USC Digital Folklore Archives / May, 2018
Legends

Lizard City Under Los Angeles

Context:

The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. I asked if he knew any urban legends and this was his response. This reminds me of the Sewer Alligator or Molepeople of New York and I like to think that all cities believe that there is another one underneath them.

 

Piece:

“There’s this myth that there’s this lizard world underneath LA that people are like lizards who live in caves and have their own community. Like there were these two guys were went to go find them like early on in LA history and never came back. I think the city was meant to look like a lizard. I remember reading about it online. Something in the 30s, I think the lizards were either aliens or related to ancient civilizations, or maybe bomb testing, super weird. I don’t think it’s true.”

 

Legends
Narrative

La Llorona

Context: I was teaching a class of 6th graders through the Joint Education Project (JEP) in a middle school near USC. Almost all of the students in the class are of Latino descent. When I asked the class to tell me any legends that they knew, this was the most commonly known one amongst the students (whose names have been replaced with aliases). 

Discussion

Instructor: Can anyone tell me a legend that they have heard of? Maybe one I would not know (the students knew that I was from Ireland and might not know some of their culture’s legends).

Angel: Oh sir, sir! (raising his hand high)

Instructor: Yes, Angel. (gesturing to him to speak)

Angel: La Llorona is a legend.

Instructor: Who’s that?

Angel: She’s like a evil spirit that roams around at night near lakes n stuff and if you hear her scream or…eh…see her, I think (slowed down expressing unsureness), it means you’re gunna die soon.

Instructor: Where did you learn this legend?

Angel: My mom told me.

Instructor: Has anyone else heard of this legend?

Most of the students nodded or said ‘yeh’ or ‘uhuhh’ in response.

Mr. Salamander (presiding teacher): When I was a kid, my mom told me that story too. It’s to scare kids to keep them from wandering around at night, especially near lakes or rivers ye’know? La Llorona means like uh…weeping lady.

Instructor: Do you know the backstory to the legend?

Mr. Salamander: Yah. Apparently, she drowned her kids after her husband left her for a younger woman and so know she is cursed to wander the Earth as a spirit. So she weeps for her children and looks for other kids to drown or replace her own or something.

Analyses

Clearly this legend has a didactic purpose to keep children from wandering at night, especially near bodies of water. Legends can be useful in this way because children don’t have as much of an appreciation for how dangerous the world can be like adults do. Children have a tendency to think that they’re somehow indestructible and can put themselves in dangerous situations, like standing on the edge of river banks, without appreciating the threat of the situation. These kinds of stories help to give those dangers a face, and a scary face at that, which children respond to better than mere adult interdictions. An adult saying, ‘stay away from the water, it’s dangerous’ will not be taken to heart by a child as much as them saying, ‘remember, if you go too close to the river, La Llorona might come out weeping and drag you under the water’.

Digital
Legends

Creepy LA Hotel Death (Elisa Lam)

Context:

The subject is an Asian woman, born in China, who has lived in Los Angeles for most of her life. I asked about Los Angeles urban legends and she told me this story. I’ve seen this story online and only online before, so much of the story is in the video which appears on several websites. This is a good example of online folklore.

 

Piece:

“Remember there’s that happened a couple years ago. There’s this girl, asian girl who disappeared in a hotel in LA. And then like weeks later they found her body in like the boiler room in like a big can of water where like people shower from. People were either saying that she was possessed and like kill herself, cause like theres footage of her, I need to look this up, it’s very recent, couple years. She went inside the elevator and she was like talking to like invisible man inside the elevator and she was like kinda wandering around. And then like she walked out and no one see her ever again after like that elevator. They found her dead. So no one really figured out how she got from point A to point B. I read it online when it just came out. Yeah, the internet. It wasn’t official, like LA times, but it was some sort of news website, I would like to say Buzzfeed. Really creepy videos online. It turned into this whole mythical, like she was possessed.”

 

Here’s a Buzzfeed video of the incident: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48jBi86ih5Q

Legends

Tupac Isn’t Dead

Context:

The subject is an Asian woman, born in China, who has lived in Los Angeles for most of her life. I asked about Los Angeles urban legends and she told me about Tupac. She did not seem to know a lot about Tupac’s death or the conspiracy that he is still alive, but she was very adamant that he was. This devotion shows a legend is as strongly held even if the facts are unknown.

 

Piece:

“I think, I believe Tupac is alive. So first of all, the way he, so he was shot in the passenger seat when he died and people were like “its a planned death by Biggie”, and then. But I think, eh, ah, it’s too easy. Just think of on the road, and theres a police putting off the work not getting to investigation when like the crime happened, the police, LAPD were not fully involved in to investigating, they just looked at their crime and just like close the case right away. I think thats a little suspicious, I think he was trying to like get away with this whole like, cause he, well ok like Tupac, I feel like Tupac and Biggie beef wasn’t personal, it was more like a fanbase thing like “oh it was west coast or east coast” or whether it was who’s music was better. Totally made up thing, and personally Tupac and Biggie wasn’t like explicitly like having a beef or competition cause like that’s how media tried to portray them. I don’t think anyone killed Tupac. I think Tupac fake death himself. It’s so easy you just pay a lot of money to the police for someone who fake do the crime and you like declare your death. It’s so easy, my family can do it, and so can Tupac. White people can’t tell black people apart, like he can change his hair and be in Cuba somewhere. Biggie was also shot to death, I’m not sure about Biggie. I think he’s alive, more of a Tupac fan.”

 

Customs

Dark Side of Oz

Context:

The subject is an Asian woman, born in China, who has lived in Los Angeles for most of her life. She has been smoking weed for several years by this point and so when interviewing them, I asked if there were any stoner folk legends. This was her response. I do not think she actually knows a lot about the custom/ legend. It is also fascinating to me because I can not easily categorize this practice. I know it is folklore because one learns it from another person, and some versions say to start the song late or play it several times so there is variation. But it is not easily a legend or a custom.

 

Piece:

“Dark Side of the Oz. Ok so on 4/20. So there’s this I would say there’s this saying that if you sync up Dark Side of the Moon and the Wizard of the Oz [She mean The Wizard of Oz], the movie, together they sync up really well. I don’t knwo where I heard it, but it’s a thing. So on 4/20 me and some friends, Ian, Jackson, Ben, the other Jackson, were just chilling and then Manny was like guys, we should watch Wizard of the Oz and listen to Dark Side of the Moon cause apparently they sync. So it was a really weird experience ‘cause you see people on screen talking and the like this movie but you hear the music being played. Its a weird concept. I think I enjoyed it. I think it comes from lip-dubbing, like videos on Youtube. The first people were probably some stoners. Like they put it on and were like “oh my god” then the posted it on Reddit and next thing you know, its a thing. I didn’t know it was a thing until Manny brought it up the other day.”

 

Legends

Placing Consciousness Into A Coca-Cola Can

Context:

The subject is a white, gender non-binary individual who is a native Angeleno. I asked the subject if they had ever had a ghostly experience and this is was their response.

 

Piece:

“It was me and my two guy friends and they got me into it. We were hanging out at my house and one of them was doing this whole thing were he was like playing with putting his consciousness in other objects. And at one point, he’s like doing that. And pretty much he got possessed. He got possessed and my other friend freaked the fuck out. He just was not acting like himself at all and was being pretty fucking weird, but pretty much when he had gotten possessed — he got possessed one time and then stopped and then  he was like “I’m going to do this again blah blah blah”. And pretty much, it was like the same spirit and pretty much like put his consciousness into a coca-cola can, an empty coca-cola can, which I was then carrying around. And then, pretty much, I whispered into the coca-cola can, because I thought they were fucking with me. I was like “hey, if you actually like are like in here like say toast when you’re back in your body” and what does he do when he’s back in his body is come up, give me a hug, and whisper toast in my ear.”

 

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hippie Hill: Stoner Festival

Context:

The subject is a white, gender non-binary individual who is a native Angeleno. They have been smoking weed since age 13. We celebrated 4/20 a couple of days before I interviewed them and I knew they had gone to this event, so I asked them about it. Stoner culture is folk culture because for so long it was illegal and now that it is legal this festival is being encroached on by corporations which is fascinating.

 

Piece:

“Hippie Hill is a tradition where at the Golden Gate park, at 4:20, on the day 4/20, stoners meet up, thousands of stoner’s meet up there and just smoke ridiculous amounts of weed together and it’s been going on for decades. So I went and it was fun and there was ridiculous amounts of people. I don’t know exactly who started it, probably Deadheads back in the 70s or 80s or something. It opened at 9am, there was not a lot of people there. But pretty much these people hanging around this park and there were these booths were like there was like a lot of like bougie weed companies promoting themselves. The amount of times I heard the phrase “UberEats for weed” was ridiculous. And they were giving away swag and stuff. And uh but then there was also all these really ghetto people that were like selling weed but like, I don’t wanna say really ghetto, but they were really ghetto. And it was like slowly over the course of the day more and more people showed up and there was like area that was like munchieland where they had all these foodtrucks. It was organized by this one weed company which specializes in growing, but like it used to be super underground. It’s only been medical for like a little bit and this is the first year it’s been recreational. I don’t know when the companies started hoppin’ in, but the festivals been going on since the Deadhead were a thing. I have no idea, this was my first year.”

 

Holidays
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

4/20: Origins of the Stoner Holida

Context:

The subject is a white, gender non-binary individual who is a native Angeleno. They have been smoking weed since age 13. We celebrated 4/20 a couple of days before I interviewed them and so I asked them to describe the holiday to me. Stoner culture is folk culture because for so long it was illegal to smoke. So the group is tight knit. I do not think a lot of the culture has been documented by academics so I wanted to look into it.

 

Piece:

“4/20 is a sorta a holiday, like you can define it as a holiday. It’s when all the stoners celebrate, basically you smoke ridiculous amounts of marijuana. Fucking inject that. The actual, the most, what people think is the most truthful reason why it is a thing is pretty much there was a group of high school kids, somewhere in Northern California, where I do not remember, who pretty much their slang term for weed was four twenty because everyday after school they would meet up at 4:20 to smoke. And pretty much when the um, Grateful Dead were travelling around, they had the whole Deadheads following them too and pretty much at one point these deadheads met these kids, they use that slang and the slang simply got spread. And now it is THE number of weed. It was pretty much localized slang.”

 

Here is an article which lists several other folk beliefs on the origin of 4/20 and asserts this verison as true: http://www.laweekly.com/news/mythbusting-420-its-one-true-origin-and-a-whole-lot-of-false-ones-4177495

 

Game

Hitting the Roof of the Car When Running Reds and Stripping

Context:

The subject is a white, gender non-binary individual who is a native Angeleno. They have been driving since they were 15. I brought up people hitting the roof of their car when running red lights as an example of the folklore I was trying to collect when they offered me this. I’d never heard of this stripping game style and it totally divorces the custom from the superstition it is usually associated with.

 

Piece:

“It’s a stupid high school game where if you through a, through a light when it’s turning red, like when its yellow. Pretty much, everyone has to hit the roof and whoever doesn’t hit the roof has to take off a piece of clothing. I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard of it.”

 

Legends

New York Sewer Alligator

Context:

The subject is a white male and a lifelong New Yorker from Manhattan and Queens. He is my twin brother. Before this we were talking about growing up in New York and the stories we were told as children. I’ve heard a lot about the white alligator but very little about where it came from which shows that New Yorkers are ok with the mystery of the sewer gator.

 

Piece:

“Oh yeah, there’s an alligator in the sewers of New York. Like 100%. I think it’s like blind and white now because there’s no sun down there. I think it was with a circus, no someone brought up a baby alligator from Florida because people are stupid and then when it got too big they put it in the sewer and now it rules the sewer with all its gator babies. I don’t know if its true, but I like to believe, there’s so much wildlife in New York, you know?”

 

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