USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘cold’
Adulthood
Legends
Narrative

A Ghost in Grass Valley

Informant JM is 58 years old and recounted the story of a paranormal encounter she experienced ~10 years ago:

Have you ever experienced anything that you would consider to be of supernatural origins?

“Only once. Never before and never since but I will always remember that night”

So what happened?

“Well I was in my room getting ready for bed. All of a sudden I felt the room grow eerily cold. I thought it was a bit odd but continued to undress and sat on the bed to take off my socks. Upon doing so I felt the cold presence to my immediate right and upon turning saw, *shivers* wow this gives me chills just thinking about it. I saw a depression in the bed next to me as if someone were sitting next to me. Not knowing the intentions of this spirit I yelled at the top of my lungs ‘Go! Get out! Be gone with you!!’ and closed my eyes. After a moment or two I felt the cold dissipate and upon opening my eyes saw the depression was no longer there.”

Did your opinion regarding the existence of the paranormal changed after this experience?

“Well prior to this encounter I’d say I believed that ghosts existed sure, but having never experienced an encounter first hand and not knowing any immediate family or friends that had, I was certainly a bit skeptical. After that experience, I know now without a shred of doubt that ghosts or some form of spirit form definite exist. I cannot think of a single other rational explanation for what I experienced that night.”

What context would you share your experience in?

“At first, I shared it with literally anyone that would listen. I was equal parts excited and terrified by what I had experienced. In the years since though I only tend to bring it up when someone asks about my ghost encounter or the conversation shifts towards the talk of ghosts. ”

How did people react to your experience?  

“People tend to get pretty freaked out by it. They sometimes ask whether I thought it was going to harm he. Now I am not sure what the intentions of this spirit were, but be they benign or malignant the coldness of its presence definitely gave me an uneasy feeling leading to my prompt response of telling it to leave”

 

Analysis: This story possesses a couple motifs common to ghost stories. One such example is that it occurs at night. Another aspect of this story common to several stories I’ve read or been told is the association of the presence of a ghost with coldness. A unique aspect of this story is that the ghost in no way made itself directly heard or seen; it was only because of the drop in temperature and the depression it left in the bed that JM was even aware of its presence. The ghost itself was not visible or audible. While neither JM or anyone else would be able to determine the intentions of the ghost, be they simple curiosity or something more malicious, the fact that it reacted to her yells for it to leave is another interesting component of this particular encounter.

Legends
Narrative

Bay Area Ghost Story

Informant EB is 52 years old and recounted the story of a paranormal encounter he experienced last fall:

Have you ever experienced anything that you would consider to be of supernatural origins?

“As a matter of fact, I have. First some backstory. When my wife and I were purchasing our home we were told by the realtor that the prior owner, a contractor who had built the house himself,  had committed suicide along the side of the house due to financial difficulties and his wife leaving him. Early last November, a day or two after Halloween, I was walking my aging dog whose hips are starting to fail around the walkway surrounding our property in order to avoid her straining herself by climbing up the stairs inside. Upon rounding a corner, which due to tree cover and a lack of windows on that side of the house was submerged in near complete darkness,  I saw, for only a split-second, what could only be described as a face come rushing at me before passing right through sending a curdling chill down my spine. My dog started barking incessantly and I, obviously shake, continued on into the light of the front of the house and inside.”

Did your opinion regarding the existence of the paranormal changed after this experience?

“Yeah I’d say so. I wouldn’t say I didn’t believe in the paranormal prior to this experience but having never had any personal encounters I definitely had my fair share of doubts. I’definitely say this experience has solidified my belief in the existence of the supernatural to some extent.”

What context would you share your experience in?

“I have told several people in the month since. Whenever talk of ghosts has come up in conversation I’ve brought it up.”

How did people react to your experience?  

“A mixture of fear and skepticism. I would be skeptical too had I not been the one to experience it. ”

 

Analysis: The story took place “a day or two after Halloween” meaning it quite likely could have fallen on November 2nd, which is also All Souls Day. All Souls Day is a day on which the Catholic Church remembers those dead that are now in Purgatory being cleansed of their venial sins and carrying out the temporal punishments for their mortal sins. November 1st or 2nd is also a part of the three days of Day of the Dead festivities popular in Hispanic cultures during which the souls of ancestors are remembered and are believed to return from the dead to visit their living relatives. As such the soul of a man who had died via the mortal sin of suicide would, according to the catholic doctrine and Hispanic customs be more likely to appear during this time frame. A motif common to many ghost stories and which also appears in this story is its occurrence in a liminal location, the property line between the former homeowner’s property and that of his neighbors.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

Math Classroom Ghost

Information about the Informant

My informant is an English teacher at a high school in Southern California, and has been teaching for over twenty-five years. She has been featured as an Influential Teacher of the Month within the last five years, and has received great reviews and praise from her former students as a teacher who cares about and motivates her students to succeed. I met her next to Tommy Trojan when she brought her class to USC campus on a college visit and she gave me this school ghost story in the short time before she had to collect her class.

Transcript

“I teach at the oldest high school in [school name and location removed]. And there is a common story that, um, circulates. And that is that one of the math classes is haunted. And so everyone goes in, I–usually on a Thursday morning, and you can note the differences in air temperature. Um, on a Thursday morning, you can, at any other time, on any other day. So, we really believe that something is going on in that school, or in that room, or something occurred there that–and that is an ongoing reminder to us that something negative occurred in there, because it’s always cold.”

Collector: “Is there any, like, theory as to what it might be?”

“From my kids? No, we’ve no theory. We have no idea because we cannot, um, there’s no accounting of anything had ever happened in there. So it could be that prior to the building being built, that some violent occurrence was there. Maybe, you know, some, uh, early settlers or maybe some of the indigenous people, or something like that that was in–that was, gave that piece of land or that little area kind of a negative quality.”

Analysis

When asked how this possibly haunted classroom affected people at the school, whether staff members or students, my informant told me that all it seemed to do was reaffirm the beliefs that the students or staff members already had. For those students (and possibly members of the staff) who already believed in an afterlife that included ghosts or some sort of spiritual remnant left in the world after death, the story “gives credence” to that belief. But for those who did not believe in ghosts, they simply believed the unnatural cold was due to “wind pattern or something.”

This is an interesting example as it’s an instance of a ghost story where there is no actual ghost, but merely an unnatural phenomenon that could easily be attributed to a natural cause. It’s interesting to observe because, rather than attribute the cold to a problem with the cooling system or weather patterns, it seems like people at the school are more than willing to try to find a “supernatural” explanation for the cold, even undertaking, it sounds like, research into the history of the school to find out if anything violent had ever occurred on the school’s property. It’s an interesting example because it provides a look at how an experience may turn into a memorate, the process by which an experience can become a memorate, where the experience is something strange but explainable and those involved instead search for a way to incorporate it into the genre of ghost stories, using the tropes about ghost stories that they already know (e.g. that if there is a ghost, there must have been some violent incident in the past; that settlers or indigenous people may have cursed the ground long ago).

Childhood
Customs
Life cycle

Blue Bend Cold Water Jump

Item:

Me: “So was this like the big ‘you’re a man now’ moment or something?”

Informant: “Not quite that but, I guess, it definitely was a change and I felt like I was considered older by my parents because I was allowed to do it.”

The informant’s family participates in a tradition at a river camp named Blue Bend in West Virginia. Years ago, the informant’s father’s family began visiting the location. In the winter, the river isn’t frozen over but is brutally cold. At one point, the kids (including the informant’s father) noticed people would jump into the near-frozen water of the river. This was taken as a challenge, and became a tradition to do so once every trip up there. Over time, this expanded into excursions with many families going up during the cold season and jumping into the water at least once.

 

Context:

The informant began going with his family at at young age to the location. But only upon reaching a certain age was he allowed to jump into the river, since it’s a little dangerous to jump into an ice cold, moving body of water as a child. His first time was like a rite of passage. In subsequent trips, it simply became a personal challenge that also connected him with the other people subjecting themselves to the frigid water.

 

Analysis:

It’s interesting to see an event or tradition that serves a dual purpose of being somewhat of a rite of passage but also a yearly act by everyone involved who has passed that period. Perhaps it’s like “going on the hunt” for the first time. In any case, the deliberate discomfort of jumping into cold water is a moment a lot of families have come to look forward to in this tradition. It’s also pretty fascinating that it did start with kids, but now kids have to be a certain age – likely older than the originals – to participate.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Beware of the Cold

Click here for video.
“So other things that my parents told me about like cold being bad for you is that when I get out of the shower, I should dry my hair otherwise the cold will give me like, headaches when I grow up. And I shouldn’t work out in like a really air conditioned or cold environment, because I’m going to get sick and not like cold sick but like lifelong illness and pains. So yeah, that’s what they told me.”

The informant’s parents are Taiwanese. My parents would tell me things similar to this all the time. It seems like Taiwanese people have a lot of problems with the cold. Since air conditioning is a relatively new invention, the fear of air conditioning is reflective of the suspicious attitude towards new things that many older Taiwanese people hold. Even in the United States, many parents tell their children to dress warmly to prevent them from catching a cold. However, it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that cold temperatures have little to do with illness and colds. There is no causal relationship. So how did this association between cold and illness come about?

A professor at USC studying alternative health beliefs explained to me how, based on her research, the belief came to be. Long ago, before modern medicine and the advanced understanding of disease we have today, lower class citizens often lived in squalor, had poor nutrition, and did not have the resources to keep warm. Due to compromised immune systems from malnutrition coupled with poor sanitation, diseases spread quickly through these perpetually cold populations and eventually being cold became tied to illness.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

Three Dog Night

Transcribed Text:

“A three dog night, which as far as I can tell, means like, harsh, like probably cold night. Comes from dog sledders, when they were traversing the wilderness. A three dog night would be a night where you would have to like cuddle up with three of your dogs to be able to stay warm for the night.”

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California and he does not recall where he first heard this piece of folklore. It is a saying that is normally only used in extremely cold weathered countries where sled dogs and freezing temperatures are the norm. It has a literal meaning behind it, where in these extremely cold areas, people would huddle and sleep with their dogs in order to stay warm for the night. A three dog night is an especially freezing night, because a person doesn’t need one, or two of their dogs to stay warm, but needs three.

It is said that the band Three Dog Night is named after this saying, where one of the vocalist’s girlfriend heard the phrase being used in a documentary about Australian Aborigines. However, there has also been debate about the saying originating with the Inuits. This search unable to trace back to a single point indicates how the original source was lost and this saying has now become like many other pieces of folklore; with no one author.

Annotation: The Australian band Three Dog Night formed because the vocalists girlfriend heard this piece of folklore about indigenous Australians.

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