USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘rite of passage’
Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
Initiations
Legends

Hick’s Road Blood Albinos

Context: The informant was speaking of odd legends around her hometown, San Jose.

 

Piece:

Informant: Alright so, I’m from San Jose California, but specifically a small town called Almaden within San Jose, and there is this really famous road in San Jose called Hick’s Road and it’s famous because there is an urban legend… this is real, I’m not making it up… that the road is haunted and that there are blood albinos that live there. Basically there are these albino people that supposedly live there and who like suck people’s blood— like blood sucking albinos. And they’re supposed to live there. And when you live there you just like always hear about the blood albinos at Hick’s road and its supposedly really scary and people like die there and it’s like in one of the more rural areas and you drive there and there is just not a lot of stuff there and it’s kinda dark. Once you become a teenager it becomes kind of a rite of passage to like go with your friends and like brave Hick’s Road.

Collector: Do people actually die?

Informant: Like no! Not that I know of, everyone goes there and because you’re so scared you like imagine stuff.

 

Background: The informant, a 19 year old USC student, is from San Jose and has gone to Hick’s Road. The legend is part of her hometown’s dialogue and culture. It is a sort of rite of passage as a teenager to go to Hick’s Road.

Analysis: This legend is very reminiscent of vampires, but instead with blood sucking albino people. I have never heard albino folklore, so it is really interesting to see that the legend is basically a vampire story. The fearful nature of blood sucking and death that is part of the legend makes it perfect for a rite of passage. By going to the road as a teenager, as the San Jose folks do, you prove you are capable and that you are an adult. This also creates a bond amongst those who go together and those who have braved Hick’s Road, as if saying they are the ones who survived these legendary dangerous people. It is also important to note that she says the legend says that people die but then firmly states that no one has died from these creatures, indicating the liminal and truth questioning nature of legends. This site also attracts these locals in a way that resembles to ghost tripping but for the albinos that suck blood.

Adulthood
general
Initiations
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Berkeley Senior Steps

Context: The informant was reminiscing on traditions at her high school, Berkeley High in Berkeley, California. The senior steps were a major part of the folklore at her high school.

Piece: So in high school, there were these like these stairs, these steps with like a bench on them and we called them the senior steps. So like only the seniors were allowed to stand on them and if there was like a freshman or sophomore standing on the senior steps, people would like stare them down slash be like what are you doing on the senior steps? It’s inside of the school, and we actually had a meme page that has like 5,000 followers, ha weird flex, and like basically some sophomore actually a few weeks ago peed on the senior steps to like disrespect the seniors or something. And it was the biggest ordeal because like they’re just fucking steps and its like where the cool seniors eat lunch or meet up. Everybody knows the senior steps. And we had like rally day which is like once a year we dress up and everyone was drunk and high at school it was crazy and everyone was like yelling on the steps “Seniors, Seniors!”

I guess it’s just like a pride thing, and like I definitely like after three years of not being allowed you finally get to elevate yourself onto these brick steps. I didn’t really care but like a lot of people cared and like mind you these are gross steps like ugly and dingy. And like there was like tagged names or gossip written on the steps too. Ha it was so wack

Background: The informant, a 20 year old USC student, went to Berkeley High School, and experienced the tradition/rite of passage of the senior steps.

Analysis: This piece is a form of a rite of passage and ritual that was created surrounding these steps in her high school. The steps have become an honor that is bestowed upon seniors, as a form of status and privilege that they are entering the adult world. The steps create a hierarchy, showing that the school and consequently American society, pushes for the future and growth and moving up. In order to get to the privileges of the steps, you must work your way and finally get your status– which hows how the seniors will be leaving and moving into the future. The steps have been ritualized further by hosting the rally and the gossip markings, indicating its connection to school culture and spirit. The mention of more popular students being the regular utilizers of the steps indicates further this level of hierarchy ingrained in the culture of high school, and ultimately our society as Americans. By gaining the status, it serves as a stepping stone or rite of passage into the adult world.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Rise, Run, and Dip

LC: “So Rise Run and Dip was a tradition at Hotchkiss. At orientation your first year, one of the first mornings, everybody had to get up at about 6 in the morning and go for a run, and the run would be, I don’t know, 2 or 3 miles, and it would end by running down the hill, sort of from the top of campus to the bottom where there was this big lake, Lake Wononskopomuc. And you would run run run down the hill and just keep going into the lake and go for a swim. And this was in the foothills of the Berkshires, so it was generally very crisp. And then people also did this for various sports teams, like when you go for preseason practice. It, you know, it was one of those rites of passage, it was definitely difficult, and cold, and particularly unpleasant on the way back up the hill. But it was also kind of beautiful, and peaceful, and very memorable. It was meant to be a bonding exercise, something that everybody did, and that everybody at Hotchkiss had done at least once, in their time there.”

Background: Hotchkiss is a boarding school in Connecticut which LC went to for high school. This tradition has been going on since long before she went there, and continues to this day. She remembers it as a significant rite of passage that was both strenuous and beautiful.

Context: This tradition took place during freshman orientation, as well as at various points of the year for members of different sports teams.

Interpretation:

Rise, Run, and Dip is a fairly clear-cut rite of passage and initiation ritual. Through a shared ordeal, suffering in the brisk mountain air, freshmen and teammates bond with each other. The ritual is seen as important to becoming a real member of the Hotchkiss community, and becomes a shared memory of those who went through it. Additionally, LC mentioned that at the most recent high school reunion she went to, one of the scheduled events was Rise, Run and Dip. When calling back to high school days, the community recreates this event which marked the beginning of their high school experience.

Adulthood
Customs
Initiations
Life cycle
Material

Wall Quotes at HB Woodlawn

Abstract:

This piece is about painted wall quotes from graduating seniors at a high school in the Washington DC Metropolitan Area.

Main Piece: (L is the informant and I is the interviewer)

“L: At my school when you become a senior and you’re graduating, you get to write a quote on the wall. In your group.

I: In your group?

L: In your, like, age group. Like the 2005’s. Or the graduates of the 2005’s.

I: What school do you go to?

L: HB Woodlawn in Arlington, VA.

I: Why do you guys get to do this?

L: Um, to have like your message to the school. So people can look at it. It’s not necessary to look at, but it’s not hidden away in a yearbook.”

Context:

The informant is a 13 year old girl who attends a middle/high school in Arlington Virginia called HB Woodlawn. She started attending the school in 6th grade and plans to graduate from the school as well. The school is small in comparison to the other local public high schools and can only be attended through a lottery system. The school is known as the “Hippie” School because of it’s nonchalant rules and artistic programs that other schools in the area do not have. This senior tradition at HB Woodlawn allows students to leave a quote or message painted on the walls of the school for future students to read, instead of having a yearbook quote.

Analysis:

Leaving your mark at this school reminds me of graffiti and leaving messages in that way as well. Since the school is artistic and focuses heavily on creative ideals, it makes sense to me that they would have this unconventional way of leaving senior quotes. In a way, this version of senior quotes allows for more students to view the messages over the years. For example, if you are a freshman looking at a yearbook, you will only see the quotes of the seniors from that particular year. You would miss out on the quotes from seniors in the years before you entered the school. However, in this version of senior quotes, you will see the quotes on the walls for years and years.

 

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations

New York Baptism

Main Piece: A New York Baptism is either the first time you get badly splashed by a taxi in NYC or the first time mysterious droplets (which might not be water) from above trickle onto your forehead.

Context: The informant (OC) is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. As stated in the main piece, OC has heard multiple different variations of the joke, both originating from New York City situations. She originally heard the iterations of the joke from her immediate family based in Brooklyn, NY and finds the sayings funny for their grudging celebration of uniquely New Yorker situations as well as their play on the concept of baptism, given that she grew up in a religious family but still remains skeptical of organized religion. She also has personally experienced a New York Baptism and delights in witnessing the bewildering baptisms of others.

Personal thoughts: The New York Baptism joke is essentially a coping mechanism to deal with the poor conditions of an overpopulated and polluted city. Baptisms are generally seen as wonderful ceremonies where you are reborn into the purity of God’s forgiveness and light, so to place such “negative” experiences on par with a baptism seems discordant and ironic. However, the juxtaposition between the uncleanliness of the city and the purity of religious experiences makes us question what the difference really is between a baptism and dirty city water. Who’s to say that whatever splashed onto your forehead isn’t Holy Water? Are our religious ceremonies really that “pure” anyways, or are we just placing arbitrary concepts of dirty and clean onto a world that will always, in some way, be dirty? To come back to my original point, the joke takes the undesirable concepts of mysterious substances and inconsiderate taxi drivers and turns them onto their head. Although New York is crowded and dirty, those conditions are out of any individual New Yorker’s control, so why not embrace them? People will always call New York home with all the love and devotion in the world, which is why mysterious liquids are not seen as something to be disgusted with, but rather cherished like you would cherish an annoying but lovable family member.

Adulthood
Customs
general
Initiations
Kinesthetic

First drink at Stonewall

Main Piece: Many young LGBTQ+ individuals have their first legal or “official” drink at The Stonewall Inn when they turn 21.

Context: The informant is half Paraguayan and half American, and she speaks both Spanish and English. Her mother immigrated to the U.S. as a young adult, so the informant is first generation, but the rest of her mother’s side of the family resides in their home city – Caazapa, Paraguay – and are very well-known in their community. Her father’s side of the family are “classically Jewish” people from Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, New York. Although she is not religious herself, her upbringing was culturally Jewish and Catholic. Our discussion took place in her home in Orlando, Florida while her mom made us tea and lunch in the background. The Stonewall Inn is a now-popularized gay bar in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, famous for being the site of the Stonewall riots of 1969. It is said that the bar served as a catalyst for many of the leaders and thinkers of the Stonewall riots, as they would gather there to discuss queer theory and modes of action. The informant, who identifies as lesbian and has heard of this custom through her other queer-identifying peers, believes that there is much power in “doing what they did.” In other words, they pay homage to trailblazers for gay liberation and the sacrifices that they made by saving their first legal drink for the bar that, in a way, is partially responsible for their current freedoms.

Personal thoughts: This tradition is a perfect example of how folklore is performative. By going back to a place that holds much historical and personal importance to many people, and re-enacting those who started the tradition, they are truly performing. Those in the LGBTQ+ community who go to the Stonewall Inn Bar are not just discussing what their trailblazers said and did, they are also, in some way, actively taking part in and adding to their own history. As new ideas are brought up by new generations visiting the bar, the tradition and ideas behind it will continue to evolve.

Adulthood
Childhood
Life cycle

Sari Ceremonies

  1. The main piece: Sari Ceremony

“It is the first time they tie a sari for a little girl. It’s just the first time that a little girl gets a sari, and the family makes a big event out of it. Maybe it was, in the olden days, you know, very very olden days, people got married when they were 9 or 10. This was when the girl was 6 years of age, so maybe people were letting them know.

“And by the way, there’s an equivalent boy’s ceremony. A dhoti, or pancha ceremony. Boys’ cloths are called dhoti, or panchalu, and this is from the Andhra people south of India. So it’s the same thing for boys also.

“Usually, we do it in odd years. 5, 7, 11. But you know, all Indian things are like that. We always give odd numbers of money as gift. And then, you just invite near and dear. That’s it.”

  1. Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Etc.

“You know, I went to some of my friends’ sari ceremonies growing up, but I never had one. So I thought, okay, when I have my own daughter, I’ll have a nice sari ceremony for her. So we visited India and we had one for her, and we had her grandparents and aunts and uncles there, and it felt, what is it in English? Complete.”

  1. Finally, your thoughts about the piece

The sari ceremonies in Andhra Pradesh, a state in South India, are examples of coming-of-age ceremonies. In the very old days, they would have indicated that a girl’s childhood was complete, and that she was now available to be married. While the marriage connotation has definitely faded, the sari ceremony is still a marker of transition from helpless child to young person capable of decision making and responsibility. Wearing a sari requires a number of complex steps, and the sari ceremony also announces the girl has reached a certain level of maturity. The informant mentioned that her daughter’s sari ceremony brought many members of her family together, showing that sari and dhoti ceremonies have also transitioned into large community events.

  1. Informant Details

The informant is a middle-aged Indian-American female. She was born in India and grew up with her two sisters in a small town near a holy river in Andhra Pradesh, the Godavari River. After moving to the United States and raising her children there, she enjoyed reminiscing on her childhood in India and sharing stories of it with her children, so that they could see the differences in their upbringings and learn about their Indian heritage.

Folk speech
Humor
Riddle

Riddle – Name three consecutive days

Informant is my mother who loves riddles. She is known to challenge entire dinner parties with this one riddle, often with nobody able to solve it. She presented this one at a family dinner because there was a guest present who hadn’t heard it before. She says she didn’t make it up but doesn’t remember where she heard it. She thinks she probably learned it from her father when she was younger, living in Cherry Hill, NJ.

 

Here’s the riddle:

Q: Name three consecutive days without using these words: Monday…….Tuesday…….Wednesday…….Thursday……Friday.

A: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow!

 

I think what makes this riddle memorable is the misdirection in the instructions. Of course, the trick is the use of the word “days.” Because of the nature of the trick, when you know the riddle it’s painfully obvious, but without knowing it can be hopeless. Before one has heard the riddle (like any riddle), the right answer is unclear. But after hearing the solution, it seems so obvious. I think it’s like an initiation to her, a rite of passage at the communal dinner table.

Initiations
Legends

The Proctor House

Folklore Piece

“There’s this house in my hometown of Castro Valley, California called the Proctor House and it’s near Proctor Elementary School and it’s also near my house. It’s empty now, like no one lives in there, and it’s mostly populated by homeless people or drug addicts. But, basically like teenagers are dared to go in there and there’s this room that you go in and there are all these dolls lined up on the mantle. And the story goes that there was this couple that used to live there together and they um they’re foster parents, like they would bring in kids every so often, and one by one these foster kids would kinda just disappear from the foster system and no one knew why. And it was discovered that this couple had just kinda murdering their foster kids and they murdered like four kids. I heard this story when I was in the 7th grade from my friends when I went in the Proctor house. But I heard it throughout my teenage years. The dolls, like, had the spirits of the kids inside of them, or something.”

 

Background information

This story would mostly be performed by children around the playground or in social situations near his school and the house. As our informant mentioned, he learned this story first from his friends. He would later also tell me that all the parents knew about this story and wouldn’t let their kids go near the house. He said while this was probably because of the aforementioned homeless and drug addicted populations, many kids like the informant would interpret this as an affirmation of the mystic dangers of this house.

 

Personal Analysis

The dynamic between the children that recount this story and their parents are what I find to be most intriguing. The children believe the tall tale of the haunted house and the clichéd dolls-as-murdered-children horror story, most likely as its grandiose details are continuously reinforced in those kids’ social circles and media. The parents, however, know the house’s true nature, and that it is potentially very dangerous and filled with drug addicts and squatters. These harsh realities of life might be too much for a kid to hear, and so they simply say “Don’t go into the Proctor House.” Somewhat unintentionally, this furthers the legend of The Proctor House as being haunted. In my research, I couldn’t find any authored material on the Proctor House; this would suggest that this legend is relatively local and new. Perhaps the house became abandoned and overrun when the participant was young, spurring the rumors. When I asked the participant about the story’s origin, he said that he wasn’t sure.

Also interesting is the house’s role as a legend quest. When the kids are old enough to brave a trip into the Proctor House, it’s viewed as somewhat of a rite of passage, affirming their role as a “big kid”, or young adult. Ironically, though, it is their discovery of truth about the house, either firsthand or from their parents, and the loss of the childlike innocence about the house’s true state, that affirms their role as an adult.

Adulthood
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Life cycle
Narrative

Toots The Gaseous Ghost

Informant (L.P.) is an 18 year old student. I had heard her enthusiasm for telling ghost stories the week before, and this one stood out. L.P. works at a local novelty shop. This interview is conducted at my house one Saturday evening.

I ask about the ghost in her workplace, which she had mentioned during our previous encounter.

L.P.: “There’s a ghost called Toots because it farts a lot and people smell it all the time. It’s not mean, it just likes to fuck with people. They have a video of it knocking a whole stack of books off the shelf.”

I ask her to elaborate on Toots’ antics

L.P.: “I saw it knock a book on my coworker. The book hit her on the side of the head and she spilled her tea… Today it knocked over a bucket in an aisle when some guy was reading a book.”

I ask her if the ghost has any legend attached to it

L.P.: “It used to be a post office, so maybe somebody died in there I’m not sure.

I ask her if she’s has the video, but she says no, as she doesn’t have access to the work computer. As the youngest employee at Wacko, I’m assuming L.P. is going through a right of passage in learning the store’s occupational legend of Toots the gaseous ghost.

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