Arkansas

Main Piece:

“Right outside of Fayetteville, there’s a famous bridge known as the Tilly Willy Bridge and it’s a very old bridge and it’s torn down now but it still has a lot of legends about it. Mostly, there’s this legend of a lady dressed entirely in white who fell off the bridge into the nearby creek and died so now her spirit haunts the area including a nearby field. It’s a common attraction for people to go to the bridge to try to see something scary.”

Background:

The informant for this piece is a woman in her late 40s who lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was born in Joplin, Missouri but moved south to Fayetteville and has lived there for almost 18 years by now. Fayetteville is a college town as it is adjacent to the University of Arkansas. Due to the proximity of the town to the Ozark mountains, the Ozark culture influences the town alongside the culture of those going there for college. 

Context:

The piece was shared with me via a phone call with the informant. This exact topic was brought up in response to my general question looking for local folklore of the Fayetteville area. 

Thoughts:

I think this bridge is used in a similar manner to other pieces of ghost folklore. The bridge is used by the town to establish a communal identity coming from knowledge of the story. Fayetteville is also the convergence of several cultures, as it is the college town for University of Arkansas, making the Tilly Willy Bridge possibly the result of several different cultures converging on the town. The use of ghosts in this story is also useful because it shows a lack of interest in the past and the non-urbanized world. As mentioned before, the town is somewhat close to the Ozark Mountain Range, which is known for its isolated communities. As such, inventing a story about a haunted area of the wilderness would incentivize staying within the boundaries of civilization, which makes complete sense. Making the abandoned bridge haunted also shows the classic bit of American folklore wherein the past is haunted as a means of putting one’s perspective towards the future. The final bit of folkloric importance in this bridge is how bridges are common places of superstition and liminality, as seen in other cultures. In that regard, the Tilly Willy Bridge fits into this tradition.

Toboggan As A Hat Instead Of A Sled In Virginia

Main piece:

Toboggan in reference to a hat

Background:

Toboggan is a term typically used in reference to sleds, however my informant who is a man in his early 50s from southwest Virginia told me that in his hometown of Bradford, Virginia, the term is only used to describe a winter hat. It was not until he went to college in Virginia but outside his hometown did he learn the usual use of the word. Furthermore, the informant claims that this use of the word as a hat is unique to only a small Appalachian community consisting of his hometown and a few other nearby areas. 

Context:

This story was shared with me during an encounter with my informant wherein I asked if he had any examples of local Appalachian folk culture. The conversation occurred in his backyard alongside family and friends.

Thoughts:

While this piece might not be as groundbreaking as other examples in this collection, I find the parameters of this unique saying fascinating. First of all, toboggan is generally understood as some sort of sled. This begs the question of why, regionally, it changed to another winter-based object. Furthermore, the area affected by this saying is rather small. According to my informant, the use of the word is regulated to small communities in the Appalachian area. So much so that when he went to college, still within Virginia, using the word toboggan as a hat seemed ridiculous. This, in my opinion, shows extreme examples of regional distinction as only someone directly from one of those typically isolated communities would refer to toboggan as a hat.

The Tradition Surrounding Mary Draper Ingles in Virginia

Main piece:

“There’s this story from my hometown of Bradford, Virginia about this woman named Mary Draper Ingles who, during the 1750s, was kidnapped by a group of Native Americans. She might have had a child at the time, but she was kidnapped by these Natives and then eventually escaped and then followed the rivers from Ohio back to Virginia where she lived in Bradford for a while until she died but there’s several parts of the town that remember her including an annual theater production.” 

Background:

The informant for this piece is a man in his early 50s who was raised in a small town called Bradford in southwest Virginia in the New River Valley. This area had broader ties to Appalachian culture as a whole and he lived there throughout his childhood and teens. This story is a local story about a real woman but whose kidnapping and return is sometimes doubted. Regardless, the town uses the story to establish a local identity, especially in the form of an annual theater production.

Context:

This story was shared with me during an encounter with my informant wherein I asked if he had any examples of local Appalachian folk culture. The conversation occurred in his backyard alongside family and friends.

Thoughts:

I find this story fascinating as the figure of the piece is entirely real. Mary Draper Ingles was a real woman who was kidnapped by Native Americas in the 1750s. However, the story of her return has become crucial for the identity of Bradford, Virginia. She is a proud figurehead for the community, which ties the community to their specific place and argues their right to exist. What is even more interesting is how the town still romanticizes the story. As mentioned above, the town hosts an annual theater production about her. While this might veer outside of folklore because it features authored literature, the traditions done around the piece are more folkloric in nature. This places the story in a strange level of liminality. It is both real and fiction, authored and folklore. This binary is interesting and is used by the natives of Bradford to establish identity.

The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs

Main piece:

“The Crescent Hotel is a famous building in Eureka Springs with a long history because now it’s a common ghost attraction and makes a lot of local haunting lists. The building which began as a hotel for elite visiting Eureka Springs later became a tuberculosis ward during the plague and there were rumors about doctors who experimented on their patients trying to find cures to diseases like cancer”

Background:

The informant for this piece is a woman in her late 40s who lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She was born in Joplin, Missouri but moved south to Fayetteville and has lived there for almost 18 years by now. Fayetteville is a college town as it is adjacent to the University of Arkansas. Due to the proximity of the town to the Ozark mountains, the Ozark culture influences the town alongside the culture of those going there for college. This specific building is located outside of Fayetteville in an area called Eureka Springs. The hotel is just one of many structures converted to a tuberculosis ward to fight off the diseases in the 1900s. Similarly, in the past there have been similar stories of abandoned and haunted hospitals. 

Context:

The piece was shared with me via a phone call with the informant. This exact topic was brought up in response to my general question looking for local folklore of the Fayetteville area. 

Thoughts:

I feel as though this piece is interesting as it represents an amalgam of other similar haunted buildings. The Crescent Hotel began as a hotel for the elite members of society, but the business went under. This keeps in the theme of haunted buildings having ties to old money, and I feel represents a distrust of those with extreme wealth. This also makes sense in context of the location, which while not poverty-stricken, by no means has a large population of extremely wealthy inhabitants. The hotel is also described as a tuberculosis ward, which while not entirely accurate does reflect a fear of doctors and disease. This is a common fear and is often featured in similar structures like haunted hospitals. In my opinion, what differentiates this building is how the history of the building as both a hotel for the elite and hospital combines these two separate but similar stories into one extremely haunted structure.