USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘urban legend’
Game
Myths

Slenderman

My informant is a good friend that loves ghost stories.

Informant:

My favorite ghost story is definitely about the Slenderman.

It is believed that Slenderman has been around for many centuries as an urban legend. The Slenderman usually is seen to be hanging around young children and is extremely tall, standing maybe around like 8 to 10 feet. He is supposed to have 2 dominant hands and many tentacles that act like more hands that can retract and grow to his bidding. He is like a creeper that hangs around little children and ‘disciplines’ the naughty and alone children. Although he is an urban legend, from the version I heard, he walks around in a black suit with no face and lures children in suburban areas into forests. He is not scared of being seen in broad daylight and there are even some pictures on the internet that show his existence.

I know about this urban legend and have actually played an authored literature of this urban legend as a video game. It was made about 5 years ago and stays somewhat true to the urban legend. You play as a man looking for his lost child that was taken away. Your only clues are these 8 pages around this area which you cannot leave because you are fenced in. At the same time, you will be chased down by the Slenderman.With only a flashlight you have to find the whereabouts of your lost kid, if you see the Slenderman you only have one option, and that is to run the hell away. It is interesting how the game takes a German urban legend and makes it into a game.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Going to Hell in High School

Context: I collected this from a high school friend when we were on a camping trip together over Spring Break.

Background: My friend and I were part of our high school’s marching band.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, J denotes my friend)

J: When I first went to CV [high school] they— We did the tour thing with the band, and they were like “This is the stairs to Hell! There’s a bomb shelter down there.” Which… fuck knows.

C: There’s a bomb shelter?

J: Yeah, apparently there’s a bomb shelter in CV. It was built in the 60s, it makes sense, y’know. I’ve never looked at the blueprints.

C: I was never told there was a bomb shelter.

J: Um, but I don’t know where that is. I’ve always assumed it was down in Hell, um, but… A couple years after that, uh, I was told by… someone, that a hobo used to live down in Hell and just kind of… slept there, cuz y’know, shelter I guess, and that one day administration found that hobo dead in Hell. So that sucks— Well it’s not really in Hell, cuz Hell you get to from the inside of the auditorium, you gotta go down the stairs from the Jazz Cave, but this was like— you know the stairs behind the auditorium, that go down and are like, sketchy and dark?

C: The spiral ones?

J: N0, the spirals are in the Jazz Cave. The ones that are, like, if you’re going from the Band Room up to the quad, and instead of going up the stairs you go around the stairs, and then there’s stairs down. If you go down those stairs.

C: Okay.

J: That’s where I was told that the hobo died.

C: Oh! Yeah, yeah.

J: And it’s like dark there and shit, so… it would make sense that no one found him there for a while.

Analysis: This is almost my own piece of folklore too, since I went to high school in the same place and knew about the same locations. In this instance, however, comparing my own knowledge about “Hell” (a basement area underneath our school’s auditorium) to what my friend knew showed some variation: I had never heard of the bomb shelter existing before, nor did I know that the specific staircase my friend had spoken about was supposed to be an “entrance to Hell,” as we would have put it back in the day.

Folk Beliefs
general
Humor

9/11: The TRUTH

Context: I was chatting with my roommate about his time in marching band in high school, and the following is one of the encounters he had during one of his festival trips.

Background: My roommate is a psychology minor, and one of the aspects of the subject he’s always been interested in is the part of the human brain that induces paranoia. Because of this, he’s been invested in conspiracy theories for a long time.

Dialogue: (Note: C denotes myself, B denotes my roommate)

C: So what about the van?

B: Oh, 9/11!

C: 9/11, tell me about 9/11!

B: OK! First of all, inside job. Second of all, I was in Victoria, British Columbia on a band trip, and, um, we were getting ready to march in this parade, and we saw this van driving around the– the– I guess the Parliament building? Um, and it said on the side of it, “9/11 was an inside job.” It was like a 9/11 truther van. And I thought, “Why… do you care? You’re in Canada… 9/11 did not happen in Canada.” I just thought that was interesting. I had a lot of questions, first of all… “What?” Second of all, um, like like like are these Americans doing this? Uh, if so, why are they in Canada, why are they in Victoria, British Columbia? Um… you know you’re not even near New York at this point!

Analysis: I actually debated with myself over what to categorize this piece as. The central bit of folklore revolves around a conspiracy theory regarding what “really” happened on 9/11, which is a tragic day in American history. However, the countless people who insist that 9/11 was an “inside job” (AKA a disaster orchestrated by the US government itself) have put such ridiculous and unreal theories out there, that it’s nearly impossible not to laugh at something like a “9/11 truther van” driving around. Because of this, and because of the fact that this theory is a belief shared in online communities without consideration for reality, I decided to categorize it as both Humor and as a Folk Belief.

Annotation: My roommate’s encounter is not nearly the first instance where the “9/11 was an inside job” belief popped up. In fact, in the same conversation, my roommate mentioned the documentary Loose Change as a good place to go deeper into the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11.

Legends
Narrative

Rest Stop Stalker

Background:

My informant is a twenty-one year old USC student; she’s studying human biology and is currently applying to medical school. She was born in Macedonia, and immigrated to the Long Beach, CA with her mother and stepfather at the age of five. Her father still lives and works as a doctor in Macedonia, and my informant visits each summer. She speaks the language fluently.

Performance:

“So my boyfriend spends a lot of time on Reddit, and sometimes he’ll send me the weird shit he finds; like memes, videos, etc. One of his favorite things to do when he’s bored is read, like, ghost stories and scary stories and that kind of thing. He sent me this really scary one a few months back that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. I don’t remember it, like, word for word, but I’ll send you the link. It’s — it’ll bug you out.”

(I ask her to tell me what she remembers of the story)

“Okay, so it’s about this guy who works in the city but lives like, hours and hours away in another state so he drives home every weekend and stays in the city for work. So one time, he was driving back into the city and had to stop and pee. So he’s in the bathroom and he sees, um, this like drawing thing, a super profane drawing with a note that said something like ‘I want to fuck you’ or ‘I want your cock’ or something, and it was in super neat handwriting and well-spelled — basically, like, not your typical graffiti in a rest-stop bathroom. It was also dated so the guy knew that whoever did the drawing had done it like, that day a few hours before. The guy leaves and gets in the car, which had a University of Michigan sticker on it, or something. So he keeps driving and has to pee again and stops at another rest stop. He’s peeing and he sees another piece of graffiti but this time it’s a super intense picture of someone who’s literally been ripped apart…like, um, guts everywhere and stuff…and the notes in the same handwriting as the last one said like ‘I want to eat your intestines’ and like ‘I want to fuck your corpse’ and really gruesome shit. The date/time on the wall were only from an hour or so ago. The guy’s freaked the fuck out, so he gets in the car but when he passes the next rest stop he’s curious so he gets out and goes into the bathroom and finds a huge message written in shit on the wall that says like ‘almost there, Michigan! You’re so close!’ like whoever wrote it knew that the guy would stop and knew exactly who he was and was taunting him…so the guy runs out of the bathroom and to his car and he hears like muffled laughter coming from in the bushes. On the last stretch of the trip he sees a car pulled over on the side of the road and a guy standing in front of it with brown stains all over him…as the guy passes the guy on the side of the road yells ‘FUCK YOU MICHIGAN!’ and starts laughing hysterically….there was something wrong with his face, like his eyes were wrong or he had too many teeth…something about him that just wasn’t quite…human, maybe? So like whatever it was that was like stalking him the whole time was just trying to torment him for no real reason…just because he could. Or it could, I guess (laughter).”

Thoughts:

Neither me nor my informant could find the link to the original story on reddit, but did find the story on another website: (http://adequateman.deadspin.com/a-rest-stop-stalker-and-more-of-your-real-life-horror-1738356933). While looking through Reddit, however, I was stunned by the sheer volume of collected folklore on the site. There are thousands and thousands of ghost stories and legends that are shared and discussed between users. It doesn’t surprise me in the slightest that, when bored, someone would go through and look for engaging piece of folklore on Reddit. This story is terrifying because it’s incredibly contemporary; it features rest stops, road trips, and time-stamped stalking. The story is geographically non-specific. This is a world we’ve seen and could recognize; we can imagine his terror and picture ourselves as victims of the same stalker. And most importantly, we can believe that this may have really happened to someone at some time in some area of the country. It’s a terrifying Urban Legend.

general
Legends
Narrative

The Bad Lady

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m Caucasian with a lot of European descent. Grew up in Florida, and my family was originally from New York.

Piece:

So there’s this woman called the bad lady who lives in swamps in Florida and she’s supposed to be like this Native American spirit who hunts down children who are behaving badly. And what she does… which is like REALLY ridiculous is she kidnaps you from your parents and then puts you in a cage and hangs you above her pit of crocodiles, or alligators cause it’s Florida- her pit of alligators. Then she takes off your shoes and rubs a feather against your feet so that your toes start like twitching out. As the alligators below are like snapping at them. And then if you’re a really bad kid, she’ll continue to do it until one by one the alligators bite your toes off. And then you have to go back to your parents as this toeless child to remind you never to be bad to them.

My parents told me this story but they weren’t the only ones. Other kids in my neighborhood heard about it too, older kids. I think the first time I was threatened to be sent to The Bad Lady, I was like 4… by my parents. But then other kids sometimes would like bully the younger kids and be like “oh well if you try to play with us, we’re going to call The Bad Lady. We’ve been there. We know what she does.” And then they would like pretend to take off their shoes and stuff.

Piece Background Information:

I definitely think that like all the moms in the neighborhood got together and just invented this story. But I feel like it had to have come from somewhere so there might have been some background of either like a woman who did weird things in the forest or just like a legend of like a spirit. My mom insists that she(The Bad Lady) is real to this day.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————————

Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in Ronald Tutor Campus Center on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Although, as the informant believes, The Bad Lady was most likely conceived of by the mothers within the informant’s town, and thus an urban legend, the fact that all the mothers and the older kids spread and hold up the story lends itself to Dundes’ definition of folklore in that there is multiplicity in stories about The Bad Lady as well as variation, in a sense. This variation is, in my opinion, due to its similarity to the story of La Llorana which is also told to kids, usually by parents or those older than them, to keep them from misbehaving.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

El Imbunche

I interviewed a good family friend, and she is a middle aged woman from Chiloé, Chile, who now lives with her family in California. My dad was also present at the time, and he helped me translate some of the things she said in Spanish that I didn’t understand. This performance occurred after dinner, while we were still sitting at the table.


 

Original Script

Informant: “El Imbunche es un ser mitológico… en Chiloé… que… es muy feo.”

Dad: “Feo.”

Informant: “Y chico. Baja estatura. Y tiene una de las piernas dobladas atrás.”

Dad: “Ah, ¡Eso está muy interesante!”

Me: “Is this… What is this about? An object? Or is it a story?”

Informant: “It’s a story.

Me: “Ok. And it’s called El Imbun…?”

Informant: “El Imbunche.”

Dad: “Es un enano. Expliquale. Es un enano?”

Informant: “Es un enano. ¡No, no! No es un enano. Es… de baja estatura pero no es enano.”

Dad: “Ah, he is not a dwarf, but is… you know, not too tall.”

Me: “A short guy.”

Informant: “It’s a short guy. It’s a petite guy. And he has long hair, not really dark, but long hair. And, one of his leg, the right one, is… is-”

Dad: “Crook?”

Informant: “I don’t know if it’s-”

Dad: “Bended?”

Informant: “Bending. So it go on the back.”

Me: “Oh, it like bends all the way up his back?”

Informant: “Yeah, yeah, no yeah. Pero he just walk with one… foot.”

Me: “He just hops along?”

Informant: “He jump! So he is this way, like in the yoga class, and he… one of he’s… so he is, the legs… that was some… I don’t know who told me that. Maybe my mom did. So the legs, you can see his leg in the shoulder.”

Dad: “Touching his neck?”

Informant: “Yeah.”

Me: “He’s disfigured?”

Informant: “Someth-…Yeah. He is definitely disfigured, and… and he jump. And you have to be, be careful because every time umm… I don’t know if was my mom but one of my… the ancestors said, you know, have to be careful because… they like the beautiful girls. And the younger ones.

Me: “There’s not many. There’s just one right?”

Informant: “Who?”

Me: “Just one guy?

Informant: “Yes, is one guy. And… they like beautiful girls. And you have to be careful, because if he got you… you get… pregnant.

Me: “Ohh…”

Informant: “And he like just pretty, young girls. And he doesn’t go for the… for the old ladies or some other.”

Dad: “The old ones! (laughs) Sin vergüenzas!”

Me: “And who told you this story? Your mom?”

Informant: “I don’t know. I heard something-”

Me: “You just heard it from friends?”

Informant: “No, people working, and you know, in the party when they get together they was working, it was always, it was something here. I was so terrified, I remember… I was so terrified, I’m glad I have brothers, because it was always goes next to me. There was stayed next to me, because for this guy.”

Me: “But how do you think this story came about? Like, it’s kind of like a warning? Not to walk alone at night?”

Informant: “Yeah, probably. You know, also you know, it’s a… they, they made those story, you know why? Because… they have to make something because maybe it was the neighbor… who abused the girl… or one of the family abused the girl… You know, so they made the whole thing… to scare the girl…you know… Or just, you know…”

Me: “Was this supposed to be someone in your neighborhood?”

Informant: “Yeah. It could be any in your neighborhood.”

Me: “Oh, ok. But this is a very widespread story?”

Informant: “Yeah, it’s all Chiloé. It’s all Chiloé, always… talking about… this.”

Me: “Is that where you’re from?”

Informant: “Yes, mhmm.”

We talk about the location of Chiloé for a bit.

Me: “And uh, you never saw him though?”

Informant: “No. Of course not.”

Dad: “In your dreams maybe.”

Informant: “I was a good girl.”

Me: “But you’ve heard of people who saw him, maybe?”

Informant: “Yeah. People saw him… They say, ‘Oh my God!’, you know, ‘Oh, I saw Imbunche jumping, you know on… from the window of my girls, you know.'”

Me: “It just perpetuates this story.”

Informant: “But it’s not… I don’t think it never exists, it’s not real. People made it up.”

Dad: “Like a myth. Un mito.”

Informant: “Yeah, made it up. It’s a mito. Yeah, made it up because, you know, to cover… to cover those seen, and you see… young girls, and then she’s pregnant, and the girl can’t talk because, you know, they say you can’t talk, because you have to say it was el Imbunche.

Me: “Oh, so do people sometimes when they don’t… Do some people use this name when they don’t want to say who the father is?”

Informant: “Exactly.”

Me: “Ahhh, ok.”

Informant: “It was that. It was them.”

Me: “So there is a story behind this. Ah ok, that’s interesting.”

Informant: “Yeah, it could be, even though it could be even-”

Me: “And no one questions it? Or they know, ‘Oh, someone…'”

Informant: “The same father, or the older brothers.”

Dad: “Incest. Yeah, incest sometimes.”

Me: “Oh, so if it’s like taboo…”

Informant: “It is.”

Me: “Then that’s when…”

Informant: “It was. It was. Not right now, but the thing is… Yeah, because now, you know, they don’t believe in that story. But… they used to use at that time for… to cover… family… or whatever it was there… involved.”

Translated Summary

The informant described the Imbunche as a mythological being in Chiloé, that is very ugly and disfigured, with one of his legs bent up behind his back. He’s also short and petite, but not a dwarf, and he has long, black hair. He is known to hop around the streets, preying on young, beautiful women, and his victims end up pregnant. Although the moral of this legend can be interpreted as a warning of what might happen if young women wander the streets alone at night, the informant also explained how the name “El Imbunche” is often used as an explanation for how a young girl ends up pregnant when she doesn’t want to say who the father is. This is especially the case if the father of the baby is a deadbeat, or a family member such as a brother or the girl’s own father.

Analysis

I found this particular legend very fascinating, since not only does it come from this village on an island off the coast of Chile, but that it holds such complex social implications. I have observed that legends often reflect the fears of the people who tell them, and therefore stand as a sort of warning not to behave a certain way or do a certain thing, lest the events of the legend actually happen. While the legend of El Imbunche in Chiloé may have started out this way, it has now become co-opted to describe any kind of taboo relationship that results in an unplanned pregnancy.

 

*For another version of this legend, see <http://wwenico96.blogspot.com/2009/05/el-imbunche.html> or <http://www.agenciaelvigia.com.ar/imbunche.htm>

Contagious
Digital
Game
Humor
Magic

Love By Chainmail

Chainmail is a fairly well-known form of folklore, and has been around for a long time. Chain mail letters can be anything from handwritten letters to emails to texts and are typically sent to a group with some sort of either beneficial or warning message attached, as incentive for the person on the receiving end to pass the message along to more people.

An example of such a message is one my roommate shared with me that had passed around our sorority. The message read:

“You have been visited by the ghost of Helen M. Dodge! Pass this on to ten sisters in the next five minutes and she will give you good luck for the rest of the week!”

 

Thoughts:

Chain mails seem to fit into the category of contagious magic and involve belief a great deal. They are contagious in that in order for the receiver to either alleviate any harm that may come, or to ensure any benefit, from having read the letter, he or she must pass it along to X amount of people. The magic of the letter passes along with it and integrates into the daily lives of those who receive it, or it at least claims to do so.

 

Chain mail letters are really interesting in their relation to belief because I would bet that if you asked a large group of people if they believe in the power of chain mail letters to affect their lives in either positive or negative ways, the majority would say no. However, these letters are constantly passed around. They can be fit into the category of superstitious as well as contagious magic—perhaps it is the fear that chain mail letters may in fact have some power, some magic, that drives people to continue passing them along.

This particular chain mail letter doesn’t run the risk of being harmful to the person receiving it in any way, but perhaps the receiving individual may feel that they are to be at a loss if they don’t pass it along.

Or, perhaps chain mail letters get passed around as a way of continuing community. They are a means of reaching out to 5, 10, 15 friends who you haven’t talked to in a while. Or the particular chain mail letter you have received is funny so you want to share it with three of your friends you think would find it hilarious. Chain mail gets a pretty bad rap, yet its continued existence makes me think there is some part of its communicative, outreaching nature that people like.

For another example of chain mail letters, see Dan Squier. The Truth About Chain Letters, 1990, Premier Publishers.

Legends
Narrative

Ice Cream Cone in the Purse

Informant: My friend told me this one. Do you know who Paul Newman was? He’s before your time, isn’t he? He was an actor. His face is on those—he has a pasta sauce brand, I think. He was very handsome and popular. He’s dead now. But anyway, my friend told me—this was years ago—that this woman was in Connecticut, and she went to one of the ice cream parlors in town. So she walks into the ice cream parlor, and there are only two people there—the clerk, and, sitting at the bar, Paul Newman. So the woman decides to play it cool, you know, act unimpressed and give Paul Newman his privacy. So she ignores him while she orders her ice cream and pays. Well, she gets back out to her car and she realizes she’s only got her change in her hand, so she figures she left her ice cream cone on the counter inside. She goes back in, and—and Paul Newman turns around and says, “You put it in your purse.”

The informant (my grandmother) was born and raised in Texas. She spent many years moving from place to place across the world with her husband, a banker, before settling in Connecticut long enough to work as an English teacher at the Greenwich Country Day School. She currently lives in San Francisco, CA.

I discovered a similar story in an online collection of modern urban legends. That version has Jack Nicholson (another popular actor) in a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor in Massachusetts in 1986. Other versions of the story feature different actors, leading me to believe that this ice cream parlor legend is most definitely an example of an urban legend passed down as a FOF (friend of a friend) story; my grandmother maintains that her friend says it really did happen to a woman she knows.

The appeal of this urban legend may come from our ability to relate to the unspecified woman, who could be any one of us. She attempts to “play it cool” in front of a celebrity (Paul Newman is interchangeable; any popular and attractive actor would achieve the desired effect, and I assume the featured celebrity changes over time according to trends) only to be so distracted by her own attempts to ignore said celebrity that she embarrasses herself. We find amusement in this story because we can cringe for the woman, even though we ourselves are safe from embarrassment in front of a handsome and popular actor.

Citation: “The Ice Cream Cone in the Purse.” Tall Tales, Legends and Lies. NetPlaces, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Barbados Hair Covering

Informant: In Barbados, all the women wear hats—the black women—because they think that if their hair gets wet, it will turn into snakes. Yes, so they always wear hats—it’s the funniest thing! They aren’t, you know, uh, fashionable, they’ll just wear anything they can plop on their heads. They don’t learn to swim either—which is horrible, really; it’s such an important thing to know, living on an island. Oh! They also don’t like to be out after dark.

The informant (my grandmother) was born and raised in Texas. She spent many years moving from place to place across the world with her husband, a banker, before settling in Connecticut long enough to work as an English teacher at the Greenwich Country Day School. She currently lives in San Francisco, CA.

It is important to note that the informant is a wealthy white American woman who had no prior knowledge of Barbadian culture or customs before she lived on the island for a few years. She does not remember exactly who told her about this belief, but she maintains that it was “common knowledge” in Barbados. The belief that wet hair will turn to snakes is not documented online, but it’s existence may be plausible. Snakes are not common in Barbados, but the island is home to the Barbados thread snake—the smallest known species of snake (circa 2008). Sightings of this small, typically dark snake (which is spaghetti-thin) may have led a woman to believe that a piece of her hair had transformed into a snake.

Citation: Dunham, Will. “World’s Smallest Snake Is as Thin as Spaghetti.” Reuters UK. N.p., 03 Aug. 2008. Web. 30 Apr. 2015.

Folk Beliefs
Legends
Narrative

Fossils in the Creek

The Informant GT lived in a house with a huge backyard in Minnesota for 6 years until he moved to California at the age of 11.

GT: There’s this creek in our backyard in Minnesota, and there’s fool’s gold and ammonite fossils in it, and a bunch of other fossils I didn’t know the names for back then. It was really cool, we used to collect them.

There’s a forest behind the creek, and behind that is farmland and undeveloped territory. One of the older kids told us that if you went past the creek into that territory, there’s a guy named Dead-Eye Pete or something like that who lives there, and if he catches you he’ll kill you and turn your body into rocks and that’s what the fossils were. Since the fossils all looked really organic and we were a bunch of dumb kids, we actually thought all the fossils were made of dead people who got lost and wandered into his territory.

This story exploits a child’s fear of the unknown. The older kids referenced in the story were not interested in actually protecting the younger children by warning them off from unmapped territory, but wanted to scare them into doing what they want them to. Scary stories often pique a child’s curiosity about its subject matter more than it does to dampen it with fear.

[geolocation]