USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghost stories’
Magic
Narrative
Signs

Ghost Viewing

I’ve never thought I had seen spirits but here was one occasion that had me thinking maybe I actually have seen spirits. The story is of our security guard of many years, even your mom knows him. Very friendly, always greets you at the door of the hospital. One morning he was not in his usual spot. He was sitting at a different, unusual spot facing the wall this morning, which to me was very odd. I didn’t say hello because it seemed as if he was very deep in thought and not alert or communicative with anybody. I got up to the department and that is when I realized he had passed that very evening before. He had been struck by a car and was killed. Did you freak out? Yes, because I didn’t know anything, and did not know this had happened. I spoke to another person who said they had seen him the very same spot that I had seen him. He was unaware of the surroundings which is very unusual for him because he usually greets everyone. Learning that he had passed hours before this … I realized that he was no longer living and this was his spirit probably coming to say good bye to his last place, and maybe his spirit was not aware it was time to leave or event hat he died.

 

Our neighbor, she was an elderly lady very friendly keeps to herself. Jo. She was a cordial, friendly lady and when we would see each other, we would wave and say hello but that’s all. This one time I saw her as I was driving up to my driveway, and I saw her going from her front door to her garage. Which is unusual because it was a reversal, she usually always walked from her garage to her front door, and it was a bit strange, but it’s not…but I waved and honked and she did not acknowledge me. I didn’t think much of it. But a day later we learned that she had passed in the house. She had died in her sleep and the other neighbors were questioning her whereabouts because they hadn’t seen her in many days. The coroner came and estimated she had died three days before, before I saw her. Were you freaked out again? Yes, I was freaked out. Those were the two incidents that I recall seeing “spirits” because I did not know of their passing until afterwards.

 

Background: These two stories really freak me out. I think my aunt will always remember these pieces for the rest of her life because it happened to her. She thought everything was normal in seeing this man and then the woman until later on she was informed they were both not alive and had already passed. I think these are two particularly important stories to my aunt as well because she really enjoyed this man’s persona and and his aura as a very friendly person, and she had also appreciated the woman who had lived next door. To know he and she both had passed, perhaps my aunt was one of the last people with whom they both wanted to communicate or perhaps my aunt was one of the only people who was open enough to be able to see them. She believes, as stated above, that perhaps the security guard’s soul was lost and unsure of where to go or maybe he was saying goodbye to the last place he found himself, which is sad. I believe these stories, because I know my aunt is not a crazy person, and I really get creeped out by such things. It is very interesting for me to hear.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Legends
Narrative

Grandma’s Ghost

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/

Game
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Sespe Ouija Ghost

TO is a student at the University of Southern California, and current president of SC Outfitters, the student-run outdoors club.

TO shared an Ouija board encounter with me that took place on her first retreat:

“We were backpacking for our first guide retreat in the Sespe Wilderness near Ojai, and someone decided to bring an Ouija board. My friend Mac told us that a long time ago, exactly where we were camping, there was a troop of Boy Scouts that got caught in a flash flood and all drowned, so we decided to try and summon them with the Ouija board. We tried to get in contact with them, and the board spelled out “J X I,” which we were convinced meant “Jimmy.” We asked Jimmy if we could talk to him about the afterlife, and he said “no.” We attributed this to him being a young boy who wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers, so we let him go…I slept with a knife under my pillow that night, I was so scared.”

I asked TO if she had been back to that campsite since, and if she remembered hearing or seeing anything unusual.

“I’ve never been back to that specific campsite, no. We’ve done guide retreats in Sespe since but we seem to purposely avoid that campsite…new guides who weren’t there that first year want to go back and try and talk to Jimmy again, but I’m going to say no. I don’t remember seeing anything, but I was so on edge I thought every noise that night was the ghost of a Boy Scout or something.”

My analysis:

Campfire ghost stories are even scarier when they take place where you’re campfire is located, but people seem to enjoy telling these kinds of legends while out in the wilderness. Ouija boards are a fun folk object, but also a terrifying one, used to start and further new or existing ghost stories. TO says whether or not her friend made up the story of Jimmy and the Boy Scouts is uncertain, but her reluctance to return to the campground indicates she at least somewhat believes him. It also turns into a fun story for her to pass down to new generations of guides/members of the club, and possibly something they can one day go back and test, to begin creating their own sort of folklore for the club.

Magic
Narrative

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.

Humor
Magic
Narrative
Signs

Lesson from the Spirits

Uncle Albert was insensitive. I had just gotten a real Tag Heuer. We had just gotten there and I lost my watch. And I asked him if he had seen my watch and he did not know. This was in Phuket resort island. And so I was rooming with my brother, and your mom and dad were rooming together. This was our vacation, our return to Thailand, seventeen years since we left Thailand to move to Los Angeles. We vacationed in Phuket. And I was enjoying this day very much… my brother Albert was my roommate, and at this time Albert was 15 years old. He was very insensitive about the fact that I had misplaced my watch. As I prepared myself for a morning jog, I was searching for my watch, my expensive Tag Heuer watch which I purchased recently. I couldn’t find it, I kind of just nudged Albert who was asleep at the time and asked if he had seen the watch and if he could help me look for it. And I went outside running anyways for my morning exercise ritual. As I was enjoying my jog along the beach I was still a little bit upset about my missing watch. And how insensitive my brother was. Let’s see. As I ran past the spirit house in the hotel I just had a thought that maybe my brother should be taught a lesson of humility, empathy, and sensitivity. And then I continued on with my jog, returned to my hotel room and found my brother Albert startled because he had just had a horrible experience. He had pressing of his chest and he could not move. He claims it was sleep paralysis but I believed the spirit was teaching him a lesson just as I had thought earlier as I passed the hotel’s spirit house.

 

Background: I conducted this interview in person, live at my uncle’s house. This story is something my aunt experienced herself when she went back to Thailand for the first time after moving to the United States 17 years earlier. She was angry about her brother’s lack of sensitivity and wished that he would be punished for such, and she really believed that she inflicted some sort of lesson upon him from the spirits. I think this piece is actually very humorous, as it sounds like something I would wish upon my brother or sister if they were being insensitive – I would do the same thing probably out of anger and not expect anything to come of it, just like my aunt. I thought this piece was really interesting and also creepy, which makes for a great story.

Life cycle
Magic
Narrative
Protection

Skullkeeper

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.

Legends
Narrative

The Sunporch Ghost

So my dad was in the military and we moved around a lot, and we moved to Key West Florida when I was in…first grade. And we couldn’t find a place to live so we lived in a little island in a trailor called Stock Island. And then my parents finally found a house on Key West Island, and so we moved into this old house, and it had been converted into three apartments – one was the downstairs, and the two apartments on the upstairs. And back then, really old houses were called Conch Houses, like a conch shell. And so we moved into this really old conch house on Newton Avenue in Key West Florida. And it was only two bedrooms, we had the whole downstairs, and there was this, kind of an inclosed-in sun porch that had a built-in cupboard and some built-in high shelves, and it was barely enough room for a twin bed up against the wall. And it had, it was all screened in and it had windows all along the other two sides, and a door to the outside. And my older brother was too scared to sleep down there, he refused to sleep down there, we called it the dungeon. Cause the house was so old, to get down to it, you know the master bedroom was here sort of in the center of the house, and my brother’s bedroom was here and the kitchen was here, and you had to walk down this creaky hall to get to the dungeon, and it was really slanted down, cause it was such an old house, it wasn’t level. There were two steps down to it, it was way down at the end of the house. So I had to sleep there because my older brother was too scared. So I would sleep down there, and often, um, I would wake up and there would be a man standing at the door. To the outside, the screen door to the outside. And he was just wearing like an overcoat, with a, like one of those big felt hats, and would just stand there at the door. (What was he doing?) Just standing there, at the door. (Was he on the inside or the outside?) I don’t really remember, I guess just sort of in the doorway. So I guess inside. And I would tell my parents, and yeah yeah yeah, well and maybe that’s why my brother refused to sleep down there. And, um, I’m not sure anybody, you know took me seriously, and one day my mom was telling the old lady – she was, gosh, in her 90’s, she had lived there forever, in the conch house across the street – and for some reason this topic of conversation came up and that I would say I’d seen this man standing in the doorway. And the lady, who had lived there forever, says “oh, well that’s the guy that used to live there, he died, and that was his sun porch, and he would sit out on his sun porch all the time.” And I had described him exactly how he was. So maybe they believed me after that, I’m not sure. But it was a pretty cool house. Old, old house.

 

ANALYSIS:

The informant had a firsthand experience, which she then related to her mother. Then an outside party who knew the history of the house and its past residents confirmed the appearance of the man that used to live there and who specifically loved and spent time in the part of the house where the informant reported seeing him. This confirmation reinforced and categorized the informant’s belief of what she had experienced, and also, as she reports, made her mother and her family believe her account (or, we could say, legend) because of the ‘evidence’ provided by the old lady that matched up with the informant’s story. It is worth noting that the informant experienced this in a new state, in a new house, in a liminal and impressionable stage in her growing up.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

“La Llorona”

The informant’s family had been a traditional Mexican family then they moved to America and expanded their culture here. His parents were born and raised in Mexico and learned many cultural forms of folklore with the informant who was born in America. He shared some of the folklore that he was told that stuck with him as he grew older and more wise and mature. 

Informant…

“There was a woman in Mexico named Maria. Maria was gorgeous, more beautiful than anyone else so she believed she was above everyone else. As Maria go older, she got more beautiful and prideful because of it.When she was old snout to have an interest in men she wouldn’t look at the men from her village. She believed they weren’t good enough for her and what she thought she deserved so she would say thing about how when she would be married it would be to the most handsome man in the world. And then one day, a man who fit her standard rode into her village. He was a handsome young ranchero as well as the son of a rich rancher from the south. He only rode wild horses, he thought it wasn’t manly to ride a horse if it wasn’t half wild. He was the most handsome man in the world, but he had various talents as well he sang beautifully and played the guitar. Maria decided that that was the man for her. Maria played mind games with the ranchero, if he would speak to her on the pathway she would ignore him and pretend he wasn’t there, he would go to her how at night to play the guitar and serenade her but Maria wouldn’t go to her window, she wouldn’t accept any gifts from him. This all made the ranchero want her even more and he knew he had to get her to love him. Everything went according to Maria’s plan and they were soon married. Things were great in the beginning of their marriage they had 2 kids. But the man became bored with Maria and wanted to live his crazy wild life again, he showed more affection to the children that he showed to her. As proud as Maria was, she became very angry with the him. She also began to feel anger toward her children. One night she drowned her kids in the river and when the man found out that she drowned her kids he basically rebuked her away. So she was cursed because she drowned her kids for all eternity to wander the earth crying for her kids, hence the name la llorona.”

Analysis…

“La Llorona” translated in english as the woman who cries

When asked about where he heard the story he said his mother and grandmother had told him but he wasn’t sure where the story originated or came from but he knew that it came from Mexico. The informant believes that La Llorona is real. He came into close contact with her when he was young around the ages of two or three. He said that his mother and his aunt were in Mexico cleaning his grandmother’s house when they heard her painful, creepy, whaling cries. He said that she was saying “oh my babies” and when his mother and aunt heard that they took all the children and threw them under the bed in the next room. He said they did this because it is believed that if she finds children she will take them as her own because she had lost hers. He believes that this story is also told to children as a scare tactic method to keep them in the house at night so that La Llorona doesn’t take them. He believes that because his mom used it as a scare tactic on him, his brothers, and his cousins.

Tales like this are told all over the world as a scare tactic to force kids into doing whatever their parents feel like they should be doing. Most Americans have heard of having monsters under their beds (to keep children in their beds at night) or the boogie man (forces kids to bah in fear of the boogie man coming after them. This tale reminds me of those and I initially make the connection between them. The crazy part of this tale is the informant swears that the came into close contact with the la llorona meaning that it is possible that she is real which would lead to ghosts and unwanted spirits being real.

Another version of this legend can be found in movie form and is called The Crying Woman (1993) directed by Ramón Peón.

Legends
Narrative

Fort Monroe – Confederate ghost stories

ITEM:
(1) The informant’s father’s family had just moved into Fort Monroe — her father was visiting from his undergrad (Purdue) and was almost 20 at the time. The night he came home, everyone in the family heard the sound of heavy chains dragging across the floor of the upstairs attic. The next day, her dad and his dad went to investigate. They saw nothing, and it never happened again, but everybody agreed on the sound.

(2) One time, a bunch of the army wives got together and they were talking about their houses. They ended up comparing ghost stories. One of them was saying that she walked into the kitchen with her husband and there was a cat there — they didn’t have a cat. The cat looked at them, and then turned away and walks through a wall. Eventually, the family looked up the plans for the building in the engineer’s office and originally there’d been a door in the space the ghost cat walked through.

BACKGROUND:
The informant’s ethnicity is half-white, half-Filipino American. Her father, who is white, was in the army, and his father flew helicopters in Korea and Vietnam — their family grew up moving from army base to army base.

Fort Monroe, in Hampton, Virginia, was where they kept the really important POWs from the Civil War, like Jefferson Davis. For those POWs, they would build quarters for their wives. It was widely understood that the town ghost was the ghost of a woman whose face sometimes appears in the widow at Mrs. Davis’s old quarters, waiting for her husband to come back.

CONTEXT:
The informant, who is one of my housemates, told me the stories, which originated from her father, in conversation. Her father actually recently visited her (4/30/14), and later corroborated details of her stories with him, the primary source.

ANALYSIS:
Whenever people live in older areas, or areas with a lot of history, it seems much more common to encounter ghost legends, and for people to be more comfortable with the idea of ghosts. This is of course helped along by my informant’s father’s religious upbringing. His family was Catholic — it was totally normal to talk about ghosts, and nobody talked about them as if they’re inherently scary.

Additionally, Fort Monroe is an area so closely tied to the Civil War, the bloodiest and one of the most traumatic events in American history. The distance in time between then and the modern day isn’t as far as people might think, and one way to tie these two eras together is by passing on legends about local history.

For more information about Fort Monroe’s ghost sightings, click here.

Folk Beliefs

“El Mano Peluda”

Information about the Informant

My informant is an undergraduate student majoring in Philosophy at the University of Southern California. He is half-Columbian and was raised in the Jehovah’s Witnesses Christian denomination.

Transcript

“It’s called, um, ‘El Mano Peluda [sic?],’ and that’s supposed to mean ‘The Hairy Hand.’ And, um, I think that was so I wouldn’t get up at night, or, like, move around or make too much noise. But basically, um, when you’re sleeping, this hairy hand would come in through the windows or through the vents or something.”

Collector: “Just a hand?”

“It’s just a hairy hand. That’s it. Um, and I actually Googled it. Apparently, it’s some guy had his hand cut off during the Inquisition and he revenged–he said he would get revenge on the people who were the culture that killed him. So, um, the hand would come out of its grave and it would grab children or it would grab their legs from either under the bed or it would crawl up their blanket. It was just really scary. Um, and yeah, occasionally my mom would  use it as kind of like a, um, you know when you rile up little kids, you say something like ‘The hand’s coming, the hand’s coming,’ and she’d grab my leg and I’d go like, ‘Oh my god!'”

Analysis

This, unlike the other stories this informant told me, does not seem to be a case where the parent scares the child in order to get them to behave, but is more of a ghost story with purpose of entertaining/scaring rather than coercing. This story does give the figure in it a backstory, according to my informant’s research, which also supports its position as more of a ghost story than a story to get children to behave with. The strange part of this is the commonality of the concept of a “hairy hand,” with disembodied hand stories all over the world constantly needing the hand to also be hairy. This is possibly a remnant of the historical theory that criminals were closer to our purported ape ancestors and thus displayed features that are more akin to those of primates, including excessive body hair.

For another “hairy hand” story, see:

Gilbert, Jane . “Letterboxing on Dartmoor: An Addictive Pastime… for the Brave!”. Time Travel-Britain. Web. 01 May. 2014. <http://www.timetravel-britain.com/articles/country/dartmoor.shtml>.

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