USC Digital Folklore Archives / Narrative

The Legend of Camino Hall

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

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

K: So when did this happen?

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

K: How did you hear about it?

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

K: did they ever say why she killed herself?

S: no one knows why she killed herself

K: What did you take away from this?

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


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


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


American Alabama Tribe Myth: Fire

Informant: I have a myth I heard from an Alabama tribeswoman I used to work with. Want to hear that one?

Interviewer: Sure.

Informant: At the start of the world, Bear owned Fire. It kept him and his people warm and let them see even when it was dark. One day, Bear came to a forest. On the forest floor, he found tons of acorns. He set Fire at the edge of the forest, and began to gorge himself on the delicious acorns. As the acorns around him began to run out, the wandered deeper into the forest.

While Bear was eating, Fire was burning at the edge of the forest. Soon, though, Fire had burned up nearly all of its wood. It began to shout “Feed me! Feed me!” to Bear, but Bear was too far away.

Man, however, was not far away, so he, hearing Fire’s cries, wandered over. Man hadn’t seen Fire before, so he asked it what he could feed it to help out. Fire explained that it ate wood, so Man picked up a stick and fed fire. Then he grabbed another, and another, until Fire’s hunger had been quenched. Man, meanwhile, warmed himself by the Fire. He sat nearby, feeding it wood and enjoying its warmth and colors.

After a while, Bear returned to Fire, but Fire was angry at Bear for abandoning him. Fire blazed brighter and brighter until it was blinding to Bear, and told Bear to leave it alone. Fire’s heat scared Bear away, and Bear could not get close enough to carry Fire back with him. Man and Fire were left alone, and that is how Fire came into the possession of Man.

Context: My informant is an eighty year old woman from a very scientifically/factually inclined Midwestern family. This performance was done over Facetime with my informant, since she lives in Seattle. Otherwise, however, it resembled a classic storytelling situation.

Background: My informant heard this story from one of her coworkers while working at a company in Alabama. It stayed with her because she enjoyed how well the story personified the wildness of Fire, but also thought its dependence on other beings for “food” made a lot of sense. Furthermore, the fact that Fire had not been found by Man, but rather had been inherited by a member of the natural world also stuck with her.

Analysis: Personally, I thought the story was great. It shares many similarities with myths I’ve heard from my own home region in the Pacific Northwest, primarily through its use of animals as characters and its personification of elements such as fire. It also demonstrates a really interesting progression where an important facet of our own life – in this case Fire – is not discovered by the ingenuity of mankind alone. Rather, mankind receives Fire from nature, as if we were successors of animals and part of the natural world, rather than detached from it.


La Llorona

Context: I was teaching a class of 6th graders through the Joint Education Project (JEP) in a middle school near USC. Almost all of the students in the class are of Latino descent. When I asked the class to tell me any legends that they knew, this was the most commonly known one amongst the students (whose names have been replaced with aliases). 


Instructor: Can anyone tell me a legend that they have heard of? Maybe one I would not know (the students knew that I was from Ireland and might not know some of their culture’s legends).

Angel: Oh sir, sir! (raising his hand high)

Instructor: Yes, Angel. (gesturing to him to speak)

Angel: La Llorona is a legend.

Instructor: Who’s that?

Angel: She’s like a evil spirit that roams around at night near lakes n stuff and if you hear her scream or…eh…see her, I think (slowed down expressing unsureness), it means you’re gunna die soon.

Instructor: Where did you learn this legend?

Angel: My mom told me.

Instructor: Has anyone else heard of this legend?

Most of the students nodded or said ‘yeh’ or ‘uhuhh’ in response.

Mr. Salamander (presiding teacher): When I was a kid, my mom told me that story too. It’s to scare kids to keep them from wandering around at night, especially near lakes or rivers ye’know? La Llorona means like uh…weeping lady.

Instructor: Do you know the backstory to the legend?

Mr. Salamander: Yah. Apparently, she drowned her kids after her husband left her for a younger woman and so know she is cursed to wander the Earth as a spirit. So she weeps for her children and looks for other kids to drown or replace her own or something.


Clearly this legend has a didactic purpose to keep children from wandering at night, especially near bodies of water. Legends can be useful in this way because children don’t have as much of an appreciation for how dangerous the world can be like adults do. Children have a tendency to think that they’re somehow indestructible and can put themselves in dangerous situations, like standing on the edge of river banks, without appreciating the threat of the situation. These kinds of stories help to give those dangers a face, and a scary face at that, which children respond to better than mere adult interdictions. An adult saying, ‘stay away from the water, it’s dangerous’ will not be taken to heart by a child as much as them saying, ‘remember, if you go too close to the river, La Llorona might come out weeping and drag you under the water’.


Lizard City Under Los Angeles


The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. I asked if he knew any urban legends and this was his response. This reminds me of the Sewer Alligator or Molepeople of New York and I like to think that all cities believe that there is another one underneath them.



“There’s this myth that there’s this lizard world underneath LA that people are like lizards who live in caves and have their own community. Like there were these two guys were went to go find them like early on in LA history and never came back. I think the city was meant to look like a lizard. I remember reading about it online. Something in the 30s, I think the lizards were either aliens or related to ancient civilizations, or maybe bomb testing, super weird. I don’t think it’s true.”



Hatchman Campfire Story


The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. We were talking about his family and his upbringing in Texas when he told me this story. Scouting groups are full of folklore and this is a pretty common story I’ve heard from others.



“My dad did it, cause he was the cub scout leader for my cub scout troop. So when we’d go on camping trips he would always tell stories. He was great at telling like Native American stories. The best one is Hatchetman. Hatchetman was a thing he’d brought up every year and told the story every year, it was alway, it was a scary story. It was about a scouting troop that went to camp at a camp much like this one. And they would be doing thing and it would be, and this mysterious man in a rain jacket with the hood commed up [pronounced like come-’d, I think he means came as in his hood was pulled up] with only one hand, his other hand was a hatchet. [The next part, Jackson cresendoes his voice to a climax] He’d slowly sneak through as they were in the middle of a campfire all telling stories with each other he’d sneak up behind them and stab ‘em with the hatchet. It was always, when we were little it was always a joke, but then my last year there to uh become a boy scout, he was leaving as cub master, it was the big last campout. He told Hatchetman story and he had his friend, who was one of the dads, dress up as Hatchetman as he was telling the story. He was like “as they sat around the campfire, all telling a story, their eyes fixed up front, Hatchetman was creeping up behind” and like the guy was creaching up behind with the hatchet and he scared all of us so much. One of the kids pooped his pants.”



Creepy LA Hotel Death (Elisa Lam)


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 this story. I’ve seen this story online and only online before, so much of the story is in the video which appears on several websites. This is a good example of online folklore.



“Remember there’s that happened a couple years ago. There’s this girl, asian girl who disappeared in a hotel in LA. And then like weeks later they found her body in like the boiler room in like a big can of water where like people shower from. People were either saying that she was possessed and like kill herself, cause like theres footage of her, I need to look this up, it’s very recent, couple years. She went inside the elevator and she was like talking to like invisible man inside the elevator and she was like kinda wandering around. And then like she walked out and no one see her ever again after like that elevator. They found her dead. So no one really figured out how she got from point A to point B. I read it online when it just came out. Yeah, the internet. It wasn’t official, like LA times, but it was some sort of news website, I would like to say Buzzfeed. Really creepy videos online. It turned into this whole mythical, like she was possessed.”


Here’s a Buzzfeed video of the incident:


Tupac Isn’t Dead


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.



“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.”



The Molepeople of New York



The subject is a white gender non-conforming individual from Brooklyn, New York. This story shows New Yorkers fascination with the variety of worlds beneath their feet from subways to sewers. It also touches upon the homeless population which they interact it without much thought.



“Oh there’s the molepeople. The molepeople are people who supposedly live in the subway tunnels, or under the subway tunnels? And they make a life for themselves down there, some people hype it up were they’re like “there’s a whole city down there”, but there probably not. There was actually, factually, people living in the Amtrak tunnel between 72nd and 125th?, no… I think so, on Riverside. There were people living in the tunnel there. They did sorta build a community, they had like, because there was construction happening there that got abandoned, so there were like tene-tenements? ish kinda were like construction workers were living, so there was community down there of 100 something people, people were in tents and stuff. And people were like “oh there’s a whole city underneath the subway”, probably isn’t true. It’s just a thing people say like “oh you know the molepeople, the city of people who live under the subwa



Killer, a High School Folk Game, and Legends About It


The subject is a white gender non-conforming individual from Brooklyn, New York.  They attended Hunter College High School, a specialized high school. Basically, it’s a public school and thus free, but one must test to get in. I also attended this school for sometime and also know the game. I have always been fascinated where the game comes from and have played similar, although less violent, versions elsewhere.



“Killer is..uh.. So its like everyone’s on a team, I don’t know if this is how it started, but it’s how it ended, everyone is on a team. There’s like freshman girls, freshman boys, sophomore girls, sophomore boys. And you have to like assassinate — it keeps going beyond sophomore, its all. It’s not really separated by gender either, you can have sophomore mixed too, it’s whatever, there’s teams. I think that just happened because people do it in friend groups, so it’s like if your friend group is girls, if your friend group is boys, if your friend group is mixed. Um… There also were two junior girls teams, so yeah, I dunno, they end up with titles too. Like, uh, one year every team was named after a different album. So anyway Killer is uh, you have to kill — whichever team has a person still alive at the end of the game is the winner, so you have kill people on the other teams. And you do that with tracer guns, which have little plastic tracers inside them so pew pew [they mime finger guns]. Um, you shoot other people and if they get hit by the tracer then they’re dead. Um.. you kill a whole team, they’re out of the running. Whoever wins, wins the whole pot, which is usually like a thousand bucks. And there were like legends that like someone in the past had slept on the roof to avoid being killed because if you were like in the block of the school you can’t get killed. So he slept there the entire time and people brought him food and stuff. Uum, just slept on the roof. And there was another story were um, so this one kid was like “I know how I’m going to get this other person is I’m going to dress up as a homeless person, I’m going to disguise myself as a homeless person. I’m going to paint m-my tracer gun black. I’m gonna sit in the subway station, wait for him to show up”. So this guys stands up, pulls out his GUN and the police ALSO do that. And I dunno how it ended, he lived, everyone lived. I don’t think the police even shot, probably because the guy was whi… Nothing happened but like jesus christ, could you be stupider? I remember those were two big stories that got passed down from year to year. The administration were not a fan of it at all. They sent out emails every year being like “DON’T PLAY KILLER”, but it had not affect.



3:00 AM Challenge

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

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


Daisy*: “Does the 3 AM challenge count?”

Instructor: “well, that depends. What is the 3 AM challenge?”

Daisy*:  “It’s a youtube challenge. You have to stay up all night long, until three in the morning. And then you do normal things and they get weird, like, the lights turn off, or you get chills. Lots of people do it and make a youtube video of it”

Instructor: “Have you done the 3 AM challenge?”

Daisy*: “I did it with my cousin. It was hard to stay awake, but at 3 AM we went to make food, and my cousin went and cracked the eggs and he came back and told me that one of the eggs turned black when he cracked it, and at 3:01 it was back to normal.”

Instructor: “Why do you have to do it at 3 AM?”

Daisy*: “I think it’s because that’s when the devil comes out at night. So he is the one that makes all of the bad things happen.”


This challenge is one of many that have cropped up among young youtube users and on other social media platforms over the past 5-10 years. However, this one is unique because it’s focused on a paranormal occurrence, rather than some sort of physical challenge (ie; the cinnamon challenge). All of the students in the class were seemingly aware of what this was, and many of them had varying accounts of either participating in the challenge or knowing someone who did. A quick youtube search under “3 AM Challenge” yielded an astounding 144,000,000 results, the most popular of which were centered about themes of demonic possession, and paranormal sightings at 3 AM. While the reasoning behind the precise time of the activity remains unclear, it is evident that many believe that it has a demonic of dark influence. There is no evidence that 3 AM has any significance in the bible or any other major religious text, however this seems to be a more recent adaptation of the concept of “the witching hour” which has historically taken place at midnight. What is most interesting is that even though this challenge seems rather frightening, none of the students seemed afraid of it, and most were boasting about how it “Wasn’t that scary”.


* The informant is a minor and was a participant in the JEP Program at USC. Daisy* is an alias to protect the student’s privacy.