USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘death’
Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
Initiations
Legends

Hick’s Road Blood Albinos

Context: The informant was speaking of odd legends around her hometown, San Jose.

 

Piece:

Informant: Alright so, I’m from San Jose California, but specifically a small town called Almaden within San Jose, and there is this really famous road in San Jose called Hick’s Road and it’s famous because there is an urban legend… this is real, I’m not making it up… that the road is haunted and that there are blood albinos that live there. Basically there are these albino people that supposedly live there and who like suck people’s blood— like blood sucking albinos. And they’re supposed to live there. And when you live there you just like always hear about the blood albinos at Hick’s road and its supposedly really scary and people like die there and it’s like in one of the more rural areas and you drive there and there is just not a lot of stuff there and it’s kinda dark. Once you become a teenager it becomes kind of a rite of passage to like go with your friends and like brave Hick’s Road.

Collector: Do people actually die?

Informant: Like no! Not that I know of, everyone goes there and because you’re so scared you like imagine stuff.

 

Background: The informant, a 19 year old USC student, is from San Jose and has gone to Hick’s Road. The legend is part of her hometown’s dialogue and culture. It is a sort of rite of passage as a teenager to go to Hick’s Road.

Analysis: This legend is very reminiscent of vampires, but instead with blood sucking albino people. I have never heard albino folklore, so it is really interesting to see that the legend is basically a vampire story. The fearful nature of blood sucking and death that is part of the legend makes it perfect for a rite of passage. By going to the road as a teenager, as the San Jose folks do, you prove you are capable and that you are an adult. This also creates a bond amongst those who go together and those who have braved Hick’s Road, as if saying they are the ones who survived these legendary dangerous people. It is also important to note that she says the legend says that people die but then firmly states that no one has died from these creatures, indicating the liminal and truth questioning nature of legends. This site also attracts these locals in a way that resembles to ghost tripping but for the albinos that suck blood.

general
Humor
Life cycle

Morgue Joke

Context: The first time he told me this joke, the informant and I we with this his siblings on a family vacation in Florida, and we were in one of many car rides. They were telling jokes and he remembered this one— saying it was his best joke.

Piece: “Okay you ready? Okay so… uh a widow brings her husband, late husband to the mortician and uh he’s wearing a blue suit and she says to the mortician, ‘I’ve always thought my husband looked best in a black suit.’ She hands him a blank check and says, ‘Don’t spare any cost, I want my husband buried in a black suit. He says, ‘Alright, we can make that happen. Um I’ll see what I can do.’ Then comes the day of the funeral, and uh her husband is there in a beautiful, perfectly fitting blue suit. And the widow says, ‘Oh my god, looks so good, please tell me the cost I would just like to know.’ The mortician says, ‘Actually ma’am there was no cost at all, it was on the house.’ And she says, ‘No, really, I must repay you for this beautiful suit.’And he says, ‘Well, let me explain what happened. Uh, that same day another gentleman was brought in of a similar height and uh shape to your husband and he was wearing a black suit. So I asked his wife if it would be fine, if she cared if she was wearing a blue suit. And she said she didn’t care, as long as he looked nice. Then it was a matter of switching the heads.’”

Background: The informant, a 20 year old college student at Harvard, really enjoys joke telling and found this joke on Reddit, memorized it and found the opportunity to tell it to us. He will usually tell people this joke if asked to tell his favorite joke.

Analysis: This joke is an example of a death joke, a way to deal with repression. This joke forces people to think about death, something people dislike discussing, by using a grotesque and absurd scenario. The joke is demonstrative of how society tries to find the humor in death in order to make the event less tragic and unbearable. It also uses an element of unexpected that is shocking and comical.

general
Legends
Narrative
Protection

The Witch of Yazoo

(Setup)

Storyteller:

“On my dad’s side of the family…he grew up in a town called Yazoo City, Mississippi. And did you ever see a movie called My Dog Skip?

Me: “No”

Storyteller: “Okay, so it’s a movie..based on a book about an author who grew up in the same town as my dad did. A white author who grew up there. And in the movie, they portray this legend which is the Witch of Yazoo. And supposedly, people are like ‘well he invented that for the book.’ On the black side of town…because it is Mississippi so there is still a very distinct black side of town. On the black side of town, the Witch of Yazoo was a preexisting legend. And again, whether it was a story he coopted or whatever, I don’t know. But I know that I heard about this form my aunt and uncle before I ever heard of this author or My Dog Skip or anything.”

(Here is the chunk of the story)

Storyteller: “And so, basically the story is that there was this woman and she was…and I’m going to try to remember it as accurately  as I can. I believe she was having… an affair with a man in town and it was either an affair…or some sort of family drama. I don’t remember specifically that part of it. But she ends up being murdered essentially by the man in her life in a fire. And then they bury her and everyone forgets about it. And then at a certain point fairly soon after…or it may have bene close to the anniversary of the death, half the town burnt down. And everyone was like wtf, like what happened. And her grave had been dug up.”

Me: “Oh My God!”

Storyteller: “And so people were like…’It was her! She came back and she did it’. And of course people were like ‘that’s crazy.’ But also people were like ‘um maybe?’ So they built a chain that goes around her grave that is supposed to keep her inside.”

Me: “Oh My God, that’s terrifying”

Storyteller: “And in the movie, if you see the movie My Dog Skip, it’s like a crypt that’s there…but in the black cemetery there was a grave because we went to see my grandmothers grave and I asked about it and my aunt was like ‘oh girl lemme tell you this story.’ So either there is one for the black side of town…because you know it used to be very segregated. Or it was a thing that happened on the black side of town originally and it just got coopted on the other side of town…I have NO idea. But it is this hilarious thing because it was this chain with GIANT weights and I was like ‘what the hell is that?!’ And yeah, so the inspect the chain…or at least they used to supposedly…they inspect it so she couldn’t come back.”

Me: “So this was true and it became a movie? Or what?”

Storyteller: “The thing is I have no idea…my aunt tells that story as if it is gospel truth right? But then when the movie came out and I looked it up, all this stuff online said it came from the book. But my aunt told me that story without ever having read that book. Because I asked her and she was like ‘what are you talking about?’ And she knew the guy (the author) but she had never read the book. So I don’t…I have no idea if it’s just one of those local stories that people know so he used it in the book or what…But it’s the south and it’s full of ridiculous scary stories. Really I think all these stories are made to just keep us from doing bad stuff or whatever.”

 

Background: The storyteller is form the south and her dad’s side of the family is from the city where this legend takes place. After listening to her other story that she shared with me, it is clear that her family has passed down many stories that are unique to the south. The storyteller is a professional writer and has used some of these stories and filled in the gaps to write short stories upon the narrative.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me three stories…a couple were stories from New Orleans and the other was this one. Both occurring in the south. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is in a different post)

Thoughts:  I think that the stories that come from the south are fascinating. I don’t know what it is that draws me and so many other people to them. Perhaps it’s because the stories are incredibly rich or perhaps it’s the stories’ attention to details that make the stories so real. There are a lot of stories about revenge in the south and once again, I believe that this is the case because there is a lot of unsettled business. There have been a lot of wrong done in the south and the only way for people to cope with what happened may be to create stories that serve a small percentage of justice to those that were killed or unfairly harmed.

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic
Narrative

Blue Ghosts in Okinawa, Japan

AM: So, it was- like the first month or two when i moved to Japan and I was hanging outside at like…2am like at night in a park. Um, the military base we was staying on was built like near like Japanese Shrines and whatnot and they said that you know the shrines are haunted and there’s a lotta “superstitions” with those. So while we’re out hanging, there was like oh look- you can see a bluf- blue figure on a hill like on top of the shrine and when I looked over you- I saw like a bluish like glow from the hills where the shrine was and they said that this island is one of the most haunted places and that there’s a lot of spirits around.

VG: Woah. What island was it?

AM: Okinawa.

VG: Woah-

AM: And that is- it is very common to see those there… so we was like “yeah, let’s get the hell out of here.”

 

Background:

Location of Story – Okinawa, Japan

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. The one prior was specifically about a high school grade being cursed.

 

Analysis: One point of interest in this performance is the effectiveness of the subtlety of the description of the “spirits.” The only physical description the audience receives about these supernatural beings is that they humanoid in figure and blue. The color is particularly notable because, at least in my experience, I have always viewed the ghosts in ghost stories as being neutral toned or white. Therefore, this description was able to create a whole new image for me and draw me deeper into this performance. It also reinforces the foreignness AM might feel since he had just moved to Japan: not only is the location different but also all of the local lore. One might even go so far as to say that this story was presented with a negative conation despite having no description of graphic hauntings or threats. 

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.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic
Old age
Signs

White Headbands – A Chinese Folk Belief

Item:

Q: Why can’t you wear white headbands?

H: 嗰啲 (go2 di1) white 係人地死咗人地 先戴白色吖嗎(hai6 jan4 dei6  sei2 zo2 jan4 dei6  sin1 daai3 baak6 sik1 aa1 maa3)

[Translation: People only wear white when people die, right.]

Q: 白色件衫定係 白色喺個 頭(baak6 sik1 gin6 saam1 ding6 hai6 baak6 sik1 hai2 go3 tau4)

[Translation: White clothes or white on the head?]

H: 個頭 (go3 tau4)  Like when the parents, like the- your upper generation, like your parents or your grandparents or something, yeah.  When they pass away, so wearing the white [gesturing a headband]. So Asians nope, not gonna wear the white headbands.

[Translation: The head.] (Rest of line remains the same)

Q: So the person who dies wears the white or when you have someone who passed away?

H: Mhmm. So the younger generation will need to put the white thing on their heads, so that’s why no Asians wearing white headbands.

 

Context:

I collected this folk belief as part of a conversation in both Cantonese and English about Chinese traditions and customs.  The informant, denoted by ‘H’ in the exchange above, is Chinese and was born and raised in a Chinese community in Vietnam before immigrating to the United States in her late teens.  She can speak Cantonese fluently but chose to speak to me in both Cantonese and English for my understanding.  It should also be noted that the informant likely meant East and Southeast Asians when referring to Asians in the text because these are the cultures that are most similar to her own.  She didn’t mention specifically where she learned about white headbands from when asked but only said that you just know this kind of thing growing up because you would see it all the time in Vietnam.  She also told me about how one of her daughters unknowingly wore a white scrunchie once and thus had to explain the symbolism behind it before making her take it off.  White headbands as a funeral custom is an inherent part of the culture in which she grew up, and as such, she will never forget about it and will always stay away from wearing one out of proper context herself.

 

Analysis:

This folk belief can be tied to a belief in sympathetic magic: since white headbands are worn as part of funeral custom when a member of your family has died, you could potentially cause death in the family by wearing them if no one has actually passed away.  The likeness of performing the custom during a particular event may evoke the event itself to happen.  Here we can also see an example of the difference in color symbolism between cultures, a difference that becomes apparent when one is removed from the immediate environment of their own culture.  The informant grew up around this symbolism, taking it as a given, and as such never recognized it as significant until coming to the United States.  In the United States and other western countries, white is often a symbol of innocence and purity.  On the other hand, in Vietnam and other eastern countries, white is a symbol of death and thus only worn during funerary rights.  This is likely why the informant’s daughter did not initially realize the bad omen of wearing a white scrunchie because she did not have the background of having grown up in Vietnam where white headbands were only worn for funerals.  Now with another example of the symbolism in the color white in Chinese and Vietnamese cultures, I can understand why it is also a bad omen to wear white during the lunar new year.  Since it represents death, you may bring death upon yourself.  All in all, this folk belief outlines the symbolism of the color white in East and Southeast Asian cultures and furthermore, it proves how one’s own culture is not immediately recognizable until taken out of its initial context.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hold your breath out of respect — Cemetery

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty woman from San Jose, CA. The woman will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “I used to do something as a kid and..haha…I still do it now. Haha I don’t know, I guess it stuck around.”

Collector: “What do you do?”

Informant: “Well, whenever my family and I drove past a cemetery, everyone in the car would hold their breaths.”

Collector: “Because you didn’t want the bad spirits to enter you or something?”

Informant: “No, actually. We would do it because my dad told me once that it was disrespectful to breathe in front of all the people who couldn’t breathe anymore. So we held our breaths.”

Context

            The Informant learned this from her father when she was a child, then she passed it on to her younger siblings. She remembers it clearly because she had actually heard about holding your breath when you pass a cemetery thing from her friend. She started doing it though because of the reason her dad told her they did it. It made more sense for her to hold her breath out of respect rather than out of fear. While she laughs about it being ridiculous now, she still does it if she remembers in time.

Interpretation

            Just like the Informant, I had also already heard of holding your breath when you pass a cemetery. And also like the informant, I thought the reason was to keep bad spirits from entering your body. I was surprised and also interested in hearing there was another reason why other people did it. The idea that people passing any cemetery feel the need to show respect to the graveyard is one that makes me both happy and sad. Happy because I’m glad to hear that people want to be respectful of the dead, but also sad because that respect shows itself in the sort of dark way of holding your breath in solidarity with the dead. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this tidbit of information.

Adulthood
Customs
general
Life cycle
Old age
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Polish Funeral Custom — Cannot Dance

Text

The following piece is a Polish funeral custom that I learned of through my family’s babysitter whose father had recently passed away. The woman is a forty-eight year old Polish native who lives in Chicago now. I had been dancing around and in my attempt to get the Informant to join me, she explained why she was unable to.

Informant: “No, no…Can’t dance, no.”

Collector: “Come on! Why not?”

Informant: “No, no…My father die. I no dance for six months.”

Collector: “You can’t dance for six months because your dad died?”

Informant: “No dance for six months for father and mother. Four months for brother, sister.”

Context

The Informant has understood this Polish funeral custom for as long as she can remember. She remembers not dancing for a while after her grandfather had passed away, and has always understood it to be something she must also partake in. When her father passed, her entire family made the unspoken vow not to dance as a sign of respect to the dead.

Interpretation

While surprised at first, after hearing the Informant’s absolute belief in this funeral custom, I was beginning to also see it as a reasonable practice of mourning. I believe that the reason the Informant and her family undergo such a long process of morning, with such a specific time period, is out of respect for the ones they loved who have passed away. By vowing to not dance for six months, the participants must make a conscious effort everyday to not partake in overly joyful actions, excluding dancing altogether. I believe that commitment to this vow displays a respectful process of mourning, a way of honoring the dead by not moving on quickly after they are gone.

Folk Beliefs
general
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

4 Will Bring Death

The informant shares how the number four is a connotation for bad luck in Chinese culture. She shared this in a group environment, where another member of the group, ‘Support,’ provided additional information to what the Informant was sharing:

 

Informant: We also don’t like the number 4

Me: What’s the number 4?

Informant: Like the number, four. We don’t like it. It means death. It’s associated with death

Support: Because when you say four in mandarin it sounds like the same word as death in mandarin.

Informant: So literally in my building there is no fourth floor, it’s the fifth floor.

Support: It’s kinda like how sometimes in America in buildings there’s no 13thfloor. It’s the same way… they just skip the number 4 when doing floors.

Informant: Yeah theres no 14th, 24th, they just skp the number.

Support: Oh really?!  I remember seeing the 4thskipped,but I don’t remember seeing 14th.

Informant: Like in my building there’s nothing floor.

 

Support: yeah because you don’t wanna live on the death floor… its kind of a pun.

 

Informant: But then lucky numbers are six or eight for a similar reason. Eight is associated with wealth, like you’re getting more money.

 

Context:

I was talking with a group of friends while we were working on a class project and some of the group members wanted to share pieces of their traditions with me. It was a very casual setting and the performance took place in front of three other individuals.

Background:

The informant is from Hong Kong, China, but attends school at USC. She has experienced the stigma of the number four first hand, because there is no floor containing ‘4’ in her apartment building in Hong Kong.

Analysis:

I love learning about how different cultures have similar superstitions to the United States, but while similar there is a different reasoning. While the US may view 13 as unlucky, it is not that way in China.

general
Legends
Narrative

College Studying Murder Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a firepit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to J during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told amongst a group of friends sitting in a circle around a firepit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“This story was told to me by a counselor who was actually in his freshman year of college. It goes something like this… There are two college roommates, Briona and Ellee, who are in the same math class and have a bit midterm in the morning… Briona decides to stay in and study, while Ellee goes out to party with a guy in the same class. *pause for childish laughing*… After a while, Ellee returns to find the lights out and Briona in bed asleep. To be courteous, Ellee does her nighttime routine in the dark before going to bed… *beep beep beep, beep beep beep, beep beep beep*… Sleepily, Ellee climbs out of bed and walks over to wake Briona… She rubs the sleep out of her eyes and notices the blood-soaked bed and stiff body of Ellee. On the wall above her, the words ‘Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?’ are scribbled in blood…”

Thoughts:

As I read back through this transcript, I wish it could better capture the feeling of this piece. The ambiance of the environment in which it was told played into it with the cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us, making us feel as if we were not alone. I think the story was interesting coming from J, as he never went to traditional college. However, it was still an effective ‘scary’ story for us since we all knew what it was like to share a room with a person you haven’t known for very long. Things are often represented in sets of three, and this one used the alarm beeping in threes to give the listeners something familiar before the big reveal. The writing in blood is a common element in scary stories, but it implies so much more in this story that it played a larger part than it normally does. J was unsure of which names were meant to be used in the story but didn’t think they were terribly important.

[geolocation]