The informant is an 86-year old man who spent his adult life in Northeastern United States.
Tell me about the Pennsylvania Apple & Cheese Festival
TS: Every October, for the past ten years, me and my wife made it a tradition to go to the Apple and Cheese Festival in Pennsylvania. Then, after maybe five years, we started going with some people from the fire department, until it became.. uhh.. a whole sorta tradition for a bunch of us in the community.
How many of you go to the festival together?
TS; There are about forty of us that go now, every October. It’s a wonderful place.
The Pennsylvania Apple and Cheese Festival is a celebration of the agricultural economy of Pennsylvania, with focus on apples and cheese production. Using agricultural pride as the foundation for a festival, the festival-runners bring tourists and profits into an area that normally wouldn’t draw many.
Original Script: “Okay, so when I moved to Milford, Pennsylvania, I didn’t know anyone! Besides mom and Chuck, and we all know just how fun that could be. Anyways, I had been going to DV for a couple of months and had made some really awesome friends. But they told me about this legend at the school, how this one kid died from a seizure in the hallways and you can hear locker slams, and water dripping in the hallway at night (apparently he was on the swim team). But it was weird because apparently he had epilepsy, but the school didn’t know about it…I don’t know the whole story doesn’t make sense. But I really wanted to see if the legend was true because I’m really into that stuff and also a lot of people have heard the ghost at the school. Anyways, because I was swim team manager, I had a key to the school for early morning practices. But of course, my friends and I thought it was a good idea to go at night to see if it was true. So I told mom that I was sleeping over at my friend, Jess’s, house. And Jess told her mom the same. So we met up with our other friends outside the school, I honestly have no idea how they were able to sneak out…but apparently they do it all the time. Anyways, we used my key to get into the school, we weren’t worried about cameras or anything because that school is so cheap, we live in the middle of nowhere! Trust me, they are not too worried about security. But, we walked into the school, me, Jess, Katie, our friend Nate and Josh.
First of all, it was already creepy to begin with. I mean the school is old! So it gives off creep vibes. In the first fifteen minutes, there was nothing and we started getting board wandering up and down the halls. But, in the next few minutes. I have never been so terrified in my life. We were at the really old part of the school. A part that hasn’t been rebuilt in such a long time, and all of a sudden we heard dripping, and almost if wet people were hitting the tile, then we heard lockers slam shut! Safe enough to stay, we didn’t stick around longer than that. We ran out of the school and Jess drove me back to my house. I stuck up into my room and barley slept that night and when I came down the next morning, mom was surprised to see me out of bed! She asked what I was doing home so early and I told her it was because of swim team practice this morning! Hahaha, it was really funny because when I got to the school, I totally forgot that we didn’t lock the door behind us! So, I definitely thought we were going to get caught. But, when I walked up to the Swim team supervisor, she looked me down and was like, ‘Jenna…when I got to the school the door was open!’ I knew I had been caught, but then she said, ‘I guess Noah forgot to close up after afternoon practice yesterday, so I guess you are the only one with the key now!’ I was trying so hard not to laugh as Noah kept protesting that he didn’t forget! I never said anything after that, and now I will literally be late to all my classes because I refuse to walk through the old part of the school again!”
Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jenna grew up in Chandler, Arizona with her family. About two years ago, she moved across country with her mother and now lives in Milford, Pennsylvania. Jenna loves stuff about ghosts, and she is always willing to see if the legends are true. She has gone on a many legend quests but have yet to hold them true until this one. She is now a senior in high school and eighteen years old and plans to go to California in the fall.
Context of the Performance: Sneaking into a school at night
Thoughts about the piece: This interviewee happened to be my younger sister, whom I am very close with. She had told me the story the day after it happened. Though, I interviewed her again because I thought it would be perfect to that of a category of a legend quest. This story, as seemingly innocence as it was, speaks volumes in relative terms to Jenna’s belief system. Jenna has always been interested in the supernatural, but has never experienced anything that has seemed to be true. (I conducted an interview with her based off of the legend of Bloody Mary, she tried the ritual and nothing had happened that was seemingly supernatural, please see that article for reference). However, this being the first, “supernatural,” thing Jenna has experienced, gives this story a specific edge.
Firstly, this story does fall under the category of a “legend quest” because it is a quest of a high school student to see if the legend of the ghost at Desert Valley High School is true. Furthermore, the ghost story adheres to the category of a legend, something that can (or has) happened in the real world. Secondly, the fact that this legend scared Jenna, that there was happenings of the unknown (i.e. the watery footsteps, the slamming lockers, etc.), signifies that this story held some significance to it. It might have been the social environment Jenna was in. For example, the fact that everyone believed in the legend or it could have been because of the building Jenna and her friends were in was an old building—it could even have been a combination of the two. Thus, it is interesting that this legend quest can also transform into a memorate. In a follow up with Jenna, she had told me that she had shared the story with her other friends that week—friends that believe in the legend as well—and her friends approved that it must have been the ghost of the boy.
Interestingly, this legend quest can also fit into the category of inanition into a group of sorts. Jenna was new at her school, she had mentioned in the story that “everybody” has heard the ghost, and she might of wanted to fit into the new social environment. So, experiencing such a legend quest with a group of friends already part of the Delaware Valley High School, made Jenna ‘fit in’ more with the group, it initiated her as part of the Delaware Valley High School students.
My informant has a diverse familial background. Her maternal side of the family has been living in Pennsylvania for about 300 years, and is deeply entrenched in the Pennsylvania Dutch folkloric traditions. Her paternal family has come to America fairly recently – her grandparents emigrated from Italy shortly before her father was born.
One night, my informant came over to my apartment and immediately panicked because my roommate had her feet on the coffee table.
“In my house, putting shoes on a table means the worst possible luck, usually some kind of death. My dad’s exceptionally superstitious, but this is one of his most strongly held superstitions, so much so that after I go shopping, he confirms that there are no shoes in the shopping bags I place on our table.”
My informant had no idea where superstition originated, or what it meant. Out of curiosity, we looked it up, and found that this was an old mining superstition. When miners died while at work, in mining accidents, their shoes were brought back to their houses and placed on the table.
After hearing this, my informant exclaimed that this made perfect sense. Her town was primarily a mining community, and both of her grandfathers were miners. Her father probably grew up hearing this superstition, and without knowing exactly what it meant, he passed it on his own daughter, who continues to believe in it.
I asked my informant about her wedding that I attended, in particular a wedding dance that took place during the reception. My informant’s wedding party initiated the dance, which consisted of all the women gathering on the dance floor, surrounding the bride. Then the groom has to try and get to the bride through all of the women while they wave him away with the dinner napkins. Usually the dance is done to a polka song, which is also traditionally part of the Slovakian celebrations in the Pittsburgh area.
My informant told me that her husband and most of the wedding party was of Slovakian heritage, which is where the dance traditionally hails from. Not everyone at the wedding was Slovakian, but the wedding party easily got the majority of people to participate. I participated, even though I wasn’t exactly sure what I was doing at the time. The important thing was to have as many women on the dance floor surrounding the bride as possible. This made it harder for the groom to reach the bride and it also just added to the festivities.
The significance of this dance might be the women protecting the bride and her ‘innocence’ from the groom, and the fact that they form a circle around the bride that the groom has to ‘penetrate’ is related to sexual imagery usually involved in traditional wedding activities.
At the end of the dance the groom finally makes it to the center and takes his bride away from the circle.
My father remembers learning about the legend of Joe Magarac in school. Although he doesn’t remember the exact grade he learned about Magarac, he remembers it was in elementary school, and he does remember learning it from one of his teachers as part of a lesson that included other tall tales like that of Paul Bunyan.
The story of Joe Magarac that my father remembers is that he was a hero to steelworkers in Pittsburgh, and a local legend. Legend has it that Magarac often performed near impossible tasks protecting other steel workers. My father remembers the particular story about Magarac’s death, which as I have learned is one version of the legend, there is another version where Magarac lives. The version that my father told describes how Magarac sacrificed himself by jumping into a Bessemer furnace in order to melt with the steel and make the steel, which was being used to make a new mill, stronger.
My father grew up when the steel mills were still a prominent force in Pittsburgh, and even worked in the mills himself in the 1970s. The area where my father grew up, Munhall, PA, is just outside the city and close to many steel mills, some historical landmarks in the neighboring town, Homestead, PA.
Annotation: Mention of Joe Magarac and his Pittsburgh Origins were mentioned in an article by Jennifer Gilley and Stephen Burnett in The Journal of American Folklore Vol. 111, No. 442. (Autumn, 1998), pp. 392-408.
Every year at the local theme park in Kennywood, Pittsburgh, there would be a Carpathian-Russian festival to celebrate heritage and go to the theme park. My grandfather often took his family because of the celebration involved and because of the community they were a part of, which was largely Slovakian.
My grandfather cannot remember if it was the park that started these festivals or if it was his community that decided to have the festival. They would be held at the picnic tables at the park, and there would be polka music always played by a live band and traditional polka dancing. The food that was often cooked was kielbasa, perogies, which are similar to ravioli, but have potatoes and cheese inside of them and foods more traditional to the Slovakian population. My grandfather also mentioned that they had poliopkis, similar to pigs in a blanket.
Other groups that would have similar picnics at Kennywood were the Italians and the Polish. The Irish did not as much, as they had a separate festival during the fall that they gathered and celebrated their Irish culture, although it became more commercial and was held at an amphitheater just outside the city. Kennywood festivals were special in that many people usually didn’t even ride the rides, they just paid the general admission fee to get in, (you could purchase single tickets to ride the park rides), and eat the good and participate in the celebrating.
My informant told me about the traditions surrounding Devil’s Night, or October 30th, the night before Halloween. She mentioned that the normal activities boys would participate in would be egging houses at night and “doorbell ditching.” When egging became an issue of destruction of property and legal action could be taken against the children involved, they switched from egging a house to using toilet paper, spreading it around trees and the house yard.
My informant felt that this was a very east coast tradition because of our association to early Halloween traditions and witches in Salem. She could not name when Devil’s Night started, just that several generations of her family knew about it and all that went on that night, usually criminal behavior.
Often this would involve smashing pumpkins as well. My informant thought that maybe this was another imitation of spirits because of the stories surrounding Halloween. My informant said that when she was younger, her parents would tell her scary stories of things that happened on Devil’s Night to prevent her from going out and taking part in the activities that got her fellow classmates into trouble.