USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghost’
general

Poltergeist

Collected in the informant’s office on his free time. I asked him to describe a time where he experienced something that he couldn’t explain.

The informant attended the University of Southern California many years ago. The apartment he discusses is not known to be haunted.
Informant: “Um… Well, uhh… When I was in school here at USC, uh, there was a series of very strange events in my building. And, uhh… one night there was a loud, uh, series of noises from my living room of my one-bedroom apartment. I could see that my, uh, cla- my roommate was asleep next to us, and but there was clearly someone in the other room. And when I went in to investigate, things had been knocked off the shelves and walls, but the room was not broken into. Uh, and I am convinced that it was a poltergeist.”

Interviewer: “What would you define a poltergeist as?”

Informant: “Uh, well poltergeists are, uh, unmoored spirits traditionally, uh, kept from the afterlife by their own unfinished business, uhh, frequently revolved, or revolving around, like, rage, hate, or anger – Negative emotions that have kept them tethered to the world. But, uh, poltergeists traditionally, uh, travel. Uh, they’re not tied to one singular location. Um, so I believe at the time, uh, there was a, it was simply a poltergeist was moving through our apartment complex.”

Interviewer: “Interesting… Were there any other details about the incident?”

Informant: “[Sighs and smacks lips, thinking] Um… Only that a apropo of nothing, a similar incident was reported by our downstairs neighbors the night before, and, uh, a very strange occurrence happened a few days later when everyone was watching a movie together, and in the same moment, everyone screamed, uh, because we all saw, in the same moment, a face in the screen. It was like a, just an image of like, the characters were standing in front of a bush, and the green bush, for a moment, shifted, and we all saw it.”

Interviewer: “You saw the face too?”

Informant: “I saw the face, yeah.”

Interviewer: “What did the face look like?”

Informant: “Uh, it was just a brief moment of, like, an, an angry man’s face. Like a screaming face.”

Interviewer: “What do you think that was? Same thing?”

Informant: “[Sighs deeply in thought] … Yes? It couldn’t have been a different poltergeist. Like probably the same spirit infesting the building, uh, for that period of time.”
The informant has an interesting claim of poltergeists being able to move from location to location, not tied to a person or place like other sources claim. He also has a reliable account due to other people also being witnesses to multiple accounts of this “poltergeist.”

Legends
Narrative

Marjorie Jackson’s House

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject stated that this was one of the most memorable urban legends, or ghost stories, that she knew of as a teenager living in Indiana. This legend is a classic example of the ‘neighborhood haunted house’ and also happened to be a traceable true story that was of large international interest. According to usatoday.com, Marjorie Jackson—an heiress to the Standard Grocery Chain—hid as much as $15 million in various places in her home—“in closets, toolboxes, garbage cans and vacuum cleaner bags” (usatoday.com). In 1977, Jackson was killed when two burglars broke into her home and shot her in the stomach. It is interesting that the subject did not point out the infamous nature of this story in her narrative, instead presenting it as an urban legend. While the “hole” aspect of the story seems to be more of an embellishment, the rest of her account aligns with the documented case of Jackson’s murder in 1977.

(Source: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/09/21/murdered-heiress-mystery/72590690/)

Main Piece

“When I was in high school there was this house that a lady was murdered in; her name was Marjorie Jackson, um, and the house…so people went in—supposedly she hid money in her walls and under her mattresses and stuff and she didn’t have any money in the bank so she hid it all over her house, so supposedly people [burglars] came in and after they heard those rumors and they killed her and there were holes all over the walls. So, like, me and my friends sometimes [laughs] would go to the house because nobody wanted to buy it so we would sneak in there and there really were holes all over and it was probably not safe to go in there cuz it was kind of [laughs] condemned. That was Marjorie Jackson’s house.”

Legends

Legend: The Shadow

I discovered this legend when researching unique legends online. The following is the quoted legend from online.

“The Shadow”

“I didn’t know that’s what it was called until much later. I was living in a house in Laguna Beach that had been there since the 1920s. In it’s history, it had been a speakeasy, a brothel and a house for smuggling illegal immigrants.

One day, my new wife and I were having an argument. I can’t even recall what it was about. She walked down the block to get a cup of coffee and cool off, and I was alone in the house. The way the place was built was incredibly haphazard. There was a bedroom and living room on one side, then a bathroom with two entrances. On the other side of the bathroom was a hallway that had windows in one side and two bedrooms on the other. From my bedroom, I could look across the hall into the bathroom, then through the bathroom and down the other hall. I was standing at my dresser, and I just noticed movement out the corner of my eye, and looked down there. There was… and honest to god, this gives me goose bumps just typing it, 17 years later, a black figure. It was maybe three feet tall, and it was only vaguely humanoid. It looked like black scribbles, like someone had scribbled a human shape, but the scribbles moved, like electricity arcing, that’s the best way to describe it.

There was no sound that I could remember. I distinctly remember when I saw it I wasn’t afraid, just like, WTF? Then it noticed me looking at it. I can’t say it turned around, it just, focused on me I guess. THEN I was scared. I didn’t move, didn’t scream, nothing, I was just frozen, because it just fucking came at me, it RUSHED down the hall towards me. I have no idea what it intended, but as soon as it entered the bathroom, the door closest to me just SLAMMED shut on it. I screamed. I yelled for my wife. She wasn’t home. I went the fuck outside, into the daylight, and didn’t go back in until she got home about 10 minutes later.

I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe I saw something supernatural, but I know I saw something. I don’t know what it was.”

Analysis:

I found this legend especially interesting because I am from Laguna Beach and found personal interest in the ghost story taking place in my hometown. There is a similar styled home in my neighbor that is also rumored to be haunted. It is one of the oldest homes in Laguna Beach and has its own lighthouse and saltwater swimming pool that is embedded in the actual rocks. I visited this home once and immediately felt it had an eerie atmosphere. To this day, whenever I pass the home I still continually feel that strange, supernatural element to it. I therefore found this legend extremely relatable and am curious of its origins. It would be interesting to know if perhaps the teller of the legend lived in the same home I saw or a different one.

Website Citation: For other similar ghost legends, visit the following URL where this legend was originally published:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/Mandatory/ghost-stories_b_8296528.html

Legends

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.”

 

Context:

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

Background:

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

 

Analysis:

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.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Henrietta’s Pacing

I’ve always thought of this friend as an interesting guy, but we’ve only ever joked and traded some silly stories from high school. He’s hinted at coming from a large and established family in Texas, although I’ve never really gotten much more than that. This project was a great opportunity for me to find out a bit more, as I, too, share ancestral lineage from the South, and have always been interested in unique little stories of haunted houses and ancient apparitions.

The following was transcribed from a recording taken in class and shared among three or four other classmates. Though the background buzzed with chatter from other students, the spooky nature of this story made me feel very still inside.

“I come from a big ranching family, and we go back – our family history dates back to like 1853 in Texas. So from the early, early days of the state. And our family is still in-tact and everything, very close together, and the ranch is still there. So um, there’s a lot of history to it in South Texas. So with that there comes a lot of ghost stories and whatnot. Um, so there’s a lot of reports of people seeing ghosts in the main house and stuff like that. The house itself is as old as the ranch, so very, very old. It’s a hundred an- we just celebrated it’s a hundred-and-sixty-fifth anniversary. Well actually, excuse myself. The ranch is a hundred-and-sixty-five years old, and the house just turned a hundred. So, yes. Very, very old. I’m a sixth generation out of seven, in terms of family members, so there’s been that many people that have gone through the house. Four generations lived in the house their entire lives, um. So naturally, the ghosts aren’t always the same. The ghost that I saw is… Let’s see. The ghost that I saw or rather heard or believe I heard at least is – I was going to bed in my room which is on the first floor, and uh, the floors are made of wood on the second floor. So my room is right under this room we call Henrietta’s room which is the room of the matriarch of the original generation, the first generation. So in Henrietta’s room – it’s the biggest one in the house. It’s basically like the original one. And it’s also where most of the ghost sightings and experiences are seen is up, up in hers. So my room is right below. And I haven’t had any encounters like visually. But the one I have had is I was going to sleep one night, and I was trying to go to bed. I was the only one in the house, and um, the thing is the house is very, very big, and it’s kind of a rarity to be the only one in the house. Normally there’s at least 2 or 3 other people staying there. And I was the only one there that night, kind of taking care of the house before I left the next day. I was going to bed and I heard this creaking above me, as if someone was walking around on the wood. Um, on the second floor. AKA, Henrietta’s room. And I didn’t think much of it before I realized I was the only one in the house. And I thought, ‘oh, is there an intruder?’. And I got really, really scared, um, cause those things can happen. But there’s also a lot of security. So then again, nothing so much. But I listened really closely, and the footsteps were going in a circle, as if they were just plodding around the room. And they were just going in an endless circle, and the steps were very, very slow too. Like, a very slow walking pace, basically. And I was listening to these footsteps going in an endless circle. I think eventually I fell asleep, but it was interesting that being my first ghost experience. And basically having to accept the fact that there’s a ghost walking around above me. And I just went to sleep comfortable, knowing that it was a ghost and not an intruder. So that was nice for me.”

It is rare for a ghost to be preferred over another human being. However, if the ghost is a loving relative in a lineage that values family and tradition, then it makes sense to prefer its presence to a possibly violent intruder. This piece breaks the American stereotype of all ghosts being malevolent beings hell-bent on revenge and retribution. Instead, it offers a different outlook on the world of the supernatural – that ghosts come out when they think no one is home and simply go about their business. Perhaps Henrietta craves the nostalgia of her old room, and comes back to enjoy the sights and scents whenever she can. Little did she know her great-great-great-great-great grandson slept soundly below.

Folk Beliefs

GamGam: A Ghost Story

It’s not exactly a ghost story. I mean, I didn’t really see a ghost exactly. When we moved into GamGam and PopPop’s house after they passed, I remember just feeling GamGam’s presence.  I can’t explain it exactly. I’d just feel like she was there keeping me company. 

One day, I was in the kitchen and no windows were open. There was a stillness in the house. Then I noticed that a note that was magnetted to the refrigerator was moving – and for quite a while. It never happened again, but I always felt like GamGam was there and wanted me to know.  It was very nice.

While the Informant’s story may not directly involve a ghost, it definitely involves paranormal activity. When I asked if she believed in ghosts, she replied an instant “absolutely!” She then equated ghosts and souls. She believes in old souls and new souls, relating natural wisdom to the age of a person’s soul. A ghost is an unsettled soul, with unfinished business, waiting for a new body. Essentially, ghosts are souls in transit.

This story means a lot to the Informant. She told me that one of the first things that GamGam, slang for grandmother, said to the Informant was that she was an “old soul.” A physical object being manipulated is a common motif in ghost stories, with the Informant’s involving the magnet.

I enjoyed the story. It’s a strange form of a ghost/spirit story. Instead of the intent to frighten, like in typical ghost story fashion, this one seemingly had a happy ending. GamGam just wanted to show the Informant that she was there, have her presence recognized.

Folk Beliefs

Garden Grove Ghost

In March 1933 there was a huge earthquake and Garden Grove High School collapsed. There was a little girl, a Freshman, named Elizabeth and she was the killed when the wall caved in. She was trapped under the rubble in the Hall of Fame in Heritage Hall for hours begging for help, but no one came to save her.

 Nowadays, students say they can still hear her ghost pleading for help.

The Informant was born in the US and grew up in Garden Grove, a city in Orange County. Her parents are both from Vietnam. She is an Economics and Mathematics major at UCLA. The Informant, my girlfriend, told me this story as I distracted her from her own schoolwork on 4/22 at around 2am.

It seems like whenever there is a disaster or tragic event, up pops a ghost story. Ghost stories also appear to be a youthful storytelling technique. So, it’s not surprising that a ghost story exists about the tragic death of one of the areas high schoolers.

The informant grew up in the area, with many friends and family attending the school in question. Unsurprisingly, this ghost story spread via word of mouth from classmates. The story spread from across schools and across classes. The informant says she would never step foot into Heritage Hall because, even though she’s skeptical about the existence of ghosts, in the off chance that they do exist, she doesn’t imagine them as being friendly. Whereas the typical viewpoint sees ghosts as the wandering spirits doing the scaring, she views ghosts as the scared ones. They’re stuck, scared, and angry.

I don’t believe in ghosts, but my belief system on souls is more complex. I don’t question the tragedy that occurred, but if I take a step back and think about it, I question the idea of the “haunting.” For the sake of argument, if I were to accept there are ghosts, why would they haunt their place of deaths? If I were a spirit in the afterlife, I would want to stray far from my tragic place of death and be in the surroundings of my happiest moments.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

Magnolia Elementary School – Haunted House

The following informant is a 20 year old college student from Upland. Here she is describing a haunted house that is behind her elementary school, Magnolia Elementary School. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as GA and I am identified as K:

GA: There is this haunted house at my school, um… by the playground, and some kids would be like talking about how there was someone who like died, who lived there, and like when it was like night at the school, it would be like haunted and stuff like that. You could hear weird noises and things would fall or move, things like that.

K: Did you ever go and explore the house?

GA: No I was too scared, but some of my friends went, we were in like 5th grade, and they heard and saw things. It was mostly kids in my grade wanting to explore and they told me about it because it was located right behind us/

K: Did anything happen to them?

GA: No, nothing bad, they just got really freaked out, maybe they did encounter the spirit of the guy that lived there

K: Did you believe what they told you about the house?

GA: Yes and no, I am always a little skeptical when it comes to ghost stories, but it did frighten me enough not to go to the house.

Context: She told me this while we were sitting at her dining room table one evening.

Thoughts:

I too am similar to GA, in the sense that I can be a little skeptical of ghost stories and haunted houses, however I think it is important to point out that regardless of the fact that she did not fully believe the house was haunted she still avoided it, almost like better safe than sorry. She did not have to accept the supernatural to understand that something weird was going on.

general
Legends

The Mean Ghost

The following informant is a stay at home mom from Upland. Here she is describing interactions her good friend had with a mean ghost in their home. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as KA and I am identified as K:

KA: Okay so my girlfriend is telling me about this ghost story that she lived in this house in Fontana and there was this ghost and he was like a mean ghost because he would like… it would be scary, you know, things would break and weird noises and stuff. and i think it was an old man that had died there, so she said that they got used to him, but it was not a nice ghost. and i think it was either in the garage or house, but he was there, and so they just lived with it

K: did they ever try to move or do anything about it?

KA: no they never tried nothing

K: do they think it was the previous owner?

KA: I think so, I think it was someone that probably lived there and died and he did not want to pass on to the other life so he stayed there . And she told me that and I was like what, no, but she said no we have a ghost. and I’m like okay

K: so did you believe her story?

KA: oh yeah, I believed her, I believe in ghosts, yeah most definitely they are out there. there are good ghosts and there are the ones that don’t want you in their… they feel like it’s their house, their ownership and you’re in their house so yeah

Context: The informant told me this story while we were sitting on her couch having a conversation at night, and as she was telling me the lights in her house actually started to flicker and make that buzzing noise.

Thoughts:

I’ll be honest, I did not have much to say about this piece, frankly because I was little scared. She was telling this story at night and like her, I don’t necessarily believe wholeheartedly in ghosts, but as she tells me, the lights flickered and made noise, and I genuinely thought she brought that ghost into her house. It was a very strange experience, but it reminded me of the idea that you don’t have to fully believe in something to know something is not right. Like not believing a house is haunted but still not wanting to walk through it.

general
Legends

Creepy Closet

The following informant is a manager at a large electric utility company in Southern California. Here he is describing a legend about ghost that inhabited a closet in a bedroom he shared as a child with his brother. This is a transcription of our conversation, she is identified as T and I am identified as K:

T: When I was a child, maybe 8 or 9 years-old, my sister who was a little older told me and my brother about someone who had died in the house and that he lived in the attic above our bedroom. Because there was an opening in our closet to the attic, we always thought this ghost was trying to get in or out of the closet.

K: Did you believe your sister when she told you this story?

T: Heck yea, and from then on, we could never sleep with the closet door open.

K: Did you think closing the door would protect you?

T: Probably not, but it was better than leaving it open and waking up in the middle of the night to see a ghost in the closet.

K: What was the opening in your closet to the attic?

T: There was an opening in the ceiling of the attic that was closed with a lid. You could open the lid and gain access to the attic. One day, my brother and I gathered enough courage to climb up there and open the lid. Because I was older, I ended up opening the lid and looking but I didn’t see anything.

K: Did you ever actually see a ghost?

T: Never, but it didn’t matter. The thought of seeing a ghost was enough to instill fear for a long time. We did once have someone attempt to break into our house through our bedroom window at night and at first, I thought it was the ghost making noise. The robber got spooked and ran away. After that, I really couldn’t sleep thinking about a ghost in the closet and a robber at the window. I had some rough nights sleeping as a child.

K: Do you believe there is a ghost up there?

T: Definitely not, and I even recently went up there to take a look with a powerful flashlight. There was nothing up there except an attic. I did have my doubts as a child, but I always convinced myself that it wasn’t real. Regardless, I would always close the closet door.

Context: The informant told me this tale while we were sitting on his couch talking about scary stories as a child. He recalled this story and indicated he had forgotten all about the closet ghost until telling it now.

Thoughts:

Similar to the informant, I don’t believe in ghosts, but it is important to note that he changed his behavior as a result of the folklore. Although he was adamant he did not believe in ghosts, he still closed the closet door. This precautionary action likely made him feel better and probably allowed him to sleep easier. It was interesting how a robber was initially mistaken for the ghost, and he used the term “spooked” to describe why the robber ran away. It felt like in an unusual way, this fictitious ghost may have provided protection in his mind and possibly create a benevolent aspect to the ghost.

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