USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘house’
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

The House Across the Street

My informant, an Irish-American male, grew up immersed in Irish culture. He was excited to share his stories with me — especially because sharing stories is an important part of Irish social culture. I collected this story (which he learned from his father) from him while we sat on his couch:

 

“Back in Ireland, there’s this house across the street with an old man — and he’s a rat bastard — he’s a piece of s***. He used to be an IRA [Irish Republican Army]. He would beat his wife — his kids… and one day he was arrested and sent to prison. The day he got out, his whole family celebrated (as they do) with lots and lots of alcohol. So everyone’s drinking and he pulls out a Ouija board and someone in the room is like, “witchcraft it’s evil.” [the informant backtracks] Oh, and the guys name is Patty. [Back to the original story] He said, “no, no, no. It’s fun we used it in prison and it’s just a nice, fun game. Let’s try to see if we can contact our grandmother.” And so they they use it on on the table and they contacted his grandmother, whatever — and the grandmother was was also just a huge b***h when she was alive. Also abusive and terrible. And then someone across the room holding a beer says, “alright, well it’s been nice talking to you we got to go now. We’re praying for you.” But then he follows it with: “I don’t need your prayers where I am.” And everyone in the room s***s their pants. They scream they run. And after that, Patty was a much more secluded guy. He never really talked to anyone. One of his sons (that was never in) was there that night he went crazy. And they lived in the house next door because they’re connected houses over there. The son got up to go to the bathroom one night. And as he was going over to the bathroom he saw this ghostly white figure come across the hallway and he was a little disturbed… but, like, it’s Ireland so you kind of don’t really pay attention that much to that. And then his wife was in the room and she goes, “honey, who’s there? I just saw someone walk across the doorway.” And the husband says, “oh my God! I just saw someone walk across the hall. That’s really creepy.” And so they sort of, like, bless themselves, and go to bed. And this was in the house directly next to it [the Ouija board event] — because the houses are connected. the figure would come out of the wall that that they shared with the other house. And, you know, ever since since that day when when they used the Ouija board legitimately the sun doesn’t shine on on that house on the street. Like I said: hardly ever.”

 

My informant added that his dad told him this story first, and then he went to see the house from the story. He says it’s true that the sun doesn’t shine on the house. Even on days where the sun is fully illuminating the houses around it, this house is still shrouded in shadow.

 

Analysis:

Because my informant did not share his belief in the dark magical curse the Ouija board left on the house, he probably sees it as a legend attached to the house. His story takes place in the real world, but the events may or may not actually be true. I personally find it to be a fun story to tell at a social gathering. I can picture my informant being told the story by an active bearer (his father), and becoming a passive bearer until he shared the story with me when I interviewed him.

 

Digital
general

Dede Graffiti

8A431E71-8823-4BB4-B72D-796E9E839E91

Artist: Dede

Location: Brooklyn, NY

Date: March 14, 2018

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends

Winchester Mystery House

BACKGROUND:

A woman from Saratoga, California tells the legend of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California.

INTERVIEW:

My interview with my source, L, went as follows:

ME: So tell me about your experience with the Winchester House and like what you know.

L: I grew up in San Jose and everywhere as a child were huge billboards for the Winchester Mystery House and it always had this scary image of a skull and this very creepy looking house and it always played up on the mystery and the scariness of it and everyone would talk about it. But as a child I’d never been. And all you would hear was all of the legends and the stories that surrounded it right around the house were several movie theaters. So we were all very familiar with the outside of the house and everyone would talk about oh the Winchester Mystery House and how Sarah Winchester had inherited this vast fortune from her husband on his death that from the Winchester rifle company and that after his death she was devastated. They had lost their only child in infancy and then her husband died. I think typhoid fever. I’m not sure if that’s right but that was the lore as I was told it and that she went to a spiritualist was really big back in those days and they ate hundreds and he told her that all of her sadness and tragedy and misfortune was because all of the money that she and her husband had was blood money because of all the people that had died because of the Winchester rifle and that she needed to move out west and she needed to start building a house to house all of the spirits of the people that were killed by the Winchester rifle and that as long as she would build she would stay alive. She would evade the ghosts and all the tragedies that were befalling her family. But the building could never stop. They had lost their only child in infancy and then her husband died. I think typhoid fever. I’m not sure if that’s right but that was the lore as I was told it and that she went to a spiritualist was really big back in those days and they ate hundreds and he told her that all of her sadness and tragedy and misfortune was because all of the money that she and her husband had was blood money because of all the people that had died because of the Winchester rifle and that she needed to move out west and she needed to start building a house to house all of the spirits of the people that were killed by the Winchester rifle and that as long as she would build she would stay alive. She would evade the ghosts and all the tragedies that were befalling her family. But the building could never stop. And so she left the East Coast and she moved to California and she bought the little farm house and started rebuilding it and built this enormous mansion in its place and that her whole goal was to never ever stop building because she was afraid of the spirits of all the dead. And so she would have workers building 24/7. It never stopped. Night Day there was always someone building on the house and she built stairways that went nowhere and doors that you would open the door and there would be a brick wall behind it and fireplaces that didn’t even go all the way up through to the ceiling. It just went part way and cupboards that were only like an inch deep just strange bizarre stuff. And she was super obsessed with you know the spiritual side of all these ghosts that were chasing her she felt and she had a Seance room built into the house so that she could speak to the dead and she intentionally built this house to be like a labyrinth where you know these doors that open to nothing were to confuse all the spirits that might be coming after her. So the house was built both the house them and yet to keep them from being able to get to her. And so as a kid you know it just was so scary and you would hear all these stories about that you know at night sometimes you would see lights moving through the house like candles flickering through the house because it was the workers still the ghosts of the workers still working on the House. And if you would you know stop and listen which we could do because the movie theaters parking lots right up to the hedges of the house we would stop and listen because they would say you could hear the hammers of the workers still working into the middle of the night you know and she was obsessed with the number 13. You know she had windowpanes that were specifically the number 13 panes in the window and 13 steps in a stairway in the 13th bathroom has 13 windows and she just was. So everything was really cold and creepy and so as a kid it was just so mysterious and scary and the first time I finally got to visit the house I was about 12 and we had friends that came into town from Southern California and they wanted to see them in Winchester Mystery House so my parents said we could all go and it was both fascinating and terrifying. Even though it was just a house because of all the stories that we heard you’re walking through it and it’s beautiful. No expense was spared when she was building this house it’s amazing the craftsmanship that went into all of these things that are kind of pointless because they go nowhere and do nothing but it’s stunningly beautiful. But at the same time there was always all of this scary creepiness about it because of all the stories that we’d heard as children and all the legends that surround just how crazy she was or how afraid she was and her fear and the ghosts and all the weird things that she did.

ME: Wow that’s actually insane.

 

MY THOUGHTS:

I think it’s incredible how knowledgeable this source was. She really was able to give me a thorough explanation of all the crazy stories and legends behind the house. I like how she gave both an account of the stories she got from word of mouth before she visited the house, as well as an account of what she learned after visiting.

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.

Narrative
Riddle

Halloween House

The riddle:

Informant: “It was a dark, Halloween night, and a boy was walking alone. There was a house with no power, like in the woods, in the back of the woods, like there was a pathway up to the house, there was no power. And he went in alone, and he goes, and he was walking through it all, and he kept on hearing creaky sounds, and then he finally got to the back, and this voice over the house just was like, ‘You walked into this house, and now you have to die,’ and he said, ‘but I’ll give you five choices on how to die.’ And it was like, ‘You can take a pill, and you won’t feel anything at all, and you’ll just die peacefully. Or you can, um, I can cut your neck off’…there are like two other ways, I can’t remember, and then, um…oh and then, ‘You can sit in a rocking chair and you’ll die by the…electric chair.’ And he…what would you have chosen? The pill where you don’t feel anything?”

Informant’s mom: “No, or the electric chair, or what?”

Informant: “Getting your head chopped off.”

Informant’s mom: “I don’t know, I wouldn’t do the pill, because I would think that I might have a chance to escape. So I wouldn’t do that.”

Informant: “Alright, well, he picked the pill, but if he would’ve picked the electric chair, he wouldn’t’ve died, because remember at the beginning, I said there was no power.”

Informant’s mom: “Ohhhhh (laughs).”

 

The informant, a sophomore in high school, told this to her mother. She says that she learned this from a classmate in second grade. The riddle doesn’t seem to be that clever, but I think it was probably very clever for second graders once they knew the right answer. It probably amused them while also skirting around the taboo of death and violence at such a young age. While effectively harmless, it was fun for young children to sort of trick one another.

Childhood

The House on the Bus Route

Item:

Me: “Did you ever go to the house in person?”

Informant: “It was on the bus route which was somewhat long, so it wouldn’t have made sense to. But I don’t think anyone would have wanted to anyway…”

A house on the informant’s elementary school bus route in southwest Ohio had a very eerie exterior. The owner had built extra things on to it — weird overhands, banisters, small porches — which led to a unique structure. All the additions were poorly put together, so as a whole, it looked like a bit of a wreck. Kids would always look at it as they passed. Over time things were added to it or changed, but they never saw the owner or someone working on the house. It never looked like anyone was home. The story behind the house among the children was that a drug dealer lived there. If someone stepped on to the lawn, he would shoot them for trespassing.

 

Context:

The informant assumed that there wasn’t a reason behind the story of the man who was there. He had heard it from fellow classmates, who heard it from siblings, but as far as he knew there was not a specific reason that led to that explanation. He still remembered how weird the house looked and that the structure alone was cause for curiosity and a little uneasiness. In us talking about it, he posited that if anything, the arbitrary construction was sort of unnerving as to the mental stability of the owner. I asked if he stopped by the house on foot at any point, but because it was just one location along a bus route, there wasn’t an opportunity to. Nor would he have, he said, since there was just a general fear of it among the kids.

 

Analysis:

Around the age of 12 when the informant had this experience, kids are starting to get exposed to anti-drug education from schools and parents. There wasn’t any basis for the “drug dealer” bit, but perhaps it was created to associate a fear of the unknown with the growing awareness of a negative thing like drugs. It seems most school stories like this have no clear generation or grade where they started, but are simply an evolution that caters to the active issue around that age range. In this case, drug awareness is connected to a mysterious but haunting looking house.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

House Spirit

“We’ve just moved into a new house in July. It was an old house. We live here temporarily as our house was going under renovation and it would take a while to finish it.

It was the second month until something weird started happening. I have my own bedroom on the second floor and one night I just heard my two dogs barking non-stop for the whole night. I looked out the window and yelled at them several times but they never stopped until the sun came up. I thought it was just some stray cats running around our field. Then one night, I experienced some odd feelings while I was asleep. I am very easy person to fall asleep but that night, I just couldn’t. I went to toilet many times and tried to fall asleep. Every time I was about to fall into unconsciousness I felt like my whole body went numb. It was harder to breathe and I couldn’t move at all. Every time that happened I tried to fight it off and when I was able to move again I felt like the whole thing was just a dream. This dream though, kept repeating itself for the next hour or more. By 5am my whole body was covered in sweat and I had this piercing headache. I ended up sleeping with my mother and got through the night.

This happened a few times before I realized it wasn’t just a bad dream. I finally told my mother about it. She never experienced it before, but she believed me. We consulted many friends and people around us and one suggested that it could have been house’s spirit that was bothering me. I didn’t understand why it had to be me, not anyone else in the family. Then as we did researches into this, we found that the bed was in the wrong direction- it was headed south and that was the direction where dead people laid. Furthermore, it was commonly believed that house’s spirits need a place to stay so that they can take care of the household.”

In Thailand we call it “San Pra-Poom”- it is in a form of small wooden house with a little decorations and is usually located outside the house. The spirit that lives here offers protection to the house. Many houses including mine have it but the informant’s did not, so she concluded that either the spirit might want to tell her that they need somewhere to live or that she was actually disturbed by outsider’s spirit. It made sense that her house’s spirit couldn’t protect her because there was no place for them.

 

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

House of Tia Toña

In the forest of Chapultepec in the capital (DF) there is an old dilapidated house that is said to be inhabited by a woman who flies into a rage when curious onlookers come to visit.  Visitors to the house have said that when she is enraged, you can hear strange noises in and around the house; you will often see a shadow pass through the windows and the feeling of being watched by someone who sends chills down your spine and goosebumps over your flesh. 
The name of the woman was “Tia Toña”, and she was a very wealthy widow who lived many, many years ago in her house by herself. She was a very kind person and to ease her loneliness, she started taking in homeless children off the street. She gave them money, food, clothes and shelter. But in spite of her charitable acts, the kids were unruly and ungrateful. They made her life impossible and one day, they banded together and decided to kill her in order to take the house and her money.
The kids carried out the murder and threw the body down in the attic. However, they were unable to live in peace because the woman’s angered spirit returned and chased them out of the house – eventually leading each to a terrible death.  From then on, the woman’s angry spirit haunted the house and continues to do so now. Kids are especially warned to stay away from the house.

There is another version of this story that I found in this Mexican newspaper:  http://www.vanguardia.com.mx7leyendasdeterrorquehanpuestoatemblaraldf-668416.html
It is all the same except for the fact that the woman is the one who kills the kids (because they misbehaved so much) only to then be driven to guilt by her actions. She locks herself in the house and has been there ever since. Flory told this story to me during a coffee date, there were no particular gestures that she used to relay it; however, she did say that when she visited the capital for the first time with her parents, her mother repeated this story to her in an effort to scare her away from wandering away from them (it worked, especially in said park).

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita A

This house situated in Downtown Lima, Peru is the most famous haunted structure in the entire country. It is famous throughout, you can ask anyone in Lima, and they will all know of it whether they believe in paranormal phenomena or not. The house was first brought to my attention when I moved to Peru by one of my maids, she told me all about it and then my mother confirmed the stories circulated, but said they were all made up. During her last visit, I had her recount a couple of versions of the story of the Matusita which she knew (there are dozens):
At the turn of the twentieth century, there lived in the house a cruel man with two servants (cook and butler). During dinner with friends, the servants decided to get their revenge and poison their master and his friends with hallucinogenic substances. They served the tampered dinner and locked the door of the dining room. A few minutes later, the servants heard  a horrible scuffle. They waited until the noises ceased and then when they opened the door, they saw that the diners were torn to pieces, there was blood spread everywhere. The servants felt terribly guilty and took their lives right there. This version is said to explain the loud voices, conversation and laughter followed by blood curling cries and sepulchral silence that neighbors and passerbyers have attributed to the house.  It is said that if they get close to the house or look in, they will go mad at the sights of gore and debauchery inside.
This version shows the rift between the master and his servants which can be extended to the sentiments that the indigenous and African workers feel towards their European (and later on Asian) masters. This tension is found to this very day since in Peru there is a very strong, but passive racist undercurrent that is perpetuated from generation to generation and never confronted. The race of the master is left unsaid in some versions of the story like this one (it is implied he was white); however , there are also versions that connect this version to version b which I also discuss. In those versions, the master is Asian and a descendent of the Chinese family who lived in the house in the 19th century.

Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

La Casa Matusita C

The American embassy used to be situated in a building directly in front of the Matusita house, and it is said that the legends were all invented and fostered by the American mission so as to prevent people from entering the Matusita house and using it as a site to launch terrorist attacks on the embassy itself (during the late 80s unrest due to the communist Sendero Luminoso).
This version is corroborated by multiple  facts. First, my mother and her coevals heard of the Matusita stories only in the early nineties, and second, as a consular officer herself, she once heard from her peers at the Ministry that the Matusita legends were a product of “Hollywood at its politically finest”.

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