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.
“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.”
“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”
“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.
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.
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.
The informant is a 20-year old college sophomore at University of Michigan majoring in industrial and systems engineering. She went to sleep-away camp for several years and was excited to share some of her fond memories of it with me. One such memory is “the Bagel Song.”
“Bagels, doo doo doo
Bagels, doo doo doo
Bagels on Mars, Bagels on Venus
I got bagels in my…..
Bagels, doo doo doo
Bagels, doo doo doo
Bagels on the pier, bagels on the dock
I got bagels on my….
Bagels, doo doo doo
Bagels, doo doo doo
(The next person makes up a stanza similar to the first two, with provocative lyrics that make the listener think of something dirty, but that ends in NOSE”
Interviewer: “Where did you learn the Bagel Song?”
Informant: “I remember my counselor one year teaching it to me and a few other campers. We thought it was totally hilarious. When I was a counselor a few years ago, I taught it to my campers too.”
Interviewer: “Where would you guys sing the song?”
Informant: “Oh gosh, all the time. Um, we would sing it when camp songs were song. Like at bonfires and before mealtimes when everyone was together waiting to eat. We would tease the cute male counselors with it too…”
Interviewer: “Did your counselor who taught you the song say where she learned it?”
Informant: “No. We never asked. But I do have a friend who went to an all-boys camp in Wisconsin who told me they had a variation of the song they would sing.
Interviewer: “Do you remember how the variation went?”
Informant: “Hmm. I think it was the same general principle. I think what was different was that the boys said “Bacon” instead of “bagel”? I’m not entirely sure though; it was a long time ago that I talked to my friend about it!”
I see the Bagel song as a humorous song dealing with taboos of sex and sexuality. The song is especially funny because it makes the listener the one with the “dirty mind”, not the singer, as it is the listener who thinks the singer is going to make an obscene reference.
Oring talks about Children’s folklore (I would consider “The Bagel Song” fitting into this category) a good deal in Folk Groups and Folklore Genres. Ideas of childhood have been purified for a long time in American society, and the oppressiveness of the controlled environment in which children reside in can partially explain their dealing with the sexuality taboo, along with other taboos.
*Note: Taylor is a member of the student organization USC Troy Camp, a group that mentors/tutors students in the South Central L.A. area and raises funds during the year to send 200 elementary schoolchildren from South L.A. to a week-long summer camp in Idyllwild, CA. This week-long camp is completely run by the counselors, and through the year many legends and traditions have developed that are upheld/told each year at camp, carried on by newer counselors as older ones graduate. Because I am also a member of Troy Camp, she didn’t provide any context for this, so I figured I’d do so to minimize confusion. This particular story is the story of “Mary Brown,” which we tell to the 5th grade students (the oldest) when they spend a night in tents instead of their cabins.
INFORMANT: “I’m going to tell it like I’d tell it to the kids, okay? Okay. So… years and years ago, kids just like you were coming to Troy Camp for a great week at camp. They were so excited, and on the first day everyone was running around and making friends. Everyone except one. There was a little girl named Mary Brown, and she stood in the corner and didn’t talk to anyone – she was so shy. She would just stand in the corner and stare at her sparkly red shoes. The kids started to make fun of Mary, asking why she never played with anyone else and making fun of her red shoes. But no matter what they said, Mary would just stand there silently, staring down at her shoes. The bullying got much worse, and no matter what the counselors did, they couldn’t stop it. One day in the dining hall, a girl walked up to Mary Brown and started making fun of her shoes. At first, Mary was quiet and just stared down. But suddenly, she grabbed the fork from her plate and brought it down right on the bully’s hand – stabbed her in the hand with the fork. Silent the whole time, even as the bully screamed and cried. Her counselor took her aside and tried to reason with her, told her they were going to have to call her parents for breaking the rules and hurting another camper. But Mary said nothing… she just stared down at her red shoes. Her counselor tried that night to call Mary’s parents to come pick her up, but she couldn’t get through to anyone. The number was disconnected. So the counselor went back to the cabin, and all the girls were fast asleep in their beds… except one. Mary. Mary Brown was nowhere to be found. The counselors all panicked. They searched, they looked everywhere, and they just couldn’t find her. Finally, in the middle of the night, some counselors went down to the river, and that’s where they found her. There she was, standing on a rock in the middle of the river, dripping wet, holding a fork and staring down at her red shoes. “Mary, Mary! Please come back!” they yelled to her. They begged her to come back, to let them help her. After many… after many minutes of this, she finally looked up. She looked them straight in the eyes, raised the fork, and without saying a word, STABBED HERSELF, again and again and again with the fork until her body fell limp into the river. The water washed her right away, and no search party or the Idyllwild police was ever able to find her body. And now, every seven years, a couple forks go missing from the dining hall, and one camper falls victim to the wrath of Mary Brown, who comes click-clacking into the cabin in her sparkly red shoes, and STABS them with her fork. It’s been said you can hear her approaching because she scrrrrrrrrrratches the outside of the cabin door with her fork, scrraaaaaatches along the door. And… I hate to say it, but this year is the seventh year since the last incident. So watch out, kids, listen carefully for the fork on the door. And tell someone right away if you ever catch a glimpse of a pair of sparkly red shoes walking through the forest.”
This legend is cool because I’m fairly certain it’s completely unique to Troy Camp – at least under the name “Mary Brown.” One day I got curious and googled ‘Mary Brown ghost story,’ and found almost nothing similar to our story. Mary Brown is also interesting because there tends to be one counselor who tells it best, and they’ll tell the story to the campers until they graduate, at which time the job of primary storyteller is passed down to another counselor. This year, the guy who usually tells Mary Brown to the campers is graduating, so nobody knows who’s going to tell the story next year at camp. The story changes a little bit with each person who tells it, so there’s no way of knowing how the story began. No one in Troy Camp knows what year they started telling Mary Brown, but it’s an established tradition now.
“Mary Brown” also exemplifies the difference between a story like “La Llorana” and a regular ghost story – legends like La Llorana tend to have a message, a rule to obey. Contrarily, Mary Brown exists just to scare the kids! Ghost stories don’t usually have messages or morals, they’re for entertainment purposes only. One could argue that Mary Brown teaches campers not to bully other campers, but the bullying seems a little beside the point. I’ve also never known counselors to actually go around with forks on the cabin doors, because that would probably be too scary.
On the very last day of camp we do this thing called Pine Cone dedication. Every cabin finds the biggest, best pinecone they can and they all bring them to the campfire that night.
So…20 cabins each have their own pine cone and we bring them to campfire, um and so every cabin goes up one at a time with the kids and cabin counselors and all the other counsleors that like that cabin and we go around and, um, say who we want to dedicate the pine cone to.
So “the kids in the cabin” or “this counselor who we love” or “blue team” or anyone who we want to dedicate to um and all the counselors who are up with that cabin, they go down the line and they reveal their real name. And a lot of the time, the kids don’t remember it even though they always try to guess it. But they don’t call you that, a lot of the time, ‘cus they’ve been calling me Diglett all week
So we say, “Here people call me Diglett, but when I’m home and my mom gets really mad at me she calls me Andie.”
So all the counselors reveal their real names and all the kids go “I KNEW it” but they totally didn’t (laughs).
So …we go through all of the cabins…all 20 cabins do that.
And then you throw the pine cone in the fire when you’re done. And we have this song that you sing and then everyone’s done and goes back to there seat. And we have this song called Purple Lights and two counselors come up with a guitar and everyone sings it with them.
And we have this special clap that we do and everyone goes like this (shakes hands back and forth- like jazz hands) and what we’re doing is like reflecting the fire back at each other. We say we’re reflecting the light of the fire back to our friends.
The counselors lead the song so they sing a line, and then the kids sing a line and that’s how you learn it.
Context: The informant, my roommate, is very involved with Troy Camp and was eager to share some of what makes the organization so special. This ritual takes place every summer, but this was the first time she had explained it to me. I already knew, however, that they all have “camp names” and hers is Diglett. Each name has a story, usually embarrassing behind it.
Thoughts: Troy Camp is such a tight-knit group and so it did not surprise me that they had a lot of traditions and rituals in their organization. This one, in particular, concludes the week of the actual camp very nicely.
My roommate, who grew up in Michigan, told me about a theater game that she learned at a theater camp.
The game is called Kitty Wants A Corner. To play it, you stand in a circle with one person in the middle and the goal is to not be in the middle (it’s kind of like being “it”). The person in the middle goes to each person in the circle and stands in front of them, looks them in the eye, and says “Kitty Wants a Corner” as though they’re the kitten and want a spot to sit. You don’t want to give up your space in the circle, so you’ll say “No, go ask my neighbor” so the person moves to the next person in the circle and says the same thing. In the meantime, other people in the circle, mostly people behind the person who is it, will make eye contact with each other, and silently agree to switch places while the person in the middle is distracted. The person in the middle can intercept the switch and try to get a spot in the circle, and the person who didn’t make it all the way has to be in the center.
My roommate learned it at camp in Michigan, so she was surprised when they played it at her improv class at Second City in Hollywood. She thought it was strange because the person teaching the game in Los Angeles had no connection to Michigan. The informant had also only ever played the game at the camp before, it wasn’t part of her high school theater program at all. It’s likely that this game spread through actors moving around (which is common) since I have also heard of/played variations of this game, but it wasn’t exactly the same thing. If the game was an official “theater game” it would be the same everywhere, but there’s variation in how it’s played in different places.
The informant (L) is a 22 year old film student at the California State University Los Angeles. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma until leaving for college after high school. She attended camp many summers during her middle and high school years. She told me the story of the Waluhmaloo bird that is told at Camp Waluhili in Chouteu, Oklahoma. She had never seen a written version of this story, so the spelling of Waluhmaloo is just a guess. The story is told by the older campers and counselors to the younger campers (who are as young as seven) when they are taking their first hike to the Indian graveyard. L was both told this story when she was a younger camper and later told this story to the younger campers when she was older. Below is a paraphrased version of her story:
“The camp is on an Indian graveyard. When the white people were attacking the Indians a long time ago, the Indians needed protection. The magical Waluhmaloo bird made a deal with the Indians that he would protect their graves if they agreed to stop hunting the Waluhmaloo birds. The Indians agreed and even now, the Waluhmaloo bird protects their graves and will cause something bad to happen to you if you disrespect the graves. Before you enter the graveyard, you have to spin around three times and say out loud that you believe in the Waluhmaloo bird. Once you go into the graveyard, if you step on a grave, you have to say you’re sorry out loud to the graves. ”
This story seems to give something for the older campers to distinguish themselves from the younger campers. The passing of the story from older campers to younger campers is a rite of passage and effectively lets the younger and older campers share something. This story may also remain popular with campers over the years because it gives a way to deal with the tension formed by being so close to not only a graveyard, but a graveyard of what are now seen as a group that the American government and people treated very unjustly in the past. There is a hesitance within American culture to deal with the dead, as if remains somehow hold some special property. This is symbolized by the Waluhmaloo bird, who is there to make sure the graves are not disrespected. I am not sure if the camp is actually on or near an Indian graveyard, and I was unable to find any more information about the practice through internet searches. I don’t really think that the realness of the graveyard matters as long as the campers themselves believe it is there, and that it is real.
“What do you call a deer with no eyes?
No eye-deer [spoken like “idea” with a drawling a that ends in an r].”
The informant learned this and other jokes (most of them he claimed to be especially bad, and possibly prized for their cringe-worthiness), during band camp when he was an undergraduate, (he was introduced to many of them in his freshman year. The informant said that telling jokes is part of the ritual of band camp, partly to foster camaraderie and boost morale, and partially to evade boredom on buss trips. He said you had to tell jokes because “you can only drink so much on a bus trip.”
This particular joke holds no specific significance for the informant, but is representative of the types of jokes he remembers.
This joke, and the group of jokes of a similar type that it comes from, seems to have a universal hold on different age groups. It’s extremely similar to the types of jokes that might be told at a camp for youths. Word play is as understandable to adults as it is to children, and the frequency of the retelling of these kinds of jokes suggests that English speakers (and perhaps speakers of other languages as well) find humor in the manipulation of speech, which is such an ordinary part of life. This works with surprise to create humor.
My informant was a member of the Drill team in high school. In high school the drill team would go to drill camps with teams from other schools. There would be mini-competitions between the schools. Whichever school had the most school spirit was given the Spirit Stick. According to my informant the Spirit Stick was 1 and half to 2 foot long cylindrical stick with a 1 and a half to two inch diameter, just big enough to keep a grip on. She says it was decorated but she can’t remember exactly what it looked like. The Spirit Stick cannot touch the ground. Dropping the Spirit stick on the ground is bad luck. She wasn’t told what type of bad luck would occur but she says it was bad luck for the drill team not the football team. It would probably result in the drill team doing poorly at a competition.
This item shows how the drill team is a distinct community from the football team. The two groups may interact because its the drill teams jobs to perform at games. However, the drill team have separate camps and the meet with opposing teams in a different setting a, at a camp and on the field. Also any bad luck caused by dropping the spirit stick reflects negatively on the drill team not the football team.