USC Digital Folklore Archives / Legends
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

The Ursuline Casket Girls Of New Orleans

Storyteller:

“Okay, so there’s this convent and off the top of my head I don’t remember it but if you google like “New Orleans Convent Vampires” you’ll find like a version of it. So that’s when New Orleans was being like built into a new city and there were all these traders and fur trappers or whatever. So women, so they has women brought over from Europe who were essentially going to be mail order brides for these men. So there are crude jokes of it being like early human trafficking and the women were like exposed to the sun on the trip over on the boat so they got like severely sun burned so the men like freaked out when the women got off the boat and rejected them. So they took the women in at the local convent and they like turned the top floor into the places for them to stay. But somehow because it’s New Orleans and this is what happens, people started saying that the women up there can’t be exposed to sunlight, they must be vampires…and it turned into this whole legend about the vampires of the convent. So like if you go on the voodoo tour in New Orleans, you will go to this convent and be told the story.

Me: That is so interesting, wow.

Storyteller: It is crazy! I mean the stuff in New Orleans…like who thought that was true and you know…it’s New Orleans so who knows if it’s true…you never know there.

Background: The storyteller is from New Orleans so she had a couple stories to pick from but decided to share this one. She told me that although she couldn’t remember the exact name of the story (I later looked up the real name and titled this post with it), she knew that because of the weird history of New Orleans, an ancient event turned into a creepy legend.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me a few stories…one is this legend. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is interviewed in a different post).

Thoughts: I have come to realize that there are many legends and ghost stories that come from the south. The reason for this is probably because of the south’s horrible history especially with slavery and the general mistreatment of black people and women. I think that whether or not this legend is true and the women actually were vampires (even though it seems unlikely), it is interesting to me how easily skewed a simple story can become in New Orleans. It seems like the city has a rich culture and likes to accumulate as many interesting stories as it can. It makes it unique.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Civil War Ghost of Brighton, Michigan

Civil War Ghost of Brighton, Michigan

The following informant is a 19 year-old USC student from Brighton, Michigan. They attended the Interlochen Arts Academy for 2 years before moving to Los Angeles. Here, they are describing a ghost story they recall hearing about a Hartland High School friend; they will be identified as S. The subjects of his story will be identified as O and D.

S: There was this kid that I used to know in high school, his name was O, he was two years older than me, and he had a brother that was a year younger than me, and they lived on a farm. They lived on a farm, and their house was built in a, a long, long time ago, I think during the Civil War, actually.

We lived in a suburb, but he lived in, like, the farm, farmland part of Brighton, which is tractors, cows — he even had sheep, one was named Luigi. Anyways, no, since the house was so old, the owner, or someone that either lived in the house or was involved in the house, they just, obviously died, and Logan always said this type of “spook” just lingered, it was always there. It wasn’t a harmful, or like, it wasn’t harmful, I’ll leave it at that.

But it was, like, the typical things would be found out of place. Apparently it used to definitely linger around D [his brother] more. It would be, like, they — D would clean in his room, or whatever, and the closet door would be shut, and then they would leave, and then they’d come back from going to the store, or from playing outside, or something, and then the closet door would be open and some things would be out of place.

Just a sense of someone’s in the room with you but when you know you’re alone, just like eyes are on you, and hairs on your neck stick up, and it’s kind of like a cold presence. Something is in the room with you, some spirit or something. That’s the “spook” of S’s house.

Context

The informant is my younger sibling, and O was a friend of mine in the same class. I don’t recall hearing this story, but the informant was relatively close with the individuals described in the story. The performance took place in our apartment a few blocks away from USC, and I was the sole listener. Not to take any sort of credence away from the informant, but it would seem a noteworthy amount of emphasis was placed on the term “spook” during the telling, as if this alternative (and less common) term for “ghost” or “spirit” was the reason behind their remembering of the account.

My Thoughts

The area of Brighton, Michigan (where we were primarily raised) is an interesting one — there are plenty of Civil War artifacts and graveyards, and the town’s buildings retain an “old fashioned” style. Lots of our friends’ houses (those we would often visit) were older houses, and, as is characteristic of the houses in Brighton and its bordering areas, most had large yards surrounding them.

This combination surely lent itself to many paranormal interaction stories that were told as we grew up. I am less inclined to believe this story, purely based off of the informant’s performance, due to the lack of evidential exposition; perhaps a parent moved the objects, or closed the closet door. I’m sure a memorate influenced this narrative.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Dogman in Traverse City, Michigan

Dogman in Traverse City, Michigan

The following informant is a 19 year-old USC student from Brighton, Michigan. They attended the Interlochen Arts Academy for 2 years before moving to Los Angeles. Here, they are describing an urban legend they recall hearing about a dog creature while attending high school in Northern Michigan; they will be identified as R.

R: A popular urban legend is a, this creature called the Dogman, it’s right where we went to high school in Traverse City. This dog-creature, it wasn’t a werewolf and it wasn’t bigfoot, it was like a hairy many with the head of a dog.

But, no, you’d see him roaming around the woods in the north, it was said this, like, DJ in the 80s said, “I made up the legend as an April Fools joke,” but there’s definitely incidents found from the 30s and 1800s — it’s just, there’s been a tax? I don’t know if there’s videos. Obviously there’s going to be people that fake this, but the guy claimed it’s a joke, but there’s been actual, actual records behind it, and that is Dogman.

Context

The informant is my younger sibling, and the two of us attended the same boarding high school in Northern Michigan (near Traverse City in a town named Interlochen), though not at the same time. The performance took place in our apartment a few blocks away from USC, and I was the sole listener. The school was built on top of Native American burial grounds (there were many signs around campus providing a history of the land), and many paranormal encounter stories are told.

My Thoughts

Traverse City is much different than Brighton, Michigan, where the informant and I grew up; it is much more dense in forests, and simply sounds different, in part due to the many surrounding lakes and Great Lake. I am sure that this has an effect on the local folklore, as much of the stories I recall being told as a kid in Brighton involve farmland and the Civil War.

I never heard this story, but it sounds like a typical urban legend. Many of the creatures described in these sorts of Michigan legends involve animals — this may very well be a result of the woods, forests, and wildlife that are a part of everyday life.

The informant heard this story while attending high school near Traverse City; this story fits into the type of stories I remember hearing and exchanging at night time after classes on campus, especially while sitting with friends near the surrounding lake and enveloped in the ambience produced by the moving water, wind blowing through trees’ leaves, and wildlife (particularly the large population of loons that inhabited Green Lake).

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pasadena and the “Suicide Bridge”

Pasadena and the “Suicide Bridge”

The following informant is a 25 year-old who was born and brought up in the San Fernando Valley of California. Here, they are describing a local urban legend that they had heard about a specific bridge in Pasadena; they will be identified as J.

J: There’s a bridge in Pasadena, where a ton of people commit suicide. Apparently it’s haunted. Google it, it’s a thing. I think the legend spurred people to commit suicide there, so the legend kind of fed itself. It’s definitely a thing.

Context

This interaction took place at a family gathering for a friend that I had been invited to; the informant is the cousin of the friend who invited me along.

My Thoughts

I tried looking up this particular urban legend online, with much luck. There is truth behind the Colorado State Bridge being the site of numerous suicides. There have apparently been “thousands” since 1919. There are also numerous well-known ghost sightings and haunting stories that can be easily accessed. I find it interesting, though, how the folklore behind the bridge has potentially spurred people to commit suicide at its location.

For more information, visit:

Weiser, Kathy. “Suicide Bridge – Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, California.” Legends ofAmerica, May 2017, www.legendsofamerica.com/ca-suicidebridge/.

 

Legends
Narrative

Escape From Alcatraz

Text: JC: So there’s an ongoing FBI investigation into the escape of these three guys even though it happened years ago. And there’s never been conclusive proof found about anything like how they escaped, did they escape, or did they die in the water of the bay. Because people have tried to study what the tides may have been like that night, and have said they they could have been swept out into the ocean. Or, that the tide could have taken them to Angel Island, which is this island in the middle of the bay. And so people wonder if they could have escaped by making it to that island, and then somehow survived, and then gotten back onto the mainland. I don’t know there’s a lot of speculation surrounding Alcatraz in particular and I think because it’s part of the history of our region and a really famous mystery, coupled with the fact that the FBI has spent decades investigating in it and has never found anything else out.

AT: How many versions have you heard of what happened

JC: I’ve heard that they died in the water and got swept out to see, I’ve heard that they have escaped onto an island, I’ve heard that they swam to San Francisco and escaped there…

AT: Have you ever heard that they have been sending postcards to their families from other places?

JC: No, I’ve never heard that.

AT: Oh really, that’s the version that I heard. Anyways, what do you personally think happened?

JC: I think they escaped.

Context: JC is a 19 year old history major at the University of Southern California. A resident of Walnut Creek, California near San Francisco and an adamant history buff, JC is well versed in a lot of local legend surrounding his famous and historically colorful place of origin. The exchange above took place over coffee when I asked JC if he knew and slang from the Bay Area. He gave me legends instead.

Interpretation: I like the exchange above because it not only discussed the various folklore surrounding the three escaped inmates from Alcatraz without bias, but it even contained an additional folkloric exchange in which JC and I swapped stories. Alcatraz is interesting because, due to the amount of press coverage and movies made based off of the famous escape, people often forget that nobody is actually sure of anything that took place of the night of the alleged escape other than the fact that there was an escape attempt. Any other information about the escape treated as fact is not fact at all, rather folklore that speculates what could have happened.

This legend is another example of a local legend, for it is tied to Alcatraz itself. It also fits the spirit of a legend extremely well due to the fact that various versions of what actually happened all have a questionable truth value, one of a combination of the possibilities has a strong chance of being proven valid is the FBI investigation continues. Additionally, it is easy to see how the legend of the escape from Alcatraz has taken on a mind of its own, for people often hold a strong opinion of what happened to the prisoners without any evidence to back it up. This is another example of the way that folklore works, often selecting the value of a particular story based off of factors such as order of hearing the specific recounting or who specifically told them about which recounting and choosing based off their relationships to the people.

Legends

The Albino Squirrel

Text: RB: So, squirrels are kind of famous on the UT campus because they try to get as close to you as possible, they will eat out of your hands, and stop in front of cars and dare people to run them over. Basically they are so used to people that they’ve gone crazy. But there is one albino squirrel, the only one in all of UT. And if you see the albino squirrel right before you take a test, you’re gonna get 100% on that test. Or if you see it right before finals week, you’ll pass all your finals.

AT: Have you ever seen this squirrel?

RB: I’ve never seen the squirrel. It’s really sad.

Context: RB is a freshman at the University of Texas studying aerospace engineering. During orientation, she heard a lot of folklore about the campus, including the piece above. The stories told to her at orientation continue to be confirmed and retold during interactions with current students. The interaction above took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break from our respective universities, swapping campus legends.

Interpretation: This legend is interesting because is encompasses a lot of possible distinctions that exist when examining legends. For one, the albino squirrel itself is a legendary creature that serves as an omen of good fortune and engages with themes of luck. Also, the legend described above can be categorized as a local legend, for it is situated in one spot; the University of Texas at Austin’s campus. Additionally, though the legend is still a legend in that its truth value remains questionable, (the effectiveness of said squirrel sighting can not be confirmed by the informant) the existence of an albino squirrel in a place famous for the propagation of squirrels does not seem too far-fetched.

I also find it interesting that the folk beliefs associated with this legend/legendary creature correlate so strongly with things related to specifically college campuses such as good grades and squirrels. UT serves as the perfect breeding ground for this legend, regardless of whether or not if it is backed up by actual sightings. It would be very easy to believe. Lastly, the use of magic is often employed in situations where people feel a lack of control. The fact that merely laying eyes of this squirrel will magically gift you with an A+ seems fitting in situations that involve test taking, where students often experience the sensation of a lack of control over their future.

general
Legends
Narrative

Mount Diablo

Text: JC: The there’s a mountain near where I live called Mount Diablo, and there’s a story surrounding the mountain regarding how it got its name. Back in 1805, Spanish conquistadores were pursuing the Volvon tribe, or anybody who was resisting missionization. So the tribe entered a thicket, and they the spaniards cornered them. And the Spanish word for thicket is “monte.”

AT: Wait, what’s a thicket?

JC: A thicket is, I don’t know, trees and bushes and stuff, right?

AT: Ah, okay.

JC: And so the Spanish thought that they cornered the Volvon there, and that they were gonna capture them, but the tribe escaped in the middle of the night. So the story is that the spaniards named the it “monte del diablo,” or “thicket of the devil”, because of the native people escaping them. But then, the word “monte” got mistranslated by Americans into “mount diablo,” instead of thicket, because they did not know what “monte” meant. And so the name still lasts today. Even after that, people continued to make up stories about how the mountain got its name, because if you look at a picture of it, people are like, “Oh its peaks are devil horns,” or, “That’s where native people did Satanic rituals.” But none of that is true. And in the 1900s there were all of these newspaper articles speculating how the mountain got its name, but it’s really just because of that original event.

AT: Well is it possible that even that could have been made up?

JC: Totally, because the thing is, there is no primary documentation of it, so most of the information has been orally transferred. The reason I know about it is cause it’s right by my house.

Context: JC is a 19 year old history major at the University of Southern California. A resident of Walnut Creek, California near San Francisco and an adamant history buff, JC is well versed in a lot of local legend surrounding his famous and historically colorful place of origin. The exchange above took place over coffee when I asked JC if he knew and slang from the Bay Area. He gave me legends instead.

Interpretation: I think that this legend is significant due to the fact that it not only engages with the situations regarding the name of a place, but also the translation of a words across three different languages. Firstly, the fuzzy origin of the name of the actual place shows how easily different influences such as topographical features (devil horns), convincing oral tradition (the thicket story), and possibly even predisposed racists views (satanic rituals) can have on the understanding and belief of a place and its history. Additionally, this is a local legend tied to this one specific mountain. So, I find it even more interesting that part of the legend holds this mountain and the confusion around it solely responsible for the supposed mistranslation of monte into mountain instead of thicket. In this way, the “name origin” nature of the folklore surrounding the mountain provided a nexus for other “language folklore” of a similar topic.

Also, I like how at the beginning of this exchange, JC presented his version of the legend as the sole story associated with Mount Diablo that held any validity, only later admitting that other stories surrounding the site existed. Even so, he quickly dismissed them as rubbish. Only when I asked for proof that he had as to why his version was the most valid did he admit that there was no way to actually know for sure due to the lack of evidence. This folkloric exchange therefore provided an example of the way that people treat the folklore that they receive, and though the medium exists in multiplicity and variation, this demonstrated how people tend to hold the version that they heard first as the absolute truth.

For another version of this legend, please see p. 457-470 of Bev Ortiz’s “Mount Diablo as Myth and Reality: An Indian History Convoluted.” American Indian Quarterly Vol. 13 (1989)

Childhood
Holidays
Legends
Narrative

The Witch’s House

Context: A friend and I were taking a walk through the residential area Beverly Hills. We passed by a landmark often referred to as “The Witch’s House”. We then began discussing the history of this house to the surrounding community, one that my friend was born and raised in. In the piece, my informant is identified as D.P., and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The Witch’s House sits in the middle of the Beverly Hills flats on Walden Drive. It looks as if it were straight out of a storybook. It was originally built in 1920 and was intended for a studio film, never for a resident. It’s stood on the corner of the street, untouched since then. However, the house has a different history for the surrounding community.

 

Main Piece:

DP: “This is honestly a defining characteristic of Beverly Hills for me. I love it. The first house I lived in was 2 houses down from it”

DS: “Were you not scared to go around it? It looks so spooky, I’d be so scared as a little kid”

DP: “It was definitely very spooky, but it’s just the greatest. Every Halloween night all the kids from the neighborhood would just know to meet on Walden by the Witch’s House at like 8. Everyone would bring shaving cream and all the kids would have a huge shaving cream fight on the street. All the parents would come out and hose off the kids afterwards because we were all covered.”

DS: “Does someone live in there?”

DP: “I’m pretty sure someone bought it at some point and remodeled the inside but made it a point to never touch the outside. I’m not sure if he actually lives out of the house but either way it’s the staple of this street for sure. It’s been in the background of so many movies too. I know it was in a scene of the movie Clueless”

DS: “Are there any scary stories or legends about it?”

DP: “As kids we all used to think that witches actually lived in there or that it was haunted, we were honestly scared to go around it, especially at night.”

 

Analysis: This point in Beverly Hills is one that brought a community together and remains the defining characteristic of the neighborhood and city as a whole. It’s a landmark that connects the locals to Hollywood while also ties together the surrounding neighborhood.

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Russian Little Red Riding Hood

Main Piece

The point of this is if you’re a stranger in the forest, don’t just walk into someone’s house. The story is a guy is walking and traveling. He walked into this road in the middle of the forest because he is lost in the woods. At a certain point, he sees this house and it’s getting dark, so he walks into the house. The guy inside is actually very friendly. They had good conversation and he told him interesting things that happens in the forest. Here comes the night. The guy has been fed and that is good. They are happy. Then they both hear the sound of wolves howling. The host changes his face completely. The guest is wondering what happened. The host said, “My friends are hungry, we need to feed them.” He walks outside. The guest waits a little. Then he walks back in with a gun pointing at this guy and is like, “Alright, let’s go feed my friends.”

 

Context

This is a story my friend heard while he was on a camping trip in Russia. My friend specifically told me that this story is meant to teach people not to always trust strangers and to know where you are going. Also, going alone to places you don’t know is a dangerous thing to do.

 

Notes

Imagining someone telling this story to you in a Russian accent definitely makes it more fun to read – my friend who told me the story has a Russian accent. I personally like this play on version of Little Red Riding Hood the best because it is a little twisted and less expected.

Here is a link to many different versions of Little Red Riding Hood: https://www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0333.html

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Myths
Narrative

Buddha Crossing the River

Context:

The informant is a student at USC studying Bio-Chem. In this account, he recalls religious stories that he heard.

In the transcript of our conversation, he is identified as S (storyteller) and I am identified as C (collector).

 

C: Do you have any stories like from your childhood or from growing up? Anything you might want to share?

S: Yea… I’m Buddhist. Kinda forced into it I guess. Both of my parents are from Burma, I guess.

So when I was in elementary, my parents wanted me to hang out with my Burmese friends but I didn’t speak Burmese. There was a session with the monk but during break or down times, they would tell us stories and stuff.

It was told by a monk. So… I don’t remember the lesson but, most of the stories are about Buddha.

So there’s this one story I remember:

So one day, Buddha was hanging out with his apostles when this one guy said he knows a monk that surpassed him or something.

He was like, “Where? Bring me to him.”

When we went to the monk, we has all frail and sickly.

The monk told Buddha, “I can walk on water. This was done by strict meditation and following the teachings while starving.” This was obviously a lie.

The monk continued, “You’ve only started your path. I’ve gotten this far already.” He was basically challenging the Buddha.

The monk said, “I bet I can get across this river.”

Buddha: “Why would you do that?”

Monk: “It just proves I’m much stronger. Can you do the same thing?”

So Buddha accepted this bet and the monk proceeded to give a ferryman one penny and crossed the river with on a ferry.

 

S: This story isn’t verbatim, but I guess the lesson that I learned was this: Buddhism isn’t a superstitious religion. It’s very grounded. Each city it went and added their own superstitions to make it different and “holy.”

Buddhism is about self-actualization and helping others but it gets muddled in all the lighting candles, and like all the rituals and stuff.

 

Analysis:

It’s interesting to hear religious stories, mostly because of the lessons or explanations that they teach. In this case, the story explores the idea of what Buddhism is or isn’t. It also teaches a fundamental idea in folklore in that, each group makes variations or changes to something that they learn in order to adapt it as their own. This is the same case in religion as each group adds on their own superficial things which may distract or draw away from the core beliefs.

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