USC Digital Folklore Archives / Legends
Legends

New York Sewer Alligator

Context:

The subject is a white male and a lifelong New Yorker from Manhattan and Queens. He is my twin brother. Before this we were talking about growing up in New York and the stories we were told as children. I’ve heard a lot about the white alligator but very little about where it came from which shows that New Yorkers are ok with the mystery of the sewer gator.

 

Piece:

“Oh yeah, there’s an alligator in the sewers of New York. Like 100%. I think it’s like blind and white now because there’s no sun down there. I think it was with a circus, no someone brought up a baby alligator from Florida because people are stupid and then when it got too big they put it in the sewer and now it rules the sewer with all its gator babies. I don’t know if its true, but I like to believe, there’s so much wildlife in New York, you know?”

 

Contagious
Game
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Legends
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Baby Blue

Context: I was teaching a class of sixth graders for the Joint Education Project (JEP) in a middle school near USC.

Discussion

Instructor: So, after learning the differences between myths, tales and legends, can anyone give me an example of a legend that they have heard of? (A number of different students interjected to corroborate to the first student’s story, they have been given aliases to protect their identities)

Angel: Baby Blue! (Announced loudly)

Instructor: What or who is Baby Blue?

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 (interjecting): 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 (interjecting): 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. (Other students nodded along or exclaimed ‘yeh’ as if her version was the most well-known)

Instructor: So, who is baby blue?

Maria: Its 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: Yeh I guess, me and my sister ran outta the bathroom straight after flushing the toilet.

Analysis

This is a very interesting legend. It is very much like Bloody Mary accept with a baby involved. After some research I discovered that some people think that the mother who appears is Bloody Mary and that Baby Blue is her child that she murdered. The legend seemed fairly well-known throughout the classroom of thirty students but some new it better than others. It is clear that Angel was more of a passive barer of the legend and had not participated in the legend quest. Those that did had a better knowledge of the backstory to the legend, which was usually learned from older relatives. The students did not seem to be overly scared of this legend and approached it as more of a game. They were adamant that there was a right way and a wrong way to do this pseudo-ritual.

There are theories that the Bloody Mary legend is related to young girls’ oncoming period cycle. The legend is most common with girls aged 8 to 14 and takes place alone in a bathroom where you see a bloody woman appear behind you. This could be some kind of folk ritual, beyond the knowledge of the participants, to prepare girls for the oncoming changes to their bodies’ which takes place near this age range and usually alone in a bathroom. This intense bodily change might be more easy cope with when compared with the extreme of seeing a creepy woman covered in blood behind you. I think that the Baby Blue legend is a continuation of this theory. It is in someway ingratiating girls to the idea that if you feel a baby growing heavy in your arms (which are cradled at your stomach) that you should somehow get rid of it, or else it might haunt you for the rest of your life. This seems to be suggesting to the girls that take part in this pseudo-ritual, on a deeply subconscious level, that if you get pregnant at a young age (as pregnancy tests usually take place in the bathroom alone) that you should somehow get rid of the baby before it stays with you forever. If this is the case, this legend has an extremely dark aspect to it. Obviously because of the fact that this deeper meaning operates on a subconscious level, boys take part in the legend too. This is for the surface reason that it is scary and thrilling which is probably why the girls do it too but it may be communicating a deeper message to them specifically.

Legends

Placing Consciousness Into A Coca-Cola Can

Context:

The subject is a white, gender non-binary individual who is a native Angeleno. I asked the subject if they had ever had a ghostly experience and this is was their response.

 

Piece:

“It was me and my two guy friends and they got me into it. We were hanging out at my house and one of them was doing this whole thing were he was like playing with putting his consciousness in other objects. And at one point, he’s like doing that. And pretty much he got possessed. He got possessed and my other friend freaked the fuck out. He just was not acting like himself at all and was being pretty fucking weird, but pretty much when he had gotten possessed — he got possessed one time and then stopped and then  he was like “I’m going to do this again blah blah blah”. And pretty much, it was like the same spirit and pretty much like put his consciousness into a coca-cola can, an empty coca-cola can, which I was then carrying around. And then, pretty much, I whispered into the coca-cola can, because I thought they were fucking with me. I was like “hey, if you actually like are like in here like say toast when you’re back in your body” and what does he do when he’s back in his body is come up, give me a hug, and whisper toast in my ear.”

 

Holidays
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

4/20: Origins of the Stoner Holida

Context:

The subject is a white, gender non-binary individual who is a native Angeleno. They have been smoking weed since age 13. We celebrated 4/20 a couple of days before I interviewed them and so I asked them to describe the holiday to me. Stoner culture is folk culture because for so long it was illegal to smoke. So the group is tight knit. I do not think a lot of the culture has been documented by academics so I wanted to look into it.

 

Piece:

“4/20 is a sorta a holiday, like you can define it as a holiday. It’s when all the stoners celebrate, basically you smoke ridiculous amounts of marijuana. Fucking inject that. The actual, the most, what people think is the most truthful reason why it is a thing is pretty much there was a group of high school kids, somewhere in Northern California, where I do not remember, who pretty much their slang term for weed was four twenty because everyday after school they would meet up at 4:20 to smoke. And pretty much when the um, Grateful Dead were travelling around, they had the whole Deadheads following them too and pretty much at one point these deadheads met these kids, they use that slang and the slang simply got spread. And now it is THE number of weed. It was pretty much localized slang.”

 

Here is an article which lists several other folk beliefs on the origin of 4/20 and asserts this verison as true: http://www.laweekly.com/news/mythbusting-420-its-one-true-origin-and-a-whole-lot-of-false-ones-4177495

 

Legends

Tupac Isn’t Dead

Context:

The subject is an Asian woman, born in China, who has lived in Los Angeles for most of her life. I asked about Los Angeles urban legends and she told me about Tupac. She did not seem to know a lot about Tupac’s death or the conspiracy that he is still alive, but she was very adamant that he was. This devotion shows a legend is as strongly held even if the facts are unknown.

 

Piece:

“I think, I believe Tupac is alive. So first of all, the way he, so he was shot in the passenger seat when he died and people were like “its a planned death by Biggie”, and then. But I think, eh, ah, it’s too easy. Just think of on the road, and theres a police putting off the work not getting to investigation when like the crime happened, the police, LAPD were not fully involved in to investigating, they just looked at their crime and just like close the case right away. I think thats a little suspicious, I think he was trying to like get away with this whole like, cause he, well ok like Tupac, I feel like Tupac and Biggie beef wasn’t personal, it was more like a fanbase thing like “oh it was west coast or east coast” or whether it was who’s music was better. Totally made up thing, and personally Tupac and Biggie wasn’t like explicitly like having a beef or competition cause like that’s how media tried to portray them. I don’t think anyone killed Tupac. I think Tupac fake death himself. It’s so easy you just pay a lot of money to the police for someone who fake do the crime and you like declare your death. It’s so easy, my family can do it, and so can Tupac. White people can’t tell black people apart, like he can change his hair and be in Cuba somewhere. Biggie was also shot to death, I’m not sure about Biggie. I think he’s alive, more of a Tupac fan.”

 

Humor
Legends
Narrative

Police Officers and Guns in Minnesota

Main Piece

“So he… he was a…he was a cop. He was going into the bank, and there were always false alarms at the bank. He was running in the bank and he had a rifle in his hand, and the way he would always check if the safety was on was by pulling the trigger. One time, he was running and he went to check if the safety was on and the gun went off and he shot a statue outside in the ass.”

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: American

Location: Willmar, Minnesota

Language: English

The “cop” in the story is the informant’s Great Uncle Nick, but the stories were all originally told to the informant by the his Great Uncle’s brother, the informant’s Grandfather. The informant didn’t fully believe the stories until he attended Nick’s funeral. There, the informant heard the story told by other people, and now the informant completely believes the story.

The informant finds the story very funny, as did everyone else. Everyone who knew the story had a positive memory of both the informant’s Great Uncle and the story. Someone at the funeral commented to the informant the following: “The only thing that would surprise me about Nick [Great Uncle] is if any of those stories [referring to other stories about Nick and guns] weren’t true.”

Although the informant was not born at the time of these events, he fully believes in them and the fact that his Great Uncle Nick was a great, if sometimes irresponsible, handler of guns. The story means a great deal to the informant, and is one of the main memories he has of Nick, who has since passed away.

Context

The informant’s Great Uncle was a police officer from the 1950’s to the 1980’s in West Central Minnesota, and the story occurred somewhere in this time period.

Notes

The story and people’s positive reaction to it are demonstrative of America’s somewhat irresponsible history with guns, which is where much of modern gun culture presumably comes from. It is also interesting that people’s belief in Nick’s escapades is unshakeable. He has become something of a ‘legendary’ local figure.

 

Humor
Legends
Narrative

Police Officers and Guns in Minnesota, Piece #2

Main Piece

“One time they were, ah shit, I think they were at the range, and next to the range was a locker room. He was looking at a gun, and he asked if it was loaded, and someone said they didn’t know, so he pointed the gun at the wall and pulled the trigger. The safety was off, and the bullet went right through the locker and went through someone’s police jacket, and the owner never found out where the hole was from and never got a new one. Oh, and one time he blew a hole in the roof of a squad car while testing a shotgun.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Willmar, Minnesota

Language: English

The “cop” in the story is the informant’s great uncle Nick, but the stories were all originally told to the informant by the his great uncle’s brother, the informant’s Grandfather. The informant didn’t fully believe the stories until he attended Nick’s funeral. There, the informant heard the story told by other people, and now the informant completely believes the story.

The informant finds the story very funny, as did everyone else. Everyone who knew the story had a positive memory of both the informant’s great uncle and the story. Someone at the funeral commented to the informant the following: “The only thing that would surprise me about Nick is if any of those stories weren’t true.”

Although the informant was not born at the time of these events, he fully believes in them and the fact that his great uncle Nick was a great, if sometimes irresponsible, handler of guns. The story means a great deal to the informant, and is one of the main memories he has of Nick, who has since passed away.

Context

The informant’s great uncle was a police officer from the 1950’s to the 1980’s in West Central Minnesota, and the story occurred somewhere in this time period.

Notes

The story and people’s positive reaction to it are demonstrative of America’s somewhat irresponsible history with guns, which is where much of modern gun culture presumably comes from. It is also interesting that people’s belief in Nick’s escapades is unshakeable. He has become something of a ‘legendary’ local figure.

 

Game
Legends
Narrative

Quickdraw Contest

Main Piece

“There was a quickdraw contest every year in West Central Minnesota. Mind you, this is mostly rural areas so these fuckers know how to use guns. Not safely, but efficiently. [The gun] is fully loaded, you pull it out of your holster, take six shots, you reload, and take six more shots. He [Nick] won…the first year he was in it. He won a .357, a Smith and Wesson. The next year, he won again and they gave him another revolver. The year after, he won again but they gave the gun to the second place winner.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Willmar, Minnesota

Language: English

The “cop” in the story is the informant’s great uncle Nick, but this and other stories were all originally told to the informant by the his great uncle’s brother, the informant’s Grandfather. The informant didn’t fully believe the stories until he attended Nick’s funeral. There, the informant heard the story told by other people, and now the informant completely believes the story.

The informant finds the story very funny, as did everyone else. Everyone who knew the story had a positive memory of both the informant’s great uncle and the story. Someone at the funeral commented to the informant the following: “The only thing that would surprise me about Nick is if any of those stories weren’t true.”

Although the informant was not born at the time of these events, he fully believes in them and the fact that his great uncle Nick was a great, if sometimes irresponsible, handler of guns. The story means a great deal to the informant, and is one of the main memories he has of Nick, who has since passed away.

Context

The informant’s great uncle was a police officer from the 1950’s to the 1980’s in West Central Minnesota, and the story occurred somewhere in this time period.

Notes

Nick’s prowess with guns and its influence on his identity speaks to the importance of guns in America as a defining characteristic of many people’s lives. I find this concept to be very interesting, especially as it is part of the reason why many people do not want to enact any kind of gun control.

 

Legends
Narrative

Heroism by a Police Officer in Minnesota

Main Piece

“They get a call that this guy, who had had some problems before, and he [Nick] had actually dealt with him before, was holding his family hostage in his house [the criminal]. The guy is holding his family at gunpoint, maybe he was holding them for money… I don’t know what it was for. He said he would shoot anyone who came in the house with a gun. My uncle wanted to go in…so he gave somebody his gun and went in. He knew the man and so he went in and convinced him to let the family go.”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Willmar, Minnesota

Language: English

The “cop” in the story is the informant’s great uncle Nick, but this and other stories were originally told to the informant by the his great uncle’s brother, the informant’s Grandfather. The informant didn’t fully believe the story until he attended Nick’s funeral. There, the informant heard the story told by other people, and now the informant completely believes the story. The story is one of the most important things that the informant remembers about his late great uncle and how great of a man he was.

Context

The informant’s great uncle was a police officer from the 1950’s to the 1980’s in West Central Minnesota, and the story occurred somewhere in this time period.

Notes

Despite the informant’s great uncle making use of guns his whole life, his greatest act did not require one. I find the story interesting because although it happened not that long ago, the details are already fuzzy and Nick’s act, although heroic, could easily have been greatly exaggerated. It is also possible that the loss of details actually undersells Nick’s act.

 

Legends
Narrative

Foothill Road

Main Piece

“I live off of Foothill Road, and it’s a windy [curvy] street. In the early 80’s, a girl was walking home on Foothill Road and someone came out of a van and stabbed her to death. I know that this actually happened, since she went to my high school. People say that you have to drive slow around there because it’s a ‘cursed road.’”

Background

Informant

Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Northern California, Bay Area

Language: English

The road is curvy and very dangerous, in the informant’s life, at least 3 people have died in accidents on it. There has also been a police chase and a double homicide. The informant told me that she always takes especially great care when driving on this road. Teenagers in the area are often given warnings about the road.

Context

The informant is from an affluent area near San Francisco, and the road is in a very residential area.

Notes

While people were likely wary of the road before the murder in the 1980’s, the road now has an ominous presence. I find it very interesting that there are no legends about the road being haunted by a ghost; rather, people tell the story of the murder to demonstrate that it is indeed dangerous, likely in an attempt to prevent teenagers from driving dangerously on it.

 

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