USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘mystery’
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.

Legends
Narrative

Nasreddin Hoca: Turkish Legend

Who is Nasreddin Hoca?

P.N. – “He’s a man we get all of our idioms and fables from essentially.  I don’t know if this guy is real; I’ve been told that he was real, but I don’t know to what extent that’s the case; it’s super old.”

You’ve been told by whom?

P.N. – “Family members, teachers, Turkish people, we would watch movies and make animations of this guy.  He’s been portrayed by everyone, but I can’t say if he’s actually real.”

“‘Hoca’ means teacher; and he is a short, chubby man, with a really really big turban.  A comically large turban.  He has a white beard, and he rides around on his donkey.  He always has a little pack on him. He is the source of most fables, all folklore comes back to him essentially.”

“I remember one story – he comes into the village, and there’s a blind man begging on the street.  He comes over and offers him money, but the blind man refuses.  He leaves the next day.  Comes back, tries to offer him money again, but again the blind man refuses.  And then, the third day he comes back and he offers him a job, and the blind man agrees.  And it kinda teaches you – give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish, he’ll eat forever.”

“To me, Nasreddin Hoca symbolizes the fact that there are so many ways to help people.  A lot of it is: live your life with simplicity, be independent, grow your own food, very much just help people and accept help as well.”

Would you say that you’ve taken this mystery man’s advice into account throughout your own life?

“Without noticing, definitely.  It’s been ingrained in my head.  Not necessarily because ‘oh, Nasreddin Hoca said this,’ but more just like ‘oh, my mother said this, and she got it from this guy, who got it from Nasreddin Hoca!'”

The tale that this person told me, with the blind beggar, reminds me of how many tales are told.  Immediately, I thought of the rules of a folk tale, and how – seemingly – every rule was checked off, making it a perfect story.  This Nasreddin Hoca character was someone I’d never heard of, but he also made me think about my own interpretations of folk tales.  Do I consider all tales told to me from the perspective of one man, going through life, learning lessons?  I just might; and that thought is jarring for me.   In the same way that I may or may not think everything with one voice, I may or may not relate all folklore to one character.

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.

general

Family Heritage

Folklore Piece 13

 

Main Piece: Story of the Romanov Family

 

My family is distantly related to royalty through the Romanov family, and my mother told me this story as a part of our heritage.

 

“The Romanov Family rules Russia for over 300 years. The last Czar of Russia was Nicholas II, and he had been in power for over 20 years. In 1917, Russia was on a downturn in terms of following the current diplomatic state of the Czar. Their economy was on the downturn as a result of their involvement in World War 1. The Lenin-led Bolshevik revolution led what was called the Red Army in an attempt to overthrow the Czar, who’s loyalists were attempting to contain the coup, referred to as the White Army.

A curse was put upon the royal family by Grigori Rasputin, who was the advisor to the Czar. The general public blamed their misery on Rasputin because of his poor job of advising the Czar, including getting Russia involved in World War 1. Sensing something was coming, Rasputin warned Nicholas II of a prophecy: ‘Czar of Russia, if you hear the bell, it is telling you that Grigori has been murdered and you must know this: it was one of your relations who brought death upon me, and no one of your blood will live past two years, being killed by the Russian people.’

Both of Rasputin’s prophecies came try. Only two weeks after warning Nicholas II, Rasputin was killed by Prince Yusupov, who was married to a niece of Nicholas II, meaning his death was family related as was prophesized. A year and a half later, the entire Romanov family was executed once Lenin’s Red Army had seized power.

It is believed that Princess Anastasia of the Romanov family escaped the firing squad of the Bolshevik’s, carrying with her many family jewels. It is still unclear what was the outcome of Princess Anastasia, as she disappeared after escaping the overthrown state.

Imposters have tried to identify themselves as her over the years, but in 2008 there were remains found that match her DNA.”

 

Background:

 

My mom Laurie told me this story as a partial history of my heritage. I am distantly related to the Romanov family on my father’s side of the family, and my great grandmother told my mom this story once when my mom and dad still lived in Canada. My mom likes this story because it gives us a small bit of heritage in a royal family, and she thinks that is very cool to be able to say. She likes that it is historical while at the same time has a mysterious side to is, as it is still unclear what was the outcome of Princess Anastasia.

My great grandmother died before I had the chance to really have a conversation with her, let alone remember having seen her, and she had many stories about our family’s past. My Great Grandparents were raised in Eastern Europe during World War 2, as my Grandfather told me the story of how his father lost three fingers on his right hand. He was out playing in the field with his siblings when a grenade landed in front of him, and being a naïve child, ran to it to pick it up. It detonated near him, causing only damage to his hand but blowing off his middle, ring, and pinky fingers in the process.

 

Context:

 

My mother told me this story to give me a sense of where our family came from, and although we are distantly related, we still hold close to our heritage. When people ask what nationality our family is, saying Canadian isn’t exactly intriguing to people, and since my grandparents were the first generation to live in Canada, we tend to tell people we have Eastern European roots, giving this story as a background to where we come from.

This is generally told when someone asks about our heritage, and doesn’t necessarily have much context otherwise. It is usually an attention grabber, as most people would not expect my family to be of Eastern European descent, let alone royalty. Obviously the Romanov’s were overthrown, but to still have a connection to them is something I will hold on to and tell my kids about.

 

My thoughts:

 

As a kid, I loved the movie Anastasia, which was an animated depiction of how Anastasia escaped the Bolsheviks and was on the run to avoid getting executed. I like the mysterious aspect to the story in that we are not entirely sure what ended up happening with Anastasia. I personally would’ve loved to have a distant relative still in royalty but just being related to something so significant in history.

 

Legends
Narrative

The Golden Spruce, Kiddk’yaas

Item:

“I think he got away on a kayak or something? Haha I have no clue how it got to that point but I know he disappeared, I think maybe someone helped him.”

There existed a tree off the coast of Vancouver that was considered sacred and highly meaningful to natives to the region (the indigenous people). The tree, called Kiidk’yass, was a bright gold spruce tree among a sea of green ones. A man who lived in the region grew very frustrated with society / the world, and wrote a manifesto detailing his issues. As a means to bring attention to his manifesto, he cut down the golden spruce tree. This caused an immense amount of anger and response from locals. The man was arrested immediately. However, on his way to court for his date of trial, he disappeared. The informant says he heard that the man was set free by someone else and kayaked away from Vancouver, never to be seen again.

 

Context:

The informant struggled to remember details of the story: why exactly the tree was sacred (beyond being stunningly stark in color), the man’s name, and the course of events that led to his identification and arrest. He was told the story by a family member, who heard it from a friend. Despite being born and raised in Vancouver, he didn’t have any personal connection to the idea of the tree, and neither did anyone in his family. He said the sacredness of the tree was mainly recognized by true natives — people who’s descendants were the first to populate the area.

 

Analysis:

In researching it further, the story of the golden spruce is rather well-documented by a book, The Golden Spruce. Filling in the details of the informants story, the man responsible for the crime took action as a statement against deforestation and industrial logging. He did in fact escape on a kayak, but the destroyed kayak was later found on an island. It is unknown if he died or purposefully left things behind on the kayak and was able to escape. Further information and another perspective on the story can be found in this book: http://www.amazon.com/The-Golden-Spruce-Story-Madness/dp/0393328643

Folk Beliefs
general
Narrative

Superstition

The Bermuda Triangle

“Some people say that ships and airplanes have disappeared in the Bermuda Triangle. My teacher told us about it because she passed through it but noting happened. I believe in it but I’m not scared.”

To be honest, I had never known of the superstitions of the Bermuda Triangle. I always thought the Bermuda Triangle was a name for a triad of islands. In fact, it is a triangle of islands with an eerie reputation. The apexes of the triangle are relatively Miami, Florida, San Juan, PR, and Bermuda. Encyclopedia Britannica describes the Bermuda Triangle as a “section of the North Atlantic Ocean off North America in which more than 50 ships and 20 airplanes are said to have mysteriously disappeared”. While this encyclopedia leaves an unbiased opinion, there are many firm believers, as well as many firm disbelievers.

According to encyclopedia Britannica, reports of missing vessels dates back to the mid 1800’s. Recovered ships were found abandoned without explanation. Then, with the rise of airplanes as a means of transportation, reports of missing airplanes started to come through over that area and still have not been recovered.

With unexplained circumstances, theories rose about the Bermuda triangle. Some thought it was the work of the supernatural. This superstition is one in which believers are not identified to any specific race or religion, just a shared belief due to their interpretation of the information. Others discount any paranormal activity and with that, many scientific theories have arose. Most common is the role of geography and the environment. According to the Naval Historical Center’s website, a strong current called the Gulf Stream could be the culprit. The Gulf stream, they say, is very “swift and turbulent and can quickly erase evidence of a disaster.” Likewise, discounting the superstitions, they also say that in the past, the combination of hurricanes and the lack of detection equipment for them on boats could leave the ships unaware of a disastrous storm until it was too late. Other explanations they offer include the variations in topography of the ocean floor; and the fact that many ships have been wrecked around the world, and that they occur more frequently in the Bermuda Triangle because it is a popular place with more traffic.

The Bermuda Triangle mystery remains an argued and unsolved mystery today. Like many unexplained events, people will always have opposing theories based on their personal rationalizations. Just like Area 51 or the Lock Ness Monster, unexplained events will always try to be solved and therefore always yield a variety of explanations. However, one conclusion can be drawn- these mysteries make great storylines for Hollywood movies. In addition, they spark curiosity and leave people wondering.

Sources:

“Bermuda Triangle.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2008. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 30 Apr. 2008 <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/62319/Bermuda-Triangle>.

“The Bermuda Triangle.” Naval Historical Center. 11 Apr. 2007. 30 Apr. 2008 <http://www.history.navy.mil/faqs/faq8-1.htm>.

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