Tag Archives: urban legend

Ghosts and Murderers on a Bus

Background: The interviewer and the informant recall a ghost story that circulated in their primary school in Qingdao, China. 

Interviewer: Can you retell that Beijing bus story?

Informant: Yep. There’s umm there’s a guy, and he went on a bus. umm and then the bus got to a station, and then several people came onto the bus, and then suddenly there’s an old grandma walking towards him. And she sort of forced him to get off the bus. He said, this isn’t my station yet. That grandma didn’t give a damn and was like, pulling him off of the bus. And then after they got off, she said to him, those guys that just got on, they were ghosts, you see, they don’t have feet……and then the next day he picked up a newspaper, he found that the bus rushed into a mountain valley, and everyone on that bus died. He felt like he passed the gate of hell ‘cause that grandma literally saved his life.

Interview: Ohh I remember those guys wore Qing Dynasty robes too, like the ones Qing zombies wore on TV!

Informant: Yep yep yep, and oh yeah then the next day when the police found the bus, they opened the gas tank and it was filled with blood…

Interviewer: whooo I still get chills listening to this story…

Informant: Yeah and I heard it was adapted from a true crime story. 

Interviewer: Oh really? I think xxx told me that story the first time, but then two years later I saw something very similar on Baidu Tieba [note: a popular blog site, the Chinese equivalence of Reddit]. 

Informant: Yeah yeah I saw the post too. It really blew up everywhere hahaha. I forgot where I heard about the true crime version, but it was actually a murder case. I think it was a guy, he also was taking a bus ride, and then a few other guys went onto the bus too, and then it was still an old woman who pulled him off of that bus. It was like she saw blood on those guys, and they probably just killed somebody, and they were trying to ditch the body or something like that. Anyways the next day the bus rushed into a valley too. Basically they controlled the bus driver and hijacked the bus, but it lost control and fell down the road.

Analysis: This was a very popular story among fourth and fifth graders in this primary school. I think the reason its horror works particularly well for this demographics is because that bus was the most common form of transportation for students at that age. It serves as a metaphorical cautionary tale to alert the young students of the danger with riding the bus alone. 

This is also interesting, because the ghost story is created on the basis of an urban legend. The two versions are essentially the same story, but with slightly different elements. This shows that folk tales are very prone to variation and multiplicity.

The Jersey Devil

Background: 

My informant, NK, is 19 years old and of South Korean descent from both her mother and father’s sides of the family. Her grandparents live close to her, so she spends a lot of time with them. She is very passionate about cooking. Even though she is majoring in biochemical engineering at UC Berkeley, she has always been, and remains to be, extremely interested in conspiracy theories. While she may not necessarily believe them, she enjoys hearing lore from across the world. (I’ll be referring to myself as SW in the actual performance).

Performance:

NK: So, there’s this urban legend in New Jersey, called the Jersey Devil. I’ve heard about it from different like conspiracy shows or websites, and just word of mouth. Um, and it’s one of those things like Bigfoot. The myth goes that there’s a woman – there’s some variations obviously – but she had one kid or thirteen, depending on who you ask, and she had a pact with the devil or hooked up with him, or something. And so either that one kid or the youngest one was born deformed, so he had like wings and a beak and was human-like but also bat-like. He grew up to huge sizes, and then would be seen around New Jersey, I’m not sure which area. And then there’s been sightings, I’m not sure when the first one was, but there were a lot in the 20th century. I wanna say it’s similar to Mothman: big wings, red eyes, part human. 

SW: Do you know anything about the origins of the story?

NK: I’m not sure, but I think there were some sightings that were hard to explain, so people kind of made up the lore to explain them. 

Thoughts:

I love urban legends. As NK pointed out, like many urban legends, it’s safe to assume that the legend of the Jersey Devil developed in response to some unexplained sightings in an effort to make sense of them. There are a few different variations of the Jersey Devil legend. Most seem to identify the woman NK mentioned as Mother Leeds, as Leeds was one of the first settlers in New Jersey, and family with the name Leeds can still be found there today. There have been numerous accounts and sightings of the Jersey Devil, many of which can be found all across the internet. For more background on this urban legend and personal sightings of the Jersey Devil, see “The Jersey Devil.”

Annotation:

“The Jersey Devil.” Weird NJ, Weird NJ, 13 Jan. 2017, weirdnj.com/stories/jersey-devil/.

Hanako-san

Context: The following is an account from the informant, my younger sister. She told me this after I asked if she had heard any interesting stories lately, as many happen to pop up at schools. When I asked for more of the conversation or more detail, she said her memory was fuzzy and she was unable to recall.

Background: The informant was relating to me something interesting she had heard from her Japanese friend in high school recently. She had never heard of such a story before, so she thought it was interesting.

Main piece: Once, I mentioned to my friend that I always changed my clothes in the third bathroom stall. She said, “Oh, did you know that in the third stall of every girls bathroom is a Japanese ghost?” 

Analysis: After doing some research, the friend appears to be referring to the Japanese urban legend of Hanako-san, the spirit of a young girl who haunts school bathrooms. In order to summon the ghost, individuals are required to go to the girls’ bathroom, usually on the third floor, and knock on the door of the third stall, asking for her presence.

I think it is interesting to hear about such a tale, which is popular in Japan, in the United States, where it is relatively unknown. Also, this ritual of calling upon a ghost in the bathroom bears stark similarities to the commonly known Bloody Mary ritual. It’s also interesting to note the frequent occurrence of female ghosts or spirits haunting school bathrooms, which would normally be a rather odd place to haunt, since people don’t spend too much time in the bathroom, such as Moaning Myrtle in the Harry Potter series.

There’s A Man in The Woods

“I have a story about the man in the woods at the soccer field. So, as a child, my brothers and I participated in Brookside Soccer, which is you know like your average recreational soccer thing that children do and a lot of my friends, or at least a lot of people in my grade, also had older siblings who did Brookside and there was this one field, I don’t know how old my brothers were, but they would always play on this certain field and whenever I was there I would see people in my grade who also had older brothers who were playing and the big deal with this field was there was a huge forest surrounding it. The thing about the forest is, on the outskirts of it, would grow honeysuckles, and especially as a young child, they looked tasty. So the whole appeal to the soccer field- it was kinda great because we could eat honey suckles. So me and my friends, we would always go the border and get honeysuckles but you wanted to be fast because the whole idea was there was a man living inside- if you went a little deeper into the forest, you would inf a man and a campsite or something. The guy was always depicted as a homeless guy with a big beard and kinda dirty and ruffled. The whole idea was that you didn’t want him to catch you. There’s another part of the story, that in the forest where he stayed, there was an aluminum trash can that you would see around the soccer field. The idea was that as a kid, you would go to the trashcan by the soccer field and he could hear you. There was also a little bit of part of like asking for wishes, through the trash can to the homeless guy. So i don’t understand why we were scared of him but also like he would help us? The idea is that you’d want honeysuckles but you had to be quick because you didn’t want to see the man in the woods.”

Background:

My informant is a 16-year old who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her two older brothers participated in a recreational soccer program when they were much younger based out of a neighborhood in Kansas City called Brookside. The school she attended was the same school her brothers went to and so it was not uncommon for friends of her brothers to have younger siblings she got along with. Oftentimes, she would come along to the recreational soccer matches and play with the other younger siblings. The area the soccer matches happens to contain several large fields, a few of which bordered dense forest as this area was on the outskirts of the town.  

Context:
My informant brought up this story during a walk around her neighborhood when I asked her about scary stories from her childhood. 

Thoughts:

This story appears to be in the vein of urban legends about some crazed killer. In addition, it serves a very clear purpose, that being of regulating where these young children could and could not go. My informant emphasized how this topic came about mostly because her and her friends wanted honeysuckles from the nearby woods. Therefore, they probably created this figure from similar urban legends they had heard in order to justify not exploring the woods any further. This was only reinforced by any figures of authority, who did not want them to explore the woods. The informant mentioned to me that her older brothers might have corroborated parts of her story to instill the fear of the woods and keep her closer to everyone else during these soccer matches. The other interesting component is how a homeless man in the woods is scary for a child living in the city. The informant told me that she lived in a city, and these soccer matches were a time where she and her friends were far away from that environment. As such, their fears as an amalgam of the fear of strange men, which she would have seen growing up, and that of the woods, which were far more unknown and mysterious to her. The man is not supernatural, but to them he represented a very real threat but in a strange environment.

The Jigsaw Puzzle

Main Piece:

Interviewer: So tell me this scary story you’ve heard of.

Subject: Okay so… there’s this girl and she’s home alone. She goes into the attic and she finds a puzzle that she hasn’t seen before… she has no idea where it comes from. She’s bord so she’s like “okay, I’ll make this puzzle.” So she goes down to her kitchen and she starts making this puzzle. There’s no picture on the box or anything! It’s just in like an old box. She has no clue what’s up. But she starts to put the pieces of the puzzle together she realizes that it is her kitchen. And as she goes around the edges she realizes that she is also in the puzzle. Finally she completes the puzzle… except for one last piece. And on the last piece is her kitchen window with a horrifying twisted demonic face… in the window. And slowly she puts the piece into place… and then the window slams open! 

Interviewer: Wow that is terrifying. Where did you hear this story?

Subject: A friend. A friend and I were trying to tell each other scary stories to scare the other out of falling asleep.

Interviewer: And did it work?

Subject: Definitely.

Context: The subject is my 17-year-old younger brother who is in his senior year of high school. We have been quarantined together due to the Coronavirus pandemic and staying at our home in Charleston, South Carolina. After dinner, we were sitting in the dark in the living room and I asked him to tell me the scariest story he had ever heard. He was ready to accept that challenge, particularly because he was riddled with boredom.

Interpretation: This legend scared me in a deeply unsettling way. I think it is the slow build of the story, how it starts with something as seemingly trivial as a girl finding a puzzle, then escalates into terror. I had never heard this scary story before, and upon doing some research, I found out this is a fairly popular internet urban legend. Different renderings of it were featured in a number of anthologies of scary stories, as well as in a few pieces of authored literature, like the movie “The Dead Poet’s Society”.  I could not find a tie to the legend of any specific culture, heritage, or nationality beyond varying internet groups.

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.

 

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.

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.

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.

 

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.