USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘American History’
Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Dumb southerners

Main piece: A common stereotype is that people from the Southeast are fat, uneducated, racist rednecks.

Context: The informant (S) is originally from Marietta, Georgia, and their lineage traces back to Germany on both sides of their family. They are a high school student about to graduate and head off to Boston for college. They were raised Christian and consider themselves spiritual, but they do not align themselves with any organized religion. Our conversation took place over FaceTime while S cleaned their room and played Tame Impala in the background. S has heard this stereotype of Southerners their entire life, both from Georgians and non-Georgians alike. Interestingly, S even jokes about this stereotype having some truth to it: “When you go to school in the suburbs of Georgia and see people with confederate flag stickers on their cars, it’s hard not to label those around you as uneducated racists!” In all seriousness, S knows many people (including themself) who actively work hard to not become or buy into this stereotype. They want to prove people wrong and change the overall social climate of Georgia.

Personal thoughts: S and I will both maintain that this stereotype has tidbits of truth to it, but even more so than our personal experiences as Georgians, this conception of Southerners has solid historical basis – a quality that not every stereotype bears. To be obvious… the Civil War, in which the South was fighting to keep slavery alive and well. Some people may vaguely argue that the war was about “states’ rights,” but consider what rights Southern states were fighting to maintain – the right to own slaves. It would be naive to think that those age-old mentalities have simply disappeared, especially when almost every Georgian either knows somebody who owns a Confederate flag or owns one themself. One hundred years after slavery came the tumultuous yet impactful Civil Rights Movement, proving that racism never ended with slavery. Even today, lynchings and hate crimes occur way too often in the Southeast. So, while it is increasingly important for Southerners to educate ourselves on social/political issues, advocate for others and fight back against hate groups that give us a bad name, it is also equally important to recognize that these somewhat hurtful stereotypes derive from truth. Instead of getting defensive about them, we must acknowledge the South’s history of racism and subjugation, and prove with our actions that we are working to remedy that painful history.

Legends

Halcyon House (Washington D.C.) History

Transcription: “I don’t know how substantial this actually is but there is a haunted house with 13 different spirits. The house is called Halcyon, and it was built in the late 1700s by a Revolutionary War veteran. He died in debt and is seen looking out over the Potomac River with a telescope waiting for his good fortunes to come up the river.”

My informant is a tour guide in Washington, D.C. One stop on his tour is an old house rumored to be haunted. The building is a residential property, therefore, my informant has never been inside the property himself, only heard the stories required as part of the city tour. The residential property is known as Halcyon House and it is intrinsically connected to American history. The property was built close to the Potomac River in 1787 by a Revolutionary War veteran. Instead of fulfilling the newly established “American dream,” the owner died in debt. Since the ghost stories take place in a real world setting and involve a historical figure, they fall under the category of legend.

Most major cities are built near water to provide access to trade. The Potomac River opens up Washington D.C. to trade with other cities, thus the river was reasonably associated with wealth and trade. The ghost of the Revolutionary War veteran is said to be seen looking out over the Potomac River with a telescope in the hopes that he will see wealth on the horizon.

A common theme in ghosts stories is that the ghosts remain trapped in the physical world because of unresolved regrets. The ghost story of the Revolutionary War veteran fits into this theme, possibly to provide an explanation for the spirit sighting or to romanticize the tragic failures of a man who fought for our country’s independence.

I was surprised when I learned that the house remains a residential property. As a historical landmark and spiritual haven for ghosts, the owners are living out a legend in more than one way.

 

Legends
Narrative

Brady’s Leap

Informant Bio

My informant grew up in Kent, Ohio in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time the area was not rural, but it wasn’t urban in the modern sense. Neighborhoods were spread out with forests, lakes, and rivers dividing them. My informant spent much of her time walking and biking along trails to her friends’ homes, and in the summer they would spend much of their time swimming in the lakes. She lived most of her life in Ohio, attending college at Bowling Green State University and living for over ten years in Lakewood, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. She considers herself every bit a midwesterner, though she currently resides in California.

My informant told me this story while discussing her plans to visit her family in Ohio this summer.

Legend of Brady’s Leap

My informant remembers first hearing this story in the 7th grade because that was, “around when we studied the Revolutionary War.”

Brady’s Leap is the name for a particular spot on the Cuyahoga River. My informant’s story told of a Captain Brady, who was sent by the American army to scout for the British camp in the Sandusky territory, which today is a large swath of Northeast Ohio. Brady and his men were captured by the British, but Brady escaped and tried to make his way back to the army camp near Pittsburgh. My informant’s story goes that Brady was discovered by Indians (Native Americans), and he was forced to run. When he reached the banks of the Cuyahoga River he was stuck, but to go back meant either re-capture by the British or death at the hands of the Indians. So instead, he took a flying leap across the river and miraculously made it to the other side.

My informant points out that between Brady’s flying leap and today, the river has been widened at that point. She says it was widened to let large supply ships through when the Erie canals were being built. To look at the spot now the leap would be impossible, but back then my informant believes the gap must have been no more than 20 feet for him to have made it across.

Learning the story in school, my informant said it was a way to relate the nation’s history to the area – to give the students a sense of connection to their home and to their country. The story does seem to have a patriotic message about the abilities of the early Americans, and though the legend does not specifically say that Brady was born in or lived in the Ohio territory, by claiming him as a local hero through the naming of a place on the river, it can give the locals a sense of pride in their history.

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