USC Digital Folklore Archives / Legends
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Descarnada

-La Descarnada (El Salvador)

Original script: “my grandfathers friend had a chilling experience with a beautiful and sensual woman who appeared in the desolate roads asking for a ride. When he asked where she was headed she said a few kilometers. Then she got in the car and began to touch and kiss him then something dreadful happened; the skin from her body fell off! He was found in a total state of confusion and a lot of people said La Descarnada is a bad spirit of a bad witch.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Her grandfather believes the woman to be the witch “La Descarnada”

Thoughts about the piece: A lot of the Myths and tales from this area of the world seem to center around women and the evil behind there seductive powers. Perhaps they serve as tales of caution not to mess around with lose women or maybe deep down they express a fear of women.

 

Legends
Narrative

Thunderbird

Informant:

Zack was born in Boston Massachusetts and grew up in a house in rural Norwell Massachusetts in a secular family. His father is a musician and his mother a homemaker. Zack is a photographer who works with musicians and has traveled extensively both in his childhood following his father on tour and in his current occupation.

Norwell, Massachusetts

Original Script: “I am from a rural town 45 minutes south of Boston. Idyllic, but not without its dark history. I grew up on a 17-acre woodland just north of a long bend in The North River. Our property had been desirable for some time…European Settlers decided that it would make an ideal place for a military outpost and shipyard, so, they settled it by force. I literally grew up on an Indian battleground. This history came with a plethora of odd occurrences that would happen on our mostly wooded acreage. One time in particular, which I didn’t find out until much later, is actually considered to be Native American folklore. On a particularly hot summer day I was on my knees playing with my Star Wars figurines in the dirt near a tree line. It was midday and the sun was hot and directly overhead. It was quiet and then everything went dark. I cocked my head up to see what had happened to the sun when I saw a massive eagle breach the line of pines that surrounded our yard. Years later I learned of Thunderbirds and their presence in Native American folklore, so I’d like to think that maybe I was allowed to catch a glimpse of one.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: The informant grew up in a very rural area where there is a long history of battles and death.

Thoughts about the piece: Like most stories about spirits the setting for this story is the major character and one that is familiar to many, the Indian burial ground. The battles fought in the area and the animistic beliefs of the Native American peoples are expressed here in the form of a Thunderbird.

 

Legends
Narrative

Le Chuza

Informant:

Jackie grew up in Sonsonate El Salvador to a traditional catholic close knit family. She has 7 brothers and sisters and is close with all of them. She believes in the stories and relates them to me as stories that have happened to people she knows. Her Grandfather, Miguel is the person who she has heard most of the stories from.

Original script: “ My grandfather told me of a story from his friend in Mexico. His friend’s grandparents lived in a rural area in Mexico in a village. That night, everybody went to bed and his grandmother had a 6 month old baby. They were all sleeping and at midnight they heard a very loud noise and heard the baby crying, but they couldn’t move, their bodies were very heavy. The next day, they woke up and the baby was dead with birds mouths all over his body (bites). His family looked for help with people who does Magic Blanca (white magic). They told him his grandfathers ex-girlfriend was jealous that he married someone else and she sent this owl witch to the house to take her baby away. That’s why we call it Lechuza, a woman suspected of being a witch turn into a Lechuza.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jackie’s grandfather would tell them stories like this when usually when the conversations would turn to someone who had suffered a loss or a sickness. The whole family believes that these stories are 100% true and have happened to people they either know or come from the same village.

Context of the Performance: No real context.

Thoughts about the piece: This story has notes of stories such as La llorona and La Malinche, presenting both the mother (grandmother) and the Whore (the ex-girlfriend) paradigm. In most stories of this kind, the woman is the one who punishes and is punished. Although the grandfather in this story is affected, it is the grandmother who is the object of jealousy and in turn the person marked by the scorn of the ex-girlfriend.

We also see another character that makes appearances in different folklore throughout the world, the owl. The owl’s nocturnal nature makes it a mysterious character that is often seen as a bad omen or as a bringer of death or sickness in societies ranging from the Native American, Arab, and Romans. Here, the owl is a weapon used by the Witch to cause harm to the baby.

Legends
Narrative

Legend of Mae West

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“There is a hotel in Hancock park called Ravenswood, where the old actress Mae West used to live. Mae West was a very popular actress during 1930s. She is very sexy. she always challenged censorship. The story is that she wrote a play, she a very good writer, and put it on the broadway, and she called it “Sex”. which in the 1930s that was very shocking, very forbidden. There was a lot of censorship. She said ‘people say I’m against censorship, I’m not, I’m for it, cuz it makes me rich, cuz everybody wants to see what I do.’ So there is a story about once she showed up at the hotel with her new boyfriend in Santa Barbara, she wanted to register for the night. The hotel manager said this is a very moral place, we don’t allow for things like that, cuz you just gonna stay here for the sex. and we don’t do that kind of thing. that’s very naughty. So she said, can I borrow your phone? so she borrowed the phone and she called her agent, and she told the agent to buy the hotel. It’s okay, I own this hotel then.”

“It’s a good story, a story that had been told by people in the Hollywood industry.”
I think this legend very explicitly explains how money plays as the crucial role in this Hollywood industry along with this highly commercialized world even back to 30s, that the one who holds the most money would be the game changer. My informant comments with a neutral attitude by viewing it from a storyteller’s point of view without any moral judgement to the events.

 

Legends
Narrative

Croatian Cemetery Legend

Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Here, he describes a Croatian legend from the city of Split that was about a courageous man who was dared by his friends to visit a cemetery alone at night. This legend has long been told over generations:

FV: “There were a group of guys who were one night hanging out with each other like they normally do after work. They started talking about daring each other to go to the cemetery by themselves. No one out of the group would immediately volunteer because they knew you’re not supposed to trespass. Well, there was one guy in the group who eventually volunteered himself to go. He volunteered because he wanted to prove to his friends that he was brave enough to go alone to the cemetery. Then they all agreed that he would go to the cemetery at midnight with a knife. And this was during the wintertime. They told him to put the knife on top of the grave and to leave it there. And that’s what the brave man did. He followed the instruction to place the knife on top of a grave and to leave it there to be found the next morning. Well, when his friends came the next morning to pick the knife up, they couldn’t find him anywhere. So they proceeded into the cemetery at the break of dawn looking for their friend. Once they ventured into the cemetery, they saw a man passed out over one of the graves. Turns out their friend who was dared to enter the cemetery late at night to put a knife on top of a grave died. The man ended up getting tangled up on his long coat. Because it was pitch black and you couldn’t see anything, he thought someone was grabbing him by his coat, which caused him to have a heart attack. He died on top of a grave from a heart attack. Now, people say that they see the man’s silhouette or ghostly figure roaming around the cemetery looking for his friends.”

How did you learn about this legend?

FV: “Well it’s a story that is told over the years while growing up. I heard it from my grandfather when I was a young boy. My friends also heard about the story from their grandparents as well. It’s meant to scare the young kids in town and for entertainment purposes. But there are people who truly believe that the man who died that night still exists within the cemetery, so people tend to tell the same legend. It’s an old legend that is known in Split and is still told today.”

Why do you like sharing this legend with other people?

FV: “Well, it’s a story that lives on over generations and it’s fun to tell for fun, but I know some people who have shared with me that they have seen the apparition of the man themselves so there is a spookiness to the story.”

What context or setting would this story be told in?

FV: “Well, this story has been told at gatherings like parties or other events mainly to entertain those who are listening.”

Does this legend have any significance to you?

FV: “I enjoyed telling this story to my children when they were young and to my grandchildren because it was a legend that was passed down to me by my family, so I like to do the same and share it with my family.”

Analysis:

There are many legends and myths within the Croatian culture and this is one example of a legend that has been past down generation to generation by word of mouth. This legend is told for entertainment purposes during parties or gatherings to compel the audience with something interesting. It has been said that those who have visited this cemetery in Split have seen the same man walking through as if he was alive. Legends like this are often shared in the Croatian culture to amuse the young children.

 

Legends
Narrative

Connecticut Ghost Story

Informant EM is 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Southern California. Her major is cinema and media stories. Here, she discusses her ghostly experience as a freshman in high school in Connecticut:

EM: “For my freshman year of high school, I went to boarding school in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut. It was kind of an isolated community so we had to tell each other stories to keep us entertained for the most part and a lot of those stories involve the founding of the school and the legacy of the people who founded the school. So I got the luck of moving into the oldest dorm on campus that had been around since the 1800’s and it was a scary place. It was drafty, it was cold, it was falling apart, so naturally we had a bunch of ghost stories about it. The most memorable one was the story of the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss who was the founder of the school. Legend had it that if you went out at night to the hallway and you went to the back staircase of the dormitory, which was named after her by the way, you would see a woman dressed in white in a Victorian costume, like very old fashioned clothing, walking back and forth throughout the hallway and she would go down the stairs and if you tried to follow her, she would disappear. A lot of this has to do with the fact that back part of the dorm used to be her home when the school was originally founded. It’s kind of like the idea that she is looking out for the students. She’s been known to be a benevolent ghost, nothing really scary about her, but it was still creepy and there were definitely tons of sightings. I remember in particular when we had a blackout, because we were snowed in, there was this horrible blizzard. I actually feel like I might have seen something. I like to think that there is a rational explanation because like again it’s an old building, but I heard footsteps out in the hallway and I had the room closest to the back staircase and there wasn’t anyone with me. My roommate was back in my room but she heard the footsteps too, but she didn’t see what I saw. I saw someone in the dark who was dressed in white and this figure was opening the back door to the staircase and going in and you know there could be many explanations obviously, but it definitely made me think and it was kind of a fun story to tell other people after.”

How did people react to your experience?               

EM: “Well there was this girl who was a daughter of a teacher and she lived in the house adjacent to the dorms, and she said that all throughout her childhood before even knowing who Maria Bissell was, she had actually seen the ghost in one of the rooms, which when we later went upstairs to look at it, it turned out to be my room because it is the closest to the back. So we were thinking that maybe this used to be Maria Bissell’s room when it was a house, so maybe that explains why she keeps going there. But the girl said she wasn’t scared of her as a young child. She said that she got the impression that this spirit was kind to children. She started a school so maybe she is still around just to keep looking out for her students to make sure that they are OK.”

How or from whom did you learn about your school’s history?

EM: “Well before I saw it with my own eyes, I had the background because it was a popular story to hear around Halloween from the older students. It was kind of like an initiation thing like I would hear it from like the girls who were proctors and were seniors and you would hear it from the faculty. But I remember that they would make this little ritual out of it on Halloween where they would take us to a graveyard. They would take us out on Halloween night to the grave of Maria Bissell. It was just to scare us and it was part of the initiation process. It was a big part of the school culture and especially the women who are a part of the school. The boys never heard about this kind of stuff that went on, only the girls were involved.”

Did any of the girls ever share this with the boys?

EM: “Never. No, actually it was very exclusive. I don’t know if it had to do with that the dorm was a girls dorm, but it was definitely women who passed it on to other women.”

Does your experience have any meaning to you?

EM: “Well I’m not sure, but I like to keep my mind open. I like to think of it more as a lucky encounter or a positive thing, almost like a good luck charm more than it would be like something that is very scary because it was a way in connecting with the history of the place and also it’s nice for a change to have like a mascot ghost that isn’t out to get you. It was definitely a positive experience.”

What context would you share your experience in?

EM: “Well it makes a great story for stuff like Halloween, but I feel like it’s probably easier to explain to people from my same background. So if I were to meet another girl who went to Hotchkiss, I would probably ask her if she heard about Maria Bissell and ask her of she experienced anything similar. Everyone has their own story on Maria Bissell, which kind of defines your belonging to group of Hotchkiss girls. It would definitely be a bonding thing.”

Analysis:

EM’s experience with the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss is a large part of the schools initiation process and part of the tradition of passing those experiences onto the new class of girls who are coming in. It represents belonging within the community and the spirit of Marie Bissell Hotchkiss is portrayed as a benevolent spirit who is a reminder that the girls of this community a part of a tradition that was upheld for decades. The shared experiences and stories brought the community together. It solidified the bond between the girls of the school. It also established a sense of identity for the girls who went to Hotchkiss. Many girls came from all over the U.S. and the world to earn an education at this school and through the many experiences of encountering Maria Bissell over generations brought a sense of community and a shared belief system that all the girls could relate to and understand.

 

For another version of this legend, check out this article written by Stephanie Thomas:

http://www.hotchkiss.org/abouthotchkiss/hotchkiss-today/last-bissell-halloween-walk/index.aspx

Citation:

Thomas, Stephanie. “Origins of the Bissell Halloween Walk.” The Hotchkiss School. N.p., 2014. Web. Apr. 2016.

 

 

Legends
Narrative

The Devil at the Dance

Informant KJ is a sophomore studying cinematic art at the University of Southern California. He is of French-Canadian descent from the region of Quebec. Here, he discusses traditional Canadian folklore that has been known in his family for several generations:

KJ: “So there’s this other French-Canadian legend called “The Devil at the Dance” and it’s about this young couple who fall in love with each other, but they have opposing religious beliefs and the girl’s parents refuse their daughter to be involved with him because he is a Christian and they’re not. The daughter professes her love for the Christian boy, but her parents refuse to accept their daughter’s claims. The mother even says that she would rather have her daughter associated with the devil himself rather than a boy like hi. Then one day, the devil knocked on the family’s door. The family was so afraid that they asked a priest to convert them to Christianity. Once the family and the daughter were officially converted, the Christian boy and the young girl got married, both now as official members of Christianity.”

How did you learn about this legend?

KJ: “It’s just another French-Canadian tale that I’ve heard over the years from my grandparents.”

In what context would you share this legend?

KJ: “Well, my grandparents would share this story with me and other cousins mostly when I was younger and it was usually at our family gatherings.”

Does this legend have any significance to you?

KJ: “Um ya kind of because it was something that was always told from older members of my family like my grandparents and they made it fun, so ya it does.”

Analysis:

This French-Canadian tale exhibits the influence the devil had in the reinforcement of Christian ideals by scaring the non-believing family into converting into Christianity. The image and representation of the devil is quite common among French-Canadian tales, as he is known to make deals and to trick people. The devil is a prominent ancestral fixture in French-Canadian folklore and continues to be in modern society.

 

Legends
Narrative

Menehune- Mischievous Hawaiian Spirits

Informant CT is in her third year as a neuroscience major at the University of Southern California. CT is Hawaiian and is from the island of Oahu. Here, she describes a well-known Hawaiian legend about mischievous spirits who play tricks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands:

CT: “Menehune were natives of the Hawaiian Islands and were really small in stature. They have been known to look like little elves or fairies, but not really fairies, more like trolls and they lived deep in the forest away from civilization. They have been known to trick and mess with the tourists who come to the islands for vacation, like they tend to play practical jokes on the tourists like they would misplace your things while on your stay or they would pull you hair. They would also pinch or poke you. Mostly just silly stuff.”

How or where did you learn this legend from?

CT: “Well, my grandparents would always share this story with me and my sister when we were little. They’ve told us that the Menehune were like the first people to come to Hawaii and live on the islands. My grandparents would always say to us that whenever me and my sister did something bad or went against our parent’s rules, that is was the menehune that made us to it, that they influenced us to do it, like in a playful way.”

So the Menehune were not scary or meant to scare anyone?

CT: “No not at all. They, from what I have been told when I was little is that they are just playful spirits that mess around with young kids. It was never a scary thing or something to be afraid of. Nothing in that nature.”

In what kind of context would you share this Hawaiian legend?

CT: “Um well I guess you would share this legend to those who are going to Hawaii on vacation. Like I’ve made a joke about it before to my friends who were going to Hawaii during the summer. I would tell them to watch out for the Menehune while they are there because it’s been known in my culture that they mess with the tourists and their things so its just something fun to share with other people and kind of make them aware of this legend.”

Does this legend have any significant meaning to you?

CT: “Um, well it does in the sense that it is part of my Hawaiian culture and that it’s been shared and passed down through my family and it’s pretty well known. Like my friends and their families have spoken about it, mostly in a fun and joking way.”

Analysis:

These mischievous spirits have been known to pull pranks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands for leisurely reasons, especially in more remote areas of the islands. Although there is no official record of a Menehune siting, legend has it that their spirits still live on and play on the minds of those who visit the Hawaiian Islands.

 

Legends
Narrative

New England Ghost Story

Informant EB is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in political science. EB is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, but he has spent the majority of his youth in Connecticut. Here, he shares a ghost story known to a town in Connecticut called Dudley Town.

EB: “So Dudley Town is a famous old colonial town in Cornwall, Connecticut, and most people who are from Connecticut know of it as a spooky, old ghost town. Back in the mid to late 1700’s, Dudley Town was mostly farmland and it was used for farming purposes only. But because other businesses were opening up and it was located on an area that was not ideal for farming, the agricultural production suffered and eventually closed down. So the story is that there was a doctor in this town who killed all of his patients when he would go visit them at their homes. He would poison his patients by giving them the wrong medication. This doctor was known to be a Satanist and that he believed that if he followed and did what the devil instructed him to do, he would be rewarded with a rich and fruitful afterlife. So he did this for years and years up until he hung himself in the middle of town. It has been known that his dark, evil spirit haunts the remains of this old town and that no one will really go near it because of all the strange things that have happened. I think it is even closed off to the public today.”

Where did you earn about this legend?

EB: “Um well I heard it while going to school when I was younger and it is a story that is talked about in school by our the older classmates. I have heard variations of the story over the years, but it is something that has been talked about among friends and schoolmates for generations.”

Does this legend have any significant meaning to you?

EB: “Uh kind of in that it is was talked about in school as a way to warn the students to not venture over to that town because of what happened, but it mostly freaked me out when I first heard in school.”

What context or setting would you share this story?

EB: “I have shared this legend to other people when it has been close to Halloween, but I feel like if I were to run into someone who is from Connecticut, they would have a better understanding of the whole ghost story thing and we would be able to relate to it better. I feel like most people who aren’t from Connecticut would look at me weird because they may not know the historical background of old colonial towns like Dudley and or they might now believe in the supernatural. But it’s also a fun story to share for entertainment purposes too.”

Analysis:

Connecticut is a New England state that is prominently known for its coastal cities and its mysterious rural areas. The remains of an old colonial settlement, Dudley Town is known to be cursed. Plagued by hundreds of unexplained deaths and tragedies, this town is now prohibited to the public and has been reclaimed by the surrounding forest. The remains of this eerie town are now fully covered by trees and wildlife. I found it interesting how the informant learned about this legend in school while he was a new student and how it is tradition each year to share this legend with the younger incoming students.

Legends

US-Mexico Border urban legends

MR is a student at the University of Southern California, originally from Ames, IA.

MR shared a harrowing story that she’d heard from a friend in San Diego:

“My friend told me that in high school, there were kids who would sometimes cross the border into Tijuana to go out and party, and then they’d just post up on a hotel before driving back the next day…one year some kids went after finals and were out at a bar, and one of their girl friends was hanging out with a guy behind the bar. She told them she was going to stay and hang out with him, and that she’d call them when she was on her way back to their hotel…by morning no one had heard from her yet, and her phone calls would go straight to voicemail. They went back to the bar from last night and tried to show the owner a picture of the man that they’d taken last night, but the owner said he’d never seen him before. They drove around everywhere trying to find signs of their friend, but at some point they knew they had to get back to San Diego and would have to talk to the police then, after talking to the border patrol. So they started driving back and they were waiting in line to be search by border patrol, while they were talking to them also freaking out about their missing friend.

All of a sudden in another line they see something going on, and the cops are talking to this guy who has a sleeping girl wearing sunglasses in the passenger seat. The cops tell the guy he can’t cross the border unless he can wake the girl up, and he’s putting up a lot of resistance. Finally they take off the girl’s sunglasses and realize she’s dead – at the base of her spine there’s an incision, and her spine has been padded by bags of cocaine.”

My analysis:

While this story initially freaked me out, MR offered her reservations about the whole thing. It seems like there are a lot of these nightmarish stories about cartels using dead bodies to smuggle drugs over the border, but there are almost no records of such a crime actually taking place. MR thinks these stories are used near the Mexican border to scare kids like her friend from going across to get away with drinking or partying, or at least encourage them to be extra-vigilant. It also makes those in the drug business as monstrous, inhuman entities, maybe making it easier to discriminate against people like them (ie. Mexicans in general). Legends like this seem pretty common in border communities, but luckily it doesn’t sound like they’re true.

For more information on stories like this, see:

Mikkelson, David. “Drugs Smuggled In Dead Baby.” Snopes 23 Apr. 2015. Retrieved from http://www.snopes.com/horrors/drugs/deadbaby.asp
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