USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘ghosts’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hold your breath out of respect — Cemetery

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty woman from San Jose, CA. The woman will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “I used to do something as a kid and..haha…I still do it now. Haha I don’t know, I guess it stuck around.”

Collector: “What do you do?”

Informant: “Well, whenever my family and I drove past a cemetery, everyone in the car would hold their breaths.”

Collector: “Because you didn’t want the bad spirits to enter you or something?”

Informant: “No, actually. We would do it because my dad told me once that it was disrespectful to breathe in front of all the people who couldn’t breathe anymore. So we held our breaths.”

Context

            The Informant learned this from her father when she was a child, then she passed it on to her younger siblings. She remembers it clearly because she had actually heard about holding your breath when you pass a cemetery thing from her friend. She started doing it though because of the reason her dad told her they did it. It made more sense for her to hold her breath out of respect rather than out of fear. While she laughs about it being ridiculous now, she still does it if she remembers in time.

Interpretation

            Just like the Informant, I had also already heard of holding your breath when you pass a cemetery. And also like the informant, I thought the reason was to keep bad spirits from entering your body. I was surprised and also interested in hearing there was another reason why other people did it. The idea that people passing any cemetery feel the need to show respect to the graveyard is one that makes me both happy and sad. Happy because I’m glad to hear that people want to be respectful of the dead, but also sad because that respect shows itself in the sort of dark way of holding your breath in solidarity with the dead. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this tidbit of information.

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

Haunted Babies

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

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

 

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

 

Context:

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

Background:

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

Analysis:

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

Legends
Myths

The Girl in the Pink Dress

Context:

While talking with my friend (who will be called D), about general folklore. We began talking about Disney stories and ghost stories came up. D then told me about a familiar story to cast members who work in California Adventure. D is in her early 20’s and works at the Disneyland Resort, specifically within the Hollywood backlot attractions and previously worked the attractions in Bug’s Land until construction began for Marvel Land. Her story take’s place in the Animation building which was next door to Bug’s land until recently.

Main Piece:

Back in the 1970’s when DCA was still the parking lot for Disneyland, there was an accident where a tram ran over a little girl in a pink dress. She haunted Bugs Land but since it’s been demolished for Marvel Land she has moved to the Hollywood area. I heard this story from multiple CM’s who have experienced her presence where she is seen as a shadow walking through the theater alone or calling from the Flik’s phone or Heimlich phone from the now demolished Bug’s Land. I had a personal experience with her as well. It was a Saturday when half of the books in the Beast’s Library broke and they were frozen. We kept capacity down and waited for Maintenance to fix it but they had to call someone from WDI so we waited till the next day. On Sunday morning they tried to reset it and all the books had a blue screen. We blocked off the room and now we had to stand guard to make sure guests didn’t go down there while maintenance and WDI were working. I was with another cast member A, at the time and we were watching a family of four (mom, dad and two little girls with brown hair and shorts) when suddenly A turns and asks me if I saw someone go down to the beast’s library. I said no but I said I would check. When I went down there it was dead silent with blue screens all around in the dark. I came back and told her I didn’t see anyone and asked her to describe what she saw. She said she saw a little blonde girl in a pink dress run down there. I told her there were only these four guests and I was watching them the whole time and neither girls had a dress and they had brown hair. We got scared but nothing else happened.

Background:

There is a lot of terminology used in this piece as the experience happened between coworkers at the Disneyland Resort. DCA is an abbreviation for Disney California Adventure. CM is for Cast Member which is what employees are called at the resort. WDI is an abbreviation for Walt Disney Imagineering which is the company that handles the mechanics of the attractions within the resort. The locations mentioned are Flik’s Flyers, Heimlich’s ChooChoo and Tough to be a Bug theatre which is said to be the haunted attraction within that land. Within the Animation building is the Sorcerer’s Workshop where the Beast’s Library is. The library consists of mechanical books much like computer screens, that guests can interact with.

Notes:

As a cast member who works within the Animation building, I am not a stranger to the stories told by fellow cast members about the little girl with the pink dress. She has been known to jump around the attractions within the area that she was said to have passed away. There was a story recently told to me about a cast member receiving a phone call in the Animation building main office from an attraction in bugs land. This was after everything was demolished in the area. There is nothing left but a flat land of dirt. The description of the little girl never changes and cast members aren’t the only ones who have seen her. Guests have described seeing the little girl as well. These sightings and stories coming from different people and different locations adds to the credibility of the ghost existing.

 

Legends
Myths
Tales /märchen

The Lady in White at La Quinta Resort

Context:

The informant is a 45-year-old man and of Mexican ethnicity. The informant is my uncle on my mother’s side. On a trip to Palm Springs, my parents, uncle and aunt, who is referred to as YV in this piece, stayed at the La Quinta Resort for a weekend. On arrival, my uncle experienced something unusual.

Main Piece:

Okay, so we arrived at La Quinta resort at night. We parked curbside about 30 feet from our cottage. Your mum and dad were already inside. YV and I were unloading our bags from the car and I grabbed my things and was walking slowly towards the cottage looking down to the walkway. When I looked forward, I noticed an image of a woman standing near a tree about 40 ft away. She was wearing all white and she had long, black hair. I looked back to see if YV was looking in the same direction, but she was still getting her things from the car.  I quickly turned to where I had seen this woman, but she had disappeared. A shiver ran down my spine. I didn’t immediately tell YV of what I had just seen because I had a feeling she’d freak out.  Unbeknownst to me, YV later showed me a coffee mug she bought from hotel as a souvenir.  The woman on the mug is the woman I saw that night. Again, I felt that same shiver run down my back.

Background:

This is a personal experience that my uncle witnessed firsthand. Prior to this experience, he had no knowledge of hauntings or stories surrounding the Resort.

Notes:

There are similar stories told by other guests who have stayed at the resort regarding ghosts and hearing ghostly voices. A security guard working one night claimed to have seen a ghostly woman walking across the tennis courts at the hotel. Many stories describe experiences within the hotel rooms and bungalows. My aunt YV, experienced something in her room the same night my uncle saw the ghost woman. YV’s description matches the descriptions that other guests have had as well.

 

For more accounts of ghostly experiences at the La Quinta Resort, check this out:

https://www.hauntedplaces.org/item/la-quinta-resort-and-club/

Folk Beliefs
Legends

Gravity Hill Near Echo Mountain

1:

A “Gravity Hill” is a popular occurrence across California: a hill with a downward slope that, due to its surroundings, appears to be an upward slope. Because of this, cars are able to slowly roll down the hill and appear as though they are being pulled uphill. It has been said that at one such hill near Echo Mountain, if you cover the back of your car in powder and leave it for some amount of time and come back, you will find small childrens’ handprints left behind in the powder on your car.

2:

The informant began by talking about Echo Mountain and the lore surrounding it, of which much is distressing and and some is true. The Jet Propulsion Lab nearby had, she insisted she had confirmed, employed “some bigwig” who was also the leader of a satanic cult. Anything that follows, she acted as though was pure speculation.

In some of the camping trails in Altadena, the satanic cult which the bigwig led would meet and perform animal sacrifices. Somewhere nearby there was a mansion at the base of one of the Altadena Camping Trails which was supposedly the hose to local KKK meetings. It is near this mansion, “on the same street”, that the gravity hill is.

3:

A gravity hill on its own doesn’t require much explanation, as it is simply an optical illusion. The added element of “invisible children are pushing your car” is what interested me the most about this urban legend. I think the intention is to imply that the children are ghosts, which would line up with the number of uncomfortable stories floating around about the area in which the gravity hill can be found. This would be very easy to disprove, so I think it probably exists more as a joke which stemmed from the reputation of the area.

general
Legends
Narrative

Chatsworth Trainwreck Haunting

The Folklore:

E: Are there any strange ghost related phenomenons in the valley?

C: Yes, there is a popular belief that after the Chatsworth train wreck, the railroad has been haunted by the ghosts of the people killed in the wreck.

E: What event triggered this urban legend?

C: In 2008, a train derailed and crashed in Chatsworth, California which is located in the San Fernando Valley. 25 people lost their lives in the train crash.

E: What supposedly happens at this train crash site?

C: It is told that if you park your car on a certain part of the train tracks, handprints will begin to appear on all of your car windows. After that occurs, a force begins to push your car off the train tracks. It is said that the handprints that appear on the car are the people that died in the train wreck, and since they don’t want you to also die in a train wreck they push your car off the train tracks.

E: Where did you learn about this urban legend?

C: I learned about this legend about a year after the train accident and my friend from home had actually experienced this phenomenon. This conspiracy is actually very popular and have heard discussion about this phenomenon numerous times from many different people.

E: Have you ever experienced this phenomenon?

C: No, I have never personally experienced this phenomenon, but I have had friends that have experienced this phenomenon.

Context:

This conversation was held in a very casual setting. My friend and I conversed about ghost stories in our surrounding neighborhood. He told me this story as well as another. The train track ghost legend stems from a rumor very close to my informant’s home.

Analysis:

The tragic incident created a story that the community would react to. This story makes people visit the site of the tragedy and it also serves as a means to warn people, don’t park on train tracks. Having lived in the same area for several years, there’s many places in the valley that are supposedly haunted. These stories are used to warn people of dangers but also draw attention to areas where unfortunate events have occurred.

Customs
Festival
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Taiwanese Ghost Month

Informant:

E, a 22-year-old Chinese-Taiwanese female who was born and raised in Los Angeles. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California.

Background info:

E’s first language was English, but because her parents were immigrants, she quickly learned Mandarin as well. Her parents are proud of their culture, and thus they often participated in many Taiwan and Chinese traditions, and believed many of the superstitions, as well. This is one of the superstitions E’s mother believed.

Context:

Late at night, a lot of weird conversations happen. Because E is on a project with me, we were working together at around 2:00am when we started discussing superstitions. When she knocked on wood, it brought this conversation up. The following is a transcript of the conversation I had with E. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Are there any other superstitions that you experienced growing up? With your family or friends? School, even?

E: “I’m not sure that this would count as a superstition, it’s more of a tradition centered around various superstitions… In Taiwan, there is this thing called Ghost Month. It’s in August, but basically there are just things you aren’t supposed to do during this month that could cause you to become haunted by a spirit.”

J: “What kind of things?”

E: “Well… For one, you aren’t supposed to have like… major life events during this month. Like if a child is born during this month, then it means that the child is cursed in some way. Or you aren’t supposed to get married or else ghosts will haunt you and try to break the marriage apart… Swimming and bathing are discouraged otherwise a ghost will try to drown you? Ghosts just don’t like people doing things during this month…”

J: “Do you know when this started? Or when your family started to avoid these things?”

E: “My brother was born in August, so clearly my parents didn’t care haha… But no, it’s mostly like my grandparents and other family still in Taiwan that observe this. My cousins, for example, have like… ghost-themed things in school to sort of like honor the dead. The only thing my dad warned us not to do was get married during August because he believes that’s why his sister got divorced… Otherwise, I think there are just too many things that are considered ‘unlucky’, or bad, during this time to take the tradition seriously.”

Thoughts:

There is a lot to break down with this tradition. It is filled with a multitude of superstitions, but they all sort of revolve around ghosts haunting you for doing things like whistling, swimming, etc. This is very reminiscent of Halloween in the United States; ghosts just roam around looking to haunt people. From E’s recount, it seemed to me like most of these “offenses” were just actions that some would consider unruly. Whistling can become annoying, swimming in places other than a pool could be frowned upon, flying commercially could be supporting corporations, etc. However, I was interested in the abstaining from major life events – specifically the example of her father believing his sister got divorced because she was married in August. A common thread in the folklore I have seen or experienced is that people use it to explain something bad happening. “Oh, it wasn’t that the two people were not meant to be together, it was just the ghosts messing with their marriage.” Or when bad things happen on Friday the 13th, people do not see them as logical events, they blame it all on bad luck.

Narrative

The Cow Head Man

Main Piece:

“When I was a child my mother told me that one late night, she stayed up waiting for my father to return home. It was really late…we lived up in the mountains. So it was always very dark. My mother said that she looked out the sliding back doors and she saw, what looked like a man. She ducked behind the couch quickly as the man walked closer to the sliding doors. When it got up to the doors my mother noticed that the man’s head was that of a cow. It had big black eyes and it just stood there…only moving its eyes from one side to the other. My mother was so scared, she did not know what to do. I think I remember her saying that the cow head man was there for about 10 minutes, looking around. Finally, my father arrived, and his headlights beamed toward the back. That is when my mother looked out again and the cow head man had disappeared.

“This figure, man, or whatever it is has always followed my family and I around.” (when she said this, I asked her what she meant by that, and she continued to tell the story.)

“You see, no matter where we moved to, my mother or me or one of my sisters or brothers said they saw the same man. The last time I saw him it was here (Her current home). I was in the back bedroom, asleep. I was waiting for my husband to arrive. I woke up exactly at 12 midnight. It was weird because my body just woke up on its own, anyway, when I looked over to the window there he was, with his cow head and those huge black eyes. He was just staring at me. I was so afraid. I could not move. There was a point when he looked away from me and that is when I ran right out of there and told my sister. My sister yelled at it and that was not good. You aren’t supposed to test them like that. It’s crazy because it just doesn’t leave us alone.”

 

Context:

The informant is an elderly Caucasian woman born and raised in Tennessee. She first heard about this entity from her mother when she was a child. According to her she has also witnessed the entity with her own eyes. She is not sure why it follows her family around.

 

Analysis: It seems that this story is one shared by many members of this woman’s family. They have all claimed to have encountered this entity in some way or another.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative
Signs

The Lady in White

Main Piece:

“A couple of weeks before my first husband was diagnosed with cancer, I woke up in the middle of the night and saw a spirit of a woman floating in the middle of my room. She was staring toward me but was not looking at me. She looked sad. I decided to close my eyes and hide under the covers. After a while I fell asleep. The next night though, she appeared again, but this time she was much closer to my bed. She was at the end of my bed actually. I was so afraid and decided to slowly walk around her and out the door. My husband woke up after I left and he rushed out of the room as well. He was panting and his face was white. He said he had seen a woman in a white dress floating in the middle of the room and that she was staring right at him. I told him I had also seen her. It was so creepy. A few weeks later he was diagnosed with cancer and he died some months later.”

Context:

The informant is an elderly Caucasian woman born and raised in Tennessee. She had this spiritual experience while married to her first husband who died of cancer. She now believes that the spirit was trying to warn her about her husband having developed cancer. A couple of days after seeing this spirit, her husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Analysis:

I believe that the informant now believes that the spirit she saw was trying to communicate to her the terrible news to come. Maybe back then she might have just felt fear but today the informant truly believes that that spirit was a good spirit.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Material
Protection

Blue Ceilings

Interviewer: Could you tell me about a superstition you have learned from your family in Alabama?

AC: Yes, one in particular that my family took and uses is we have our ceilings in our rooms painted blue. 

Interviewer: What’s the reasoning for that?

AC: The superstition behind it is that people believe that if your ceilings and doors are painted blue then they block spirits and ghosts from passing through to the room. My mom calls it “sleeping under blue skies”.

Interviewer: Why does the blue stop the spirits or ghosts?

AC: It’s supposed to represent water. I guess that they can’t pass through water. 

Interviewer: How do you feel about participating in this superstition? What does it mean to you?

AC: I really like it because like most little kids I would be scared of monsters and ghost being in my room while I was sleeping my room and my parents would tell me that they couldn’t come in because of the blue and it would always reassure me.

Interviewer: Where else have you seen this?

AC: My mom’s whole side of the family lives in Alabama, grandparents and both sets of cousins, and they all use it. But I have seen it in other places in the south at friends homes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida. So it’s more of a southern thing than an Alabama thing. 

Context:  The informant is an eighteen-year-old young woman from Dallas, Texas. Her mother is from Alabama where the rest of her side of their family still lives. She frequently visits Alabama and her family there so she is very familiar with their superstitions. The explaining of this superstition was collected in person at the informant’s dorm in Dallas, Texas.

Analysis: This is a fascinating superstition that is used to calm the fear of ghosts and spirits that kids have. I never realized that this is why blue is often a color of rooms in the south but now I will recognize the meaning behind it when I see this. It is also interesting that this is something the informant’s immediate and distant family all participates in. 

 

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