USC Digital Folklore Archives / Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Fiesta San Antonio

TO is a junior at the University of Southern California, and spent most of her childhood in San Antonio, TX.

TO described a popular festival that took place in her hometown:

“Fiesta is just a giant celebration held right around now in San Antonio, and it’s supposed to celebrate the Alamo and the Battle of San Jacinto. The whole thing is really colorful: people wear colorful clothes and decorate everything with bright flowers, and they have these things called cascarones, which are hollow eggs filled with confetti that you’d crack on e=people’s heads. They also have this ‘Battle of Flowers’ parade, where they literally have a calvary, and they pick a bunch of local girls to be ‘princesses.’ The princesses wear these huge colorful gowns covered in flowers with really long trains, and they each ride on a float.”

I asked TO if having the parade in her hometown made it less special over the years:

“A bit, yeah. The whole thing was really fun but I didn’t really participate much. The public schools would always get school off on the day of the Battle of the Flowers, like it was a holiday, but I never did. I was always a little weirded out by the princesses, and I knew a couple girls who participated in that, but I was never really interested. You had to be a part of a very old San Antonio family to be in it, and honestly be pretty wealthy. It kind of had a debutante ball vibe, like you were presenting yourself to Texas society.”

My analysis:

Fiesta San Antonio sounds a lot like other festivals around the world, with parades, cavalry and a princess “court.” This had it’s own Texas coloring though, and as someone from southern California I’d never heard of most of these traditions, or things like the cascarones. It was interesting to learn about the vivid relationship the city has with the Texas Revolution, and it almost makes San Antonio seem like a different kid of American city – the old Mexican influence is still very prevalent there, unlike a more modern influence in Los Angeles. The local history clearly still impacts citizens today, but the novelty can wear off after awhile for people like TO.

Folk Beliefs

Alamo Folk Stories

TO is a junior at the University of Southern California, originally from San Antonio, TX.

Growing up in Texas, TO had lots of folk stories to share about the Alamo:

“Everyone in the Alamo died because they were slaughtered by the Mexican Army, but they chose to stay anyways and didn’t surrender…and then at the Battle of San Jacinto which ended the Texas Revolution, there was a kid there that was fighting, and I guess he was supposedly at the Alamo but he didn’t die because he was a kid and they let him go…the Mexican Army was losing this battle so they were retreating and this kid came upon a soldier, and obviously the Texans were shouting “Remember the Alamo!” And the Mexican guys were all shouting “me no Alamo,” trying to say they weren’t at the Alamo, and this kid who had escaped looked at one of them and said “me Alamo” and killed him.

Another one was about the Mexican surrender and the end of the revolution…the leader of the Mexican Army, Santa Anna, got shot in the foot. They were obviously losing so he put on a foot-soldier’s uniform, and was captured with the other foot soldiers. So he was trying to get away with just being a normal soldier, except then the other soldiers started calling him ‘el presidente’ – the Texans figured out who he was and eventually forced him to sign over Texas and retreat.”

My analysis:

These stories about the Texas Revolution aren’t necessarily found in the history books, and their origins aren’t clear, but they give Texans some great folk heroes to refer back to when talking about the Revolution. A lot of times the stories about battles and wars that are repeated aren’t necessarily true, at least not exactly the way they’re told – no one can really verify some of the stories about Paul Revere in the American Revolution, and often the real origins just aren’t as exciting. Folk stories like these about important events give the descendants a more lyrical way of sharing history with the next generation, and in general are just more exciting to tell.


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

“El Justo Juez” – The Just Judge

Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. Her father grew up in El Salvador, so Salvadoran culture has been engrained into her upbringing and has influenced things that she learned from her parents.


Main Piece: So growing up in El Salvador, my dad heard this story about this ghostly creature, called the Just Judge. Um so according to the story, he was um he would appear only in the night, and he would be riding a black horse. Um and when you got close to him, you would realize that he had no head, just like um a cloud of smoke coming out of his neck where his head should be. Um so it was said that um that if you approached him, he would say to go back inside your house. You would only see him very late at night when no one else was around. And he would say that the night belonged to him, and that you shouldn’t be there. My uncle actually claims that he saw him, and that when he tried… and that he saw this figure. He saw like this cloud of smoke on the street when he was walking out at night on like a very deserted street, and when he went through it, he claims he saw that figure in the cloud of smoke, and that it walked right through him, like the horse walked right through him like it wasn’t made of anything. Um so he panicked and he ran back home. Um but since that day, he’s kinda rationalized it by saying that it was an optical illusion or that it was a cloud that was really low, so he doesn’t actually believe in it. But it’s always fun to entertain the idea.


Performance Context: This tale is usually told from parents to children to keep them from staying out too late. It was probably a cautionary tale, so they came up with this frightening creature to keep kids from staying out past their curfew.


My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how people have come up with such legends in order to precaution their children against doing certain things, yet these stories become so integrated into society that people believe they have seen or heard the characters described in these legends. This legend almost seems reminiscent of the Sleepy Hollow Legend with the headless horseman.


Minggan the Giant

Background: Y.G.M. is a 49-year-old Filipino woman who works at Nye Partners in Women’s Health as the office manager. She was born and raised in Quezon City in the Philippines, and lived there until she was 25 years old. Y.G.M. self-identifies as Filipino, and as a result of her upbringing, Filipino culture is very engrained into her personal beliefs. She attended college at Mirian College, and received a bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts. Y.G.M. then immigrated to Chicago, Illinois with her family in 1997, and got her first job working at Citibank in River Forest, Illinois. She now lives with her husband in a suburb of Chicago.


Main piece:

Y.G.M.: So Minggan is also like a mythological creature and he’s a giant that lived in the Sierra Madre mountains which is up north in the Philippines and it was believed that he was in love with um a mountain goddess called Mariang Sinukuan. From time to time he would be in the mountains and um, he Mariang Sinukuan, the goddess, wanted to put him to a test and he could only win her heart if he would pass that test. Um – she wanted him to stop the river from flowing so they can build a pond in the mountains but Minggan failed the test.


Q: How could he have completed this test?  What was he supposed to do?


Y.G.M.: He was supposed to, um, create.  He was supposed to stop the river from flowing and build a pond in the mountains so she can be with all the living things that live under water. He was supposed to complete it before evening.


Performance Context: This story would typically be told to Filipino children to teach them more about Filipino folklore and legends.


My Thoughts: There are many stories throughout all of world folklore where there is a plotline involving a series of trials that the protagonist must pass in order to succeed, as in this legend. This idea of trials is a common motif and plotline that can be found in many folktales and myths. This element can be noted in Propp’s 31 Functions as well as in the ATU.


For another version of this story, please see Page 34 of Tales from the 7,000 Isles: Filipino Folk Stories: Filipino Folk Stories, written by Dianne de Las Casas and Zarah C. Gagatiga.

Casas, Dianne De Las, and Zarah C. Gagatiga. Tales From the 7,000 Isles: Filipino Folk Stories (Tales From the Seven Thousand Isles). N.p.: Libraries Unlimited Incorporated, 2011. Print.

Folk Beliefs

Ghost of Antetum

Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. When she was living in Maryland, she would often take tours to historical sites and picked up multiple stories from each of these sites and the people she met there.


Main piece:

When I lived in Maryland, we would often visit Civil War battlesites. Um and one of the major ones that was near where we lived was Antetum in Sharpsburg Maryland? Yeah Sharpsburg. Basically one of the bloodies battles of the civil war happened there. And it’s very chilling to go now because it’s all cornfields and it’s very quiet and lonely and you really get a sense of quiet and foreboding when you’re there. One of the park rangers actually shared this story with me, with us, with our family, um about uhh these strange happenings that occurred around a road known as Bloody Lane in the middle of the battlefield. Some people had reported smelling gunpowder when they walked down the lane and later it was found out that that road had been the site of this kind of standoff between the Unions and the Confederates where they were basically shooting at each other from opposite sides of the road for hours, and thousands of people died there. So it was said you could hear gunshots in the distance or even battlecries. There was also an old bridge in the park, um, where you could supposedly hear distant drumming if you walked over it at night. When I asked the park ranger whether they thought it was true, um she said that uh she had never experienced any of the gunshots or any – she had never heard anything strange. But one time she saw a woman dressed in this very old fashioned style? in the middle of one of the fields? Reading a book. And when she saw her, she assumed she was a reenactor, because there were civil war reenactments all the time, so she assumed it was a costume. But when she asked back at the visitor’s center, when she asked one of the coworkers if they were having any events that day, and the coworker said that they weren’t. So um she didn’t actually believe that she had seen a ghost, but she said that it was definitely one of the stranger things that had happened to her while she was there. When she went back the lady was gone.


Performance Context: This legend would be told when tourists would visit the battle site of Antetum in Sharpsburg, Maryland.


My Thoughts: I think that this legend was either created or shared as a way to get visitors interested in the history of the place, because everyone loves to hear ghost stories whether they believe in them or not. Such stories help visitors to connect to the site and to make it come more alive, especially for those who are not as fascinated by history.

Folk Beliefs
Rituals, festivals, holidays


Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. For a while, E.M. lived in Kentucky and this is a story that she heard there.


Main Piece:

E.M.: So when I was living in Kentucky, I… one of my friends… when we were young children… one of my friends said that um said that she knew that one of my neighbors did snake uh would do snake rituals in church and that she heard that from her parents. So she was kind of scared of this lady, um, and when I asked my parents about it, um, I I found out that that lady was a Pentecostal, and that basically in her church they believed that snakes couldn’t hurt them or that that the venom of the snakes couldn’t hurt them, if they believed in God. Um so they would use the snakes during sermons, even, they would handle them quite dangerously, and that even people would get sick or get hurt I guess, but it was an important part of their religion because they said that in the Bible, it says that if you’re a true Christian, snakes can’t hurt you and they belong to you to use them as you see fit.


Q: Did you ever see this practice live?


E.M.: I didn’t ever see it in person. It’s not something commonly done, but it belonged to this particular church that was a very old church, and they had been doing it for a really long time. I heard it from the other kids, and it kinda became a rumor or a scary story we would tell each other that turned out to be true. We were scared of it because it was very different from our own religious practices, like this would never happen in our own churches or anything like that.


Q: Where did you live in Kentucky?


E.M.: I lived in Louisville Kentucky, but this lady was from… I, I believe she was from Appalachia and she had moved there and there were rumors about her, showing there was this big divide between city life and country life in Kentucky.


Performance Context: In Pentecostal churches in some areas of Kentucky.


My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how people interpret the Bible in different ways though they all read the same words. In particular, it is intriguing how people make folklore and folkloric practices out of religion. However, the folklore is an extension of the religion and not a true part of the religion itself. Many subtleties in the Bible are interpreted by different sects of Christianity to mean certain things, however, they are never explicitly told to perform these practices (such as snakehandling).

For more information, please see Chapter 3 (Religious Folklore) of Elliott Oring’s book Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, in which snakehandling is mentioned.


King Arthur

Informant was a 19 year old female who was born in England and currently lives in Los Angeles. She lives in my hall, and I interviewed her.

Informant: King Arthur’s a pretty well known story, so I don’t know how much I can say that you probably don’t already know. But it’s a pretty big story in England, like he kinda symbolizes our heritage and stuff like that. And I think we had a real King Arthur too so some people think the story is real, which I think is funny. But basically the story goes like this. Arthur’s father was the king of England, but then like he really liked this other girl that was married to someone else, so he asked Merlin for help. Merlin’s the wizard. And he made himself look like that girl’s husband. And then they had Arthur, but Arthur was raised by a knight and didn’t know that his dad was the king or whatever. So eventually, the king died and like he didn’t have any kids except for Arthur who didn’t know that he was his kid. And then Merlin did this thing where he put the sword in this stone, and he said that the person who could take the sword out of the stone was the king. And then a bunch of people tried but like nobody could do it until Arthur came and did it, and he became the king. There’s a lot that comes after that with like the round table and the knights and all of that, but I don’t really know much about that. Just the sword thing.

Collector: Is there anything in particular that you like about this story?

Informant: It’s like part of my culture, I guess. Even though like everybody knows the story, it’s a very British thing, and we take pride in it. I mean, I don’t care much for that, but I know that a lot of people do. I just think it’s a cool story.

For another version of this story, see “Matthews, John. The Book of Arthur: Lost Tales from the Round Table. Old Saybrook, CT: Konecky & Konecky, 2002. Print.”

I have already heard of the tale of King Arthur multiple times, but I didn’t know that it meant a lot to English people. I thought that it was just a random story that Disney used and made popular, because that was the first time I had ever heard of it. It’s interesting to see how a story that is so well known around the world can have particular significance to a specific culture. Another thing that I think is interesting is that I didn’t know that the story included the king disguising himself to commit adultery. If my memory serves me right, I don’t remember that having been a part of the Disney movie. This is something that Disney has always done – obscure the more intense, not-PG versions of stories, and it makes me wonder what other things Disney has obscured.


Vanderlip Mansion (Legend)

My informant is Jackson, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Jackson is white and of Danish and Irish descent and grew up in a suburb outside of Los Angeles called Palos Verdes.


Jackson: “There was this house that everyone would talk about where I was from and I probably first heard it when I was around 12, in middle school. It was a mansion on this private road and it’s called Vanderlip mansion and there’s not that many houses around it and it’s kind of secluded but apparently a whole family got murdered there. I’m not sure exactly what the story is but I think the owner murdered his own family and is said to haunt the house. I guess it is a scary place. One of my friends lives on Vanderlip Lane and we would go check out the house but we never went in.”

Do you believe the house is haunted?

Jackson: “When I was younger I did. I was definitely afraid to go there and there was always something a little off about it but now its getting renovated and remodeled so I don’t think so”

Do you know who told you this story?

Jackson: “No I can’t remember. It might have been my friend that lives near the house but a lot of kids knew about it when we were growing up”

What does this mean to you?

Jackson: “I’m not sure if it means anything to me it’s just cool and weird how there’s like this ghost story about a house and it’s a place I’ve actually been. It just reminds me of my childhood when I would believe that stuff and be so scared”


I like this story because as a kid I would always see on television and movies that there was always a haunted house but I never had that growing up but to some people that actually happened. Jackson actually heard stories about the haunted house and just like in the movies went with his buddies to explore and ended up running away scared. Even though Jackson doesn’t remember who started this story, the fact that many different kids know about makes me believe this is actually a legend in Palos Verdes.


The Lighthouse

My informant is Olivia. Olivia is a 19-year-old freshman at USC from Palos Verdes, California. She is of Irish and Italian descent and lived in New Jersey for a small amount of time growing up.


Olivia: “So there is this lighthouse, by my house, it’s when your driving around the bend by Tarranea on Palos Verdes Drive and there’s the lighthouse. There’s a story that this woman was married to a sailor and he went on his ship and every night she would wait for him. So on this foggy night when she was waiting for him…wait I’m losing the story, I think she just waited for him and he never came back and she waited for him there and sat in the same spot for the rest of her life and died there. And there’s rumors that you can see her at night waiting for her husband. You know that light that goes around like her shadow passes and it’s her. She’ll like flash”

Is this light house on the beach?

Olivia: “No it’s on this cliff so it’s creepier”

Do people ever go to it?

Olivia: “Oh yeah people go there all the time on walks and field trips and stuff but I was always too scared”

Do you think that story is true?

Olivia: “One hundred percent yes”

Do you think her spirit is in there?

Olivia: “Yes like lighthouses are always creepy”

When do you first remember hearing this story?

Olivia: “When I moved right by there, six years ago”

Does this story have any meaning to you since you live by it and grew up on it?

Olivia: “Umm I mean I think it’s a hopeless, romantic, love story because she waited for him so I like it even though I’m afraid”


This is an example of a local legend and it’s very stereotypical. It’s centered around a light house and it’s said someone died there waiting for the love and her spirits haunts the lighthouse; it’s very cliché. Having said that I think it’s a great piece of folklore and definitely interesting to hear from someone who believes so strongly in the legend and lives at such proximity to the site. I wouldn’t believe this story because lighthouses are well maintained when they are working but they do give out an eerie vibe.