USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘local legend’
Legends
Narrative

Escape From Alcatraz

Text: JC: So there’s an ongoing FBI investigation into the escape of these three guys even though it happened years ago. And there’s never been conclusive proof found about anything like how they escaped, did they escape, or did they die in the water of the bay. Because people have tried to study what the tides may have been like that night, and have said they they could have been swept out into the ocean. Or, that the tide could have taken them to Angel Island, which is this island in the middle of the bay. And so people wonder if they could have escaped by making it to that island, and then somehow survived, and then gotten back onto the mainland. I don’t know there’s a lot of speculation surrounding Alcatraz in particular and I think because it’s part of the history of our region and a really famous mystery, coupled with the fact that the FBI has spent decades investigating in it and has never found anything else out.

AT: How many versions have you heard of what happened

JC: I’ve heard that they died in the water and got swept out to see, I’ve heard that they have escaped onto an island, I’ve heard that they swam to San Francisco and escaped there…

AT: Have you ever heard that they have been sending postcards to their families from other places?

JC: No, I’ve never heard that.

AT: Oh really, that’s the version that I heard. Anyways, what do you personally think happened?

JC: I think they escaped.

Context: JC is a 19 year old history major at the University of Southern California. A resident of Walnut Creek, California near San Francisco and an adamant history buff, JC is well versed in a lot of local legend surrounding his famous and historically colorful place of origin. The exchange above took place over coffee when I asked JC if he knew and slang from the Bay Area. He gave me legends instead.

Interpretation: I like the exchange above because it not only discussed the various folklore surrounding the three escaped inmates from Alcatraz without bias, but it even contained an additional folkloric exchange in which JC and I swapped stories. Alcatraz is interesting because, due to the amount of press coverage and movies made based off of the famous escape, people often forget that nobody is actually sure of anything that took place of the night of the alleged escape other than the fact that there was an escape attempt. Any other information about the escape treated as fact is not fact at all, rather folklore that speculates what could have happened.

This legend is another example of a local legend, for it is tied to Alcatraz itself. It also fits the spirit of a legend extremely well due to the fact that various versions of what actually happened all have a questionable truth value, one of a combination of the possibilities has a strong chance of being proven valid is the FBI investigation continues. Additionally, it is easy to see how the legend of the escape from Alcatraz has taken on a mind of its own, for people often hold a strong opinion of what happened to the prisoners without any evidence to back it up. This is another example of the way that folklore works, often selecting the value of a particular story based off of factors such as order of hearing the specific recounting or who specifically told them about which recounting and choosing based off their relationships to the people.

general
Legends
Narrative

Mount Diablo

Text: JC: The there’s a mountain near where I live called Mount Diablo, and there’s a story surrounding the mountain regarding how it got its name. Back in 1805, Spanish conquistadores were pursuing the Volvon tribe, or anybody who was resisting missionization. So the tribe entered a thicket, and they the spaniards cornered them. And the Spanish word for thicket is “monte.”

AT: Wait, what’s a thicket?

JC: A thicket is, I don’t know, trees and bushes and stuff, right?

AT: Ah, okay.

JC: And so the Spanish thought that they cornered the Volvon there, and that they were gonna capture them, but the tribe escaped in the middle of the night. So the story is that the spaniards named the it “monte del diablo,” or “thicket of the devil”, because of the native people escaping them. But then, the word “monte” got mistranslated by Americans into “mount diablo,” instead of thicket, because they did not know what “monte” meant. And so the name still lasts today. Even after that, people continued to make up stories about how the mountain got its name, because if you look at a picture of it, people are like, “Oh its peaks are devil horns,” or, “That’s where native people did Satanic rituals.” But none of that is true. And in the 1900s there were all of these newspaper articles speculating how the mountain got its name, but it’s really just because of that original event.

AT: Well is it possible that even that could have been made up?

JC: Totally, because the thing is, there is no primary documentation of it, so most of the information has been orally transferred. The reason I know about it is cause it’s right by my house.

Context: JC is a 19 year old history major at the University of Southern California. A resident of Walnut Creek, California near San Francisco and an adamant history buff, JC is well versed in a lot of local legend surrounding his famous and historically colorful place of origin. The exchange above took place over coffee when I asked JC if he knew and slang from the Bay Area. He gave me legends instead.

Interpretation: I think that this legend is significant due to the fact that it not only engages with the situations regarding the name of a place, but also the translation of a words across three different languages. Firstly, the fuzzy origin of the name of the actual place shows how easily different influences such as topographical features (devil horns), convincing oral tradition (the thicket story), and possibly even predisposed racists views (satanic rituals) can have on the understanding and belief of a place and its history. Additionally, this is a local legend tied to this one specific mountain. So, I find it even more interesting that part of the legend holds this mountain and the confusion around it solely responsible for the supposed mistranslation of monte into mountain instead of thicket. In this way, the “name origin” nature of the folklore surrounding the mountain provided a nexus for other “language folklore” of a similar topic.

Also, I like how at the beginning of this exchange, JC presented his version of the legend as the sole story associated with Mount Diablo that held any validity, only later admitting that other stories surrounding the site existed. Even so, he quickly dismissed them as rubbish. Only when I asked for proof that he had as to why his version was the most valid did he admit that there was no way to actually know for sure due to the lack of evidence. This folkloric exchange therefore provided an example of the way that people treat the folklore that they receive, and though the medium exists in multiplicity and variation, this demonstrated how people tend to hold the version that they heard first as the absolute truth.

For another version of this legend, please see p. 457-470 of Bev Ortiz’s “Mount Diablo as Myth and Reality: An Indian History Convoluted.” American Indian Quarterly Vol. 13 (1989)

Legends
Narrative

The Legend of the Fenzhong Temple

Context: the collector interviewed the informant (as GL) for legends in Beijing. The informant is a USC student from Beijing. The informant answered in English.

 

Main piece: There was a bell in the Fenzhong Temple in Beijing. Different people would hear different sounds when the bell rang. It was like the bell was talking to them.

 

GL: Have you ever heard of the Fenzhong Temple?

Collector: No.

GL: So Fenzhong stands for “minute”(分钟) in Chinese. The Fenzhong Temple is a very famous temple in the city of Beijing. There is a legend that in the 20th century, when people who worked in the temple rang the bell, everybody around the temple would hear a different sound. People were saying that the bell was saying something.

For example, if a kid has just finished school and then hear the bell, he would hear something like “school is finished”. When it is time to sleep, people would hear the bell saying “it’s time to go to bed”.

Collector: Have you ever heard the bell? Is it still there?

GL: I never heard of it by myself. The bell is still there, but it’s more like a tourist site now. It’s no longer a real temple.

Collector: So how did you learn this story?

GL: I think I heard of it from friends. Because I live in Beijing, you know, so people are telling this story.

Collector: From your peers or parents?

GL: From my peers, probably.

Collector: Do you think it’s real?

GL: It’s definitely not real, come on. But I think it’s a good story to tell kids.

Collector: Have you visited the temple?

GL: I haven’t visited the temple, but I used to take a tutor class around that place. I’ve never been inside the temple.

Collector: Do you think young kids in Beijing nowadays still believe in this?

GL: I don’t think they do. It’s more like a legend. I don’t think people really believe in this.

 

 

Collector’s thoughts:

This legend makes me think about the relationship between actual existence of a subject and the legend(s) of it. If the bell in that temple is still being rung today, the legend is much less likely to exist and continued to be passed down, as it is (almost) impossible for a bell to talk to people. The legend thrives on the fact that the subject does not exist anymore so the truth of the subject can no longer be testified. Also, the legend can serve as a tool to attract tourists to the place.

Childhood
Game
Humor
Legends
Signs

The Legend of Turtle Rock

Text

The following piece was collected from an eighty-four year old woman who lives in Cascade, Colorado. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “There’s a rock on the drive up the mountain pass called Turtle Rock. Every time you go up that road, we all wait silently in the car looking for the rock. It’s a larger rock with a smaller rock behind it and slightly to the side. What happens is that as you drive by, it looks like a turtle poking his head out of his shell. As soon as you see it, you have to yell and jump around. It’s good luck if you can spot it because it’s really hard to see, especially if you’re driving quickly. All the locals know it’s there. It used to be a game to see if someone could make the steep climb up to the rock. In all my time I only ever saw one person do it.”

 

Context

            The Informant learned of this place and the tradition wrapped around it simply by living in the area and hearing from other people all about “Turtle Rock”. She believes that she has known about the rock that looks like a turtle phenomenon for as long as she can remember. She believes it is just a funny rock formation but it never fails to make her laugh.

Interpretation

            I love the stories that spin meaning from natural occurrences. Like the idea that a certain rock formation can have a meaning that everyone who lives in the area surrounding the rock knows. I believe it’s a way to identify yourself – if you are from Cascade, Colorado, then you must know about Turtle Rock. And if you don’t, then are you really a Cascade native? Furthermore, having an identity that is interwoven with the land around always seems like the most solid identity a person can have.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Haunted Driveway of Valencia

TEXT:  This is a short transcription of my conversation with someone who knows the story of the Haunted Driveway of Valencia. My informant will be seen as and I will be B. 

A: There was this one time where my friends and I drive through there at like 2 am just to see what it was like. And then we played a game of rock paper scissors and the loser had to get outside and touch a tree that was barely visible. It was almost pitch black because there were no lights or anything. No one lived there or anything. I ended up losing, of course, and I ran out to go touch the tree but my friends were slowly driving off. I was so scared. I chased after them but I swear, it felt like someone was behind me.

B: Why was this place scary? Like did it have a reputation?

A: Yeah, so Valencia is not that old but even still, for however long Valencia has been around, there has been no construction on this road at all. Everywhere around it, there are houses and stores and stuff but the city hasn’t even bothered putting lights here. And it’s a dead end if you drive far enough. And there was this girl in my school that did something similar to what I did and she came back traumatized or something. Apparently, when she got back in her friend’s car, she was bawling cause she said she saw a ghost or something.

B: Was she the only one that experienced this?

A: I think so. The driveway always had a scary reputation, even before her, but she kind of just solidified it.

B: Do people believe her?

A: People were talking about it and going up to her at school asking if she was okay for a few days or so. Personally, I don’t really believe her. I think it was probably her own head that tricked her. You know how when your foot is dangling off your bed at night, you feel like someone is going to grab it? I think it was something like that.

B: What are your views of the driveway now?

A: I mean, I don’t really believe in ghosts. But I do have to admit, it was pretty scary to be in the middle of darkness. I really do feel like someone was chasing me but I know in my head that there was no one. But it was still one of the scariest experiences of my life.

 

INFORMANT: My informant has lived in Valencia since he was in 3rd grade. Ever since he moved there, that road has had cones around the entrance. Even though there has not been any construction, cones blocked the entrance. He is not a believer in terms of ghosts or supernatural events. He loves to watch scary movies because he likes the thrill but never gets affected by the movies afterward.

CONTEXT: The informant and I were grabbing a meal on a weekday because we were catching up after a while of not seeing each other. I asked him if I can talk to him about the Haunted Driveway in Valencia for my project and he obliged. It was very casual and he did not tell the story with any scary or fearful intonations. This was primarily because of the fact that he did not believe in paranormal things or haunted areas.

MY INTERPRETATION: I was actually raised in Valencia as well so I had heard about this Haunted Driveway before. However, I did not know too much about it because I did not live as close to the driveway and because my friends did not like scary things so we never tested this myth. I also heard about the girl that was traumatized from her experience on this driveway but I heard a far more exaggerated version. I heard that she had to go to the hospital because she had fainted and when she woke up, she had not been the same for a few days. It was interesting to hear from someone that actually went to the same school as her. I couldn’t help but think about the idea of multiplicity and variation as the story gets performed by different people over time. This story probably started off as the story that my informant said and slowly deviated into a more horror-like story as it got to other people in the city. This supports the idea that as every time a story is performed, there is a little variation in the story. If there is enough of this variation, eventually, the story will be very different from the original.

In my personal opinion, I have a very similar perspective to my informant. I do not think that the driveway is haunted by any spirits or anything. I completely agreed with the small side story that my informant had said about the foot that is dangling off the side of the bed. It’s true that often times, people get scared that something will grab their foot. This is similar to when some people have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Often times, people don’t like to do it because they are scared of the dark. Especially because this driveway has no lights at all, being in complete darkness probably perpetuates fear in people who do not like the dark. I have driven on that road with my friends during the day and it seems awfully normal. There are just a lot of trees and mountains encircling this very narrow plot of land which also makes it hard for the moonlight to help illuminate this area during the evening.

Legends
Narrative

“Cross Castle” New Jersey Legend

Main Piece: “There is a castle off Clifton road, called Cross Castle and it is notorious for being super weird and having some strange stuff happening over there.  It is said to be the sight of many satanic rituals and also it is supposed to be super haunted. People went up there one time to investigate it and see if they could find anything crazy, and they were camping outside when they started to hear whispers and chanting coming… from inside the Castle. When the chanting started, one of the members started having a seizure and after a few more seconds the chanting stopped and so did the seizure. They left soon after that, but it is also known that people who entered the castle would have seizures, and only after they exited the castle would they stop.”

 

Background: KC said that Cross Castle was a staple of legends that he remembers hearing from his friends as a kid, especially the ones who wanted to see the remains of the Castle and see whether or not it was really haunted. KC also mentioned that in the 50’s there was a serious problem with teenagers and drug dealers hanging out in the castle and doing a bunch of things that were either illegal or unsafe. For that reason he tried to stay away from the area, but his friends were very persistent and would continuously ask him to go with them to visit the castle.

 

Context of the Performance: KC told me this story while we were in my apartment discussing some of our most memorable stories about haunted houses, or ghost stories from our areas that we grew up in. He knew this one very well, and was delighted to tell the story of how creepy Cross Castle was. He wanted me to understand just how much spooky stuff happened in and around the area from which he grew up and went to school and work.

 

Analysis: I find this story to be intensely creepy, and the meaning behind it seems to be very apparent given the circumstances of what the castle had become to the youth of the present. In Jersey, KC mentioned that there wasn’t always the greatest level of supervisor from parents, and so there were many kids that ended up getting themselves into trouble by doing dumb things. This story seems to scare people away from this specific location, and I would imagine that is mostly motivated by people’s desire to keep young adults and drug dealers away from the location. Seeing as how there was a growing problem at this location with drugs, it would be entirely reasonable to suspect that perhaps this story was meant to scare kids, teens, and adults away from this place. Also the seizures mentioned in the story, could even be linked to showing people the consequences of over using drugs, as again, KC mentioned that there was a serious problem with drugs being bought and used at this place.

 

Legends

Irma Hotel ghost story

My friend Jace grew up in Cody, Wyoming, a town named for the folk hero “Buffalo Bill” Cody. He gave me the following description of the purportedly haunted Irma Hotel:

“So apparently this was like, the first hotel ever built in Cody. And it was named after one of Buffalo Bill’s daughters who died when she was a kid; it’s called the Irma Hotel or whatever. And then apparently, I think it was like, some, like some important person within the state came to visit and ended up like, dying or being murdered in his hotel room. Like being- being shot with like a- one of those muskets or whatever. And then uh, so I don’t know, apparently he’s just supposed to like, haunt the whole hotel ’cause he wasn’t a good guy. Uh and then also Buffalo Bill himself uh, is supposed to haunt the hotel. There are reports of waitresses seeing people in dining booths, but then when they go over they’re not there, or seeing people- like the the people that clean the rooms seeing people like, walking around the hallways.”

This legend is deeply linked not only to the town in which it is meant to have taken place, but particularly to Buffalo Bill Cody himself. The incorporation of Buffalo Bill into folklore like this piece contribute to his status as a legendary figure and folk hero–someone who certainly existed, but whose identity is shrouded in unsubstantiated stories due to his widespread exaltation. This particular legend weaves together supernatural, patriotic (in the form of folk hero celebration), and local themes.

Legends

The Local Legend of One Armed Joe

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): None

Age: 71

Residence: Margaretville, NY USA

Performance Date: April 12, 2017 (telephonically)

 

Allote is a 71 year old woman, born and raised in Catskill, New York who lives and owns a farm in upstate New York. She was a high school graduate and raised three children. She is a 6th generation American of Scottish Ancestry.

 

Interviewer: Good Afternoon. You mentioned that your current house is linked to a local legend. Appreciate if you could explain it to me?

 

Informant: Not a problem, I would love to. Ok we just ah bought a house that was built in 1928 and they told us that our chicken house was a historical building, because it used to be, there use to be a still in there. The owner always wondered why it is 30 feet long on the outside and 27 on the inside and when they investigated they found a false wall and when they took it down found a still in there, a pearl handle revolver in the wall and in the cement floor outside where all the chicken manure was there was a cut in the floor they kept all their bottles. And they say his name was “One Armed Joe” and he sold moonshine all around the Catskills at the farmers markets, He hid it underneath his corn when he went to the markets”.

 

Interviewer: And what town was this in?

 

Informant: Margaretville, New York in the Catskills

 

Interviewer:  What years?

 

Informant: Well they built the house in 1928, so I imagine it was about this time. People say that he carried on for a number years

 

Interviewer:  Did you ever see the still, revolver or bottles?

 

Informant: Nope.  When we bought the house from the owner I guess he kept them or sold them or maybe gave it away.

 

Interviewer: What does this piece mean to you?

 

Informant: In our small town, it is great to be a part of a local legend.  It helps business in selling our vegetables to locals and visitors. The kids that stop by really love hearing about the story.

 

 

Thoughts about the piece: 

Margaretville in upstate New York continues to be known for clandestine illegal businesses like marijuana farming but moonshine (and its folklore), has been adapted to upscale retail sales at local farmer’s markets. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/22/dining/22Distill.html The term “moonshine” may come from English smugglers or “moonrakers,” historically describing backwoods Southerners.

 

 

 

 

 

Childhood
Customs
general
Initiations
Legends

Murder in John Adams Middle School

 

Material

In 5th grade I was told that some girl was killed in the girl’s restroom at John Adams Middle School. I was also told that a guy killed the girl and that there was a lot of blood.

Context

This legend is told to the 5th graders right before they go on to middle school. Both boys and girls are told this legend.

Informant Analysis:

The informant cannot remember exactly who told her the story all she remembers is that it was a fellow classmate and that everyone in the 5th grade knew about. The informant, as a current student at John Adams Middle School, does not believe that this event ever happened. She believes that this legend was told to the fifth graders so as to scare the incoming students of John Adams Middle School.

Analysis from Collector:

I agree with the informant that this legend is told to only the fifth graders who are about to go into John Adams Middle School. When I was about to go into middle school, I too was told about a murder that was committed in the middle school I was going to attend. Even though the place in which the murder was committed is different in both legends and there are different details to the legends, both legends do include a death of a student that attended the middle school. I further agree with my informant that this legend was told to scare the incoming students because at that age, the student is going through a major transition, that transition being  going into a different ‘bigger and harder’ school. This major transition would already put some fear into the students and to further scare them it would make sense to tell them about a death that occurred in that middle school. Being told this legend about the middle school can also be considered an initiation rite of becoming a middle school student. Once the student goes into the school he/she would be a middle school student because he/she would know the legend about someone being murdered in the school. If the student is never told about the legend, he/she will never fully be part of the group because he/she would not know the legend that everyone else knows.

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