USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghosts’
Life cycle

Ghost Mom and her Daughter: Car Guardians

Tim is a father of 3 children, and he currently lives in northern New Jersey. He went to Iona College in New York where he studied mathematics; after graduation, he worked for the family printing business before breaking off and starting his own. Now, he lives about 15 minutes from where he grew up, so many of the local legends he heard while growing up still apply. He told me this story while I was growing up.


Jack: “Dad, do you remember that road we used to drive down, the one that you said was haunted by a little girl and her mom?”

Tim: “Yeah, what about it?”

Jack: “Can you explain how that story goes again, and where you heard it?”

Tim: “Of course! So my dad actually told me and my siblings this growing up. The legend goes that this mom and her daughter were driving down that same road when suddenly their brakes gave out, but the problem was that the mom didn’t realize that until it was too late. When she got to the bottom of the hill and tried to brake, nothing happened, so they kept rolling into the middle of the road. Since it was early, there were some trucks going onto and off the highway, and one of them didn’t see the car so it smashed into it. The mom and daughter both died.”

Jack: “So how does the haunting come into play.”

Tim: “Oh, yeah. So the rumor goes that if you roll down that same hill, the mom and daughter will stop your car and hit the brakes for you, and if your brakes don’t work, they’ll just hold your car back. They’re basically trying to protect people from the same thing that happened to them. So these aren’t really your typical ghosts, I guess, because, you know, they’re nice. I guess ‘haunting’ is the wrong word. They’re more, like, lurking there and protecting the area or guarding the people that go there.”

Jack: “Can you see them?”

Tim: “I’m not sure about that. I haven’t seen them, but that doesn’t mean someone else hasn’t.”

Jack: “So you said that they’re guarding the area and the people there. Do you still think that they’re ghosts, or do you think that they might be something else?”

Tim: “You know, I’m not sure. They could be ghosts, but they also might be guardian angels. But then again, they’re both just spirits, so how different could they be?”


This was one of the first stories I had ever heard about a ghost possessing or controlling some sort of machinery. Since I was young when I first heard this, it’s possible that my dad made the entire thing up just to scare me or give me something to believe in, but the fact that he mentioned his dad telling him the same story gives it a bit more truth/realism. Also, my dad and his father are both very religious, so I doubt they would lie and I also doubt they would make something up about ghosts until he really thought it was true. The parallel between ghosts and angels, however, was very interesting. It is true that they are both entities, and I guess both could be characterized as spirits, but it’s strange that they could both be categorized as this considering they both carry such different connotations. Angels have a positive and friendly connotation while ghosts have a malevolent and scary connotation, but as my dad said, not all ghosts are bad.



Facebook from a Deceased Relative

The informant wanted to remain anonymous, but she stated that it would be okay to share some general information about her. She is currently a student at the University of Southern California studying through the school for communication and journalism. She claims to be moderately religious, especially after growing up with a Christian family in a predominantly Christian area.
Informant: “So my brother died my sophomore year of high school. It was one of the hardest times of my life, and for the first few weeks after he died I always prayed and hoped that I would see him again. But one day, I don’t know if I was crazy or what, I saw him post something on Facebook. I didn’t get it. Like he was gone, but he was still on Facebook? At first I was angry. Did someone hack his account? Was this some kind of sick and messed up joke? Would someone really do this? But I did some thinking, and, I don’t know. Yeah it’s possible that my brother queued up that post weeks before he died so that it just automatically posted when it did, but I just hoped that maybe it was something else. I don’t really believe in ghosts, but do I believe in my brother? Yeah. Maybe it was his way of telling me he was okay, like the post was about basketball, and he loved playing it everyday. So maybe he was okay? Maybe this wasn’t as bad as I thought? I’m sorry I’m just still confused, and I’ve never really talked about it with anyone.”

Interviewer: “Did anyone else see the post?”

Informant: “I don’t know. I ended up deleting his Facebook later on. The post was there, but no one has liked it. Like I said I could’ve been crazy, or maybe everyone else was just as confused as I was that they just glanced over it and ignored it and hoped it would all go away.”

Interviewer: “So do you think it was your brother’s ghost?”

Informant: “I don’t know. I knew his password, and it wasn’t something someone could just guess and hack his account. I think it might have been. But not really a ghost; maybe an angel? Whatever it was, it was my brother.”
The idea that these posts could have been made by either the ghost of the informant’s brother or simply set up by the brother while he was still alive creates an interesting juxtaposition. The idea that someone could be dead in the physical realm while alive in the digital realm creates this liminal/limbotic idea of life and death, similar to Schrödinger’s cat. While the brother is dead in the physical realm, his “spirit” or “ghost” lives on in the Internet. Again, it is unknown whether these posts were made by a ghost or simply queued up by the brother before his death, but it still creates an eerie yet complicated situation.


El Paso High Ghost-Moratorium

Main Piece:

The Participant is marked as BH. I am marked as LJ.

LJ: Can you tell me about El Paso High School.

BH: So El Paso High is known as the oldest high school in El Paso, but beyond that, its also the most haunted high school in the city. It used to be um, the moratorium for world war 11 soldiers who had died in combat, but had no family members reclaim their bodies. So all these bodies were just left there…so as a result, it has been said that there are many ghosts that wander the halls of all of these veterans who have not been able to find peace.

LJ: How did you learn about the ghosts?

BH: I would hear them all the time when I was growing up. Um…I think I heard them more around middle school. There were kids who would go out to the school at night. So sometimes they would hear things..



I had visited the participant and her family in El Paso in March. This was recorded after.


The participant is a fourth year student at the University of Southern California. She is a firm believer in religion and likes “scary stories,” including television shows and hearing about hauntings. She grew up primarily in El Paso, Texas with her mom and two sisters.


This is an example of how ghost stories are passed from one person to the next, immortalizing the event and history of the place. In this case, El Paso High, being the oldest has a lot of history. Not all of the stories may be true, but they are believed by a large amount of the population in El Paso. Being there, I also learned that since El Paso is so close knit, many of the stories and beliefs are shared by the community. Every place I went on my visit had some sort of history to it. There were plaques along the walls and in the pavement, but a lot of what I learned came from listening to native El Paso-ans speak about their city.



Ghost Month

The informant is my father who has always grown up in Taiwan but came to America for grad school. Understanding both cultures, he has a very wide understanding of the traditions in our household and its practices.

Informant: 中元節/鬼節 (Zhong Yuan Jie/Guai Jie) – Ghost month, is when the doors to the underworld open and ghosts come back to our world. This takes place from July to August and we put food outside and burn money for the ghosts and our ancestors. It is believed that the food will feed their hunger and the money is so that they can use in the underworld. It used to be practiced in every household, however, within the past 2 or 3 decades the houses and families have stopped doing it. Nowadays only those who run small businesses keep the tradition alive by putting tables outside their offices and putting out food and drinks while burning money in a large can. I think it has something to do with not upsetting the ghosts and satisfying them to prevent any bad luck.

I think this is interesting since it is still a prevalent tradition, but it has been long stopped being practiced by the households. Only those who run businesses do nott want to upset any of the ghosts and such, thus they try to give them what they want and go on with their businesses, hoping for no bad luck. Although after asking some of my Taiwanese friends, it is still practiced in households, but it is very rarely seen. It is interesting to see how such a prevalent tradition that takes up a whole month during the summer went from households to only businesses to continue performing the rituals.


Ghost of UBC

Informant is a friend of mine that loves ghost stories.

Informant: There is a long drive into the campus. The road is completely empty except for the trees on the sides. The road is kinda long and the story is that some couple was driving on the road. They got into a fight and the girl stepped out of the car and right after getting out she got hit by another car. To this day it’s said that her spirit still haunts University Boulevard. Numerous reports by male students claim that they picked up a woman who handed them a piece of paper with the library’s address on it. She’ll jump in the rear seat, and then quickly disappear. This has happened on more than one occasion.

Me: So when you drive down the road at night did you ever see or hear the girl?

Informant: Nah, there is never anything on that road. I do use that ghost story to fool around and scare the shit outta people though!

This was so spooky when I first heard it. I had always planned on visiting my friend at UBC, but upon hearing this spooky ghost story I didn’t feel like I wanted to go visit him anymore! Even if it seems like a made up story, I personally do not like getting scared out of my wits.

From what I have found, it is an old tale that has been passed down for many years, upon hearing it I did some research and it is very similar to the generic “vanishing hitchhiker”


Folk Beliefs

Sleep Paralysis Ghost

Informant: The informant is Nabila. She is eighteen years old and is a freshman at Northeastern University. She grew up in Bangladesh.

Context of the Performance: We sat on the living room floor of a mutual friend’s house in Yonkers, New York over our spring breaks form college.

Original Script:

Informant: So basically, do you know about sleep paralysis?

Interviewer: Yes.

Informant: Basically, it’s a condition which doesn’t allow you to move or talk when you’re waking up or first falling asleep. In Asian culture, when that happens, people believe that it is a form of nightmare or that it is a ghost sitting on you. When you have sleep paralysis, since you can’t move, and you might be screaming out loud but can’t actually make any noise, people think that he’s sitting on you. Because he can’t speak, since he’s a ghost, you can’t speak either. I actually don’t believe it though. My mom told me this when I was about thirteen, but now I know that it’s actually sleep paralysis.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s important to me in the sense that when it happened to me, it really scared me. I had a bunk bed, and it happened to me the first time I slept on the top bunk. So, I never slept on the top bunk again because I thought that the nightmare would happen again.

Personal Thoughts: I find this piece interesting because I have known about sleep paralysis for years now and have never heard of this type of fear of it. In fact, I, along with many of my friends, have tried to achieve sleep paralysis because you need to do so in order to lucid dream. Lucid dreaming is something so many people try to do, so it is compelling to me that Nabila and her family are so afraid of sleep paralysis.


Haunted House in the Philippines

The 21-year-old informant was born in the Philippines, but moved to the U.S. (Hawaii) at the age of 9. As ghosts and other mythical creatures play a large role in Filipino culture, the informant recounts personal stories and myths that she encountered during her time in the Philippines.

Informant: “When I was little, I was with my brother and we were at my grandma’s house, and we had a babysitter with us, so it was just the 3 of us. I was like, 3 or 4 years old maybe? I think it was a 5-story house– it was a pretty big house, which people were saying it was so big that it wasn’t as inhabited as it should be, so then like, ghosts started coming in and like, taking over the space or whatever.

But um, we’re just playing and then we heard like, chains on the stairs, just like (*makes a few thumping noises with her hand*). It kept stepping on the stairs and we heard chains just clanking on the floor, and as a child I was just like, ‘Fuck is that?’ And there’s a foot on the stairs, and it was all bloody. It was literally just a foot, and it had chains around it– all bloody. And it just kept stepping, not really going anywhere.

And then, I talked to my brother, and up ’til this day, he’s like, ‘No, I swear I saw it,’ and he was 7 years old then? Maybe I was 4… I was 3 or 4.”

Collector: “Was it like, a solid foot?”

Informant: “Ya, it was just one foot. I forgot what that house used to be… like, what used to be there before the house was built… but I know there was some mystery there.

And there was another one… like, the house was pretty haunted. I heard stories that–well, when we weren’t there–my other cousins lived right across that house, and her grandma would say that she would see like, a white lady just walking across the rooftop, and no one was there ’cause everyone was like, in Hawaii or like, the mainland or whatever… So that was another one of the stories.”


Bloody Mary

Tell me who Bloody Mary is.

“Bloody Mary is a story that was really really popular among my schoolmates back when I was in elementary school. Basically uhh…, she was like a ghost or phantom or something that was the Virgin Mary with bloody eyes. And you could conjure her in a mirror through a ritual, and she would kill you. I don’t know why it was so popular looking back on it, cause it was basically asking for a death sentence if you did the ritual. But yeah, we used to tell it to each other and dare each other to do it, especially if there was someone who said they didn’t believe in ghosts. It’s especially fun to do at sleepovers, which is what my friends and I used to do.”

How is the ritual performed?

“You go into a room alone with all the lights off, and there has to be a mirror inside obviously. You stand in front of the mirror and you chant ‘Bloody Mary’ three times. After the third time, Bloody Mary is supposed to appear in the mirror, where she will slit your throat and you will die. I actually have tried it before, but nothing really happened which is good cause I really didn’t want to die. It was super scary though, and sometimes you even feel like something might happen, especially when you’re in the dark standing in front of the mirror and have said it twice already.”


Collector’s Comments:

This is perhaps one of the most famous ghost stories out there, and one that I have heard multiple times before. One very interesting thing that I noticed is that the informant describes the ghost as a bloodied Virgin Mary. In the versions that I have heard, Bloody Mary is another woman entirely, with no relation to the Catholic Mary, so this makes me wonder if the fact that the informant heard this story at Catholic school had affected the telling. Another point that is interesting is that the informant had actually performed the ritual, and while nothing happened, the fear that he felt was very real, making the context and the setting a large factor in his belief.


For another version of this story, see the horror film Paranormal Activity III (2011), which has a scene where the characters recreate the Bloody Mary ritual.


The Ghost of Frankie Silver

“The town that I am from in North Carolina, it’s called Morganton and it’s in Burke County, and one of the famous citizens of Burke County is named Frankie Silver and she was the first woman to be hanged… I thought it was in North Carolina, but it might just be in Burke County… I am not entirely sure, but she was accused of murdering her husband and chopping him up with an ax and then burning him in a stove, like the stove in their house…
And so she was found guilty and hanged. I think she wasn’t hanged in Morganton. I think she was hanged at the state courthouse, but I think the trial was in Morganton in the old county courthouse, which is still standing. They don’t use it as a courthouse anymore, but it has like a museum inside of it. It’s pretty cool. But supposedly, her ghost, you know, still kinda haunts where her house was. I think it’s not quite in Morganton. It was more out in the woods kind of up the mountain, but my mom told me that supposedly where she was buried, which I guess has since kinda been lost… no one really knows where it is anymore… is kinda out towards my childhood home. There was a road off of the main road that was kind of…I think it was just a gravel road called Buckhorn Tavern or something real rustic like that… and that supposedly is where her grave is according to my mom.”

The informant grew up in North Carolina and lived there his entire life there until moving to Los Angeles around three years ago, where he currently resides.
In regards to Frankie Silver, there is speculation to if she was innocent or not, or even if it was just self-defense. This happened at the turn of the century though, so a lot of the speculation comes from women not having as many rights as they do now, meaning that even if it was self-defense, she could have been “doomed at the onset once she was accused” (according to the informant).
While the informant claims to not believe it now, he admits that he probably did as a child, being that he was into ghost stories then. However, he also admits that he didn’t really understand who she was until he was much older. He learned who Frankie Silver was as the children in Morganton/Burke County are required to read a book called “The Ballad of Frankie Silver” by Sharyn McCrumb in middle school.
The informant also cannot distinctly remember what would happen to you if you saw the ghost, but he figures it has something to do with her being unjustly hung.

The informant relayed this to me while in the passenger seat of his girlfriend’s car as she drove us all back up to Los Angeles. I have known the informant since he moved to Los Angeles.

I find it interesting that the informant knew about legend of Frankie Silver, but did not fully understand it until reading a book based off of it. In this case, the legend was enhanced/more distributed because of the authored literature based upon it. While the informant was able to distinguish what he knew as the legend and what he knew as the book, I am sure that the two often get confused or even fall under the same heading of “By Sharyn McCrumb.”
That being said, there is no way of telling how much of the book influenced the informant’s version of the legend or how much it has changed since the book was published.


Haunted Victorian House

This story was told when the informant was explaining the local legends of growing up in Eastern Tennessee.

“So there’s other little town called Jefferson city, it’s pretty small, pretty rural, all farms and shit, it’s kinda like midway between Bullsgap and Morristown which is my hometown, it’s kind of off the map places in east tenessee, but Jefferson City is particularly interesting because there’s this very, very big beautiful victorian house that’s like white and has a sprawling landscape and whatever, and nobody lives it, ever, it’s never ever been bought and I don’t think it’s even for sale anymore but that’s because there was a lady who lived in the house, and she had like fifty pets I think? Like, very many cats and dogs, so she died one day, because she was old, and then no one really, and she didn’t have family or anything, so she just, like, stayed there, dead, and eventually her pets, once they ran out of things to eat they started dying too. So by the time anybody came, they came because they could smell like the rot, overwhelming, so they come, and see this absolute horror scene of rotting bodies and stuff and they clean it out eventually and try to put the house back on the market. And every time it goes on the market and someone moves in, they say they cannot sleep because they hear the dogs and the cats all night rattling and moving around the house all night, and you can smell the rot and the decay still. Which is crazy! But there it is.”



The story is interesting because the house is empty now, and the local legends have become so engrained in the culture that it would be strange to occupy the house because you of the suggestion of the cats and dogs running around, you’d probably hear them!