USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghost story’

Irma Hotel ghost story

My friend Jace grew up in Cody, Wyoming, a town named for the folk hero “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He gave me the following description of the purportedly haunted Irma Hotel:

“So apparently this was like, the first hotel ever built in Cody. And it was named after one of Buffalo Bill’s daughters who died when she was a kid; it’s called the Irma Hotel or whatever. And then apparently, I think it was like, some, like some important person within the state came to visit and ended up like, dying or being murdered in his hotel room. Like being- being shot with like a- one of those muskets or whatever. And then uh, so I don’t know, apparently he’s just supposed to like, haunt the whole hotel ’cause he wasn’t a good guy. Uh and then also Buffalo Bill himself uh, is supposed to haunt the hotel. There are reports of waitresses seeing people in dining booths, but then when they go over they’re not there, or seeing people- like the the people that clean the rooms seeing people like, walking around the hallways.”

This legend is deeply linked not only to the town in which it is meant to have taken place, but particularly to Buffalo Bill Cody himself. The incorporation of Buffalo Bill into folklore like this piece contribute to his status as a legendary figure and folk hero–someone who certainly existed, but whose identity is shrouded in unsubstantiated stories due to his widespread exaltation. This particular legend weaves together supernatural, patriotic (in the form of folk hero celebration), and local themes.


Hotel del Coronado Ghost

Informant: Meagan is a 23-year-old screenwriter, born and raised in San Diego. She is an active member of various ghosthunting and cryptid-related groups, although she admits that she is not sure if she fully believes in them. The Hotel del Coronado is a hotel on Coronado Island famous for being haunted.

Main Piece:
Informant: “This is what I remember: Kate and Tom Morgan were a married couple in the late 1800s. They were con artists. One day, they checked into the Hotel del Coronado. Tom was supposed to meet Kate, but she didn’t show up…because she was dead. They found her in Room 302, and now she haunts that room and the halls.”

Interviewer: How did she die?

Informant: “Nobody knows. Some historians say it was suicide, some say it was disease, and some say she was murdered by her husband. But nobody really knows.”

Background Information about the Performance: The informant first heard this piece from tour guides when visiting the hotel. After seeking more information online, she visited the Hotel del Coronado again with a friend and had an experience with the ghost, in which she saw it in the mirror and felt as though she had been scratched by it.

Context of Performance: The piece is told both by tour guides around the Hotel del Coronado and by members of various San Diego-based ghost hunter groups.

Thoughts: I know of this piece from visiting the Hotel del Coronado, but I have never experienced ghostly activity myself. I was also unaware of the background of the piece, knowing only that the hotel is haunted. The Hotel del Coronado promotes this haunting, and is part of various haunted house tours based in San Diego.



Ghost Dog of Devon

Informant: Valerie is a 61-year-old, born and raised in Dorking, England. She moved to Pennsylvania at 40, and to San Diego at 45. She still regularly visits England, where all her family still live. Her father was from the county of Devon in England.

Main Piece: “When I was younger, my family and I would take trips to around Devon. And sometimes when it was nighttime, my dad would tell us about a big, black dog that would go around Devon. It was a ghost dog, and it would go around howling at night. Seeing it would be dangerous, so we always got very scared when we heard a dog howl around there.”

Background Information about the Performance: The informant was told this as a child by her father. She remembers having been scared by the story, and would go on to recount the story later when she visited Devon again.

Context of Performance: The piece is told as a scary story to children – and presumably others – around the Devon region.

Thoughts: The black dog story is common around Britain, and my father had heard a similar story around Leeds. I am reminded of the Sherlock Holmes story, The Hound of the Baskervilles, which takes place around Devon.




According to my younger brother, he heard about an internet ghost story that was meant to scare people. About 4 years ago while on a YouTube site he saw that a reference was made to a “creepypasta” page about the Slenderman story that was made into a game. Slenderman was a faceless tall skinny figure with tentacle arms. When he first saw the picture of Slenderman, he did not think it was scary, however the game had many jump scares and fast action that did make it frightening or at least surprising to the player. In the “creepypasta” story the pictures of Slenderman always showed children playing unaware while back in the background within the shadows of the woods there would be slender figure appearing to be watching them. The game did not add any additional info about Slenderman but the story in the “creepypasta” site made it seem that the children he was photographed with would disappear without a trace, leaving some to speculate that they were kidnapped maybe even taken into a different dimension. Two “idiots” girls “allegedly” bought into the story of Slenderman believing they had to become proxies of Slenderman in order to protect their families, it ended up with one of their “friend’s” being stabbed 19 times but survived. My brother made air quotes with his fingers when referencing the words “Creepypasta”, “idiots” “allegedly” and “friend’s”. He says he know Slenderman is completely fictional although he kind of understands the fascination with the image because it is usually shrouded in the shadows letting your mind to fill in the blanks. He says that maybe because of the girls attempted murder of their “friend”, parents seemed more disturbed buy Slenderman than actual kids.

Analysis: Slenderman became an internet meme and started to trend on the internet about 5—6 years ago but I paid no attention to it since the demographic was skewed for some reason to younger viewers (preteens). Creepypasta sites in general have no real interest to me because the stories always seemed written by a mentally unstable person. However, the concept of photographic pictures showing mysterious paranormal orbs or other unexplained phenomena has been around since photography was invented and the first double exposure was seen as a ghostly reflection. Slenderman is just a continuation of that tradition that can now use advance technology like Photoshop to get just the right amount of mystery. The over reaction by parents also made Slenderman even more popular because the forbidden, will always be more attractive.


La Llorona

Background of informant:

My informant (AG)’s parents moved from Mexico to Los Angeles before her birth. She speaks Spanish to her parents in home and is surrounded by Mexican culture.


Main piece:

AG: “The story that I know about her is that, she was with a man and they had children together. And for some reason, she became crazy. Either because of the guy, or just because of herself [in a questioning tone]. Let’s say, I don’t really know why. Because of that, uhh, she went crazy and she drowned her kids in the river. And then when she realized what she did, she wanted the kids back. But she couldn’t so she killed herself, thinking that she could reunited with them. But when she went to heaven, because she committed suicide, she couldn’t get into heaven and had to find her kids back. So she came back to earth and she’s like [pause] damned. Just wandering on the street looking for her children. And then like, what she said, was like ‘Where’s my kids?’, ‘¿Dónde estás Mi hijo?’”


SH: Is this sentence always a part when people tell this story?


AG: “Yes, cause you learned as a kid…like… [pause] I think I learned from some older cousin and they were trying to scare the younger kids. And cause you are little, so its like “no you can’t follow us, cause La Llorona will come and she’ll be like ‘¿Dónde estás Mi hijo?’ [in a different tone] and she’ll take you!” Cause you’re kid so she’ll think that you were hers kid. ”


AG: “Surprisingly, a lot of adults, [pause], kind of believe in it. Cause like, my uncle claimed that he heard her and seen her. But a weird thing about Latin American, especially Mexican, is that they can be very superstitious. […] People claim that every time when you’re sleeping and hear a crying outside, “Oh, that’s Llorona!” And when you wake up, you’ll just have discussion with your family, like, “I heard, I heard La Llorona last night.” So it’s like in certain situation, we talk about supernatural stuffs.”


Context of the performance:

AG and I were discussing on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 film Vertigo in a writing class. When we were close reading the scene when the female character jumps into SF Bay to kill her self, she told me this really reminds her of a story she heard when she was young. And she started to talk to me about this story and it turns out that this female character in Vertigo shares many similarities with La Llorona.


My thoughts about the piece:

This piece was performed after I first knew about La Llorona’s story on ANTH 333 lecture. Not only is the content of the piece slightly different from the version that I heard of, the context when my informant learned about this piece is also different. Instead of being told by parents to kids, or among young women (as what we’ve discussing on class), AG was told by her older cousins to scare her in order to prevent her from following them.


For another version of this legend, see Vertigo (1958).


Chop N Holler

This ghost story was told when the informant was retelling the local legends that inspires her writing.

“Ok, so my mom is from this dinky little town called Bulls Gap Tennessee,and it’s real rural, real small and all the roads are like one lane pretty much but kind of shitty and there’s this one particular road that cuts through this forest, and it leads to a waterfall that the locals call “Serenity”. And that particular road is called Chop N Holler. The legend is, is that there was a guy who lived there and there was a family who lived across the way from him and they were really really loud, annoyed him so much, that he took is axe, uncrossed the way, and murdered them all. And obviously he hung for it after, and if you roll down your windows all the way at night and play your music very, very loud, he’ll stand in the middle of the road with his axe, that’s the legend and I remember my mom would take me down that road, and obviously she was fucking with me but she would be like “I’m going to turn the music up” and I would be like “ah, no please!” and I think that it impacted my life in the sense, that idk, my mom got me really interested in ghouls and goblins and stuff like that to this day I still write horror stuff in that weird vein.”


The story was told so simply that it shows that there is an element of supernatural horror within these small towns and local places. Every place has a name that is different from the official name because of the heritage of the people living there. This name is obviously quite macabre, but it is still used as a simple fact of life.


Tunnel Ghosts

The informant told this story when recounting the local legends of her rural upbringing in Eastern Tennessee. Ghosts are a big part of the local, little traditions that are passed down between family members.

“Okay so there’s another place in Bullsgap that my mom used to take me after we visited my great-grandmother who lived there still, um, and it’s a little, another background that cuts through a bunch of cornfields and there’s a cemetery i think used during the civil war, i don’t know, but it’s old a shit and theres a bunch of unmarked graves there, and once you go past the cemetery there’s a huge drop in the road and it leads to what used to be a train tunnel I think, I don’t know like, if it had a train running through it or what, but it was this concrete thing and the train would pass over it I guess, under it people could walk through. So there’s a legend that because one night, because it drops down really low, like it goes below the water level in the town, when it floods, when it rains, the river floods up and fills the like the road under the tunnel. So there’s a rumour that there’s a family that like, the 50s 60s something like that, and they were driving at night and they had an accident and crashed into the tunnel or something like that, or the tunnel wall, all of them died. and they say if you go into the tunnel at midnight, and turn off all the lights and your entire car and just sit there in the dark in for five minutes when you get out of the tunnel you’ll see handprints from children and the adults, who you know, had an accident there, and the legend is that they’re trying to push your car out, because they think that you’re car is stopped. It’s kinda scary. I don’t know I’ve never done it because my mom was like we can do it, but I was like no, no, no, k, but that one was another [local legend] that i fell in love with the local flavour of where I lived and appreciated it for the quirky little place that it was.”


Although spooky, it seems the ghosts are trying to help push the car out of the tunnel. This tale also serves as a warning to those who drive recklessly during the night and rain, showing the consequences of what could happen if one was to crash.

Folk Beliefs

Popular Belief in Ghosts in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico

Do you maybe have, like, a ghost story that you were taught?


“Actually, yeah, it’s uhh… they, they always said that there was, there were two nights every single year, don’t remember when or how, but there were certain specific time of the year, the, you were forbidden to leave your house between, after 11:00 p.m. on those two nights of the year, otherwise you would encounter, uhh… not really ancestors there, but some other people, especially those who wanted to do, like… like… you know, just, you know, bad stuff. And uhh… people who could not rest in peace, and they would come those specific nights. Of course nobody every left their houses, you know, during those two nights, ever, you know cuz you were so respectful of that tradition. And as far as I remember, nobody saw anything, although it’s maybe because nobody went out. [laughs]


Uhh, but, uhh, I dunno why, I don’t know why those things came, uhh… I don’t remember when that thing was like, like, followed, but uhh, there were two specific nights one right after the other, those two nights, you just were totally grounded.


Do you remember who told you that story? Or was it something that just everybody knew?


“Everybody in the community knew that one. Oh! Also related to that same thing is that they said that, uhh, you were lucky enough to, to, to be… uhh… outdoors between like 10:00 and 11:00 p.m., not after 11:00 p.m. because everybody else was so afraid of encountering something unnatural, they, ummm… they said between 10:00 and 11:00 was okay but you were lucky enough, you would see flames on the ground. Appearing like, just like, magic, and uh, you, uhh, you have to make sure, you have to make certain of where that flame was coming from, or where was the specific spot, because uhh, the next night, you wouldn’t come out, like I said, but on the third night, you were supposed to go there with some friends, dig, and supposedly you were going to find gold there.


I never knew anybody just, you know, striking rich by doing that, but that was part of the legend as well.
Where did it come from? It came from our grandparents, actually. And my dad tolds me that his dad swears that he saw some of those flames, but he was so afraid to go and dig because he would find something else instead of money, so… [laughs]


Not sure that was an old tale, you know, from some drunk people or something like that, very convincing, but, it became part of the community there, yeah.”


And what was the name of this community, again?


“This is Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico.”


Analysis: Like many ghost stories, the informant expresses disbelief in the ghost elements in the story in abstract, but seems to believe at least partially in the reality of the experience that he relates. The story seems to imply that there is a certain time of the year where social function is not permissible because people are remembering the dead who cannot rest. This motif of restless spirits is incredibly common in ghost stories around the world, despite the very Catholic culture of Mexico. What is unique to this story, however, is the promise of gold if one happens to find oneself outside and getting very close to the forbidden hour, which would suggest that a degree of risk-taking is honorable and respected in this rural Mexican culture.

Folk Beliefs

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.

Folk Beliefs

The Wooden Table


My informant is a twenty-one year old student at USC; she’s studying neuroscience with an eye towards medical school. Her father is Laotian and French and her mother is French.


“Both of my parents believe in ghosts. This happened to my mom — or maybe it didn’t happen to her but it happened to someone she knew? I’m not sure. This was in the Basque Region, on the French side. It’s, um, an interesting place. Super pretty, super old. Have you been? (I tell her that no, I haven’t) okay, but you’ve been down south, you know what I’m talking about. Super pretty, super old (laughter). They were at my grandmother’s house which is this super gnarly little cottage and the family has lived there, for like, ever. So they were eating dinner and a bunch of kids were fighting or something and all of a sudden this huge wooden table just flew across the room. Like, slammed against the far wall. They didn’t say they were scared or anything but they just knew that it was a ghost and that the ghost wanted them to know it was there.”


This seems like a classic European ghost story, in many ways. The ghost isn’t necessarily malevolent, but simply there to make its presence known. Much like the piece we read about Estonian ghosts, the ghost is another familial claim on the property and a more tangible connection between the family and the house itself.