USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘death’

The Legend of Camino Hall

The following informant is a 22 year old student from the University of San Diego. In this account she is describing a legend about one of the buildings on her campus. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as S and I am identified as K:

S: There is this urban legend that someone, umm… like killed themselves in either the Camino bathroom. Thats like one of the residence halls but you know also where the administration building is. Umm… yeah so apparently, she had gone to class, this was a girl, and she was going through a hard time and she just like went to the bathroom, like in the middle of class. And people were like “what the fuck, why did she not come back” and then they were like “oh she is probably still in the bathroom”. So they went to the bathroom and she was just like hanging from the ceiling. So like it may or may not have happened, most people believe it, but like some don’t.

K: So when did this happen?

S: Like right when the school opened, like around that time, the school was established in 1949

K: How did you hear about it?

S: oh, just people were randomly talking about it when i transferred, like that first semester, and i was just like what the heck why are we talking about this right now. It was the older students telling the new ones, it was very random, and i don’t know if it was to scare us but i was just like “thank you so much for this information, what do you want me to do with it”

K: did they ever say why she killed herself?

S: no one knows why she killed herself

K: What did you take away from this?

S: I was kind of just like taken back, because i had just transferred, and so i was kind of like um so why are you telling me this. but i had not thought about it since they told me, so… yeah, its not something i think about often.


This conversation took place at a café one evening. I was visiting the informant at USD, and after providing a different collection of folklore, she launched into this story. As we were in a public space, people overheard the conversation and a few even nodded in agreement, like they were validating what she was saying.


This is a particularly interesting legend for a couple of reasons. One is that out of my own curiosity I tried to do some research to see if there are more details on the internet and the search came up empty. This by no means insinuates that what she is saying is false, especially because the group of not so subtle eavesdroppers seemed familiar with the legend. But in the age of the digital realm, it seems odd there is no account of it only. The other interesting aspect is how the legend is used now. She explained that the older students tell it to the new students while they orient to the new campus. This seems like a mild form of hazing, in that in order to complete your transformation as a student of USD, you have to get mildly scared by the older students first.


Foothill Road

Main Piece

“I live off of Foothill Road, and it’s a windy [curvy] street. In the early 80’s, a girl was walking home on Foothill Road and someone came out of a van and stabbed her to death. I know that this actually happened, since she went to my high school. People say that you have to drive slow around there because it’s a ‘cursed road.’”



Nationality: Greek–American

Location: Northern California, Bay Area

Language: English

The road is curvy and very dangerous, in the informant’s life, at least 3 people have died in accidents on it. There has also been a police chase and a double homicide. The informant told me that she always takes especially great care when driving on this road. Teenagers in the area are often given warnings about the road.


The informant is from an affluent area near San Francisco, and the road is in a very residential area.


While people were likely wary of the road before the murder in the 1980’s, the road now has an ominous presence. I find it very interesting that there are no legends about the road being haunted by a ghost; rather, people tell the story of the murder to demonstrate that it is indeed dangerous, likely in an attempt to prevent teenagers from driving dangerously on it.


Tales /märchen

El Siblon: A Latin Tale

I discovered this tale while researching and reading about interesting Latin legends, myths, and tales. This one is titled “El Siblon,” which translates to “The Whistler.” Below is quoted material from the website, explaining the story and its few variations.


“The story always starts with a son killing his father. One version states that this son returning home one day found his father abusing his beautiful young wife. This so angered him he killed is father. Another, more disconcerting version states this son was a “spoiled brat” whose every wish was catered to by his parents. One afternoon he demands his father hunt for a deer—his favorite meat. But when the father does not find a deer and returns empty handed his son kills him and cuts out his heart and liver. He then has his mother cook them for dinner. The mother finding this meat is tough starts to suspect something amiss. She discovers these organs are her own husband’s innards and curses her son for eternity. At this point most versions of this story become similar. The mother fetches a male relative—in most versions the grandfather—and he ties the son to a tree—he then whips him—he finishes by rubbing lemon or hot peppers into the son’s wounds. The grandfather then unleashes a vicious dog and orders it to go after the grandson. This dog pursues the son relentlessly. His mother’s curse transforms the son into a ghost. He is condemned to wander the plains carrying a sack of bones on his back. Some versions state these are the bones of his father, other state these are the bones of his victims. His ghost is described as being disproportionally skinny and extremely tall. He towers over treetops with his bag of bones slung over his back. The vicious dog chases him constantly nipping at his heels. He wears a tattered white suit and a wide brimmed hat. It is said that few people who have seen him have lived to tell about it. His ghost is known as The Whistler because of a tune he is heard whistling—the basic seven notes, do, re, me, fa, so la, ti. He whistles these notes slowly and draws each one out. A warning given is his whistle is deceptive. It is said that when people hear his tune up close they are actually safe for this means he is far away but if they hear him from afar they best beware for he is actually close by. It is often mentioned his ghost hunts down cruel men who cheat on their wives. His ghost also attacks drunks when they are fast asleep. A gruesome detail shared states his ghost uncovers their belly buttons and then sucks until the alcohol comes out of them.”


This tale stood out to me because it was fascinating reading of the slight variations of the story, without knowing how or why these variations came to be. It is purely a folk tale because of this multiplicity and variation, ranging from both the most specific to the broadest change in the narrative. I think it is especially important with tales, myths, and legends, to understand and take note of these variations, seeing how the story has evolved over time and hypothesizing how it came to vary and multiply.

Website Citation: For a more thorough analysis of this specific tale, go to the URL:



Bell Witch Legend

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with my mom regarding ghost stories she was told in her childhoods. Our family has a few Southern ties, and she specifically remembered an old Southern ghost legend. She is marked JS, and I am marked CS.


CS: “So can you tell me a little synopsis of this ghost legend?”

JS: “Absolutely. So I believe it was called the Bell Witch, or Bo Witch…something like that. You might want to research it. Anyways, how the story goes from when it was told is that the witch appeared around Tennessee and has been there for centuries. Around the 17th or 18th century, I believe, a man and his family had moved to some settlement along the river. On a random day, the man—wait, now I remember. The man’s name was Bell. So the witch must be the Bell Witch. Anyways, the man (something Bell) came across an animal on their farm—I think they had a farm. Or maybe it was a cornfield. In any case, the animal I believe had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit. The man shot it, but the animal disappeared. After the incident, the man and his family kept experiencing kind of a haunting around the house—like, the kids would be sleeping and they thought someone or something was tugging at their covers, and each night the family heard a pounding at the door but couldn’t see anyone doing it. Then, they began hearing voices, and each night, the voice grew louder and louder, getting much creepier night after night. Then they eventually started to tell everyone in the town cause the presence was growing stronger, I think it had actually started hurting the younger daughter somehow. It may have been pulling her hair or pinching her? Something like that. Anyway, word of it spread around the town like wildfire and Andrew Jackson, who fought alongside Bell in the Battle of New Orleans, decided to pay a visit at the home. But his wagon stopped and the horses couldn’t pull it the closer they got to the home. It was there that even he learned of this Bell witch and believed the rumors he’d been hearing. Then I believe the witch later attacked one of Jackson’s men for being a fraud and many of his men left cause they were obviously so afraid. Eventually all of the men left. I think there was also a sub-plot to the story where the youngest daughter was engaged and had to end the engagement because of the presence of the entity whenever her and her fiancé would meet. And after she ended it, then subsequently the witch decreased her presence. Bell finally died from a poison, which was said to be filled with some kind of liquid in a vial, given to him by the witch herself. Apparently she told the family it was allegedly his cure. The poison also killed the dog. After his death, the witch stopped appearing and no longer tormented the family. I think it was at his funeral—yeah, at the graveyard—that all of Tennessee was there and all continually heard the witch laughing during his ceremony. Crazy story.”



A phone call conversation with my mom, JS, discussing old ghost legends and tales she’s heard of.


JS currently resides in Laguna Beach, California but was previously raised in Minnesota.



After hearing this terrifying legend, I decided to do some research of my own to compare my mom’s version with other recounts of the Bell Witch. For the most part, her version is very in line with most; however, there are a few variations (in part probably because of memory mix ups). For one, the “dog” she refers to I have read in other accounts was actually a cat. This was interesting reading the different variations and imagining how this legend came to be and its specific origins.

Tales /märchen

The One Soul

Item (direct transcription):

There is a man. He has a family. He has a wife, a child, a newborn child. He’s going to work. He’s driving down the highway. Unfortunately a drunk driver hits him and kills him. He dies. On the spot. Instantly. So…um, he leaves behind a widow and his child. The widow is obviously very sad. But the man goes up into…um [motioning upward with his hands]…whereever.

He meets God. And God, so he wakes up, he sees this being around him. He assumes it’s God. He says, “Are you God?” And he says, “Yes, I am God.” Um, and then he says, “Am I dead.” He says, “Yeah, you’re dead.” And he says, “So am I going to heaven or hell?” He says, “Well, uh, not yet.” And then, um, the man asks, “What’s going to happen to my wife and my child?” And God says, “Your wife, um, she’s going to act very sad for a while, but… deep down she’s actually happy, because she’s actually been having an affair with somebody else, and this actually works out very well for her. [Laughs.] And your child will grow up having a very idyllic view of you. Um, he’ll think you were the perfect father, because you were never around. [Laughs again.] So that’s going to work out very well for him, too. But you on the other hand, you’re not going to heaven or hell.”

So then the man asks, “So what going to happen to me? Where am I gonna go?” And then God says, “You are going to be reborn as, uh… a village girl in China in the sixth century.” And this man says, “But wait! Isn’t it the twenty-first century? I died in 2018. What’s happening? Am I going back in time?” “Yes, exactly, you’re going back in time.” So the man says, “Wait, wait, wait. If I’m being reborn back in time, so how many, like, distinct souls are actually living on Earth right now?” And God says, “There’s only one soul on Earth, and it’s been you this whole time.” And the man says, “Wait, so you’re telling me that I was Adolf Hitler?” And God says, “Yes, you were Adolf Hitler. And all the Jews that he killed.” [Laughs.]

And, um, so yeah. He was basically everybody on Earth. So this obviously a very giant, big revelation to him. The man is just mind-blown and he asks, um, “So what’s the meaning of all this? Why did you create a planet? Why do I even exist?” And God says, “Um, well, I can tell you this because when you wake up as a newborn, you’re not gonna remember anything, so it doesn’t matter what I tell you. So, um, I created this world because, um, this, uh, this world is basically an egg. And you are one of me. You are basically just growing inside this egg. And one day, when you’re mature enough, you will become one of me. And when you do, you will break out of the shell of the egg and you will take your place among us.”

And then he wakes up as the village girl in China in the eighth century.

Background Information:

The informant read this tale on Quora, an online question-and-answer site. He liked the story because it “made [him] think.”

He says that the story is “as believable as any religion,” and he believes that the person who posted on Quora probably made it up himself or herself.

Contextual Information:

The informant performs the tale in order to provoke a philosophical debate. Since he claims the story is not true, yet the metaphysics presented in the story cannot be disproved, he uses it as a way of presenting agnostic beliefs.


This tale interesting in how it combines elements of various, usually unconnected mythologies. This eclecticism is probably by design, considering the tale’s purpose of revealing the folly of religion. At first, the story seems to be using a Abrahamic, monotheistic context, then the story later reveals a polytheistic context. The story also incorporates the concept of a “world egg,” which appears in Egyptian, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Finnish, and Chinese mythologies, among others.

See “Easter Eggs” (1967) by Venetia Newall, for more information on the place of eggs in mythology.


La Llorona

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KA) and I (ZM).

KA: Oh, and we have La Llorona.

ZM: Oh! Wait, wait wait, what?

KA: La Llorona?

ZM: What is that?

KA: So, La Llorona is… well just word wise, it’s like someone that cries, a woman that cries a lot. Like “llorar” is cry. La Llorona is, um… It’s this lady… There’s different versions of it, but the version that um I was told is that there’s this lady who was married and she…She and her husband… It was like first love, love at first sight, he saw her and he wanted to marry her. Um, they got married within like a short amount of time after they met, they had kids and she, she kinda like let, quote on quote “let herself go.” Like she wasn’t taking good care of herself because she was like focused on the kids and the kids were like driving her crazy. And one day…She had like two or three kids. Umm, one day, she like completely lost it and ended up like drowning her kids and um, I think killing her husband? For sure, she killed her kids. And then it’s said that she like runs, er walks around like the town crying “Mis hijos! Mis hijos!” Like “My kids! My kids!” Cause after she like snapped out of… like the craziness or whatever, she realized what she had done and she was like upset that her kids were dead. So, she goes around like crying “Mis hijos. Mis hijos.” Crying for her kids. Even though she killed them.

ZM: Do you know who told you that story?

KA: Uh, I think my cousin.


Context: I was talking to KA about their childhood when this conversation was recorded.


Background: KA was born in El Salvador but raised in South Central Los Angeles. She is a junior at the University of Southern California.


Analysis:I got really excited to hear this particular story because we discussed it in class, but before that I had never heard of it. I was interested to hear the version of KA who heard the story more organically than how I was exposed. This version included the woman “letting herself go” which I hadn’t heard before. The reference to women caring less about their own appearance after bearing children was an interesting twist.

Folk Beliefs
Life cycle

Cemetery Etiquette

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

HH: When we go to the cemetery to visit our dead relatives. You, you can… well I feel like this is American too. You can never step on the tombstone of another person. And I did that once and my dad…

ZM: Uh oh.

HH: No, no I didn’t stepped on her tombstone, my hat flew on her tombstone and my dad threw away my hat and he made me apologize to the dead person.

ZM: Just your hat?

HH: Yeah. And he literally threw it away. Like, you touched dead, you touched someone’s… like a dead person’s tombstone.

ZM: But like, if it was like your relative that you’re visiting and you like touched it like in an endearing way…Is it still bad to touch the tombstone?

HH: I don’t think so… No, like if it’s an endearing way then not. Like it was just like me, like it was a stranger like…It was me sort of like disrespecting the dead and I literally had to… He literally had to um make me apologize to her like… He was saying like, “She’s just a little kiiiid. Don’t haunt us.” Like that kind of thing. Like, when you go to cemetery you don’t want the dead to follow you back.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.


Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.


Analysis: I thought this practice was kind of extreme. I understand not wanting to disrespect the dead by stepping on their graves, but just a hat hitting the tombstone doesn’t seem like enough to cause harm in my opinion.





Folk speech


Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (HH) and I (ZM).

HH: We don’t like the number four. Four means um, in Cantonese, like translates to “die.” So, um… Fourteen is like um, “You will die.”

ZM: Oh noo

HH: Yeah, it’s really bad. So, we don’t like that number.


Context: This is from a conversation I started with HH about her Chinese culture.


Background: HH was born in China and raised in Oakland, CA. Both of her parents are Chinese, and they speak limited English. She is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California.


Analysis: I have heard that four is similar to the word for death in Chinese, but I had not heard about fourteen. It makes me wonder about all other numbers that include “four.” I previously thought it was just the “four” by itself that was negative, but now I am not sure.



Folk Beliefs

La Llorona

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (KM) and I (ZM).

ZM: Any legends? Is there like a New Mexican legend that you…?

KM: Oh! Yes. Indeed. So, there’s this legend. I can’t pronounce it for the life of me.

ZM: Could you spell it?

KM: Yes. So, it’s “la,” like la and then space, “ll.” Actually…it’s on my phone. (laughs) lemme… Okay, so it’s “la,” space, “llorona,” like La Lallorona or something like that. They roll their r’s or something that I can’t do. So, basically there’s this um, legend that this woman, um, took her kids (chuckles) This is scary. So, uh she took her kids like from her house and like drowned them in the river. Yeah. So, and that like… her kids and were like screaming the whole night and like… OH NO NO no. I think it’s… Her kids were screaming so much that she like took them to the river and drowned them. So, the legend is when you… like um… The winds in New Mexico, in the spring, are like really bad, like they’re like fifty miles an hour. Like crazy. And so the legend is, when you hear the like really fast wind. Like the scream from the wind, it’s the scream of her kids. And um, stay away from rivers. So, like the whole thing is like if you’re near an arroyo, which is what we call a ditch…

ZM: (obviously lost)

KM: You know those ditches that like…

ZM: On the side of roads?

KM: Not really. They’re kind of like… um… They’re like where rain water goes, but they’re like pretty deep.

ZM: But they’re not on the side of roads?

KM: Sometimes they are, but not necessarily.

ZM: Are you talking about like natural ones?

KM: Yeah. Like natural ones.

ZM: I’m sorry. Florida doesn’t have much… variation in… (laughs)

KM: So, I have one behind my house and it’s basically like… it’s lower in elevation so all the water goes there and then it goes under the road. So, I guess it’s kind of near the road. And it like drains to like a river.

ZM: whaaaa. hunh

KM: So, it’s kind of like a stream, but it’s only when rain…

ZM: I feel like this is a language barrier. It’s like a land barrier. Like, I’m not exposed to these land forms.

KM: But anyway, so when you go to like an arroyo and you hear the wind scream. It’s like La Lallorona is coming for you and you have to like go in your house or she’s gonna kill you.

ZM: Is that just kids or is that everyone?

KM: It’s mostly just kids. Like, parents tell their kids these stories so they won’t be near the arroyo at night.


Context: This is from a conversation with KM about her New Mexican culture.


Background: KM is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. KM was born and raised in Santa Fe, New Mexico.


Analysis: I thought it was interesting that this version still contained the classic “Stay away from rivers” message, but also more specifically to stay away from arroyos at night. This is a geographic marker because arroyos are only found in arid and semi-arid climates.



Chinese Romeo and Juliet


This is a chinese folktale that focuses on a forbidden love, between two people from rival families. One day the man is killed and the woman comes to visit his funeral, when she sees him in his coffin she is so struck by grief she climbs into his coffin. In the coffin the woman commits suicide to join her lover. However after she dies both man and woman turn into butterflies and fly out of the coffin together.

Background & Context:

This story was collected in a casual lunch setting. The informant was a 21 year old junior at USC. She is ethnically Chinese but has grown up in New York her entire life. The way she found about this folktale was by watching a popular Chinese from several years ago, that is a remake of this traditional tale. She also compares the tale as the Chinese version of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare.

Final Thoughts:

My thoughts on this tale is that it is a very romantic story. Thoughts I had from my informant’s comment on how the story is similar to Romeo and Juliet is that this story as traditional Chinese folktale is most likely older than the play. There also might be folklore similar to this story from other regions that Shakespeare took inspiration from. What I also found interesting was how the informant originally heard about this folktale through mass media. I think it is unique and good how the media is teaching the newer generation of old traditional folktales that was previously passed down through other methods.