USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘scary’
general
Legends
Narrative
Signs

The Banshee

The following is a story about an Irish legend.  The informant is represented by the letter S, and I am represented by the letter K.

Piece:

K: Tell me about the Banshee.

S: So, the banshee is… uh… and Irish legend. And it’s, it’s this spirit of a woman… who has this long, silver-white hair… like down to the floor.  And she’s always brushing her hair with this comb.  And her eyes are red- from like centuries of crying and grieving over people who- who other people have lost.  And uhm…uhm… and basically, the Banshee is the uhm, warning, that somebody you’re close to is going to die.  So if the Banshee comes to you, someone you love- is gonna end up dying.  And uhm, the Banshee is the…. kinda the predecessor to the… what is it? The Coach de Baron… What is it? The Cóiste Bodhar. Uh, which is… the… the coach that takes you to death, so… yeah, the Banshee is very scary. She wails. And if you hear the wailing, then you know… that somebody’s gonna die.

Context:

We were sitting at a dining room table on Easter Sunday.  We had just eaten dinner and celebrated the holiday.  We were sitting around and just talking and sharing stories and folklore that we knew about.  The informant is my friend’s younger sister, so she lives at the home we were at and she was sitting with her friend, with me, her brother, and our other friend sat across from them.

My Thoughts:

The Banshee seems to be a legend that is meant to kind of scare people into always being alert and always watching out for their family.  It was interesting because when I collected this piece of folklore, the informant told me that her dad’s friend had actually heard the Banshee at one point and then someone they knew died shortly after.  The informant seemed to strongly believe in the Banshee from hearing this story of the person her dad knew.  This goes back to the idea that with legends you never really know if these people or things exist/existed because there are stories of them existing, but there’s no proof they never did or that they don’t.  The Banshee seems to have some similar characteristics to La Llorona, actually, which was also interesting.  It’s possible that both of these legendary people are the same and the context of each story is different from culture to culture, but there’s a mass belief in this spirit of a woman with long hair that grieves. With the Banshee, a lot of the context I received from my informant and from her father, who followed up with some context is that the main thing about the Banshee is that you hear her, but you don’t really see her, which I also thought was very interesting in relevance to our class discussions about ghosts and spirits.  It seems as if in American folklore we’re much more scared of seeing actual ghosts, but here there’s a clear fear of hearing the Banshee.

 

For another version of this story, see p. 9-19 of Elliott O’Donnell’s 2010 Banshee (Project Gutenberg)

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Magic

Ghost stories at Christian camp (Dolly)

INFORMANT: OOH girl I got a ghost story. You’ve probably heard it. I feel like everyone’s heard it.

 

ME: What is it?

 

INFORMANT: The Dolly story.

 

ME: Oh my god yes I have heard it! Tell me your version.

 

INFORMANT: Okay so according to the story there was once this little girl who went to the carnival and played some carnival games. They were those carnival games where you can like win stuff, ya know? So anyway this little brat played the game and lost and pitched a fit, so the carnival guy gave her this beat ass doll that only had two fingers and I guess she was like “whatever it’s cute” and took it home and named it Dolly. So she started noticing that her doll kept ending up in different places than the places she would leave it, and she asked her parents if they had been moving her doll around and they said no. The one time she came home and Dolly had not only moved but also had a knife in her hand. I guess she was an idiot or something because she didn’t think this was weird and kept the doll. Then one day her mom went missing and no one knew where she went. The girl went to the doll for comfort and noticed that it had gained a finger. The next day, while she was at school, her dad went missing. Once again, Dolly had gained a finger. The next day she came home from school early and walked in and found Dolly standing over the house keeper with a bloody knife. When she took the knife from Dolly she noticed that she had gained another finger. This was the moment when she realized that Dolly gained a finger every time she killed someone and that her parents weren’t missing. They were killed by Dolly.

 

Background

The informant learned this ghost story at Christian camp from one of her friends. She said that they often exchanged ghost stories right before going to sleep for fun, even though it was really scary. This story was her favorite one to tell because she thought it was so creepy. She also thinks that this story is the reason she now has a strange fear of dolls.

 

Context

The informant is a college student at the university and grew up in Dallas, Texas.

 

Thoughts

The idea that a doll could be possessed is a common theme in folklore. This perversion of something that typically symbolizes childhood is exceptionally scary in nature because childhood is suppose to be comforting. It’s scary to think that even the things we might turn to for comfort could also be evil. This type of scary story can also be seen in horror stories about haunted houses or evil stepmothers. It is terrifying to think that the things that should keep us safe could actually be the things putting us in danger. If you can’t turn to your childhood toy, your house, or your mother for comfort, then what can you do? Additionally, because the girl received the cursed doll after she misbehaved, it could have also been a way to scare children into behaving correctly and encourage them to not act so spoiled.

 

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Haunted Driveway of Valencia

TEXT:  This is a short transcription of my conversation with someone who knows the story of the Haunted Driveway of Valencia. My informant will be seen as and I will be B. 

A: There was this one time where my friends and I drive through there at like 2 am just to see what it was like. And then we played a game of rock paper scissors and the loser had to get outside and touch a tree that was barely visible. It was almost pitch black because there were no lights or anything. No one lived there or anything. I ended up losing, of course, and I ran out to go touch the tree but my friends were slowly driving off. I was so scared. I chased after them but I swear, it felt like someone was behind me.

B: Why was this place scary? Like did it have a reputation?

A: Yeah, so Valencia is not that old but even still, for however long Valencia has been around, there has been no construction on this road at all. Everywhere around it, there are houses and stores and stuff but the city hasn’t even bothered putting lights here. And it’s a dead end if you drive far enough. And there was this girl in my school that did something similar to what I did and she came back traumatized or something. Apparently, when she got back in her friend’s car, she was bawling cause she said she saw a ghost or something.

B: Was she the only one that experienced this?

A: I think so. The driveway always had a scary reputation, even before her, but she kind of just solidified it.

B: Do people believe her?

A: People were talking about it and going up to her at school asking if she was okay for a few days or so. Personally, I don’t really believe her. I think it was probably her own head that tricked her. You know how when your foot is dangling off your bed at night, you feel like someone is going to grab it? I think it was something like that.

B: What are your views of the driveway now?

A: I mean, I don’t really believe in ghosts. But I do have to admit, it was pretty scary to be in the middle of darkness. I really do feel like someone was chasing me but I know in my head that there was no one. But it was still one of the scariest experiences of my life.

 

INFORMANT: My informant has lived in Valencia since he was in 3rd grade. Ever since he moved there, that road has had cones around the entrance. Even though there has not been any construction, cones blocked the entrance. He is not a believer in terms of ghosts or supernatural events. He loves to watch scary movies because he likes the thrill but never gets affected by the movies afterward.

CONTEXT: The informant and I were grabbing a meal on a weekday because we were catching up after a while of not seeing each other. I asked him if I can talk to him about the Haunted Driveway in Valencia for my project and he obliged. It was very casual and he did not tell the story with any scary or fearful intonations. This was primarily because of the fact that he did not believe in paranormal things or haunted areas.

MY INTERPRETATION: I was actually raised in Valencia as well so I had heard about this Haunted Driveway before. However, I did not know too much about it because I did not live as close to the driveway and because my friends did not like scary things so we never tested this myth. I also heard about the girl that was traumatized from her experience on this driveway but I heard a far more exaggerated version. I heard that she had to go to the hospital because she had fainted and when she woke up, she had not been the same for a few days. It was interesting to hear from someone that actually went to the same school as her. I couldn’t help but think about the idea of multiplicity and variation as the story gets performed by different people over time. This story probably started off as the story that my informant said and slowly deviated into a more horror-like story as it got to other people in the city. This supports the idea that as every time a story is performed, there is a little variation in the story. If there is enough of this variation, eventually, the story will be very different from the original.

In my personal opinion, I have a very similar perspective to my informant. I do not think that the driveway is haunted by any spirits or anything. I completely agreed with the small side story that my informant had said about the foot that is dangling off the side of the bed. It’s true that often times, people get scared that something will grab their foot. This is similar to when some people have to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. Often times, people don’t like to do it because they are scared of the dark. Especially because this driveway has no lights at all, being in complete darkness probably perpetuates fear in people who do not like the dark. I have driven on that road with my friends during the day and it seems awfully normal. There are just a lot of trees and mountains encircling this very narrow plot of land which also makes it hard for the moonlight to help illuminate this area during the evening.

general
Myths

Medusa

The following informant is an 12 year old. In this account he is explaining who Medusa is and how is father used to tell them stories about her. This is a transcription of our conversation, he is identified as J and I am identified as K:

J: Our dad used to tell us the Medusa story. It’s about a women, like an evil evil women, and she has like… snakes for hair… and if you look in her eyes you turn to stone. And it happened to anyone that looked into her eyes, children, adults, anyone and you would turn to stone

K: That sounds like a scary story, how old were you?

J: He has been telling us this story for about like around 5 years old… and yeah it was more scary and had jump scares! He would tell us in a dark room and out of nowhere he would start tickling us. But it doesn’t scare me now.

K: Do you remember the story he used to tell?

J: Well no, he changes the details every time … but it always was about a women with snakes for hair that would turn you to stone if you looked in her eyes

Context: He and his sister took turns telling me stories

Thoughts:

This reminds me of the Oral Formulic Theory, in that for the story to be effectively scary, the character of Medusa needs to remain the same. By using the mythical being and changing the formulaic (little details) the dad was able to adapt the tale as his son got harder to scare.

For another version of Medusa, here is a clip from Percy Jackson & the Olympians – Medusa’s Garden https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HPjZKKV37do

Narrative

Creepy Clown Story

Informant is USC sophomore born and raised in Amherst, NY.

He tells me the story of a “deranged clown” he and his friends came across in the summer of 2016.

He tells me:

“Yeah, we were walking in the forest by my house. I was going to shoot some pictures and my two friends were with me. It was like noon, a perfectly normal day.

So I was going to take some portraits and then we were going to go see a movie. It was so normal, but as we’re walking down the path in the forest— it’s behind the school, we went all the time so this was no different— I saw this color out of the corner of my eye.

And this was happening right around the time when all those clowns were showing up in videos. So my first thought was “oh god, a clown.” And so I turned and there he— it— was, a clown standing in the forest. It looked like he was holding a knife, I saw a glisten which could have been a knife, but also maybe a phone or something. A watch glistening or something, but I’m pretty sure it was a knife.

He wasn’t looking at us but immediately I had a flash back to a video I saw where a clown started chasing someone at like, full speed. So I wasted no time and we high tailed it out of there.

Usually I don’t believe in this kind of stuff. Honestly I thought those clown videos were just all faked. But when you see one yourself, and you think that somebody’s crazy enough to go stand in the forest dressed like that, you don’t care what’s faked. You get the fuck out of there!”

Personally I’m also skeptical of this “killer clown” thing. It seems a little too “Hollywood” to be true to me, it kind of taps into this scary movie fear we have as a society. I don’t know if I actually believe he saw a clown, or if he even believes he did. Part of me thinks he’s just playing off of the trend and wanted to have a creepy clown story of his own.

I also wonder about the “scary clown” thing— why is it true? What’s so scary about clowns, or as a society did we choose to make the clown scary because it’s a better narrative?

Legends
Narrative

“El Coco” and “La Mano”

Both my Grandparents say growing up they were told about the story of “El Coco” it was only when they came to the US was when they heard about El Cucuy from Mexican friends and El Cuco from Puerto Rican and El Salvadorian friends) The story is basically the same regardless of the source, El Coco lives under your bed, in your closet or in the darkest corner of you room — and he will come and get you if you misbehave. Or at least that’s what many Latino kids are told growing up, and in that way El Coco/Cucuy is the equivalent to the American bogeyman. This was confirm my by Mexican Aunt Anyssa and most of my Colombian relatives. There is a wonderful web site featuring the great bilingual storyteller Joe Hayes retelling legend of “El Cucuy” I highly recommend the web site: http://www.cincopuntos.com/products_detail.sstg?id=4
However, my Grandfather had a personal variation, called “La Mano” or “The Hand”. His own grandmother, Celestina, who was widowed and never spoke but lived with my Abuelo’s family, which consisted of his parents and six other siblings. She had been a healer and a seer. Story has it that she foresaw her husband’s death and started to buy mourning clothing one month before her husband died that she wore till she died. It was told that in her grief she had convinced the mortician to give her husband’s hand, which she allegedly kept under her bed in a box. My grandfather’s mom, Margarita, who after trying to get 7 kids to bed would often resort to the threat that if they did not go to sleep “La Mano” would come out from under Grandma’s Celestina’s bed and attack and choke them, so they should behave and be quiet so “La Mano” could not find them. The threat was very effective. One night My grandfather told me “he got up to get a drink of water he was trying very hard to be quiet when he heard a rattling sound coming from Grandma Celestina’s room, he stopped cold and felt cold sweat pour down his back as the rattling turned to scratching as if it was trying to scratch it way out. Suddenly the door pops open and no one is there but a small object was on the floor slowly moving toward him. He felt frozen to the ground and could not move or breath. He saw a couple of skeleton digits come into the moonlight and he was certain he was seeing “La Mano”. He ran back to his room, sandwiched himself in the middle of his two sleeping brothers, thinking if the hand came, it would get them first!  Even though my grandfather moved to another hemisphere and was living in Los Angeles, several decades after grandma Celestina had passed away, he came across a movie poster while waiting in line for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) for a horror movie called The Hand (1981) where a comic book artist loses his hand in a car accident and his hand is never found, The hand begins to follow the artist and kills anyone who angers the artist. Apparently, Grandfather almost fainted when he saw the poster but literally ran out of the movie theater when the trailer for “The Hand” began. He spent 20 minutes pretending to go to the restroom and buying everything the concession stand had to offer. He refused to sit anywhere but the aisle in case he had to bolt. He reported having nightmares for two weeks after, not about Darth Vader but about “La Mano”. As he was telling me about the legend, he became very pale , he kept clearing this throat and his voice quivered throughout.

Analysis: Urban Legends of things that hide in the dark to scare children into compliance seems to be a common universal theme. However, if they made a movie out of a hand hiding in the dark that can come and kill you, then maybe there is some kind of motif about hands that I am not aware of but one that does cross cultural lines.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: So there’s this bedtime prayer and it goes like “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my soul to keep, and if I die before I wake, I pray the lord my soul to take.” When I was younger, I had a doll and every time I squeezed her, she would say that. And when I went to bed, my mom would squeeze the doll, and the doll would say it and I would say it, and then it became a ritual that we would have. And in my mind, as a child, I didn’t think that it was scary until it started being incorporated into American horror movies. So when I was 10 or 11, I remember watching a horror movie, and this very scary doll saying the same lyrics. So now, it’s a common prayer that started to be associated in multiple horror movies, and the origins are definitely from the bible, but it’s not a typical religious saying. In my generation, it was common that stuffed animals or dolls would say it. But now they don’t really sell these things anymore, because it’s turned into a creepy symbol in American culture, and it scares people.

Collector: Who gave you this doll originally?

Informant: My mom gave me the doll. I just remember having it. In my mind, it was like a protection spell, like it protected me in my sleep. Like in my mind, it never registered as something that was scary, until I started seeing it in horror movies, because of the way that they made the dolls say it. It was in such a creepy manner. It still exists in some parts of culture. I’m not saying it’s completely a horror movie thing, but in my perception I’m very scared of it now. The earliest version was from 1711 I think, like it dates back that far. It technically is a prayer, but it turned into this ritual between my and my mom when I was a kid. And I know other of my friends who had that said to them, when they were kids, mostly because I was also raised by a Christian family and went to a Catholic school.

Collector: Does this particular piece of folklore have any special significance to you?

Informant: It has meaning to me because it’s a big representation of my youth. That like, when I was younger, it was this comforting thing to me, and it’s shown me like how, as I got older, my perceptive of the world has changed.

For another version of this myth, see “Standard Publishing Editorial Staff. Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. N.p.: Standard Pub, 2011. Print.”

Because I have personally never watched a horror movie, I cannot say that I find this particular phrase creepy. However, I can see why it has been used in multiple scary stories, as it is very suggestive of death. I think it’s interesting how people actually manufactured and bought dolls with this saying inside of them, and I think that might have been something that contributed to the rise of this saying in horror movies. When I actually think about the prayer though, it makes sense as a protection spell, and really isn’t scary at all. Basically, it asks God to protect your soul while you sleep, and if anything were to happen to you at night, then to at least bring your soul to heaven. I think it is the particular phrasing and word choice of the prayer that has made it such a creepy horror icon today.

Festival
general
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Stump Murderer

Folklore Piece

“So this is just an old ghost story from camp, in northern Wisconsin. But this guy who was an old janitor at the camp went out to the woods to start chopping trees to make room for this new court they wanted to build. So he started chopping down trees with an axe and he cut off his leg. So he only had one leg after that, and um, so he uh, filled that with a stump that he had found and used that as his leg. This scared the campers so much that the camp fired him and sent him away. But what ended up happening that next summer, a boy was taking a shower on his own at the shower house at night. And then he would hear footsteps and a log kind of dragging. The story is that each year he comes back once and takes one kid and buries them in the back.”

Background

“Yeah I like the story, It’s pretty morbid actually. I mean, like, here we have these pretty young campers, talking about someone chopping his leg off and stealing children, and yet, like, it’s totally OK, because it’s summer camp. How crazy is that, when you think about it, really? Like, ok, if I went up to some kid at a school, and I told the same story about a janitor working in the woodshop, like, I’d probably be arrested! It’s just funny to me. But, uh, yeah, I love telling this story”

Context:

“We’d usually do the whole campfire thing. You know, uh like we would get all the campers around at night and go around telling stories. We would tell this story one of, like, the first nights. It’s actually a pretty clever way to get them to, like, stick together”

 

Analysis: Upon first listen, I didn’t think much of this story. It seemed like a hodgepodge of a number of different classic folk-tales: the peg-legged pirate, the axe murderer, the former camper turned raging homicidal maniac, etc. However, I think there is something deeper to be found here. At the centerpiece of the story is this rivalry between the janitor and the camp. The camp’s work is what made him lose his leg, and yet the camp are the ones who banished him. Then, when he comes back, he takes retribution upon the camp in the form of taking kids that are alone. This serves two functions. First, it teaches the kids to respect the camp and its dangers, but more importantly, and implicitly, to never wander off alone. The informant mentioned later, once I prompted him with this question, that it is why they tell this story, for fun but also so that they don’t go wandering out at night alone.

As someone who did not grow up going to sleepaway camp, it was also intriguing to me that these nights of sharing scary stories around a campfire during summer camp actually happen. It sounds like a modern ritual to me if I’d ever heard one. The ambiance of the night time, the fire, and the stillness of the forest all provide the perfectly eerie ambiance for a scary ghost story, and now because of its association, one cannot come without the other.

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection

Turn The Fan Off

The Main Piece
It is common especially in Korean households for people to turn their fans off before they sleep. Despite incredibly high temperatures, there are some superstitious people who refuse to leave their fan on. Elizabeth is one of those people. She refuses to leave her fan on because she is afraid that the air circulation will cause her to die from lack of oxygen. Although she does not believe that will literally happen, she does acknowledge the supernatural world and believes “magical things could be at work and you never really know, so it’s best to be safe.” She was told from a young age that there is a chance that when one leaves the fan on, the carbon dioxide one exhales is trapped in the spinning of the fan. It is because of the accumulation of carbon dioxide Although this belief has never been scientifically proven, many people such as Elizabeth abide by this belief.
Background Information
My informant was my close friend Elizabeth Kim. She is a Korean undergraduate student, born and raised in California. Her father told her this story at an early age, and her father was told it by his parents. Although she suspects this story of simply being a way of them attempting to save electricity, she was extremely scared of not being able to breathe as a child. This childhood fear stuck with her until this present day.
Context
I first learned about Elizabeth’s hidden fear when I slept over at her house. It was extremely hot because it was during the summer, but luckily we had the fan on. When she turned it off as we were about to go to sleep I was confused as to how she could be possibly cold in this kind of heat. When I asked her to turn it back on she replied “no.” When I asked for an explanation she went on to explain the superstition and why she would rather simply just leave it off.
Personal Thoughts
When I first heard Elizabeth’s superstition I thought it would make a superb ghost story, but nothing more. At first I was upset because I was dying in the summer’s heat, but what could I do but abide by her rules. Looking back at it, I find it intriguing that a scientifically unsupported superstition such as that could have that much of an influence on my friend. For more superstitions having to do with fans and death, one can read: Why every Korean kid knows not to keep the fan on over night.
Works Cited
Lee, Kyung Jin. “Why Every Korean Kid Knows Not to Keep the Fan on over Night.” Public
Radio International. N.p., 4 Nov. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Legends
Narrative

Man With the Hook

The informant (my grandmother), loves Halloween and all things spooky. I remember that as a child, I could always expect to hear a horrific legend or other form of narrative when visiting her house. I asked the informant if she would be able to hold a video call with me over FaceTime, and during the call I asked her which of these narratives was her favorite to tell. She said it was a legend almost everyone had heard in some fashion, called “The Man With the Hook.”

“We would always tell this story on the way to Clear Lake. We’d stop the car and park on the side of the road when we got close to Napa State Hospital, then start to tell the story to whichever kids were in the car. It goes that some teenagers were parked near the hospital the night before doing something they were not supposed to be doing, listening to music and making out. Suddenly, the music stops and an announcement comes on the radio that a mental patient who had a history of murdering young girls just escaped from Napa State Hospital. We chose this hospital because in those days, it was the closest place where crazy people were put, and there was a prison part to it. He was distinctive because he had lost one hand and had a hook. The girl got scared and said she heard something outside, but the boy dismissed her saying that she was just paranoid. She yelled at him, and he got mad so he peeled out from where they were parked and sped away. Right when the car started moving she asked if he heard something, and he said no. When they got back home and stepped out of the car, there was a bloody hook on the door. They never found the man, though, and rumor has it he is still out searching for his next victim.”

This is a classic scary narrative that most Americans will say they have heard in some form. This particular version was adapted to a particular location that was convenient to the informant, so that the fear of the children who heard it was amplified by the supposed proximity of the man with the hook. The legend functions not only as a way to playfully elicit paranoia in children, but also to warn them against misbehaving. It is implied that the teenagers in the narrative are doing something that they shouldn’t be by kissing in the car at a remote location so as to not get caught by their parents, and as a result of this behavior the man with the hook almost gets them. No part of this narrative must take place in a specific geographic location, so it can easily be told by those who know it wherever they happen to be.

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