USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘graveyard’
general
Legends
Narrative
Protection

The Witch of Yazoo

(Setup)

Storyteller:

“On my dad’s side of the family…he grew up in a town called Yazoo City, Mississippi. And did you ever see a movie called My Dog Skip?

Me: “No”

Storyteller: “Okay, so it’s a movie..based on a book about an author who grew up in the same town as my dad did. A white author who grew up there. And in the movie, they portray this legend which is the Witch of Yazoo. And supposedly, people are like ‘well he invented that for the book.’ On the black side of town…because it is Mississippi so there is still a very distinct black side of town. On the black side of town, the Witch of Yazoo was a preexisting legend. And again, whether it was a story he coopted or whatever, I don’t know. But I know that I heard about this form my aunt and uncle before I ever heard of this author or My Dog Skip or anything.”

(Here is the chunk of the story)

Storyteller: “And so, basically the story is that there was this woman and she was…and I’m going to try to remember it as accurately  as I can. I believe she was having… an affair with a man in town and it was either an affair…or some sort of family drama. I don’t remember specifically that part of it. But she ends up being murdered essentially by the man in her life in a fire. And then they bury her and everyone forgets about it. And then at a certain point fairly soon after…or it may have bene close to the anniversary of the death, half the town burnt down. And everyone was like wtf, like what happened. And her grave had been dug up.”

Me: “Oh My God!”

Storyteller: “And so people were like…’It was her! She came back and she did it’. And of course people were like ‘that’s crazy.’ But also people were like ‘um maybe?’ So they built a chain that goes around her grave that is supposed to keep her inside.”

Me: “Oh My God, that’s terrifying”

Storyteller: “And in the movie, if you see the movie My Dog Skip, it’s like a crypt that’s there…but in the black cemetery there was a grave because we went to see my grandmothers grave and I asked about it and my aunt was like ‘oh girl lemme tell you this story.’ So either there is one for the black side of town…because you know it used to be very segregated. Or it was a thing that happened on the black side of town originally and it just got coopted on the other side of town…I have NO idea. But it is this hilarious thing because it was this chain with GIANT weights and I was like ‘what the hell is that?!’ And yeah, so the inspect the chain…or at least they used to supposedly…they inspect it so she couldn’t come back.”

Me: “So this was true and it became a movie? Or what?”

Storyteller: “The thing is I have no idea…my aunt tells that story as if it is gospel truth right? But then when the movie came out and I looked it up, all this stuff online said it came from the book. But my aunt told me that story without ever having read that book. Because I asked her and she was like ‘what are you talking about?’ And she knew the guy (the author) but she had never read the book. So I don’t…I have no idea if it’s just one of those local stories that people know so he used it in the book or what…But it’s the south and it’s full of ridiculous scary stories. Really I think all these stories are made to just keep us from doing bad stuff or whatever.”

 

Background: The storyteller is form the south and her dad’s side of the family is from the city where this legend takes place. After listening to her other story that she shared with me, it is clear that her family has passed down many stories that are unique to the south. The storyteller is a professional writer and has used some of these stories and filled in the gaps to write short stories upon the narrative.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me three stories…a couple were stories from New Orleans and the other was this one. Both occurring in the south. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is in a different post)

Thoughts:  I think that the stories that come from the south are fascinating. I don’t know what it is that draws me and so many other people to them. Perhaps it’s because the stories are incredibly rich or perhaps it’s the stories’ attention to details that make the stories so real. There are a lot of stories about revenge in the south and once again, I believe that this is the case because there is a lot of unsettled business. There have been a lot of wrong done in the south and the only way for people to cope with what happened may be to create stories that serve a small percentage of justice to those that were killed or unfairly harmed.

 

 

Gestation, birth, and infancy

Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Walk in Graveyards

A, the informant, heard this from her grandmother as well as it just being a common belief of her Jewish culture and religion. Her mother made sure never to go to a graveyard when she was pregnant with her, but she really had no reason to go to a cemetery anyways at that time.

This is a Jewish superstition that applies to pregnant women. However, I know common beliefs  about this are held in various cultures concerning women not going into cemeteries when they’re pregnant.

“Pregnant women aren’t supposed to go to graveyards because apparently at the stage they’re in, they’re open to receiving demons. So if they walk through a graveyard…well…the souls are thought to enter them. Them, meaning both the baby and the mother. Then once you have the baby, it will be cursed and so will you. So…just avoid cemeteries when you’re pregnant.”

I feel like I’ve heard this before or something similar. As far as most superstitions, this one makes some sense to me. For those who really believe in a graveyard as a very spiritual place filled with ghosts, it makes sense that they would not want to expose a baby to those potentially harmful spirits. Graveyards already kind of creep me out and I do believe in ghosts, so I could see myself believing in this superstition.

Customs
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Emo’s Grave

Informant account:

“There is a district, a sort of suburban district in Salt Lake City, Utah called ‘The Avenues,’ and it runs from A to Z. At the top of the Avenues is the oldest cemetery in the state. It was established when Brigham Young lead the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley. Anyway, there’s one grave site called Emo’s Grave. And that’s the epitaph, ‘Emo.’ There’s no birth date, there’s no death date. But it’s that kind of gated sort of memorial where there are benches inside but nobody can sit on them because it’s gated around. But you can reach through, and there’s sort of a crevice that’s been chiseled out of the grave itself, where initially I guess the family left flowers or something. But, um, regardless it’s cold stone.”

“On certain evenings, usually Friday the 13th or the evening thereof, um, teenagers will go up to Emo’s Grave and from inside the stone, smoke will start emanating. And this has been corroborated by several different accounts. And then someone will walk up and say ‘Emo’s Grave, Emo’s Grave, Emo’s Grave,’ and they will put their hand inside the crevice and it will feel warm. And people have left things there in the late evening to come back the next morning to find them gone, and these aren’t just, like, berries and things that birds can pick up because for one a bird can’t get in there, and for two, like I said: Not light things. So there’s a bit of supernatural suspicion that surrounds Emo—this mysterious individual named Emo—and his grave.”

I then asked how he came to hear about this piece of folklore, to which he responded:

“It’s become a sort of rite of passage for teens to go up to the Avenues cemetery and go through this Emo ritual.”

So I asked the next logical question, did he do it?

“I did.”

What happened?

“It happened.”

Did he find anything?

“We found ourselves to be scared. Because, this is like thirteen, fourteen years old, right? And it might have been—your mind fills in what you want to see. I mean it’s the same concept with the face on Mars. You want to see the face and so you do. But I swear there was smoke, I swear there was heat. We left a note; it was gone the next day, so, yeah, eerie.”

My favorite piece of folklore that I collected, I really couldn’t have asked for better. It’s a rite of passage that’s become traditional for these Salt Lake teens, and best of all my informant actually went through it. I suspect Emo’s Grave has proliferated because of the aesthetic of the site itself, bolstered by these ever increasing accounts of people visiting the grave under the right conditions. Along the way Friday the 13th got tied in with this death-based ritual, as well as the rule of three. I love the way my informant seems perfectly aware of how amusing and perhaps slightly ridiculous the whole thing might sound, but when talking about his own experience at Emo’s Grave is sure that, as far as he can tell, things happened that he couldn’t rationally explain. A testament to the power of folk rituals.

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