USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘michigan’
Game
Legends
Narrative

Mirror Man

After I told a friend that I was collecting folklore for one of my classes, he was intrigued so I asked him if he had any folklore he’d like to contribute. I briefly explained the different kinds of folklore he could tell me. He said he wanted to think of something that is specific to his hometown, and the following came to mind, though he prefaced his account to mention that he wasn’t sure or not if this practice was just specific to his hometown.

“I’m not sure how local it is, but I’ve heard many people tell it, it’s called ‘Mirror Man.’ So, what Mirror Man is, it’s similar to Bloody Mary and in…at a sleepover or something one of the kids would go into a bathroom or something, alone, at midnight or 3am or something, lock the door, and look in the mirror in the dark and think of something you want, and you have to stand still and stare at your reflection for long enough to see your reflection move, and that means your wish has been granted and then you have to move. But, if you continue to stare after it’s [the reflection] moved, something bad will happen to you, like being sucked into another dimension by your reflection or something. But, then, some people will try to stay as long as possible after the reflection has moved to see what happens so it’s not just a wish granting thing but a bravery, dare thing.”

Afterward, he told me that he often did this at sleepovers when he was younger, and told me a few personal anecdotes surrounding his experiences, but requested I did not include them.

Legends
Narrative

The Haunted Escanaba, MI Lighthouse

Informant, a screenwriting major, was talking about his screenplay for his class and mentioned it took place in Northern Michigan. The conversation is as follows, the informant is TP, I am PH:

PH: Of course it’s about Michigan [because the informant talks about his home state very often]

TP: If I knew of any other lakeside town with a haunted lighthouse, it’d take place there, but I only know of Escanaba

PH: A haunted lighthouse? Can I write this down for my folklore collection?

TP: Yes

PH: Okay, can you tell me about the haunted lighthouse?

TP: So there’s a famous lighthouse in Escanaba [in Northern Michigan] because people think it’s haunted because when Michigan was founded, the Menominee tribe used to have land in Northern Michigan but we slaughtered them so their official reservation is just in Wisconsin now but the land is still sacred spiritual ground and they built a lighthouse on this sacred ground… I think it was a burial ground

PH: Who is “they”?

TP: I think the Michigan people? The people who slaughtered the tribe… So people say the lighthouse is haunted by the tribal chief from the time and that, like, if you visit the lighthouse you’ll see his spirit and he’ll try to chase you out and that’s pretty much it

Legends
Narrative

The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, MI

The informant, a screenwriting major, mentioned to me he one day wants to write a screenplay involving “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti.” Ypsilanti is a city in Michigan, the informant’s home state. TP is the informant, PH is myself.

PH: What is that? Is that a legend? Could I collect it for my folklore project?

TP: You can collect it, I’m not sure if it’s folklore because I’m pretty sure it’s true

PH: How about you tell me and then I’ll decide later whether to put it in?

TP: Okay. The Three Christs of Ypsilanti. There was a really well known mental institution in Ypsilanti in the ‘50s.

In it, there were three different men who thought they were Jesus Christ and they decided to put them in a room together and see what happens.

So they spoke to each other for eight hours and at the beginning of the conversation they all got along really well but when they got into who is Christ there was an argument and by the end of it they each decided that the other two were mentally ill and they were Jesus and then they were friends after that

For a published, book-length detailed version of this legend, which was in fact a psychiatric case study, see The Three Christs of Ypsilanti by Milton Rokeach

Festival
Rituals, festivals, holidays

National Cherry Festival- Traverse City

I collected this piece of folklore from my brother, who went to school in Michigan. Traverse City has a Cherry Festival every summer, and this is his experience of it:

Skye: “Along the northern shores of Lake Michigan sits Traverse City.  The city is along Grand Traverse Bay and sits at the lower end of a fertile peninsula.  For decades, the area has been the self-designated Cherry Capitol of the world because of its good farmland.”

Me: How long has the festival been around?

Skye: I’m pretty sure it started at the turn of the century. The farmers would have an annual “blessing of the blossoms” in the spring–much like a blessing of the fleet in fishing communities. There is also a Cherry Blossom Queen, and a parade. The single day observance grew to be several days long.  And now, the contemporary festival is 8 days long.”

Me: What does the festival consist of?

Skye:”There is a professional mascot named Super Cherry.  Merchants set up stands and sell everything imaginable that is Cherry related.  Main stage entertainers come from all over the world.  There are baking and craft contests. Local restaurants and hotels are full and menus feature Cherry sauce, Cherry pie, Cherry mustard, Cherry wine, Cherry syrup, Cherry horseradish and Cherry ice cream.”

Analysis: Other communities in the US have food related festivals and observances– for instance Gilroy Garlic Days in California and the world famous Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota. Food festivals such as these are a reminder of how America became such a prosperous country, abounding with fertile soil. Many people nowadays do not farm as their main way of making money. But Americans who have multiple generations from the U.S. likely have ancestors who farmed. Celebrating the cherry is celebrating hard work, abundance, our history as an agricultural society, and our ability to innovate with simple foods.

For the official website, see here: http://www.cherryfestival.org/

Myths
Narrative

Sleeping Bear Dunes

I collected this piece from my roommate who grew up in Michigan. She told me this story while we were in our apartment. She said she knows it because it’s something everyone from her area of Michigan knows about. Every year she would vacation to the dunes with her family and her parents would tell her the story and park rangers would tell the story as well.

“There’s this folklore in Michigan that most Michiganders, that’s what we’re called, know. Especially those from Northern Michigan because it has to do with the sleeping bear dunes, that’s what they’re called, up by Traverse City, it’s like, Northern…if you hold your hand out it’s the pinky part of it, it’s right on the coast of Lake Michigan. Anyway, there’s these really large sand dunes there and you can climb them and everything. And there’s a story and a bunch of children’s books written that it had to do with…these bears, these giant bears, back…it was probably Native Americans who came up with the story, because that whole area is very Native American-esque. These bears lived in the upper pensinsula so you’d have to cross Lake Michigan to get there and there was this giant wildfire that sparked, I’m sure there were stories of how the wildfire sparked but I don’t really remember that. And…this fire started and there was this momma bear and she had two babies and they were like, black bears, I don’t know, and they were running away from it, running away from it, and they hit the shore, Lake Michigan, so they jump into the water and they just kept swimming, and somehow the momma… I guess the babies couldn’t swim very well and so they didn’t really make it all the way across…. It’s kind of sad. And then the momma bear did though, so she got all the way to the other side, to the main part of Michigan, where the sand dunes are. And she was hoping that maybe they would catch up behind her, they were just a little slow…so she laid down on the shore and waited for them. She just laid there waiting for them to catch and she never moved, so I guess she died, technically, laying there, and the sand covered her and it just kept building up and building up and that’s what created the dunes and there are these two islands right off the coast of the sand dunes, I forgot what they’re called, maybe they’re big bear and little bear, I don’t know, and it’s the legend that those are the two baby bears who didn’t quite make it…It’s actually really sad.”

It seems that this folklore has gone through a few different evolutions. Based on the informant’s memory of the legend, it likely came from the Native Americans in the area, but then became part of the lake folklore, for park rangers to tell vacationing Michiganders. Now there are lots of children’s books written about it, but my informant felt that the children’s books were created after the legend was passed between different people, and not the other way around.

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