USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘east coast’
Legends
Narrative

Deceased Shaker Babies

Background

Location: New Lebanon, NY

Informant: J.R. - 23 year old male, originally from New York State, attended the same high school as the collector

Context

This legend has been told to me many times from many different sources, specific to a boarding school in the remote mountains of the New York Berkshires.

The boarding school mentioned was founded on land that once functioned as a Shaker settlement. The Shakers were a religious minority that sought out to create a utopian, self-sufficient society centered on God. Many of their principles required the separation of man and woman, absolute abstinence was expected. As a result, should a woman become pregnant while she was a member of the settlement, she would be cast out of the community. I have paraphrased the core legend as told by J.R. below.

Main Piece

It was told to me that, though the old Shakers that inhabited our dormitory buildings were required to be abstinent, there were times where a woman would become pregnant and attempt to hide her symptoms until the child was born. If she carried to term, she would deliver the baby and either leave the community or, much more nefariously, kill the child and hide the remains. This story over time was transformed into the legend that the remains of the dead babies would be placed in the walls of the buildings they were constructing as a way to give them a “burial.”

Thoughts

While the the folklore is based in historical accuracy , the belief in the dead babies represents a superstition specific to the school that added mystique and served to entertain (or frighten) the students, The urban legend would be shared or performed to freshman as somewhat of an initiation in to the culture of the school. Variations or abbreviations of the story would reappear in conversation, for example, “be careful, don’t get captured by the Shaker babies!” Due to the age of the settlement the school was established on, and the previous history of the land, ghost stories were commonplace in the conversation and folklore of the school and provided a link between the past and the present of a place that remained for the most part, physically unchanged.

 

For more information on the Shaker community and its ties to folklore, see:

Wolford, John B. “Shaker Studies and Folklore: An Overview.” Folklore Forum, 1989, pp. 78–107., doi:10.1.1.491.9188.

Folk speech

Creamies

This was told to a group of friends during a debate of what soft-served Ice Cream is called across the US. The informant is from Vermont, on the East Coast. There was a divide between East and West coasters over what to call soft-serve ice cream, but the informant was able to give me some background on her reasoning.

“So creamies are what we call soft serve ice cream, and I truly did not know they were called something else until i was eight years old. And like it truly makes sense that that would be what they were called, and um, it makes sense because they’re like ubiquitous, um, there was a creamies, and like, I counted recently, and I worked at an ice cream store over the summer that didn’t sell creamies, and like people came in and asked everyday and asked “do you have creamies” and we’d be like no, but I could stop at four or five places between my house and where I worked over the summer and get a creamie. And I worked maybe two miles from where I lived. Um, and it’s kinda like this thing because, and I kinda realised this recently, because the main industry in Vermont besides tourism is dairy, that it’s, like, i know more than most people about dairy products and that I’ve had them in hoards all my life and it was very encouraged to eat fine dairy. We ate a lot of really good cheese, really good ice cream and really good butter. Um, and so, I guess creams is just slang for a soft serve.”

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Playground Lingo

Context: The informant is a 23-year-old white female from Florida who grew up with her parents and two older siblings. When the informant was in grade school, a common accusation between kids swinging on adjacent swings, when someone got too close to them, was, “You’re in my shower!”

Analysis: The informant says she remembers the phrase because “I thought it was a weird thing to say, i was like, okay, whatever you say…” This indicates that it was not a widespread saying but perhaps unique to a small area of schools or perhaps even just the one school that the informant attended.

It can be assumed that when someone had possession of a swing, they would be unwilling to give it up or to experience interference from other swingers. The connotation of a shower being a very individual, private space, therefore, transferred onto the swinger’s small area of free movement and they would understandably be indignant of someone invading their “private,” designated area.

Customs
Earth cycle
Festival
Holidays
Kinesthetic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Devil’s Night

My informant told me about the traditions surrounding Devil’s Night, or October 30th, the night before Halloween. She mentioned that the normal activities boys would participate in would be egging houses at night and “doorbell ditching.” When egging became an issue of destruction of property and legal action could be taken against the children involved, they switched from egging a house to using toilet paper, spreading it around trees and the house yard.

My informant felt that this was a very east coast tradition because of our association to early Halloween traditions and witches in Salem. She could not name when Devil’s Night started, just that several generations of her family knew about it and all that went on that night, usually criminal behavior.

Often this would involve smashing pumpkins as well. My informant thought that maybe this was another imitation of spirits because of the stories surrounding Halloween. My informant said that when she was younger, her parents would tell her scary stories of things that happened on Devil’s Night to prevent her from going out and taking part in the activities that got her fellow classmates into trouble.

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