USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘university’
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University of Texas’s Reappearing Ghost Face

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California.This conversation took place at a cafe one evening. The informant and I were in an open space but sat alone. I know that my informant really loves horror movies and ghost stories but often says that she is unfazed by them, so I asked her if there were any ghost stories or urban legend back from home that she was familiar with or believed. In this account, she tells the story of a ghost that resides in the University of Texas, something that was told to her by her friends in middle school. My informant laughed a lot throughout our conversation, most likely due to the fact that she doesn’t believe in ghosts and thus found this story a bit ridiculous. In this transcription of out conversation, I am identified as K and she is identified as A.

 

Text:

A: So, I’m from Houston, and so obviously there’s the University of Texas, and there’s like this story about the Ewing Wing. So, um, the University of Texas, the property that they own now was once owned by a guy that would threaten to haunt his children when he died if they ever sold his property, but after he died his daughter sold the property anyway and it became Ewing Hall at UT, and so when it was finished, a face started to appear on, like, one of the floors and there are actually photos of it, and it kind of resembles the owners, and it’s real creepy and that’s that.

 

K: What do you think this story represents? Why do people continue to tell it?

 

A: Well, there is this part of the story I left out [laughs] where the wall… the face keeps showing up, like they kept repainting over it and sandblasting it, but the face kept coming back. Even when they removed that chunk of the wall to another floor, the face still came back… I think people keep telling this just because it’s creepy, you know? Creepy ghost persistence…

 

K: How did this affect the people around you?

 

A: I mean, my friends, or like people I know that do believe in ghosts think it’s kind of cool or they think it’s like creepy and they don’t want to go near the Ewing Wing.

 

Thoughts:

I ended up looking up this story and, as it turns out, this ghost is well known throughout Galveston, Texas. It resides at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) campus, and the story that I found is quite similar to what my informant told me. Legend says that the building is haunted by the ghost of the former land owner; while he was still alive, UTMB offered to purchase his property, but he refused. Before he died, he made his family promise to never sell the family land and to make sure the land is passed on for many generations. However, once he died, his family betrayed his dying wish and sold the property, which is what began the construction of Ewing Hall.

Ghost stories, and other various types of legends or folklore,  are told because it’s a way for people to provide an explanation for something that they cannot understand. Furthermore, the telling of a ghost story reinforces remembering the events of the past, reminding us of specific people and places. So, what is the explanation for the ghost’s face that keeps reappearing, in spite of the efforts to completely get rid of it? It’s to remind us of the man who owned the land and instill guilt in us, the family who sold the land, and even the people of UTMB because they betrayed the owner’s wish. His reappearing face is a literal reminder of his existence, and it also serves as a warning function. Often times, ghost stories are told to shoo people away because most people choose not to live or be in a place that has a reputation of being haunted. We can see this as being true, for my informant admits that though many of her friends that believed in ghosts thought that this story was cool, it still made them fearful and not want to go near the Ewing Wing where they thought they could encounter the ghost.

 

Folk Beliefs

The Princeton Gate Superstition

Content:
Informant – “The lore is that you can only go through the gate once as a Freshman and you can only leave through the gate as a senior or you won’t graduate.”

JK – “So how do you get onto the campus then?”

Informant – “This is just the main gate. There are other gates.”

Context:
Informant – “I heard it on an official college tour.”

Analysis:
When you are college student, your campus can feel like your whole world. You can lose track of the outside world and become totally immersed in your college’s culture. This superstition is an exaggeration of that feeling. You enter this new world as a freshman, and then you are trapped there until you graduate. Passing through the gate before graduation is like leaving the world too early (i.e. not graduating).

Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations
Life cycle
Narrative
Riddle
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

Testudo the Turtle and the Virgin Graduate

Then there’s the folklore of Testudo. It’s the statue at the University of Maryland, of a land turtle, a terrapin, it’s this big turtle it sits on a big granite, uh…pedestal, in front of the library. And his nose is really shiny, because people rub his nose for good luck. Whenever you pass by him. And the legend is that when a virgin graduates from the University of Maryland, the turtle will do a backflip. And no one’s ever seen the turtle move. Put that in there!

 

Do you remember when you first heard it?

 

Orientation! Freshmen orientation.

 

Who told it to you?

 

The Orientation leader.

 

ANALYSIS:

This turtle statue is clearly a point of pride and identification for the University and its students. Located in the middle of campus, and symbolic of their school pride (it being their mascot), it is in the public eye and everyone seems to participate in the traditions surrounding it. First, there’s the belief that if you rub its nose you will have good luck – which is a unifying ritual that all students can share, and enforces their school culture. Second, the joke that implies that no virgin has every graduated from the University of Maryland is also clearly a point of pride and culture. And third, the fact that orientation leaders distribute this tale to new students as a kind of intitiatory introduction to what the school culture is all about, shows that the students pride themselves (and make fun of themselves) for “getting around” and having fun in college. This is saying to the new students, welcome, you will have fun here and I promise you will get laid in college – with a subtle warning that if you don’t, everyone will know you’re a virgin because the statue will do a backflip! You don’t want that humiliation or want to kill the tradition.

general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Slang about UCLA

Context: The informant is a young professional who graduated from UCLA in 2012.  She relays that the acronym for her school had the unofficial meaning of the “University of Cute Little Asians”.

Analysis: A quick search of the UCLA website’s enrollment statistics shows that the ethnic category with the highest enrollment is those who have checked the “Asian/Pacific Islander” box, at 34.8% of total students; the next largest group is white students at 27.8%. The informant herself is not white, nor did she elaborate on whether or not she used the term in her own conversations, but she did confirm that at her time at UCLA, a large portion of the students she saw on a daily basis appeared to be of Asian descent.

The term therefore seems to be a somewhat racist comment on the high population of Asian-descent students at UCLA, combined with the well-worn stereotype that those of East Asian ancestry are shorter in stature than white people, and the fetishization of Asians, particularly Asian women, with the term “cute”.

A somewhat related term I have heard during my time at USC is “University of Spoiled Children”, quite obviously referring to the stereotype of most USC students being rich and white, and a good many of them “legacy” students, meaning an older family member also attended. This view, however distasteful to some, is actually rather true: USC’s student body is 39% white (the next biggest group, 23%, is Asian). And according to an LA Times article, “the percentage of USC students [whose family income is] over $200,000…is more than twice as high as [UCLA]‘s”.

I have also heard the much less controversial and more humorous “University of Summer Construction” (but not just summer anymore–I have been a student since the fall of 2010, and there has been some sort of constrution, modification, addition, or repairing going on every single semester along the commonest routes I take across campus).

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