USC Digital Folklore Archives / Childhood
Adulthood
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Life cycle
Narrative

Toots The Gaseous Ghost

Informant (L.P.) is an 18 year old student. I had heard her enthusiasm for telling ghost stories the week before, and this one stood out. L.P. works at a local novelty shop. This interview is conducted at my house one Saturday evening.

I ask about the ghost in her workplace, which she had mentioned during our previous encounter.

L.P.: “There’s a ghost called Toots because it farts a lot and people smell it all the time. It’s not mean, it just likes to fuck with people. They have a video of it knocking a whole stack of books off the shelf.”

I ask her to elaborate on Toots’ antics

L.P.: “I saw it knock a book on my coworker. The book hit her on the side of the head and she spilled her tea… Today it knocked over a bucket in an aisle when some guy was reading a book.”

I ask her if the ghost has any legend attached to it

L.P.: “It used to be a post office, so maybe somebody died in there I’m not sure.

I ask her if she’s has the video, but she says no, as she doesn’t have access to the work computer. As the youngest employee at Wacko, I’m assuming L.P. is going through a right of passage in learning the store’s occupational legend of Toots the gaseous ghost.

Adulthood
Childhood
Digital
Humor
Life cycle

Flip Phone Accessories

Informant is a Facebook page that regularly posts memes. As the page’s primary following is teens and young adults, most of their content is humor based on 1990’s & 2000’s American youth culture.

Flip Phone Accessories

This particular post shows an early 2000’s cell phone with an excessive amount of Pokemon accessories. Such accessories were a fad in the days of the flip-phone. The Pokemon attached to the phone are from the years 1996 to 2006, highlighting the target audience of this meme page. By combining the retro mobile phone with an excessive amount of once-trendy, Pokemon themed folk objects, this satirical image is aimed to evoke nostalgia for people who grew up in this era.

Adulthood
Childhood
Digital
Humor
Life cycle

Dixie Cup Ness

Informant is a facebook page that regularly posts memes. As the page’s primary following is teens and young adults, most of their content is humor based on 1990’s & 2000’s American youth culture.

Dixie Cup Ness

This particular post shows Ness, a character known from successful Nintendo game ‘Super Smash Bros Melee,’ with a retro Dixie cup print on his clothes. By combining the popular 2001 video game character with the distinct folk pattern of 2000’s school cafeteria cups, this satirical image is aimed to evoke nostalgia.

Adulthood
Childhood
Digital
Humor
Life cycle

Supernintendo Chalmers

Informant is a Facebook page that posts only memes. As the page’s primary following is teens and young adults, most of their content is humor based on early 2000’s culture.

Supernintendo Chalmers

This particular post shows a Super Nintendo gaming console (1990), with a decal of Superintendent Chalmers of the popular TV show the Simpsons. The pun here is on the words ‘superindendent’ and ‘supernintendo.’ By combining the show known for its success in the 1990’s, with a 1990’s video game console , this satirical image is aimed to evoke nostalgia for people who grew up in this era.

Childhood
Folk speech
Gestures
Musical

Handgame: Miss Suzy

Main Piece: (sung) “Miss Suzy had a baby/ she named him Tiny Tim/ she put him in the bathtub/ to see if he could swim/ he drank up all the water/ he ate up all the soap/ he tried to eat the bathtub/ but it wouldn’t go down his throat (giggles)/ miss Suzy called the doctor/ miss Suzy called the nurse/ miss Suzy called the lady/ with the alligator purse….uhhhh…..oh yeah ok….measles said the doctor/ mumps said the nurse… haha that’s terrible… pizza said the lady/ with the alligator purse.”

Background: The informant initially learned this handgame on the playground in elementary school from her friends. The piece would be performed on the playground during recess or occasionally in the hallway. The informant finds the piece entertaining and humorous. She remembers learning the song and finding it all so random, making little sense. This piece is sung while playing a handgame, a repetitive motion between partners clapping their hands together. The informant says this is usually performed between two young girls. She says it was a popular song among the group of girls she atteneded elementary school with. The game would become more advanced as it would speed up and test who could keep up.

Performance Context: I sat across the informant in my living room as she told me the piece.

My Thoughts: This handgame seems to be utilized as a way of defining in-group versus out-group members (i.e. as the game advances, less and less participants are included). The rhyme itself, as the informant contends, does not completely make sense. Its lyrics are a bit morbid, but is sung in a child-like tune, and is best known in the context of an elementary school playground. The informant alludes to the ways in which childhood folklore can be somewhat explicit, exploring themes of adulthood (i.e. morbidity, illness, death). Although the lyrics of the handgame are somehwat grave, the informant was an innocent receiver and teller and enjoyed participating in the folklore.

Childhood
Riddle

Riddle: Shadow

Main Piece: “What follows you everywhere when you’re walking, sleeping, flying, jumping, falling….um…but stays still when you’re not moving? That part I kind of made up. [Pause]. The answer is: shadow. And that’s it.”

Background Information: River, a nine year old boy, heard this riddle from his friends Ruby and Sky in Idaho. His friends told him the riddle when they were hanging out together. When I asked him what he enjoyed about the riddle, he said he didn’t think it was funny, but he did think it was challenging.

Performance Context: River sat across from me at his dining room table. He was relaxed telling me this riddle and focused on his telling of the riddle.

My Thoughts: I, personally, appreciated this riddle as it is tricky with a satisfying answer. River told this riddle well- he paused in the appropriate place of the riddle, expecting an answer from the recipient (me). River is in 4th grade, so there is often time to tell stories to friends at recess, lunch, etc. According to River, riddles are commonly told on the playground. It’s almost as if the teller sits atop of the hierarchy of the playground, with the wisdom and power of the answer. River seems to only tell riddles to friends he trusts. Since he admits he’s not good at keeping secrets, he wouldn’t tell the riddle to anyone who might use it against him (i.e. someone who might claim ownership of the riddle). The riddle is pretty general- its answer doesn’t only appeal to a certain group or have any quips that are specific to one context. It’s broadness allows for inclusive understanding.

Childhood
Riddle

Riddle: Foreheads

Main Piece: “There is a pool…no there is a clear pool…with no people in it. Twenty people jump in. And twenty four heads pop up. How is that possible? There are no people in the pool…wait delete that…the answer is twenty four heads pop up…how is that possible? And then I don’t really know how to tell you the answer…I do actually…the answer is: there is really…do CAPS for this… twenty four HEADS…that’s it….wait…yes that’s it”

Background Information: The informant is nine years old. He is a little socially awkward, so his speech may seem choppy. He heard this riddle in Idaho from his friends, Ruby and Sky. He likes this riddle because he says, “it’s challenging and it’s a good play on words.” The informant continues to tell this riddle to his friends at school.

Performance Context: The informant sat across from me at his dining room table.

My Thoughts: The informant seems to enjoy this riddle and want to share it with me because of the ways words can have multiple meanings. He notes the ways in which trickery through riddles challenges traditional notions of understanding language. His friends passed the folklore to him and now he passes it onto his friends as well. Once a receiver of the folklore, the informant is now the teller, using a verbal method transfer this piece of folklore.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Humor
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Celebration of the First Birthday in Korea

Context

The celebration of a baby’s first birthday in particular is widely practiced across the world, as infant and child mortality rates were much higher in previous eras. In the eastern Asian regions, this traditional celebration includes a ceremony where the objects are placed in front of the baby and good things are said about the baby’s future based on the grabbed object. In my native South Korea, the objects typically associated with the occasion are books, writing tools and money. Other objects – even microphones and calculators – can also be used in the celebration, though that depends on how traditional the practitioner wants the celebration to be.

Informant Information

The informant is my uncle, who recently celebrated the first birthday of his twin sons. He first learned of the tradition in childhood, then through from his mother and grandmother. As a celebration for his sons, the performance of this tradition was of a personal importance to him. I was unable to attend the celebration in person, but I was able to ask the informant about it during spring break.

According to the informant, he placed a pencil, a book, money and a ball of strings – traditionally included symbols/items – on the table, but he also placed modern picks: a computer mouse and a basketball. The traditional symbols refer to a future in education, academics, riches and healthy life, respectively. The informant said that his contemporary additions represented “technological savvy” and “athleticism”. In the end, both his children picked up the pencil and the informant wishfully said that he was “happy he shouldn’t have to worry about their [the twins'] grades”.

Analysis

It can be observed that the practice of traditional celebrations sees variation based on the practitioner, as do works of folklore in general. Though it is entirely up to choice to follow tradition or not, the informant’s use of contemporary objects to update the objects to be grabbed by the baby show that celebrations can be altered to be contemporary yet not taking away from the traditional meaning of celebration.

To see the traditional Chinese version of this tradition, see “To Catch the First Year” in the Folklore Archives
(http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=30617)

Childhood
Myths
Narrative

White Face

Informant: Mary McGeagh is my 15 year old younger sister. She is now a freshman in High School and attending Catholic school her entire life. She is an avid volleyball player and enjoys spending time with friends and going to the beach. She lives with my parents in Pacific Palisades, California and has since she was born. She comes from Irish, German, Jewish, and Swedish roots but mainly was exposed to the cultures of the Irish, Catholics, and Jewish people. She attended a summer camp from the age of 5 to the age of 12 that has many interesting folk tales and traditions. The camp is pretty much run off of its lore and it is what makes it so unique. She carries the lore of St. Matthews Day Camp to this day.

Mary: “There is a tale that is very important to the culture of St. Matthew’s Day Camp . The tale is a myth about a being called ‘White Face.’ White Face was at one point a camper at Day camp. He was like all normal children: explorative, good-natured, happy, rambunctious, and energetic. his one fault was that he was very curious. There is a cave on the premisses of St. Matthews, at the top of the mountain. The cave is called “Jolly Rogers Cave” and is known for behind haunted, thus making it forbidden to all campers.

Being so curious, the camper that is now known as White Face, decided to give the cave a look. He had no fear at all and crawled right in. Of course, something went terribly wrong. There was an avalanche of rocks while he was inside the cave. They fell and closed up the entrance. The camper was now stuck in the dark cold cave. The only access to the camp was through a fist-sized hole in the pile of rocks. Campers knew he was trapped in there and spent the rest of summer giving him snacks and water to try and keep him alive.

On the last day of that camp season, the kids got the strongest counselors to come up and help move the rocks. After hours of work, there was enough room to see inside. And to everyone’s surprise, the cave was empty. Now the spirit of the camper roams the camp grounds and only appears on the notorious ‘overnight’ where the kids spend the night at camp. His name ‘White Face’ comes from the fact that his face is completely blanked-out white, from all the time he spent hidden from the sun. White Face is relatively harmless and only appears to give the children a little spook once or twice a year.”

” In addition to this story. On the night of the Overnight, a counselor dresses as White Face and runs around to spook the little children.”

This story is a huge part of the culture of the camp. The story is told very often, and the counselors and campers all know the myth of White Face. It is a highly anticipated event on the overnight that White Face will arrive. And it is a huge deal when he does. The children are scared of white face. But they also have a love for him and enjoy seeing him as well. The camp has lasted for more than 50 years and this story dates back just as far.

This is a fun, yet spooky tale that adds a lot of  character to the camp. It allows for the campers to know the history behind the camp and the story creates a mystical aspect to its history. This is a great way to bring campers of all ages together over a common tale and they all thrive off the story. Stories like this are what make a camp unique and what makes this place so special to so many campers.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Material
Myths

Gus, The Magic Rubber Chicken

Informant: Mary McGeagh is my 15 year old younger sister. She is now a freshman in High School and attending Catholic school her entire life. She is an avid volleyball player and enjoys spending time with friends and going to the beach. She lives with my parents in Pacific Palisades, California and has since she was born. She comes from Irish, German, Jewish, and Swedish roots but mainly was exposed to the cultures of the Irish, Catholics, and Jewish people. She attended a summer camp from the age of 5 to the age of 12 that has many interesting folk tales and traditions. The camp is pretty much run off of its lore and it is what makes it so unique. She carries the lore of St. Matthews Day Camp to this day.

 

Mary said: “There are many rubber chickens scattered all over the campus of St. Matthew’s Day Camp, but one chicken holds reign as the most powerful rubber chicken. That Chicken is name GUS. Gus is a rubber chicken with only one leg. He is considered as scared amongst the St. Matthew’s community and is held in the highest regard. Whichever age group in the camp bestows this beautiful rubber chicken, holds extreme respect over all the other age groups. Gus is an integral part of the lore of St. Matthews.”

This particular material lore has gone on for about twenty years. The actual rubber chicken is still in tact from the early 90’s. It is something that makes competition between age groups in the camp, and excites the overall morale of the camp. Gus makes the camp add meaning to nothing, but that meaning is so pure and authentic. A simple rubber chicken has become a huge deal.

I think this is lore is so original and it makes the camp stand out. It is a humorous, funny idea that has lasted so many years. I remember Gus when I was a camper and my sister experience the same folkore.

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