USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘haunting’
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.

Folk Beliefs

Haunted Bedroom

Title: Haunted Bedroom

Interviewee: Steven Miao

Ethnicity: Chinese-American

Age: 19

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): In his room at Webb tower at USC in Los Angeles. Me and the interviewer.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “Apparently my sister thinks my room back home is haunted. Every time she sleeps in my room, she wakes up in the middle of the night with a heavy chest. She is superstitious and a believer in spirits. She has tried to make me move out of my room once. My parents were worried about me, and asked if I woke up at night with a heavy chest. She said it was the spirits of ancestors that were angry with us.”

Interviewer- “When was the first time you heard about this?”

Interviewee- “Well it kind-of just was, ever since we had moved into that house that we live in now. She never like the house, and for some reason especially me room. She just always has really…weird experiences when she sleeps in that room. I don’t know, it’s seems fine to me. I never had anything wrong with it. I like my room actually, it’s nice.”

Interviewer- “Is this a story you like to tell people about?”

Interviewee- “Not really. I mean I usually tell people that story if they ask if I know of any ghost stories or things like that. But no I don’t particularly like telling people this story. To be honest it creeps me out a little thinking about that fact that my sister could be right…”

Analyzation: The Interviewee seems to recall this story in multiple parts, more coming back to him as he speaks more. It is obvious that this story indeed is not one that he tells often, because he does not remember most of it. But that is how it goes, especially since he said himself that he does not like talking about it much. Perhaps allowing the idea of ghosts or ancestors living in his room unnerves him, as he recently has had trouble with his parents, and worries about what his parents think of his life’s choices. That being said, it makes sense that the sister is worried about the Interviewee, and that she worries that the ancestors of both of them would be unhappy with what the Interviewee is doing with his life, which is contrary to traditional Chinese practices.

Tags: Haunted Room, Haunting, Ancestors

Legends
Myths
Narrative

Woburn Abbey Ghost Story

TK: Did you ever see a ghost?

LK: No but they moved all the bathroom doors and wardrobes open and everything.

TK: Wait explain.

LK: I went to see my friend he lives in Woburn Abbey in England (was a house to priests or monks or something) for the weekend. I left after one day, I couldn’t do it, it freaked me out. (stuttering) It’s a house a family owned, it was an abbey, now it’s a public inn; not sure what it is to see all the stuff. It is known to be haunted. My mom’s friend grew up there and always saw ghosts growing up as a child. Mind you, he only told my mom this much later.

TK: Who’s they?

LK: Robin, aka Lord Russell. We went for dinner and spent the night. Robin was in his room, I was in my room and who else went with us? I don’t know, a couple other friends? Robin told us stories about when he was a kid when he grew up it was haunted.

TK: What was?

LK: The house. It freaked me out and I couldn’t believe we were out there stuck, two hours away from everything, couldn’t get back, and had to spent the night there. It was a residence on the top floor. They gave me a room that had three wardrobes, one on this side, one on that side and one with the TV. The bathroom door was over here (gesturing). I left the bathroom door open and all the wardrobes were shut

TK: Were you in the room alone?

LK: Yeah, everyone was ALL THE WAY DOWN THE HALL. So I was watching television and the TV kept popping in and out like a switch (acting it out) Meanwhile his mom came in to give me a pill to calm me down because I couldn’t handle it. I guess I finally fell asleep with the TV on and woke up to find every single wardrobe door open and the bathroom door was shut and the door to the bedroom was locked.

TK: Then what?

LK: I freaked out a little bit. I got up, I closed the wardrobe drawers, went to the bathroom and unlocked the bedroom door (laughing, thinking, nodding head) um…all the stuff in the bathroom and the toiletries were on the floor, toothbrush, toothpaste, everything that I had used to shower and everything.

TK: So then what?

LK: Picked everything up. I would say that was about three in the morning-ish. I opened the bedroom door to see the hallway, you know, I was freaked out.

TK: How did you go back to sleep after that?

LK: I sort of laid there. I thought Robin was playing  a trick on me, you know, so I actually walked down the hall, now that I think about it and walked all the way down the hall to see if they were up and didn’t really know which room they were in for sure and decided not to go all the way (shaking head) I didn’t want to see anything I was petrified. So I went back to my room put the TV on and I guess eventually fell asleep again and that was it. I woke up in the morning.

TK: What happened in the morning?

LK: I asked them if they had played a joke on me and they said no, oh come on, laughing, they go not at all. It was freaky. We were having breakfast and I said that’s it we’re not staying here anymore and his parents were laughing.

TK: Who were you with?

LK: His parents live at the house and his younger brother and I went there with Robin. And that was it.

THE INFORMANT: The informant was my mom. She was family friends with the Russells who were occupying the estate, and this occurred in the late 80s. This was the only time she experienced a ghostly visitation and the way she describes it makes it clear that she was disturbed by the incident although the family did not take it very seriously, possibly because they had dealt with the ghost before.


ANALYSIS: Woburn Abbey has long been known as a place haunted by ghosts and spirits, much like other English estates with a long history and many previous occupants. According to the website Ghostly Rooms, which catalogues ghost sightings in homes, “It is also said…there is a spirit that haunts the private chambers of Woburn Abbey. This spirit manifests itself by walking through the lounge, without being seen. The door will open on one side and the sound of footsteps move across the floor as the spirit passes through. Once on the other side the other door would open and then slams shut as the spirit leaves. In the 1960s this ghostly activity became so frequent that the Ducal family had to move their television to another room so the could watch the television without the chance of being disturbed.” This seems eerily similar to the experience my mother had, in which she was in one of the private chambers and noticed doors opening without explanation as well as a disturbance of her possessions.

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

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The Bell Witch Haunting

“The legend of Bell Witch is a famous haunted house story in Tennessee.  There was once a farmer named John Bell who moved to a farm land in what is now known as Adams, Tennessee.  One day, John saw a strange animal in the field, so he tried to shoot it and it disappeared.  After that incident, the members of the family began hearing strange noises around the house.  The noises got worse and the family started hearing voices as well.  Soon, they were physically affected when the spirit would actually pull their hair, slap their faces, throw things, and much more.  After the presence became extremely unbearable, John decided ask around to receive help.  No one was able to get rid of the spirit because it was so powerful.  In the end, John got very sick and the spirit finally killed him after it poisoned him.  Today, it is believed that some areas in Adams are haunted because of Bell Witch.  Visitors have supposedly heard voices and sounds of laughter.  Also, people have taken pictures on the property, but the developed pictures would show a man standing behind the visitor in the picture.”

This legend is popular in Tennessee, so my informant heard about it after she moved to Tennessee from Texas several years ago.  Her friends and neighbors also mention the Bell Witch legend occasionally because of its popularity.  Theresa learned more about the legend after the movies Bell Witch Haunting and An American Haunting were made.  The movies provided her with a more thorough understanding of the story and the haunting that went on in the Bell house.
Because she has been exposed to this well-known legend as a Tennessee resident, my informant thinks about the story when the topic of haunted houses comes up.  Haunted houses remind her of the legend of Bell Witch, so she shares what she knows with people who don’t know the story.
Even though she shares this legend with those unfamiliar with it, she does not believe that it is true.  She does not believe in ghosts, so she does not think that the incidents that happened at the Bell house had to do with spirits and witches.  Although the tale of Bell Witch contains many supernatural occurrences, she does not have any explanation as to why the Bell family was taunted by a spirit.
Since I do believe in ghosts, I think that this story is highly credible.  Some of the incidents in the story do not really make sense, but I think that the Bell family could very likely have been haunted by Bell Witch.  There would not be a legend like this or recent incidents if none of this were true.  The fact that there are museums, researchers, and attractions dedicated to Adams, Tennessee reveals the legitimacy of the legend.  Visitors have experienced supernatural confrontations that relate back to the Bell family.  I do think that the property is haunted, even though I’m not quite sure I believe the entire background story.

Annotation:
Fitzhugh, Pat.  “The Bell Witch Haunting.”  The Bell Witch “Keeping the Story Real.”  16 Jan     2007.  21 April 2007 <http://www.bellwitch.org/story.htm>.

Folk Beliefs
Legends

Hauntings at Elsinore Theater

“There’s a story about the Elsinore Theater in Salem. It’s supposedly supposed to be haunted. I’ve heard that they’re actors and actresses that use to perform on the stage in the past that died, and now they’ve come back to haunt the theater and to watch those who use the stage now. My friend said she read somewhere that the original owner’s daughter died in Elsinore and that she also haunts the theater. There’s supposed to be some place on the stage that’s a cold spot. If you’re on that place while performing, you’ll suddenly feel the temperature drop, and you might see a weird figure watching you. Also, there have been reports of people in the scaffolding area, and also of a dark figure visible from the stage, walking around the aisles during performances.”

This information was told to my informant during a choir benefit concert. She was there with her orchestra to play Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” with the choir. As she was in the waiting room before her performance time, she was talking with some of her choir friends, and they passed on these stories of the theater. She said it was definitely a bit creepy for her, as it was late in the evening in winter, so there was a lot of howling wind and dreary rain. She refused to go to the bathroom by herself, after hearing these accounts, as she was afraid she would encounter one of these ghostly apparitions. Although she does not really believe these accounts to be true, she said something about the theater just seems eerie to her now.

I have been to the Elsinore Theater myself, although I have never heard about these possible hauntings. It is an old and beautiful theater, and I could see how rumors like these could have arisen. For me, places where art is made such as music and plays, these places seem a bit romantically scary. It is almost as though past performers or composers, or the subjects of the plays or music seem to linger around in these areas of high emotion and passion. Elsinore Theater seems to be one of those places where even fairytales can come true.

Folk Beliefs
general

Scissor Lock

“I’ve personally, firsthand experienced scissor lock. You know, sleep paralysis. I’ve experienced scissor lock multiple times, but this one is the most frightening and eerie. The whole day was just super eerie. It was one day when I was feeling sick and tired after school. My parents were at work and my sister was off at soccer practice. I decided to lay in my bed to try in sleep. Well, I was starting to drift off to sleep when I heard somebody downstairs, walking back and forth and opening drawers and cupboards. I thought my mom had come back from work early, so I just went laid back down. I got thirsty though, so I went out of my room and yelled downstairs, asking my mom for a cup of water. There was no response. So I went downstairs, but no one was there. Feeling weird, I called my parents and my sister. They all said they had not come home today, and told me I was probably dreaming. But I swear, I wasn’t dreaming, I heard someone. Feeling extremely weird, I decided to just shake it off and go back to bed. That’s when I experienced scissor lock. I experienced it three times in a row, it was the scariest thing ever. What happened was, I went to sleep. Then, I’m not sure if my eyes were even open, or if this was happening in my brain, but I was awake, but I couldn’t move at all. Inside, I was screaming out to my body to move, but I was just stuck, like I was under some binding spell. As this was happening, I saw the dark figure of a lady standing by my bedroom door and staring at me. I freaked out and somehow broke from the paralysis. I was thoroughly scared, but so tired that I just went back to sleep. It happened another time. This time, I could almost feel myself sleeping into scissor lock, even when I felt like I was screaming out to stop. Once again, I was frozen, even though I wanted to yell and flail my arms around. This time I saw the lady again, and she was closer to me, like right next to my bed. She was staring down at me. The worst thing is that I couldn’t even move to escape from her. Eventually after struggling I slightly woke up, groggily. Once again though, I fell back asleep again, almost immediately. This is the last time I had the scissor lock. This time the lady was sitting on me and staring down at me. I was so freaked out after waking up that I turned on all the lights and blasted Christian music.”

As my informant told me this account of his sleep paralysis, he became so scared again that he refused to go home. He said his sister and his other friends had also experienced this scissor lock before, which is the Korean version of sleep paralysis. This experience made him believe in the supernatural. He believes there is some kind of evil out there, whether it is ghosts or spirits or demons he does not know, but there is something. I have heard that sleep paralysis is called something different in each culture, and is scissor lock for Korean. I am not sure why exactly it is called this, although if translated directly from the Korean word for it, it has something to do with being pushed down. This goes along with the idea that sleep paralysis occurs when a ghost or spirit is lying on top of the victim, causing paralysis, which is what my informant saw the third time he experienced the paralysis. I have heard of different accounts of this phenomenon and different explanations for it, including religious ones that it is a demon trying to make scare or lure someone who is spiritually well. I just hope I never have to experience this, as it seems quite frightening.

Myths

The Franklin Castle

Informant Bio

My informant grew up in Kent, Ohio, attended Bowling Green State University, and spent over ten years after graduation living and working in Cleveland, Ohio. She is a self-professed lover of cities and turn-of-the-century architecture. She considers herself every bit a midwesterner, though she now resides in California.

My informant told me about the Franklin Castle while discussing her plans to visit Ohio this summer.

The Franklin Castle

The Franklin Castle is a mansion-sized Victorian stone house in Cleveland, Ohio that is commonly believed to be haunted. My informant told me that the story she heard is that the man who built the Castle in the 19th century was a twisted, evil man who would kill travelers that he would allow to stay in one of the house’s many rooms. The many rumored ghosts haunting the place are supposedly the spirits of those the man killed.

The Castle is full of hidden passageways and storage places that were likely used by servants. Apparently a recent renovation attempt did uncover bones in one of these hidden compartments in a wall. Tests done on the bones showed that they were very old, however my informant puts more faith in rumors that the bones were planted there by the current owner in an attempt to revive interest in the haunted building.

My informant is more interested in the Castle because its a fascinating looking old building than because of the rumors that it is haunted. She suspects that the rumors that the man who built it were evil stemmed from the fact that he was, in fact, a wealthy banker, and was likely not well liked in the community. “He probably foreclosed on a couple of people and suddenly its going around town that you’re evil. And everyone comes up with their own idea of what that means.”

Cleveland itself has been in recent years viewed as a dying metropolis. The city itself is an amalgamation of incredibly old buildings like the Castle (which have faded from their former glory and now comprise the poorer, more run-down parts of the city) and large modern skyscrapers, bars, clubs, and museums. Though the newer entertainment and shopping districts have not brought the population or reputation of the city back to what it once was, expansion and modernization are considered the only way to revive the city. Stories about spirits lingering in the old buildings mirror (and encourage) the fear of the older, poorer sections of the city.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

Toyol

This is a familiar or an imp type creature. The Toyol is a spirit that is invoked by a bomoh (Malayan witch doctor) from a dead foetus. These people who possess a Toyol  usually use them to do mischief, like steal money and sabotaging people. As these are children spirits, they are not very intelligent and are easily distracted by toys and things they can play with. People who have these creatures usually have an urn in their home with the dead foetus with embalming fluid in their homes. However, it is said that you cannot get rid of a Toyol once you have one and it is passed down from generation to generation. To keep these creatures happy, you have to feed it a few drops of your blood once a day and give it offerings of toys and a lot of attention. Supposedly, these are able to be seen without having the evil/magic eye and look similar to House Elves in Harry Potter.

                  My informant was informed of this when she was growing up in Singapore in the 1990s. This was something that she heard while at Primary five camp at her school at Camp Christine, which was rumored to be haunted. So, as kids are wont to do, they shared scary ghost stories in their beds and one of her classmates told her this story.

There are many variations of this particular creature as well. One of which is that the person can buy these spirits from the bomohs, in others people have to create them. A variation says that people can get rid of them by throwing the urn into the sea, or burying them with the proper rites and respect.  Also, feeding a Toyol in one version, has to be fed from blood from the owners big toe, in another it requires fresh rooster blood.

                  As superstitious beliefs run rampant over most of the countries with people that are mostly uneducated and have strong beliefs in Black Magic and the woods. This was also a convenient excuse for things going missing and bad luck. However, while there is no concrete evidence for anything supernatural, according to my friend, there have been reports of sightings of these creatures.

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