USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘florida’

The Bad Lady

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m Caucasian with a lot of European descent. Grew up in Florida, and my family was originally from New York.


So there’s this woman called the bad lady who lives in swamps in Florida and she’s supposed to be like this Native American spirit who hunts down children who are behaving badly. And what she does… which is like REALLY ridiculous is she kidnaps you from your parents and then puts you in a cage and hangs you above her pit of crocodiles, or alligators cause it’s Florida- her pit of alligators. Then she takes off your shoes and rubs a feather against your feet so that your toes start like twitching out. As the alligators below are like snapping at them. And then if you’re a really bad kid, she’ll continue to do it until one by one the alligators bite your toes off. And then you have to go back to your parents as this toeless child to remind you never to be bad to them.

My parents told me this story but they weren’t the only ones. Other kids in my neighborhood heard about it too, older kids. I think the first time I was threatened to be sent to The Bad Lady, I was like 4… by my parents. But then other kids sometimes would like bully the younger kids and be like “oh well if you try to play with us, we’re going to call The Bad Lady. We’ve been there. We know what she does.” And then they would like pretend to take off their shoes and stuff.

Piece Background Information:

I definitely think that like all the moms in the neighborhood got together and just invented this story. But I feel like it had to have come from somewhere so there might have been some background of either like a woman who did weird things in the forest or just like a legend of like a spirit. My mom insists that she(The Bad Lady) is real to this day.


Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in Ronald Tutor Campus Center on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Although, as the informant believes, The Bad Lady was most likely conceived of by the mothers within the informant’s town, and thus an urban legend, the fact that all the mothers and the older kids spread and hold up the story lends itself to Dundes’ definition of folklore in that there is multiplicity in stories about The Bad Lady as well as variation, in a sense. This variation is, in my opinion, due to its similarity to the story of La Llorana which is also told to kids, usually by parents or those older than them, to keep them from misbehaving.

Folk Beliefs

The Bad Lady

I collected this piece of folkore from a co-worker who grew up in Tampa, Florida. He told me about a common story that was used to scare children into behaving. His learned it from his parents, who would tell him the story in order to make him behave. Nowadays, he finds the story amusing, but when he was a child he took it very seriously and was very scared of it.

“Sometimes she’s referred to as “the bad lady” other times she’s referred to as “the swamp lady” The common theme of the story and the story I was told as a child was that there was a woman who would live in the swamps in the Everglades who was kind of like a witch who would have whole groupings of gators that would live on her property in these swamps, that she would be very close to and have a deep-seated connection to, like she could speak to them, control them and if you were bad your parents would threaten to drive you into the swamp and she would put you in a cage above the gators and depending on how bad you were she would lower you farther and farther into the lake and you’d have to try to survive with these gators. If you were really bad, your parents would just say “put him in” and you would be thrown to the gators and she would control them to whether or not they were going to kill you or how they were going to go about it based on her judgment of your crime.

So, I remember when I was five years old, I really didn’t want to go to church, and I knew I wasn’t allowed to go to church if I didn’t have shoes on, so I told my parents ‘I’m not going to put my shoes on. You can’t make me go.’ And they threatened to take me to the bad lady and leave me there with a ‘he goes straight to the gators’ thing and I very quickly put on my shoes and went to church. I was devastated when I was a little bit older and I realized there was no woman who would do this, that was against the law! But, I don’t know, it was a really common thing growing up, I would talk to my friends and be like ‘Did your mom tell you you were going to go to the bad lady?’ and they were like ‘Yeah, she’s real’. It was like Santa Claus”

This piece of folklore feels very specific to the location it comes from, since swamps and alligators don’t exist outside of a specific geographic region. So, it makes sense that the swamp lady would be in Florida, and that this specific story probably wouldn’t exist in a different state. It’s also interesting that children learned the story from their parents, and not from other children.

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.