“There’s this house in my hometown of Castro Valley, California called the Proctor House and it’s near Proctor Elementary School and it’s also near my house. It’s empty now, like no one lives in there, and it’s mostly populated by homeless people or drug addicts. But, basically like teenagers are dared to go in there and there’s this room that you go in and there are all these dolls lined up on the mantle. And the story goes that there was this couple that used to live there together and they um they’re foster parents, like they would bring in kids every so often, and one by one these foster kids would kinda just disappear from the foster system and no one knew why. And it was discovered that this couple had just kinda murdering their foster kids and they murdered like four kids. I heard this story when I was in the 7th grade from my friends when I went in the Proctor house. But I heard it throughout my teenage years. The dolls, like, had the spirits of the kids inside of them, or something.”
This story would mostly be performed by children around the playground or in social situations near his school and the house. As our informant mentioned, he learned this story first from his friends. He would later also tell me that all the parents knew about this story and wouldn’t let their kids go near the house. He said while this was probably because of the aforementioned homeless and drug addicted populations, many kids like the informant would interpret this as an affirmation of the mystic dangers of this house.
The dynamic between the children that recount this story and their parents are what I find to be most intriguing. The children believe the tall tale of the haunted house and the clichéd dolls-as-murdered-children horror story, most likely as its grandiose details are continuously reinforced in those kids’ social circles and media. The parents, however, know the house’s true nature, and that it is potentially very dangerous and filled with drug addicts and squatters. These harsh realities of life might be too much for a kid to hear, and so they simply say “Don’t go into the Proctor House.” Somewhat unintentionally, this furthers the legend of The Proctor House as being haunted. In my research, I couldn’t find any authored material on the Proctor House; this would suggest that this legend is relatively local and new. Perhaps the house became abandoned and overrun when the participant was young, spurring the rumors. When I asked the participant about the story’s origin, he said that he wasn’t sure.
Also interesting is the house’s role as a legend quest. When the kids are old enough to brave a trip into the Proctor House, it’s viewed as somewhat of a rite of passage, affirming their role as a “big kid”, or young adult. Ironically, though, it is their discovery of truth about the house, either firsthand or from their parents, and the loss of the childlike innocence about the house’s true state, that affirms their role as an adult.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
The informant, NVS,is a junior at the University of Southern California majoring in social sciences and psychology. She is from Los Angeles, California, and is of Croatian and Italian descent. This is her memorate regarding a family ghost:
“So my family and I- I was raised as a Catholic and my entire family is Catholic. We are not super strict, but we do go to church and we do follow most beliefs within Catholicism. However, when we experienced- I guess you could call it a supernatural experience- within our house, it changed certain beliefs of ours. Of course we’re still Catholic today but we know have more of an open mind when it comes to certain things.
A little bit of background on our house: our house was the original house that my parents moved into before my siblings and I were born. There was a prior owner to the house. My parents kept the original format of the house until they remodeled it 8-10 years ago.
So one day, my mom was working around the house and she kept hearing these noises around the house. She didn’t think it was a big deal. She thought maybe that it was our dad doing things around the house but then she would realize “oh wait, I’m home alone!”
So she would hear footsteps and knocks, but she’s not the kind of person who gets scared easily. She didn’t think much of it until the situation started to…progress. Not in a bad way, it just became more intense. It wasn’t to the point where she couldn’t stand it, it was more like “okay, there’s something here but I can’t quite understand what it is.” She would always get the sense that someone was watching her, not in a negative way, just the feeling that something was with her and that she was not alone in the house. My mom would experience these things even when we were babies. I’d say it started when they first moved in- it started a long, long time ago. Once she had us it started to get more intense. When my parents remodeled the house, more stuff started happening even more frequently and I think it had to do with the renovation of the house because the original parts of the house were altered.
So one day…it’s kind of funny because my dad doesn’t believe in any kind of supernatural phenomena or ghosts or anything. He’s more science based, like “prove it to me scientifically, and then I’ll believe it”. He’s very close minded to THAT kind of stuff. My mom was not bothered by it, she accepted it. My sister and I-when we were little kids- we noticed things too, but my mother never talked to us about it. We approached her, actually, with the same things she experienced and that’s when she confirmed with us that she was hearing these things too. One of the big things was that we would always here, like, someone always calling our names? Ever so slightly. When I was little, I would always here my name being called out- it was actually my nickname that only my family uses! One day, it sounded like my dad calling me, but my dad wasn’t home. This actually happened many times, always when my dad was out of the house. So I think we established that it was this male energy in our house- not a bad energy, but we could sense that it was a male presence. You can just feel it.
My mom, my sister and I, the three of us- it’s kind of funny, just the girls in the family would experience these things. But my dad never experienced them, maybe because he was so close-minded or maybe even because he was male. Up until he finally saw it for himself.
I want to say this happened recently, a year or two ago. My dad was walking through the living room. The only original part of the house that we never changed was the living room. There were, at both ends of the room, two mirrors facing each other. We never thought too much of it until these things started to happen. It’s said that two mirrors facing each other is not the greatest idea…I’ve heard that it can open up a portal to somewhere else, some kind of dimension. I don’t know how I feel about that, but it’s something I’ve always heard. My dad was going about his business through the house that day when he saw, no joke, an apparition- not even an apparition, a full person! A solid person, literally to the point where he could describe to us later what he looked like. He had brown, curly hair, a green polo shirt, pants and everything- but the one thing he said that was odd was that this figure didn’t have feet! Whatever my dad saw, was clearly an apparition of some kind, not a real person.
But- no joke! He saw someone, or something. And my dad is not the type of person to make anything like this up. I have never seen him so scared and so in shock in my life- he didn’t talk to anyone for like a couple of days! That’s how shocked he was. And then he came to us saying, “This is what happened, this is what I saw.” And my mom just accepted it, like, “we know already!” It’s interesting how the women in the family experienced similar things and then my dad, who was completely closed off to belief in the supernatural, had the most extreme encounter out of all of us.
Small things continue to happen in our house. In terms of talking back to them, I never get a response. If I go throughout the house looking for the source of the voice, no one is ever there. We took one mirror down after what happened to my dad. This didn’t completely get rid of the sounds we hear around the house, but we definitely notice a difference in the level of how much it occurs- it’s not as intense.
Later we found out- and this is really interesting- that my dad’s description of the man fit the previous owner of the house’s appearance to a T. He died, I don’t know if it was in the house, but her died of natural causes…we asked our neighbors about the house. They have lived there forever, even before anyone else, and they knew more about our house’s history than we did. When my dad described what happened to him, they pulled out a picture of the man who had lived there before us and he was identical to my dad’s vision. We assume that what he saw was the ghost of the original owner of the house, and he was still attached to the house. The renovations we did seemed to spark something- I don’t think they made him angry. I think he just wanted to let us know that he was there with us, kind of watching out for us.
What does this story/experience mean to you?
This experience, for all four of us, made us more open-minded to encounters with the unknown or the unfamiliar. We now truly feel that there are things out there that we can’t fully understand that may be greater than us. They’re not necessarily bad things- they can also be there to protect us, or simply coexist alongside us. Knowing exactly who it is- the previous owner of the home- makes us more comfortable with the situation.
What kind of people have you shared this story with? Is it more of a private family story?
Honestly, I share it with both believers and non-believers. I’m open about it and willing to share it with everyone to see if they connect with it. I think it may be helpful for others who may be skeptical to get that perspective. It’s not something I hide, or that I’m scared of sharing.”
My thoughts: I think this legend is really fascinating because it engages directly with the idea of belief, including religious belief, belief in the supernatural, and skepticism. It illustrates how religious families can have specific beliefs that don’t necessarily exist within organized religion, or how skeptics may end up believing in legends after personal experiences. This memorate also illustrates how places with a lot of history- such as old homes- often have legends such as ghosts stories attached to them.
The Winchester Mystery House is a house that was built in San Jose, California, in the 1800s, occupied by a husband and wife. As the story goes, as relayed by the informant, the woman in the story was paranoid that her husband’s ghost and others in the house would attempt to haunt her. Then, the woman, to avoid collisions with the supernatural, built several traps to fool her husband’s ghost: staircases that led nowhere, extra rooms, dead-ends, etc.
Interestingly, the house has since been turned into a tourist property, where, playing off the above legend, visits can pay for night tours through the “haunted house”. The Winchester Mystery House remains open to the public. Tours can be scheduled at its official website: http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/
It is impossible to know if the folklore surrounding the property caused the site to become a tourist attraction–or if the folklore was fabricated in order to promote the tourist attraction.
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).
Informant (A.G.) is an 18 year old student from Los Angeles.
A.G.: “My mom is really religious and my grandma is really religious. I was raised Catholic and I used to go to church and stuff”
While his “dad is Italian” and his “mom is Colombian,” they “both grew up in Columbia” to come here when they were “18 or 19.” Alex’s mom is a “stay at home mom,” and his dad does “construction” and owns some local “properties.” We grew up in the same area of Los Angeles, and started to hang out in high school. He was telling some ghost stories at a party one weekend, so I set up an interview for the following Saturday afternoon. I picked him up and brought him to our mutual friend’s house to conduct the collection.
A.G.: “In my apartment building, we used to live in one of the back apartment units.”
While the family still owns the apartment building, A.G. has since upgraded to a nearby house.
A.G.: “At the dinner table… my brother and sister used to talk about stuff that would happen to them because our house was super creepy.”
Here “our house” refers to the family’s apartment building.
A.G.: “The roofing in the house used to be really fucked up and you could see through the roof to the wooden beams. My sister and brother said that every night there were these two green dots up there looking down into the bunk bed. My sister said that one night it just wasn’t there anymore. They said it looked like eyes or something.”
By only sharing their unpleasant supernatural experiences attached to the old building after moving out, A.G.’s siblings expressed relief in the move to the family. As A.G.’s siblings’ description of the unidentified eyes don’t doesn’t mention them belonging to any particular entity, I inferred that the building itself was responsible. Further, A.G.’s description of the building suggests it was not an ideal environment to grow up. I interpret A.G.’s siblings’ scary story as expression of both happiness for having moved, and fear for the condition of the apartment building.
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.
Informant: Great Aunt Charlotte was sick in bed once, and she looked up and saw the ghost of her tiny granny—quietly, quietly rocking in her rocking chair, smoking her corn-cob pipe.
Me: You believe in ghosts?
Informant: Oh, yes. The house in Berkeley was haunted, you know.
Informant: Oh, yes. It was Luther. I passed it on the stairs, sometimes, and I could feel the inner—inner, you know—the inner stuff. And Uncle David said he always saw the rocking chair on the porch rock by itself. And I—we had a couple people—a couple people say they saw the lights flickering, going on and off. It was Luther.
The informant (my grandmother) was born in Missouri and has lived in Berkeley, CA for close to sixty years. She has always been a remarkably hard worker; she was raised by her uncle on his farm, where she more than carried her own weight, and, after completing four years at Penn State (where she was the only female Chemistry major at the time), she insisted on paying her uncle back every dime of her tuition. The informant moved out to California, went to graduate school at Mills College, and became a nutritionist working with nursing homes and other care facilities to develop standards for feeding different types of patients. After having two sons, the informant became the President of the Parents Association for the Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA and remained an active member of the Claremont Book Club.
This particular set of anecdotes came while the informant and I were discussing her house in Berkeley, which she was forced to sell a few years ago for financial reasons. The informant admits to “checking up” on the house frequently to see what the buyers have been doing to remodel it, and was outraged to find they’d changed the layout of the living room (a room visible only from the rear of the house, which means the informant broke into the gated backyard of a property she no longer owns to peer through the windows). Given her attachment to the house (she and her husband owned it for over forty years and raised two sons there), I was no all that surprised to hear that she thought the ghost of her late husband—Luther—haunted the place.
The informant specified feeling a kind of ghost energy, seeing objects move on their own, and flickering lights as signs of her late husband’s presence. All these phenomenon, in my opinion, are easily explainable. The informant is old and her staircase is very tall; perhaps the “energy” she felt was a response to the physical exertion. The rocking chair was stationed on the outdoor porch, so perhaps the wind rocked it. The house was in dire need of renovation (thought the informant would disagree), and I don’t doubt that the electric wiring through the house was ten to twenty years out of date. However, the informant firmly believes that the cause of these phenomenon was her husband’s ghost—no doubt, her belief stems from FOAF (friend of a friend) instances of ghost encounters, such as Great Aunt Charlotte’s, and a wider group of family members who seem to believe.
The informant is a 21 year old girl and one of my good friends. She mentioned once living across the street from a haunted house, so when interviewing her, I asked her to give me details about this house. The house in the story is located in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Informant: Back in the 20s or the 30s, everyone says that the house across the street- from my newer house in the past 10 years- was owned by a dentist and his wife and three kids [all below the age of ten]. It is said that he got really stressed at work one day and that he was bipolar and he came back home and locked his wife and kids in the garage and then burnt the house down. Like put gas all around the house and burnt it down. And they said that he went to jail and everything. No one really knows if it is true or not because it was back in the 20s but that is the haunted scary story around my neighborhood. People live in it now. And I think people just think that it is evil. It is one of those hosues that everyone points out when you drive by it. Since it is owned by people, you can’t go inside.
Me: How long have you known that story?
Informant: Known that story since I was in middle school.
Me: Who told it to you?
Informant: My old neighbor told it to me… their dad. He was like 40 at the time, and it was my old neighbor though, so that was like 15 miles away from the house. So it is not just in my area that people know about it. It is all of Charlotte that knows that it is the scary house. It just happens to be across the street from me now.
Me: Why do you think people think it is haunted?
Informant: People think it is haunted because they think that the kids and the wife are haunting the house now because they were burned inside there. (lots of giggling)
Me: Do you belive it?
Informant: I believe that a guy did do that because so many people say that he did. I don’t know if I believe that it is haunted. I believe in ghosts. But mostly nice ghosts. I do not believe they are there to hurt people. I just think it scares people. Jeez you should ask [informant featured here] about ghosts.
Me: Okay, I will
Informant: No… I do believe in ghosts. I think they are just lingering spirits. Just remnants of souls are around, and I do not think they mean any harm. So I would not say it is haunted, but I do believe that there is probably spirits if that did happen.
My analysis: I think it is interesting how the informant chooses to believe only in nice ghosts, not in mean or scary ones. She also mentioned believing that ghosts are lingering spirits and souls of the deceased. This too is interesting because there is no scientific evidence or hard data of any sort to prove that humans even have souls. The concept of souls, in and of itself, is a folkloric belief. The informant’s belief in kind ghosts aligns perfectly with her personality. Her beliefs are clearly molded by the way she was raised and her naturally bubbly, happy demeanor.
Information about the Informant
My informant is a USC undergraduate student majoring in Theatre. He used to have a major in the cinematic arts, and acted in a few student films produced by his fellow students.
“So I was filming a student film here on campus a couple years ago. Uh, it was a–I was like–the film never actually got produced but I was a killer. I was like a serial killer or something. With all his–it was real–all like themed killings. It’s all pretty…insane. And, uh. We didn’t have a permit. So we got approached by a DPS officer. And we were all scared we were gonna get like…or the director at least was scared that we were gonna get busted. I didn’t care ’cause, you know, I’m just the actor. I can’t be held accountable for any of this. Uh. And… But she doesn’t say anything, she actually, uh, starts…talking to us and I forget how…this came up. But she starts talking about this house near campus. And uh, this is at night. And apparently this house near campus is haunted. And…because she said that like fellow officers have been in it to like…look at stuff or whatever, and there’ve been voices and moving things, spooky stuff. And uh, she said that apparently a family lived there, and…two–I’m pretty sure it was only two of the members of the family are…actually there as ghosts now. And they’ve been…messing with stuff, and…I think she said–yeah, she said one of them is friendly and the other one’s pretty…spiteful and vindictive. Uh. And so basically it’s not a place you wanna go. And I don’t know where it is. But…it’s around here somewhere.”
Finally, a ghost story about USC. According to my informant, he had no real personal reason for remembering this story that the DPS officer told; he remembered it because it was part of the larger story that almost got their filming crew “busted.” But for me, and possibly for any other USC student hearing the story, it’s interesting because it presents a side to the DPS that we as students don’t normally hear about. It raises interesting questions as to why the DPS investigate this house that often in the first place and how the story is told amongst themselves. When one of them is told to go investigate it, how does he or she feel about this if he or she has been told about the supposed history of this house? It is curious that this story does not circulate amongst the student population of USC as ghost stories usually thrive amongst young adults around college-age, especially when it involves a location near them. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that this house is probably not one open to the public and thus the only legal reason a person would have for ever entering the house is to investigate it for some official reason, as the DPS officers do in this account. But it is still odd that even rumors of this house have not appeared en masse amongst the students and that even a Google search for haunted locations in the USC area turns up nothing except staged haunted houses for the purposes of Halloween celebrations.