USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghost story’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Signs

The Bay Area: The Toys R Us Ghost

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO. In this account, he explains a legend of a ghost in his town that he doesn’t remember who he learned it from: “Everyone just seems to know about it.” This is a local legend, and has also been reported on Mercury News, SFGate, and a series of blogs. This is a transcription of our conversation, where he is identified as A and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

A: Before the bustling suburb of Sunnyvale grew to its imminent heights that now houses Amazon and Google offices, it was once a sleepy little farm town in Silicon Valley, where tech was replaced by fields and farms and orchards. One day, this man (as it was explained to me) was out in the field, in one of those like, you know, he has some kind of labor agreement with the farm… So he’s hacking away with his hoe, and this guy injures himself. Turns out he bleeds out into the field and dies. Decades later, there’s now a Toys R Us here… long story short, this guy who self-maimed himself with a hoe and bled out… he hunts, this uh, Toys R Us. Even though Toys R Us just got bought out, before that, all the ghost hunter people would come into Sunnyville to see this ghost. He would come into the aisles at all hours of the night, pretty crazy stuff… You can say Sunnyvale’s not sleepy anymore!

Don’t sleep on Sunnyvale….

K: Ok, what did you take away from this story?

A: Um, I think especially in areas like suburbs, when there’s not traditionally a lot of culture, people latch on to certain stories, just to impart some kind of history onto a town that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be that notable.

K: What effect did this story have on you?

A: I still shopped at Toys R Us, but honestly I heard it after I stopped shopping, but I still do play with Legos just as a disclaimer.

 

Thoughts:

I thought this story was particularly interesting and ended up looking it up to find out more about this ghost. As it turns out, this ghost has made quite a name for itself in the Bay Area. Just like my informant said, this ghost worked the land as part of a labor agreement, where he would have housing in exchange for his work. However, what my informant didn’t mention was the fact that this ghost fell in love with the daughter of the family that owned the land; she eventually ran away with a lawyer, breaking his heart. Distracted by the pain of his broken heart, the ghost ended up hurting himself with one of his tools and slowly bled to death, thus leaving his unsettled ghost to roam the land.

Years afterwards, many people came to the newly built Toys R Us that was constructed on top of the land that he worked to ghost hunt for him., but it seems that this story has re-emerged under the new context that Toys R Us is now shutting down. It seems that this story has a new relevance, where people can now interpret this story in the death of people, but also in the death of companies. Many of the new articles wonder whether or not the death of Toys R Us will also result in the disappearance of the ghost. However, the ghost’s story is separate from Toys R Us’s: he was clearly wronged by a member of the family that owned the land, and his haunting is meant to instill guilt in the owners of that land. Furthermore, ghosts are believed to be tied to the soil, not the structure that they resided in, so it’s most likely that the ghost will remain and that for those that were hopeful that he would leave, they will have to continue to remember the wrongdoings of the daughter that broke his heart.

 

For more on this ghost story, please refer to this article below:

Dowd, Katie. “Will the Death of Toys R Us Kill off This Famous South Bay Ghost Story?” SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, 17 May 2018, www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/haunted-toys-r-us-sunnyvale-ghost-store-12750779.php.


Legends
Narrative

La Llorona

Main Piece (direct transcription):

Mom: When I was 10 and 11, we rented a house in Luis Lopez, which is right outside of Socorro (New Mexico).  It was rural, and we lived right on a ditch.  We had some neighbors that were a quarter of a mile down the dirt road we lived on, and they were a Catholic, Hispanic family that were very superstitious.  They had crosses everywhere in their house, and I slept over there one night, and there were six or seven kids and the oldest was nineteen.  There were a couple younger than me, too, and one my age.  I spent the night, and all four or five of us were in one double bed, and at night they were telling me about La Llorona, and how she was real, and how she was wandering around the ditch near our house.  They told me that they heard her over at the ditch at night, walking, and it scared me to death.

Me: Can you tell me the story of La Llorona that they would tell you?

Mom: Yeah… From what I can remember, they told me that La Llorona tried to drown her children when her husband left her, and she went mad.  After she had already thrown them into the river, and they had drowned, she came to her senses and regretted what she had done.  She ran along the ditch, trying to follow the quickly flowing water to grab her children, but tripped and fell.  She hit her head on a rock and died before she could get to her children.  Now, she wanders around ditches calling for her kids, trying to find them.

 

Context: The informant, my mother, is a pharmacy administrator living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  She was originally born in New York but moved to New Mexico with her family at a young age.  Her father, a playwright and artist, was invested in his Native American heritage.  From her travels around New Mexico, moving from place to place when she was young, and also hearing stories from her father and my father, who is from Iran, she has gathered a variety of folktales.  My mom and I were talking about ghost stories, and she remembered the time when she was neighbors with a Catholic, Hispanic family.  The family was superstitious and believed in ghosts.

 

 

My Thoughts: I thought that this story was interesting because I also heard the story of La Llorona first from my peers in New Mexico, since a lot of the population is Hispanic there.  It’s one of the most popular ghost stories that I had heard throughout my childhood, and I thought that my mom’s story was especially interesting because she actually lived near a ditch.  The kids claimed that they had actually heard La Llorona walking around at night.  The story that the kids had told my mom when she was young is incredibly similar to the one that I had heard while I was in elementary school from my classmates.  Of course, there are some differences, and the way that my mom told the story would be different than how the children in Luis Lopez would’ve told her, because that is the nature of folklore, for it has form and variation from individual to individual.

For another version of this story, please see Kathy Weiser’s La Llorona-Weeping Woman of the Southwest (2017), which can be found here

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic

Ghost stories at Christian camp (Dolly)

INFORMANT: OOH girl I got a ghost story. You’ve probably heard it. I feel like everyone’s heard it.

 

ME: What is it?

 

INFORMANT: The Dolly story.

 

ME: Oh my god yes I have heard it! Tell me your version.

 

INFORMANT: Okay so according to the story there was once this little girl who went to the carnival and played some carnival games. They were those carnival games where you can like win stuff, ya know? So anyway this little brat played the game and lost and pitched a fit, so the carnival guy gave her this beat ass doll that only had two fingers and I guess she was like “whatever it’s cute” and took it home and named it Dolly. So she started noticing that her doll kept ending up in different places than the places she would leave it, and she asked her parents if they had been moving her doll around and they said no. The one time she came home and Dolly had not only moved but also had a knife in her hand. I guess she was an idiot or something because she didn’t think this was weird and kept the doll. Then one day her mom went missing and no one knew where she went. The girl went to the doll for comfort and noticed that it had gained a finger. The next day, while she was at school, her dad went missing. Once again, Dolly had gained a finger. The next day she came home from school early and walked in and found Dolly standing over the house keeper with a bloody knife. When she took the knife from Dolly she noticed that she had gained another finger. This was the moment when she realized that Dolly gained a finger every time she killed someone and that her parents weren’t missing. They were killed by Dolly.

 

Background

The informant learned this ghost story at Christian camp from one of her friends. She said that they often exchanged ghost stories right before going to sleep for fun, even though it was really scary. This story was her favorite one to tell because she thought it was so creepy. She also thinks that this story is the reason she now has a strange fear of dolls.

 

Context

The informant is a college student at the university and grew up in Dallas, Texas.

 

Thoughts

The idea that a doll could be possessed is a common theme in folklore. This perversion of something that typically symbolizes childhood is exceptionally scary in nature because childhood is suppose to be comforting. It’s scary to think that even the things we might turn to for comfort could also be evil. This type of scary story can also be seen in horror stories about haunted houses or evil stepmothers. It is terrifying to think that the things that should keep us safe could actually be the things putting us in danger. If you can’t turn to your childhood toy, your house, or your mother for comfort, then what can you do? Additionally, because the girl received the cursed doll after she misbehaved, it could have also been a way to scare children into behaving correctly and encourage them to not act so spoiled.

 

Legends

The Winchester Mystery House

The informant is middle-aged family friend who grew up in New Jersey. He heard this legend while in medical school in the Bay Area.

Note: The initials DW denote the informant, while A refers to me, the interviewer.

——————–

A: Okay. So what is the Winchester Mystery House?

DW: Yes. So the Winchester Mystery House is this ginormous, sprawling mansion somewhere in the Bay Area. I think it’s in San Jose. Um, so Winchester is actually the family that made Winchester guns, made an enormous fortune manufacturing firearms. Um, and so, I believe it was … the or one of the heiresses to this fortune, I think back in the late 1800s or early 1900s? I think she was involved in mediums, and seances, which was really en vogue all across English-speaking world back then. She became convinced that there were evil forces that were out to kill her, and the only way to prevent that from happening is to continually keep building her house, to never have construction stop. Twenty-four hours a day.

A: [laughs] Huh. That’s interesting. Why would that keep them away?

DW: I have no idea. That was, like, her delusion. I guess we would call it a delusion. Who knows? Maybe it was real. But she did end up dying eventually.

A: Oh! Of… supernatural causes?

DW:  [laughs] I don’t think so. Unlikely. I don’t know of what. Not killed by demonic forces.

A: [laughs] Okay.

DW: So, this huge house is… it’s like a… you can visit as a tourist today. It’s huge! And lots of rooms. But what she started doing also is just building, like, hallways that stop at nothing, staircases that go nowhere, doors that open to nowhere. Just building for building’s sake without any purpose or function.

A: How big did the house end up being?

D: I don’t know, like, in square feet, but really big.

A: Where do you think the lady got that idea?

D: I don’t know… It kind of reminds me of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obviously, the spirits were her obsession, and then her compulsion was to keep building the house.

——————–

The thing I found interesting is the fact that the legend centers around the widow’s motives for building the house rather than the house itself. The house exists, and the fact that there was so much construction is true (though I could not verify that it was actually twenty-four hours a day). But when I did further research on the house, I found that no one actually knows why the widow undertook so many bizarre renovations. I think that the fact that a legend arose from this is an interesting demonstration of the human need to rationalize the things we don’t understand–for example, when we hear phonemes (or single-syllable sounds) in another language that we don’t recognize because they don’t exist in our language, our brains interpret them as the closest phoneme in our own language. Because there is no reasonable explanation for why someone would do something so bizarre, it makes sense that a legend would arise suggesting that the house was haunted, or that spirits or psychics instructed her to keep building the home. To me, it was an example of how folklore can arise to meet our needs or to explain things to us.

Folk Beliefs

The Ursuline Ghost

(trigger warning: talk of self-harm)

 

INFORMANT: Do you remember the ghost story about the nun that haunts Ursuline?

 

ME: Yes I do, but go ahead and tell me about it.

 

INFORMANT: Okay so in the entryway of the highschool Ursuline, they have an old picture of a class where you can actually see this ghostly figure in a window in the background. The legend is that the nun killed herself in the school and is now cursed to walk the halls for eternity. I remember when I took a tour of the school, I got goosebumps and instantly creeped out. I didn’t even know the story at the time but I knew that place was haunted. It’s also just super old and creepy looking

 

Background

The informant fully believes that the school is actually haunted by the nun and found the picture that everyone references online. She originally heard the story from one of her friends who attends the all girls school and has since passed it onto her friends at her school as well.

 

Context

Ursuline Academy is an all girls private Catholic school in Dallas, Texas. The informant is currently a student at a different, co-ed private school in Dallas.

 

Thoughts

The idea that the nun was forced to haunt that school as a result of killing herself is a statement about the catholic roots of the school. In Christianity, suicide is considered a sin instead of a result of depression. This concept that suicide is a punishable act may have contributed to this story (it should be noted that there is no record of a nun ever dying on the school’s grounds- much less commiting suicide on school grounds). On the other hand, Christians believe in Heaven and Hell and therefore don’t believe in ghosts. So the idea that a servant of God would be damned to haunt Earth forever is a naturally rebellious idea that goes against traditional beliefs.

 

general
Legends
Narrative

Legend of Hicks Road — Albino Colony

Text

The following piece was collected from a nineteen-year-old female during a road trip from Los Angeles to San Jose, CA. As we were driving, she yelled out and pointed at an exit sign to “Hicks Road” leading off the freeway. Girl hereafter referred to as “Informant” and I will be referred to as “Collector”.

Informant: “Look, look! There’s an old ghost story about that road! Have you guys ever heard of Hicks Road?”

(Chorus of negative responses)

Informant: “So, the myth is that at the end of Hicks Road there’s an albino colony. The albinos all live up there in really creepy trailers. They say that the albinos really hate outsiders, or, like people that aren’t albino. So its supposed to be that if you ever are routed somewhere and you’re supposed to go through Hicks Road, you should reroute because if you go through there, the albinos will get you.”

Collector: “Do they just live on the road? What will they do to you?”

Informant: “No, they live in the dead end, basically a cul-de-sac of albino people. There are some parts of Hicks Road that are okay, but if you turn right at the dead end part, it will take you right to the albinos. Nobody knows what they’ll do to you, all you know is that they don’t take well to strangers.”

Context

It was obvious that my informant found this story to be highly entertaining. While the Informant made it very clear that she did not truly believe that there was an albino colony living at the end of Hicks Road, she was still very adamant that we did not venture near it when I suggested we make a quick detour. The informant lives in San Jose and claims to have known the story for a very long time; she believes she heard it at school. When I asked her when she learned of it, or from whom, she couldn’t recall but remembers it as always being present. She remembers it because it is one of the signs she always sees on the drive from her home in San Jose to USC. She heard a theory that the story originated from a couple of people who were out at Hicks Road one night when they stumbled across a man. The kids ran away because they were scared of being caught trespassing, and apparently during an account of what they had seen, one of the kids claimed that one guy had been “very white”. Thus, the myth of the albino colony.

Interpretation

I was very interested in hearing this story. I similarly do not believe that there is truly a colony of albino people living on Hicks Road in San Jose, CA. Like my informant, I am inclined to believe that the myth began when the story passed from friend to family member after one of the originators claimed to have seen a “very white” man up at Hicks Road. I love the idea that whole myths begin by one person’s account of an event, that childhood horror stories can be created by a simple phrase.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Life cycle
Magic
Narrative
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Haunted Babies

The informant was telling me of a belief that there are different kinds of babies. She explains how some babies are possessed by spirits when they are born below:

There is one kind of baby that only cries at night and it cries really loud. We have a specific phrase for them yia cu long which means those babies are haunted by some kind of ghosts, because like when a baby is first born they seem very vulnerable to ghosts, so they can easily see ghosts since they’re just born. If a baby is always crying at night it means yi cu long, meaning they are kind of haunted by ghosts, and so that’s why the baby is terrified and he always cry during the night. So in some of the culture what they will do is they will actually have like a person to do some ceremony in order to get the ghost out of their body or stop them from haunting the baby, so it’s like a witch but not really, and then after that the babies are not supposed to cry anymore during the night.

 

So like one of my mom’s friends, his grandson actually all of a sudden started crying at night everyday and he finds someone to produce the ceremony or whatever, and the baby actually stopped crying.

 

Context:

One day when we were talking she told me she had some interesting pieces of her culture that she could share with me, so a few weeks later we met a little café on campus at USC. We sat outdoors while she shared this tradition with me.

Background:

My informant was raised in China until middle school. When she was sixteen years old she moved to the US where she attended a boarding school in Maryland for high school. My informant transferred to USC for her sophomore year of college.  She was telling me about a superstition in Chinese culture that is practiced when babies are crying. A family friend of her mother had a grandson who was crying and ‘haunted’ by a spirit, and when this ritual was performed, the baby stopped crying at night, meaning the spirit was gone.

Analysis:

I found it intriguing that babies can be ‘possessed’ by spirits because they are weaker and new to the world. Even more so, I think it’s incredibly that my informants family friend’s grandson stopped crying after the ritual was performed, which gives the ritual more credibility.

Legends
Narrative

“Hitler’s Tunnel” in San Pedro

Main Piece: “San Pedro is just north of Longbeach and there is some nice areas and bad areas of the town. It’s not like Seal Beach either where every one is pretty communal, its definitely a little more stand offish over there. But located in San Pedro there was this tunnel that was incredibly scary called Hitler’s tunnel. The tunnel was essentially really secluded tunnel that ran like two miles long and it was below a graveyard that was directly across from a church. The tunnel would be big enough to fit a 6 foot person and then it would get bigger suddenly, and then go back to normal. The tunnel was so scary because if you didn’t have a flashlight or something, you would not be able to see anything because the only exit was the entrance. But the reason this tunnel is so notorious is that it is said that in the 50s some dude took a girl down there…raped here… and killed her. The story has it that if you go down there at night, you can hear the screams and the cries of the woman who was murdered.  We were curious to see if this was actually real so my friends and I went there all together. We entered the tunnel and at first it seemed quiet but then we started to hear what sounded like explosions coming from inside the tunnel. They were loud enough to make out, but not loud enough to tell exactly where they were coming from as the sound bounced around the tunnel. Then when we got to the end of the tunnel, we began to hear voices, and we had no other way to leave but out the entrance. So we all ran back to the entrance of the tunnel… And as we were leaving, we heard the voices again and I could’ve sworn I say what looked like eyes in the dark. It could’ve been my eyes playing tricks on me, but it felt so real.”

 

Background: KS told me that this was one of the spookiest things that he and his friends ever did. KS said that while he normally doesn’t believe in these types of stories and especially haunted ghost stories, the stuff that he experienced there was unsettling beyond belief. He said that his friends would try to get him to go again numerous other times, but he refused because it was such a traumatic experience. He originally heard this story through his friends at school, and it wasn’t until he actually experienced it that he really felt this intensely about it.

 

Context of the Performance: KS told me this story while we were at our apartment discussing some of the most haunted places in our neighborhoods. While he was telling me this story, my other roommate came in and was so interested in the story that he pulled up a chair and listened to the rest of the story. My other roommate said that he also had heard stories about this place, but nothing quite as intense as the one KS had recalled.

 

Analysis: This legend is really dark, but I find it very interesting. This tunnel as KS describes it, seems to be some kind of possible sewer line as he explained after the fact that it had manholes inside that you couldn’t lift up but where on the ground with ladders there as well. Additionally, the story of the woman being raped and murdered adds another dark element to an already eery place. I believe that it is entirely possible that this piece could be warning people about entering this place due to the danger that surrounds it. While it may not be specters that are threatening people, the fact that there is a tunnel with only one opening does breed the idea that if someone wanted to do something horrible, it would be very difficult for you to escape. And having this tunnel also be situated under a graveyard adds an extra layer of uneasiness, as it feels like walking through the tunnel could be disturbing the souls above you. This terrifying, albeit rather interesting tunnel, has created many stories that seem to simultaneously warn people about the dangers of disturbing the dead, and also the dangers of being unconscious of your surroundings.

Legends
Narrative

“Silver Spring Barn” Ghost Story

Main Piece: “So at this barn where I would always go to ride horses, there was one corner of the ring…where shit hit the fan every time. There was nothing different about this corner than any of the other corners, but every time I would ride my horse around the ring the horse would either tense up, or the horse couldn’t go near the corner of the ring. So one day after a ride I was complaining to the barn owner about how the horse was acting, and I mentioned the fact that it kept happening in one very specific corner of the ring. The barn owner said that she was very familiar with that issue, and it wasn’t just me that was experiencing problems with it. Practically every horse, regardless of who the rider was, would have a really visceral reaction to that corner of the ring. So the barn owner told me one that she went to a psychic as a family. They told the psychic about some other things that were happening, and without being told about the corner of the ring and without ever seeing the property… The psychic said that there is one place that everyone gets scared of, and that it is causing problems for animals and the people. The barn owner said she was shocked that she knew about this, and then the psychic after doing a couple other rituals came to the conclusion that…. the recently deceased grandma was spending her days sitting in that corner of the ring watching the horses and the trainers riding them. The barn owner told me that the grandma rode horses as well and so the barn owner accepted it just tried to avoid that corner whenever she rode so as not to disturb her grandmother or spook the horses.”

 

Background: GR spent so much of her time at this barn training horses and riding them in events that this story really stuck with her and made her a little uneasy at first. GR said the idea of having the ghost of the grandma watching her was a bit unsettling, but at the same time she got used to the idea since there was never any threatening actions that were being made against her or the horses. GR talked about how the whole family that owned the barn all rode horses, so this idea of the grandma spending her time sitting in the corner of the ring and watching the horses made a lot of sense to her. Because horse riding is such a huge part of that family and the community, it was seen by the barn owner and GR as almost a beautiful way for the grandma to spend her time in the afterlife watching the thing that she loved so much while she was alive.

 

Context of the Performance: GR told me this custom, while we were talking about the things we would do in our free time, and what types of hobbies we like to do. Since GR is from an area where horse riding is far more popular than in California, GR had a lot of stories to tell about the barn that she used to ride at. And when we were talking about some of the ghost stories from around the world, she mentioned that she had one from her barn.

 

Analysis: Ghost stories are always fascinating to dissect as they generally have so many elements working throughout them, that may not be readily apparent. In the case of this particular ghost story, I think that this one is functioning as a way to help ease the pain for the family that owns the barn after the passing of the grandmother. Losing a family member is always hard, and after the loss it is incredibly difficult to cope with that pain. I really liked hearing this story, and it was told so well that I honestly got goosebumps when hearing the reveal that the grandmother was expected to be the reason for the horses getting spooked. I also find this to be a rather beautiful way to memorialize their grandma as white the pain of losing a loved one cannot be erased, knowing that she is happy and spending her days watching the thing that used to bring her so much joy is rather heartwarming in a way.

Legends
Narrative

New Jersey “Vanishing Camaro” Legend

Main Piece: “On this really tough stretch of road, there is a part that has a severe turn which can be difficult for drivers to make when going at highs speeds. Well one night, a woman was driving her Camaro down this road and she lost control and got into an accident, which immediately killed her. However, this was not the last time she was to be seen… In fact… apparently at night if people are driving down the road, this very same Camaro will randomly appear and chase the driver until it finally vanishes into thin air. There really isn’t much that triggers the sighting, but most people say that if you or someone in the car talks about the woman who died and her car, it will act as a call to her and she will appear.

 

Background: KC said that this one is what scared him the most after he heard it from his friends. Because he has to do a lot of driving, and sometimes he will pass that road late at night, he said that he was always keeping an extra head over his shoulder to ensure nothing happened to him. He also said that he saw this story as a way to remind young people about the dangers of unsafe driving, and what the consequences of that can be on someone so young.

 

Context of the Performance: KC told me this story while we were in my apartment discussing some of our most memorable stories about haunted houses, or ghost stories from our areas that we grew up in. He knew this one very well, and was delighted to tell the story of how creepy the vanishing Camaro was. He wanted me to understand just how much spooky stuff happened in and around the area from which he grew up. He even said that because driving was always something that kind of had him on edge, this idea of a spectral Camaro chasing him really had an impact, so much so that he remembered it pretty well.

 

Analysis: This legend is another interesting ghost story that I think definitely has a deliberate point to it. Much like KC said that he believes that this story could potentially be a warning to young people so that they do not make the same mistakes as the woman who died in her Camaro. I also find the symbolism of the car following the people on the road to be very fascinating. Personally I read this as a literal specter and a reminder of the past, and I think in some ways this story is trying to tell people: “No matter what, the consequences of your actions will follow you until the day you die. And if your mistakes hurt others, then that is something that will be with them until the day they die.” So while it is most certainly a ghost story to tell to friends and families, I think its themes are indicative of New Jersey’s paranoia to keep people safe, as they have seen a lot of death, and they don’t want to lose anymore young men or women.

[geolocation]