Informant: “So I live in a house on [REDACTED] street at the North University Park District of Los Angeles, California. Actually, the Governor of California used to live there in the early 1900s. But whoever lived there in the 1940s or ‘50s, um, they, there was a whole third story. Like picture the old victorian houses with the spirals and stuff. But there was this third story and it burned down, like, in this crazy fire. And the like room that burned like more than any others was the room where this crazy woman that lived there had all of her cats. And like all of the cats died, so now like in the middle of the night, if you go up, there’s like this stair case that leads to the roof of the house but as you’re going up this staircase you can see the remnants of this old third floor. Um, cause they like didn’t do a really good job of getting rid of that, and when you’re going up that staircase to the roof, you can hear meows in the middle of the night. I have not personally heard them, but I’ve only gone up there once.”
Informant: “I learned this story when I was a freshman when I joined a group that has lived there the past decade or so. I heard it from a senior who was also a very superstitious guy who said ‘Oh, I like, hear it every night.’ The people who believe it take it very, very seriously. But the people who never experienced it all kind of think of it as a joke.”
Informant: “We tell the story when we let in new members. I don’t know, it’s just a fun thing to add to the aura of it all – they’re like, typically freshman, you know? It’s just fun to make them feel like a part of the group with a little story.”
Ghost animals are not nearly as common as ghost people in folklore, as we’ve talked about in our class with Professor Tok Thompson. Yet, in this story, they are just as eerily scary. That this ghost story includes artifacts that tie the legend into real observable truth, in that the remnants of the burnt third floor are easily accessible, is truly haunting. In the participant telling the story, I could envision walking up the stairs and seeing the charred, blackened floor.
It also seems like there is somewhat of a ritualistic retelling each year for new members of this group. The story helps identify their group because they collectively lease the house year by year, and so in retelling this story and having it be retold primarily by their group, they are owning the house in more than one way. The formal telling of this story to another member is one way to extend that ownership.
Equally as interesting is that this group is a singing group and that the hauntings come in audio form. Oftentimes, ghost stories, legends, and other forms of folklore are described in terms that are familiar to that particular ‘in’ group. In no way am I comparing their singing to the meowing of 40 cats burned alive, but it is interesting that they are auditorily stimulated, rather than visually.
The Main Piece
Why is the cat not apart of the Chinese Zodiac calendar? Supposedly, the gods set up a competition, a race, for all the animals to compete and win their place in the calendar. However, while all the other animals knew what day the race would be on, the rat was clever and lied to the cat. The rat told the cat that the race would be on a different day so that when the race actually did happen, the cat was no where to be found. The cat wound up missing the race and was unable to be a part of the Zodiac calendar. This tale also explains why cats hate rats in the real world as well.
My informant is Rachel Tan, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC. Being that her mother is Chinese and extremely cultured, she had a good understanding of the Zodiac calendar. Her mother would tell her this tale to explain how the animals got their place. She explained that it was a childhood story that she, and many of her other friends, grew up with. As a child, she enjoyed imagining and reenacting the race with her stuffed animals. It was because she could relate it with the Zodiac calendar, something she uses even to this day, that she can so easily remember the story and its relevance. She states that the story represents not just her childhood, but also her culture.
This Chinese tale was told to me previously as Rachel and I ate Panda Express together at the Ronal Tutor Campus Center. We were discussing our life back home, the setting was casual and conversation flowed easily.
I enjoyed hearing about the Zodiac calendar. My mother was never really too cultured so hearing about my own culture was a delight. I found it also intriguing that the tale was also able to incorporate an explanation for the cat’s dislike of rats, thereby offering some sort of validity to the story.
My friends and I were hunting for haunted houses and after googling haunted places in los angeles, we decided to go check out the abandoned Hollydale Mental Hospital in Downey, CA.
We drove around the hospital campus for a bit, and then decided we should probably leave considering all of the buildings were fenced in and we really didn’t know what we were doing. Then we pulled in to a nearby parking lot and saw a group of people get out of their car who looked about our age, in their early twenties. We asked them if they were there to check out the hospital and they said yes, so we asked if we could join. They were very welcoming (the four guys were drunk, and the one girl was clearly their sober driver) and explained that they were there to “initiate” Cherry because it was his first time visiting this haunted place. According to them, it was tradition to run up to the main house, “where they kept the craziest of the crazies”, and touch the front door for your first time visiting Hollydale. We decided this was exciting and tagged along. The girl, Cindy, began to explain how they were from the area and that they heard stories about Hollydale all the time from other kids in school. She also told us the story she knows of why it was abandoned:
Back in the 70’s, there was an outbreak of Tuberculosis at the hospital, and their way of dealing with it was to get all of those who had not yet been infected out and then left the rest of the people there to die. That is why the whole compound looks as if everyone just up and left, because they did. They just closed up shop like it was the end of another business day.
Cindy told us that they had been inside one of the buildings before and they took a whole box of papers from beside a desk and it had a lot of old, interesting papers and files inside.
She also said that about a year ago, the town planned on tearing the place down because it was costing them money to have policemen constantly patrolling and whatnot, but a group of animal rights activists wouldn’t allow them too because the site has become a breeding ground for stray cats.
My informant used to work at Disneyland as their landscape designer. So, there were always many urban legends about the Disneyland grounds when they worked at night. Since Disneyland is open every day, all the engineers and workers come in after Disney closes at night to work on rides and the plants. One of the funniest sayings they would have at Disneyland was, “Don’t feed the cats.” This saying actual caught on and now has become an urban legend associated with Disneyland.
Supposedly, when Disneyland first opened, a lot of feral cats would start roaming around the park. The cast members would feel bad for them and feed them cans of tuna. So then, more cats started coming to Disneyland and would just live there. However, when the cast members fed the cats tuna, the leftover tuna and smell would attract yellow jackets. So, at one point, there were just tons of yellow jackets at the Disneyland park and since people were always wearing bright colors and eating food that would attract the yellow jackets, there would be tons of people getting stun and complaining about the yellow jackets. However, for the longest time no one knew why there were so many yellow jackets around. Since then, they have tried to get rid of the feral cats and yellow jackets, but to this day, people will say, “Don’t feed the cats at Disneyland!”
Love for a cat is a normal thing.
You pet her if she doesn’t talk.
You pinch her and she doesn’t feel pain.
All these things come with patience.
The original Greek, as written by my informant is an attachment.
As sung by my informant in Greek: DR0000_0028
My informant, a grandfather, is an elderly Greek American man from Lowell, Massachusetts. Over coffee on his 90th birthday, he sang this song for me. His father would sing this song to him, in Greek, as a child. My informant explained it was sung to him for kicks, but probably had a lesson behind it. Now, he says he sings it for the hell of it because it rhymes and sounds good. The english direct translation probably doesn’t have as much significance as it would in Greek, but it is clearly a childhood lesson on patience.