USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘American’
general
Legends
Narrative

College Studying Murder Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a firepit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to J during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told amongst a group of friends sitting in a circle around a firepit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“This story was told to me by a counselor who was actually in his freshman year of college. It goes something like this… There are two college roommates, Briona and Ellee, who are in the same math class and have a bit midterm in the morning… Briona decides to stay in and study, while Ellee goes out to party with a guy in the same class. *pause for childish laughing*… After a while, Ellee returns to find the lights out and Briona in bed asleep. To be courteous, Ellee does her nighttime routine in the dark before going to bed… *beep beep beep, beep beep beep, beep beep beep*… Sleepily, Ellee climbs out of bed and walks over to wake Briona… She rubs the sleep out of her eyes and notices the blood-soaked bed and stiff body of Ellee. On the wall above her, the words ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?’ are scribbled in blood…”

Thoughts:

As I read back through this transcript, I wish it could better capture the feeling of this piece. The ambiance of the environment in which it was told played into it with the cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us, making us feel as if we were not alone. I think the story was interesting coming from J, as he never went to traditional college. However, it was still an effective ‘scary’ story for us since we all knew what it was like to share a room with a person you haven’t known for very long. Things are often represented in sets of three, and this one used the alarm beeping in threes to give the listeners something familiar before the big reveal. The writing in blood is a common element in scary stories, but it implies so much more in this story that it played a larger part than it normally does. J was unsure of which names were meant to be used in the story but didn’t think they were terribly important.

general
Legends
Narrative

Backseat Butcher Horror Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a fire-pit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to Jacob during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told among a group of friends sitting in a circle around a fire-pit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“A young woman spent the night out on the town. As she decides to come home, she takes the back-roads to avoid having to stop at lights. That, and she can speed a bit haha…. It’s quite a far drive in the dark, so she decides to listen to music on the radio to stay awake. A few minutes into her drive, she notices a large truck driving up behind her. She slows down to let them pass, but the truck just drives directly behind, matching her speed…Nobody else is on the road and the truck flashes its high beams. No matter how fast she drives, or which turns she takes, the truck stays right behind her. Terrified, she speeds home and pulls into the driveway. The truck is still there… She considers locking her doors but opts to get out and run to her house. She opens her car door and starts to run. The driver gets out of his truck, as well, and aims a gun. Time seems to stop… She can feel her heart beating… *Thump*… *Thump*… *Thump*… Silence… *Bang*… The shot echoes in her ears as she looks down at her chest to inspect the wound. As her ears stop ringing, she hears a thud as a body falls out of her car, a butcher’s knife in hand…”

Thoughts:

Having someone follow you is a common trope in folklore that invokes fear in everyone. It rattles your nerves and using it in this story subverts expectations. The final part of the story utilized a lot of sound effects to make the listeners feel calm, despite being the crux of scariness. The ambiance of the environment in which it was told played into it with the cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us. It was obvious that some of the people in the circle were nervous of the shadows, thinking someone was behind them. It was interesting to hear that this was a campfire story told during summer camps due to it being set more in a cityscape. However, I think it works well in that setting because often back-roads had to be taken to get to/from the camps. There are many stories in which events happen in sets of three. This story utilizes it for the sound of the woman’s heartbeat. The sound effects that J used during the story really made it come alive, which is why I believe most recounts of live stories like this do not capture the actual experience of the story.

Folk speech
general

“On blood”: Los Angeles Inner-City Gang Saying

Informant:

Due to some self-incrimination, the informant wishes to remain anonymous, and thus I will only use his first initial. A is a 22-year-old, African American male who grew up in Southern California. He dropped out of high-school and did not attend college. He now lives in Southern California and works as a mechanic.

Background info:

A and I grew up in a similar environment. We met when we were both around 12 and 13 in the Los Angeles foster care system. Because foster-parents rarely kept track of the children and usually did not keep them fed or clothed, A has been heavily involved in gang-related activities since I met him. His home environment was abusive, and he was subjected to drugs early in life, as well.

Context:

Because A and I lived in a few foster-homes together, we have a shared tragedy, and thus a bond where he felt comfortable to talk to me. I invited him over to discuss how he had been since I last saw him, and we eventually began discussing the state of current Hip-Hop music. This piece is a phrase popular in his vocabulary, and, for context, the following is a transcript of the conversation we had that led to the phrase being said. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Have you heard the diss tracks between Joyner Lucas and Tory Lanez?”

A: “Yeah, I heard ‘em. I can’t believe this fool Tory think he can just come into the rap game and claim to be the best. Joyner clowned on this fool on his own track.”

J: “Yeah, his song was fire. He’s actually pretty lyrical, as well. I’m glad he and Eminem did a track together. I thought for sure they’d get an Emmy for it.”

A: “Man, you know Eminem is done. That man ain’t getting any more awards – his whole career was built on being the only white boy who could spit. The hype has been over for years. Ain’t nobody out there listening to him, only the white people who want to think they apart of it.”

J: “Do you think Eminem should get praise for his lyricism, though?”

A: “On blood, if Eminem tried to blow today, he wouldn’t sell a single track. Half the stuff he be saying goes over everybody’s head, man.”

Thoughts:

Growing up in the poor areas of Los Angeles, without help from home, a lot of children and young teens end up joining gangs. The gangs become their new families, and people would die for that. A was one of these kids and ended up joining a subset of the Bloods gang. I was familiar with this when I met him. Because he was so young, the gang influence became a major part of his life. “On blood”, or “On the blood”, is a common street phrase among Blood gang members. It is typically used as a promise or swear, meaning “I swear to the Blood gang”, like when people say, “I swear to God” or “I swear on my mother’s grave”. Swearing to something important represents a promise that you would never break without breaking faith with the thing you swear to. This phrase is common because the culture of gang life is to value the gang over everything else, even religion or one’s own life.

general
Legends
Narrative

San Francisco Hitch-Hiker Ghost Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a firepit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to J during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told amongst a group of friends sitting in a circle around a firepit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“Okay, this next one is about a little girl from Sacramento… One night, a couple is driving down the road. It’s pitch-black and silent, all except the hum of the tires on the road… The roads are unusually empty, despite it being nearly midnight, and the headlights of the car created a cone of light, barely illuminating the edge of the road… *moves the flashlight in a circle on the ground around the fire*… As they’re driving, the hum of the tires starts to lull them into a trance. *Jacob’s voice began to get more and more quiet* Driving… Driving… Driving through the night. Out of nowhere, the boyfriend slams on the breaks! The girlfriend is lurched awake. ‘What the hell was that?!’ the girlfriend exclaimed. ‘I think I saw something on the side of the road…’. He backs up to find a little girl standing all alone. He stops the car and slowly gets out to ask the girl if she’s okay… Her clothes oddly out of place, her hair tangled, and her skin pale. Immediately, he notices that the girl’s arm is cut, and tears have run dry on her cheeks. ‘Are you okay? What are you doing out here all alone?’ The girl responds only by asking for a lift to her home, only a few miles down the road. Of course, the couple agrees to help the child, and offer to take her to the hospital, instead, but she insists on only going home… So, the couple drive her home, asking her a few questions, creating small-talk… Eventually, the girl stops responding and the couple look back to find she’s fallen asleep. They whisper quietly to each other the rest of the drive… As they pull up to the address, they slowly pull into the driveway. The couple notices that most of the house is dark, all except a single candle on the window by the door… Not wanting to wake the girl, the couple quietly gets out of the car to see if someone is home… *knock knock knock*…. No answer. *Knock Knock Knock*… Still, no answer… *KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*… The door slowly creeps open, and an old lady stands in the dark, the candle barely illuminating her. ‘Yes? How can I help you?’ The girlfriend answers, ‘I’m sorry to disturb you this late at night, but a little girl told us this was her address, and we thought we would bring her home.’ The old lady begins to tear up as the boyfriend goes to get the girl from the car. ‘I don’t know of any girl around here, only my late daughter, who died years ago in a car accident.’ The girlfriend turns pale and looks back at the car. The boyfriend stood staring at the empty backseat…”

Thoughts:

As I read back through this transcript, I wish I could better capture the feeling of this piece. The environment in which the piece was told really played into the feeling of the story. The cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us made it feel like we were surrounded by ghosts. I think the story was interesting coming from J, as he was raised in San Francisco, close to where this story is set. Being told at the summer camps, I believe it made it even more terrifying at the time (due to being told to children who lived near this setting). The recurring set of three also shows up in this story when the couple are knocking on the door, each time the knocking getting louder, as well as the repeated “Driving, driving, driving” to lull the listeners into a false sense of security. The sound effects that J used during the story really made it come alive, which is why I believe most recounts of live stories like this do not capture the actual experience of the story. I’ve also heard similar stories to this about a spirit or ghost making an appearance and convincing someone they are still alive, only to disappear later.

 

 

general
Legends
Narrative

Tailypo Horror Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a firepit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to J during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told amongst a group of friends sitting in a circle around a firepit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“Okay… so there’s this guy who lives in the mountains all alone. His life is simple and quiet… This guy… he keeps three dogs with him for hunting and tracking, but… one winter… there is a huge shortage of game… As his storages begin running out, he spends all day looking for food with his dogs and his rifle. One day, as he’s looking for dinner, he shoots a rabbit and shares it with his dogs. Obviously, he’s still hungry. He’s like six foot – one eighty… He continues his hunt until he finds some strange tracks he’s never seen before, three long claws… This dude’s starving, so he follows them late into the night. Eventually, the tracks go cold… The guy looks around…, frantically looking for new tracks, knowing he won’t see another animal for a while… As he’s looking around, he sees something stalking on the branches of a nearby tree… BAM!… He shoots it… He begins looking around for the animal but cannot find it. He eventually gives up, as it is getting late, and decides to head back empty-handed. As he begins to lay down, he notices that one of his dogs brought something back with them – the tail of the animal! He boils it into a stew and enjoys the reward of a long day before falling into a deep slumber… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*… The guy slowly awakens to the noises to see the creature at the foot of his bed. In an otherworldly voice, the man hears it demand its ‘tailypo’. The dogs begin to growl and chase the creature back into the woods and the man passes out… He wakes again in the morning, thinking it was nothing more than a dream… One of the dogs is missing. He spends the day searching for it, but as night falls again, he gives up and tries to catch up on sleep from the night before… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*… The man JUMPS awake to find the creature at the side of his bed now, demanding more aggressively that the man return its ‘tailypo’. His dogs again chase after the creature and the man, terrified, eventually falls asleep. When he wakens, he realizes that this was no dream… Two of his dogs are now missing, and he knows the creature will return this night. He begins fortifying his cabin and sits up all day and night with his gun and his last dog at his side… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*… The dog jumps to its feet and runs after the noise, barking… *Barking, cut short*… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*… The man shakingly aims his gun at the door… The window near his bed shatters. BAM! The man fires his weapon accidentally. As he frantically tries to reload his rifle, the creature leaps upon him. Eye to eye, the beast once again demands the return of his ‘tailypo’… As the sun rises, the man is flayed beyond recognition. To this day, on the darkest of nights, the creature can still be heard whispering for its ‘tailypo’… *Chittering, clawing, and scratching noises*…”

Thoughts:

As I read back through this transcript, I wish it could better capture the feeling of this piece. As far as ‘scary’ stories go, this piece was among one of the best I’ve ever heard. It was exhilarating, and the ambiance of the environment in which it was told played into it with the cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us. I think the story was interesting coming from J, as he was raised in San Francisco, nowhere near the woody area described in the story. However, because it was told during summer camps, I believe it made it even more terrifying at the time (due to being told to children unfamiliar with their environment). There are many stories in which events happen in sets of three. The number of dogs, the number of times the creature visits the man, and the number of claws the creature had are all sets of three. The sound effects that J used during the story really made it come alive, which is why I believe most recounts of live stories like this do not capture the actual experience of the story.

Folk speech
general
Humor
Musical

Anti-Lullaby to Children

“Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, guess I’ll eat some worms. Short fat skinny ones, itty-bitty little ones, guess I’ll eat some worms.”

Context: The song was originally preformed by the mother of the collector when her child said that she was having difficulties making friends with children during elementary school. The collection is taken from a later date when asked to recite the song.

Informant Analysis Below:

The informant had grown up switching many schools, about 11, during her time from elementary through high school. She noted that because of moving around so much she often had difficulty making strong friendships. This song seemed to encapsulate the self-pity she once had as a child, and how she learned to become less emotional about such things.

Informant: “I honestly don’t remember when I first heard it, but I know it was definitely while I was still a child. It’s possible my mom also sang that to me too.”

Collector: “Do you have any idea of what it means?”

Informant: “I think it is saying, like, who cares if you feel unliked. Be stronger than that. The whole eating worms thing, to me, is saying that if you are gonna whine about not having friends, might as well eat worms while you are at it because the world does not care.”

Collector Analysis: Lullabies in themselves are supposed to be calming and reassuring to a child. This lullaby is rather odd because it does no such task. It seems to point out any amount of self-pity one may have for themselves and make light of it. In doing so, it can be seen as “tough love” and harsh in many ways. The concept of not being liked is a very common fear, not just for children, but for adults too. Perhaps when told to a child it not only is meant to teach children to “toughen up”, but also remind the adult to do the same. I believe this piece also has a lot to do with the drives in American culture of being self-sufficient. Starting at a young age, it would make sense to instill a sense of individualism by not caring what others think onto a child.

Childhood
Digital
Folk Beliefs
Game
Legends
Magic

Urban legend: Momo

Main Piece:

Informant: Oh my god Momo, can we please not talk about Momo oh god. Momo is this like, texting game that some of my friends play at school. You know what WhatsApp is? Yeah, so like, my friends will text this number and whoever is behind it will respond and ask them to do weird stuff. Like watch a scary movie with the lights off. Apparently the number once asked some girl to kill herself. I’ve never texted it so I’m not too sure. Yeah also the photo is this absurd picture of the ugliest doll you’ve ever seen.

Interviewer: Where did you hear about Momo?

Informant: At my high school.

Interviewer: What do you make of it?

Informant: The doll is terrifying. I try to not think about it that much.

Background: The informant is a freshman in high school here in Los Angeles. He just recently moved from Woodstock, NY, so I asked him if he’s learned about anything new since he started at a new school. This interview was recorded and I got his father to sign his release form.

Context: I had previously heard of the internet phenomena that is Momo and wanted to get the interpretation of someone within the its target audience. After doing some research on my own I was able to learn about the backstory regarding this piece of cyberlore. Allegedly, the Momo came about from a Spanish speaking Facebook group and evolved into the mainstream when it was introduced to the US in the summer of 2018. The WhatsApp number that children text asks them to complete a series of bizarre and dangerous tasks. Momo reached a tipping point when a 12 year-old girl was found dead shortly after messaging the number. Momo is represented by the same doll every time, which I have attached below. Interestingly enough, the Momo doll wasn’t created with the intention of its current function. The Momo sculpture was created by a Japanese company that makes props for horror movies. However, the sculpture is supposedly based off of the ubume, which is supposedly the spirit of women who die in childbirth.

Analysis: As digital technology has progressed, we are now coming face to face with an entirely new subsection of folklore. These pieces of cyberlore are incredibly viral and mainly target children on the internet. Slenderman was the first of its kind and Momo is an extension upon the principles which gave Slenderman its cult following. These pieces of cyberlore speak to the effectiveness of global communication in spreading folklore. Now we are able to communicate across the globe in a manner of seconds. This kind of cyberlore, contrasted with memes, serve to shock the consumer and play on the gullible nature of younger individuals.

 

momo

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Juneteenth Festival

Context: The informant, a 20-year-old female college student who was enrolled in the ANTH 333 during a prior semester, was eager to participate in my folklore collection. She shared some folklore with me that she has collected throughout her childhood and her time at USC. The following is an excerpt from our conversation, in which the informant described a cultural festival that she has taken part in every summer since she was a child.

Text:

Informant: Okay, so one thing that I think is particularly interesting is that every summer there’s a festival called the Juneteenth Festival. Basically, it’s called Juneteenth because it’s for black Americans and basically June 19th was the day the slaves were freed, but because slaves couldn’t say June 19th, they started saying Juneteenth and nobody ever changed the name of the festival. So, it’s been like going on  since then and so now we celebrate it as “Juneteenth.”  It’s a really cool way for me to personally feel a connection with my African heritage because that’s not something that I normally practice because I have a very American identity. But Juneteenth, what happens at a Juneteenth festival? So there’s a lot of dancing, a lot of praise dancing that happens. A lot of it like revolves around a lot of gospel music and there’s also… gosh there’s like Swahili that’s spoken at a lot of them. A lot of it intersects with Christianity, which is interesting and it’s probably where the gospel music comes from. But yeah, usually they are in parks and there’s usually jazz music. We celebrate a lot of black American culture, so there’s like jazz music and Hip-Hop and… black things. And yeah, it’s a family-friendly event. I think it’s really popular in the south. My dad was the one who made us go to every Juneteenth Festival because it’s really popular in Oklahoma, and that’s where he’s from. And my mom, who’s from Louisiana, knew about Juneteenth and celebrated that there, so I think it’s a really big thing in the south. But there’s a Los Angeles Juneteenth Festival that’s held every summer, which is the one that I went to, and I originally started going to because my dad is a bass player and he always played at the Juneteenth Festivals.

Informant’s relationship to this item: The Juneteenth festival holds a lot of personal significance for the informant because she attends it every year with her family. The informant described how the festival helps her feel connected to her Black American identity, from which she typically feels more removed. The entire festival serves as a reminder of the black experience in America, including the languages that are spoken there, the genres of music that are played, and even the festival’s name, which originated from the speech patterns of American slaves. The festival is also an important event for the informant’s family, as the informant’s father — a professional bass player — plays music as part of the festivities.

Interpretation: The Juneteenth festival is an example of a festival that has spatial and temporal significance. The festival typically takes place in parks in order to emphasize its family-friendly message. Additionally, it takes place on June 19 every year because that is the date in which slaves were freed in America. Thus, the date holds a lot of cultural significance to Black Americans and is a fitting date for a celebration of the African American experience. The festivals appear to have a prescribed syntax, or order of events. The informant described several events that regularly take place at Juneteenth festivals, specifically folk music and dances that always occur. Festivals also usually take place in order to project a certain message to both insiders and outsiders. In this case, the Juneteenth festival appears to communicate pride, resilience, and determination in the context of the history black America and the current experiences of black citizens.

 

Childhood
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Reindeer Chow: Martha Stewart’s Fakelore becomes Folklore

Folk Tradition:

I don’t know where my mom got this and it’s pretty vague. But my mom used to make reindeer chow. I totally bought into it when I was a kid. It was basically she would make this, and I would always help my mom with this, but we would make bowls of just oatmeal (dry oatmeal), glitter, and I think rainbow sprinkles? And then we put it outside our front door Christmas eve. This was in addition to milk and cookies for Santa. I would go to bed early and I’d wake up the next morning and it would all be gone. And of course my stupid fucking kid brain would be like, ‘They came to eat it! My parents can’t eat oatmeal and dry glitter they’d die!’ And then I found it on a Martha Stewart website reposted from some Etsy thing it’s everywhere. I don’t know where she found it or if it’s that old.”

Context:

“Christmas time. This definitely started just with our [nuclear] family, but I think she heard about it from other people she’s friends with. Cause people went all out for Christmas where I’m from even though they’re all Jewish. Cause it’s fashionable. My mom is Jewish. We also celebrate Hanukkah but only for the presents…She just wanted us to celebrate Christmas cause she wanted to give us presents. I love that my mom put so much effort to make sure we just really had a special Christmas.” 

Informant Background:

The informant is 21, from Los Angeles. His dad is Catholic and his mother is Jewish. His mother started this tradition in their family and he said he intends to recreate it for his children.

My Analysis:

I think this piece is unique because it is an example of someone from outside the religious community trying to adopt the folk practice of that religion. I grew up Christian and never knew of this practice, so it is my inclination to assume that it started as fakelore probably created by crafting websites to sell more glitter around the holidays. However, since the informant said he found it on multiple websites and portals as an adult, many people around the U.S. at least appear to be practicing this new holiday tradition. This is similar to the “elf on the shelf” concept, which is fakelore turned folklore. Now that a new wave of children have been raised with this custom, they will pass it on to their children. The descent of practice is what makes it genuine tradition, regardless of how it began.

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

Two Wolves

So, there’s this story I heard one time  –or maybe I read it in a book, I don’t remember. But it’s a Native American parable. Like, a Chief was teaching his grandson or a Chief was teaching a young warrior. Anyway, he says, “A fight is going on inside you.  It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger and cruelty, ego and regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, insecurity, guilt, resentment, shame, etc..”

“The other is good – joy, and love and compassion, kindness, hope, love, generosity, faith, peace.  The wolves are always fighting inside of you.” The grandson/warrior thinks about it for a bit and then asks, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Chief replies, “The one you feed.” For me, this story is about how you get more of what you concentrate on. Like, where you put your energy is where things grow, so it’s a little warning, a reminder, not to let yourself dwell in the dark places in your psyche. The thing I think I say to my clients the most is, “No positive change can come from a harsh place of judgment.” Like if you feed the Harsh Judgment Dog, you just get more harsh judgment. In my clients, this often translates into paralysis and perfectionism.

 

Context & Analysis: This piece was collected from a 54 year old white woman who lives in Austin, Texas. She is a therapist by trade, hence the references to clients. I think her interpretation of the tale is spot on, and I like her addition of the Harsh Judgement Dog. If she propagates this legend, maybe naming one of the wolves the Harsh Judgement Dog will be one of the oikotypal variations.

 

[geolocation]