USC Digital Folklore Archives / Narrative
general
Initiations
Legends

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.

Context:

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.

Thoughts:

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.

Myths
Narrative

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.

Legends
Narrative

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). 

Discussion

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.

Analyses

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’.

Legends

Lizard City Under Los Angeles

Context:

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.

 

Piece:

“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.”

 

Legends

Hatchman Campfire Story

Context:

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.

 

Piece:

“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.”

 

Digital
Legends

Creepy LA Hotel Death (Elisa Lam)

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 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.

 

Piece:

“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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48jBi86ih5Q

general
Legends

Why Dahlia’s, a Bar in New York, got Shut Down for Underage Drinking

 

Context:

The subject is a white male and a lifelong New Yorker from Manhattan and Queens. He is my twin brother and we attended the boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. Before this we were discussing what New York had begun to mean to us when we moved out to school, how we always heard stories and how it became a party location that we returned to when school was let out. I love this idea of New York teen folk culture because we could not have a overculture because what we were doing was illegal. The knowledge itself was folklore because it was passed on through person to person and it changed based on who knew what and sometime they were wrong. And then there were stories about the places we went because there was so little formal knowledge about them.

 

Piece:

“Theres like certain places, that people like, like everyone knows the places that don’t card. You know what I mean? Its sorta the same thi-way a bunch of people know this thing. You learn from other people, from.. I think – I had friends who were older than me and its sorta passed down like that. So there’s this place called 212 Hisae, or just 212, on 2nd Avenue and 9th Street I wanna say but I could be inaccurate, you can google map it, uh. They don’t card, I’ve been there!…sometimes. There was this place called Dahlia’s, but I think they got shut down because they ended up serving middle schoolers ‘cause that’s how much they didn’t card. I assume what happened was that college kids were doing it, high schoolers found out and started doing it, and then middle schoolers found out and started drinking at Dahlia’s. I heard this, maybe senior yet of high school. I don’t remember who told me, I’m sorry, I think it’s just like a thing people were like saying, you know what I mean?

 

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.”

 

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