USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk Beliefs
Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative

A Time-Traveling Experience: Hotel From the Past

In October 1979, two couples in Dover, England, set off on a vacation together through France and Spain. The journey turned out to be one that took them to another world. When they tried to find a hotel to stay, they were struck by some posters advertising a circus. “It was a very old-fashioned circus,” Pauline recalled. “That’s why we took so much interest.” 

Further on, they did find an old-fashioned building marked “hotel.” Inside, they discovered, almost everything was made of heavy wood, and there seemed to be no evidence of modern conveniences as telephones or elevators. Their rooms were also extremely simple. There were no locks but simple wooden catches, no pillows, and the bathrooms had old-fashioned plumbing.

The next morning, when they were eating breakfast, two gendarmes entered wearing very old-fashioned caped uniforms. There was also a woman wearing a silk evening gown sitting opposite from them. “It was strange,” Pauline said. “It looked like she had just come in from a ball, but it was seven in the morning. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.” After receiving what turned out to be very bad directions to Avignon from the gendarmes (they didn’t seem to understand the word “auto-route”), the couples were astonished to pay a bill that came to only 19 francs. They left before the staffs could change their minds. 

After two weeks in Spain, the couples made a return trip through France and decided to again stay at the odd but very cheap hotel. This time, however, the hotel could not be found, even after the couples drove up and down the road three times looking for it, certain they were in the exact same spot (they saw the same circus posters). After returning to Dover, the pictures they took of the hotel did not process, as if the pictures had never been taken. Little research revealed that French gendarmes wore uniforms of that description prior to 1905.

My friend M S shared this story with me. It first appeared in “World of Strange Phenomena” by Charles Berlitz, published 1988 by Wynwood Press. The story also appeared on numerous blogs, uncredited. This story was also reported on the British TV Series “Strange But True” in 1995, Season 2, Episode 2 at 3:39.

When I asked her if she had any “ghost stories” to share with me, she said she remember she read this story somewhere a while ago. She also pulled up the thread she saw it at to help her better tell me the story. She really liked this story because it was “spooky, creepy, and mysterious”. When I asked her if she thought the story was real, she said no. Regardless, she really liked how there are so many detailed descriptions to make the story believable. I asked her why does she classify this as a “ghost story”, if there were no mentions of particular “spirits” of any deceased person. She said that the fact that the couples encountered the buildings and the people in them, but then turned out to have never existed, must be related to some form of “spirits” or ghosts from the past.

Personally, I also really enjoyed the story. I believe the reason for that is there are so many detailed descriptions, such as the names and exact locations provided. Also, the fact that there are no other evidences but merely the verbal accounts of these couples make the story more appealing; it adds a mysterious shade as there are no ways to prove its validity, while the details make it sound so realistic. I believe this is not necessarily a “ghost story”, but definitely a paranormal or supernatural story. The “time-traveling” aspect of the story also adds a science-fiction tone to the story. If the couples did travel “back in time”, then the people they saw and talked to could be considered as spirits of people of the past. However, another argument could be made that the couples simply entered another dimension, so their state should be questioned, rather than those of the dimension they entered. As it can be seen, the perception of the story can differ from person to person, depending on how they approach it.

Folk Beliefs
general

Los Penitentes

To provide some context for the following story it was collected from my grandfather on my mother’s side. He is currently 76 and the story he is telling was from when he was a young adult around the age of 21 while he was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The story contains many allusions to Hispanic themes such as  s a “Penitente” which is a person who beats himself with a whip for his sins. The story was collected over a Skype call originally in Spanish which I have translated and recorded below. I will differentiate dialogue by using “A” for my grandfather and “B” for myself. Personally I am not sure what to make of the story. It definitely shows that the religious history of New Mexico really does play a role in our storytelling as you will soon read. I also do believe that whatever my grandfather saw that night was true because he was extremely genuine during the interview and was not too sure of what to make of it himself. The interview went as follows.

B: “So Grandpa what ghost story are you telling me today”

A: “I am going to tell you about the story of me and the Penitente.”

B: “Ok sounds interesting, go ahead and tell me the story.”

A: “It started back when I was teenager, a year or two after I graduated from High School. I had been working at a mechanic shop on Central Avenue and the owner was looking to promote me cause I had been working there for a few years. So in order to see if I was ready to handle the shop by myself he told me to go ahead and takeover as manager during the night shift the next day. Now to give a little bit of a history to what happened the next day, you have to understand that the road the shop lied on was said to be haunted. Many people claimed that a spirits of los Penitentes still roamed the streets. It was said that they used to walk the road up to the church whipping themselves everyday for hours this was back before the city became what it is today. Ok now back to my story….the next day I showed up around 5pm for the shift and the manager handed over his keys and told me good luck and specifically to make sure that I was the last person out of the shop. I told him, of course, and he went ahead and left. The whole shift ran smooth, not too much business because most people tend not to need mechanics at night, so in order to save on labor expenses I told the other two guys working with me to go ahead and go home. I was closing shop a little early because I was trying to rush out to go do something which I don’t remember what it was. So I’m left alone at the shop and it’s dark outside, I don’t really remember the exact time. Now I had parked down the road a little ways because my boss got angry whenever we took up customer parking so I had somewhat of a trek to make. As I was walking I noticed another man across on the other side of the road from me walking the same direction. I didn’t think much of it but I was being cautious and watching him like anyone walking alone at night would do. That is when things began to get  very strange. As I looked across the road I noticed the man was whipping himself with some type of white rope or belt. Each time he swung it he did not even flinch which was what I thought was strange because it seemed as if he did not even feel it. Before I knew it I had accidentally followed him up the road to the church at the end. I decided to follow him secretly to see where he went which led me into the graveyard. As I watched him the man walked over to a particular grave fell onto his knees in front of it and just disappeared from sight. I instantly jumped up, half expecting him to just be hiding behind a grave…but when I went to go look for him he was nowhere to be found. All that I did find however was the white rope in front of the unmarked grave he fell in front of.”

B: “Wow did you ever find out who he was or why he was there?”

A: “Sort of… I took the rope the next day back to the priest of the church to ask him. All he could say was that the rope was a Penitente rope used back in the 1800s when Albuquerque was still under Spanish rule. He also explained to me that the unmarked graves were those of los Penitentes that lived near the church and would walk up the road whipping themselves.”

B: “And what do you make of all this?”

A: “I am still not sure with absolute certainty if I really did witness what I did. I mean I would not have believed myself either if I had not seen it with my own two eyes. But I do really think that it was a spirit of a Penitente. I don’t know perhaps he is still seeking forgiveness for his sins even in death.”

Folk Beliefs
general

A Guide in the Graveyard

Interviewer: You once mentioned that most of your family believes in ghosts — do you remember any of the specific ghost stories that your family told you?

Informant: My mother and my father along with my grandparents believed in ghosts. Let me tell you a story about my grandfather.

Interviewer: Yes, go on.

Informant: This was in the 1930s, in China, when cars were not common, and it was most common to travel by foot. He was travelling to another town by foot to do business and trade. At night, it was also common to stay at a stranger’s home and for strangers to host each other when travelers were passing by. He was attempting to find a place to stay for the night or just any sort of lodging.

Interviewer: Right. Was he able to find a place to stay?

Informant: Not quite. It was pitch black at night and he continued to walk as he was trying to look for lights as an indication of a city or even just people living in the area. Finally, he was able to see a dim light or some sort of glowing in the distance. He tried to chase and follow the light, but he realized that he seemed to be going in circles, which was confusing, since a light should lead in one direction. He followed the light the entire night. He knew he was in some sort of trouble, since as he continued to walk towards the light, the light was always in front of him and never got any closer, but he still was going in circles. He was afraid to go in any other direction that wasn’t towards the light, since there was no moon out, and he couldn’t see anything else but that light. Once it was bright enough out, he realized that he had been wandering in a graveyard all night. His footsteps were all over the place, following a distant light that led him in circles in the graveyard.

Interviewer: Did he perceive the light as a ghost?

Informant: He perceived it as a ghost, especially because of the location.

 

Analysis

The informant does not believe it is a ghost, although the original narrator who experienced the story believes it is a ghost. The informant does not believe in ghosts, contrary from how ghost belief is quite prevalent in Asian cultures. The informant believes it could have been some sort of gas burning; however, that still does not explain why the informant’s grandfather had been walking in circles in a graveyard — that aspect of it still is unexplained.

As seen from this story, the reliability of the narrator is often questioned, because the narrator (informant’s grandfather) must have been very tired from a long day of travel. This story also portrays how we often use ghosts as a way to explain the unexplainable. It’s quite interesting how the narrator never reached his destination of the light, and how it was always just in reach, but unobtainable. The nature of the ghost in the story is unclear — the ghost didn’t seem to harm the man in any way, yet simply confused the man or was just having fun or teasing the man in a way. The ghost was not vocal or very corporal, and had more of a quiet presence. The ghost was also more of an anonymous ghost; it wasn’t clear if the original narrator had any relationship with the ghost. The environment this story is set in is very common for ghost stories — nighttime, on a moonless night, and in a graveyard, where the realm of the dead and living may be much closer together.

My opinion on the ghost story is that if everything stated is accurate and true, then it is believable as a ghost story. It’s extremely odd that a “light” would lead someone in circles. Once again, as mentioned earlier, the reliability of the narrator is what needs to be considered quite a bit. The fact that the original narrator had wandered around in circles throughout the entire night also could point to a spirit possession side to the story — it could be possible that the spirit was controlling him internally to wander in circles in the graveyard, rather than the spirit leading him in the direction to wander aimlessly in circles.

general
Narrative
Signs

The Jeepers Creepers House Ghost

The interviewee wishes to remain anonymous, but he is a single father of two daughters, and he currently lives in Southern California. He currently works as a FedEx driver, and he recalls his personal memories of ghosts that he encountered when he was living in Victorville, CA

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials EL, while the interviewee’s responses are noted as LB

EL: I’ve heard from my mom that you have encountered quite a number of ghosts in your lifetime. Can you tell me about them?

LB: This is my story when I bought my new house in Victorville, CA. The address of the haunted house was 11594 Beconia Road, Adelanto, CA 92301. This was the first house that I bought for me and two daughters and when we first moved in, everything was very nice. However, after one year, we started hearing strange noises in the house as if someone was walking on the second floor. One time I was talking to my oldest daughter on the first floor and then suddenly we would hear noises as if someone was walking. I asked her “ Who is here?”

LB’s daughter: “No one, Dad. It’s just you and me! Dad, to be honest, I’ve been hearing these same weird noises everyday for the past year whenever I’m by myself in the house!”

LB: At first, I didn’t pay much attention to this story of her’s because I thought she was making things up and messing with me. Then, when I was living by myself, I started to hear noises as if someone was walking down the stairs. Another time, I came home after a long day at work and I told my two daughters to not walk at night and make noise because I was exhausted. It was around midnight and I thought I heard someone running down the stairs, so I turned on the lights and I walked down the stairs to the first floor of the house to check out the noise. I looked in the kitchen, living room, garage, and there was nothing. At first I thought it was one of my daughters, so I opened the doors and decided to head upstairs to see if it was one of my daughters. At this time, I saw a girl wearing a white gown and she was running fast up the stairs, and then I started chasing her because I was curious as to who this was. I was chasing after this white ghostly girl until she went into my youngest daughter’s room. I went into my youngest daughter’s room and asked her “Hey why are you running around the house? I thought I told you to not make any noise in the house because I’m tired and I want to sleep!”

LB’s daughter #2: “Dad, what the h** are you talking about? I’ve been sleeping this whole time!”

LB: At this time, I noticed that she wasn’t wearing a white gown. She was wearing some shorts and a little shirt. I realized it wasn’t her, so I went to my other’s daughter’s room and asked her if she was the one going down the stairs, and she also told me no. I went into my room, but I left the door open and grabbed a shoe because I thought my daughters were messing with me. I was looking out the door just in case, and then I saw that same girl running down the stairs fast, and as soon as I saw her, I jumped out of my bed and I started chasing her again. I once again went downstairs and tried looking for her, but she was nowhere to be seen. This was the first incident. Another time, I came home really late from work. I would say it was 11:30 p.m.. Then, I heard a strong wind noise inside the house. Like “wishhhhh, wishhh, wooosh, wiiishhh”. As if all the windows were open and the wind was coming into the house. I looked, but all the curtains were closed. This was crazy!! I was looking for the open window, but none of the windows were open. I thought to myself, “What the h** is happenning?”, but I was too tired and I didn’t pay too much attention to this and to my room. However, when I was walking up to my bedroom, I noticed that half the house had this crazy wind noise, and the other half was completely calm and quiet. This was the second incident. The third incident happened when I was eating with my girlfriend. I heard a weird noise again as if someone was walking on the second floor and I asked my girlfriend if there was someone else in the house. She told me no one other you and me are in this house. I thought to myself: “How strange!!”. I asked my girlfriend to go check to see if what was making this strange noise, but she was too scared to check. We both contemplated checking the noise, but were both too scared to go check. Then, at night, we finally decided to go up and check out this strange noise, but nobody was there. We checked out the second floor and found that this small door in the laundry that led to the attic was open. “It was scary!” A couple days later, I noticed that my daughter was looking weird. She confessed that she had been hearing weird noises all over the house: her room, my room, and her sister’s room. She claimed that the noises once again sounded like someone was walking or watching her. One time, she was combing her hair and she saw a shadow come out of my room. She thought that if she could ignore the shadows, they wouldn’t bother her. However, one time, she turned around and the shadow was right behind her, but it turned into a figure of a man with wings and horns on his head and then he started to crawl down the stairs. She said it resembled the creature from Jeepers Creepers. This ghost started to bother my daughter and probably possessed her because sometimes she would suddenly start talking like a man. I tried to find a priest, pastor, or anyone who would come to the house to bless it to help my daughter, but no one wanted to come because no one knew us at the time. One day, I decided to go to church and I met a friend at church, and I told this friend about the ghost possessions. Then, one day, this friend brought 13-14 other people and a pastor to my house to help me and pray. When all these people started to pray, the house started to let out weird creaking noises from the wall, and it seemed like the house was going to fall apart because the wood was creaking and weird ghostly noises were coming out of the wall. Then, my daughter suddenly started pointing and hitting these girls who came to pray and claimed that they were bad and that she knew what bad things they were doing, and that karma would come hurt them if they didn’t stop. I knew this was legit because my daughter’s eyes were closed and she somehow knew which girls she was talking about. She also possessed characteristics of someone who was possessed. After praying for awhile, the noise died down, and everything became normal. The pastor then told me to not let the devil into the house anymore and to do more good deeds. I have since moved out of that house, but I have talked to the current house owners and they told me that ever since I have moved out, 4 families have already moved in and out within 3 months because they can’t stand it. These families also had weird things happen to them where windows and doors would randomly open. This is what happened to me and this was very scary!

Conclusion:

This story was extremely scary and as I was listening to him tell this story, I could feel the creeps going up my body. Also, this guy claims that he has the ability to see ghosts and attract ghosts because he also told me another story about a more recent ghost encounter. In the more recent ghost encounter, it was also similar to this story where he moved to a new house and there were weird noises and occurrences that happened to him and his family.  Also, since he is religious and believes in God and prays, I personally feel like he wouldn’t lie about this story. Most importantly, the ideas of being good and not doing bad deeds such as cursing, lying, etc, seem to play an important role in this story that stand as the key for warding off all bad entities such as ghosts.

general
Narrative
Signs

“Yeehaw” the Mirror Ghost

The interviewee wishes to remain anonymous, but she is female and currently works at Paris Baguette in Arcadia, CA. This is a story about the time that she saw a ghost in her house.

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials EL, while the interviewee’s responses are noted as AG.

EL: I remember when you told me about the ghost encounter you had with your brother in your grandmother’s house. Could you tell me about it again?

AG: This ghost story was witness by both me and my brother. This happened about a year ago when we were at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother has always told us that her house is haunted and that she has seen ghost encounter many times, but we never believed her until this encounter. My grandma claims that she encounters flickering lights, random shadows, and even weird wind noises that rush through the house. She has also claimed to have seen a cowboy ghost ever so often in the reflection of the mirrors in the house. However, me and my brother always felt like she was just making things up since she was getting old and her eyesight has been worsening over the years. On this particular day, me and brother were playing around the house and my brother being my brother decided to play a joke on me. I was taking a selfie and trying to comb my hair in the restroom when he suddenly came up behind me and screamed “BOO” into my ear to scare me. I obviously screamed because he scared the living sh*t out of me. A couple mins later, I was still standing in the same position and I thought I could hear him creeping up. I pretended like I didn’t know that he was coming, but strangely enough instead of him scaring me, I could feel a slight cold breeze on the nape of my neck. I turned around to see who it was, but there was no one there behind me. At first, I didn’t think too much of this, and walked out of the bathroom. At this moment as I was walking out of the bathroom door, I looked over my shoulders to check my reflection in the hallway mirror and suddenly in the mirror I saw a reflection of a ghost who looked like a cowboy following me. I immediately turned around in horror, but once again I saw no one behind me. Initially, I thought it was my brother playing a prank on me again and I called for him, but he came running from the living room. It definitely was not him! I was scared but it seemed like the ghost disappeared for the moment, so I temporarily forgot about it. Then, later at night, when me and my brother were just chilling in the living room, the lights started flickering and then suddenly a large gust of wind came rushing into the room. This wouldn’t have been so abnormal if it weren’t for the fact that all the windows and doors were closed. This kept going on until me and my brother decided that we had enough and ran out of the house. Ever since this incident, me and my brother have avoided going to my grandmother’s house!

Conclusion:

This story was told to me very casually during one of my work shifts at Paris Baguette. The informant was my shift leader during this shift and this shift was going slow and there weren’t many customers so then she decided to tell us some of her ghost encounters to past time. I personally believe this story because I was listening to the story and I watched her facial expressions the entire time and it didn’t seem like she was making up the story.  She genuinely seemed scared by this “ghost encounter”. This also wasn’t one of the first ghost stories she has told us, so it seems like she was not making this story up. Although I’m not sure why this ghost appeared next to her, she told me that her family naturally attracts a lot of supernatural entities and they often have ghost encounters and there is often unexplained activities in the house. I also personally believe this story because as she told this story, all the hairs on my arm stood up and a cold gust of wind passed by us. Although I believe the majority of this story, the one part that still makes me question this story is the reasoning behind the cowboy ghost. I just don’t get why the ghost was in the figure of the cowboy and I would like to know why it was a cowboy of all things. In the end, the only possible assumption I can make is that maybe this ghost could be an ancestor that used to live in this house or his remains might be buried under this house.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general

A Child’s Connections

The individual who told the following story grew up in Vilnius, Lithuania before moving to San Francisco when she was about five years old.

 

“My older brother, when he was a toddler, he would walk around, well he would be walked in a stroller. Outside. On the avenue around our house. One day our nanny and my brother were walking and they went past some apartment buildings, and my brother started sobbing uncontrollably. He’s normally, or he was normally, like, a normal kid. Especially, at like, he was four during this. He would have temper tantrums if something happened but he wouldn’t burst out crying. So the nanny was really confused but she calmed him down… um. But he kept like pointing to this window in the apartment building. He was crying and screaming, but there was literally nothing there. So, she was like that was weird. But on their way back by the apartment he did it again, to the exact same window. She didn’t understand because there was nothing and no one there, but he was freaking out and he really desperately wanted to get away from the window and the building. And then she told my mom later that night and my mom got really freaked out because that morning in the newspaper she had read that someone had committed suicide from jumping out of a window in that apartment building. So, for whatever reason he felt some sort of presence that disturbed him, that the grown woman couldn’t feel.”

 

I asked if she believed in ghosts. She responded that she believed in spirits, but not in “ooooooh oooooh oooooooh” ghosts (she made this sounds while waving her arms beside her). She further offered that she believed that people had souls and spirits. I further questioned about growing up in Lithuania, if there were any cultural patterns of believing in what she believed in. She commented that especially around Christmas time they would, and still do, leave an empty chair with a plate of food at the table for all the people who have passed. They would also light candles to guide the spirits on their return to the family.

 

A factor of this story that stood out to me is the role of the child. The individual made an effort to explain that the kid felt something, some “presence” which the older adult nanny could not. This is a recurring case in many stories I have heard, ones where a younger child has some perceived connection with different things than adults do. Almost as if most of us grow out of this connection as our brains develop. Also notable is the concept of a lingering should after a suicide. As I have learned, ghosts are perceived most from those individuals who died in ways unnatural, such as a suicide. This element also holds consistent with many tales I have heard, yet they both came from a individual’s personal story. I find this blend of individual narrative and common themes quite interesting.

Folk Beliefs
general

Death is Coming

The individual who recounted this story was fairly eager to tell it and had an extremely detailed recalling of these past events. Her family moved a lot when they were young, and this story took place when they moved from Connecticut to London following a job her father had been offered. The story took place as follows:

 

“ So.. when I was five I moved to London with my family. And we moved into a house, that was this cute little, quaint British house. Um.. and….. (sighs)… that was like a week after we moved there because at first, we had stayed in a hotel, but then we moved into this house and I had my own room. It was like the size of a closet, this tiny little room. It was like pink, with butterflies, and rainbows everywhere, as you might imagine (chuckling). And.. um… I loved it and I was really excited to be living there. But, something happened on my first night there. So.. while I was sleeping, I went to sleep normally, and then I woke up at midnight screaming and my parents ran into my room. They calmed me down, they had assumed I had a nightmare, so.. they put me back to sleep and I was totally fine. Um…. The next day it happened again, at midnight, and they came in and they were confused, you know. They didn’t know why I kept having these nightmares. So.. um.. They put me back to sleep and I was fine, always after I would wake up screaming maybe five minutes would go by and I would go back to sleep and be fine. So this went on for like a week and they were worried because, obviously, why is there five-year-old child waking up screaming. Um.. and.. so they asked me, ya know, what I was dreaming of and I would always say “Oh no, I wasn’t dreaming, I wasn’t asleep.” And they were like, “What?” So the next night they watched me fall asleep, I was sleeping, and then I would suddenly wake up and scream. So they were like, ”[her name] you were sleeping, [like] what were you dreaming of?” And I was insistent that I wasn’t sleeping but that I was um… talking to this lady who came into my room every night. And they were like.. I’m sorry, what? Who is coming into your room every night. (As she is telling this she is chuckling a little and closes her eyes often as if to remember more clearly) So I described her, I wasn’t afraid of her, I didn’t know like who she was. And I can like literally see her in my mind right now, I know exactly what she looks like. But… she was this like maybe 70 or 80 year old woman, but she like looked younger than  she was. She had like long grey hair and she was wrinkly, obviously. And… she would always come to me and sit on the edge of my bed and talk to me. Umm.. and.. uh.., this is a creep.., uh.. okay… She always every night like wouldn’t say anything, we would have conversations but she wouldn’t be speaking. Until she would say this one sentence, every day, every night, which was just “Death is coming.” Like, literally just that sentence. And I (laughing sigh), I remember  her saying this to me, but anyway so my parents were like okay, what, did you talk to this lady? And I was like, “Yah I don’t talk, but she always tells me, ya know, ‘death is coming’,” and they were like “Oh Shit,” like why is our five-year-old having these creepy dreams. But the really scary part was that it was quite literally always at midnight. Like my parents one night check it out, they like watch the clock change to midnight and I woke up screaming. So… they moved me to a different room, so, they like original guest room in our house, it became my new room. And I slept there every night and I was completely fine after that. Um… and they basically brushed it off as night terrors or something.. because that can have a constant time. Um… and that makes sense. But then the creepiest part is that my cousins and my aunt and uncle came to visit us and, um , so they wouldn’t have to pay for a hotel they stayed with us. And um… my cousins, I have three cousins, stayed in my old room. And at midnight my younger girl cousin woke up screaming and she told us that she saw this lady… which is so creepy!! So obviously then after that night they went and stayed in a hotel, um… No one else ever slept in that room again. Obviously it wasn’t enough to like make us move or anything. My mom to this day, like, thinks it some kind of weird creepy paranormal thing. My dad doesn’t believe that at all, he’s like “I don’t know, something weird, It’s just a coincidence they both had like a similar nightmare.” But it was just so creepy because at the time, that was probably three years later, so I was um.. like 8 or 9. Um… and right now I can still remember what she looks like, but my cousin described her and it was literally the same person. And I never, obviously, told her about it. So that is my story. “

 

After the individual told me her story, I asked what she thought it was. She said she doesn’t think there are ghosts that stick around and haunt you, but she believes in spirits that can linger in a location. That is what she identified this woman as. She said there is no other explanation than something paranormal, coincidence is too far-fetched. I also asked her about any history of the house that she knew of. She responded that it was an old house that had been built pre-WWII, and that the street had had bad damage from bombings during that period. Every couple of houses had been destroyed, but the one they lived in remained standing.

 

I find interesting in this story a couple of characteristics. The first of which was the time period of the recurring sightings of the old woman, always at midnight. This, as I have learned, can be described as a liminal time period, directly between two days, not truly belonging to either the day before or the one after. Many ghosts appear in this time of day because of the odd boundary it may form with something that isn’t quite definable. Another aspect that is interesting is the history of the house. Dating back to a heavy period of war, there could have been a number of individuals who passed away in or around the house and had remained in connection to it.

Folk Beliefs
general

Haunted Princeton House

Background:

This story is from a friend who lives in a very old house in New Jersey. Instead of being a traditional story that has been passed down, it is a personal experience of a ghostly presence.

Collection:

“So, my house in Princeton is super old basically from when Princeton started, historical, and creepy as shit. It was just me and my sister and I needed to go in the basement to restart breakers because the lights went out. It wasn’t working so I walk back up the stairs and the temperature drops like 20 degrees on stairs. The lights turn off and on and so then I go back down, and the breaker was off, so the lights shouldn’t have flickered.

The same night, I go upstairs, and I have this plush Nemo in my sisters’ room. So, I’m looking for my sister, like shouting her name and looking around for her. I go into her room and sees Nemo on the bed, and I turns to mirror, and in the mirror, I see Nemo on the floor which freaks me out. I leave her room and see my sister in the kitchen, when I ask her says she couldn’t hear me yelling her name and I basically freaked out again.”

Analysis:

This story is not really a story about a ghost being explicitly seen but more of a ghostly presence in a house. These are very common in American culture and especially in horror movies. Stories like these are generally what start off horror movies, ones where unexplained things happen that scare the people living in the haunted houses. The fact that the house is from the founding of the town also lends itself to be a house that people think is haunted. Most of the houses which are haunted are from the founding of towns or where there is an unknown history of the house. The uncertainty of the history of the house leads to the feeling that something bad could’ve happened in the house and therefore the house has the possibility of being haunted.

Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative

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
Legends

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.

 

 

 

 

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