USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘campfire story’
general
Legends

Judge Cropsey Legend

The Judge Cropsey Legend as told verbatim by informant:

“Judge Cropsey was a story we learned when we went away to boy scout camp. Well there’s a bunch of different versions but the most popular version was that Judge Cropsey was a scout leader and every year he went to boy scout camp with you know one of the troupes from his home town and uh of course he taught all his kids how to um you know whittle with a pocket knife and how to use a hand axe and how to use other tools and you always had a project like building a tripod or building a tower, but Judge Cropsey was a real fanatic about safety and um he would be very upset if you didn’t use the tools properly. So one summer there was this kid you know this kid would not uh repeatedly didn’t use the tool properly particularly the hand axe and uh as Judge Cropsey was watching him one day this kid um (pause) was using the hand axe incorrectly and he managed to chop, lose control of the thing and hit Judge Cropsey in the wrist and knock of his hand. Judge Cropsey just went bananas. He had a psychological breakdown, went running through the woods, bleeding everywhere and kinda disa disappeared and from then on every summer at that boy scout camp there were sightings of Judge Cropsey in the woods usually at night time usually running around with a hand axe and of course threatening you know that he was going to chop off someone’s hand.

It was a typical campfire story you know. It was a lot of fun. And the whole purpose of the story of course was to scare the new kids you know at camp um but it became really a legend. And like I say there were multiple variations on the story. and of course anytime there were noises at night someone would scream (suppressed yell) ‘Judge Cropsey! Judge Cropsey!’ (laughing) And everyone would you know duck under the covers and you know hope that he wouldn’t come to your tent. You know the youngest kid at camp was 11, so. But everyone at camp knew the story.

You know, I think probably I told it outside of boy scouts because uh I used to take my friends camping. You know, and I’m sure I not only told the story but I’m sure I embellished it. There’s there’s another version that actually wound up in the movies. Uh where uh Judge Cropsey or someone similar to him grabbed the handle of the car and got dragged as the car was puling away and of course when the people didn’t realize what was going on and when they um when they stopped the car and got out they saw the hand um you know there. And then of course there’s the version where uh Judge Cropsey, because he lost his hand, he got it replaced by a hook and every once in a while someone would hear a scratching on their car and they’d speed off and then, of course, one day someone would look at their handle or look at their rear fender and see a hook hanging off it and that was Judge Cropsey’s hook.

I lived in Long Island and every year we’d go up in the Catskills where the boy scout camp was. So, but I think the hook man, my guess is that the hook man was a variation of the original Judge Cropsey boy scout story.”

The legend of Judge Cropsey in the boy scout context is perfect, as the informant mentioned, in terms of the scary campfire story and especially messing with the younger boys at camp. The threat of Judge Cropsey lurking in the woods at night with his axe is not only classic, but it does teach the boys a lesson in listening to their camp leaders, being alert, and of course staying on their best behavior. Running off to the woods isn’t so appealing if Judge Cropsey’s running around trying to kill kids. The informant’s connection to the fairly popular contemporary legend of the hook-man is interesting too, because the “embellishment” of Judge Cropsey or the essential collaboration of the two legends makes for an almost oicotype super-legend. If donned with a hook, Judge Cropsey isn’t limited to the woods, but can strike anyone at anytime. It’s also interesting because the legend of a child-threatening figure named Cropsey has numerous variations in other parts of New York, one of which was formally investigated in the 2009 documentary film “Cropsey.” The film explores the legend’s manifestation in Staten Island, where Cropsey kidnaps children and takes them to the woods where they are lost forever, then exploring its power in relation to the conviction of a local man as a child kidnapper.

Cropsey. (2009) Dir. Joshua Zemen and Barabara Brancaccio. Netflix. Web.

Legends
Narrative

Slushbucket

“Not too long ago, there was a truck driver whose job was to drive across the country.  But he wasn’t just an ordinary truck driver.  He transported dead bodies.  For 20 years he did this, driving back and forth across the country and never had any problems…

But one day, he was driving through a horrible blizzard on a narrow mountain road.  Suddenly, the truck hit a patch of ice, swerved off the road and was stranded in a ditch on the side of the mountain.  The crash knocked the driver unconscious and by the time he woke up, the truck was completely enclosed in snow.  He tried to open his doors, but he couldn’t get out.

For days, he was stuck in the truck and was forced to eat leather from the car seats.  But after weeks, the starving truck driver had no other choice.  He made his way to the back door of the truck, into the storage container.  He was so ravenous that he opened the caskets and quickly began feeding on the dead corpses… and to keep warm, he used the skins as a coat.  The truck driver now acquired a taste for human flesh.  No one ever found the truck until the snow melted that spring, but only open coffins and scattered bones were found.  There was no sign of the driver…

On one dark and rainy night, a young girl was babysitting.  She had already put the two children to bed and was watching TV, when all of a sudden; she heard a faint noise outdoors,

‘Slushbucket, slushbucket, slushbucket…’

Thinking it was either the TV or the sound of the falling rain outside, she hesitantly returned to watching her program.  After a few minutes, she started to hear creaking, and then footsteps on the second floor of the house.  But thinking it was just the kids getting up for a glass of water, she didn’t pay it any mind, until she heard a voice,

‘Slushbucket, slushbucket, slushbucket…’

This time she heard it much clearer and much louder than before, and it was coming from upstairs!  The babysitter just thought it was the kids playing a joke on her, so she walked upstairs so that she could put the children back to bed.

Soon after, the parents came home, but the house was completely quiet.  They called for the babysitter, and no answer.  Then they went upstairs to check on the children.  Maybe the babysitter was in their room.

But as they opened the door to the kids’ room, they found the babysitter on the floor, with a pool of blood by her side. It looked as if a person had bit off mouthfuls of flesh!  Horrified, they rushed to the children and threw off their covers.  They too had been eaten!  As they turned to rush for the phone, they were stopped in their tracks as they heard staggering footsteps coming from the hallway towards the room, and a rasping whisper with each step,

‘Slushbucket, slushbucket, slushbucket…’”

 

 

My informant first heard this horror story when she was a teenager at summer camp.  She hates scary stories, so she remembers being really scared by this one.  She says she probably retold the story hundreds of times when she was younger to her siblings right before bed and friends around the campfire.  She explained that she hadn’t told the story in such a long time, so she probably added details that weren’t in the version she heard, but she tried to keep the sequence of events the same.  “Horror stories are all about the details,” she said.

The “Slushbucket” story is really similar to other babysitter-themed horror stories, which play on the eeriness and vulnerability of being the only one awake in the house after the kids go to sleep.  Therefore, this story is mostly directed toward teenagers, the age group that is just beginning to baby-sit.  The tale also seems to scare its audience into being apprehensive while babysitting, by showing the fatal result of the nonchalant babysitter in the story.  “Slushbucket” also includes elements of cannibalism, which adds to the horror.  Interestingly enough, when I looked up the definition of “slushbucket,” one of the meanings is “a foul feeder.”  Therefore, this term most likely refers to the fact that the killer is a cannibal.  It’s already bad when a mass murderer is on the loose with knife, but a cannibalistic killer who eats you alive is probably worse.

Legends

Urban Legend: A Dead Body Hidden in a Hotel Mattress

 “Once there was a couple who decided to get away for a couple days.  They decided to stay at a motel and as soon as they entered their room, it smelled horrible, like maybe a rat died in there.  So, they complained to the front desk, but the concierge assured them that the room was just cleaned and the cleaning staff and even the previous occupant never complained about a smell.  The couple then asked to switch rooms, but the motel was in the middle of nowhere and completely booked.  There was nothing they could do about it, so they started to track down the smell for themselves.  The smell was coming from somewhere near the bed.  They looked under it, behind it, behind the bedside tables and still couldn’t locate the smell.  Finally, they decided just to check underneath the mattress.  When they pushed the mattress off, the found a rotting human body in the box spring.  The body was there for days, maybe weeks until it was found.”

 

My informant is from Pasadena, California and first heard the story when she was in grade school in the 1990s.  She heard it from her friends at school and also saw it in a comic book version of urban legends that she read when she was younger.  While researching this story, it turns out the story is very popular.  My informant’s version is very similar to other’s I came across online.  All the stories involve a couple, a foul smell, a search to find the smell and the discovery of the body.  However, other versions include different descriptions: the couple is on their honeymoon, the story takes place in Las Vegas, the cleaning staff cleans the room while the couple is off sightseeing (but the smell remains when they return) and sometimes there is no complaint, just a discovery.  The story of the body in the mattress has many different versions, but nonetheless, is the same story.

The most surprising and interesting discovery I made during my research was the fact that the exact same incident occurred at a Travelodge in Pasadena, CA in July 1996!  I first found this information on Snopes.com, which prides with the statement: “the definitive Internet reference source for urban legends, folklore, myths, rumors, and misinformation.”  According to Snopes.com, the motel staff discovered a woman’s body ten days after her murder after multiple complaints from occupants.  In another source, the body was found by a Honolulu native, while she and her brother were on vacation (“The Body in the Bed”).  Although unreliable sources, the two websites illustrate common variants found in folklore.  In order to really confirm the urban legend from Pasadena, I went to the City of Pasadena’s online archive.  The archive only publishes the headlines of newspapers, but the title “Body found in motel room identified: Woman, 23, is named using dental records,” dated to August 2, 1996, verified this story.  The urban legend was most likely a popular story already, so the incident may have simply been a reenactment of the legend.  Furthermore, the event may have also revived the story, which is why my informant heard it while in grade school during the 1990s.

 

Emery, David. “The Body in The Bed.” About.com Urban Legends. 20 Apr. 2012. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <http://urbanlegends.about.com/od/crime/a/body_in_bed.htm>.

Sharfstein, Daniel. “Body Found in Motel Room Identified : Woman, 23, Is Named Using Dental Records.” Pasadena Public Library. City of Pasadena. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://ww2.cityofpasadena.net/Library/PNI/pniAuthor.asp?page=1&pagesize=100&showAll=&calltype=sort&searchtype=&Pattern=&sortOn=subject&sqlQuery=qauthor+%27%25sharfstein%2C+daniel%25%27>.

“The Bawdy Under the Bed.” Snopes.com. 18 Mar. 2010. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <http://www.snopes.com/horrors/gruesome/bodybed.asp>.

Childhood
Legends
Narrative
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

Northern Californian Campfire Story: The Ring Man

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “The story of the Ring Man goes to back when I was growing up, and my dad and his best friend Jim Kaddy who used to go camping in the woods, around where our cabin is in Lassen. And up there, there would be when we were little; there are these trees with these rings on them. There were painted white rings, around various parts of the forest. And so what they told us was that the Ring Man paints a white ring on these trees. And the reason he does that, is that at night various campers are camping out in the woods and he comes to their tents when they are sleeping. And for the girls, he leaves them candy. But for the boys he finds, he kills them. And when he kills them, he puts a ring around the tree for each boy he kills. So you should never go out at night when you are camping, or the Ring Man will get you.”

Interviewer: “So the Ring Man only kills boys? Why?”

Informant: “Because boys are noisy. But you only tell that story at night, when you are camping.”

Analysis:

“The Ring Man” is a campfire story that is unique to the informant’s family.  The story is intended to be told as a campfire story, specifically to younger children.  The reason why the story is intended for children is because only children would believe that the rings on the trees indicate the murder of little boys.  Adults know that the rings on the trees actually indicate the lumber has been marked to be cut down by local logging industry, which has a strong presence in Humboldt County culture of where this story originated.  The high number of trees marked with rings makes the story more believable to the children, because the proof of the Ring Man’s existence is something you can really see.

The violence present in the tale indicates that the authors of the story had a dark sense of humor, and created the tale to playfully tease their children.  This tale also serves as an educational warning to the young audience, in that it warns them of the evils and violence that are present in the world that they should be aware of.  In this sense, “The Ring Man” tale is very similar to other folk tales that warn children of the evils present in the world such as “Hansel and Gretel”.  Another interesting aspect of this story is the idea that the Ring Man only kills boys, because they are noisy.  This comes from the stereotypical belief that girls are sweet and quiet, which is why the girls get sweet candy, and boys are loud and obnoxious.  Therefore the performer of this tale also uses “The Ring Man” as a warning to little boys that they should be well behaved and quiet or the Ring Man will kill them.  The fact that the story puts an emphasis on the importance of being well behaved also indicates that the authors of the story put a high value on manners.

I have heard this tale many times when my family and I would go camping. When I first heard “The Ring Man”, I thought the tale was real, and I became extremely upset when I saw three trees marked with the white rings by an elementary school.  After expressing this to the informant, he explained that the tale was not real and my anxieties were soon forgotten.  There is a sense of pride that comes from the story because it is unique to the informant’s family and a part of their traditions.

My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife.  After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California.  He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.

Legends
Narrative

The Story of Josh Friar

This story is told at a summer camp in rural Pennsylvania.

Over by the lake, there used to be a huge house. It belonged to a man named Josh Friar. Josh was a very strange man, and very reclusive. He stayed in his house all year round, only leaving once a month to do his shopping in Towanda (the local town.) The townspeople always waited expectantly for his visit every month, for although he was strange and a recluse, every month he would have a new, beautiful woman with him. Blonde women, brunette woman, tall woman, short women–all different, and all stunning. One month Josh brought a particular beauty into town. She had fiery red hair, and bright green eyes. Everyone agreed she was the most beautiful woman Josh had ever brought. 

The next month, however, Josh didn’t come to town. Nor did he the next month. On the third month that Josh did not come to town, the townspeople decided to form a party and go check on him. They hiked out to the lake in the woods, and knocked on Josh’s door. There was no answer, but the door was unlocked. The men shrugged and opened it. Immediately they were overpowered by a hideous stench. It was so vile that several of the men ran outside and vomited. Despite the smell, several men still went inside. As they entered the dark house, the smell got worse and worse. Some had to leave because they couldn’t take it. Finally, someone found a light switch. When they turned it on, one of the men screamed. Everything in the house–the carpet, the walls, the furniture, everything–was covered in human flesh. It was so awful that some of the grown men cried or ran away. The few that remained decided they had to keep looking for Josh. They saw a staircase, and started to climb. As they climb, the smell got worse and worse. One man passed out. Finally, they reached the top of the stairs, and opened the door. Inside the room, sitting on a rocking chair, was the beautiful redheaded woman. And in her lap was the head of Josh Friar.

And one some dark nights, like this one, they say that he still walks these woods–the decapitated Josh Friar, searching for his head, with nothing but a green lantern, the same green as the bright green eyes of the woman who killed him.
This was a ghost story told at my informant’s childhood summer camp every year, usually at a bonfire on the Fourth of July. The camp policies didn’t allow most traditions, such as camp songs or stories, except for this and a few more told only on this night. Only one of the oldest, most experienced campers  will be allowed to tell the story, and every year, the camper with the honor does his or her best to make it new and exciting, even though everyone knows the story already.

At the last part, a green light will start flashing from the woods behind the speaker, to the screams of campers. This is done by another senior camper, and it is considered an honor.

Legends
Narrative

The Story of Raggedy Ann of Towanda, PA

There was once a young woman named Ann, who lived in the rural town of Towanda, Pennsylvania, with her parents, who loved her very much. They would always say to her, “Just remember, Ann, if you ever get into any trouble, any trouble at all, just run home. Run straight home, and we’ll be here.” One night Ann was driving out by the woods. A deer sprang out onto the road, and Ann, swerving to miss it, crashed her car. In the crash, the glass from the windshield shattered, and split through either side of her neck. Ann stumbled out of the car and ran home, but as she ran, her mostly-severed neck flopped back and forth–flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop. Her parents found her and rushed her to the hospital, but somehow in the crash Ann lost her mind and went insane. Her parents put her in a mental institute. One night, Ann escaped, so that she could run home to her parents. And on some nights, you just might see her, running through the woods, her head going flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop.

This was a ghost story told at my informant’s childhood summer camp every year, usually at a bonfire on the Fourth of July. The camp policies didn’t allow most traditions, such as camp songs or stories, except for this and a few more told only on this night. Only one of the oldest, most experienced campers  will be allowed to tell the story, and every year, the camper with the honor does his or her best to make it new and exciting, even though everyone knows the story already.

On the last line– “flip-flop, flip-flop, flip-flop”, Raggedy Ann herself comes running across through the words, her head flopping back and forth, to the screams of the campers. This is always another senior camper, and it’s considered an honor to play the part.

general
Legends
Narrative

Campfire Story

The informant is a male in his 50s. He was born to two Greek parents in New York. He was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in the Bronx for most of his youth before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut. He has worked as a journalist for most of his life, a job in which he spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent. He now lives in Southern California as a software developer. He is divorced with three children.

The informant heard this story when he was young, commonly in a campfire situation. He classifies it himself as a “campfire story”, told among young pre-adolescents in situations where spooky stories are being swapped. He had this story told to him multiple times when he was young when someone was called upon to tell a “ghost” story. He considers it a story relegated to youth.

Text: A person is driving at night and a car behind them constantly honking. And he can’t figure out whats wrong and why its… and he tries to let them pass and slow down and pull over and they just keep honking and honking. And of course its because there’s someone in the back seat, an escaped lunatic, they’ve heard about on the radio. And, um, they can see the person but the driver can’t see them so they’re honking to warn the driver, that’s what the misunderstanding was.

Analysis: This story plays on a universal fear among humans. There is always a fear of what is hiding behind your back. Humans fear what they cannot see and behind the back is a constant blind spot. This fear is used in many horror films, when the monster/killer, etc. is commonly standing right behind their victim. This fear is especially compounded by the dark. The story is suited for campfire situations as it prays on a primal fear. It is also suited to adolescents and youths, as the story becomes less plausible if a person is used to driving cars, as it would be extremely unlikely that a driver would not notice someone sitting in the backseat whenever they looked in their rearview mirror.

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