USC Digital Folklore Archives / general
general
Initiations
Legends

The Legend of Camino Hall

The following informant is a 22 year old student from the University of San Diego. In this account she is describing a legend about one of the buildings on her campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: There is this urban legend that someone, umm… like killed themselves in either the Camino bathroom. Thats like one of the residence halls but you know also where the administration building is. Umm… yeah so apparently, she had gone to class, this was a girl, and she was going through a hard time and she just like went to the bathroom, like in the middle of class. And people were like “what the fuck, why did she not come back” and then they were like “oh she is probably still in the bathroom”. So they went to the bathroom and she was just like hanging from the ceiling. So like it may or may not have happened, most people believe it, but like some don’t.

K: So when did this happen?

S: Like right when the school opened, like around that time, the school was established in 1949

K: How did you hear about it?

S: oh, just people were randomly talking about it when i transferred, like that first semester, and i was just like what the heck why are we talking about this right now. It was the older students telling the new ones, it was very random, and i don’t know if it was to scare us but i was just like “thank you so much for this information, what do you want me to do with it”

K: did they ever say why she killed herself?

S: no one knows why she killed herself

K: What did you take away from this?

S: I was kind of just like taken back, because i had just transferred, and so i was kind of like um so why are you telling me this. but i had not thought about it since they told me, so… yeah, its not something i think about often.

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she launched into this story. As we were in a public space, people overheard the conversation and a few even nodded in agreement, like they were validating what she was saying.

Thoughts:

This is a particularly interesting legend for a couple of reasons. One is that out of my own curiosity I tried to do some research to see if there are more details on the internet and the search came up empty. This by no means insinuates that what she is saying is false, especially because the group of not so subtle eavesdroppers seemed familiar with the legend. But in the age of the digital realm, it seems odd there is no account of it only. The other interesting aspect is how the legend is used now. She explained that the older students tell it to the new students while they orient to the new campus. This seems like a mild form of hazing, in that in order to complete your transformation as a student of USD, you have to get mildly scared by the older students first.

general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Senior Speeches” in a Catholic High School

Main Piece

The following is a tradition from the informant’s high school theater group. Before going onstage for a performance, the theater group would pray to all the saints and all “the big guys,” as the informant referred to them, and then they would hold hands and close their eyes. Then, one person would begin an energy circle by squeezing the hand of the person to their left, and the squeeze would be passed around, hence passing  the “energy” around. Next, all the Seniors would do a shot of vodka before finally going on stage. After the show, all the Seniors gave “Senior Speeches.” This tradition is rather long standing, and has been going on at least since the informant’s sister started high school in 2009.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant recalled the whole experience fondly, and the tradition seemed to be something that everyone enjoyed and looked forward to. While the way the tradition carried out was passed down from older students to the informant, the informant looked forward to engaging in the tradition after having talked to her older sister about the same tradition and the theater group in general.

Context

The informant attended a Catholic all girls high school in Staten Island, and the theater group consisted of members both from her school and a Catholic all boys high school nearby.

Notes

The interchange between religious ideology and ‘pagan’ ideas of “energy” is terribly interesting. The informant specified “energy” rather than “the Holy Spirit” or another specific religiously inclined symbol. Given that the informant attended a Catholic high school, this seeming conflict is rather interesting and has much potential to be expanded upon.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Protection

Right Foot First – An Ice Skating Superstition and Ritual

The following informant is a 22-year-old student who competed in ice skating throughout her childhood and well into her teenage years and continues to ice skate recreationally now. She is describing a common superstition she and some of her teammates have. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: One superstition that I have always had when I used to ice skate was that I always used to put my right skate on and tie up the laces before putting on my left skate. I made sure I always did that.

K: What would happen if you put your left skate on first?

S: I just had this belief that if I put my left skate on first, then I would not have as good of a skate, or I would mess up and risk hurting myself. I always thought oh my god you have to put your right skate on first

K: Were you the only one to have this superstition or did your teammates also share it?

S: I’m not sure if other people shared my superstition specifically, but some of my other teammates had similar superstitions. Like my friend J, when she steps on to the ice, she always puts her right foot down first and never the left first for the same reason I put my skates on right first. I, and a lot of the other girls, also followed her superstition as well. Which is probably where I got my superstition about skates.

K: Would you only do this before a competition or anytime you put on skates and stepped on to the ice?

S: Oh, every time I put on skates and went on the ice. I’ve been doing it for years now that I don’t have to worry about accidently putting my left skate on first because I have trained myself to always put my right skate on first and step with my right foot first.

S: One more thing, I am not sure why my superstition has to do with the right-side, maybe it’s because I’m right handed… but that doesn’t really make sense because my friend J is left handed… I honestly don’t know

Context:

This conversation took place at a café one evening. The informant brought up superstitions and I asked if she would like to participate in the folklore collection project. The conversation was recorded and transcribed. Although she only acts out the ritual when she ice-skates.

Thoughts:

I find her superstition about always doing things on the right side first very fascinating, along with her reasoning, that she later disagrees with. But maybe she is not wrong, It seems pretty obvious that if you are right-hand dominant that you would consider your right side to bring good luck and your left side to bring bad luck. But how would this explain her friend. Or maybe in our everyday life we tend to go from right to left, like reading English, her first language, you always read right to left, reading left to right just would not make sense.

general

Baby Blue

Instructor: Can you guys think of any legends or ghost stories that you learned at home or from friends?

(There were multiple responses from varying students, however this post focuses on a single student’s response)

Angel*: Yeah! Baby Blue

Instructor: Whats that?

Angel*:

It’s like uhm you go into the bathroom and look into the mirror and uh fold your arms, and if you feel a weight in your arms its Baby Blue and you gotta drop it!

Maria : No no no, you gotta go into the bathroom by yourself and turn the lights off and cradle your arms like you’re holding a baby and say ‘Baby Blue’ in the mirror three times. If you feel a weight in your arms like you were holding a baby, you gotta pretend to drop it in the toilet and flush it before it gets too heavy.

Instructor: Or else what happens?

Maria: The baby will haunt your family.

Daisy : No if you don’t flush the baby, her mom will turn up behind you and scream at you to give it back and kill you if you don’t.

Instructor: So, who is baby blue?

Maria: It’s like a evil baby that will haunt you if you don’t get rid of it I think.

Instructor: And who is the women?

Daisy: Some kinda evil spirit I guess.

Instructor: Have any of you done this?

Daisy: I tried it once with my big sister.

Instructor: And did the woman show up?

Daisy: No, but I felt a weight in my arms and through it in the toilet so maybe I did it before the baby grew too big.

Instructor: Was it a scary experience?

Daisy: Yeah I guess, me and my sister ran outta the bathroom straight after flushing the toilet.

Analysis:

I found Baby Blue to be very interesting, becuase it reminded me a lot of games I played as a child. However, this had a different, darker twist on it. The idea is that the woman has most likely killed her child, at least thats what some of the children thought. However, a google search found that many of these stories are rooted in a much more srious topic. Some theorize that Baby Blue is actually about a botched abortion, or a mother who drowned her child due to severe postpartum depression. Although none of the children were aware of these deeper meaning, both the instructors of the class and the teacher were taken aback by the stories coming from these young kids. I likened this to played “Bloody Mary” in the bathroom as a kid, but upon further examination, i’ve realized that it most likely has a lot more to do with the political climate surrounding abortion and news cases that these kids have been raised around.

general
Legends

Why Dahlia’s, a Bar in New York, got Shut Down for Underage Drinking

 

Context:

The subject is a white male and a lifelong New Yorker from Manhattan and Queens. He is my twin brother and we attended the boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. Before this we were discussing what New York had begun to mean to us when we moved out to school, how we always heard stories and how it became a party location that we returned to when school was let out. I love this idea of New York teen folk culture because we could not have a overculture because what we were doing was illegal. The knowledge itself was folklore because it was passed on through person to person and it changed based on who knew what and sometime they were wrong. And then there were stories about the places we went because there was so little formal knowledge about them.

 

Piece:

“Theres like certain places, that people like, like everyone knows the places that don’t card. You know what I mean? Its sorta the same thi-way a bunch of people know this thing. You learn from other people, from.. I think – I had friends who were older than me and its sorta passed down like that. So there’s this place called 212 Hisae, or just 212, on 2nd Avenue and 9th Street I wanna say but I could be inaccurate, you can google map it, uh. They don’t card, I’ve been there!…sometimes. There was this place called Dahlia’s, but I think they got shut down because they ended up serving middle schoolers ‘cause that’s how much they didn’t card. I assume what happened was that college kids were doing it, high schoolers found out and started doing it, and then middle schoolers found out and started drinking at Dahlia’s. I heard this, maybe senior yet of high school. I don’t remember who told me, I’m sorry, I think it’s just like a thing people were like saying, you know what I mean?

 

Digital
general

Abandoned Subway Entrance

Context:

The subject is a white gender non-conforming individual from Brooklyn, New York. This legend is interesting because it begins online but then enters the real world.

 

Piece:

“There was an abandoned entry to the subway that was like near my house, it looks like all the other brownstones because it’s like.. But it’s boarded up, like all the windows are boarded up. And if you go in you can go — you can go from that building right into the train station which is wild because if you walk by it, you’re like “oh it’s another brownstone”, like you won’t even notice. I think I googled it, I think I was on the internet and was like New York City secrets and some sketchy website and I was like wow that’s right near where I live.

 

general

Poltergeist

Collected in the informant’s office on his free time. I asked him to describe a time where he experienced something that he couldn’t explain.

The informant attended the University of Southern California many years ago. The apartment he discusses is not known to be haunted.
Informant: “Um… Well, uhh… When I was in school here at USC, uh, there was a series of very strange events in my building. And, uhh… one night there was a loud, uh, series of noises from my living room of my one-bedroom apartment. I could see that my, uh, cla- my roommate was asleep next to us, and but there was clearly someone in the other room. And when I went in to investigate, things had been knocked off the shelves and walls, but the room was not broken into. Uh, and I am convinced that it was a poltergeist.”

Interviewer: “What would you define a poltergeist as?”

Informant: “Uh, well poltergeists are, uh, unmoored spirits traditionally, uh, kept from the afterlife by their own unfinished business, uhh, frequently revolved, or revolving around, like, rage, hate, or anger – Negative emotions that have kept them tethered to the world. But, uh, poltergeists traditionally, uh, travel. Uh, they’re not tied to one singular location. Um, so I believe at the time, uh, there was a, it was simply a poltergeist was moving through our apartment complex.”

Interviewer: “Interesting… Were there any other details about the incident?”

Informant: “[Sighs and smacks lips, thinking] Um… Only that a apropo of nothing, a similar incident was reported by our downstairs neighbors the night before, and, uh, a very strange occurrence happened a few days later when everyone was watching a movie together, and in the same moment, everyone screamed, uh, because we all saw, in the same moment, a face in the screen. It was like a, just an image of like, the characters were standing in front of a bush, and the green bush, for a moment, shifted, and we all saw it.”

Interviewer: “You saw the face too?”

Informant: “I saw the face, yeah.”

Interviewer: “What did the face look like?”

Informant: “Uh, it was just a brief moment of, like, an, an angry man’s face. Like a screaming face.”

Interviewer: “What do you think that was? Same thing?”

Informant: “[Sighs deeply in thought] … Yes? It couldn’t have been a different poltergeist. Like probably the same spirit infesting the building, uh, for that period of time.”
The informant has an interesting claim of poltergeists being able to move from location to location, not tied to a person or place like other sources claim. He also has a reliable account due to other people also being witnesses to multiple accounts of this “poltergeist.”

general
Humor

Office Folklore- Unicorn Death

Subject: Office Folklore. Pranks and comradery.

Collection:

“Interviewer: So… you have an employee in your office who is in a band… what type of music does her band play?

Interviewee: Death metal.

Interviewer: And what is the name of her band.

Interviewee: Unicorn death.

Interviewer: Now, for her birthday or before she’d go on tour, is there anything, any hijinks the office would get into surrounding her band?

Interviewee: So, she only wears black, and so we took her office and we covered it all in pink posy-notes, and then we saran wrapped her chair, um… we put Justin Bieber… pictures and we stuck them inside her notebook and inside her drawers and…

Interviewer: Why Justin Bieber?

Interviewee: Because he is a music genre she would not be interested in… um, we all put on a unicorn hat that was pink with like a purple horn… and um we um forced her to wear it.”

Background Info: Sehi Computer Products is in San Clemente, CA and consists of an inside office and an outside warehouse division. They have roughly twenty employees at any given time with most employees sitting at open work stations in one larger room. Conversation is open with side banter occurring intermittently with tasks and projects. My mother has worked in the office since 1989.

Context: This story was given over dinner with my mother and father while discussing jokes and events to parts of our lives unique to the rest of the family.

Analysis: It is now part of office culture to collect and send photos of unicorns to workplace associates. By the time clock, there is a bulletin board of photos of different employees wearing a unicorn hat in honor of the employee and her participation in the band. Such actions allow for employees to feel involved in one another’s personal lives within the often impersonal and task-based office setting. Now that the employee is touring with her band, the employees still mention and joke about unicorns, allowing her to stay relevant in the office community and actively works to integrate her into their social circles. Furthermore, all levels of personnel in the office participate in the tradition which helps to break down the traditional structures of command that can lead to negative feelings between manager and staff.

Being told the backstory around the unicorns is a rite of passage for employees, marking them as participants and contributors in the office community. Often, summer employees clock in and out every day without understanding the significance of the photos. However, to people in the office at the time of the employee going on tour, it marks a tie to a dear friend and a spirit of kinship, originating in being part of the “in” group in the office.

Furthermore, there is an element of play in the pranks that plays on subverting the individual’s personality. The people playing the prank purposefully choose items they knew the individual being pranked would not like and augmented them. The prank is tailored specifically to her interests, and this level of care communicates to the individual that they are known and valued in the office environment. The prank was not malicious, but rather a celebration of the individual and her unique personality .

general

Rustam and Rakhsh

Main Piece:“There is a story that my dad always use to tell me about a man called Rostam. So, the King of Iran used to be a man called Rostam way back in ancient times. When Rostam (the king of Iran) was older, he knew he would be a great warrior and he wanted to be the best. So because of this, his dad Zal promised to find a horse that was good enough for him so he could fight properly. In particular, his dad wanted to find one that would be courageous and obedient whenever Rostam was fighting. Because Rostam was king, he could basically do whatever he wanted and choose from any of the horses.. He ended up picking one that was famous for its speed and spirit. This horse was almost impossible to catch  since almost three years warriors had attempted get it but had failed. Rostam was impressed: He caught the hourse named it Rakhsh, the Persian word for lightening. After that they became best friends and they went on the have many adventures together.”

Background information: For the informat, this story has significant cultural significance. Her father would tell her stories about Rostam ever since she was a young child. In the Persian culture, this is the most influential epic poem which is written by Ferdossi; this is also the longest. A lot of stories within the epic tales have lessons of family and themes of evil vs good,  but also working out things within yourself. This particular story about Rostam and his horse is an example of Rostam being humbled through his journey. To the informat and her family, being humble was something that was highly regarded, especially in the Perisian community. This is because those who flaunt their wealth are looked down upon. For the informat the idea of remembering where you came from and your roots is something she constantly thinks about.

Context of performance: At the informant’s house in San Diego 

Thoughts: The significance of this story seems to correlate with Persian culture. The story of Rostam and his horse signify that being humble is one of the most important values, and that it is important to think of others and not just yourself. The horse also seems to carry significance as a symbol of a companion and power which has a parallel to American society where dogs are thought to be companions for men. 

 

 

Folk speech
general

The Two Frogs

Main Piece: “Once upon a time in Japan there were two frogs, one that had a home in Osaka I think, which is on the sea coast while the other dwelt in a clear little stream in Kyoto. Since this was a large distance they had never seen each other, but the same idea popped into their heads that they should visit Osaka. So they went on the journey and the road to get to Osaka and it was very tiring. When they reached the top to their surprise they sae each other.  One frog said that it was a pity that they weren’t bigger so that they could see the town from the hill. But the other frog said to stand up on their hind legs and hold onto each other to see Osaka. This idea pleased the Osaka frog so much that he stood up immediately and the other frog did too. But at that moment they both looked into each other’s eye and forgot about the beauty of the city and only about each other”.

Background Information: The informant learned this story from his grandparents, and he comes from Japanese descent. The informant says that this is a very popular Japanese Folk story but with many variations, but this is the version his grandparents taught him. His grandparents said the morale of this story is to always stay in the moment and that it is about the journey and the people you meet along the way, not the destination.

Context: At a coffee shop in Los Angeles

Thoughts: This story is interesting because it contains information about Japan itself- Kyoto and Osaka. I am curious why frogs were chosen and not another animal, and if this means that frogs are culturally significant.

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