USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghost’
Folk Beliefs
Life cycle

Toots The Gaseous Ghost

Informant (L.P.) is an 18 year old student. I had heard her enthusiasm for telling ghost stories the week before, and this one stood out. L.P. works at a local novelty shop. This interview is conducted at my house one Saturday evening.

I ask about the ghost in her workplace, which she had mentioned during our previous encounter.

L.P.: “There’s a ghost called Toots because it farts a lot and people smell it all the time. It’s not mean, it just likes to fuck with people. They have a video of it knocking a whole stack of books off the shelf.”

I ask her to elaborate on Toots’ antics

L.P.: “I saw it knock a book on my coworker. The book hit her on the side of the head and she spilled her tea… Today it knocked over a bucket in an aisle when some guy was reading a book.”

I ask her if the ghost has any legend attached to it

L.P.: “It used to be a post office, so maybe somebody died in there I’m not sure.

I ask her if she’s has the video, but she says no, as she doesn’t have access to the work computer. As the youngest employee at Wacko, I’m assuming L.P. is going through a right of passage in learning the store’s occupational legend of Toots the gaseous ghost.


The Waltzing Matilda Song

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
Under the shade of a coolibah tree,
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, waltzing Matilda
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me
And he sang as he watched and waited till his billy boiled
“You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Down came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong.
Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
And he sang as he shoved that jumbuck in his tucker bag
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred.
Down came the troopers, one, two, and three.
“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?
You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me.”

Up jumped the swagman and sprang into the billabong.
“You’ll never take me alive!” said he
And his ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong
“Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, with me?”

The Walzing Matilda is a popular folk song that is well known throughout Australia. The story is about a man camping alone out in the Australian wilderness by a pond. Seeking companionship, he finds a wandering sheep and puts it in his food bag. The man who owns the land where the camper is staying on soon arrives with three officers, demanding that the sheep be returned to him. Instead of giving in, the camper jumps into the pond and drowns himself. His ghost stays by the pond, hoping to spend time with anyone who walks by. According to the informant, the song is an iconic Australian piece of folklore that is recognized by all Australians. It is often sang at celebrations and large group gatherings, as it unifies all Australians together.

The informant, Angus Guthrie, is a 20-year-old student who was born and raised in Australia. Because he and his family have been in the country for a very long time, he believes that he is quite familiar with Australian folklore and traditions. Angus learned the song from a children’s music album that he enjoyed listening to as a child. Many artists have covered and recorded this song over the years, so he believes that it is nearly impossible for an Australian to have never heard the song. He loves the song because it represents a different time period in Australia, where people walked across the land with few belongings and slept under stars. For Angus, this song evokes a strong sense of national nostalgia that all Australians can relate to.

Because Australian is a nation that was erected after taking over Aboriginal land, it is curious to see folklore that was created by Australians themselves instead of by the natives. Because the Aboriginals have such a rich history of folklore, it would be easy to simply reappropriate it for Australian audiences so that they wouldn’t have to make any folkloric pieces for themselves. Songs like this prove that this is not what occurred, however, as their lack of Aboriginal influence shows that Australians did create folklore for themselves.



Haunted House in Jakarta

Papa’s (my grandpa’s) friend and him were living in Jakarta and in the house they were staying in… a house which they rented… which was haunted because the wife sees all the spirits when the men are out working. There are always noises and sometimes she saw people in the kitchen… doing something in the kitchen, and the husband doesn’t believe her. He says, “I don’t believe. That is nonsense. I wish I could see the ghost. I wish he would show me.” One day he was sleeping, and he looked up and he had a calendar of two girls dancing. He looked at the calendar and it was moving and dancing. The girls pictured in the calendar were moving as if they were real. He was so scared. So from that time on he believed. They eventually figured out that under that house was a cemetery. The ghost followed them from this house to another house they lived in, I even heard stories about it later on. Since that time he was so scared and never mentioned it anymore.

Background: My grandpa was a civil engineer whose work required him to constantly move from place to place. This is interesting to hear secondhand from my aunt, as my grandfather passed away. He told this story to her many years ago. This really embodies the essence of folklore as this version of the story may have been different from the original that my grandfather would have told. I conducted this interview live at my uncle’s house, so this story was told to me in person. I really find this story to be very compelling as the belief of each person who lived in the house varied about the spirits — from the wife and husband, to my grandfather. This was very interesting for me to hear about some of the interesting places my grandfather lived and some of the amazing things he did all over the world.


Haunted Sorority House

Informant: Okay, so, um, my sister’s sorority house is haunted. And, um, she’s in AChiO at Oregon, and they were like the first sorority on campus, or first ones to have their house that they live in now on campus, so basically like AChiO here. So like because it’s been there for so long, two girls have died there and one of them died at the turn of the century. I think she fell down the stairs, but it doesn’t matter much, but the other one, this girl died in the seventies because she was on the stairs in some high heels and her sister as a joke, like, pushed her, but she fell down the stairs, and it’s a three story staircase, and she fell and broke her neck. And so she died in their house on like a normal night, and now she haunts the house and um her thing is that her ghost comes in the form of a cat so people hear weird meows in their room, and also she’ll come in the bathroom and like flicker the lights. She like threw paper towels at somebody, like this girl was just in there and paper towels just flew at her like peoples baskets will just get knocked off the wall. Also, they have a cat statue in their house, don’t know why, but they always say that it’s the ghost of the woman, and they’ll put it in people’s rooms and their suitcases when people go home just to scare them. It was really scary when I went up.


My informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is from San Diego, California. We had this conversation in the study room of my sorority house.


This is something that seems to be a basis for some fictional stories. There was an episode of Psych having to do with a haunted sorority house. It seems that in this type of horror story, the person who dies always dies in a certain way, and if there are multiple deaths, they happen in the same way. In this case, both deaths happened on the stairs. It also seems common in many ghost stories and perpetuated by the show Supernatural, ghosts inhabit some type of object to haunt people with.

Life cycle


This was the time that mom… she was telling me the story about the time when one of her elder …I don’t remember if it’s the distant aunt or just a very close friend of the family had passed away. And the person that was very dear to that deceased, she decided to keep the skull of the deceased, and instead of cremating the whole entire body she kept the skull. A couple of days later another family member… and she said whatever happened to her she has no memory of it, but she was possessed by the deceased who came to the village looking for her skull and she said in Thai to the woman who kept the skull in her same mannerism… everybody knew how this person was before… she sat down in her usual spot and started looking at everybody because this person was possessed in trance like state “Ni (the person’s name) give me my skull back” in rude, old Thai, in an olden way. In a very… um… not so nice language. And everybody was shocked and of course … somebody who was possessed … had kind of pointed out to the person who took the skull and said put it back in its rightful place. Everybody was shocked. And then I think after that moment the possessed person just collapsed and she woke up from this trance and could not recall anything. She just remembered she was on the bus and then she was here with the family.


Background: My aunt knows this story because her mom told it to her, and she remembers this piece specifically because it is so creepy. To her it symbolizes the need for respect for those who have passed away and the need for people to let them go instead of holding on to them, whether it be literally (with the skull) or figuratively. I conducted this interview in person, live at my uncle’s house. I think this is such a creepy piece yet such a good piece of folklore as my aunt and her mother (my great-aunt) both claim it to be true.


Brooklyn Doll

So my grandma moved from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn when she was six years old with her mom, like Brooklyn in New York, the city with her mom and 5 siblings, and the rest of her family stayed in Puerto Rico with the dad, and they were gonna move out later after the dad finished his Navy term. She moved into an apartment and her mom, like so my great grandma, really believes in ghost stories, so she had little plants, little cacti with the long leaves, and she believed those fended off ghosts for some reason. So she kept those around the apartment because when she purchased the apartment she got creepy vibes, as my grandma says. My grandma lived in a closet sized room with her sister and they didn’t really have all their stuff with them, so my grandma just brought books with her. She brought books, and there was a little shelf above her bed so my grandma put her books up there and her mom put a plant up there. So supposedly the apartment was protected from ghosts because of the plants. So then one day though they got new neighbors next to them; it was a wife, husband and dog, they had a dog. They had recently moved into building, and landlord came by my grandma’s apartment to tell them they would have new neighbors. The landlord came by and gave my grandma’s family a doll, and it was the first time they had met the landlord, as it was a friend of my grandma’s dad. My grandma thought the doll was a threat to her ghost-protected house, so she put it on top of the fridge away from everything. The landlord, when she gave it to them said it was supposed to protect from death, but then one night, like I don’t know, this is why I always get so confused, I think its my grandma’s exaggerations. My grandma said one night my great-grandma was out of the house, and so grandma had to watch over all the siblings. She was putting everyone to bed and turned off all the lights and all of a sudden the power went out in whole building. Everything was pitch black. The refrigerator stopped working, there were no phones, and my grandma didn’t know how to reach her mom. There was one circular window that shined directly on the top of the fridge exactly where the doll was sitting. So my grandma is looking around making sure everyone is ok in the house. So my grandma turns around and sees the light of the full moon shining on the top of the fridge and the doll missing. So then the landlord comes by, knocks on the door, and says very very creepily three deaths will occur. Because the doll is missing. She basically told them at the beginning that they couldn’t lose the doll because death would occur. And then…so then, and the landlord knew that my great-grandma put it on top of the fridge. And she checked to see that it wasn’t there and that’s why she told us that three deaths would occur. My grandma did not believe the landlord, and she was trying to be protective because her younger siblings were really scared, so then the landlord left. The next morning everyone woke up and my great-grandma was back, but then they were told everyone had to leave the building for some reason, and like everyone was being evacuated and no one knew why. The police was there. They were all standing out in the middle of the street, and they saw that there were three body bags in the middle of the street. The police told them that the people next door had been killed last night. The wife, husband and dog who lived in the apartment next to them had gone to get groceries from the store beneath the apartments, and there was an armed robbery. The robber shot the wife, husband and dog. And ever since then, my grandma has always believed in ghost stories and she gave my family a plant that is supposed to fend off ghosts.


Background information: Sarah is my best friend from home, Manhattan Beach. She knows this piece because her grandma has told it to her a few times and that is the reason Sarah has a demon/ghost-protecting plant in her own house from her grandma because her grandma is now very superstitious about ghosts ever since this happened to her. Sarah really likes this piece because it happened to someone who is very close to her, and although it sounds like something out of a movie—three deaths predicted solely because of this doll—it really happened to her and is pretty freaky, not something she can forget easily, especially since it happened to her grandma. Her grandma is from Puerto Rico, and to Sarah, as she mentioned above, she believes it may just be her grandma’s exaggerations, but she still remembers the story very clearly. The story was collected via FaceTime because Sarah goes to college at Middlebury in Vermont.


Haunted Hotel

Informant: There’s this hotel in Boulder, Colorado, it’s like a thing, it’s actually, there’s a thing in Boulder Colorado where this room, it’s 314, I think it’s 314, um, has like, some weird ghostly connection to things. So, um, I was on this thing called the Banjo Billy’s Bus tour, it’s a thing, um, and, he was talking about how in room 314 of the music hall in Boulder, there was like some sort of suicide or something and then in the boulder hotel, not sure what the actual name is but it’s like a very known hotel for ghost stories, and um, in room 314 there was a woman or some sort of suicide and then a woman tried to kill herself with chloroform and then a man tried to kill himself—a bunch of people tried to kill themselves in that room. And when you go to that room, like when we went to that room after the tour, we were standing there and then you could feel like a rush of like chills, and then my mom and I were waiting for the elevator because it was on the third floor and I don’t know why we didn’t just go down the stairs and everyone had already gone down the elevator and we heard footsteps and nobody was there so we ran down the stairs. Fun story!


Informant is a sophomore at the University of Southern California. She is studying Narrative Studies and plans to have a minor in Songwriting. She is from a suburb outside of Chicago, Illinois. I spoke to her while we were eating lunch at my sorority house one day. We were sitting together with some of my other informants. Much of what she told me was learned from her own experiences.


This is an interesting ghost story, and you can see the connection between the numbers in this story and others. Many haunted rooms are on a floor with the number 13 in them, and this has that flipped around, but these numbers are often found having to do with haunted places. It seems that many hotels have stories about people dying in them.


Moki Hana – the Haunted Dormitory

The informant is an 18-year-old college student attending university in Hawaii. She was born and raised in the Bay Area, California, but has a great deal of family living in Hawaii who she visited frequently when growing up. While I was on a hike with the informant in San Ramon, California over spring break, she was describing her dorm to me and began to tell the story of how it came to be haunted.

“I live in a dorm called Moki Hana on campus. I first heard of the ghost from my RA, he told us about it on the first day we moved in. There’s a closet on my floor on the side of the bathroom with a sink in it that is used as a janitor’s closet. In the 80s a freshman hung himself in that closet, on my floor, and his ghost haunts the tower. The Resident Assistants have to stay in the dorms over the summer and one night one of them felt a really sharp pain on her chest and couldn’t get up, and she refused to sleep in the dorms for a few weeks. You’re not supposed to sleep with your feet to the door because it’s a way for spirits to enter your body. Also nobody will go to the bathroom during witching hour because they don’t want to encounter him. I just try to be respectful when I’m talking about it, especially if I’m in the dorms. Anywhere on campus or in the local vicinity they call the dorm ‘Moki Haunted.’”

In this ghost story, a tragic event that actually took place in the Moki Hana dormitory, the suicide of a freshman student, is transformed into a persistent haunting that affects any student who lives in the dorms. Upon hearing of this, I was reminded of previous conversations that I have had with the informant in which she has emphasized that Hawaii has an extensive history of spirituality, and I believe that this coupled to the sense of isolation and unfamiliarity that many college freshman face when moving to an island away from home serves to amplify the fear instilled within the students who are placed in Moki Hana dorm. The informant’s Resident Adviser may or may not believe in the ghost, but I think that his purpose in informing the freshman who live in the haunted dorm about it is in part to make them aware, but moreso to provide a sense of unity among the residents and as a way of initiating them into the dorm, as for the year they live in Moki Hana the common fear of encountering or upsetting the ghost of the student who committed suicide there will function to bring the residents together.

Folk Beliefs

The Ghost of Chula Vista

Original Script: “Most terrifying thing that has ever happened to me in my life. My friend, before she was officially moving out, she invited me to stay the night at her grandparents house. The house use to be a brothel and I have always felt that her family has something that has really negative energy around it. Anyways, when I walked into the house I like got the weirdest feeling ever. The first thing that happened, happened in the nieces room. You know like how small storage rooms have that little door? Well, apparently none of the family even knew that that door was there because it was painted over and plastered. But, like, the family was looking for the niece so she could come say hi to me but they could not find her. An HOUR, later, they found her playing with her ‘imaginary’ friend, the room was just plain sketchy. But, it was creepy because she had never had an imaginary friend before. Apparently, the imaginary friend would tell her a lot of weird things and things that happened in the house, like women coming and going. She also described her imaginary friend as being this tall man, nothing any cutesy stuff about it. Anyways, I was getting bad vibes from the minute I stepped into the house and especially after the whole imaginary friend scenario. Later on in the day, that night we slept in her guess room, which was not even a bedroom to begin with, it was the extension from the garage and the family had made it an extra room, like a new room…we both stayed in that room…And when we were asleep, I woke up to hearing a bunch of things outside…because we were by the boarder I just thought it was some animals or construction outside but then I saw a figure pass by the window, like, a silhouette of a man walking passed the window, to get to the backyard someone would have had to sneak in because the backyard was gated and made of high bushes around a brick wall…we got so freaked out both ran to the grandparents room…the grandfather checked the backyard and did not see anyone so he checked the cameras—which they had because they lived so close to the boarder and saw that no one had passed and sent us back to the room.

I was freaking the hell out but my friend fell asleep…an hour later, I saw the man again!!! But this time, the silhouette just stands there, like it was staring inside the window…and the lamp turned on by itself! I scream, my friend wakes up and see what’s happening and she runs out and finally I was able to move…I ran back to the grandparents room, and the grandparents said it was probably a ghost because they knew the place was haunted. Like really? Thanks for telling me. I could not sleep at all that night and the next morning before I left I went to the fridge outside and felt like someone was behind me…I was felt terrified in that house.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Kamilah and her mother have always been spiritual people. The belief in witches, demons, and angels is strong to Kamilah’s mother however, it is even more so in her home country—Nicaragua. Kamilah has always believed that spirits and demons haunt people that are surrounded with negative energy.

Context of the Performance: Visiting a friend’s house in Chula Vista

Thoughts about the piece: Re-writing the story word for word from a recording, gave me a different thought process than the first time I had heard it. After reviewing the story a second time, I saw how Kamilah’s spiritual belief the unknown made this story so terrifying for her, in terms where it became a product of cultural relativism.

To begin with, most people hearing this story would think that it was either somewhat scary or that Kamilah’s child mind had interrupted something from out of its context. However, given the fact that Kamilah was a sophomore in high school as well as her spiritual background, it gives this story a whole different meaning—a meaning where imagination becomes a dangerous game. In a second follow up with Kamilah, she explained how she thought of spirits and demons as completely separate entities: spirits were more of an ancestral background, that guided you, while demons were very dark spirits that fed off the negative energy from people. The fact that she felt negative energy around the house, and not a very friendly feeling from the figure outside the window, as well as the creepy feeling she got when the niece talked about her imaginary friend, and the very label of “terrifying,” Kamilah associated this story with that of a more demonic presence.

Furthermore, this story would not fall under a legend quest because Kamilah did not know about the grandparent’s house being haunted. It would not of been just a legend because this pertinent information was also kept from Kamilah. Instead, this story was more of a memorate for Kamilah, in which a memorate is a personal experience that is translated into a traditional narrative. After discussing the story with her mother, when she came to pick Kamilah up, her mother told her it must have been a demon. Thus, as Kamilah told her story, the social atmosphere labeled the unexplainable (i.e. the man at the window) as being a demon.


The Generous Jesuit Ghost

“So I have this friend who goes to Fordham, and I live in the Northeast so I’ve visited plenty of times, and she told me this popular legend around the school. There’s a church on campus since it’s a Jesuit school, and one day some girl saw a priest in the church that she hadn’t seen before. She was looking for tutoring in the field of his expertise, so she befriended him. He tutored her for weeks until the end of the semester, but something wasn’t quite right. At the end of the semester, she went back to thank him for all of his help, but she couldn’t find him. So naturally, she looked up the name of the priest in the school’s records, and found the name and picture of the priest who had helped her. The funny thing is, he had apparently been dead for almost 90 years!”

I got this from one of my friends who is from Providence, RI. Her friend is a freshman at Fordham, and keeps in regular contact with her. According to my friend, the legend circulates among Fordham students, and it’s a local legend that that building is somewhat supernatural. Having gone to a Jesuit high school, I kind of have an insight to this legend. The Jesuit priests at my school loved stories like this, and they always told kind of tongue-in-cheek stories about Jesuits helping people, so I feel like this may have originated with the Jesuits themselves.