USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘urban legend’
Legends

Cannibalism in European Urban Legend

Main piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between my friend, identified as AF, and I, identified as JS.

AF: There is a story that I heard. I heard this summer. I was working in Europe for this summer, in Prague. And my friend told me the story. You know, my friends and I go out at night and that kind of stuff. And my friend told me the story about girls going home with random guys. I though it was a legit story when I heard the first time until I heard more people knew it.

JS: Oh so it’s not a real thing.

AF: Yea, I don’ think so. Apparently this girl and this guy was at the bar, umm they are like talking. Anyway it’s going really well, so they headed off. She goes home with him, and like they had sex whatever, having a good time. And umm she starts really liking him and he starts really liking her. And throughout the next few weeks or so, she starts to have really weird rashes, on her arms and on her legs.

JS: I know that one!

AF: You know the story? Haha. And so they start to get really bad.

JS: Both of them?

AF: No no, just her. You know she start to living there since they are together and stuff. Umm, wait, take it back, it was for a short period of time. it was like two weeks or so. And so then she goes to the doctor and she was like: “What the heck is those rash?” And the doctor was like: “we don’t know, we haven’t seen this kind of rashes before. It’s none of poison ivy, random things, a cream. You are not allergic to anything. We don’t know what this is.” And they were like: “You know let us just perform more tests.” And then she goes back to the guys house, doing whatever, and she got a call from the doctor while she was at the house. The doctor was like: “Well, you not gonna believe this, but have you working with raw meet or anything?” And she goes: “No.” They were like: “The rashes are associated with a meet tenderizer. The one that tenderize your muscle and everything.” And apparently, the guy is a cannibal. Yea, that was it, When my friend told me that story, I like shocked cuz apparently the guy was like super handsome, just totally your average Joe guy. I was like it’s a good story but not good, you know, not to go home with random people I guess.

Background information:

This story is a popular urban legend that takes place in European context. So, when my informant interned in Prague last summer, she first encountered the story when she and her friend rode on scooters in the park. Her friend told AF the story while riding the scooter and my informant was really shocked because she thought it was a real story. As she heard the story couple times, she realized that it was just a story that went around. However, she definitely thinks that this story does a good job telling people not to go home with strangers. After knowing the story, AF became more conscious about the strangers she met randomly in order to protect herself better.

Context:

This piece was collected in an interview with a casual setting. I was having lunch at the cafe and I invited her over to talk about interesting folklore that she knew.

Thoughts:

This is not the first time I hear about the stories. I hear a couple times but with different version. But the story always takes place in Europe. It can be a coincidence or simply because people in America like to visit Europe and they feel more mysterious if the story is put in an exotic context. The story often involves in meeting strangers whether in a bar or through dating app. I feel since dating app and party culture become more and more popular among younger generation, people are not too cautious about the people they meet. And that’s why this kind of story starts to go around among younger generation, especially college students, to alert people about their safety issues. This story, although does not fit into the category of traditional legend story, it adapts younger culture and becomes an urban legend.

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

The Ursuline Casket Girls Of New Orleans

Storyteller:

“Okay, so there’s this convent and off the top of my head I don’t remember it but if you google like “New Orleans Convent Vampires” you’ll find like a version of it. So that’s when New Orleans was being like built into a new city and there were all these traders and fur trappers or whatever. So women, so they has women brought over from Europe who were essentially going to be mail order brides for these men. So there are crude jokes of it being like early human trafficking and the women were like exposed to the sun on the trip over on the boat so they got like severely sun burned so the men like freaked out when the women got off the boat and rejected them. So they took the women in at the local convent and they like turned the top floor into the places for them to stay. But somehow because it’s New Orleans and this is what happens, people started saying that the women up there can’t be exposed to sunlight, they must be vampires…and it turned into this whole legend about the vampires of the convent. So like if you go on the voodoo tour in New Orleans, you will go to this convent and be told the story.

Me: That is so interesting, wow.

Storyteller: It is crazy! I mean the stuff in New Orleans…like who thought that was true and you know…it’s New Orleans so who knows if it’s true…you never know there.

Background: The storyteller is from New Orleans so she had a couple stories to pick from but decided to share this one. She told me that although she couldn’t remember the exact name of the story (I later looked up the real name and titled this post with it), she knew that because of the weird history of New Orleans, an ancient event turned into a creepy legend.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me a few stories…one is this legend. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is interviewed in a different post).

Thoughts: I have come to realize that there are many legends and ghost stories that come from the south. The reason for this is probably because of the south’s horrible history especially with slavery and the general mistreatment of black people and women. I think that whether or not this legend is true and the women actually were vampires (even though it seems unlikely), it is interesting to me how easily skewed a simple story can become in New Orleans. It seems like the city has a rich culture and likes to accumulate as many interesting stories as it can. It makes it unique.

Legends

The Albino Squirrel

Text: RB: So, squirrels are kind of famous on the UT campus because they try to get as close to you as possible, they will eat out of your hands, and stop in front of cars and dare people to run them over. Basically they are so used to people that they’ve gone crazy. But there is one albino squirrel, the only one in all of UT. And if you see the albino squirrel right before you take a test, you’re gonna get 100% on that test. Or if you see it right before finals week, you’ll pass all your finals.

AT: Have you ever seen this squirrel?

RB: I’ve never seen the squirrel. It’s really sad.

Context: RB is a freshman at the University of Texas studying aerospace engineering. During orientation, she heard a lot of folklore about the campus, including the piece above. The stories told to her at orientation continue to be confirmed and retold during interactions with current students. The interaction above took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break from our respective universities, swapping campus legends.

Interpretation: This legend is interesting because is encompasses a lot of possible distinctions that exist when examining legends. For one, the albino squirrel itself is a legendary creature that serves as an omen of good fortune and engages with themes of luck. Also, the legend described above can be categorized as a local legend, for it is situated in one spot; the University of Texas at Austin’s campus. Additionally, though the legend is still a legend in that its truth value remains questionable, (the effectiveness of said squirrel sighting can not be confirmed by the informant) the existence of an albino squirrel in a place famous for the propagation of squirrels does not seem too far-fetched.

I also find it interesting that the folk beliefs associated with this legend/legendary creature correlate so strongly with things related to specifically college campuses such as good grades and squirrels. UT serves as the perfect breeding ground for this legend, regardless of whether or not if it is backed up by actual sightings. It would be very easy to believe. Lastly, the use of magic is often employed in situations where people feel a lack of control. The fact that merely laying eyes of this squirrel will magically gift you with an A+ seems fitting in situations that involve test taking, where students often experience the sensation of a lack of control over their future.

general

The Legend of Chateau Marmont

Context: A friend visiting Los Angeles was staying in the Chateau Marmont hotel. While sitting in the hotel room, a mutual friend brought up the rumor that the hotel was haunted.

 

Background: My informant is a fellow student and was born and raised in Los Angeles. While I hadn’t heard about this legend before, I’ve come to learn that the hotel being haunted is a notorious myth known throughout all of Hollywood.

 

Main Piece: “I’m not one hundred percent sure as to what exactly went down. But a bunch of famous people have died here and there are rumors that some people that stayed here had some crazy death soon after they checked out. Like some people have said they’ve seen ghosts roaming the halls or hear weird noises in their rooms. I don’t know, but you can just feel the eeriest vibes here. Just looking in from the outside you can tell something’s not right, you know?”

 

Analysis: This legend is a deeply rooted ghost story embedded in the history of Hollywood. While it doesn’t pertain to a specific culture or tradition, it’s embodied by the community of Los Angelenos.

 

Childhood
Holidays
Legends
Narrative

The Witch’s House

Context: A friend and I were taking a walk through the residential area Beverly Hills. We passed by a landmark often referred to as “The Witch’s House”. We then began discussing the history of this house to the surrounding community, one that my friend was born and raised in. In the piece, my informant is identified as D.P., and I am identified as D.S.

 

Background: The Witch’s House sits in the middle of the Beverly Hills flats on Walden Drive. It looks as if it were straight out of a storybook. It was originally built in 1920 and was intended for a studio film, never for a resident. It’s stood on the corner of the street, untouched since then. However, the house has a different history for the surrounding community.

 

Main Piece:

DP: “This is honestly a defining characteristic of Beverly Hills for me. I love it. The first house I lived in was 2 houses down from it”

DS: “Were you not scared to go around it? It looks so spooky, I’d be so scared as a little kid”

DP: “It was definitely very spooky, but it’s just the greatest. Every Halloween night all the kids from the neighborhood would just know to meet on Walden by the Witch’s House at like 8. Everyone would bring shaving cream and all the kids would have a huge shaving cream fight on the street. All the parents would come out and hose off the kids afterwards because we were all covered.”

DS: “Does someone live in there?”

DP: “I’m pretty sure someone bought it at some point and remodeled the inside but made it a point to never touch the outside. I’m not sure if he actually lives out of the house but either way it’s the staple of this street for sure. It’s been in the background of so many movies too. I know it was in a scene of the movie Clueless”

DS: “Are there any scary stories or legends about it?”

DP: “As kids we all used to think that witches actually lived in there or that it was haunted, we were honestly scared to go around it, especially at night.”

 

Analysis: This point in Beverly Hills is one that brought a community together and remains the defining characteristic of the neighborhood and city as a whole. It’s a landmark that connects the locals to Hollywood while also ties together the surrounding neighborhood.

Legends

Ghost on MA-70

[The subject is PD. His words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: PD is a college student from Massachusetts. He is Caucasian, of Irish-Catholic heritage, and has lived in the United States for his entire life. This story was told to a small group of people during a party, just after midnight, when the conversation had shifted to ghost stories.

PD: It was like… this is how I know it was definitely a ghost, because it was like 2 AM, like broad daylight, like I was driving from Clinton to Worcester, and like to get from Clinton to Worcester is like this ten mile stretch of like nothing but woods. Like no people, no houses, no nothin’… and I was like stuck behind this like 19-like 80s, 90s, like fuckin’, like a… it was like a Plymouth, like a car they don’t even like make anymore and shit. And the dude was going like 10 miles below the speed limit, and I was like fuckin’ pissed as shit. And like out of nowhere, the dude just like pulls over to the road, and like gets out of his car, and sprints and just like leaps over the fence and into the woods. And I’m like, ‘what the fuck was up with that?’ So ten seconds later I do a three point turn and turn around, dude’s gone, car is gone, I don’t know what in the fuck happened, but I asked my fuckin’ boss Emily, who’s like been in the parks department for like five hundred years, and she was like, “oh yeah, I’m pretty sure like a bunch of people died on route 70 back in the eighties before we started like improving it.” And I’m pretty sure I saw a ghost!

Thoughts: At the beginning of the story, I think PD meant to say it took place at 2 PM, since it was in broad daylight, and he was sure that this was a ghost because he could see it clearly. I noticed that this legend is very dependent on the modern time frame that it is set in, because the old style of car that the ghost was driving stood out to the storyteller, and connects to what Emily had said about the roads being unsafe in the eighties. I also found it interesting that the car the ghost was driving was said to be a Plymouth, since the story takes place in Massachusetts and Plymouth, Massachusetts is one of the oldest towns in the United States and is generally thought of as a place with lots of history and folklore, including ghost stories.

Humor
Legends

Peacock for Dinner

Background

Location: Pasadena, CA

Informant: 21 year old male from Austria, living in Pasadena with his father after moving to America.

Context

Heard from source local to the Pasadena area. This area is heavily populated by wild peacocks that live outside among the homes there. This urban legend was told to me in response to my question of where the peacocks came from. I have paraphrased the response below

Main Piece

The informant heard from his father who owned the property in Pasadena, that the peacocks migrated down to the neighborhood from the mountains above. There, the peacocks bred uncontrollably and now was considered an “infestation.” As a result, some residents had taken to hitting the peacocks with their cars and taking the corpses of the birds home to prepare them as meal, in soups, stews and other dishes.

Thoughts

The origin story of the peacocks is interesting, the informant is attempting to decipher how these peacocks came to be so prevalent in the area based off of what he has heard. Due to the fact that there are an overwhelming amount of peacocks living in the neighborhoods of Pasadena, the emergence of the urban legend points to a possible dislike for the peacocks. It also seems somewhat taboo, as Americans culturally do not regard peacocks as a typical bird for consumption. The legend itself seems farfetched, but it also points to the “quirkiness” and interesting characteristic of the neighborhood that so many wild peacocks roam around.

 

 

 

Narrative

The Pregnant Student

Background

Location: New Lebanon, NY

Informant: J.R. - 23 year old male, originally from New York State, attended the same high school as the collector

Context

Urban legend specific to a boarding school located in the remote mountains of the Berkshires in New York State, of which I attended. The rumor apparently occurred at least 3-4 years before my freshman year of high school. This urban legend had been repeated and modified over time; I have recorded the core legend here, as told to me by J.R.:

 Main Piece

There was a student and a teacher that developed a secret, romantic relationship. Because of the close proximity that being on a campus allowed, the relationship carried on for a few months, even though the teacher was married at the time. At some point, the student realized that she was pregnant and pleaded with the teacher to get her a pregnancy test so she could confirm. The teacher did buy the test, but was intercepted by school administration, who was unaware of who the student was or her relationship with the teacher. The administration insisted that the teacher inform them of the student’s identity, which the teacher refused to do. As a result, this teacher was fired and soon after he and his wife divorced.

Thoughts

As the collector participated in this folklore when they were a student, they choose to believe the story is an urban legend specific to the school, rather than a retelling of events that actually occurred. The emergence and continued telling of this story could represent the repressed sexuality that students attending the school feel. There are disciplinary consequences for being caught in a sexual act at the school, this heightened a lot of the sexual tensions or feelings that students may have had by making it somewhat taboo. It fits within the archetypes of “forbidden passion” by dramatizing the passion students may feel for one another in the context of a student-teacher relationship. Perhaps this story is a cautionary tale of what could happen if a student was to break the rules and pursue sexual experiences while on campus. This story also represents the very common idea of a student having a relation with a teacher, which is very popular in boarding school settings. The tension between the faculty and his wife is also a popular point of discussion in boarding schools, as salacious or controversial drama that occurs between faculty remains a point of interest for students attending the school.

 

Legends
Narrative

Missing Prime Minster in Australia

Background

Informant: R.P. Italian-Australian Male, 28 years old

Location: Sydney, Australia

Context

Told to me by a 2nd generation Italian male, whose family immigrated to Australia from Italy and Naples a generation earlier. R.P. was born and raised in Australia and learned of this legend as a young boy playing with friends. The main piece/urban legend itself is based on an event that actually occured in the late sixties, however the legend deviated from the official telling of Harold Holt’s fate by speculating why he may have disappeared. I have summarized the legend below:

Main Piece

In the sixties, there was a Prime Minister, Harold Holt, that was known for being athletic, but a little outlandish. He had been the Prime Minster of Australia for a short time and people were generally okay with him, from what R.P. remembers in the story. At some point, the Prime Minster was swimming in the sea in the region of Victoria. He called out to the press and reporters that had gathered to photograph him “watch how deep I can go!” He then swam directly way from the shore where the reporters were waiting, he kept swimming until everyone lost sight of him. He never came back. He mysteriously vanished into thin air. They sent out search parties to look for him but never found him or any remains. It stunned the country because no one could understand how this man went missing when there were so many witnesses. Some speculate that he was kidnapped while in the open ocean by communists. Some say that he was caught in a riptide and couldn’t escape. Others say that he purposefully went missing to avoid the responsibilities of being Prime Minster. In the end, no one knows what happened, and his body was never found.

Thoughts

When asked about his opinion on why the Prime Minister went missing, R.P. replied that though it’s unlikely, he thinks that the Prime Minster purposefully went missing for some unexplained reason. From his perspective, and based on what he’s heard from members in his family, it may not have been an incredibly unexpected thing for Harold Holt to do. We discussed why some people may believe that Holt was actually kidnapped. R.P. posited that it was likely due to the political tension of the times. There were many reasons in that time period for controversies to spread, and due to the nature of the disappearance, it was easy for people to create conjecture and rumors about the situation. R.P. also offered clarification about the cultural reasons for why this was a particularly popular topic of debate. Because Australia is a relatively removed, yet developed country, certain types of stories will dominated the media cycle for an extended period of time. Because overall, it is a safer country when compared to America, stories about disappearances or other mysteries capture the public and become massive points of discussion, news is often privy to “overreaction” from the public in R.P.’s opinion. It is interesting to me, that in times of political tension, there are often public reactions to events that play on the perception of the event, rather than the practical elements. I liken the debate around Holt’s disappearance to some of the conspiracy theories of the sixties in America, in which distrust infused daily life to the point where people developed many controversial explanations for certain occurrences.

Legends

Dead Bodies in The Rock River: A Legend

The following is a conversation with JK that describes his interpretation and knowledge of the legend that dead bodies are dumped into the Rock River in Rockford, IL.

 

JK: So, Rockford [Illinois], is this small town but is actually one most dangerous cities in Illinois and one of the worst cities to live in in the country (U.S.A.). But anyway, the worst part is the West side, kind of in the downtown area, it’s super sketchy there, it’s like the hood. So, there’s this river called the Rock River that flows through the city close to the bad part of town, I don’t know really where it starts or ends, but basically, it’s really gross looking and murky and dirty, no one swims in it or fishes or anything; it’s just nasty looking. So, there’s this legend that the river is full of dead bodies that have been dumped from murders downtown. And tbh (to be honest) I’m pretty sure dead bodies have been pulled out of there. So, like, because of that, no one swims in the river. And it’s kind of funny and ironic because some of the nicer houses in town are on the river, but the last place I’d ever want to live is on the river for this reason.

 

EK: So how did you learn of this legend? What does it mean to you?

 

JK: I think it’s something that every kid picks up if they grow up in Rockford. I remember learning it in Kindergarten or First Grade, some corrupted little kid probably told me, and it spread like wildfire. But if you ask any kid from the area, regardless of the school, it’s just a legend that everyone knows; kind of like common knowledge. I’ve definitely passed it on to people before, haha.

 

My Interpretation:

The legend of dead bodies showing up in the Rock River seems like it can travel fast in a smaller town, especially because it has a lot of shock value. I’m sure some kids even tell it as a ghost story around Halloween. I also assume that the legend plants uncertainty in a lot of people, especially those who don’t live right by the river and are unfamiliar with the area; where the area goes from being the good part of town to “the hood.” The fact that JK believes that people have actually been found in the river, regardless of whether the person found was the result of a murder, a suicide, or an accident, it makes the river that much more eerie to citizens in the area, and helps the story spread like wildfire among kids in grade school who are looking to share the “next big thing” with their friends. When JK told the story, he told it very eerily/spookily, as if it were the perfect Halloween story.

[geolocation]