USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghosts’
Folk Beliefs

A Figure in the Night

When I was 12 or 13, one night I woke up to go the bathroom around 2 or 3 morning- you know, the witching hour. I cam back to bed, and was still fully awake- it usually takes me a little bit to go back to bed. I was alert. I was looking out my open doorway, which was lit only by the light of the nightlight in my bathroom coming out into the hall. Then I saw a figure walk out of one room, past my door, and into the next room. And it wasn’t, like, a dark, shadowy figure- it was very clearly a person, a person-shape. It wasn’t dark either, it was fair- more white and washed out than how an actual person would look in the dark. It looked white, and it was wearing some sort of clothes- nothing specific. I didn’t know what I saw at first, but my entire body just froze. I had never been so scared in my life. I just froze in my bed, and eventually was able to fall back asleep.”

My friend who told me this story also told me a lot about her mom’s beliefs, and it was interesting to hear them, and also see how they affected her own personal beliefs. Her mom is Chinese, but grew up in Vietnam. She is a strong believer in the supernatural, as well as the many superstitions that are common in her culture. One thing that I found particularly interesting is that her mom believes all young children can see ghosts up until a certain age, because they are still in the liminal early stages of life. Her superstitions were also interesting, a couple being that owls are an omen for death, and that if a cat jumps over a body at a funeral the body would sit up straight in its coffin. That latter one amused my friend who told me, and said she had asked her mom if she had ever experienced it, to which she replied that she hadn’t but didn’t want to take any chances by having cats at a funeral. It seemed like her mother’s, and grandmother’s as well, pronounced belief in ghosts actually caused her to be more skeptical for a while, not believing all the crazy stories they told her. However as she got older, and experienced the story she told me, as well as others, she began to accept it. She said that now she still doesn’t know if she believes some of the more out-there stories her mom has told her, or the superstitions. It was interesting to see the affect of prevalent ghost belief at home on someone who grew up in America (in Boston, Mass).

Folk Beliefs
Legends

Ghost of Antetum

Background: E.M. is an 18-year-old student at USC studying Cinema and Media Studies. She is Salvadoran but as lived all over the US, so she has picked up folklore and customs from a lot of different places. When she was living in Maryland, she would often take tours to historical sites and picked up multiple stories from each of these sites and the people she met there.

 

Main piece:

When I lived in Maryland, we would often visit Civil War battlesites. Um and one of the major ones that was near where we lived was Antetum in Sharpsburg Maryland? Yeah Sharpsburg. Basically one of the bloodies battles of the civil war happened there. And it’s very chilling to go now because it’s all cornfields and it’s very quiet and lonely and you really get a sense of quiet and foreboding when you’re there. One of the park rangers actually shared this story with me, with us, with our family, um about uhh these strange happenings that occurred around a road known as Bloody Lane in the middle of the battlefield. Some people had reported smelling gunpowder when they walked down the lane and later it was found out that that road had been the site of this kind of standoff between the Unions and the Confederates where they were basically shooting at each other from opposite sides of the road for hours, and thousands of people died there. So it was said you could hear gunshots in the distance or even battlecries. There was also an old bridge in the park, um, where you could supposedly hear distant drumming if you walked over it at night. When I asked the park ranger whether they thought it was true, um she said that uh she had never experienced any of the gunshots or any – she had never heard anything strange. But one time she saw a woman dressed in this very old fashioned style? in the middle of one of the fields? Reading a book. And when she saw her, she assumed she was a reenactor, because there were civil war reenactments all the time, so she assumed it was a costume. But when she asked back at the visitor’s center, when she asked one of the coworkers if they were having any events that day, and the coworker said that they weren’t. So um she didn’t actually believe that she had seen a ghost, but she said that it was definitely one of the stranger things that had happened to her while she was there. When she went back the lady was gone.

 

Performance Context: This legend would be told when tourists would visit the battle site of Antetum in Sharpsburg, Maryland.

 

My Thoughts: I think that this legend was either created or shared as a way to get visitors interested in the history of the place, because everyone loves to hear ghost stories whether they believe in them or not. Such stories help visitors to connect to the site and to make it come more alive, especially for those who are not as fascinated by history.

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Walking Gnomes

The informant, K, is 19 years old. She was born in Long Beach, California but was raised in Los Angeles. Her dad is from Guadalajara, Mexico (Southern Mexico) but moved to the United States when he was 2. Her mom was born in Obregon, Sonora (Northern Mexico) but grew in Mexicali (a US-Mexico border town), and she moved to the United States when she was 18. She is majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Computer Science Minor. She considers herself Mexican-American (or Chicana).

K- “Ok so we have like a folklore of garden gnomes where it’s like, so it’s like my family in Mexico like my tias (aunts) from my mom’s side they believe that garden gnomes they come alive at night. And like the proof they have of it it’s like my grandma used to own gnomes and her neighbors used to own gnomes in Mexico. And the garden gnomes the next day would be found in different places and a lot of stuff was broken and sometimes my mom and her sister would wake up at night, and they used to hear things and they would look outside and they would never see the gnomes there. So there’s that story that they become alive at night in Mexico.”

Did you hear this story anywhere else with other people or other versions of it?

K-“Well recently I was talking to one of my cousins who like is from same side from my mom side and we all grew up here in America but like my cousins was supposedly telling the story to some friends whose parents were also from Mexico and like their parents here in LA here in California their parents own garden gnomes. And the thing is that this friend was telling my cousin that he actually believes what the parents are saying, because one night the garden gnomes were not where they had placed them and they found them inside the house and like the friend found them one night in the house and they were like rolling in the hallway. Since then, they got rid of the gnomes, or at least they tried to. They threw them away but the next day they were in the same place they had put them before. That’s another version, at least from here in California.”

How long ago was the first time you heard this?

K-“Two or three years ago. I just found out about my mom”

Analysis- This story is very interesting in the fact that this is one of the few stories from Mexico where inanimate objects, that are not haunted, come to life. The Mexican culture does not traditionally include creatures such as gnomes but instead, it consist of larger creatures and ghosts. This is because the country did not originally have gnomes until places, such as the United States introduced them to there. This story can be seen as a representation of the fear towards the unknown and the things that are not traditional. Traditions or stories of gnomes coming to life are more common in Europe.

Legends
Narrative

The Cat’s Manor at USC

Folk Piece

Informant: So I live in a house on [REDACTED] street at the North University Park District of Los Angeles, California. Actually, the Governor of California used to live there in the early 1900s. But whoever lived there in the 1940s or ‘50s, um, they, there was a whole third story. Like picture the old victorian houses with the spirals and stuff. But there was this third story and it burned down, like, in this crazy fire. And the like room that burned like more than any others was the room where this crazy woman that lived there had all of her cats. And like all of the cats died, so now like in the middle of the night, if you go up, there’s like this stair case that leads to the roof of the house but as you’re going up this staircase you can see the remnants of this old third floor. Um, cause they like didn’t do a really good job of getting rid of that, and when you’re going up that staircase to the roof, you can hear meows in the middle of the night. I have not personally heard them, but I’ve only gone up there once.”

 

Background information

Informant: “I learned this story when I was a freshman when I joined a group that has lived there the past decade or so. I heard it from a senior who was also a very superstitious guy who said ‘Oh, I like, hear it every night.’  The people who believe it take it very, very seriously. But the people who never experienced it all kind of think of it as a joke.”

 

Context

Informant: “We tell the story when we let in new members. I don’t know, it’s just a fun thing to add to the aura of it all – they’re like, typically freshman, you know? It’s just fun to make them feel like a part of the group with a little story.”

 

Analysis

Ghost animals are not nearly as common as ghost people in folklore, as we’ve talked about in our class with Professor Tok Thompson. Yet, in this story, they are just as eerily scary. That this ghost story includes artifacts that tie the legend into real observable truth, in that the remnants of the burnt third floor are easily accessible, is truly haunting. In the participant telling the story, I could envision walking up the stairs and seeing the charred, blackened floor.

It also seems like there is somewhat of a ritualistic retelling each year for new members of this group. The story helps identify their group because they collectively lease the house year by year, and so in retelling this story and having it be retold primarily by their group, they are owning the house in more than one way. The formal telling of this story to another member is one way to extend that ownership.

Equally as interesting is that this group is a singing group and that the hauntings come in audio form. Oftentimes, ghost stories, legends, and other forms of folklore are described in terms that are familiar to that particular ‘in’ group. In no way am I comparing their singing to the meowing of 40 cats burned alive, but it is interesting that they are auditorily stimulated, rather than visually.

Myths

Train Tracks

3) Train tracks

  • I had a friend in San Antonio who would suggest going to the “train tracks” every night when we would be looking for something to do, insisting that it was the scariest haunted thing she had ever experienced. One night we finally gave in, and she drove us to the South Side of town and told us the legend as we approached. Apparently a school bus stalled on the tracks one morning as a train approached. The conductor tried to stop it but couldn’t, and the train barreled into the schoolkids, killing all of them. Their ghosts still haunt the tracks to this day, and they say that if you park your car on the tracks and put it in neutral it will start to move uphill from the children pushing it out of the way of possible trains. You will even find their tiny fingerprints on your car if you sprinkle baby powder or something on it. We got there and parked. It was very eerie, and once we put the car in neutral it moved a tennsy bit. We got the hell out of there, but I’m pretty sure the car just moved because of an incline.
  • I asked Annalise again, to tell me a folklore myth that she has experienced in her life and this is the story that she told me. When she performed this it was at night, and we were sitting in her dorm, and really added to the creepy vibe of this whole experience.
  • Again, I have never heard of this story before, neither have I been to the south side of town, but it all sounds very interesting and makes me wanna go and experience it. It kind of sounds along the line of those ghostly hitch-hiker story though; that probably something else in nature caused certain things to happen, but people, out of superstition think that it is something supernatural.
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Lepers of Molokai

Another place was Kalaupapa which is where the lepers… it was a leprosy colony on Molokai. I stayed there for a week and there’s like a certain area we were driving through, and there was a big field next to the road and about 2000 bodies buried in the field. We all just got… the most eerie feeling came over us in the car … so clear there was a presence…I think there is a lot of…they would say that those were souls that were never able to be put to rest because they were forced to go to this peninsula and they were trapped there… they were not there by choice, these people suffering from leprosy didn’t want to be there. They’re definitely still lingering on the peninsula.

 

Background: I conducted this interview live, so this story was given to me in person. My friend remembers this story because it happened to her, and there was such a tangible feeling and it was such a visceral experience that she really remembers it very well and it has stuck with her. I had heard about the lepers of Molokai, but I had not known they were trapped on a certain peninsula and forced to stay there; I had originally thought the leper colony was just trapped all over the entire island. That is also scary to me that there are 2000 bodies just buried in the field without the ability to have been put to rest, so I believe that there are probably very strong presences there who reach out to the living in order to try and escape, which is sad. This story is very scary for me to hear.

Magic
Narrative
Signs

Ghost Viewing

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

 

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

 

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

 

Folk Beliefs
Narrative

Haunted Banana Tree

Informant (J.B.) is a 19 year old Los Angeles native. J.B.’s mother is an immigrant from Thailand, and his father is an immigrant from Guatemala. J.B. speaks English, Thai, Korean, Japanese, some Spanish. J.B. and I grew up in the same neighborhood, with mutual friends. One afternoon while overhearing another collection I was conducting, J.B. offered to share a story about his mother.

J.B.: “Back when my mom was a kid she lived in this house that went through a complete change, like renovation. It used to be… a funeral home, but then they turned it into the house. My grandpa bought it without knowing what it used to be, so there would be a lot of weird shit that would happen. Like my mom would wake up by a banana tree, and they would always trip out. A lot of weird shit would happen and they thought it was because it was a death house or whatever. One day she had a really bad fever and she heard a woman crying from out by the banana tree, and she was tripping out. I don’t know what happened after that, she was praying and freaking out and it went away. Nobody else was in the house.”

J.B. is interested in his mother’s ghost story, as it provides a sliver of insight into her youth. J.B. is open to the idea of the supernatural, as both of his parents have witnessed inexplicable experiences which have ultimately become such paranormal memorates.

For children it is common to see or even chase ghosts. I interpret this phenomenon to be not only due to a looser definition for reality, but also the thrill of the unknown (in this case being a banana tree outside the safety of her home).

Magic
Narrative

Haunted House in Jakarta

Papa’s (my grandpa’s) friend and him were living in Jakarta and in the house they were staying in… a house which they rented… which was haunted because the wife sees all the spirits when the men are out working. There are always noises and sometimes she saw people in the kitchen… doing something in the kitchen, and the husband doesn’t believe her. He says, “I don’t believe. That is nonsense. I wish I could see the ghost. I wish he would show me.” One day he was sleeping, and he looked up and he had a calendar of two girls dancing. He looked at the calendar and it was moving and dancing. The girls pictured in the calendar were moving as if they were real. He was so scared. So from that time on he believed. They eventually figured out that under that house was a cemetery. The ghost followed them from this house to another house they lived in, I even heard stories about it later on. Since that time he was so scared and never mentioned it anymore.

Background: My grandpa was a civil engineer whose work required him to constantly move from place to place. This is interesting to hear secondhand from my aunt, as my grandfather passed away. He told this story to her many years ago. This really embodies the essence of folklore as this version of the story may have been different from the original that my grandfather would have told. I conducted this interview live at my uncle’s house, so this story was told to me in person. I really find this story to be very compelling as the belief of each person who lived in the house varied about the spirits — from the wife and husband, to my grandfather. This was very interesting for me to hear about some of the interesting places my grandfather lived and some of the amazing things he did all over the world.

Legends
Narrative

The Colorado Street Bridge

AA is a high school senior living in Arcadia, California. She is certainly a folklore enthusiast- when I collected this piece from her in her bedroom, her bookshelves were stuffed with books about mythologies and tales from seemingly every corner of the world. But I was surprised to hear this legend about a location only miles away from our neighborhood that she shared with me:

 

“Ok, so the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, right? So what I heard is that it’s known to be, like, a suicide bridge, so a lot of students will go there and jump off the bridge. I think there was this one time, uh, where there was this couple that went on the bridge. It was late at night. And they saw this kid, you know, and he was about to jump. And they had persuade him, and coax him for an hour or two so that he wouldn’t jump. He didn’t jump off the bridge. But he disappeared into thin air right after he told them that he wouldn’t jump.

Another story says that a man was just walking down the bridge and there was this certain area where, like, it felt colder than other places on the bridge. The air was still- there was no breeze or anything. And later he found out that someone had actually died jumping off from that same spot.

This legend really fascinates me. I’ve basically asked everyone if they’ve heard anything about it and I’ve read about it online. I’ve never gone to walk around there myself, though- I would be too scared.”

What made you want to look more into this story?

“The bridge is just so pretty. I always wondered about it though- I always wondered why it was just empty. Like, you will never see anyone on the bridge. I remember driving past it at night and the streetlamps were on, do you could totally walk on it- but still it was completely empty. I always wondered why, I drive past this bridge every day and not once have I seen someone walking on the bridge.

It’s interesting because it’s so close to us. It’s this super recognizable landmark. You’ll read about everywhere, it’s one of the things people know about where we live.  And the story is just so sad, you don’t really think about people committing suicide so nearby. It’s such a nice area. You wouldn’t expect it. Also it’s so public. It’s hard to imagine people going there to kill themselves right in front of the highway, in this very recognizable, very public place. It’s very tangible when it’s happening in a place you know. It’s a huge problem.”

The Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, CA

The Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, CA

 

My thoughts: Places with tragic histories almost always have legends surrounding them.  Perhaps these frightening legends are meant to deter people from going there to commit suicide themselves, or to warn people to stay away in case they end up witnessing something traumatic.  While it might have originated as a way of explaining why the bridge is always empty, I think it might have gone the other way around, too. It’s a widely circulated story I’ve heard in my neighborhood, and I think it’s definitely had an impression on the people who have heard it- the bridge is always deserted because people are scared to walk there at night, even though its safe and brightly lit. Also this legend ties into other folklore that claims that the spirits of those who committed suicide might stay behind- again, this is a cautionary tale that denotes suicide as wrong or immoral by presenting potential consequences of committing suicide.

For more on this legend, see Weird California’s write-up, Pasadena’s Suicide Bridge, which discusses the bridge’s tragic history as well as the ghost stories surrounding it: http://www.weirdca.com/location.php?location=57

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