USC Digital Folklore Archives / November, 2013
Tales /märchen

Sunnyvale Ghost: A Story Behind It

This story is told by a girl who grew up in Sunnyvale, California.


“Ok, so like in Sunnyvale, there’s this “Toys R Us,” and it’s haunted. Like, you can look it up, it’s haunted. Anyways, this is the story I know behind it. So, Sunnyvale is known for its cherry orchards, and there was this, like, big cherry orchard. And um, something happened…the daughter of the owner of the orchard was killed. I think it was because she wanted to marry someone, and the father was like ‘No, you can’t do that,’  because the guy was an Indian or something – Native American – and so she killed herself by hanging herself in the orchard. Then later, the cherry orchard was torn down because the father was full of grief or something. And then, um, the “Toys R Us” was built right on top of it, like right where the cherry orchard used to be. So there are all these accounts of ghost stuff in the “Toys R Us” now, cuz the girl…she lives in the bathroom, in one of the bathrooms. So like, the faucets turn on and off without anyone there, and like it’s always so weird because when you drive by it [the store], the lights are always on – like, all the time…even at night, when it’s closed, because of the ghost. And one time, my mom was walking by one of the aisles and she walked by this toy that wasn’t automated or censored or anything, and the toy just turned on. Like it turned on and started moving all by itself. It was so weird. So we think it was the ghost, but I don’t know.”


This narrative seems very typical of a ghost story. It has the motif of tragic lovers, two people who were separated due to racial differences. The suicide at the now-haunted site is also very typical. The spirit of the forlorn girl now haunts the toy store built on the site of the orchard.

I collected this story one sunny afternoon, so the atmosphere was not what you would typically expect during a ghost story. This probably partially contributed to the girl’s casual and nonchalant attitude while telling this story. She seemed to take it very lightly and just told the story in a matter-of-fact sort of tone. However, when telling the part about how her mom walked by a toy that turned on by itself, she got more animated and into the story. She claims that she “believes in ghosts as a joke.”

It is also interesting to note that she explains, “This is the story I know behind it,” meaning that she acknowledges the fact that may be other stories behind the same haunting.

Folk Beliefs

House Spirit

“We’ve just moved into a new house in July. It was an old house. We live here temporarily as our house was going under renovation and it would take a while to finish it.

It was the second month until something weird started happening. I have my own bedroom on the second floor and one night I just heard my two dogs barking non-stop for the whole night. I looked out the window and yelled at them several times but they never stopped until the sun came up. I thought it was just some stray cats running around our field. Then one night, I experienced some odd feelings while I was asleep. I am very easy person to fall asleep but that night, I just couldn’t. I went to toilet many times and tried to fall asleep. Every time I was about to fall into unconsciousness I felt like my whole body went numb. It was harder to breathe and I couldn’t move at all. Every time that happened I tried to fight it off and when I was able to move again I felt like the whole thing was just a dream. This dream though, kept repeating itself for the next hour or more. By 5am my whole body was covered in sweat and I had this piercing headache. I ended up sleeping with my mother and got through the night.

This happened a few times before I realized it wasn’t just a bad dream. I finally told my mother about it. She never experienced it before, but she believed me. We consulted many friends and people around us and one suggested that it could have been house’s spirit that was bothering me. I didn’t understand why it had to be me, not anyone else in the family. Then as we did researches into this, we found that the bed was in the wrong direction- it was headed south and that was the direction where dead people laid. Furthermore, it was commonly believed that house’s spirits need a place to stay so that they can take care of the household.”

In Thailand we call it “San Pra-Poom”- it is in a form of small wooden house with a little decorations and is usually located outside the house. The spirit that lives here offers protection to the house. Many houses including mine have it but the informant’s did not, so she concluded that either the spirit might want to tell her that they need somewhere to live or that she was actually disturbed by outsider’s spirit. It made sense that her house’s spirit couldn’t protect her because there was no place for them.



Grandma’s Ghost

                Well basically, my grandma used to live in my house and she had a dog that would sit with her on the couch every, single day and followed her around and literally did like everything with her.  It was like he was like her baby.  And then my grandma ended up passing away.  She had a seizure in our house and was rushed to the hospital and ended up dying in the hospital but we still feel like her spirit is still in our house cus’ she lived there so long before she passed away.  Then, um, one day when I was like really sad and thinking about my grandma I was like sitting in my room and I was literally looking at a picture of my .. and my dog came, uh that dog came up stairs who he never like comes up stairs with me.  He always stays downstairs with my like parents and he came up stairs and all of a sudden just started like barking at the corner of my room.  And um I sleep now in, well when I was at my house, I would sleep in the room where my grandma used to sleep and he just started barking at the corner of the room for like ten minutes and wouldn’t stop barking at the corner of the room.  Then started to do his little cry thing and just ended up laying down and staring at the corner of the room and there was nothing there and he stayed there for like thirty minutes and just ended up leaving, but I don’t know.  I felt like she was like in the room and he was like seeing her there and it was really weird, but ya…that’s it.

                This ghost story was told in a ghost story telling session, but the orator was unsure whether or not to call it a ghost story, but she truly believed that the spirit of her grandma was there.  She did not mention the word “ghost” when talking about the occurrence, but instead used “spirit”.  This story lines up perfectly with the fact that most of the ghosts people see are of family members that recently died.  Also the ghost of the grandma was experienced in the bedroom where she used to sleep, a common motif found in ghost stories.  Another interesting motif shown in the ghost story was that the dog was barking and sensing the ghost and possibly saw the ghost, while she was not able to see the ghost.  I do believe that the ghost of the grandma was in the room with her that night.


Dad’s Haunted House

My dad, Andrew Nunes, was able to share with me his experience inside his childhood home.

Andrew: “Well, um, I was home at my house in Ferndale. And…uh nobody else was there. It was a big old Victorian house and it was always making weird noises and you can hear wind blow through it and all kinds of crazy stuff. But one night, I’m lying there on the couch, and I know nobody’s home. And uh you know I’m from big family. And so I hear the front door, plain as day, open up. Someone comes in, slams the door and I hear someone run up the stairs. And it was so clear that I just figured it had to be, you know, one of our brothers and sisters that had run up the stairs. But I’m waiting for them to come back down, usually they’d run upstairs and then come back down, so I’m sitting there and had been a while like… So then I started yelling, ‘Whose here?!’, you know, cause I know somebody’s been in. And so I’m like, ‘Ah dang it’. So I go up the stairs, and I go through every room and nobody (strong emphasis on “nobody”) is up there. Nobody had come in. And then I’m like…I could feel the hairs on my arm stand up and on the back of my neck. And I’m like, “it’s that ghost in the house again”. And I’m like freaking out man.  So I’m like, I go back down and turn the TV. up really loud and I sit on the couch like, ‘What are they going to do to me next time?’ (chuckles during this sentence).  And, you know, everybody has a ghost story about that house about something happening. Um, you know, somebody creaking the floor, somebody slamming a door. It happened so often, and there was so many people living in the house, that you would think it was somebody else and then you’d figure out, ‘Hey that happened to me too’. But nobody was there. So I’d heard about the guy who used to lived there and that he had, uh, went for a walk on the beach, and no one ever saw him again. So we always figured it must be him haunting the house. But he never really did anything mean or anything so (starts laughing) so we went on with our little ghost and you know, ‘Hey it’s the ghost again’. And uh nobody worried too much about it.”


What was striking to me was the way in which my dad told the story. He seemed to be telling as though it was a joke or an anecdote rather than something that caused him fear. It was also amusing to hear that everyone in his household new about the ghost but just accepted its presence as almost a mundane occurrence. He even began to chuckle and laugh during his explanation of the story, almost as though if it were only a silly memory rather than a traumatizing event. His family even had their own legend of why the house was haunted with the story of the previous owner going to the beach only to never return.

In his story, I picked up on some motifs that occur in many ghost stories. For example, the story takes place in his Victorian house, which immediately brings to mind a house that is gothic in architecture and is something that has been around for many generations. There was also the fact that the previous owner mysteriously vanished. With this fact in mind, my dad’s family believed that old owner was the cause of the paranormal activity occurring throughout the house. This seems to be motif that occurs in most ghost stories, the man who does not die a, so called, “good” death and, as a result, wanders the earth in the form of an apparition. The motif of the ghosts making noises was also present, as he heard the door open and the floor creaking, almost as if there was someone actually present, even though the house was empty.


Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery

“So it was early December and my dad took ma and a couple friends to Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery which was about 25 minutes away from my house. I was in 7th grade and had heard Bachelors grove was one of the most haunted cemeteries in the United States, so I wanted to go. Umm… the cemetery itself is located a mile within a forest preserve that is close to a quiet road. It was dusk when we walked down the long path to the cemetery. Once we arrived we walked around and looked at different tombstones. Many of them had been damaged or knocked over since the cemetery went out of commission in the early 20th century. I remember coming across a grave with the name Rippet engraved on it. I saw a penny that was very shiny, like brand new, but was dated 1900. I decided to take it. Eventually, when we had left and were walking down the path, I casually mentioned the penny. My dad, whom had a summer job at a cemetery when he was in high school and had had a bad experience with taking things from the cemetery, told me I should go back and replace the penny on the grave. I brought one of my friends with me half a mile down the path back through the gates of the cemetery. As we crossed the thresholds of the cemetery the winds howled up and the night seemed instantly darker. I threw the penny back on the grave and on my way out I noticed a tall figure in black plain clothing standing off in the forest beyond the fence to my right. Me and my friend, who also saw the figure, ran down the path and back to the car. We told everyone about tour story. I still don’t know if what I saw was real, but i do believe it was a ghost.”

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is notoriously known as one of the most haunted cemeteries in the United States. The cemetery holds many early Illinois frontiersman of the early 19th century. After the event, my informant researched previous occurrences at the cemetery and found several other accounts of people witnessing a tall man in 19th century style black clothing standing beyond the Northern fence in the forest. One of the other stories even states that three of the four witnesses died within a year of the incident. Other illusions seen include vanishing prairie houses. The cemetery gets its name, however, from more recent events. The name Bachelor’s Grove comes from the unknown number of young men whose bodies were hidden in the pond on its grounds by Chicago gangsters in the early 1920s and 30s. The most common apparition regarding this history is of a phantom car that stops on the road, right next to the creek, just as the mobsters would have done when burying their victims.

Personally believing in ghosts, I too believe the story. My informant is a local to the area and is a very credible source. The fact that he witnessed an event that is similar to what others have seen in the same area makes the story very believable. Growing up in Illinois, Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is notorious for being haunted and having a credible first hand account further proves this. Regardless of beliefs, Bachelor’s Grove is a spooky place to be after dark.




Death on Sorority Row

I wanted to get a more personal story stemming from the college experience. So much of the college experience is influenced by Greek life, so when a girl from my hall told me this story I had to write it down. The context is that we talked about why we decided on USC and what extracurricular activities we are involved in. We then started talking about the Greek system at USC and I asked if she rushed and got this story in return.

“I didn’t rush at USC because of this story my sister told me. There was this girl uhh let’s call her Victoria. She was a junior at a university in the South. I assume University of Florida. Anyways, it was the end of junior year and elections were going on for the girl who would be the president the next upcoming year. Victoria made cookies. Victoria made signs and posters. Victoria… haha also slept with half of the neighboring frat houses, but that was “in order to establish a social connection with the top frats on campus” as my sister says. She goes to U of F, proud as fuck of it too. I digress, Victoria did all these things to claim her spot as president of said sorority and she would have won too. That’s of the girl she ran against hadn’t rigged the whole race. The other girl, Amber had some of her sisters take a few votes from Victoria. Ya, beats me why they still did it the old school way with paper and junk. It seems like you could do it with an iPad or something. But ya her sister took a few votes away from Victoria, it turns out she was only short by a single vote. After, losing she went crazy, gave away all her stuff, dropped her Major… they should’ve known she was going to commit suicide. All the warning signs, ya know? She hung herself from the chandelier in the center of the sorority house. The tale goes that around Election Day, she comes out from hiding and runs the show. Sometimes she throws things or locks doors. I think my sister said something about locking all the members out of the main sitting room where they do all the voting. She’s just really pissy about dying and losing I guess. I didn’t want to deal with any crazy bitches though. I’m not trying to die for some “sisters” if that makes sense.”

I think this story, besides its digressions, turned out to convey a hidden side of Greek life in college. It was interesting to hear and explore. It made me think about how ghosts only appear if they have a bad death, and Christianity says suicide is bad. Being a Greek affiliated house, I would assume it was founded under Christian values.  Also, the ideas of poltergeist and a woman ghost were examined in this story. There was some humor in the fact that Victoria plays tricks on the girls, but isn’t a harmful soul. Embodying the classical motif of the female ghost, the idea of Victoria haunting a sorority seems reasonable.


Bloody Competition

My friend and I were staying up late on a Saturday night, studying together at Leavey Library. It was half past eleven, and my friend, needing a break from studying for her biology midterm next Monday, whispered, “Hey.” She pulled up her chair closely to mine, and began to let her distressed emotions out, bemoaning the fact that despite hours of studying, she just couldn’t absorb all the information she had just studied.

To distract her from the stress on midterms, I asked whether she knew any ghost stories. Well, it probably wasn’t the best way to console her, but she pondered for a moment. “I know one,” she whispered, and began her story.

“I read this once in a Korean ghost stories collection book—you’ve probably heard of it. So there was a student, a high school student, who studied really hard all the time so that she could be the top of her class. But no matter how hard she studied, she was always behind the first place and was in the second place. Have you heard of this story?” I vaguely remembered several stories that began in a similar way but wasn’t sure, so I shook my head no. “Anyway, one day she was studying as usual, and after class she was on her way home. But on her way home, she encountered an old grandma—a really creepy-looking grandma, who asked her: ‘Would you like to be at the top of your class?’”

“The girl, surprised that the grandma would ask her such a question so fittingly, said yes. Then the grandma said that if the girl wanted to be a valedictorian, she would have to drop blood on the toilet for one hundred days—” “Wait, what kind of blood?” “Any kind of blood, like animal blood.” “How much?” “Just enough blood not to flood the toilet but on one condition that the girl must not look at the toilet seat while she is dropping the blood. Desperate to be the top of her class, she took the offer.”

“Every day after class, the girl caught a rat, killed it and dropped its blood on the toilet, careful not to look at the toilet seat. But as she caught more and more rats, she could no longer find any more rats. Realizing that she had just ‘run out’ of rats, she even killed her pet cat and her pet dog as a sacrifice. On the hundredth day, she literally didn’t have anything else to kill—so she decided to cut her own finger and drop her blood down the toilet. But after 99 days of repeating the ritual, she suddenly got curious as to why the grandma insisted that she couldn’t look at the toilet seat, and decided to take a peek. So she turned her eyes ever so slightly, and guess what she found—” she paused. “What?” “The grandma, with her mouth widely open, ready to drink the blood that the girl had offered!”

After my friend finished her story, I asked her whether she thought the grandma was actually a ghost. She whispered, “I think so—it must be! Otherwise, how could she be inside the toilet drinking blood?” We sat silently for a while, thinking about the story. I felt a slight goose bump on my arms. “So did the girl manage to get in the first place?” I whispered. “I don’t know. The story just ended with the girl discovering the grandma…Yeah, it’s freaky.”

This story about a girl relying on a violent and extreme means to be the top of her class is not at all surprising in a country like South Korea, where academic competition is extremely intense. According to a study by the Korean Statistics Institute, 39.2 percent of suicidal thoughts amongst teenagers in Korea arise from academic competition (“Adolescent Suicide Rate”). It is interesting to see that such a phenomenon is more commonly associated with females, rather than males, and this seems to be the case because from my observation, females in general tend to get more easily jealous of others than their male counterparts.

It is no surprise, then, that my friend brought up the ghost story at such fitting time and setting, as at the time of the storytelling she was extremely frustrated by her upcoming midterms. My friend was complaining about how difficult and frequently administered the biology and chemistry midterms were, being administered every three weeks or so. She was under the intense pressure of having to outdo her peers, repeatedly telling me how in science classes, it’s a win-or-lose situation: either everyone does well and is satisfied with the score, or everyone does poorly so the grade curve goes up. Under such intense pressure, she almost felt compelled to tell the ghost story where the protagonist was one whom she could identify with at an intimate level. Therefore it seems that the story almost reflects her mental state: the pressure to perform well on her upcoming exams, as well as her concerns that other students would outdo her no matter how hard she studies. In addition, though ghost stories usually cause psychological distress, this story ironically seemed to be cathartic for my distressed friend who, by retelling the story, let her frustrations out through the portrayal of the protagonist who, too, was completely overwhelmed by studying and the pressure of having to do better on the exams than her fellow classmates.

Although the story did lack a definite conclusion, it did conjure up a scary mood, thanks to the setting at which the story was told. At the time, it was about 11:30 at night and we were in the library, which demands complete silence and is generally known to be one of the more haunted places on college campuses because its archive of antiquated collections are a reminder of both happy and tragic past eras, and we were whispering so as not to distract other students from studying. In addition to the setting, our whispers helped create the creepy mood, which was also well fit for storytelling.


“Adolescent Suicide Rate Increases by 57%.” Herald Economics. N.p., 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 12

Nov. 2013. <>.



Blackbeard on the Outer Banks

Leslie Pratt’s Story: as told on a Wednesday afternoon, sitting on the steps by the Student Union in the Campus Center around 1:30pm

Background: Leslie is from Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a freshman biology major at USC, a white, 18-19 year-old girl. I met her through my sorority Delta Gamma.

Leslie: So basically, uh, this story’s about Blackbeard’s legend. He’s, uh, known as like a really famous pirate, maybe the most famous pirate there was, and um, basically the story is that he was, like, killed, um, in a battle in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. That’s, like, where I grew up so I kind of know the story. And um, basically when he was killed in battle, he was beheaded, and then it says like, as the legend goes on, um, his head was like hung from the bowsprit, of like one of the ships, so in the front of the ship his head just kind of like, laid there, so it wouldn’t see it. And they threw his body into the water, and the like legend surrounding that is his body swam around the boat three times and, um, his head was never found. So, um (long pause), yeah and the rest of that, um, no one knows, like, who like kept Blackbeard’s head. And um, even like when I was in school the legend was like, it was like turned into a cup and no one knows like, who like has the cup with his head. So that’s just like, kind of like the story of it. Kind of like no one knows like what actually happened to him or if he was even, like, killed in battle. And when he apparently died he like swam around the boat three times for some reason and like, and like, no one can like find his treasure because it was apparently like buried somewhere in North Carolina but like no one can find it. So that’s like kind of the legend of Blackbeard

Me: Where’d you hear the story?

Leslie: Basically, honestly like just throughout school. Like we always like took trips to the Outer Banks and like to the beach, so like, and then like we would like, school trips to like museums and they would always be like, ‘oh, have you heard of Blackbeard?’ So it was really like, relevant in North Carolina, so it’s just like the common legend everyone knew of.

Me: That’s so cool! And do you believe it? Do you believe Blackbeard’s there?

Leslie: Um, (laughs), probably not honestly. Apparently, like, when he died, it took like, um, a lot of gun wounds to like, take him down. That’s why everyone thinks like, if he did swim around the boat three times, after he was beheaded, like, if anyone was to do it, it was him. So that’s why like, everyone kind of thinks that.

Reaction: Though Leslie says she probably doesn’t believe the legend, it seems as though part of her wants to believe it’s true, maybe even just so she has a cool story to share about her hometown. Blackbeard is a very well-known character, and while I have not heard this legend, parts of it, such as a lost treasure, coincide with traditional beliefs and motifs. Perhaps his ghost is protecting the treasure and keeping it hidden from those who executed him. I’m not sure what to make of this legend, but it does make me curious about the historical aspects of the story.


Devil’s Road, Pennsylvania

Kathy Liu’s Story: as told on a Sunday afternoon, sitting in the suite living room around 3pm- Kathy sat in the big blue chair, I sat on the couch, and Tanya listened from a chair at the table.

Background: Kathy is a USC freshman from Westchester, Pennsylvania. She is a Cinematic Arts major, 18 years old, and of Asian background but US born-and-raised. She is one of my suitemates this year. Tanya is another one of our suitemates.

Kathy: So I come from Southeastern Pennsylvania, and there’s this road, I forget what it’s called but, colloquially we call it “Devil’s Road” for this reason: so there’s a house in the middle of this, like, circular, windy path, and it used to be like a historic house- I forget if it like belonged to like the DuPont family or like something- some historic family, and there used to be like some really cultish activities going on and I think, I don’t know, but this is one of the things. But there’s something crazy about people in cement or something crazy like human sacrifices or something weird they did to people, and the entire road is kind of like enclosed in like shrubbery and everything. And the houses, no not the houses, the trees around the house actually grow away from the house- they all like grow in the direction away from the house (demonstrating with hands) which is a really creepy thing. And then at night, if you drive around the first time, a light will turn on in the house or something like that. And then a second time a black car with no headlights on will follow you, tailgate you. And then the third time that car will kind of like gently bump the back of your car a little bit, and really scary things- it’s got like no headlights or anything. And you’re not supposed to go a fourth time. Pause. Nobody knows what happens to you a fourth time. You’re not supposed to go. But yeah, that’s Devil’s Road in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Me: Did you know people who’ve tried driving?

Kathy: Kind of. Group, people, friends of friends of friends tried going. There’s like this one kid who goes around three times like often.

Tanya: Damn. Yeah, I kind of want to do it, even though I’d probably end up crying out of fear.

Kathy: If you visit me, (laughs), then we’ll go do it.

Me: Suitemates trip to visit Kathy.

Tanya: Lol. This ghost stuff just fascinates me.

Kathy: Cool.

After a bit of online research, we discovered that the DuPont family used the house to marry their cousins, so as to keep their wealth in the family. They would use the house to hide children from these marriages. However, it is difficult to visit the houses do to restrictions on the area due to popular interest in Devil’s Road and the Cult House.

Reaction: It was clear that Kathy believed in the legend, though she hadn’t tried to experience the myths of the house herself. She had heard the legends from her town and her friend had once attempted to complete the journey. I am not sure if I completely believe it. However, I have never been to southeastern Pennsylvania, and even if I were there, I would probably be much too scared to try it out for myself, certainly not alone!


Goals (proverb)

Richard L Cuthbert was born in Savannah, Georgia.  His father was in the United States Air Force and Richard ending being raised by his paternal grandmother.  He moved to Compton, California with his relatives from his father’s side of the family.  It is here where he met his high school sweetheart, Twesa Cuthbert.  They had two children together.  Richard (now widowed) currently lives in Rialto, California with his daughter, Keesha Cuthbert.

You cannot achieve something new without doing something that you have never done.


My dad always tells me this to remind me that I cannot reach a new goal by doing things the way that I have always done them.  I have to be imaginative and think outside of my own box that I have created for myself.  Otherwise, I will just keep falling short and coming up with things that I have already achieved.