Informant (“A”) is a 19 year old, female from Rancho Santa Fe, California, and attends The University of Southern California. She is a Human Biology major. She is of European descent and her family includes her mother, father, and older brother who attends college in Texas. Informant has studied ballet for 17 years, including work in a professional company.
A: “So in my high school we have a senior rec room. Honestly the place is absolutely disgusting and teachers avoid it like the plague. That kinda means anything goes in there. There’s stories about people having sex on the couches…and other stuff too. There’s a story about this guy in the rec room, and honestly he wasn’t the smartest guy, but so there’s like this pool table in there, and he really overestimated how good he was at pool.
Anyway he made a bet and lost and the punishment was he had to shave his head bald, except for his eyebrow length bangs. It was the stupidest looking thing I ever saw. He kept it for a few days, but like he mostly wore a hat anyway, and then finally shaved it clean. He was supposed to keep it for a week I guess. And it took forever for his hair to grow back out too.
He didn’t learn though because the same guy made another pool bet, and of course lost again. So like in the rec room there’s this big vacuum and it’s really powerful and it’s got a big hose on it. When he lost he had to stick his dick inside the vacuum with it on. I guess he didn’t know this, but another guy had coated the inside of the vacuum with icy hot. I guess he didn’t find out about the icy hot until like 20 minutes later when he was sitting in class too. I think he had to go home for the rest of the day. He didn’t make anymore bets either”.
Analysis: The rec room described in this piece of Folklore appears to be a ‘no adults allowed’ sort of location, and thus legends of taboo teen activities are associated with the area. Sort of acting as an oasis where students could release any sort of tabooistic discourse they would normally hide from the administration. Legends of students having sex in the recreation room, as well as the student sticking his penis in a vacuum show these sorts of themes surrounding the room.
The student being punished for his hubris in betting could either act as a sort of morality tale, to be careful with overconfidence or it may act as a sort of representation of the themes represented by the recreation room. ‘A’ did confirm that the students cutting his bangs was recorded on video, and that that did in fact occur. She was more unsure of the ‘dick in the vacuum’ aspect.
“Our mascot for my high school is a falcon. They have a big tile mosaic thing of a falcon in the quad and you’re not supposed to walk on it, especially on game days. And especially when we played our rivals, Los Gatos High School. It’s right in the middle of the quad. It’s supposed to be bad luck if you step on it. I’m not really sure if it works or not but I never stepped on it just in case. Also I never played sports but I still didn’t do it.”
My participant is not an athletic person and did not participate in athletics in high school. I found it intriguing that despite her lack of interest or involvement in sports she still subscribed to the superstitions associated with her high school mascot. I was also surprised that it was bad luck to step on the falcon when it was located in such a public place as the school quad since it would be an easy mistake for pedestrians to make.
There are a lot of ritualistic things that theatre people do – can you talk about one of them that you partake in or have done?
I remember in high school there was this whole ritual for joining the International Thespian Society. Which is a thing apparently. And when you performed in two productions at my school, you qualified to join this society. And all that was required of you was two days. One day you had to come in dressed based on whatever theme was going that year – for us it was fake Greek gods. So I had a robe on and cat ears, and I was a cat god- because nothing better than cat gods in any sort of area. The second day was a Saturday where we showed up to school, no one was there —
When did you dress up as a cat god? Where was it that you had to do that?
At school. During a school day. All day. Every student had a bunch of questions. I was just – “I have to do this to join the International Thespian Society. I’m a theatre student. You should know me by now.”
Saturday we showed up to school, no one was there – it was about me, and some other people. And then one of the theatre students I knew well, Gabi, I believe she walked up and said “Ok, we’re going to blindfold all of you.”
How many were there?
There were – I think it was twelve? And it was just her. And then all of these other people showed up and blindfolded us. And essentially what they did – they first off started shouting abusive things at us, which I suppose is part of any initation ceremony – so there was that. And we had to put our hands on each others shoulders and had to walk around our school just blindfolded, trying to help each other out, saying “ok, there’s a step right there, watch out.” And then finally we entered my theatre room, which at the time was just like – was very cramped, small, room, which wasn’t in very good condition. But they had it completely candle-lit, which was lovely. And we took our blindfolds off and had to recite some – thing. Some speech. Which we did. And we were all accepted in! And then afterwards it was very nice, there was a jovial feast, and then our final part of that day was we each had to perform something. Um – which none of us knew about. We had to essentially improvise something related to the theme earlier, the fake Greek gods. So I did my thing about being a cat god, and what it’s like to be a Greek cat god – you don’t get much respect in Greece as you do in Egypt. So that sort of thing. So – and yeah, that was about it. That was the whole initiation into the International Thespian Society.
I take it you enjoyed the process?
Overall. I mean, it could have been politer during the abusive compliments. But I don’t hold it against them.
What year were you?
I was a senior a the time.
You never took part in the ritual with those later?
No, I didn’t, because I got into theatre very late in the game. I like – uh – when I was a freshman, second semester I said “Hey, that theatre looks sort of fun, I should try that.” Then tenth grade – we put on like three productions per year. And I tried out for all of them, didn’t get in to any of them. So that was disappointing. But then over the summer I went to this summer theatre camp where I played Greg from A Chorus Line who’s just fantastically gay. And has a song about hiding an erection – in front of a lot of young kids. So obviously… their parents enjoyed it. And then I came back, eleventh grade, and got Lloyd Dallas in Noises Off! So that was like my first production, and yeah.
Informant took part in the ceremony when being initiated, and it marked an achievement in their life. They never got to experience it on the other end, which maybe makes it a more magical experience
Information about the Informant
My informant is an English teacher at a high school in Southern California, and has been teaching for over twenty-five years. She has been featured as an Influential Teacher of the Month within the last five years, and has received great reviews and praise from her former students as a teacher who cares about and motivates her students to succeed. I met her next to Tommy Trojan when she brought her class to USC campus on a college visit and she gave me this school ghost story in the short time before she had to collect her class.
“I teach at the oldest high school in [school name and location removed]. And there is a common story that, um, circulates. And that is that one of the math classes is haunted. And so everyone goes in, I–usually on a Thursday morning, and you can note the differences in air temperature. Um, on a Thursday morning, you can, at any other time, on any other day. So, we really believe that something is going on in that school, or in that room, or something occurred there that–and that is an ongoing reminder to us that something negative occurred in there, because it’s always cold.”
Collector: “Is there any, like, theory as to what it might be?”
“From my kids? No, we’ve no theory. We have no idea because we cannot, um, there’s no accounting of anything had ever happened in there. So it could be that prior to the building being built, that some violent occurrence was there. Maybe, you know, some, uh, early settlers or maybe some of the indigenous people, or something like that that was in–that was, gave that piece of land or that little area kind of a negative quality.”
When asked how this possibly haunted classroom affected people at the school, whether staff members or students, my informant told me that all it seemed to do was reaffirm the beliefs that the students or staff members already had. For those students (and possibly members of the staff) who already believed in an afterlife that included ghosts or some sort of spiritual remnant left in the world after death, the story “gives credence” to that belief. But for those who did not believe in ghosts, they simply believed the unnatural cold was due to “wind pattern or something.”
This is an interesting example as it’s an instance of a ghost story where there is no actual ghost, but merely an unnatural phenomenon that could easily be attributed to a natural cause. It’s interesting to observe because, rather than attribute the cold to a problem with the cooling system or weather patterns, it seems like people at the school are more than willing to try to find a “supernatural” explanation for the cold, even undertaking, it sounds like, research into the history of the school to find out if anything violent had ever occurred on the school’s property. It’s an interesting example because it provides a look at how an experience may turn into a memorate, the process by which an experience can become a memorate, where the experience is something strange but explainable and those involved instead search for a way to incorporate it into the genre of ghost stories, using the tropes about ghost stories that they already know (e.g. that if there is a ghost, there must have been some violent incident in the past; that settlers or indigenous people may have cursed the ground long ago).
Informant Bio: Informant is my friend from high school who also goes to the University of Southern California. We currently live together and he is a third year electrical engineering major. His dad is from Concord, Massachusetts and represents a large blend of different cultures. His mom is from upstate New York and is mostly of Hungarian, Italian and American ancestry.
Context: I was interviewing the informant about childhood traditions and rituals that he remembered well.
Item: “So, essentially, uh we had some middle school graduation parties but they were definitely less extreme, mostly because we cared less about graduating middle school; it was harder to motivate us. Um, but, our high school graduations (I grew up with three siblings, I’m the youngest), they were all pretty comparable. We have a pretty big back yard at home, um, so we would do a lot of outdoor cooking and grilling. One of them we did a roast with our backyard fire. We invited a bunch of extended family (I have a lot of that live in Massachusetts). So we invited grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles and it was usually always pretty low key events. What typically would happen would be our immediate family and a couple other people would be there for like six or seven hours. And then there would be more of a steady stream, kind of an open place for people to come give congratulations and thanks. It was kind of low key because it was never at any point too packed. Um, so essentially in terms of traditions and things that were always the same, there was always lots of food. Everything seemed to revolve around food, with a large table that was sort of the centerpiece, the center attraction. Typically, there was lots of grilling, and, my dad, who’s a pretty good chef would always ‘go big’. It sort of fell in the holiday category in that regard where like whoever is graduated would get nagged about what they want to eat all the time. Some of the things we’d always do…strangely enough bocce was always a regular habit. Um, so big family bocce games, and then, uh, definitely a lot of drinking (laughs) at least amongst the adults. Like when I was younger not so much since I had older siblings but the adults would always were like drinking to celebrate and make it festive. Um, also it was more formal in that people would actually dress up and treat it as a big deal. It was sort of ceremonious in that regard and wasn’t just a thrown together party”.
Informant Analysis: “My family’s significance…academics were always stressed in my family. It was sort of not only stressed, but kind of like ‘you need to do this’. I feel like, a lot of times, parents, uh it’s more on the negative side so if you’re slacking off in school you get in trouble. But, my parents are more the opposite in that we were rewarded for doing well. Back in elementary school, I remember my dad did this thing where if we got a’s on our report cards, he would give us 100 bucks. Which, when you’re in elementary school is a ridiculous amount of money, so it [the graduation celebration] kind of was like a continuation of sorts where ‘you finished high school so we’re going to celebrate’”.
Analysis: My friend Max has had a rich childhood with strong family values and traditions. The graduation party described above shows just how important academics are to many Americans, especially people in New England. It is seen as the avenue to success and is treated as such. Most celebrations heavily involve food, which is no surprise here.
The playing of bocce might seem a little curious, but, as the informant notes his family represents a blend of European ancestry. No doubt some traditions have been carried over, adapted and otherwise blended together.
What does seem a little different here is the emphasis on extended family. Many people in the U.S. have their family spread across the country, but, the informant notes that pretty much all of his extended family lives in Massachusetts. The regular get-togethers show that they stay in contact and are relatively close and have developed roots in the Northeast area.
“Basically, it’s not really a joke… but in high school, I remember people kept saying how, it was like a legend how, if you put ice cream on your balls and then you put, you bring a hairdryer to them, somehow that’s supposed to feel, like, great. I don’t know… that sounds horrible to me. That’s, like supposed to be like a great feeling, like first you put ice cream on your balls, and then you warm them up with a hairdryer. It’s one and then the other. “
The informant said he’d learned it from friends in high school, and added that he’d never tried it personally, and had no way of knowing if others had tried it (besides their testimonies). He said, “I just have never had ice cream and a hairdryer in the same place. And balls.”
My suspicion is that this was a sort of initiation ploy for high school boys, the goal may have been to shame those who tried it (because it doesn’t seem like it could possibly be pleasant) and cause them pain. It creates distance between the genders because this is folklore that doesn’t work across all sides, so it may also be a means of fostering identity and tightening groups.
“So apparently at my school, there’s supposed to be the ghost of some nun, just hanging around… I think it was supposed to be near the auditorium, which was, coincidentally, the center of all school life. The auditorium, is also the gym, so it has all these basketball headboards around it, but we also turn it into the chapel, but it’s also where the plays are held, so it’s like this—the heart of the school, but there’s supposed to be a ghost that inhabits… behind there.
“When I would work on the sets back then, there was this guy, he was about 25 years old, he looked like s stork. There was a guy there, and he would work on the sets of the plays and I would work on them too, and then one day, he just brought it up, saying “yeah, I don’t like to work too late at night, or I have to play loud music,” or something like that because he feels like he’s being watched… He just feels prickles on the back of his neck, or the hairs raise on the back of his neck or something. And then coincidentally, when he mentioned that, my Spanish teacher mentioned that she was really superstitious… she just mentioned that “ah, yea, there was a ghost here and the, the, I talk with the janitors sometimes, and when they were here late at night they feel like they’re being watched from down the hall and they played music don’t want—I guess they just feel like that would protect them somehow from their senses, and they would talk and be superstitious about the ghosts and my friend… umm… from middle school who’s Filipin..a, it seems like always, they, the Filipinos always have these strange ghost stories, and she would take—she had this picture of us kinda goofing around outside of campus, and there was this sort of silvery figure… this kind of grey figure misting over the… one part of the photo and she would print them out on those regular six by something photos and she was convinced that that was a habit, and she passed them around to I guess my Spanish teacher that actually—the story of how the workers on the campus believed there was a ghost.
“Uh… so I was spooked, for a while—and actually, I remembered it recently, because a mutual acquaintance who goes on lots of dates with people who seem to know my school because he went to our brother school, St. Francis, he just recently texted me and asked me if I knew anything about the Immaculate Heart Ghost because the girl he was recently going out with brought it up too, and she saw some… some nun in the dark corner who smiled at her, and she just thought it was her teacher hanging out in a dark classroom or something like that and she was spooked. So.. I… luckily haven’t seen a ghost because I am easily spooked. And that’s the Immaculate Heart Ghost Nun who was there—but then also I remember that everyone was freaking out when something or another, like this story became popular, and they were looking on the internet, and lo and behold, there were several stories, like ‘ah yea! She inhabits the catwalks in the auditorium and she just hangs around,’ and I don’t remember the back-story about why there was a nun there, but she doesn’t seem to attack people with knives, maybe she just really liked it there, or something.”
The informant was informed about this ghost story by her friend, Lucy (who was in the same grade as she), during her senior year at the high school. She remembers her classmates “freaking out” when they discovered that the tale had made its way out of the school itself and into the public domain. There were several stories recounted to her both live (by her classmates and the school staff) as well as online. She was initially skeptical of the veracity of the tales, but she admitted that deep down, in her “animalistic core,” she was spooked and continues to be spooked by it when it’s recounted to her, or when she tells it to other people. She said she was not likely to go up in the catwalks at night, but also added that the ghost was not reputed to be violent, so she was not overly worried about being attacked. She mused that because her school motto was “Women of great heart and right conscience,” the ghost, too must have had a great heart and right conscience. This tale goes against the grain of many ghost stories in that it serves as an example of good behavior, demonstrating that even in death, the women of this high school are respectful and well behaved.
It’s especially fascinating that this story has moved from a very specific and small community to internet because it represents the rapid movement that is often intrinsic to storytelling. This suggests that there is something compelling about this story besides the fact that the nun came from this school that makes it important from a humanistic view. Ghost stories are perhaps so prolific because even people who question the reality of ghosts (such as the informant) find the tales frightening, and take a “better safe than sorry” attitude.
Informant: “Blue key heads are this tradition where we’re like spirit leaders and, um, we… It’s, there’s ten, five boys, five girls, um, it’s picked through an incredibly nepotistic process that is basically half popularity contest, um, it– that’s just how it is and so, um, all five boys and five girls wore skirts, uh, blue skirts that are passed down every year so that’s a big tradition, is, like, who you get your skirt from and who you pass your skirt to is like a big deal, um, and so the blue key heads are at every varsity game in the fall, um, and a lot of varsity games in the spring and we, like, cheer except for basketball we, we cheer, but we—the step team is what mostly did that so, yeah. And so we, like, show up and we cheer and it’s not like cheerleading it’s mostly like running around and painting your face, um, and it’s really cool and we lead a pep rally which is fun, uh, and the, uh, what was I gonna say? There’s, uh, the way the blue key heads are chosen is this, like, big school thing, tradition where you have to audition in front of the entire sc— like in front of school during, like, either lunch or during dinner. So you have to round up all your friends and you have to do, like, a public audition which is, like, you have to do push-ups—oh also everytime the football team scores we have to do push-ups for the number of points we have. So if we get into, like, 50 points we have to do, like, 50 push ups and it’s awful, um, I couldn’t do it. And so, um, so have to do push-ups, you have to, like, throw gummy sharks into a cup. You have to serenade—you always have to serenade someone. You always have to do a bunch of cheers. You have to name all previous 10 blue key heads. You have to name 10 shades of blue. Um, they’ll ask you, like, random questions to see how long you could, like, go without breaking. One of them, the best one that I had was mak- you literally sit there and you just say make me laugh and somebody has to try and make you laugh and its wonderful because there are just certain people who can’t, won’t break. And, um, so that was really good. And so it’s this, like, terrible process and then there’s always, like, a big secret, the, only the blue key heads– the new– only the new blue key heads know how they got, how they find out. Like, it’s a big secret how they find out that they’re blue key heads. So, like, my year we were told that there was a second secret audition and so we came and they actually put us through an audition and then told us, ‘Just kidding you’re the blue key heads.’ Um…”
Lavelle: “They do it differently every year?”
Informant: “Yeah, they do it differently, well because, like, it kind of gets, it’s, like, you know, just to make sure that it doesn’t get out, um, but it’s usually pretty secret in terms of, like, people just suddenly find out and suddenly, like “Oh, they announced it apparently.” And, like, and no one can figure out how they told the people, um, so that’s pretty cool.”
My informant is a graduate of Phillips Academy Andover with the class of 2011. She was one of the blue key heads during her senior year at Andover. This is an important memory for my informant as she greatly enjoyed her high school experience and looks back on her years at Andover fondly.
The idea of appointed spirit leaders is not unique to Andover and many high school students enjoy experiences similar to those of my informant.
My informant told me about this game called Birdman while she was sharing about traditions at Scarsdale High School.
“I don’t know if other schools did this, but it was a game that started. And you basically do this, like, birdman (She holds her hands to her face, palms down, with her thumbs and index fingers making circles around her eyes) symbol over your eyes and if you quote in quote Birdman someone, they have to lie down on the ground for three seconds. And this was, like, a pretty harmless thing that started, but it just started to happen everywhere. So if you’d Birdman, like, you could– there were, like, ways to block a birdman and then, like, if you didn’t respond, you’d get blacklisted. There was, like, a comput—there was, like, an online blacklist for, like, who was blacklisted from Birdman. But seniors especially would take this really intensely and so, like, you, if you got Birdmanned, they would stop in the middle of everything and just get down on the floor for 3 seconds. And it was so intense that you could Birdman someone while driving, while they were driving and they would have to stop the car, get out of the car, lie down on the ground, and get back into the car. Um, and even teachers started to play. I think our librarian was, like, notorious for doing it, like, if you Birdmanned him in the library he’d get down on the ground.”
This was a game that my informant participated in during her freshman year of high school. She says it wasn’t something she was particularly interested in, but many of her friends were very into it. She played if she had to. This is a funny memory for my informant. She looks back on this game and can’t believe the students enjoyed it so much.