USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘black dog’
Folk Beliefs
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“Clinton Road” Hellhounds

Main Piece: “So there’s this road in Jersey called Clinton road, it’s in west Milford, and this road that is haunted in multiple ways. But the biggest thing is that people that go down there, swear they see a giant black dog with glowing red eyes just roaming around the road. It’s said that this creature is supposed to be a hell hound or something, and that if you get too close it will try and attack you by ramming the side of your car, and then it will disappear. A bunch of people also say that if you see this hellhound, and it attacks you it means that you will have an untimely death in the near future, and it is even believed that this road may even be close to some entrance to hell because there are mad sightings of these hellhounds.”

 

Background: KC grew up in New Jersey, and he mentioned that this road was one that he and his friends were highly aware of growing up as it was always a topic of conversation. He said that he heard this from one of his friends, who also tried going to this road late at night in the hopes of seeing the famous hellhound, but he didn’t have any luck. Nonetheless, because he told KC that he heard some really strange noises and howling while he was there, he was convinced that something must be out there. KC said that because this was a fairly dangerous road, he doesn’t know if he believes the hellhounds but that he certainly thinks its some warning to people to be extra diligent and cautious on that road.

 

Context of the performance: KC told me this story in my apartment as we were talking about some of the spookiest places that we know from our hometowns. Me being from LA, I was not familiar with this story and he was eager to relay the information about one of the most infamous roads in New Jersey.

 

Analysis: I find this story to be incredibly fascinating and very eery, as I feel that it must have some role in trying to ensure drivers are paying attention on the road while they are driving at night. KC mentioned that this road is kind of notorious for accidents happening and because of that, I think its safe to assume that while this story may certainly be a product of someone seeing a creature in the night, I think it most certainly has an extra layer to it.This extra layer of course being that cautionary aspect, pleading drivers to pay extra attention so as not to get into another accident.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Legends
Narrative
Proverbs
Signs

The Irish Black Dog

Main piece: “The black dog is death.”

Context: The informant is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. The informant originally heard this saying from her aunt, who recounted a story in which she was attacked by a black dog spirit that jumped on her back in the middle of the night. Her aunt caught a glimpse of the creature over her shoulder, but when she threw the dog off and turned around, it was gone. The phrase “the black dog is death” was already well-known among the informant’s family at the time, but what makes this story even more unsettling is that shortly before the black dog appeared to her aunt, a bog body was found on the family’s property. So, while the informant isn’t a necessarily spiritual or superstitious person, she does somewhat buy into the black dog death spirit, as she describes the impact-fulness of her aunt “trembling” and looking “haunted” whenever she recounted the story. Interestingly, the informant does not believe that the would ever personally encounter the black dog, as she isn’t as in-tune with the spiritual world, but she still maintains: “I’m really glad the black dog didn’t visit me.”

Personal thoughts: The informant’s mindset that part of encountering the stuff of legends is simply buying into them is particularly interesting to me; she simultaneously validates her aunt’s experiences while doubting that she could experience the same, which speaks to the potential placebo effect that folk beliefs have on people. Just because doubt could easily be lent to the details of the story does not mean that the experience itself did not occur. There is no way of knowing what exactly happened to BN’s aunt, but her story and BN’s subsequent reaction to it indicates that belief itself can be more powerful than absolute truth. Additionally, the wording of the proverb “the black dog is death” does not communicate that the appearance of a black dog heralds death, but rather that the black dog is death itself. Perhaps by giving the abstract concept of death a knowable, mortal form, the people of Ireland can feel a little more control over their own mortality. To mold death into a dog opens up the possibility of training death like you would train your own pet, and therefore conquering the unconquerable.

Legends
Narrative

Ghost Dog of Devon

Informant: Valerie is a 61-year-old, born and raised in Dorking, England. She moved to Pennsylvania at 40, and to San Diego at 45. She still regularly visits England, where all her family still live. Her father was from the county of Devon in England.

Main Piece: “When I was younger, my family and I would take trips to around Devon. And sometimes when it was nighttime, my dad would tell us about a big, black dog that would go around Devon. It was a ghost dog, and it would go around howling at night. Seeing it would be dangerous, so we always got very scared when we heard a dog howl around there.”

Background Information about the Performance: The informant was told this as a child by her father. She remembers having been scared by the story, and would go on to recount the story later when she visited Devon again.

Context of Performance: The piece is told as a scary story to children – and presumably others – around the Devon region.

Thoughts: The black dog story is common around Britain, and my father had heard a similar story around Leeds. I am reminded of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which takes place around Devon.

 

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