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

The Legalized Haunted House in New York

“They had this family who lived there and they caught on pretty quick that it was a haunted house, so they got along fine with the ghost. They claimed it was kinda like a friendly ghost. They said it like, did little chores for them and stuff, like folded laundry and stuff when they weren’t expecting. Like kinda weird things, but also like, not necessarily annoying things, so they put up with it. So, eventually they decided that they needed to sell the house because they wanted to move or they needed the money or something, so they found a buyer for the house and they signed up all the paperwork and the buyer moved in. Then, after a few weeks I want to say, a couple of months maybe, they slowly picked up on the fact that the house was haunted or they suspected it was. So, they called up the original owners and they said ‘hey, so, did you guys ever think the house was haunted?’ and they were like, ‘oh yeah, that’s like, so and so the ghost,’ like ‘we know all about it,’ like, ‘ isn’t he the greatest?’ and they were like, ‘no, we don’t want a haunted house.’ So, they brought them to court claiming that they had sold the house under false pretenses. And first off, the judge was like, ‘this is an absurd case. There is no way I am ruling in favor of this. You can’t just claim the house is haunted and then, you know, try and get a refund for it.’ And they were like ‘fine, fine, fine.’ So, the attorney for the people who had bought the house went ‘okay judge’… in the most classic horror movie plot ever… they were like ‘okay, if you can spend the night in the house and come out and say with 100% certainty that the house is not haunted, we will drop the case.’ The judge couldn’t do it or refused to do it, and so agreed to rule the house is legally haunted and yeah, they got their money back for the house. And now, it is New York state law that if your house is haunted or you suspect it to be haunted, you have to disclose it in any sales of real estate.”

The informant’s story is based in his hometown in New York, with the “haunted house” being down the street from him. According to the informant, the town is partially know for the big, Victorian mansion down by the Hudson River that became the first legally haunted house in the world. This house is also still residential, with people living in it currently who clearly have no problem with it being haunted. While the house was already expensive because it was an old, Victorian mansion on the Hudson River, the fact that it is “haunted” has drawn many people to it, ultimately increasing the asking price when it has been for sale.

At the time that this happened, many people began to believe that ghosts were real because even the government was supporting their existence. However, the informant cannot say for sure if he believes it to be haunted because he has never been inside, but he does like to frequent the house on Halloween with his friends.

Also, the informant’s brother has a friend whose parents are trying to decide if they really do need to disclose that their house may be haunted because they merely suspect it themselves. Even though the law states that they have to, they are afraid it will make the house lose its value potentially and are considering not doing it.

The informant relayed this to me while sitting at a table outside one of the school buildings on the USC campus. The two of us have been friends for over a year.

Having never been to the house or to New York in general, I cannot say whether it was the first legalized haunted house or if it is even haunted. However, in regards to having to disclose if your house is haunted or not, I have heard that this is not the only case of this happening and is a much more frequent case than people would think.

In regards to the family deciding whether to comply with the law or not, they are a good example of what beliefs in folklore can effect. For instance, for those who do not want to believe, the house will immediately be taken out of consideration. For those who are extremely afraid of ghosts, the same will happen for them. That being said, that narrows the range of buyers down, which might have a strong change on being able to sell the house quickly or not, even though the current homeowners are not positive if it is haunted or not in the first place.

Folk speech
general
Legends

Irish Poem

Informant:

Terry is a second generation Irish american who grew up in los Angeles in the ‘60s and 70’s. He is now a dentist working and living in the Bay area.

Piece:

Informant: “There is this poem that my uncle told me back in 1970 when I was 10 years old. My parents sent me to Ireland to live with my cousins for the whole summer. I had never met any of these people before, but knew them through the stories my dad told me about all of them. But one night my uncle Paddy drove me to the Bridge at King John’s Castle in limerick… you know the one we’ve been to before. And he told me that this bridge was where the Banshee would come out late at night if you were walking alone. And then out of nowhere he started rattling off this old irish poem about the banshee called “Drunken Thady and the Bishop’s Lady” and it was a long long poem that took about twenty minutes to say. I was amazed that he had remembered all of it and then we got back in the care and drove back to the house in Janesboro. Then the rest of the summer I tried to memorize the poem just by hearing it over and over so I could tell my dad when I got back home to Los Angeles, but I was never able to remember the entire thing.

Collector: Do you remember any of the poem?

Informant: ughhh oh boy lets see

Before the famed year Ninety-eight,

In blood stamped Ireland’s wayward fate;

When laws of death and transportation

Were served, like banquets, throughout the nation

But let it pass the tale I dwell on

Has not to do with red rebellion.

 

Uhhhhh and then there is another part at some point that goes

 

There lived and died in Limerick City,

a dame of fame oh what a pity

that dames of fame should live and die

and never learn for what, or why!

That’s all I can remember.

 

 

Collector’s thoughts:

I find it amazing that the informant could remember even the slightest bit of this poem despite having half learned it more than 40 years ago. Being sent at such a young age to stay with Irish relatives reveals how, despite living in the US, his parents and family still valued their Irish heritage and culture. For a full version of the poem see:

http://www.limerickcity.ie/media/drunken%20thady.pdf

general

Haunted High School Auditorium

The informant told a group of friends this story when recounting weird traditions and stories about their high school experience. The informant is from a rural town in Eastern Oregon.

“So, our auditorium at my high school is also haunted, and rumour has it that the drama/english teacher that later got fired because he apparently had sex with a student, um, basically he confirmed this, and was the director  of the theatre and stuff, but there was like this kid who was really into theater and everything, and he killed himself and we don’t know why or how, but he killed himself apparently, but the specific seat, J26, is supposed to be particularly haunted and that’s where he always sits, and my teacher would say how they would be putting on plays, and the light box you would see shadows or voices or scuttering about so, Yeah. That’s basically it.”

Analysis:

It is hard to see what the English/Drama teacher would gain by spreading the rumour of the ghost, but it has been widely accepted in the informants school as truthful.

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

Djinn and Public Baths

Could you share a story that your father might have told you when you were younger?

“I’m going to tell you about the story, about the ghosts, that my father used to tell us when we were young, and uhh…

We used to have a public bath, which they were underground, a lot of steps to go down there. So, umm…

We always pass from that public bath, and he always afraid of that place. So one time he told me a story about that place that at night…

The, umm… ghosts, they would come over there and have a party! And you can hear the music and everything, you know, and then, he says, one morning, somebody went early in the morning that bath, public bath, and said nobody was there.

So he wanted to be the first one to take shower and go. And he goes in there and sees that there’s a guy sitting there. And he… And then he ask him, ‘What are you doing here?’ You know? And then he says, ‘Well, I just came to wash whoever comes.’

Usually the, the people wash them. And says ‘I just wash him.’

And he says, ‘Okay you can wash my body.’ So he sat there, and he start washing him.

And then he asked him, ‘Oh, I heard there is a ghost in this public bath. And uhh, have you ever seen one?’

And he says, ‘How can you tell that this is a ghost?’

And he says ‘Because my father told me that there is a.. horseshoe on their left foot.’

And he says, ‘Oh! Is that like this?’

And he shows his foot that it has a horseshoe on it, so he just got scared, and run out of public bath, you know nude, in the street-”

Your father did?

“No, no, the guy who was telling the story. Yeah, to my father, yeah. So he just run through the street and he believed there is a ghost in that public bath.”

Do you remember who told your father that story?

“Ehh, probably it was somebody like friend, or someone, because it was everybody they would talk about it. It was something everybody talked about it. It was the neighborhood, the old neighborhood in Tehran… Djinn is something like, like the ghost, it doesn’t really exist, I think it’s mostly in stories, but this one they were saying it’s true.”

Analysis: This ghost story follows a very typical format, down to the acknowledgement that most ghost stories aren’t true, but that this one had certain credibility.
It was shared with Tahereh as a young girl by her father, but she does not know who he heard it from. Nonetheless, she asserts, knowledge of this story was common knowledge in the part of Tehran that she grew up in. Knowing that public baths were not always the safest places, it may well have been that parents told their children stories like this one in order to keep them from wandering into dark places because of something attractive, like music.

Adulthood
Legends
Narrative

A Ghost in Grass Valley

Informant JM is 58 years old and recounted the story of a paranormal encounter she experienced ~10 years ago:

Have you ever experienced anything that you would consider to be of supernatural origins?

“Only once. Never before and never since but I will always remember that night”

So what happened?

“Well I was in my room getting ready for bed. All of a sudden I felt the room grow eerily cold. I thought it was a bit odd but continued to undress and sat on the bed to take off my socks. Upon doing so I felt the cold presence to my immediate right and upon turning saw, *shivers* wow this gives me chills just thinking about it. I saw a depression in the bed next to me as if someone were sitting next to me. Not knowing the intentions of this spirit I yelled at the top of my lungs ‘Go! Get out! Be gone with you!!’ and closed my eyes. After a moment or two I felt the cold dissipate and upon opening my eyes saw the depression was no longer there.”

Did your opinion regarding the existence of the paranormal changed after this experience?

“Well prior to this encounter I’d say I believed that ghosts existed sure, but having never experienced an encounter first hand and not knowing any immediate family or friends that had, I was certainly a bit skeptical. After that experience, I know now without a shred of doubt that ghosts or some form of spirit form definite exist. I cannot think of a single other rational explanation for what I experienced that night.”

What context would you share your experience in?

“At first, I shared it with literally anyone that would listen. I was equal parts excited and terrified by what I had experienced. In the years since though I only tend to bring it up when someone asks about my ghost encounter or the conversation shifts towards the talk of ghosts. ”

How did people react to your experience?  

“People tend to get pretty freaked out by it. They sometimes ask whether I thought it was going to harm he. Now I am not sure what the intentions of this spirit were, but be they benign or malignant the coldness of its presence definitely gave me an uneasy feeling leading to my prompt response of telling it to leave”

 

Analysis: This story possesses a couple motifs common to ghost stories. One such example is that it occurs at night. Another aspect of this story common to several stories I’ve read or been told is the association of the presence of a ghost with coldness. A unique aspect of this story is that the ghost in no way made itself directly heard or seen; it was only because of the drop in temperature and the depression it left in the bed that JM was even aware of its presence. The ghost itself was not visible or audible. While neither JM or anyone else would be able to determine the intentions of the ghost, be they simple curiosity or something more malicious, the fact that it reacted to her yells for it to leave is another interesting component of this particular encounter.

Legends
Narrative

Bay Area Ghost Story

Informant EB is 52 years old and recounted the story of a paranormal encounter he experienced last fall:

Have you ever experienced anything that you would consider to be of supernatural origins?

“As a matter of fact, I have. First some backstory. When my wife and I were purchasing our home we were told by the realtor that the prior owner, a contractor who had built the house himself,  had committed suicide along the side of the house due to financial difficulties and his wife leaving him. Early last November, a day or two after Halloween, I was walking my aging dog whose hips are starting to fail around the walkway surrounding our property in order to avoid her straining herself by climbing up the stairs inside. Upon rounding a corner, which due to tree cover and a lack of windows on that side of the house was submerged in near complete darkness,  I saw, for only a split-second, what could only be described as a face come rushing at me before passing right through sending a curdling chill down my spine. My dog started barking incessantly and I, obviously shake, continued on into the light of the front of the house and inside.”

Did your opinion regarding the existence of the paranormal changed after this experience?

“Yeah I’d say so. I wouldn’t say I didn’t believe in the paranormal prior to this experience but having never had any personal encounters I definitely had my fair share of doubts. I’definitely say this experience has solidified my belief in the existence of the supernatural to some extent.”

What context would you share your experience in?

“I have told several people in the month since. Whenever talk of ghosts has come up in conversation I’ve brought it up.”

How did people react to your experience?  

“A mixture of fear and skepticism. I would be skeptical too had I not been the one to experience it. ”

 

Analysis: The story took place “a day or two after Halloween” meaning it quite likely could have fallen on November 2nd, which is also All Souls Day. All Souls Day is a day on which the Catholic Church remembers those dead that are now in Purgatory being cleansed of their venial sins and carrying out the temporal punishments for their mortal sins. November 1st or 2nd is also a part of the three days of Day of the Dead festivities popular in Hispanic cultures during which the souls of ancestors are remembered and are believed to return from the dead to visit their living relatives. As such the soul of a man who had died via the mortal sin of suicide would, according to the catholic doctrine and Hispanic customs be more likely to appear during this time frame. A motif common to many ghost stories and which also appears in this story is its occurrence in a liminal location, the property line between the former homeowner’s property and that of his neighbors.

Legends
Narrative

Connecticut Ghost Story

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.”

Analysis:

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:

http://www.hotchkiss.org/abouthotchkiss/hotchkiss-today/last-bissell-halloween-walk/index.aspx

Citation:

Thomas, Stephanie. “Origins of the Bissell Halloween Walk.” The Hotchkiss School. N.p., 2014. Web. Apr. 2016.

 

 

Legends
Narrative

New England Ghost Story

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.”

Analysis:

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.

Childhood
general
Legends

“El Justo Juez” – The Just Judge

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.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Llorona

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?

K-“No”

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.

[geolocation]