The Winchester Mystery House is a house that was built in San Jose, California, in the 1800s, occupied by a husband and wife. As the story goes, as relayed by the informant, the woman in the story was paranoid that her husband’s ghost and others in the house would attempt to haunt her. Then, the woman, to avoid collisions with the supernatural, built several traps to fool her husband’s ghost: staircases that led nowhere, extra rooms, dead-ends, etc.
Interestingly, the house has since been turned into a tourist property, where, playing off the above legend, visits can pay for night tours through the “haunted house”. The Winchester Mystery House remains open to the public. Tours can be scheduled at its official website: http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/
It is impossible to know if the folklore surrounding the property caused the site to become a tourist attraction–or if the folklore was fabricated in order to promote the tourist attraction.
“We’ve got a koala bear, which is one of the laziest animals. I don’t know where the tradition came from, but we tell tourist that koalas will drop down from trees and attack people. We like to tell tourists this to scare them. We like to “take the mickey” (make fun of) with people who have never been to the bush before.”
According to the informant, the drop bear is the name of a common prank that is pulled on tourists who have never been to Australia before and are unfamiliar with what life in the country is actually like. Because many of these tourists are afraid of the many poisonous animals that can kill them in the Australian wilderness, Australians like to intensify these fears for their own enjoyment by warning tourists that carnivorous koalas (otherwise known as drop bears) like to drop from trees and viciously attack anyone below. Angus claims that this prank is considered truly successful if a tourist returns home still believing that drop bears exist.
The informant, Angus Guthrie, is a 20-year-old student who was born and raised in Australia. Because he and his family have been in the country for a very long time, he believes that he is quite familiar with Australian folklore and traditions. While Angus does not know where he learned this prank from, he does know that it is a reaction to the stereotype that Australians live on land that is highly unsafe. Australians instead want to be known as a fun loving group of people. Angus believes that this prank helps them spread this image.
This prank is intriguing because it reflects the Australian value of being viewed in a positive light. It is clear that they resent the view that Australians do not live on safe land. What this prank allows them to do is allow foreigners to discover an image that better suits them. When people finally realize that drop bears are not real, that is when they are finally able to see what the Australian lifestyle is actually life.
For a complex example of the drop bear prank, look here: Janssen, Volker. “Indirect tracking of drop bears using GNSS technology.”Australian Geographer 43.4 (2012): 445-452.
My informant AS shared with me a goodbye song:
We’re sorry you’re going away
We wish that you could stay
Our prayers will be with you
We really will miss you
We’re sorry you’re going away
We hate to see you go,
We hate to see you go,
We hope to heck you never come back,
We hate to see you go
AS explained, “The story is we moved from Charlotte, North Carolina to Seattle, Washington. We drove across the country in June of 1998. And uh, maybe July. And that first two years that we lived in Seattle literally every one of my parents—all of our family friends visited from the East Coast to Seattle. And we always gave them the same exact tour. The number of times that I had to go to Pike Place Market and the Ballard Locks. And then we always sang that to them when they left.”
I asked AS how or where he learned the song? “Just my parents…I don’t know. Who can say? I mean I was six or seven so I wasn’t really thinking of asking these hard hitters.”
AS learned the song from his parents. I talked to his father about the song. He explained that he had learned the song from his aunt and uncle when he was growing up in New Jersey. AS mentioned that the line “our prayers will be with you” was weird to him as his family is not religious. But his great uncle did go to a Christian high school on Long Island, so perhaps this song comes out of his uncle’s experience there.
This song was casual and comedic to AS and his family. Interestingly, the line “we hope to heck you never come back” is the fastest line when singing the song. I even had trouble understanding that lyric the first time AS sang the song. It’s almost as if AS and his family were playing a little joke on their visitors. Though, it’s not meant to be taken to heart.
Each time AS and his family performed the song, it was after another family had spent a weekend with his family, touring the city, sharing meals, etc–doing things together as families. So it is fitting that AS and his family perform a sort of ritual goodbye to cap off a weekend of ritualized touring.
This song is important to AS because it reminds him of a time when he, his brother, sister, mom and dad were all under one roof. It was before anyone went off to college or got married. AS explained, “It was when we were the most keyed into the five of us being a family.”
I was wandering through some of the shops in Lahaina, wondering about the abundance of fishhooks that could be worn as necklaces. So I asked one of the shopkeepers about them.
Me: So I was curious as to where the practice of wearing fishhooks originated. Do you know?
Informant: There are many wild tales as to how the practice started. I had a customer about ten years ago who was very concerned about because of his religious beliefs. He wanted to buy a fishhook but was worried about its pagan connotations.
Me: Okay. Makes some sense I suppose.
Informant: Yes. So I contacted a friend who lives on another island about this. And his response was that the Hawaiians never wore their fishhooks.
Informant: The Hawaiians were a purely practical culture. And for them, they would not have worn their fishhooks as ornamentation. They would only carve them to use. So when you hear these legends of safe voyage and this and that – that is not true. However, I do have some examples of one of the few things that the Hawaiians did wear. You see these things here that look like hooks? [Pictured above]
Informant: They look like hooks, but they’re not. They are something that was only worn by the royalty, the ali’i, or the representative of a royal. They are called paloas, which roughly translates as “whale’s tooth” or “tongue of the chief,” and they would wear massive ones on dozens of strands of braids. And that was one of the few things that the Hawaiians wore as a culture. This then translated, over time, along with the importance of the fishhook to the Hawaiian peoples, into the practice of wearing fishhooks as ornamentation. Also, these are mostly Maori designs that we have, not Polynesian. So this is one possible origin of the fishhook as ornamentation. I hope that answers you questions.
Me: Yes. It does. Thank you very much.
Informant: You’re welcome
To me, it is odd that something that has become such a major part of the consumer culture of Hawaii, something that is often seen as being traditional Hawaiian ornamentation, actually was not used for ornamentation at all. Yes, the fishhook is an incredibly important aspect of the Hawaiian culture, as the Hawaiian’s main source of protein came from the sea. There were no large land animals, no large game birds. Pigs, cattle, cats, dogs, and chickens only came to the Hawaiian Islands when the Europeans brought them. Thus, the fishhook would have been extremely important to the Hawaiians, an idea that was then taken by the tourist industry and turned into a decorative consumer item. I personally even have a fishhook on a length of cord that I got in Hawaii (the Big Island) years ago. Yet, the fishhook as decorative ornamentation has become so ingrained in Hawaiian culture that it might as well have become a folk tradition. It has become part of the traditional Hawaiian culture.
Contextual Data: After talking about how birthdays were celebrated in Canada, I asked my friend if there were any other “kooky” Canadian traditions or stories. She mentioned that there was this one story she had heard growing up about the “Canadian Loch Ness Monster.” I asked her to tell me more about it, and the following is an exact transcript of her response.
Informant: “Okay, um. So… My relatives all live in Canada, and ay aunt and uncle—well, a lot of my relatives live in British Colombia—um, my aunt and uncle live in Kelowna, which is like a small city. And it’s around a lake. The city is built around a lake called Lake Okanagan. Um…O-K-A-N-A-G-A-N. And, so it’s like… Obviously there’s lots of First Nations people around the area—they actually own a lot the land in Kewlona. So I think it’s like—I don’t actually know really where the story comes from, but there’s lots of, like, myths about the lake and stuff. Um, and the big one is that there’s sort of like a Loch Ness Monster type creature living in Okanagan called Ogopogo, which is an anagram I guess—like the same spelled backwards. It’s just like a a…Just um… The myth is that there’s like this friendly monster with kind of like a serpent, but really big with lots of humps, and um, there’s a statue of it, like, in the town, and stuff. It’s in like children’s books—like everyone knows about Ogopogo. And um, it’s sort of like the mascot of Kewlona, and so there’s all these, like—throughout the times where people claim to have seen it, and like, kind of like, what’s it called [Snaps]… Bigfoot, where they’ll be like this shadowy picture and it’ll be like, ‘See that’s Bigfoot.’ It’s the same with Ogopogo. They’ll be like, ‘That’s Ogopogo right there.’ And it’s like, ‘Where?’ [Laughs.] Like, it’s not exactly—it’s very unclear. And so a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, it’s just two logs’ or ‘That’s just…It’s obviously not real.’ But, um… It’s still like a really big mascot—All the kids in Kewlona know about it…Oh! Not an anagram. A palindrome. Ogopogo is a palindrome. The same forward as it is backward [Laughs].”
Me: “And it’s supposed to be a friendly monster?”
Informant: “It’s a friendly monster, yeah… So it’s—In all the depictions I’ve seen of it. I had little books growing up with like Ogopogo. Like my aunt will give me like Ogopogo or a work of Ogopogo being a friendly monster and guiding boats in the ocean or stuff like that.”
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My friend really wasn’t too sure about why people might feel inclined to share this story or perpetuate this legend.
One thought is that it might have to do with the element of the unknown that exists with lakes and other such bodies of water—people can’t see too far below the surface, and so they may invent stories about what exists below, or they might catch glimpses of creatures that they are unfamiliar with and don’t know how to describe, and so they create stories about what they are. The fact that Ogopogo is a friendly monster could speak to the relationship that people in Okanagan feel to the place and to the land—they don’t perceive it as dangerous or threatening, in spite of the fact that what lies beneath the surface of the lake is unknown; they perhaps perceive that whatever is on the other side of this unknown is something positive.
From the sound of it though, Ogopogo also seems very much to be a part of the tourist culture of Kewlona—especially given this idea that it is the town’s mascot. Part of Ogopogo’s prominence in the town could therefore be the residents of the town taking control of this legendary creature as a point of pride and as a way of asserting their identity and identifying what might make Kewlona and the Lake Okanagan area special.
The legend was used as the basis for a mystery in one of the installments of the Boxcar Children series (#108: The Creature in Ogopogo Lake). Part of story touches upon the tourist culture around the monster, as people travel to “Ogopogo Resort” to catch sight of the it, but it also taps into this idea of the unknown as the monster becomes a part of the mystery. It thus seems to touch upon two key reasons as to why the legend is sustained.