USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghosts’
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Life cycle

The Haunting of the Lorenzo

Main Piece

JS: “Yeah, dude! The Lorenzo is haunted! You’ve never heard about this?”

Collector: “No! I guess I don’t know enough people who live there.”

JS: “The Lorenzo used to be a hospital, which was abandoned for a bunch of years before the developers bought out the land for the apartments. A bunch of people died in that hospital, so obviously some parts of a place that big have got to be haunted. They try to gloss over it, but the carpets in there still give it away. It looks like The Shining! People get lost in the hallways all the time, and never come back.”

Collector: [laughter] “Has this happened to people you know or is it just something that you’ve heard about?”

JS: [laughter] “No, it’s never happened to anyone I’ve known. It’s probably all just made up. You can never be too careful, though. The place still gives off the creepy vibes and I am not making up that it used to be a hospital…look it up!”

Analysis

Buildings that have taken on lives beyond their original intention or original owners are often claimed as haunted places. The inevitability of death and pain in places like hospitals and prisons adds a very convincing layer to many that there are still souls who cannot escape the earth trapped in these locales. Many people are uncomfortable thinking about the harsh lives of those in the same spot as them, even if they did not know them directly. The legend is known to students of USC because of how many end up living at the Lorenzo after they lose their spots in student housing. To this very day, people consider ghosts as considerations when deciding where to live, which demonstrates how strong the belief in after life and spirits are in the US.

Folk Beliefs
general
Myths

Ghosts in Banana Trees in Malaysia

Description

Informant reported that their mother told them, “Don’t hang near the banana trees in Malaysia because ghosts live there.” Their mother grew up there and heard it from her Aunts. She describes the origin of this piece of folklore as having come about due to the amount of plantations in Malaysia, therefore people created this story to ward kids off of them, as they would play near the trees.

Context

Informant is a secondary receiver of the folklore, whereas their mother experienced this in action — she would be taken near plantations and told not to stick around, while my informant only received the warning when about to go outside and play with other friends. It was less of a warning while in Malaysia, but rather a general warning before going outside.

Analysis

I think this is an interesting anecdote that had to have started way back when, perhaps when children were hanging out too much in Malaysian plantations. It could have started due to malicious circumstances with a landowner getting fed up with children stealing from the plantation and therefore killing him, or it could be more lighthearted than that. I think a lot of different cultures have sayings such as these.

I did some research and found something called the “pontianak,” which is a female vampire ghost in Malay mythology. These are said to be spirits of women who died while pregnant, and my informant thinks this saying about Malaysian banana trees has roots with this mythical figure. Further reading can be done at the citation below:

Skeat, W.W. Malay Magic. New York, Macmillan and Co. Ltd, 1900. Print.

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.


Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Game
Legends

Bloody Mary

Background: This informant is a young-adult college student who grew up in Northern California. The informant discusses a scary ritual that calls forth a vengeful ghost. This is a transcription of our conversation (The informant is “C”, another friend is “Friend” and I am labeled as “me”).

Piece:

Me: Did you ever do any like ghost ritual kind of things when you were a kid?

C: I mean at sleepovers we used to do Bloody Mary

Me: I feel like everyone has done Bloody Mary. How did you do it?

C: Go in a bathroom, turn lights off and say bloody mary three times.

Me: Where does she come from?

C: I think she comes out of the mirror.

Me: Did you ever try it?

C: No I was always too scared.

Context: This conversation occurred one evening while sitting in my dorm room with my two closest friends. We were discussing my folklore collection project and I told them that folklore included rituals and traditions and the like. When brainstorming rituals, the informant brought up Bloody Mary, a common supernatural legend mainly believed by young children.

Thoughts: Bloody Mary is such a common folk legend and I can honestly say that I have never heard of anyone actually conjuring Bloody Mary. When I “played” Bloody Mary growing up, a candle was required for the ritual and in the dark bathroom with only a small flame flickering, it felt incredibly eerie. I had always thought of Blood Mary to be the antithesis of the Virgin Mary, but upon researching it further I found that Bloody Mary is actually based on Queen Mary of England. Bloody Mary is associated with children and childbirth in particular as its based on Queen Mary’s mysterious phantom pregnancy- she appeared to be pregnant but never gave birth to a child.

For more information on Bloody Mary and her origins, see this 2016 article by Krissy Howard entitled “The True Story of Bloody Mary, The Woman Behind The Mirror” (All That’s Interesting):

https://allthatsinteresting.com/bloody-mary

 

 

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
general

you can see ghosts through dogs’ ears

The informant, a middle-aged family friend from New Jersey, heard this folk belief from a friend at a sleepover party when they were young.

——————–

“Alright. So there’s this old, sort of like, folklore thing. I remember learning this when I was a little kid. Well, not learning, because I don’t think it’s true, but that one way that you’re able to see ghosts is that if you kind of stand behind a dog and look, like, above its head, right between the dog’s ears, right where the dog is looking, and if there’s a ghost there, it will appear.”

——————–

I thought this was an interesting extension of a generally held thought that animals are more in tune with the spiritual world in a way that humans are not, possibly because they have more developed senses (hearing, sight, smell) than humans do. Specifically, dogs are thought to be very intuitive, and are sometimes regarded as “guardian spirits” who help guide humans through their lives. People often reference dogs’ “sixth sense” and their ability to recognize evil or nefarious presences in their owners’ lives. Because unlike humans, animals do not distinguish between things that are considered “real” and “imaginary,” it is possible that they can see things that we can’t because we filter out things we don’t understand, while they accept everything they see without judgement.

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.

 

Legends
Narrative

Lonnie Lake

Main Piece
Lonnie Lake
Well there is the Lonnie Lake tale. Well, So, there was a horror story they would tell us at YSSC, Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp. There was a story that, this is told to 13-year-old boys, so, there is a lake in Yosemite that is not even on the map. so, like, It was a lake in kind of like the finger lakes area, on the Yosemite side of the national forest whatever boundary, and it was a place apparently so dangerous that they removed it from the map. So not even on the map. So the story goes that there was the spirit this Native American women who was hurt brutally hurt by young braves, and her way of revenge was drowning young boys in the lake. It’s called Lonnie Lake, and that’s where she died, and that’s where her spirit lives, a native American spirit, who drowned boys in the lake. And you’re not supposed to go to Lonney Lake, because if you go in the lake, she drowns you. I was told this by the staff of the camp, so don’t ever go to Lonney Lake and don’t go in, because there will a native American spirit and she will drown you.

Background
Yosemite Sierra Summer Camp is a Christian Adventure camp located near Bass Lake, California, right near Yosemite National Park. The camp includes all sorts of different activities, including lake activities like water skiing and wakeboarding. The campers range in age from 8-16, with the informant recalling a time when he was 13-years-old. The camp is located on Bass Lake, with the story about a different lake named “Lonnie Lake”.

Context
The informant is a 25-year-old man, born and raised in a Christian family in Southern California. The information was collected while inside his family home in Palm Desert, California, on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
I thought it was really interesting to hear about this tale, for I had also attended this same camp, but had never heard this tale. I enjoyed how the informant identified this story correctly as a tale, instead of legend or myth, which would have been incorrect. Upon further research, I cannot find any evidence of this “Lonnie Lake”, yet tales involving Native American spirits are common. I wonder about the purpose of creating a cautionary tale about a lake that truly doesn’t exist. I also think it interesting for such a tale to be shared at a Christian camp, for the religion does not endorse ghosts or vengeful ghost-spirits. I think it must be really fun for the participants of the tradition to tell the story and try to scare the campers, but I do not think that the telling of the story has any meaningful link to Native American tradition. Instead, it utilizes the native american tradition in another way.

Legends
Narrative

Colorado Springs Haunted Mine

Main Piece
So there is this mine in Colorado springs, and what happened was a school bus full of children was murdered in the mine in the 1950’s, and so the myth is that if you cover your car with baby powder, and then drive in like the middle of the mine, because you can drive through part of it, and then you park and you turn off everything, and you come out, after you turn your lights on and stuff, and there will be handprints where the baby powder was. You hear children laughing too. We’ve done it, and like yeah you see handprints, and so nobody really knows what it is. I mean, it might be like water dripping or something, but its legit so creepy.

Background
The informant grew up in Colorado, and therefore learned many of the area specific stories and traditions. She specifically lived near Colorado Springs, where she claims this mine to be. She did not state the name of the mine, but insisted she had been there from personal experience.

Context
The informant is a 25-year-old women studying law at Loyola in Los Angeles. The information was collected outside my family home in Palm Springs, California on April 20th, 2019.

Analysis
This ‘textbook’ scary story is classic of horror narratives – there is an old murder, and ghosts who still haunt those grounds. I think this story is interesting in particular because the ghosts here are children, which makes it all the more creepy. This doesn’t seem to be a cautionary tale, but one of more intrigue and suggesting of trying it out. I really like that the informant had tried out the tale, and had confirmed it as being true, although she offers her own possible explanation for what causes the marks in the powder on your car. I think it must be really fun and possibly scary for those taking part in the tradition, but they are really keeping the memory of the dead children, if they really existed, alive. Even if the background of the tale is not fully true, the ritual and tradition associated with it continue to keep the mine and its questionable history relevant.

Narrative

Menehune: Hawaiian Mischief Ghosts

Abstract: The Menehune (men-ay-hoo-nay)  are a group of Hawaiian dwarf people that cause mischief in Hawaii, but especially in the woods at night. They were kicked off of their land and are now seeking revenge on those that inhabit it. They are mischievous ghosts that are responsible for causing things like sleep paralysis and are blamed for things that happen at night in Hawaii. They used to be real and were the first people to populate the Hawaiian islands until they were forced into extinction by settlers from Tahiti.

 

Background: DM is a 20 year-old  Hawaiian American going to college in California. She grew up her entire life in Hawaii and is very accustomed to the folklore there. She can not trace back the origin of the folklore or when she learned it because it has surrounded her for her entire life. The Menehune are pretty ingrained with the Hawaiian culture. At a work retreat, we were talking as a large group about sleep paralysis. DM intervened talking about how ghosts are responsible in Hawaii for this feeling. I immediately identified this piece of folklore and asked to speak to her at a later time about it.

 

 

The Menehune:

 

DM: The Menehune are like little dwarves that haunt Hawaii in the woods and at night. They were killed off by settlers, but archaeologists have discovered bones and stuff and they were actually very small.  But anyways, if anything happens at night, it’s them. Basically, a lot of people have sleep paralysis where like they can’t breathe or move. So they say, like mostly people that were camping, say that it’s because the Menehune are sitting on their chest.

S: Do people claim to see it or is it just spiritual? Like what else do they do besides cause sleep paralysis?

DM: It’s really just spiritual, but they were real people at some point. And really, since Hawaii is so rural, they can be blamed for like anything. Sound in the woods? Menehune. Tree falls over? Menehune.

 

Interpretation: There are a couple lessons that can be taken from the Menehune. The first being to respect the land and people of other countries/regions. The Menehune are only haunting Hawaii because they were kicked off of their own indigenous land and killed off. So, when this story is told to younger children (as it is done to build culture into young lives), there is an untold lesson to not be disrespectful or take something from someone that is rightfully theirs, or there might be some consequences. This kind of story is modeled in other cultures as well, such as the haunting of old Native American lands by chiefs and warriors.

The second lesson that can be taken away is to stay away from the woods at night. In attempts to keep their children from doing anything too risky, parents might tell the stories of the Menehune haunting and harming people in the woods so that their kids stay safe.

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