USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘camp’
Childhood
Musical

Duck Girl Song

[The subject is CB. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: CB is one of my friends, and a sophomore student in college. Both of her parents are lawyers in the military, so she was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, but has also lived in Germany, Kansas, and Oregon. The following is a song that she learned when she was nine or ten years old from an American Girl Scout camp in Germany called Camp Lachenwald, which translates to “laughing woods.”

CB:
I’m an old duck rover from out in Montana
Round up them duckies and drive ‘em along
To a flooded corral where we bulldog and brand ‘em
Mosey on home just a-singin’ this song

Singin’ quack quack yippee-yay
Quack quack yippee-yo
Get along, little duckies
Get along real slow
It’s dirty and smelly and really don’t pay
But I’ll be a duck girl ‘til the end of my days.

On Saturday nights, I ride into town
On my short-legged pony with my hat pulled way down
But the boys don’t like duck girls and I can’t figure out why
No cowgirl could be more romantic than I

Singin’ quack quack yippee-yay
And quack quack yippee-yo
Get along, little duckies
Get along real slow
It’s dirty and smelly and really don’t pay
But I’ll be a duck girl ‘til the end of my days.

Thoughts: This song was sung entirely in an exaggerated Southern accent, which I thought was interesting especially because CB learned it while she was in Germany, albeit from other Americans. One thing I noticed was that the song was specific to a gender, but it led me to realize that most of the children’s folk songs I knew growing up were generally sung by girls more often than boys, even when the songs didn’t specify whether the singer was supposed to be a boy or a girl. I also feel that ducks are a common motif in children’s songs and games, like duck-duck-goose and the Five Little Ducks song. Ducks seem to be a symbol that adults associate with children because pictures of them commonly appear on baby clothes, but I suppose children also associate ducks with themselves because the songs they sing and the games they play often involve them.

Folk speech
Game
general
Humor
Material
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Cool and Creamy

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student at the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat at a table with two other people, and we were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, he talks about a tradition that a student-run philanthropy (that holds a summer camp every year for the LAUSD community) does every year at our Spring Retreat called “Cool and Creamy”. Occasionally, one other person at our table, who is also a member of the organization,  interjected with her own comments. My informant learned this folklore just by attending Spring Retreat and watching counselors of past generations perform it. This is a transcription of his folklore, where he is identified as N, the girl that interjects is identified as L, and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

N: Okay, so “Cool and Creamy” is this voluntary tradition. It’s when two members, at Spring Retreat, perform this act in front of everyone as a part of the variety show, which is like a talent show, and they get, um, whipped cream, and they kind of sexualize it in a way… [laughs]

L: What, no not really!

 

(In the section directly below, when N speaks, I’ve recreated “Cool and Creamy” in the dialogue form that it’s actually performed, and the recreation is based off of my informant’s description. “Cool and Creamy” is essentially a ritualistic skit that involves a call and response between two people. Each person is given a bottle of canned whipped cream, and the goal of the tradition is essentially to put the whipped cream on the other person’s body parts until the can runs out. The names of the two people in here will be “A” and “B”.)

 

N: Yeah they sexualize, they totally sexualize “Cool and Creamy”! Yeah, yeah! They do!

      It goes like this:

A: Heyyyyyy B!

B: Heyyyyyy A!

      And then A goes like, “Do you like Cool and Creamy?” on a certain body part…. Like:

A: Do  YOU like Cool and Creamy on your elbows?

      And then B goes:

B: I LOVE Cool and Creamy on my elbows!

      And then A would spray the whipped cream on B’s elbows. And then it basically goes back and forth for like another five minutes, and it’s just kind of like a tradition. It’s um, like borderline funny. It’s almost It’s almost funny, mostly like, it’s mostly cause like we do it, but not funny because it’s funny.

K: How do you get chosen to do it?

N: Um, I think it’s just mostly older members… I don’t think people get selected to do it. But like, it’s something that like we’re guaranteed it’s going to show up at every single variety show.

K: Wait so then how do they pick who has to do it?

N: I think like two people just volunteer, like oh, which is a totally voluntarily process…. Yeah, people just volunteer… for some reason…

L: [laughs]

K: Why do people do it?

N: They do it because it’s tradition, you know? Sometimes you just gotta do it. Sometimes you just gotta do a little Cool and Creamy.

K: How did you learn this tradition?

N: How did I learn? They learn it from like past generations, so like, they’ll see that like the year before two counselors will do Cool and Creamy and then they’ll be like “Hey, this year we should do Cool and Creamy,” and then they’re like “Okay, let’s do Cool and Creamy” [laughs].

K: Why do people continue to do this?

N: Literally just because it’s tradition, it’s like literally just a weird thing that we do and it’s like “Okay, it’s weird, so we wanna just keep doing it every year… Forever.”

 

Thoughts:

This folklore is yet another example of a tradition that serves as a bonding experience. It’s not just the performers that become closer and more integrated into the organization; the camp counselors that simply just watch it happen also become a part of the “family.” As someone that is also a camp counselor in this organization, what’s particularly interesting to me about this tradition is it’s potential double reading. As my informant said, the tradition itself is not funny, but because it has sexual overtones (and just from the mere fact that we continue to do it every year) is what makes it funny. “Cool and Creamy” is fun because it’s weird and quirky, making is special to the organization, but the sexualization of the tradition also serves an ironic purpose that creates greater bonding potential. For example, the work that camp counselors do are meant to be very pure and good-intentioned, and when we’re around the kids it’s completely inappropriate to make any jokes that are foul or sex-related.

When we’re around the kids, we’re seen as leaders, role models, and adults, but this means that we have to keep our identity as college students hidden. Therefore, at Spring Retreat, when it’s only camp counselors with no kids around, we are given a chance to meld our camp counselor identities together with our college student identities, and thus comes the result of sexualizing things that, in a kids eyes, would just be seen as pure fun or just a few counselors messing around. Furthermore, “Cool and Creamy” is fun because it’s not explicitly dirty, but it has plausible deniability as a sexual joke. We can even see that my informant debated with L on whether or not the tradition is actually sexualized or if the sexualized interpretation is a way to trick counselors into making them feel bad for having a dirty mind.

“Cool and Creamy” is a perfect example of camp folklore being used to bond counselors together before summer camp happens, making counselors feel much closer so that, when summer camp comes around, everyone works together much more as a collective group. Because relationships are closer and everyone has had this shared experience, communication during camp becomes much easier. Counselors are much more comfortable around each other, thus making a much more successful summer camp than what would be without having this shared experience.

 

Initiations
Legends
Narrative

2 week trek

Main piece: If you turned 18 and wanted to sign out of your Wilderness Therapy program, the running conspiracy was that you had to walk from deep in the mountains all the way down to Main Base Camp in downtown Salt Lake City. That’s about a 2 week walk, but you weren’t allowed to hitchhike or receive any assistance or supplies, because a staff member would escort you to ensure you completed the whole walk independently.

Context: The informant (WB) is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but moved to Orem, Utah when he was 17 four years ago to receive addiction and mental health treatment. He ended up falling in love with the state and staying. WB’s father had Irish lineage and his mother was a first generation immigrant from Germany. Although he was raised Christian, he does not consider himself religious. Our conversation took place in our shared hotel room while smoking together on a family ski trip in Utah. The informant originally heard this rumor from the other boys in his Wilderness Therapy group (all of whom were minors or young adults) – it had been passed down from individuals with had been there longer to those who were newer to the program, who would then pass it onto the next batch of new kids. WB clarified that this urban legend did not end up actually being true, as when he reached the end of his stay in Wilderness, he got finally clarification from a staff member he was friendly with over whether this was true; it would’ve been “outlandish” if it were true. WB thinks this “treatment tale” came into existence because the majority of the boys in his group were there against their wills, and “when you’re in the middle of nowhere doing nothing but hiking and eating nothing but rice and beans, it’s more fun to buy into crazy stories like that rather than think about why your family sent you away.”

Personal thoughts: It’s important to note that the Wilderness Therapy program the informant attended involved spending months on end out in the wilderness, a lifestyle reminiscent of what many would consider “simpler times,” where the hustle and bustle of modern life and technology did not dictate life. Just as individuals of the past were prolific in their creation of myths and legends and tales when faced with bleak realities of mortality and suffering, WB and his group manufactured stories of their own to distract from the anguish and confusion they had to deal with without the escape of modern technology. In terms of the actual content of the tale, the outlandish idea of a difficult two week walk without help is reflective of the independence and perseverance the boys had to develop through months of hard living and involuntary treatment in the middle of nowhere. It makes sense that their form of “initiation” once you become a legal adult who is able to leave the program involves such a grueling task.

Legends
Narrative

Camp Seven Hills Serial Killer

Abstract:

This piece is about a legendary serial killer that roams the woods near Camp Seven Hills in New York.

Main Piece:

“Informant: So I spent a lot of summers at a Girl Scout camp called Camp Seven Hills. And of course there were a lot of ghost stories around the fire, but every year they would tell a ghost story about a man who had wandered off from one of the neighbor farms, like right next to the camp, and wandered into the woods one night. Like a really creepy, scary, serial killer kind of man. And his favorite thing to do was to catch little girls, little Girl Scouts and kidnap and murder them. So the whole thing was never wander into the woods at night alone. They would tell this story every year.

Me: Where was this camp?

Informant: Camp Seven Hills in Western New York. I think it was to make sure we didn’t go off on our own, but it like totally freaked us all out every year.”

Context:

The subject is an adult woman who remembers her time as a child in the 1970s going to Girl Scout summer camp. She grew up in Buffalo New York and was an avid member of the Girl Scouts growing up. Camp Seven Hills is located in Erie County, New York and still functions as a Girl Scout camp today.

Interpretation:

I wonder if this legend of this Camp Seven Hills serial killer still exists today or if it has vanished from the folklore of this camp. Since this comes from the childhood of an adult, it would be interesting to compare the stories told to the young girls at this camp today and see if they are similar or very different. I think the informant was correct about the meaning behind this legend, that it would prevent girls from wandering around the woods alone or at night. Stories like this are terrifying for young girls and since it was localized to a nearby farm as the origin, it would make it more believable as well.

 

Musical

“Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish…”

“Wherever you go, there’s always someone Jewish.

You’re never alone when you say you’re a Jew.

So when you’re not home, and you’re somewhere kind of newish,

The odds are, don’t look far – ‘cause they’re Jewish, too.

 

Amsterdam, Disneyland, Tel Aviv – oh, they’re miles apart,

But, when we light the candles on Sabbath eve, we share in the prayer in our hearts.”

 

Context: The informant went to a Jewish summer camp in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where one of the activities was to sit in a circle with a camp counselor who could play guitar and sing as a group. “My friends and I learned all of the lyrics to this song because we thought it was so funny and misguided. Actually, one of my friends wasn’t even Jewish, but he still sang the song with us. Whenever there was silence, one of us would start singing the song. It became this inside joke.”

Interpretation: This song appears light-hearted and unifying, but it encourages Jewish children to keep within their own religion. This could be in response to the notion that Jewish people are “going extinct,” so it is beneficial to introduce children to the idea of staying within one’s religion and passing on Jewish heritage. The song mentions that Jews are diverse and spread throughout the world, and tells children to look for other Jewish people in new situations rather than being open to all kinds of people. It is a declaration of Jewish pride and unity, but also a way of encouraging children to associate with (and eventually marry) other Jewish people.

 

Childhood
Folk Dance
Folk speech
Game
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic
Musical

Miss Susie

[Assorted singing] (Wait, start over, I have to transcribe this) [A and B singing over each other]

 

Miss Susie had a steamboat,

the steamboat had a bell,

Miss Susie went to Heaven,

the steamboat went to–

 

–Hello operator,

I’m caller number nine

and if you disconnect me

I’ll chop off your be–

 

’hind the ’’fridgerator,

There was a piece of glass

Miss Susie sat upon it

And broke her little–

 

–ask, me no more questions,

tell me no more lies.

The boys are in the bathroom

zipping up their–

 

–flies are in the meadows,

bees are in the park

Miss Susie and her boyfriend are kissing in the

D-A-R-K,

D-A-R-K,

Dark, dark, dark,

 

Darker than the ocean,

darker than the sea

Darker than the underwear my mommy puts on me

 

My mommy is Godzilla

my daddy is King Kong,

my brother is the jerk that made me sing this song

 

A: is that a thing? Miss Susie went to heaven–

B: Camp songs! Camp songs are a thing. Baby shark.

[more overlapping talking] (So do y’all have any other camp songs or is that it?)

A: We went to different camps.

B: …bazooka zooka bubblegum! Bazooka zooka bubblegum!

(So how did y’all learn these?)
A: Camp counselors.

[rousing chorus of Camp Grenada]

B: They sample a classical piece for that song.

 

 

Context & Analysis: This piece was shared by my informants H and N at an informal house gathering. Myself, N, H, and one other were sharing pizza and talking. They started telling stories, and I immediately wanted to record some. It was difficult to get H and N to explain their camp songs to me as I believe they were distracted by how much fun they were having. I did some research into this piece because I remembered learning a slightly different version, and found there are in fact significant regional oikotypal changes, proving that as the song traveled and was passed from camp counselor to camper, the lyrics changed according to whatever the people in the area found the funniest or most clever. 

 

Customs
Legends

Camp Basement

K is a freshman majoring in psychology who attended the same camp almost every summer before college. The campers were told this story in the basement where the events occurred at nighttime to explain why one wall is newer than the rest.

“The camp used to be a homestead, around 1812, and the family who lived there was part of the underground railroad. The escaped slaves were hidden in the basement of the house, and one night confederate soldiers showed up to confiscate the slaves and punish the family for helping. As soon as the father opened the door, he was shot in the face, and the soldiers continued to kill everyone else in the family. When they reached the basement, they decided not to kill the escaped slaves – a mother and child – but rather make them suffer. They barricaded the two in the basement behind a new wall. It’s said that at nighttime you can still hear the child scratching the wall.”

K’s story encompasses many ghost story motifs, such as the wrongful deaths of those involved and the liminal space of the basement. It is also a lesson to young campers, both not to go out at night and not to go in the basement, and helps them to feel more connected to camp through the knowledge of it’s history.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Camp P________ Secret Ritual

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: So ever since I was a kid, I went to this sleep away camp called Camp P________ (name removed by request). Once you reach a certain level at the camp, a lot of people know you, like a sufficient amount of people, and you can get inducted. So the second week, every two week during campfire, everyone who is inducted, which is a huge secret at my camp, like nobody knows about it, they come to campfire, and they say like please stop what you’re doing and follow us in silence. And then they lead you into the woods, and everyone’s dressed as indians. And you recognize them, but you can’t talk to them, they won’t smile and they won’t look at you, you walk, you all sit in this area, there’s like bonfires everywhere, this woman sits in the middle, and it’s like a ritual. The girls and boys are separate, by the way, there’s no boys around. She starts this whole ceremony and she says all of these native american prayers and does these rituals, and it’s all accurate too. And then, everyone has a specific name at camp, so the lady says “Giggling Chipmunk and Mountain Sunrise, come down from the hills and bring us the one that we shall call Spastic Chipmunk.” That’s my name. And they run and they grab you and they drag you from the crowd, and you have no idea if you’re being taken, you’re blinded and you’re stripped naked, they beat you, and then you get this necklace and it’s this hand painted necklace, and every single one is different, and there’s a rock on the end of it, and it’s a symbol that’s specific to you. So like mine is a sunrise, and that’s how we know that someone’s in the tribe. And if anyone asks about the necklace, you’re supposed to just say “My friend made it for me,” just very casual. And you spend the entire night with the tribe, and there’s this party after, and the next day you act like everything is back to normal, and then you, the next year, get to choose people to be part of the tribe. And it all stems from this indian tribe called the Paioka, and the guys do the same thing, except they wear a necklace that’s just an eagle on it, and it’s a representation of the Monotauk Indian tribe, and a lot of our camp counselors have it tattooed on them. It’s a really spiritual thing at our camp, because those tribes used to live there back in the day.

Collector: It sounds like this ritual was very significant to you.

Informant: It definitely was. They always told us that whenever we feel alone or sad, you just touch your necklace and you can feel the voices of the women in our tribe. (Starts crying) Sorry, I’m so emotional. There’s people that wear it year-round. I probably should. It really means a lot to me.

I never went to sleep away camp, so I never experienced anything like what she is talking about here. However, it was very emotional for me to see her reacting so strongly to her memory of this ritual. Because this is something that is very foreign to me and hard for me to understand, it was really cool to hear her describe it so visually. I could almost feel as if I was there experiencing it with her. I also think it’s really interesting how this ritual stems from rituals of previous Native American tribes, and that they still honor them today.

Festival
general
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Stump Murderer

Folklore Piece

“So this is just an old ghost story from camp, in northern Wisconsin. But this guy who was an old janitor at the camp went out to the woods to start chopping trees to make room for this new court they wanted to build. So he started chopping down trees with an axe and he cut off his leg. So he only had one leg after that, and um, so he uh, filled that with a stump that he had found and used that as his leg. This scared the campers so much that the camp fired him and sent him away. But what ended up happening that next summer, a boy was taking a shower on his own at the shower house at night. And then he would hear footsteps and a log kind of dragging. The story is that each year he comes back once and takes one kid and buries them in the back.”

Background

“Yeah I like the story, It’s pretty morbid actually. I mean, like, here we have these pretty young campers, talking about someone chopping his leg off and stealing children, and yet, like, it’s totally OK, because it’s summer camp. How crazy is that, when you think about it, really? Like, ok, if I went up to some kid at a school, and I told the same story about a janitor working in the woodshop, like, I’d probably be arrested! It’s just funny to me. But, uh, yeah, I love telling this story”

Context:

“We’d usually do the whole campfire thing. You know, uh like we would get all the campers around at night and go around telling stories. We would tell this story one of, like, the first nights. It’s actually a pretty clever way to get them to, like, stick together”

 

Analysis: Upon first listen, I didn’t think much of this story. It seemed like a hodgepodge of a number of different classic folk-tales: the peg-legged pirate, the axe murderer, the former camper turned raging homicidal maniac, etc. However, I think there is something deeper to be found here. At the centerpiece of the story is this rivalry between the janitor and the camp. The camp’s work is what made him lose his leg, and yet the camp are the ones who banished him. Then, when he comes back, he takes retribution upon the camp in the form of taking kids that are alone. This serves two functions. First, it teaches the kids to respect the camp and its dangers, but more importantly, and implicitly, to never wander off alone. The informant mentioned later, once I prompted him with this question, that it is why they tell this story, for fun but also so that they don’t go wandering out at night alone.

As someone who did not grow up going to sleepaway camp, it was also intriguing to me that these nights of sharing scary stories around a campfire during summer camp actually happen. It sounds like a modern ritual to me if I’d ever heard one. The ambiance of the night time, the fire, and the stillness of the forest all provide the perfectly eerie ambiance for a scary ghost story, and now because of its association, one cannot come without the other.

 

Legends

Turtle Man in Turtle Bay

The informant is a 2o year old classmate and friend of mine who was excited to share about her camp’s urban legend.
I went to a camp called Lake of the Woods Camp for girls, I was a camper for 8 years, and went for 8 weeks every summer since I was 7.
So its just kind of a camp legend that we’ve always had. theres this story about Turtle man- the legend of turtle man, and theres this place called turtle bay at camp and its part of our lake at camp and its filled with sulfur and so it smells really really bad. So the urban legend goes that there was a counselor who was really mean to all the campers- he worked at Greenwood’s Camp for Boys, and so um the counselor was really mean, just not a nice person- beat the campers, was awful to them. He would smoke cigarettes in the cabin, and he was just so rude to them and he told them if you tell your parents who i am I’m going to kill you all or something like that because he was an ex military person. And he um one day the boys decided to pull a prank of him because they hated him so much- it was fourth of july and they decide to pull a prank on him. This was back when you could receive a bunch of packages and have packages with fireworks and they were just going to blow them up and the counselor found them and he said he would confiscate them. So he put them under his bed. Since it was fourth of july, all the counselors like to get drunk and so he came home that night and he was really drunk and was smoking a cigarette and he fell asleep with the cigarette in his hand and the fireworks went off and the counselor ran into turtle bay and he was never seen again- and the myth is that he comes back every fourth of july to haunt the campers.
I first heard it my first year at camp from older girl campers, and now even though they don’t allow ghost stories everyone still knows about it.
ANALYSIS:
I like this piece specifically because it really shows how strong a piece of folklore can be. As the informant mentioned, the camp banned ghost stories, presumably because the age range of kids in the camp is quite large. Even so, the informant mentioned that everyone knows the story anyways and it will continue to be passed down.
[geolocation]