USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘boarding school’
Legends
Narrative

Deceased Shaker Babies

Background

Location: New Lebanon, NY

Informant: J.R. - 23 year old male, originally from New York State, attended the same high school as the collector

Context

This legend has been told to me many times from many different sources, specific to a boarding school in the remote mountains of the New York Berkshires.

The boarding school mentioned was founded on land that once functioned as a Shaker settlement. The Shakers were a religious minority that sought out to create a utopian, self-sufficient society centered on God. Many of their principles required the separation of man and woman, absolute abstinence was expected. As a result, should a woman become pregnant while she was a member of the settlement, she would be cast out of the community. I have paraphrased the core legend as told by J.R. below.

Main Piece

It was told to me that, though the old Shakers that inhabited our dormitory buildings were required to be abstinent, there were times where a woman would become pregnant and attempt to hide her symptoms until the child was born. If she carried to term, she would deliver the baby and either leave the community or, much more nefariously, kill the child and hide the remains. This story over time was transformed into the legend that the remains of the dead babies would be placed in the walls of the buildings they were constructing as a way to give them a “burial.”

Thoughts

While the the folklore is based in historical accuracy , the belief in the dead babies represents a superstition specific to the school that added mystique and served to entertain (or frighten) the students, The urban legend would be shared or performed to freshman as somewhat of an initiation in to the culture of the school. Variations or abbreviations of the story would reappear in conversation, for example, “be careful, don’t get captured by the Shaker babies!” Due to the age of the settlement the school was established on, and the previous history of the land, ghost stories were commonplace in the conversation and folklore of the school and provided a link between the past and the present of a place that remained for the most part, physically unchanged.

 

For more information on the Shaker community and its ties to folklore, see:

Wolford, John B. “Shaker Studies and Folklore: An Overview.” Folklore Forum, 1989, pp. 78–107., doi:10.1.1.491.9188.

Narrative

The Pregnant Student

Background

Location: New Lebanon, NY

Informant: J.R. - 23 year old male, originally from New York State, attended the same high school as the collector

Context

Urban legend specific to a boarding school located in the remote mountains of the Berkshires in New York State, of which I attended. The rumor apparently occurred at least 3-4 years before my freshman year of high school. This urban legend had been repeated and modified over time; I have recorded the core legend here, as told to me by J.R.:

 Main Piece

There was a student and a teacher that developed a secret, romantic relationship. Because of the close proximity that being on a campus allowed, the relationship carried on for a few months, even though the teacher was married at the time. At some point, the student realized that she was pregnant and pleaded with the teacher to get her a pregnancy test so she could confirm. The teacher did buy the test, but was intercepted by school administration, who was unaware of who the student was or her relationship with the teacher. The administration insisted that the teacher inform them of the student’s identity, which the teacher refused to do. As a result, this teacher was fired and soon after he and his wife divorced.

Thoughts

As the collector participated in this folklore when they were a student, they choose to believe the story is an urban legend specific to the school, rather than a retelling of events that actually occurred. The emergence and continued telling of this story could represent the repressed sexuality that students attending the school feel. There are disciplinary consequences for being caught in a sexual act at the school, this heightened a lot of the sexual tensions or feelings that students may have had by making it somewhat taboo. It fits within the archetypes of “forbidden passion” by dramatizing the passion students may feel for one another in the context of a student-teacher relationship. Perhaps this story is a cautionary tale of what could happen if a student was to break the rules and pursue sexual experiences while on campus. This story also represents the very common idea of a student having a relation with a teacher, which is very popular in boarding school settings. The tension between the faculty and his wife is also a popular point of discussion in boarding schools, as salacious or controversial drama that occurs between faculty remains a point of interest for students attending the school.

 

Adulthood
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general
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Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Boarding School in New Zealand

So I went to a boarding school in New Zealand, and the boarding schools are modeled on the English boarding schools, because new Zealand is a commonwealth country, which means it’s part of England, or ruled by England basically, and New Zealand still recognizes the Queen of England as the Queen of New Zealand. And so, because New Zealand was colonized by the British, a lot of our traditions and customs are very distinctly british, and the concept of the boarding school transferred from Britain to New Zealand. And it fit in very well with the New Zealand way, because a lot of the people lived in the country, and therefore the kids would go off to boarding school when it came time to go to high school because, like myself, we lived too far away from town, and it would just be too big of a deal to go out every day. And so a lot of the customs and practices I had at my boarding school had their historic roots in England. Like for example, one which was not very nice and goes back to kind of the really tough days of English boarding schools was, I dunno if you’ve heard of the gauntlet? So my school was called Fielding Agricultural High School, and there were two boys boarding houses, the one that didn’t have windows was called Rangatani house, and then the one that did have windows was called Schoolhouse. And then the girls hostel was called Metataihee house.

 

Why did one of the houses not have windows?

 

To make the boys tough, I don’t know. And so there were elements of New Zealand that were woven in, so the names are all Maori names, but the traditions were very British. And most of the kids that went to boarding school, like in England, were the sons and daughters of farmers. And in my case my dad didn’t own the farm, so the farm payed for all of us kids to go to boarding school, as part of my dad’s package.

 

But the gauntlet, which was practiced in the boys’ boarding houses, it’s now banned by the way, but it was a form of punishment where, if a boy had done something wrong, they would create two lines of boys and the kid used to have to run down the middle and the kids could kick and punch him. And often they’d come out the other end, like, semi-unconscious. It was horrible. That was one of the practices, and when I was at school they still did it.

 

That seems like a pretty severe punishment, what would they have to do to deserve that? What kind of things would get you in that much trouble?

 

Maybe they got caught sealing something? Of one of their buddies? That wasn’t very common, but I’m trying to think of something that would… Something more sort of serious. And this kind of activity wasn’t something the teachers – the teachers knew about it, but – what they called the schoolmaster, they knew it went on, but they didn’t stop it. So it was kids punishing other kids, so the sorts of other things might be…I dunno maybe they just were smart, you know, mouthy? And it would be one of the preficts would decide, so if you were the equivalent of maybe a junior or a senior in American high school, like in your last two years, that’s what the preficts were. So there’d be a head boy, and a head girl, and I used to be the head girl of the boarding house, and then there’d be other preficts, and the preficts would dish out the punishments to the kids. It could be for a range of things, but if a prefict decided they’d done something, the most serious form of punishment they would call would be the gauntlet, but it only happened to the boys, not the girls.

 

With the girls, I’m trying to think, some of these things are coming back to me. With the girls, some of the things we would do is, the preficts… I mean one day one of the girls called me into her room and just said to me “kiss my shoes,” and I said no. And she’s like “kiss my shoes” and I said no, I’m not gonna do that. And I was a third former, and she gave me two days. And a day is a form of punishment, and one day would mean that you would have to…and the word day came from England, English boarding school, and that means a day that you cant do the stuff that you would normally do after school, you’ve gotta do like, do chores and labor so to speak. And so I’d have to weed the garden instead of being able to go downtown after school.

 

It would almost be like food rationing in the morning, like there would be enough pieces of toast for like one and a half slices each, and we ate all our meals with the boys in what’s called Refectory, and you’d have duties so sometimes you’d have to stay to help do the dishes.

 

Oh so after lights out, in the first year you slept in a dormitory with other kids, and as you got more senior you’d start sharing a room, and then eventually if you became a prefict you’d have your own room. And again that’s part of, it’s like a hierarchy system that is again very British. So after lights out, we’d have torches, flashlights, under our pillows, and we’d talk, but you couldn’t talk to loud because up the hallway was the house mistress, which was usually an unmarried woman, either younger or older, that would be in charge and if she could hear you laughing and talking… I remember we had one lady once that, she would walk in and say “who was talking” and no one would say anything, it was like you didn’t wanna snitch on who it was. And so she’d line us all up out against the hallway and make us stand for 15 minutes until someone said it was me. She would just come in and get us all up and make us stand.

 

And we used to do “prep,” which was two hours of study every night, from 7 til 9, which is short for preparatory, like preparatory schools, even if you didn’t have any work you’d write to family, read a book, do anything, but you had to be silent for two hours. You were not allowed to talk.

 

Oh! We used to sandwich beds.

 

What’s that?

 

That’s like, it’s also known as apple pie-ing a bed, where you know, you’ve got the bottom sheet which is usually a fitted sheet, and then you have a top sheet. So we’d take the top sheet and we would tuck it around so it looked like the bottom sheet and then you’d turn it in half, so you would go to get in the bed, and your feet would only go halfway down the bed, cause the top sheet’s turned in half. So you turned the sheet up like an apple pie. Oh, and we’d put salt in their bed as well.

 

Why?

 

Because that was a ritual – third formers on their first night, all the preficts would salt their bed, just because. Because they’re third formers, that means like first year.

 

ANALYSIS:

Children or young adults attend boarding school at a transitory, liminal time in their lives. It is a time of going away from the safety and comfort of one’s family, being in a completely new environment with new people, rules, customs, social order, expectations, etc. These punishments and initiations establish a hierarchy, and a way of separating the ‘new’ kids from the ‘old’ kids, the people that are in the group versus the people that are out of it. You have to work your way to the top, you have to go through the same tortures and pranks that the people above you went through, in order to attain that status and respect that the older kids have achieved. It’s a way of keeping social order, as well as introducing new students to how things are done in this new culture.

general
Initiations
Legends

The Ghost of Lawrence Hall at Asheville School

 

The Ghost of Lawrence Hall

My boyfriend went to boarding school at The Asheville School in Asheville, North Carolina. He was born in Boone, North Carolina and grew up there. He knows a few ghost stories that have been passed down over time at his school. The school has been around for over 100 years and has a romantic, isolated setting. He told me this story a few weeks ago:

JH: “When I was in high school, one of the older kids told me this story about the hallway that I lived in my senior year. So, back in the 20s, my high school, The Asheville School in North Carolina was an all boys school. One of the dormitories called Lawrence Hall had three floors of all boys with 24 rooms in each hallway. Now, at the end of each hallway was a faculty apartment where young faculty members and their families would live. Legend has it, that on the third floor, which was the top floor, there was a faculty apartment and in it lived a young biology teacher and her husband, who was a soccer coach. There was also an African American janitor that would clean all three halls day and night. He would get paid to clean the hallways and clean the bathrooms. The dormitory bathrooms are next to the faculty apartments. So, most of the time he would just clean during the day when he was supposed to. However, he started coming around at odd hours, especially when the biology teacher’s husband was away. The kids on the third floor started believing that the janitor was having an affair with the biology teacher, which was a big taboo back then and would have been preposterous.

So there was this attic in the roof that has been a part of the building forever and practically no one ever goes there. The attic stairs are right next to the faculty apartment. The janitor had been working on the third floor a lot and cleaning up the attic and what not. And one night, it was about 2 am, when some students swore that they heard crashing, sounds of a fight and then screaming. No one thought too much of it though and it blew over the next morning. Once it came to be the afternoon, people figured out that they had no idea where the janitor was. He just never showed up to work that day. Eventually, a person went up to the attic to see if he was in there. And he was. He was dead in the attic.  It looked like he was trying to stack something up on a shelf in the attic, and it had fallen down, smashed his head and broken his neck. But of course, the question always remains, is that actually what happened? Or did the biology teacher’s husband kill him and put him up there and set up the scene? It was never fully looked into and it was reported as an accident.

            So now it is believed that the ghost of the janitor haunts the place, especially the attic and the third floor. There were a lot of odd squeaking sounds, people complained that doors were closing and that there were sounds of the bathroom being cleaned very late at night. When they turned the third floor of Lawrence Hall into a girl’s hallway, it got a lot freakier. Especially, when girls are out between 2 and 4:30 in the morning, they just get really freaked out. They say that there is a lot of activity going on in the bathroom and that they are too scared to use the bathroom late at night. They say that if you are up around 4 am, you can sometimes hear the sound of someone knocking on the walls and on the doors of every room. Ten years before I got to Asheville School, this one girl was convinced that this older man who was a security guard, opened her door at 3:30 in the morning and watched her while she was sleeping. She was absolutely convinced that he was staring at her. Either she was dreaming or it was someone actually there. To this day no one knows. And that’s most of the story that I’ve heard.”

JH’s Interpertation:

“If the janitor really is haunting the building, I think it is because he was actually murdered and that it was not an accident.  Everyone just assumed that it was an accident and took the couple’s word for it rather than investigating and finding out what truly happened. Pertaining to the fact that it became a girl’s hallway, I think there is a lot of unrequited love on the janitor’s end and a feeling of not fitting in. If he did have this affair, he would be looking for a lover again. And, since he couldn’t find his original lady, he would go for the next best thing—one of the young girls who lives in the third floor of Lawrence Hall. So, in essence, he is still haunting the building to find either the same or a new true love again.”

My Interpretation of his story:

 This story falls into the legend category, because the events may or may not be true. I think there are a few reasons why the janitor ghost still haunts Lawrence Hall. First, I think that the ghost wants to avenge the man who killed him. But since the man is no longer living at Asheville School, he has decided to just act as a “poltergeist” to those who live happily on the third floor. He wants to show the living that he is still angry and upset about what unjustly happened to him. We have talked a lot about ghosts who come back to avenge the living or who have “unfinished business” on Earth and I think that this is one such example of a ghost coming back to Earth to finish business that he couldn’t complete before his death.

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