USC Digital Folklore Archives / Narrative

A Cuban Haunting


I was traveling to Cuba when it was legal once again, and I was staying in this apartment place, kind of like an Airbnb. It was a really old place, and I could definitely see it being a place where a maid could have killed the family inside, maybe during the Revolution. I woke up in the middle of the night because I felt a tickling on my foot. This wasn’t just any tickling. It was a distinct tickling feeling. I could tell that I wasn’t dreaming because the feeling woke me straight up. The room was pitch black, so I couldn’t see anything. But I did hear a heavy breathing in the corner of the room. It was like [heavy breathing sounds]. I even stopped breathing myself to make sure I wasn’t making the noise, but the breathing continued! I didn’t leave the room because I wasn’t that scared. I was more like… the fuck? I think it was more scared of me than I was of it, so I didn’t feel the need to leave the room.



Context: This story was told to me by the respondent in a dorm room at USC. It was late at night on a Tuesday, at around 11 PM. The respondent did not hear this story from another individual, but rather experienced the story firsthand around one year ago.

Respondent’s Beliefs: The respondent clearly believed in the story, as it was a personal experience. He never showed any signs of doubt, and even cited instances of proof that the story was real, such as holding his breath to make sure he wasn’t the one making the noise. The respondent is an atheist, yet he still believes that a spirit was able to visit him in the apartment.

Motifs: The respondent’s story reflects many common motifs in ghost stories throughout different cultures. First, despite no evidence that the Cuban Revolution was somehow connected to the apartment, the respondent claimed that the Revolution could have somehow caused the death of a family inside. This relates to how ghost stories often reflect historical tragedies that haunt society. Second, the respondent claimed that the spirit may have been murdered. Many ghost stories involve murders because tragic deaths are more likely to lead to a reason for a spirit to stay on Earth. Finally, the respondent’s use of sensory details is very similar to how most people attempt to justify a ghostly experience. The respondent cited touch and hearing as a way to validate the claim that a ghost was in the room, and this is the most common way that people justify ghostly experiences. Thus, the respondent’s story fits with traditional ghost narratives.


The Guardian Spirit

Have you had any odd experiences with spirits or ghosts?  Or maybe just events that can’t be explained in rational terms?

“Haha actually I have one odd event from when I was younger where I saw a spirit or ghost.  So I was lying in bed one morning and I was in a deep sleep, and it was like 6am and I fell out of my bed and woke up on the ground.  When I woke up, I saw what looked like a spirit in front of me with their hand outstretched in front of my face.  I was so surprised I couldn’t move or make a sound, I was just staring at this figure in front of me in complete shock.  I was around 9 at the time, and it is just vividly burned into my memory.  The spirit was almost like a white glow of human, like a glowing cloud in the shape of a human.  In the midst of this cloud was a very prominent human hand, just directly in front of my face.  I couldn’t make out the spirits face or the rest of the body, just the hand in front of me.  But ya that is what I vividly remember.  I feel like this spirit was trying to save me from something that could have happened when I fell off the bed, so I refer to it as my “guardian angel”.  It was just too coincidental for me to have fallen from my bed, which was pretty high up, at such a young age for something to have not happened to me.  I mean, I remember expecting to see a cut or maybe have my head hurting, but the spirit must have taken care of whatever I injured.  I could have also just hit my head really hard and imagined the whole thing, but my belief that it happened is too strong and I already have a strong belief in spirits and ghosts… also my head is already too hard for something like falling out of bed to hurt me hahaha.  It was something that lasted only a few seconds, but I am positive that I saw a ghost or spirit.


How do you interpret what happened in the story?

“I already have really strong beliefs that ghosts or spirits exists, so I definitely think it was an encounter with some spirit form.  I have always had weird things happen to me or just odd experiences that I can’t explain in any other way except that I had an encounter with a ghost.  My family is also super into connecting with our ancestors who have passed on and believe they connect with us again in some ways… I guess like having the clock stop on a certain hour or feeling a breeze when all the windows or doors in the house are shut.  I don’t know if it was like a familial ghost that was trying to help me or if it was just some random spirit, but my honest interpretation of what happened is exactly what the story is.  I fell out of bed and was visited by a ghost or spirit, end of story.  No one can tell me any different or cause me to believe something different.  I was the person who experienced this, so no one can change that. “



My teammate is the one who had the above experience with a guardian spirit or ghost.  She was 9 years old at the time and the encounter occurred inside her bedroom in Orange County, CA.  She was in a deep sleep when she fell off the side of her bed, which was located maybe 4 feet off the ground.  Upon waking up from the fall, she noticed a glowing, cloudy figure standing in front of her with a hand directly in front of her face.  This encounter lasted maybe a few seconds, and then the spirit vanished from her view.  She felt a sense of alarm and shock, however was also oddly calm with the situation, almost as if the spirit was meant to be there for her.  This occurred at around 6am in the morning, which is not considered a liminal time frame where ghosts are normally seen.  After laying on the floor for a few minutes, she went running to her parents to tell them she saw a spirit, and being believers in the divine they didn’t rebut her claims.  Their family has strong beliefs in familial ghosts guarding over them, so the fact that she fell off her bed at a young age and came away from it with zero scratches or pain could explain that it was a guardian spirit protecting or healing her.  For years that spirit has been engrained in her memory and to this day she still considers it an encounter with a ghost or protective spirit.


My interpretation of the story:

I agree with my teammate that she was visited by a ghost or spirit whose obligation was to protect her from harm.  There is no definitive description of what a ghost should or shouldn’t look like or when is appropriate to see them.  Although they are most present during liminal time periods, 6am in the morning isn’t liminal.  However, she did fall out of her bed and at a young age she could have come away with some injury or head pain, but she felt completely normal afterwards.  I believe that the ghosts hand she saw directly in front of her face was in that moment healing or preventing an injury, which would explain why she woke up on the ground without any pain or soreness.  Also, I found it interesting that she referred to the ghost as a “guardian angel” and that her family has a large belief in connecting with their ancestors.  Since they have the belief that those who have passed on are always with them, it is plausible that she had an ancestral ghosts watching over her in that very moment she fell out of her bed, knowing that she may end up injured and was there to protect her.  I am also a believer of those in your family who have passed on being spiritual guardians, so I agree with my teammates reasoning.  People could state that since she fell and hit her head she may have been seeing things, but since she was so adamant that it was a ghost and due to her beliefs, it was easy to accept and agree.


Zimbabwean Ghost Story


This is a story a friend from Zimbabwe told me, apparently it is a widely told story in Zimbabwe and a lot of people know it. She has lived in London and Zimbabwe, so she has been exposed to many different cultures throughout her life.


“This is a story I’ve been told, I don’t know who it happened too, but it is quite a popular story.

So, a woman met this guy and he was foreign, from Nigeria, and they started dating. Later, he wanted to get married and there’s like a long process for marriage. She went with him to his village and his village is like far away. They drove there, they took a taxi, and they got to a point where they had to walk. Since they had luggage the man said he’d go to the house and get people to help bring the luggage back, so he went and left and didn’t come back for a while.

(Interrupted by a conversation about statistics)

Okay so he doesn’t come back (bless you) after her and the taxi driver waited for a long time. So, when the time had been long enough, so she goes and tries to find him and kind of just went to the village places. She goes and asks for the family name and goes to the house to find him. Once she found the house and is like well guys I’ve been waiting. The family is look who are you and then she explains she is engaged to be married to their son. They’re like that’s not possible because he’s been dead for years. She doesn’t believe them and then they take her to the grave and everything and then it turns out she was lowkey dating a ghost.”


This story seems very similar to Japanese beliefs about ghosts where people are unable to tell whether or not someone is a ghost and not figuring out the person is actually dead until someone points it out. Since this is a story that is very popular in Zimbabwe it shows that the ghost beliefs in Zimbabwe are similar, in at least this one aspect, to the ghost beliefs of Japan. This story seems to be similar to a lot of stories in other cultures which shows a common theme of people believing that ghosts can be present in our lives without us actually knowing.

Personally, I find stories like these very hard to believe for two reasons. One, I personally don’t believe in ghosts, so I find it very hard to believe that a person would be able to come back from the dead and no one would notice, and they would be able to disappear without any warning. Two, this story is so widely told that the chance that this situation actually happened.


“It Was Watching Us…”

“So basically there was this one night me and my roommate were getting ready for bed. We talk about the witching hour, and it just so happened that we were getting ready for bed during that hour. So, I was like “I’m gonna go wash my face.” I open the door and I just feel this chill, and there’s a shape that goes past me in the hallway. We had just learned that someone had died on the sixth floor a long time ago so we were like “Thats a little…. sketchy.” So, I say, “[Roommate’s name] did you see that?” She said, “See what”? I said, “I saw a shape pass me in the hallway.” My roommate said “What shape?” I said, “I don’t know. It was like a human figure that just passed.” My roommate was looking down the hall and she said “There’s no one here…” We tried to forget about it and went to sleep, but that night we both had the exact same dream that there was someone standing in the middle of the room. In both of our dreams, we woke up and saw this person in the middle of the room just standing there watching us. My roommate also talks in her sleep and I woke up that night and she was saying “Get her out of our room”… “She’s standing in the middle of our room”. I got really panicked so I got out of bed and locked the door. Now, my roommate and I have reoccurring nightmares every time we leave our door unlocked that there is someone that is just standing in the middle of the room. We lock our door a lot more often *laughs*… but yeah… that’s my story.”

This was the first time that the person who was telling this story had told it. The person that who told this story didn’t believe in ghosts before she came here but because of her roommate, she started to question it and finds it interesting now. She never believed in ghosts but she did believe in the Jinn. She is from India and she says that the Jinn is an incredibly evil spirit within her culture. It’s like a genie-esque spirit that preys on impoverished people. Her grandmother and father actually both have told her stories about their experiences with the Jinn, since they were incredibly poor. I find it interesting that when she was describing the Jinn, it reminded me of a ghost, except just a lot more evil. Not all ghosts seem to be evil, but every Jinn is. It seemed to have the same qualities, though. She described it as a shadow presence that you can see with the naked eye. It’s an example of how some cultures don’t necessarily believe in ghosts, but they have their own experience with a spirit of some sort, and they believe in that.

I 100% believe the person that told me this story. We live in the same dorm on the same floor, and I know both her and her roommate very well. Now, I feel like I’m going to have to watch out for this, to be honest. I haven’t ever felt a presence or seen anything suspicious, but I really do believe my friend is telling the truth. 

Folk Beliefs

Ghost woman: a true account

It’s an ordinary Saturday morning that I decided to visit my grandparents. After lunch, I was wondering around in the living room as my grandpa watched TV on the couch. I don’t remember exactly how the thought came to mind, perhaps I read a lot of paranormal accounts during that time, I decided to ask my grandpa whether he had similar experiences.

“Grandpa,” I asked, “are ghosts real?”. “No”, he shook his head. However, I realized that there was a slight moment of hesitation before his answer. “Why would you say that? Have you seen any ghosts before?” “Sometimes, there are things you can’t avoid. If you see them, you see them, even if you are not supposed to.” “What do you mean? So you have seen one before?” I immediately became excited and curious. He did not answer me, but I took the silence as a tacit agreement. “Can you please tell me more about it”, I begged, “please!” My grandpa turned off the television and began to tell me about his experience.

“It was around the 1940s. I was very young, around 25 years old. At that time, we all lived in housing assigned by the factory, or your work unit. The bathrooms and the rooms are separated. To use the bathroom, you have to walk out of your building and to another one. One night, past midnight, I was walking to the bathroom from my room. As I was walking out of the bathroom, I saw a woman squatting by the roadside.” “In the middle of the road? Or beside a building?” I was confused by the scene, so I asked. “She, or whatever that thing was, was squatting by the road on the side. I think she was on a path close to the bathroom. I couldn’t really see her face or her as a whole clearly because it was so dark. I was wondering, what is a woman doing here by herself at night? At the time, I don’t think I even realized that it was a woman. I just wondered what is that? As I approached closer to have a better look, she looked up to me. I remember very clearly, it was a very pale face, with an undertone of light green. She had very long hair and abnormally sharp and long teeth sticking out of her mouth. I was sure that she was definitely not human, or at least did not look like one. Traumatized, I ran back home. After that night, I had a fever for three entire days. I could not even get off my bed.” Captivated, I wanted to ask more questions, but I also was very scared. The whole story felt unreal to me. I could not believe that my own grandpa had seen a ghost. Meanwhile, my grandma walked in. “Grandma!”, I called, “Grandpa is telling me about the ghost he saw!”. “What the fuck, old man?”, my grandma cursed, “stop telling kids these bullshits!” (cursing in Chinese is quite normal between my grandparents, so my grandpa did not feel personally attacked). My grandpa stopped talking and got up. Feeling slightly regretful that I stopped the story, I called “Grandpa! So do you believe in ghosts? Are there ghosts in this world?”. “No, no ghosts,” he said as he left the room to get tea from the kitchen.

My grandpa is 86 years old. In the Chinese culture, it is not auspicious to talk about ghosts or paranormal related things. This type of phenomenon holds negative connotations, and it is believed that talking about them explicitly will bring bad luck. It shows disrespect and disregard of “the other world”. Elderly are especially vulnerable to this situation. Therefore, a lot of euphemism is used when referring to the spirit. This is probably why my grandma was not happy with him telling me about this experience. Sometimes, we deceive ourselves that what we saw was not real because of the negative connotation that carries with it. I believe that this is a true experience of my grandpa. There is no reason that he would make something like this up. I find it ironic that he said he did not believe in ghost at the end, even though he just described to me an entirely personal experience of him seeing a ghost. This reflects our flexible attitude when it comes to belief, and how we define belief. I did not want to ask him more about the situation because I am also influenced by the cultural aspect that talking about these things will bring bad luck to a person. From this story, what I got the most out of it is that my grandpa is able to live with this experience for so long and not be influenced by it. I believe if it were me who had the same experience, I would be a lot more traumatized. It is shocking to see how cultural norms (in this case, the inadequacy to “believe” in ghosts) could change one’s mindset.

Folk Beliefs

CryBaby Bridge

“I first heard this story in my senior year of high school. I took a class on ghost stories and we were required to research local haunted places… anyway, I ended up finding this story called the “Crybaby Bridge.” I read about this story online, but it’s apparently from Oklahoma. It’s this town in Oklahoma called Catoosa. Apparently in Catoosa, there is a collapsed, abandoned bridge that is said to be haunted.

The legend basically goes as follows: there was a young woman and her baby traveling in a horse drawn carriage across this bridge many many years ago. There was a thunderstorm and suddenly, the lightning scared the horse and it overturned the carriage, causing the baby and the mother to fall into the water below. The mother survived, but she could not find her baby. She could only hear the baby crying, but never found it. Basically, the woman haunts this bridge because she is looking for her baby. You can supposedly hear the baby crying if you’re near the bridge or crossing the bridge or whatever.

When you encounter the bridge, before you cross it, you’re supposed to turn your car off, get out of the car, and shout “we found your baby!” Then you quickly get back into the car. Supposedly, handprints will appear on the window because this woman is coming to get her baby from you. You’ll hear the baby cry.

It’s similar to a Bloody Mary kind of thing, I guess. Honestly it sounds pretty scary to me. I considered doing it with my friends because we were interested in this story. We were going to plan a trip and go find this bridge in Catoosa, but we totally chickened out.

While I was researching this, I found that basically every state has its own “crybaby bridge” story. In Oklahoma, there are seven different “crybaby bridge” stories all slight variations from one another. It seemed to be the most common among midwestern states and some southern states, but there’s a pretty similar story in so many states, leading me to think that this might not be true. I really think it’s just an urban legend.

I think they have this story to warn children not to do things: go on a collapsed bridge, play by the water by themselves, or mess around in places where they shouldn’t be.

I watched a video on YouTube of someone doing the “we found your baby” thing by the bridge and in the video handprints supposedly appeared. So maybe the story is true?

Honestly, I don’t really think it’s true because it’s such a common story across America. Stories like this are out there for a reason, you know? I don’t think there’s a horse drawn carriage because it just seems too old to be kept around. It just sounds very artificial. There are some modern versions of it where a car is driven off a bridge, which sound more realistic maybe because it’s modern and recent. I personally believe in ghosts, so the story is appealing for me to believe in, but I honestly don’t know if it’s true. Maybe one day I’ll have to try it and then I’ll know. Honestly, some things like this are better left alone. There’s some weird shit in Oklahoma.”

Collector’s thoughts:

I personally think this Oklahoman urban legend is extremely interesting. It really encapsulates many common ghost story themes. First of all, it is about a female ghost looking for her dead child, reminding me very much of the story of La Llorona. I think this is a common theme in horror stories: women and children. Also, I think that the fact there are different versions of this bridge story in so many states also makes me think of La Llorona.

It also really reminds me of Bloody Mary because there’s the same sort of ritualistic ghost summoning involved. I think all these different ghost stories are connected in some sort of way and they must be drawn from some sort of truth or some supernatural experience.

I ended up looking at the videos of the crybaby bridge on YouTube and they were terrifying and honestly pretty convincing. I wonder if at one of these bridges the lady really does show up. It’s really interesting that this story comes from so many different states and towns. I wonder where the story started and I wonder why so many different states have this story. It would be extremely interesting to trace this story and see where it originated and which abandoned bridge it actually came from. I personally had never heard this story before, leading me to think that it came from the south or the Midwest. I also think in history many bridges are considered haunted. If you think about it, bridges are pretty liminal places because they are suspended in midair. I think there is a history of haunted bridges in America, which is probably where this story originally came from.





Folk Beliefs

Merton College Library Ghost


“In my second year at Oxford University, I visited the Merton College Library. Walking through the library so late at night, I remembered the famous story about the Merton College library ghost. That night I didn’t see the ghost, but I still left the library with a spooky feeling inside of me.

So anyway, late in the evening, I went to borrow a book in this library. This was a different library than the one I would normally go to. I went to Lincoln College so normally I would go to that library, but they didn’t have the book. The philosophy department didn’t have it either so I had to go to this library late at night because I really needed to write an essay.

Merton College is nearly 800 years old, so it’s a very spooky old place to go to just because it’s so ancient and eerie. There is so much history in all the old buildings.

Basically the legend says there’s a ghost who haunts the library. He has been seen by a number of people and he walks the halls of the library late at night. Many years ago, they raised the floor of the library by 10-12 inches, nearly a foot… um, so as a result the ghost walks at the level of the original floor. So the ghost is 10 inches shorter than he should be. It’s kind of funny actually because people see a really short ghost if they end up seeing him. Some think he’s walking on his knees or kneeling on the ground, but he’s actually walking at the original height of the building. He’s apparently locked in time and space, so he walks at the level of the old library floor.

The funny part is that below the library there is the grand dining hall. It’s kind of like the dining halls in Harry Potter, just to paint a picture, so it’s really large and grand. Anyway, they say that if you’re in the dining hall and you look up, you might see the ghost’s feet walking through the ceiling. It’s honestly kind of funny if you think about it.

I’m not sure if it’s an evil ghost or a friendly ghost, but I don’t think he does any harm.

He’s supposed to be the ghost of a man named Francis Windebank, a royalist soldier who was executed a long time ago on the college grounds. I don’t know that much about him, but I do know that this was a very famous ghost on campus.

I do sometimes believe in ghosts. I think it’s an interesting story because the ghost is locked in time and trapped on a specific level. He’s not really in our world yet is at the same time.

He’s in our world because we can see him, but he’s not in our world because he’s dead. He’s in the other world because he’s walking on the level of the ceiling of when he died so he’s really interesting because he’s in a different time and space. I find this the most interesting part of this story.

I don’t know if I believe in the ghost, but I still think it’s an intriguing story and an important part of Oxford University history. There are lot of different ghost stories and famous ghosts on the Oxford Campus because it’s such an old place.

I think that libraries are often haunted because people go there late at night and alone. People are tired and there’s not many people there so they might see things. Libraries are old and lonely places, maybe explaining why there are so many instances with ghosts in libraries and people seeing ghosts in libraries.”

Collector’s thoughts:

I think this story is a really unique and different from other ghost stories because of how the ghost is locked in time and space. I wonder why the ghost walks on the old level of the library and if most ghosts are locked in the specific time and location of where they died. It would also be really interesting to trace this particular ghost story and others from the Oxford University campus.

I think libraries, again, are very liminal, creepy places and that is why they tend to be so haunted. I think this story is interesting because there is also an element of humor to the ghost: seeing the feet on the ceiling is something that the students at Oxford find funny. I think these different ghost traditions on campuses bring a community closer together and help people connect in certain ways. I am sure there are numerous famous ghosts and ghost stories that only Oxford students know and that plays a role in being part of their community.

Overall, this ghost story seems like more than an urban legend because you can research Francis Windebank and find out his story, possibly tracing it back to this ghost story. This ghost story just seems more plausible than others because there is a name for the ghost and a history; rather than just a vague story about a person.


The Ghosts that Stop Your Car

Jack is currently a freshman studying Chemical Engineering at the University of Southern California. He grew up in a small suburb in New Jersey, and because of this, it was very easy for local legends to form and be spread. This is one of the local legends he remembers hearing while growing up.
“My dad used to take me to this windy road about 10 minutes from where I lived. According to him, a little girl and her mom were driving down a hill when the brakes stopped working. Because of that, they ended up going down the hill and crashing into either a tree or another car; honestly I forget, but regardless of what they hit, both the mother and the daughter died. The legend, according to my dad, was that if you put your car in neutral towards the bottom of the hill, the ghost of either the mother or daughter would possess your car and hit the break for you. It was to make sure your car stopped so that you wouldn’t get into the same accident that they did. Like I said, my dad used to take me to that hill a lot when I was younger and we wanted to go a drive. He would put the car in neutral, and just as he said we would roll down the hill for a little bit, and slowly but surely the car would stop. Of course I was younger so my dad totally could have made this up, and he definitely could have just been hitting the breaks himself, and even while thinking about it now I didn’t even realize that ghosts could possess cars and other types of machinery, but regardless my dad is very religious, so I don’t think he would even entertain the idea of a ghost unless he truly believed it.”
The small town that Jack lived in is common amongst some ghost stories, especially the local legends that are well known by people living in the area yet completely foreign and unheard of by people living outside the town. Some of my friends had also heard of the legend, but again, they were my friends and our parents were friends, so the legend could have spread that way, regardless of whether or not it was true. Assuming the legend is true, it’s interesting that the ghost possesses the car in order to stop it before rolling into the middle of the street. In other stories, the ghost might simply possess just the driver and have him/her hit the bakes, but since the mother and daughter died because of a brake malfunction, it makes sense that the ghosts would possess the car. That is more related to their cause of death. This might show that mechanical ghosts are born if the death of the ghost is directly related to/directly caused by something mechanical. Possessing or becoming a part of that machinery makes the “haunting” closer to the cause of death, and as we’ve learned with other ghost stories, a lot of souls remain near the person/thing/place that killed them.

Tales /märchen

Little Boy at Little Rock

In Little Rock, Arkansas, there is a ghost story about a young boy who wanders very early in the morning through the streets and enters any home that he finds open. They say that the little boy is lost and looking for family members to be with. This story comes as a result of “ghost” encounters and “poltergeist” events happening at homes.You can get rid of the little boy “ghost” by placing small toys outside of your BACK door so the “ghost” is tricked into leaving the home.


Eloisa is a Michoacan born lady who has lived in Arkansas since she has been a little girl. She used to be really religious, but after being opened up to human rights, and mostly women rights, she has taken a step back and tried to analyze everything to decide on what she can really identify as part of her.




In the film industry, ordinary wooden clothespins are used to attach colored plastic gels to lights and they’re called C-47s.

A prominent visual effects artist told me an origin story of the phrase:

Back in the early days of Hollywood, studio heads would do audits and they’d see that the lighting departments were spending a ton of money on clothespins. And they said “we’re spending all this money on clothespins. This is ridiculous!” And they shut it down you know,  not understanding that the clothespin is a very important tool for lighting that we use everyday. So the lighting guys started calling them ‘C-47s’ so that when the big-wigs saw so-and-so hundred dollars for C-47s and they said, “Oh sure, ‘C-47’ that sounds important, no problem.”

As a film student, I’ve heard several contradictory stories about the phrase C-47. Some of the other prominent origin tales are that they were names after a WWII fighter plane by returning soldiers turned filmmakers, or that C-47 is the patent number.

All of these stories are equally unverified. In practice, the lingo ‘C-47’ mainly serves as a test of membership on film sets. If you’re a newcomer on a set and a grip asks you to fetch a C-47, you have no idea what they mean and are forced to ask someone. It’s embarrassing to realize that a C-47 is just a simple clothes pin. The lingo functions as an inside joke, and an initiation that everyone on a film set must undergo.