USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘michigan’
Folk Beliefs
general
Legends

The Hunt for the Melonheads

Description

“There’s this really interesting thing about St. Joseph, MI, this thing about Bridgeman, the neighboring city. So, there’s this, uh, story about the “melonheads.” There’s this Cook Nuclear Plant between the cities, which is one of the only ones in the area. Very high restricted, obviously because there’s nuclear shit in there. Very, very high security. There’s this rumor, this old story, that way back in the 50s or something there was an acid leak from the plant and this acid leak affected a bunch of people from Bridgeman, where it demented their heads. The people became outcasts, aka the “melonheads,” they went to live amongst the woods.

So, what people do is that they go on hunts for the melonheads. It’s this fun thing that teenagers do, and I’ve never been, but I’ve been asked to go. They go to the depths of the Cook plant. You’re supposed to turn off your car with your lights on. You’re supposed to howl in the night. Apparently, the melonheads will come to your car and kill you. People swear they’ve seen the melonheads. Usually, people tell this story when they’re attempting to be “scary” or share creepy stories. It was told to me when I was hanging out with my other friends, drinking beer and hanging out outside somewhere. Everyone thought it would be great fun to hunt for them, but I didn’t want to go, so we didn’t.”

Context

The informant would hear of this story when engaging with other teenagers, back when the informant was a teenager. Typically, this story would be shared when teenagers gathered in groups and the informant first heard of it when their friends attempted to get the informant to partake in the “hunt.”

Analysis

Like most stories that teenagers tell each other, I believe something like this would be used as perhaps a sort of group “initiation,” or something to use to scare each other. It feels like a Michigan-specific Bloody Mary story, something teenagers would do when they are bored or want to see who is the bravest. I engaged in many such games when I was younger, sort of playing “chicken” with these weird stories and legends. I would also make a guess that the idea of the melonheads was created as a way to possibly ward people off from visiting the nuclear plant.

 

Game
general

Euchre – A Michigan Game

Item:

R: Euchre, in fact, uses a subset of a deck of cards.  It only uses cards 9 through Ace, or I guess Ace then 9 through King.  But ah, you play.. by.. ah, it’s like- it’s like Hearts or Spades where there’s the trump suit.  But uh, when you play, oh and everybody, uh uh, there’s- has five cards in their hand, and you do five different tricks where everybody plays down one card.  I’m sure it’s similar to Peaknuckle, and Hearts, Spades, other ones.  One of the suits is trump, and the way that that suit becomes trump is very Euchre way of making it, I think.  Maybe it’s similar to Peaknuckle.  One of the weird things about Euchre is that the Jacks, are the highest cards in the game.  Usually, in a game of cards, either the Aces are the lowest or the Aces are the highest and then Kings are the highest or the second highest.  But in Euchre, the Jack of trump is the highest card and the Jack of the same color off suit of trump is the second highest card, so there’s that extra thing to remember.  Ah, and thereafter all the other cards of the trump follow as you would expect: Ace, King, Queen, 10, 9.  Then you keep track of your score on the five cards.  First team to get ten points wins.  You get one point if you take a majority of tricks in a hand.  Two points if you take all the tricks in the hand, or you take the majority of tricks in the hand but the other team called trump.  You get, ah, four points if you go alone and you let your partner not do anything at all.  You get eight points if you go alone when the, ah, other team called trump. And you win still, because you Euchre’d them.  To “Euchre” someone means to beat them when they called trump.  But.. ‘cause when they call trump, they get the advantage of being able to pick up an extra trump card, or they get the advantage of knowing what’s in their hand should be better toward that trump.  If they called trump, and you still beat them, they were fools!  They made a terrible mistake and misread their hands.

Q: Sorry, could you explain trump again?

R: Trump is a system in cards where that suit mysteriously beats the other suits for no particular reason.  It’s like, it’s like white supremacy, there’s no real good reason for it, but for some reason white people beat other people at things.  In Euchre, every time you play a new hand, ah, you.. every hand, the trump gets redecided.  The trump is a suit of cards.  So, in one hand it might be spades, the next hand it might be hearts, and somebody who’s brave and thinks they could do well with that trump calls that trump.  Usually what happens is the dealer deals out cards, and then the dealer flips over one of the remaining four cards, ‘cause you don’t deal out four of the cards, otherwise people would be able to count cards and you don’t want that.  So, flip over one of the cards, that card is up for grabs as the trump suit.  The person to the left of the dealer goes first and says either they want to pass, or they ask the dealer to pick up that card.  If they ask the dealer to pick up that card, that suit become trump, the dealer puts that card in their hand and puts a different card down on the table, face down and puts those and the other cards to the side.  That’s how trump is decided. But if nobody tells the dealer to pick it up including the dealer doesn’t want the card they flipped over, they don’t want that card to be trump, the dealer flips that card over and then you go in the circle, and from the left of the dealer around, you can choose any suit as trump, except for the one you flipped over.  If nobody picks it, then the dealer is screwed.  It’s a move called screw the dealer, and the dealer has to pick the trump.   Even if they have no chance of winning with anything.  You play in pairs, the dealer is one member of the pair.  It’s a four-person game, and uh, the dealer rotates around.  You rotate the dealer around in the circle.

 

Context:

I picked up Euchre while hanging out with a group of friends from the University of Southern California and we all began to talk about games from our childhoods or where we grew up.  Two members of this group were from Michigan, but one of them did not know the game, explaining how she’s had people assume she knew the game because she was from Michigan.  She talked about how if someone knows the game Euchre, and knows that someone else is from Michigan, it’s a good possibility that the person knows how to play it.  She also explained that you would pick the game up from family or friends in a social setting.  The other informant did not entirely grow up in Michigan, but did know how to play and explained the game in great detail above.

 

Analysis:

Euchre is a prominent example of how a particular piece of knowledge is tied to a certain locale, in this case, the state of Michigan.  It is also an example of how something like a game shared from person to person amongst a group creates or reinforces a certain identity.  Euchre serves as a very obvious identifier of who comes from Michigan.  The significance of the relationship between Euchre and Michigan is evidenced by how the female informant explained that everyone assumes she knows the game because she’s from Michigan.  She does, in fact, know of the game, but she does not know how to play.  To some others from the state, it may seem like she is not truly a Michiganian.  Since Euchre is primarily a Michigan thing, learning it may also be a method of assimilating into the state culture.  In the case of the male informant, he actually lived in Maryland before moving to Michigan.  As such, he turned from an outsider to an insider by learning how to play, becoming a Michiganian himself.  There appear to be no rules about sharing Euchre outside of Michigan, alluding towards openness in the state culture because there is not any exclusivity.  In this particular case, the informant’s willingness to share the game with others outside of Michigan allowed them to partake in the state’s culture when they otherwise would not have had a chance to.

 

Additional Informant Information:

The data of the male informant, ‘R’, who explained the gameplay of Euchre is in the section above the item.  The same information is provided for the other informant below.

‘S’ – Nationality: USA; Age 29; Occupation: Ph.D. Student; Residence: Los Angeles, CA; Primary Language: English; Other Languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew

Folk Beliefs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Snow Day Ritual

Description

“You would hear there was a snow coming, a big storm, and in order to secure the snow day, you would do the pre-snow day ritual. What you would do is wear your pajamas backwards, then flush three ice cubes down the toilet. While the ice cubes were being flushed you would chant ‘I love snow days.’ The ice needed to be gone, your pants needed to be backwards, and then you had to do it until the ice cubes were gone. If it worked, you were a genius, and if it didn’t work, you were pretty stupid.”

Context

The informant reported that in Michigan, where they are from, snow days are incredibly important to school culture. This ritual would be used when the informant was in school, usually in the winter, to attempt to secure a snow day, which involved shutting down school for a day due to inclimate weather.

Analysis

A lot of students have been heard of doing this — I had similar snow day rituals that the students believed, often well into high school. I find this sort of thing very cool because where does it come from? At what point, after the invention of the modern school day began, did something like this start, and how did it become customary for students? My own personal idea is that it comes from other rituals to ward off evil, but is a children’s bastardization of that idea, creating their own.

 

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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