USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘car’
Folk Beliefs
Signs

Dreams Predict Death

VG: Ok, so you said you have a superstition?

AM: I am 99% sure I know how I’m gonna die and when.

VG: Uh-how?

AM: Once a month, I have the same exact dream where I’m driving in a car during the rain and ss- what is it- we end up hydroplaning and falling on train tracks and not um having enough time to get off the car and getting hit by a dream. What is it- every month the dream changes just a little bit, but it’s always us driving, hydroplaning, and then ch- hitting a ditch.

VG: So you believe in the power of recurring dreams?

AM: Yes. Every month for the past three years.

VG: Do you know the specific day?

AM: No. All I know is is it’s raining really bad and we’re on the highway.

VG: Wow…who’s- you say we, whose in the car?

AM: Usually, my dad, my mom, and me.

VG: Wow…have you told them about it?

AM: Nope..not yet.

 

Background:

Location of Story – Variable, Southern California

Location of Performance – Dormitory room, Los Angeles, CA, night

 

Context:  This performance took place in a group setting – about 2-3 people – in a college dormitory room. This performance was prompted by the call for stories about beliefs, ghosts, or superstitions as examples of folklore. This story came after a few others from a friend in response to the prompt “weird beliefs.”

 

Analysis: This a great example about the folklore and folk belief in reoccurring dreams because it offers such a precise description of what AM experiences in the dream. This precision is most likely because of the recent development of this recurring and very consistent dream. I also think it is interesting to note the absence of supernatural elements of this story. Frequently, people have monsters, paranormal activity, etc. in their dreams, so the fact that this story is based in reality effectively conveys the idea that this could be an omen – it is much closer to things that could actually occur. Possibly, the realistic narrative of the dream is related to the recent development of this dream. AM is a college freshman, so this dream could reflect feelings of fear about growing older and separating from the family. 

Additional reading: Kaivola-Bregenhøj, Annikki. “Dreams as folklore.” Fabula 34 (1993): 211-224. This article offers a great explanation about dreamlore as well as the relative novelty of its performance.

general
Legends
Magic

Gravity Hill

JC: “Gravity Hill is a place in Mentor, Ohio, which is upa round the Lake Erie shore, north of Cleveland. And I have no idea why, how we planned the trip that got us all the way up there, four and a half, five hours up from Dayton. But we had heard about it, and I believe we had even seen it on That’s Incredible, which was a TV show that sort of anthologized folklore and weirdness and Guinness Book things and so on. So we drove up to Mentor Ohio, a group of us, in high school. And the road it’s on, I don’t remember what the road is called, but we had to look it up on a map–a paper map, cause there were no Internets, and we got to the place on the road where it was, and we had to take the car, and put it in neutral, at the bottom of what looks like a hill, and then the car slowly goes up the hill and gathers a little bit of speed. Apparently, somehow, it’s just an unbelievably convincing optical illusion, but it really feels like your car is being pulled uphill. Like it looks like it’s uphill, it really does look that way. So that’s Gravity Hill.”

Background: JC is an Ohio native. He and his friends likely heard about this Gravity Hill, or a similar phenomenon, from television.

Interpretation:

The Gravity Hill phenomenon is fairly common, and dozens of these stretches of road exist around the world. The conditions required to maintain the illusion come about naturally or unintentionally in many places in the United States, and most of these places likely have their own set of stories surrounding them, with some similarities and more variations. JC had no further information about this particular hill with regards to any stories surrounding it. This particular feature was considered just an illusion by JC and his friends.

Interestingly, there is a Gravity Hill nearby in Altadena, California, which has further folklore surrounding it. A range of ghost stories involving crashed school buses or cars of cheerleaders claim that this particular hill is haunted, and perhaps the “magnetic” effect is ghostly hands pushing your car to ensure you don’t meet the same fate as they did. A common practice of “ghost hunters” is to put baby powder or flour on the front or back of their car, and see if handprints show up while rolling “uphill.”

 

For more information on Gravity Hill in Altadena, see another local account of this gravity hill: http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=34587

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Haunted Driveway of Valencia

TEXT:  This is a short transcription of my conversation with someone who knows the story of the Haunted Driveway of Valencia. My informant will be seen as and I will be B. 

A: There was this one time where my friends and I drive through there at like 2 am just to see what it was like. And then we played a game of rock paper scissors and the loser had to get outside and touch a tree that was barely visible. It was almost pitch black because there were no lights or anything. No one lived there or anything. I ended up losing, of course, and I ran out to go touch the tree but my friends were slowly driving off. I was so scared. I chased after them but I swear, it felt like someone was behind me.

B: Why was this place scary? Like did it have a reputation?

A: Yeah, so Valencia is not that old but even still, for however long Valencia has been around, there has been no construction on this road at all. Everywhere around it, there are houses and stores and stuff but the city hasn’t even bothered putting lights here. And it’s a dead end if you drive far enough. And there was this girl in my school that did something similar to what I did and she came back traumatized or something. Apparently, when she got back in her friend’s car, she was bawling cause she said she saw a ghost or something.

B: Was she the only one that experienced this?

A: I think so. The driveway always had a scary reputation, even before her, but she kind of just solidified it.

B: Do people believe her?

A: People were talking about it and going up to her at school asking if she was okay for a few days or so. Personally, I don’t really believe her. I think it was probably her own head that tricked her. You know how when your foot is dangling off your bed at night, you feel like someone is going to grab it? I think it was something like that.

B: What are your views of the driveway now?

A: I mean, I don’t really believe in ghosts. But I do have to admit, it was pretty scary to be in the middle of darkness. I really do feel like someone was chasing me but I know in my head that there was no one. But it was still one of the scariest experiences of my life.

 

INFORMANT: My informant has lived in Valencia since he was in 3rd grade. Ever since he moved there, that road has had cones around the entrance. Even though there has not been any construction, cones blocked the entrance. He is not a believer in terms of ghosts or supernatural events. He loves to watch scary movies because he likes the thrill but never gets affected by the movies afterward.

CONTEXT: The informant and I were grabbing a meal on a weekday because we were catching up after a while of not seeing each other. I asked him if I can talk to him about the Haunted Driveway in Valencia for my project and he obliged. It was very casual and he did not tell the story with any scary or fearful intonations. This was primarily because of the fact that he did not believe in paranormal things or haunted areas.

MY INTERPRETATION: I was actually raised in Valencia as well so I had heard about this Haunted Driveway before. However, I did not know too much about it because I did not live as close to the driveway and because my friends did not like scary things so we never tested this myth. I also heard about the girl that was traumatized from her experience on this driveway but I heard a far more exaggerated version. I heard that she had to go to the hospital because she had fainted and when she woke up, she had not been the same for a few days. It was interesting to hear from someone that actually went to the same school as her. I couldn’t help but think about the idea of multiplicity and variation as the story gets performed by different people over time. This story probably started off as the story that my informant said and slowly deviated into a more horror-like story as it got to other people in the city. This supports the idea that as every time a story is performed, there is a little variation in the story. If there is enough of this variation, eventually, the story will be very different from the original.

In my personal opinion, I have a very similar perspective to my informant. I do not think that the driveway is haunted by any spirits or anything. I completely agreed with the small side story that my informant had said about the foot that is dangling off the side of the bed. It’s true that often times, people get scared that something will grab their foot. This is similar to when some people have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Often times, people don’t like to do it because they are scared of the dark. Especially because this driveway has no lights at all, being in complete darkness probably perpetuates fear in people who do not like the dark. I have driven on that road with my friends during the day and it seems awfully normal. There are just a lot of trees and mountains encircling this very narrow plot of land which also makes it hard for the moonlight to help illuminate this area during the evening.

Adulthood
Childhood
general
Life cycle
Protection

Ghost Mom and her Daughter: Car Guardians

Tim is a father of 3 children, and he currently lives in northern New Jersey. He went to Iona College in New York where he studied mathematics; after graduation, he worked for the family printing business before breaking off and starting his own. Now, he lives about 15 minutes from where he grew up, so many of the local legends he heard while growing up still apply. He told me this story while I was growing up.

——————–

Jack: “Dad, do you remember that road we used to drive down, the one that you said was haunted by a little girl and her mom?”

Tim: “Yeah, what about it?”

Jack: “Can you explain how that story goes again, and where you heard it?”

Tim: “Of course! So my dad actually told me and my siblings this growing up. The legend goes that this mom and her daughter were driving down that same road when suddenly their brakes gave out, but the problem was that the mom didn’t realize that until it was too late. When she got to the bottom of the hill and tried to brake, nothing happened, so they kept rolling into the middle of the road. Since it was early, there were some trucks going onto and off the highway, and one of them didn’t see the car so it smashed into it. The mom and daughter both died.”

Jack: “So how does the haunting come into play.”

Tim: “Oh, yeah. So the rumor goes that if you roll down that same hill, the mom and daughter will stop your car and hit the brakes for you, and if your brakes don’t work, they’ll just hold your car back. They’re basically trying to protect people from the same thing that happened to them. So these aren’t really your typical ghosts, I guess, because, you know, they’re nice. I guess ‘haunting’ is the wrong word. They’re more, like, lurking there and protecting the area or guarding the people that go there.”

Jack: “Can you see them?”

Tim: “I’m not sure about that. I haven’t seen them, but that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t.”

Jack: “So you said that they’re guarding the area and the people there. Do you still think that they’re ghosts, or do you think that they might be something else?”

Tim: “You know, I’m not sure. They could be ghosts, but they also might be guardian angels. But then again, they’re both just spirits, so how different could they be?”

——————–

This was one of the first stories I had ever heard about a ghost possessing or controlling some sort of machinery. Since I was young when I first heard this, it’s possible that my dad made the entire thing up just to scare me or give me something to believe in, but the fact that he mentioned his dad telling him the same story gives it a bit more truth/realism. Also, my dad and his father are both very religious, so I doubt they would lie and I also doubt they would make something up about ghosts until he really thought it was true. The parallel between ghosts and angels, however, was very interesting. It is true that they are both entities, and I guess both could be characterized as spirits, but it’s strange that they could both be categorized as this considering they both carry such different connotations. Angels have a positive and friendly connotation while ghosts have a malevolent and scary connotation, but as my dad said, not all ghosts are bad.

 

Legends
Narrative

Man With the Hook

The informant (my grandmother), loves Halloween and all things spooky. I remember that as a child, I could always expect to hear a horrific legend or other form of narrative when visiting her house. I asked the informant if she would be able to hold a video call with me over FaceTime, and during the call I asked her which of these narratives was her favorite to tell. She said it was a legend almost everyone had heard in some fashion, called “The Man With the Hook.”

“We would always tell this story on the way to Clear Lake. We’d stop the car and park on the side of the road when we got close to Napa State Hospital, then start to tell the story to whichever kids were in the car. It goes that some teenagers were parked near the hospital the night before doing something they were not supposed to be doing, listening to music and making out. Suddenly, the music stops and an announcement comes on the radio that a mental patient who had a history of murdering young girls just escaped from Napa State Hospital. We chose this hospital because in those days, it was the closest place where crazy people were put, and there was a prison part to it. He was distinctive because he had lost one hand and had a hook. The girl got scared and said she heard something outside, but the boy dismissed her saying that she was just paranoid. She yelled at him, and he got mad so he peeled out from where they were parked and sped away. Right when the car started moving she asked if he heard something, and he said no. When they got back home and stepped out of the car, there was a bloody hook on the door. They never found the man, though, and rumor has it he is still out searching for his next victim.”

This is a classic scary narrative that most Americans will say they have heard in some form. This particular version was adapted to a particular location that was convenient to the informant, so that the fear of the children who heard it was amplified by the supposed proximity of the man with the hook. The legend functions not only as a way to playfully elicit paranoia in children, but also to warn them against misbehaving. It is implied that the teenagers in the narrative are doing something that they shouldn’t be by kissing in the car at a remote location so as to not get caught by their parents, and as a result of this behavior the man with the hook almost gets them. No part of this narrative must take place in a specific geographic location, so it can easily be told by those who know it wherever they happen to be.

Customs

Shotgun

Collector: Do you ever say shotgun before you ride in a car?

Informant: Yeah, sometimes.

Collector: Do you have rules for that?

Informant: It’s usually when we’re on my ranch and we want to go for a ride on the four wheeler, on our ranger, which is like a golf cart. If my brother and I want to go, I’ll call shotgun. It’s usually just whoever says it first.

 

Informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is studying Theater Arts in the School of Dramatic Arts here. She is from Austin Texas. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house. Much of what she told me was learned from her sister or her own experiences.

 

This is a piece of folklore that I personally see multiplicity and variation in. For many people, the only requirement of shotgun is that you have to call it first. In my experience, we have three rules. The first is that whoever calls it first gets to ride shotgun. The second is that everyone has to be within vision of the car. The third is that everyone has to have their shoes on. This third rule usually trips everyone up, but it has a purpose. It is to make sure everyone is actually ready to get into the car and go. Nobody can run out, call shotgun, and come back to finish getting ready. This type of thing is a funny little ritual, and people put more stock into it when riding in the front is a cooler thing to do than riding in the back, for example if you’re in a Jeep Wrangler with the front doors off.

Legends
Narrative

Hitchhiking Ghost

 Hitchhiking Ghost

Informant: So there was a traffic accident and a girl died on Main Street between like Atlantic and 2nd street. I heard it from my two friends who heard from a couple of people at an event.

So yeah, there was a traffic accident and she died and now her spirit haunts that portion of Main Street. Like if you’re driving on Main Street late at night and you see like a figure, a girl, hanging out on the side of the street, you have to pick her up or else you will get into a traffic accident. Or like you will die from traffic related accident.

Okay, so, my friend’s, friend’s cousin is the one who told the story. He said that he was driving late one night and that he saw the figure. He didn’t think about it at first but then he remembers “ooooh wait, what about that story”. So he drives around just to see if she’s still there. He pulls over and then she hops into the car, into the back seat. He doesn’t know what to do so he’s kind of like, just driving around, driving in circles. She’s not saying anything, but he looks through the rear-view mirror and she’s still there. Then, he isn’t looking, but he feels like a sense of relief. The he looks back and she’s gone. That’s the hitchhiking ghost story.

Interviewer’s notes:

I consider this story to be an oicotype because variations of this story can be found throughout the world. Indeed, vague details, which may take place anywhere indicate the story is not unique to the setting. Additionally, the “hitchhiking” aspect of the story may be precipitated by the fact, that Los Angeles has a large car culture. A common story such as this one, would be even more easily transplanted in a community so fixated on motor vehicles.

Childhood
general
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Ghost Road Less Traveled

Context: It was late one rainy Tuesday night in early November when I first approached my roommate of 3 months [the Informant] to tell me a ghost story. Like most questions proposed to my roommate, when I asked him if he knew any good stories or spirit encounters, I was met with an immediate enthusiasm for the task at hand. The Informant clearly had something he wished to present to me. Wasting very little time at all, my Informant swooped up one of the desk chairs, lowered the lights, and began sharing with me his personal ghost story. As I recorded his audio and movement, the only light in the room came from the soft glow of the LCD display on my video camera and the desk lamp which sat behind the Informant for dramatic effect. The sounds of rain  tapping against the roof and windows of the New Residence Hall could be faintly heard in the distance. What follows is the story as it was presented to me:

Interview Verbatim:

Me: “Start, whenever you are ready.”

Informant: “So, this is a personal story of mine. I was driving to a friend’s house at night, really late. I had all my windows down and uh… and uh… this was like at the point, I think this was like last year because this was the point in my life, where my eyes, my vision was getting worse and so uh… I was not driving with glasses, but uh… I was very close to my grandparent’s house, and I’ve had weird experiences in their house, as well, cause their house is like legitimately haunted. Like they even say it was, they’ve known it from like little kids, like they’d see weird shit in their windows, like people’s faces (looking out) when they were like outside, and apparently they’d bought it like near or like on top of an old Indian burial ground or land, and so that was not ah… not ah… a thrilling point for me. So I’m like literally, I’m like not even a minute like to their house is here ( he holds up a hand to represent the house)  and I’m on the road to go to it, here (holds up another hand to represent his car). So I just see like a, like this fucking thing just like run across the street, while I’m like driving, in my headlights and I’m like ‘Oh fuck!’ and I brake cause I thought, I’m almost certain at this point that it’s a deer, and I hear like a scream and I’m just like, ‘What the fuck is happening?!’ cause I hear like something hit the car, and I hear this like… literally, I thought it was like a baby dear or it sounded to me like a little child had screamed cause it was like, (gets out of chair to make ghost noise) ‘Mmmmeeeeaaaaa!!!’, so I was just like, ‘What the hell was that?!’ (begins to laugh) Hahaha! I freak out because I’m like ‘Did I just kill a deer?’, and I just like get out of the car and there is like literally nothing there. There’s no dent in my car, no trail of any sort, there’s no deer running around, and I’m just like… and I’m just like…’What is happening!’ (holds hands on his head)

Me: “What do you think it was? What you saw, I mean.”

Informant: “I think it was like the ghost of a little Indian child, now that I think about it, because when I think about like the imagery, I didn’t see like a deer. I kind of saw like this blur, like run and it had like a scream which scared the crap out of me, and then I heard a thud, so I thought I hit something and so it freaked me out.”

Me: “Do you think that it had anything to do with you being on top of the Indian burial site or near to the site?”

Informant: “Oh absolutely, without a doubt. I’ve had so many weird experiences on that road.”

Me: “Where is this road?”

Informant: “A place called Fair Oaks, in Texas. And Fair Oaks has been there for like a long time too, so there’s a lot of old land out there. So I wouldn’t be surprised about all the shit that goes on out there.”

Analysis: After hearing this story and reviewing it, I’m not really sure what to make of it. All the pieces are in place in order to create a very frightening experience, but the “skeptic” within me points to this being a simple misidentification. The fact that the Informant prefaced the story by addressing his loss of eyesight seems to indicate that this may just have been a large bird or unknown creature making its way across the road which was not seen clearly. What is, however, very interesting is the sound that supposedly accompanied the apparition, as it crossed the road and the thud he experienced from within the car. This may have possibly been a direct result of him applying the brakes very quickly and having his car jolt to a sudden stop, but it does add some credibility to the encounter. The fact that this encounter directly correlates to the former site of an Indian burial ground also seems to give this experience some validity. The Informant appeared to be shaken from this event and believes this to be evidence of the paranormal.

Game

Calling “shotgun” for a car

The informant describes a game his friends and he would play at home throughout high school and still today in college.  He recounts many times fighting over spots in the car by playing the game, “shotgun.”

Shotgun is a game involving a group of people about to drive somewhere and get into the car.  The game involves deciding who gets to sit where in the car.  The driver takes the driving seat, but the second best seat is generally accepted as the “shotgun” or the passenger seat in the front.  The goal of the game is to get the “shotgun” seat by calling “shotgun” out while the car is visible.  Another individual can steal the “shotgun” seat if they yell out, “blitz” after “shotgun” is yelled.  This indicates that the other person is blitzing the “shotgun” call and getting the front seat.

Interestingly enough the phrase “riding shotgun” originated in 1919 and was later used in print and especially film depictions of wagons and stagecoaches in Wild West movies.  The game is commonly played among teenagers who have recently acquired their licenses.  This shows an interesting liminal stage teenagers enter when they first gain the ability to drive in high school and it makes sense that there are traditions or games that are popular among this transition.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Pig Legend

Informant Background: This individual was born and grew up in Hawaii. His family is of Japanese and Chinese descent. He speaks Japanese and English. His family still practice many Japanese traditions, also many Chinese traditions. They celebrate some of the Japanese holidays. Many of the folk-beliefs and superstitious are still practiced. His relatives who are Japanese lives in Hawaii as well. He currently lives in Los Angeles to attend college.

 

In Hawaii, there is a tunnel that runs through the mountain. It was a site of battle in ancient Hawaii. It is to be believed that it is full of spirits of the warriors and the chiefs who died in that battle. The one thing you cannot do is bring pork…You can bring anything you want, but not pork. Pork is a big part of a lot of beliefs in Hawaii. Pig in ancient Hawaiian culture is depicted as a pig-god so to bring a dead pig is then to bring the god in dead form to the ghost of the people.  If you bring pork over that tunnel, your car will stop. The way to make it start again is to get rid of the pork somehow like throw the pig out the window. 

The informant stated that this is a knowledge passed to him through his grandparents as he was growing up in Hawaii. He said he never had direct experience with his car stopping but heard from others who forgot to follow the rule and had their engine stopped working.

 

 

This legend also shows different beliefs and perspective on how different cultures and places values different animals and objects to be sacred. In this case pig is considered sacred while for Hindus cow is sacred. Though these beliefs seem strange when looking in as an outsider, it plays a large role in the culture.

This legend also shows how the belief transcends generations and technological development through overlapping ancient warrior battle with sacred god-like animal figure with automobile engines. The legend also shows how the believability of the tale can be carried on through a memorate. If one car engine stopped over that tunnel while there is pork in the car, then the legend can continue.

The pig can also be considered as contagious magic. The pig/pork is an object that will be automatically cursed once put into the area. The pig/pork curse can be lifted once the item is discarded; the item is cursed, not the person or car.

[geolocation]