Informant EM is 18 years old and a freshman at the University of Southern California. Her major is cinema and media stories. Here, she discusses her ghostly experience as a freshman in high school in Connecticut:
EM: “For my freshman year of high school, I went to boarding school in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut. It was kind of an isolated community so we had to tell each other stories to keep us entertained for the most part and a lot of those stories involve the founding of the school and the legacy of the people who founded the school. So I got the luck of moving into the oldest dorm on campus that had been around since the 1800’s and it was a scary place. It was drafty, it was cold, it was falling apart, so naturally we had a bunch of ghost stories about it. The most memorable one was the story of the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss who was the founder of the school. Legend had it that if you went out at night to the hallway and you went to the back staircase of the dormitory, which was named after her by the way, you would see a woman dressed in white in a Victorian costume, like very old fashioned clothing, walking back and forth throughout the hallway and she would go down the stairs and if you tried to follow her, she would disappear. A lot of this has to do with the fact that back part of the dorm used to be her home when the school was originally founded. It’s kind of like the idea that she is looking out for the students. She’s been known to be a benevolent ghost, nothing really scary about her, but it was still creepy and there were definitely tons of sightings. I remember in particular when we had a blackout, because we were snowed in, there was this horrible blizzard. I actually feel like I might have seen something. I like to think that there is a rational explanation because like again it’s an old building, but I heard footsteps out in the hallway and I had the room closest to the back staircase and there wasn’t anyone with me. My roommate was back in my room but she heard the footsteps too, but she didn’t see what I saw. I saw someone in the dark who was dressed in white and this figure was opening the back door to the staircase and going in and you know there could be many explanations obviously, but it definitely made me think and it was kind of a fun story to tell other people after.”
How did people react to your experience?
EM: “Well there was this girl who was a daughter of a teacher and she lived in the house adjacent to the dorms, and she said that all throughout her childhood before even knowing who Maria Bissell was, she had actually seen the ghost in one of the rooms, which when we later went upstairs to look at it, it turned out to be my room because it is the closest to the back. So we were thinking that maybe this used to be Maria Bissell’s room when it was a house, so maybe that explains why she keeps going there. But the girl said she wasn’t scared of her as a young child. She said that she got the impression that this spirit was kind to children. She started a school so maybe she is still around just to keep looking out for her students to make sure that they are OK.”
How or from whom did you learn about your school’s history?
EM: “Well before I saw it with my own eyes, I had the background because it was a popular story to hear around Halloween from the older students. It was kind of like an initiation thing like I would hear it from like the girls who were proctors and were seniors and you would hear it from the faculty. But I remember that they would make this little ritual out of it on Halloween where they would take us to a graveyard. They would take us out on Halloween night to the grave of Maria Bissell. It was just to scare us and it was part of the initiation process. It was a big part of the school culture and especially the women who are a part of the school. The boys never heard about this kind of stuff that went on, only the girls were involved.”
Did any of the girls ever share this with the boys?
EM: “Never. No, actually it was very exclusive. I don’t know if it had to do with that the dorm was a girls dorm, but it was definitely women who passed it on to other women.”
Does your experience have any meaning to you?
EM: “Well I’m not sure, but I like to keep my mind open. I like to think of it more as a lucky encounter or a positive thing, almost like a good luck charm more than it would be like something that is very scary because it was a way in connecting with the history of the place and also it’s nice for a change to have like a mascot ghost that isn’t out to get you. It was definitely a positive experience.”
What context would you share your experience in?
EM: “Well it makes a great story for stuff like Halloween, but I feel like it’s probably easier to explain to people from my same background. So if I were to meet another girl who went to Hotchkiss, I would probably ask her if she heard about Maria Bissell and ask her of she experienced anything similar. Everyone has their own story on Maria Bissell, which kind of defines your belonging to group of Hotchkiss girls. It would definitely be a bonding thing.”
EM’s experience with the ghost of Maria Bissell Hotchkiss is a large part of the schools initiation process and part of the tradition of passing those experiences onto the new class of girls who are coming in. It represents belonging within the community and the spirit of Marie Bissell Hotchkiss is portrayed as a benevolent spirit who is a reminder that the girls of this community a part of a tradition that was upheld for decades. The shared experiences and stories brought the community together. It solidified the bond between the girls of the school. It also established a sense of identity for the girls who went to Hotchkiss. Many girls came from all over the U.S. and the world to earn an education at this school and through the many experiences of encountering Maria Bissell over generations brought a sense of community and a shared belief system that all the girls could relate to and understand.
For another version of this legend, check out this article written by Stephanie Thomas:
Thomas, Stephanie. “Origins of the Bissell Halloween Walk.” The Hotchkiss School. N.p., 2014. Web. Apr. 2016.
Informant EB is a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in political science. EB is originally from Boston, Massachusetts, but he has spent the majority of his youth in Connecticut. Here, he shares a ghost story known to a town in Connecticut called Dudley Town.
EB: “So Dudley Town is a famous old colonial town in Cornwall, Connecticut, and most people who are from Connecticut know of it as a spooky, old ghost town. Back in the mid to late 1700’s, Dudley Town was mostly farmland and it was used for farming purposes only. But because other businesses were opening up and it was located on an area that was not ideal for farming, the agricultural production suffered and eventually closed down. So the story is that there was a doctor in this town who killed all of his patients when he would go visit them at their homes. He would poison his patients by giving them the wrong medication. This doctor was known to be a Satanist and that he believed that if he followed and did what the devil instructed him to do, he would be rewarded with a rich and fruitful afterlife. So he did this for years and years up until he hung himself in the middle of town. It has been known that his dark, evil spirit haunts the remains of this old town and that no one will really go near it because of all the strange things that have happened. I think it is even closed off to the public today.”
Where did you earn about this legend?
EB: “Um well I heard it while going to school when I was younger and it is a story that is talked about in school by our the older classmates. I have heard variations of the story over the years, but it is something that has been talked about among friends and schoolmates for generations.”
Does this legend have any significant meaning to you?
EB: “Uh kind of in that it is was talked about in school as a way to warn the students to not venture over to that town because of what happened, but it mostly freaked me out when I first heard in school.”
What context or setting would you share this story?
EB: “I have shared this legend to other people when it has been close to Halloween, but I feel like if I were to run into someone who is from Connecticut, they would have a better understanding of the whole ghost story thing and we would be able to relate to it better. I feel like most people who aren’t from Connecticut would look at me weird because they may not know the historical background of old colonial towns like Dudley and or they might now believe in the supernatural. But it’s also a fun story to share for entertainment purposes too.”
Connecticut is a New England state that is prominently known for its coastal cities and its mysterious rural areas. The remains of an old colonial settlement, Dudley Town is known to be cursed. Plagued by hundreds of unexplained deaths and tragedies, this town is now prohibited to the public and has been reclaimed by the surrounding forest. The remains of this eerie town are now fully covered by trees and wildlife. I found it interesting how the informant learned about this legend in school while he was a new student and how it is tradition each year to share this legend with the younger incoming students.
Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. Her father grew up in El Salvador, so Salvadoran culture has been engrained into her upbringing and has influenced things that she learned from her parents.
Main Piece: So growing up in El Salvador, my dad heard this story about this ghostly creature, called the Just Judge. Um so according to the story, he was um he would appear only in the night, and he would be riding a black horse. Um and when you got close to him, you would realize that he had no head, just like um a cloud of smoke coming out of his neck where his head should be. Um so it was said that um that if you approached him, he would say to go back inside your house. You would only see him very late at night when no one else was around. And he would say that the night belonged to him, and that you shouldn’t be there. My uncle actually claims that he saw him, and that when he tried… and that he saw this figure. He saw like this cloud of smoke on the street when he was walking out at night on like a very deserted street, and when he went through it, he claims he saw that figure in the cloud of smoke, and that it walked right through him, like the horse walked right through him like it wasn’t made of anything. Um so he panicked and he ran back home. Um but since that day, he’s kinda rationalized it by saying that it was an optical illusion or that it was a cloud that was really low, so he doesn’t actually believe in it. But it’s always fun to entertain the idea.
Performance Context: This tale is usually told from parents to children to keep them from staying out too late. It was probably a cautionary tale, so they came up with this frightening creature to keep kids from staying out past their curfew.
My Thoughts: I think it is interesting how people have come up with such legends in order to precaution their children against doing certain things, yet these stories become so integrated into society that people believe they have seen or heard the characters described in these legends. This legend almost seems reminiscent of the Sleepy Hollow Legend with the headless horseman.
The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).
K-“Ok so we were told the story of La llorona, and for us it was basically like uh the background was that this woman this beautiful woman in this indigenous pueblo uh she fell in love with the Spanish conquistador and had children but then the conquistador left her for like another woman. Because she was in love with this man so much, every time she saw him in them, the children. And that’s the whole reason she drowned them in a like. After she drowned them, she like mourned them so she would go around at night saying ‘oh mis ninos’ (my children) and supposedly she kidnaps kids at night if they’re near the lake. And she is still a ghost that haunts that area where she used to live”
When did you first hear this story?
K-“Um I heard it in elementary school I think I was in 4th grade”
Have you heard this story from other people as well?
K-“Yup, I heard it from my family and the kids at school. Kind of all the same, all the same versions”
Did you use to live near a body of water or some forested area?
Analysis- This version of the story is seen as a way to ensure the proper behavior of children. The legend is specifically aimed to children, as it is the children that get drowned and the children that get kidnapped. The fact that she did not live near a body of water, which is where according to the legend is where the ghost appears, proves that this is a story told by the adults to make children behave. The legend is also given credibility by introducing some history into it in the form of the conquistador and the traditional Mexican woman. This legend would, therefore, not be easily accepted and used in other cultures.
The informant, J, is 18 years old born and raised in Coachella, California. His mom is from Delano, California, while his dad is from Indio, California. He is majoring in Print and Digital Journalism with a Media, Economics, and Entrepreneurship minor. He also considers himself Mexican.
J-“So the folklore story that we used to hear was La Llorona and that was a big thing in Mexican culture. La llorona is this ghost of a woman and she lost her children while looking by the river they drowned and you can hear her crying and crying. Parents would tell their kids this stuff this story whenever they would do something that seemed pretty dangerous or they’re like behaving badly. So like I remember going to the park and doing something I wasn’t supposed to be doing and like my parents telling me ‘oh you’re going to end up like la llorona’s kids like they drowned in the river because they were doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing.’ Just like when you were behaving bad they’re like ‘I want la llorona to come after you’ and stuff like that. I remember my aunts and uncles would tell me this stuff before going to bed, ‘I would hear her crying at night’, just trying to freak me out. Now as an older person is funny but then it wasn’t funny because you take that stuff pretty seriously when you’re that young”
Do you remember what age you were when you heard this?
J-“I think I was like 7 or 8. Oviously you’re not going to tell a 6 year old that because like they’re still naïve. But like when you’re 7 or 8 you have a better concept of the world around you. That’s when you can start telling kids stuff like this”
Do you still hear the story?
J-“Uh, like everyone that surrounds me is like pretty much grown up so they think its like a running joke like ‘remember when tio (uncle) would talk about la llorona?’ There’s like no little kids in our family”
Do you think there is a specific reason why they told you that story instead of another?
J-“Well I’m Mexican. The area that I grew up in California is mainly Mexican citizens and so that’s something very popular at least in Mexico folklore. So yea that’s probably the reason why. That’s what they grew up with in Mexico”
Are there any forested areas or bodies of water nearby where you lived?
J-“By my house there was this park that also serves as a rain ditch so whenever it rains that park takes all of the water so that way it doesn’t go into the streets. That place is full of grass 8 of 10 times of the year and then like the other 2 is filled with water. So that was usually a point of interest with la llorona because like she’s crying by the river so this would be considered the river by the house”
Analysis- In this version of la llorona, the children died accidentally while playing near the river. Traditionally, la llorona was the one that drowned her children. This could have changed so that it would not be so harsh and scary to the children who it was being told to. The body of water also changed to fit even the rain ditch. This shows how the folklore changes according to its context and who its being to. Since there are no more children to tell the story to, the legend is beginning to die away. It is now only a memory from time to time. If there are no children added to the family, the story may be completely forgotten. It is evidence that while the story is known by everyone, it is predominately used as a legend for children, and it is otherwise not really spoken about.
Title: The Backyard Clown
Interviewee: Adrian Vigil
Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?):
AJ is sitting on a sofa in front of the Trojan Knights house, it is a calm warm Sunday in South Central Los Angeles. It is a group of 10 male students from the University of Southern California sitting on the front porch, sharing stories. All of these men are members of Trojan Knights, and are relaxing after having started cooking homemade friend chicken. All of these men are close to one another, including the interviewer. AJ says he has a good one as he puts his drink down.
Piece of Folklore:
Interviewee- “Okay here we go. This is long one, but I have a good scary story that happened to my friend. I think it could have been a ghost, but I don’t know. Okay here we go you cannoli (see post “What a Cannoli”). Okay so my friend lives in these suburbs of Houston.”
Interviewee- “Of course you cannoli (see post “What a Cannoli”)! Ok so he lives in the suburbs, and his house has this back yard. It’s pretty big back there not going to lie. And so the backyard is all grass and surrounding the backyard he has bushes that act like a wall between his backyard and other peoples yards you know? Ok so he has this backyard, and his bedroom is the on the second floor, and he has this one big window looking back over the backyard. So this is where it gets creepy. This one night, he was sleeping, and he is a really light sleeper so stuff wakes him easily. Ok so one night he was sleeping, and he wakes up because he hears something weird in the backyard. So he walks to his window, and he sees this stupid clown dude just stumbling around in the backyard, looked like he was drunk or on something to be sure. My friend told me thought it was funny to see this guy bumbling around. So my friend then went back to bed and made a mental note to tell his parents that they should make sure drunk people can’t stumble onto their backyard anymore. So my friend went to bed that night laughing to himself. He told his parents the next morning, and his parents waved it off saying that that was a one-time thing. So my friend goes about his day as normal. Only thing is, is that he wakes up the next night, and hears things coming from his backyard, but the sounds are different. Immediately he is more upset at the noises, and more on edge about the whole situation. So he walks slowly to the window, and sees into his backyard. And in the backyard, with a shovel, is the clown. The clown isn’t bumbling about anymore, and he has a shovel in his hand. The clown is digging, digging into his backyard, and at this point my friend is thoroughly freaked out. He walks back from the window, makes sure all the doors in the house are locked and windows, and goes back to bed to try to sleep, but the sound of the digging kept him up. The next day he tells his parents, and they say that he’s seeing things and he is just a silly guy who always tries to pull something on his parents. They say that it was probably a dog digging for something, because dogs usually do that and the hole left in the back was just a dog and they would fix it soon and have someone come to fill it up. They did admit however that it was quite a big hole, a hole that is far bigger than most dogs can make. They dismiss the idea of the clown none the less. Then came the third night. Once again, my friend woke up in the middle of the night, around three am I think it was. But something is wrong, something is very different this time. A feeling of dread came upon him as he realized he was awake. He knew something was wrong. He didn’t hear anything coming from outside, but he didn’t know why he was awake. He kept telling himself to just go back to bed, to ignore everything in his imagination and just go back to sleep. He told himself not to get out of his bed, but he did. He told himself not to walk across his room over to the window, but he did. He told himself not to look out the window into the backyard, but he did. And there was the clown, with his back to my friend, and he was staring at the hole he had made the night before. In that hole there was a coffin. My friend was very confused. Then the clown bent down and opened the coffin, it was empty. My friend was confused, he didn’t know what was happening. Then the clown turned around and stared at my friend in the eyes. He knew he had been watching. My friend was paralyzed with fear. The clown just stared and him, then the clown pointed at the coffin, and started to laugh. My friend realized the coffin was meant for him. He shook his head to say no, and the clown tilted his head in confusion, even putting his hands on his hips in a comical way. He pointed again at the coffin, and my friend again shook his head. The clown grew upset and now frowned, even showing his teeth a little in hatred. Then the clown once again pointed at the coffin this time forcefully. My friend started to walk backwards slowly, to go tell his parents, but then in a blink the clown was gone, like he had just disappeared, so my friend went up to the window to look and see where the clown had gone. That’s when he heard his closet door creak open, and a creepy laugh coming from behind him.”
Interviewer- “Is that it? Did anything else happen?”
Interviewee- “Nope that’s it. It turned out to be nothing although my friend doesn’t sleep in that room anymore and hates clowns now. His parents still think he was dreaming.”
Interviewer- “Do you?”
Interviewee- “Ummm no. I think he was telling the truth, at least the truth from his perspective. Maybe he had nightmares that seemed too real, or he had nightmares that were real for him.”
So there are many parts to this story, and they all seem to work together. There are multiple versions of this story going around, especially recently with the internet being as big as it is today. I personally have read an online story that sounded very similar. In that respect, there are certain things that give it away as being a story that has been told many times. That is not to say that it did not happen, more so to say that it has been converted into a form that is easy to remember and relay to other people. Firstly, the fact that the clown appears in the backyard three times, and the third time is the time that something big happens. Likewise, further into the story, when the clown is pointing at the coffin, he points three times, and the third time is again when something happens. This is prevalent in western culture, this fixation on the number three. Beginning with the Holy Trinity in the Catholic faith, to the three colors of the American flag and many other flags and such. Three strikes and you’re out, the list goes on and on. The number three is integrated heavily into our culture, but natural things do not usually occur in threes, so when things like that do happen in stories, and even twice within the same story, one can discern that it has morphed into more of a story than an actual account of what happened.
Tags: Horror Story, Clown, Backyard
Okay so one time for a soccer tournament my mom and I were staying at a hotel in San Diego… we fell asleep easily one night, and then the next day after my soccer game, my mom wanted to go shopping but I was too tired, so I stayed in the hotel room. It was pretty dark out, like 7, 8 ish in the afternoon at night and …um… I kept feeling something around me, I couldn’t really explain what it was, but it was the same feeling I would get in my house with the lady, where I felt someone watching me constantly…so I went to the corner of the room and sat on the bed so I could see everything in front of me. As I was watching TV I kept thinking that I saw black shadows pop up in different places in the room, and I got sweaty, and my heart started racing, and I called my mom multiple times to ask when are you coming back and blah blah blah. Then my mom came back and I didn’t really tell her anything about it … I didn’t think it was a big deal so I didn’t really acknowledge it. Then, fifteen minutes after turning off the light to go to bed, um, I felt something hovering over my bed from the sides… it was as if someone was… like a witch was… sneering and um…crawling and pacing and creeping around, over and around me… going back and forth from the left side of my bed to the end and right and up. I quietly called for my mom because I obviously didn’t want to disturb this thing, but she didn’t wake up or answer so I snuggled deep into my bed put the covers over and fell asleep. I woke up in the middle of the night to light thinking, “Oh it must be time to get up and go.” I looked over at my mom and said, “Are we going?” She said, “No go back to sleep its only two in the morning.” And just throughout the night I kept waking up to the light that was on in the room. And eventually it was time to get up at 7. I asked my mom why the light was on the whole night and she said I felt something shove me on my leg. She said she started sweating, didn’t know what to do, so she had to turn on the light and stay awake. I was shocked, and I said to her, “Mom, oh my gosh…” and I told her the story from earlier the day before, from when she was shopping… we connected the dots and agreed to leave as fast as we could.
Background: I had heard this story a few times before here and there, but I had only retained a small amount of the story, so to hear it in depth and very detailed was very interesting for me. I conducted this interview live at my house with my sister, so the story was given to me in person. My sister really remembers this story because it was not just her who was affected – it was also my mother who had felt something weird happen that night, and I think it is all the scarier when someone else experiences the same thing because it makes it all the more realistic and the person knows they cannot be crazy when someone else is feeling the same things or feeling the same way. This is freaky for me, and I now understand why my mother and my sister both refuse to stay in hotel rooms alone…beforehand I was thinking it was nonsense that they couldn’t sleep by themselves in hotel rooms but now I am very aware of what they both went through. I think my mother and my sister will both remember this story for awhile because it is truly scary, especially for my mother, to have been physically shoved by a presence that was not visible. I truly believe them.
There is a woman in a small town in Mexico and um she was very vain and prideful of her beauty and she would look at herself in the river in the town and she vowed she would only marry the most beautiful man in the world. And then she ended up marrying him and they had children but he left her and she drowned her children in the river and felt so bad about it and killed herself but the people in the town still see her crying and saying “mis niños” and “mis hijos” and they call her La Llorona because she cries all the time.
Background: I conducted this interview live, so this story was given to me in person. I had heard this legend before from another informant who had not been able to give me a report as detailed as this one. This is a story that the informant had been told many times since she was a young child. I thought this was interesting because it followed the lines of what we had learned in class or what we had read for the class, in the required readings. This was interesting to hear from someone who had not researched it but it was actually a part of the folklore passed around in her culture and from family members, something she had learned just through the environment she was in.
The Winchester Mystery House is a house that was built in San Jose, California, in the 1800s, occupied by a husband and wife. As the story goes, as relayed by the informant, the woman in the story was paranoid that her husband’s ghost and others in the house would attempt to haunt her. Then, the woman, to avoid collisions with the supernatural, built several traps to fool her husband’s ghost: staircases that led nowhere, extra rooms, dead-ends, etc.
Interestingly, the house has since been turned into a tourist property, where, playing off the above legend, visits can pay for night tours through the “haunted house”. The Winchester Mystery House remains open to the public. Tours can be scheduled at its official website: http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/
It is impossible to know if the folklore surrounding the property caused the site to become a tourist attraction–or if the folklore was fabricated in order to promote the tourist attraction.
Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.
A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”
While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.
A.G.: “In my apartment building, we used to live in one of the back apartment units.”
While the family still owns the apartment building, A.G. has since upgraded to a nearby house.
A.G.: “At the dinner table… my brother and sister used to talk about stuff that would happen to them because our house was super creepy.”
Here “our house” refers to the family’s apartment building.
A.G.’s family connects over the supernatural. For instance, while the non-religious A.G. is less concerned with Christianity than his pious mother, she is less concerned with the supernatural. However, they all contribute supernatural experiences to the dinner table discussion.
A.G.: “This happened to my mom. It was weird hearing it from her because she’s always like ‘oh that stuff’s bullshit.’ This happened in Florida when she was visiting my grandma in her last days. After a few days after she passed away, my mom said she was sleeping in the living room or something and then she said that she woke up at night and the TV was on and she saw a figure that reminded her of her mom.”
A.G’s mother’s experience of seeing a recently deceased family member is a regular part of the grieving process. Such memorates, referred to as crisis apparitions, make up a large part of the ghost story genre. While A.G.’s mother’s experience was attached to the deceased grandmother, A.G.’s siblings had their own supernatural experiences attached to the old apartment building. Whether it’s remembering the loss of a loved one, or a displeasurable living situation, I interpret the exchange of scary stories to be the family’s way of bonding over personal tribulations.
For more ghost stories about deceased loved ones, visit http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/23/living/crisis-apparitions/