USC Digital Folklore Archives / Narrative
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Tale of a girl and his blind dad

My informant is a student who originally came from Korea, but moved with her family to Los Angeles since her middle school.

“There was a girl lived with his blind dad. There were both poor, peasants. One mean lady tried to steal money from them. That lady married with the blind dad, and then grabbed the money and left them alone. There was a superstition at that time that if you sacrificed your body into the river, you would get better weather in exchange. Then the girl decided to do that for her dad. But she didn’t tell her dad the truth, she just told him she found a way to have better harvest. Then his dad got five packs of rice, but the daughter died. Actually after that, we saw the girl dived into the water, and there was a kingdom underwater. She then married with the prince there, and told him about his dad and that she missed his dad so much. Then she was sent back up from the water and saw his dad again. Even though his dad was blind, he could still hear her voice, and then his sight magically came back. The mean lady was just gone away then. That was a happy ending.”

She told me that the one she heard about should be the latest version, but people in Korea started talking about this story about 200 years ago; this is a very traditional one. It was in the time period that there was a big gap between rich and poor people. People told these stories with happy ending to comfort themselves. It also tell people to take care of their parents, and give people hope for living.

I think even though this kind of folk tales seems to be pretty naive in terms of its plot and causality, they do have their positive values in a society. They provide a guide of morality that is good for social stability.

 

Myths

Ghosts at your waist

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“It was back to the time when I was at Oxford University in England. The library there is about 800 years old. All these very serious professors, scientists and scholars they all studied there, but the library has its own ghosts. It’s interesting that everybody says that ghosts were like floating “ooo ooo ooo”, you know, appeared like that, but they only come up to your waist. These were short. One scientist figured it out was he said that as the world gets older, the ground shifts, and there is more stuff piled down, and the level of the ground is actually higher now than it was in 1200, so he’s walking like on his ground. He’s walking at his time period. Isn’t that interesting? It’s like a snapshot, a photograph from thousand years ago. It’s just a guess from the scientists. Well people who saw them said they can’t see their feet. You could believe it or not, I don’t know!”

I think there’s a very interesting relationship between science and these mysterious phenomenon. Since science started with bunch of people with strong curiosity to those strange phenomenon that hasn’t be explained at that time, and then after they have used series of experiments to prove their hypothesis right in their way, they become a sort of authority to many people nowadays. However, there are still so many strange things in the world now that could not be explained with a solidified answer that majority people could agree with. It’s like what been implied in Akira Kurosawa’s movie “Rashomon” (1950) that the same event could be phrased in totally different ways by the people who have actually involved in it, and there is no way to prove the fidelity of their words and thus there is no truth at all.

 

 

Myths
Old age

Vision before death

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“In my family, when my relatives are dying, they will always see someone who is dead before them, like they’re calling them. Like when my grandmother died, she saw her husband. (But how do you know about that? They’re dying right?) Yeah, but you know, like, when my grandma was dying, she would say ‘did you see grandpa? Grandpa was here.’ It’s within a few days, that week. And my aunt did that too, ‘I saw Raman’, which is her husband, who died 20 years before. I don’t know, who knows?”

There might be some other scientific explanations on that phenomenon, but I think it also make sense to me that when people are dying their brain uses this way of reasoning to release their fear toward death: there is still a good side about death that you’re gonna meet with your beloved one who has also been dead.

 

Legends
Narrative

Legend of Mae West

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“There is a hotel in Hancock park called Ravenswood, where the old actress Mae West used to live. Mae West was a very popular actress during 1930s. She is very sexy. she always challenged censorship. The story is that she wrote a play, she a very good writer, and put it on the broadway, and she called it “Sex”. which in the 1930s that was very shocking, very forbidden. There was a lot of censorship. She said ‘people say I’m against censorship, I’m not, I’m for it, cuz it makes me rich, cuz everybody wants to see what I do.’ So there is a story about once she showed up at the hotel with her new boyfriend in Santa Barbara, she wanted to register for the night. The hotel manager said this is a very moral place, we don’t allow for things like that, cuz you just gonna stay here for the sex. and we don’t do that kind of thing. that’s very naughty. So she said, can I borrow your phone? so she borrowed the phone and she called her agent, and she told the agent to buy the hotel. It’s okay, I own this hotel then.”

“It’s a good story, a story that had been told by people in the Hollywood industry.”
I think this legend very explicitly explains how money plays as the crucial role in this Hollywood industry along with this highly commercialized world even back to 30s, that the one who holds the most money would be the game changer. My informant comments with a neutral attitude by viewing it from a storyteller’s point of view without any moral judgement to the events.

 

Legends
Narrative

New England Ghost Story

Informant EB is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in political science. EB is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, but he has spent the majority of his youth in Connecticut. Here, he shares a ghost story known to a town in Connecticut called Dudley Town.

EB: “So Dudley Town is a famous old colonial town in Cornwall, Connecticut, and most people who are from Connecticut know of it as a spooky, old ghost town. Back in the mid to late 1700’s, Dudley Town was mostly farmland and it was used for farming purposes only. But because other businesses were opening up and it was located on an area that was not ideal for farming, the agricultural production suffered and eventually closed down. So the story is that there was a doctor in this town who killed all of his patients when he would go visit them at their homes. He would poison his patients by giving them the wrong medication. This doctor was known to be a Satanist and that he believed that if he followed and did what the devil instructed him to do, he would be rewarded with a rich and fruitful afterlife. So he did this for years and years up until he hung himself in the middle of town. It has been known that his dark, evil spirit haunts the remains of this old town and that no one will really go near it because of all the strange things that have happened. I think it is even closed off to the public today.”

Where did you earn about this legend?

EB: “Um well I heard it while going to school when I was younger and it is a story that is talked about in school by our the older classmates. I have heard variations of the story over the years, but it is something that has been talked about among friends and schoolmates for generations.”

Does this legend have any significant meaning to you?

EB: “Uh kind of in that it is was talked about in school as a way to warn the students to not venture over to that town because of what happened, but it mostly freaked me out when I first heard in school.”

What context or setting would you share this story?

EB: “I have shared this legend to other people when it has been close to Halloween, but I feel like if I were to run into someone who is from Connecticut, they would have a better understanding of the whole ghost story thing and we would be able to relate to it better. I feel like most people who aren’t from Connecticut would look at me weird because they may not know the historical background of old colonial towns like Dudley and or they might now believe in the supernatural. But it’s also a fun story to share for entertainment purposes too.”

Analysis:

Connecticut is a New England state that is prominently known for its coastal cities and its mysterious rural areas. The remains of an old colonial settlement, Dudley Town is known to be cursed. Plagued by hundreds of unexplained deaths and tragedies, this town is now prohibited to the public and has been reclaimed by the surrounding forest. The remains of this eerie town are now fully covered by trees and wildlife. I found it interesting how the informant learned about this legend in school while he was a new student and how it is tradition each year to share this legend with the younger incoming students.

Legends
Narrative

Croatian Cemetery Legend

Informant FV is my grandfather who was born and raised in Split, Croatia. Here, he describes a Croatian legend from the city of Split that was about a courageous man who was dared by his friends to visit a cemetery alone at night. This legend has long been told over generations:

FV: “There were a group of guys who were one night hanging out with each other like they normally do after work. They started talking about daring each other to go to the cemetery by themselves. No one out of the group would immediately volunteer because they knew you’re not supposed to trespass. Well, there was one guy in the group who eventually volunteered himself to go. He volunteered because he wanted to prove to his friends that he was brave enough to go alone to the cemetery. Then they all agreed that he would go to the cemetery at midnight with a knife. And this was during the wintertime. They told him to put the knife on top of the grave and to leave it there. And that’s what the brave man did. He followed the instruction to place the knife on top of a grave and to leave it there to be found the next morning. Well, when his friends came the next morning to pick the knife up, they couldn’t find him anywhere. So they proceeded into the cemetery at the break of dawn looking for their friend. Once they ventured into the cemetery, they saw a man passed out over one of the graves. Turns out their friend who was dared to enter the cemetery late at night to put a knife on top of a grave died. The man ended up getting tangled up on his long coat. Because it was pitch black and you couldn’t see anything, he thought someone was grabbing him by his coat, which caused him to have a heart attack. He died on top of a grave from a heart attack. Now, people say that they see the man’s silhouette or ghostly figure roaming around the cemetery looking for his friends.”

How did you learn about this legend?

FV: “Well it’s a story that is told over the years while growing up. I heard it from my grandfather when I was a young boy. My friends also heard about the story from their grandparents as well. It’s meant to scare the young kids in town and for entertainment purposes. But there are people who truly believe that the man who died that night still exists within the cemetery, so people tend to tell the same legend. It’s an old legend that is known in Split and is still told today.”

Why do you like sharing this legend with other people?

FV: “Well, it’s a story that lives on over generations and it’s fun to tell for fun, but I know some people who have shared with me that they have seen the apparition of the man themselves so there is a spookiness to the story.”

What context or setting would this story be told in?

FV: “Well, this story has been told at gatherings like parties or other events mainly to entertain those who are listening.”

Does this legend have any significance to you?

FV: “I enjoyed telling this story to my children when they were young and to my grandchildren because it was a legend that was passed down to me by my family, so I like to do the same and share it with my family.”

Analysis:

There are many legends and myths within the Croatian culture and this is one example of a legend that has been past down generation to generation by word of mouth. This legend is told for entertainment purposes during parties or gatherings to compel the audience with something interesting. It has been said that those who have visited this cemetery in Split have seen the same man walking through as if he was alive. Legends like this are often shared in the Croatian culture to amuse the young children.

 

Legends
Narrative

Connecticut Ghost Story

Informant EM is 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Southern California. Her major is cinema and media stories. Here, she discusses her ghostly experience as a freshman in high school in Connecticut:

EM: “For my freshman year of high school, I went to boarding school in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut. It was kind of an isolated community so we had to tell each other stories to keep us entertained for the most part and a lot of those stories involve the founding of the school and the legacy of the people who founded the school. So I got the luck of moving into the oldest dorm on campus that had been around since the 1800’s and it was a scary place. It was drafty, it was cold, it was falling apart, so naturally we had a bunch of ghost stories about it. The most memorable one was the story of the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss who was the founder of the school. Legend had it that if you went out at night to the hallway and you went to the back staircase of the dormitory, which was named after her by the way, you would see a woman dressed in white in a Victorian costume, like very old fashioned clothing, walking back and forth throughout the hallway and she would go down the stairs and if you tried to follow her, she would disappear. A lot of this has to do with the fact that back part of the dorm used to be her home when the school was originally founded. It’s kind of like the idea that she is looking out for the students. She’s been known to be a benevolent ghost, nothing really scary about her, but it was still creepy and there were definitely tons of sightings. I remember in particular when we had a blackout, because we were snowed in, there was this horrible blizzard. I actually feel like I might have seen something. I like to think that there is a rational explanation because like again it’s an old building, but I heard footsteps out in the hallway and I had the room closest to the back staircase and there wasn’t anyone with me. My roommate was back in my room but she heard the footsteps too, but she didn’t see what I saw. I saw someone in the dark who was dressed in white and this figure was opening the back door to the staircase and going in and you know there could be many explanations obviously, but it definitely made me think and it was kind of a fun story to tell other people after.”

How did people react to your experience?               

EM: “Well there was this girl who was a daughter of a teacher and she lived in the house adjacent to the dorms, and she said that all throughout her childhood before even knowing who Maria Bissell was, she had actually seen the ghost in one of the rooms, which when we later went upstairs to look at it, it turned out to be my room because it is the closest to the back. So we were thinking that maybe this used to be Maria Bissell’s room when it was a house, so maybe that explains why she keeps going there. But the girl said she wasn’t scared of her as a young child. She said that she got the impression that this spirit was kind to children. She started a school so maybe she is still around just to keep looking out for her students to make sure that they are OK.”

How or from whom did you learn about your school’s history?

EM: “Well before I saw it with my own eyes, I had the background because it was a popular story to hear around Halloween from the older students. It was kind of like an initiation thing like I would hear it from like the girls who were proctors and were seniors and you would hear it from the faculty. But I remember that they would make this little ritual out of it on Halloween where they would take us to a graveyard. They would take us out on Halloween night to the grave of Maria Bissell. It was just to scare us and it was part of the initiation process. It was a big part of the school culture and especially the women who are a part of the school. The boys never heard about this kind of stuff that went on, only the girls were involved.”

Did any of the girls ever share this with the boys?

EM: “Never. No, actually it was very exclusive. I don’t know if it had to do with that the dorm was a girls dorm, but it was definitely women who passed it on to other women.”

Does your experience have any meaning to you?

EM: “Well I’m not sure, but I like to keep my mind open. I like to think of it more as a lucky encounter or a positive thing, almost like a good luck charm more than it would be like something that is very scary because it was a way in connecting with the history of the place and also it’s nice for a change to have like a mascot ghost that isn’t out to get you. It was definitely a positive experience.”

What context would you share your experience in?

EM: “Well it makes a great story for stuff like Halloween, but I feel like it’s probably easier to explain to people from my same background. So if I were to meet another girl who went to Hotchkiss, I would probably ask her if she heard about Maria Bissell and ask her of she experienced anything similar. Everyone has their own story on Maria Bissell, which kind of defines your belonging to group of Hotchkiss girls. It would definitely be a bonding thing.”

Analysis:

EM’s experience with the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss is a large part of the schools initiation process and part of the tradition of passing those experiences onto the new class of girls who are coming in. It represents belonging within the community and the spirit of Marie Bissell Hotchkiss is portrayed as a benevolent spirit who is a reminder that the girls of this community a part of a tradition that was upheld for decades. The shared experiences and stories brought the community together. It solidified the bond between the girls of the school. It also established a sense of identity for the girls who went to Hotchkiss. Many girls came from all over the U.S. and the world to earn an education at this school and through the many experiences of encountering Maria Bissell over generations brought a sense of community and a shared belief system that all the girls could relate to and understand.

 

For another version of this legend, check out this article written by Stephanie Thomas:

http://www.hotchkiss.org/abouthotchkiss/hotchkiss-today/last-bissell-halloween-walk/index.aspx

Citation:

Thomas, Stephanie. “Origins of the Bissell Halloween Walk.” The Hotchkiss School. N.p., 2014. Web. Apr. 2016.

 

 

Narrative
Tales /märchen

La chasse-galerie

Informant KJ is a sophomore studying cinematic art at the University of Southern California. He is of French-Canadian descent from the region of Quebec. Here, he discusses traditional Canadian folklore that has been known in his family for several generations:

“La Chasse-galerie”

“The Flying Canoe”

KJ: “The Flying Canoe” is a pretty strange story if you ask me. Basically it’s a French-Canadian tale about a group of lumberjacks who make a deal with the devil so that they can visit their wives and other family members on New Year’s Eve and to celebrate with them. Oh and these lumberjacks were in isolation in Outaouais, which is a region in Quebec and it’s pretty close to the Ottawa River. So the reason why they made a deal with the devil was because they couldn’t take being in isolation any longer. They missed their families and wanted to spend the holidays with them. So then Satan comes forward and says that he will help them to get back to their families, but only under his strict conditions. Satan said they must travel by canoe and they must not say God’s name in any context. Satan also said they must not run into any church steeples while flying. If anyone in the group disobeyed his rules, their souls were going to be taken by Satan. And of course, some of the men used God’s name when they weren’t supposed to. In another incident, one of the men steered the canoe into a tree, which caused them to fall out. Now, I’ve heard that there are different versions of the ending to this tale, but the one my family has told me over the years was this: The souls of these men were taken to hell on their canoe as punishment for disobeying Satan’s rules and that you can see every New Year’s Eve their souls in the sky riding through hell on their canoe. And then there are other endings that I’ve heard where the men escape the wrath of hell unscathed, but I’m only really familiar with the ending I just told you.”

How did you learn about this old French-Canadian tale?

KJ: “Well, I’ve heard it from my grandparents and my parents growing up. It was just a story that was kind of always told at family gatherings and stuff.”

What type of context or situation would a tale like this be performed in?

KJ: “I feel like it’s a type of tale that is told around a fireplace. It can be spooky at times, especially when it’s told in much greater detail and to young children, but now being older, I find it kind of strange.”

Does this tale have any significant meaning to you?

KJ: “Um ya it does to a degree. Like it’s a tale that has been passed down throughout my family for generations and it was fun listening to my grandparents telling it to me when I was younger, but now I look at it a little differently in that I don’t get scared by it anymore, obviously because much older. But it’s still a story that is fun to tell I guess.”

Analysis:

This French-Canadian tale has been long known and told over the years by the informant’s family. It is interesting to see the change in the informant’s perspective of the tale now and when he was younger. The context of the tale had a greater impact on him when he was younger, but now as an adult, he interprets the story differently. It is also interesting how Christian beliefs and superstitions were present throughout this tale, as it is very common in Canadian folklore.

Legends
Narrative

The Devil at the Dance

Informant KJ is a sophomore studying cinematic art at the University of Southern California. He is of French-Canadian descent from the region of Quebec. Here, he discusses traditional Canadian folklore that has been known in his family for several generations:

KJ: “So there’s this other French-Canadian legend called “The Devil at the Dance” and it’s about this young couple who fall in love with each other, but they have opposing religious beliefs and the girl’s parents refuse their daughter to be involved with him because he is a Christian and they’re not. The daughter professes her love for the Christian boy, but her parents refuse to accept their daughter’s claims. The mother even says that she would rather have her daughter associated with the devil himself rather than a boy like hi. Then one day, the devil knocked on the family’s door. The family was so afraid that they asked a priest to convert them to Christianity. Once the family and the daughter were officially converted, the Christian boy and the young girl got married, both now as official members of Christianity.”

How did you learn about this legend?

KJ: “It’s just another French-Canadian tale that I’ve heard over the years from my grandparents.”

In what context would you share this legend?

KJ: “Well, my grandparents would share this story with me and other cousins mostly when I was younger and it was usually at our family gatherings.”

Does this legend have any significance to you?

KJ: “Um ya kind of because it was something that was always told from older members of my family like my grandparents and they made it fun, so ya it does.”

Analysis:

This French-Canadian tale exhibits the influence the devil had in the reinforcement of Christian ideals by scaring the non-believing family into converting into Christianity. The image and representation of the devil is quite common among French-Canadian tales, as he is known to make deals and to trick people. The devil is a prominent ancestral fixture in French-Canadian folklore and continues to be in modern society.

 

Legends
Narrative

Menehune- Mischievous Hawaiian Spirits

Informant CT is in her third year as a neuroscience major at the University of Southern California. CT is Hawaiian and is from the island of Oahu. Here, she describes a well-known Hawaiian legend about mischievous spirits who play tricks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands:

CT: “Menehune were natives of the Hawaiian Islands and were really small in stature. They have been known to look like little elves or fairies, but not really fairies, more like trolls and they lived deep in the forest away from civilization. They have been known to trick and mess with the tourists who come to the islands for vacation, like they tend to play practical jokes on the tourists like they would misplace your things while on your stay or they would pull you hair. They would also pinch or poke you. Mostly just silly stuff.”

How or where did you learn this legend from?

CT: “Well, my grandparents would always share this story with me and my sister when we were little. They’ve told us that the Menehune were like the first people to come to Hawaii and live on the islands. My grandparents would always say to us that whenever me and my sister did something bad or went against our parent’s rules, that is was the menehune that made us to it, that they influenced us to do it, like in a playful way.”

So the Menehune were not scary or meant to scare anyone?

CT: “No not at all. They, from what I have been told when I was little is that they are just playful spirits that mess around with young kids. It was never a scary thing or something to be afraid of. Nothing in that nature.”

In what kind of context would you share this Hawaiian legend?

CT: “Um well I guess you would share this legend to those who are going to Hawaii on vacation. Like I’ve made a joke about it before to my friends who were going to Hawaii during the summer. I would tell them to watch out for the Menehune while they are there because it’s been known in my culture that they mess with the tourists and their things so its just something fun to share with other people and kind of make them aware of this legend.”

Does this legend have any significant meaning to you?

CT: “Um, well it does in the sense that it is part of my Hawaiian culture and that it’s been shared and passed down through my family and it’s pretty well known. Like my friends and their families have spoken about it, mostly in a fun and joking way.”

Analysis:

These mischievous spirits have been known to pull pranks on those who visit the Hawaiian Islands for leisurely reasons, especially in more remote areas of the islands. Although there is no official record of a Menehune siting, legend has it that their spirits still live on and play on the minds of those who visit the Hawaiian Islands.

 

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