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

Folk Beliefs

Pokemon Catching Superstition (Gotta Catch em’ All!)

About the Interviewed: Max is a twenty year old college student at Pasadena City College studying Architecture and Fashion Design. His ethnic background is remotely Swedish, though his family has been in America for a couple generations.

I talked to my friend Max about  pop beliefs and superstitions around popular video games he’s played.

Max: “I know this one about Pokemon. It’s actually pretty well known.”

I asked him to elaborate.

Max: “Pokemon is a video game where players have to catch these magical creatures. You wanna catch as many as possible. The actual science behind catching each one is actually kind-of crazy. It depends on the power level of the thing you’re trying to catch, how strong you are, what pokeball you use, etcetera.”

“When I was a little kid, me and all my friends believed that there were secret ways to hack the game, like you could change the results so that you always got your catch. Things like that.”

“The rumor was something like, when you’re in battle with a Pokemon you want to catch, you have to hold down both the “down” button, and the “B” buttons at the same time on the controllers. The funny thing is, it didn’t make a difference at all. It was all in our minds. But everyone I knew did it anyway.”

I asked Max where he felt the beliefs originated from.

Max: “I don’t know. It was just that Pokemon was so popular. My friends were doing the down B thing, so I sort of did it too.”

“It doesn’t help that Pokemon games were really hard.”

Summary:

A popular belief persists among American juvenile players of the video game “Pokemon”, that monsters are easier to catch if you hold down both the “Down” and “B” buttons. There is no evidence of the trick actually working, but the belief is widespread.

The “down-B” trick that Max informed of me seems to be a tradition observed in American children who played the Pokemon games growing up. I’d actually be interested to know if other cultures had similar luck granting gifts when playing games with large luck-based elements such as Pokemon. It seems similar to the tradition of “blowing on your dice” for good luck. 

 

Legends
Narrative

The Girl and Her Creepy Chicken Sandwich

The informant describes themselves, “I’m a queer cis-gendered female, I’m part Mexican-American, part Persian-Israeli. I’m a student at USC. I’m Jewish. I’m about to hopefully be an EMT, if all works out.” Also – “I’m a really big cat lady.”

 

 

 

Do you know any legends?

I know an urban legend that used to gross me out. ACTUALLY? I have this aunt. She used to work for a – she was a medical assistant for a hand surgeon. He did reconstruction surgery. And as you can imagine, reconstructive hand surgery is usually because something really bad happened to your hand, like a bad accident. So she would always have – she had this like polaroid picture of some guy’s pinky, just out and about, and she would use to it be like “Don’t do bad things, ‘cause your pinky will fall off and you’ll be like this too.” Actually? She used to tell – I’m pretty sure this is a popular urban legend that probably still rolls around today – that’s actually not really related to her as a medical assistant, just her telling us gross things. And, um – she told us about how this guy went to Jack-in-the-Box, and ordered the spicy chicken sandwich – also, even when I did eat meat, before I was vegetarian, after I heard this story I never wanted to eat another spicy chicken sandwich ever again. Because she was like “Yeah, I had this friend. Who went to Jack-in-the-Box. And he was like “Yo. I want a spicy chicken sandwich. And he asked the guy for a spicy chicken sandwich without mayo. So he gets the spicy chicken sandwich, and he looks in it, and he’s like “Ok, why does my spicy chicken sandwich have mayo? I asked for it without mayo.” And the guy is like “No, we didn’t put any mayo in there.” Apparently after they looked at it, he realized that the chicken had some weird tumor thing, and it was just really nasty. And I know that that’s not really even a thing, but it still grosses me out. So that’s kind of a grody urban legend that’s forever turned me off of spicy chicken sandwiches.

How old were you when this was told to you?

Uhhm, I was probably about 10 or 11.

Did it influence your decision to be vegetarian?

I would sometimes think about it – actually, I – one of the main reason I stopped eating meat is it just creeped me out to begin with. And then one of the solidifying reasons, after I was already creeped out, was that – I’m ashamed to say – I watched this PETA video. I don’t like PETA now, but at the time I was like “This is terrible,” – I mean animals are still treated terribly, but PETA’s just a terrible organization. And I was like “Yo, I can’t eat animals because people are not treating them in the – in an ethical way. And – but, before that happened, I was already grossed out and I didn’t like the idea of cooking meat. Because I would watch my mom prepare chicken, and I remember watching her cut pieces of chicken on the cutting board in the kitchen, and I was just like “HOW DOES THAT NOT GROSS YOU OUT?” and she was like “No, its ok!’ and I would just think about that STUPID CHICKEN SANDWICH and I would be like “That is nasty, how are you eating that?” So yeah, actually – it actually did. Ohh. I never thought about that. Eww. Euughh. So I guess that stupid urban legend has impacted my life.

Do you know where your aunt heard it from?

I don’t know where she heard it from, um, but I do know that a few years later I brought it up – no, a friend of mine brought it up in a class in middle school. And I was like “Oh, I’ve heard the same story too!” And then the teacher was like “That’s totally fake ‘cause I’ve heard it too, and it’s fake,” and blah blah blah. One part of me was like “Dang, I was lied to.” And I felt kinda disappointed. And then the other part was like “All right, wait. That’s not real. So. That’s good. Because that would be super scary.” Heheheheheh.

How often have you talked about this to people?

Actually never after that one time in middle school. I’ve literally never talked about it after that.

 

 

This was the best retelling of a story I’ve collected yet. It’s hard to notate inflection in the transcription.
Typical fast-food horror story, reflects collective fear about methods of food production and distribution.

Legends
Narrative

Mothman

Mothman is a large creature that’s a cross between a man and a giant moth, and he supposedly lives somewhere on the East Coast. He has glowing red eyes and likes to fly at people’s car windshields when they’re driving. People claim that he was the cause of a collapsed bridge. Some news reports attribute Mothman sightings to large flying birds, however.

Informant is not American but knows a lot about contemporary American culture. He frequents Reddit, a “social network” very concerned with current events and urban legends. Mothman is an interesting piece of folklore because many have claimed to have seen it, like sightings of UFOs or Nessie, and the legends surrounding this creature are abound.

Digital
Game
Legends

The Legend of Slenderman

Context:

I was hanging out with my friend, watching Invader Zim and playing horror games, when my friend asked me if I knew what Slenderman was. I had heard of Slenderman, of course, but I did not know what exactly he was. So I asked her about it/him.

 

Interview:

Informant: What do you want to know about Slenderman?

Me: Just like; I don’t really know much about it, so first off I guess would be what is it? That kind of thing.

Informant: Well, um, Slenderman is a creature that looks very humanoid in that he has, like, the human body structure, like a head, a torso, two arms, two legs, but is distinctly different in that he has no face, and in every representation he is depicted as faceless. In some representations he is depicted as having like additional tentacles or additional arms, though that isn’t a consistent feature that everybody agrees on.

Me: Okay.

Informant: He’s also said to be very tall.

Me: Okay, like eight-nine feet? Something like that?

Informant: Um. I’m not exactly sure, just like significantly taller than a normal person would be, though some people say that he can change his shape, his size, at will. Um, Slenderman is very fast. He can chase you with unlimited stamina no matter how fast you try to run from him or, um, how persistently you try to get away from him. Like, you can, like, no matter how hard you try to get away from him, if you turn around he’ll probably still be there. Kind of like taunting you in a way. Yeah, like Slenderman is a stalker, and his favorite prey is children, though there have been cases in which people say he has gone after adults. No one is exactly sure what he does with his victims or why he chases them. And Slenderman, as far as his dress, um, is usually thought to wear a black suit with a black tie.

Me: Okay. And how did this phenomenon start?

Informant: It started because there are pictures in which, like pictures that were taken unaware of the fact that Slenderman was in them, but when they were examined later, like a tall, stalkerish, like, faceless figure is seen in the background and these pictures are often of children. One of the better known pictures is of children on a playground and then there is this ominous figure all the way in the background that is just kind of watching them. Like it’s not something that you would notice just looking at the picture, looking at the children, but when looking at the background it’s just like, “when, when did that get there!?”

Me: And then it became a game, online?

Informant: Like the mythos started first, and then people began developing games around it, so the games are inspired by the legends about Slenderman. And there are multiple games, not just the 8 Pages and Arrival which are made by the same person, there are other incarnations of Slenderman.

Me: And Slenderman isn’t noticed in real life, only in the pictures? Like, at first, he wasn’t seen in actuality but just in the pictures?

Informant: Yeah, uh huh.

Me: In pictures taken?

Informant: Yeah.

Me: Interesting. So an invisible stalker guy, who kidnaps children to do who knows what, and no one sees him? Wow. That is freaky.

[Laughter]

Informant: Yeah it’s freaky. That’s why it’s such a successful horror thing now.

Me: Exactly. Exactly. Wow.

 

Analysis:

Slenderman is truly an intriguing urban legend, as it is mainly a digital folklore phenomenon. People do not see Slenderman in real life, it is only in pictures taken that he appears. Furthermore, with the internet boom in the 2000’s, something like Slenderman, which before could not have spread nearly as quickly or as virulently around the, at the very least, American population, as from what I gather Slenderman is a largely American urban legend, as it did with the internet. Also, since Slenderman is largely an internet-based urban legend, it can spread far beyond the borders of America (or wherever it originated from) to nations, to countries worldwide. The legend of Slenderman even, at least to the fanbase, influenced the writers and producers of the British show Doctor Who with the introduction of the race called the Silence in Series 6. The viral spread of this legend via the internet is truly telling of the new media – the worldwide web – that has burst onto the scene and shows how deeply it has changed how we communicate, who we communicate with/to, and what we communicate.

Legends

Cram it, Clownie!

The informant grew up in various parts of California, due to his father needing to relocate for work. The contemporary legend described below was first heard by him in Norwalk, CA when he was 9 or 10 years old in the late 1960’s/early 1970’s. The informant’s older brother and his friends (older by 3 years) first told the story and the informant overheard them. He remembers seeing the Bozo show, but he does not remember this specific episode. He tells this story when reminded by a story about similar defiant acts by children or when televison-related urban legends are brought up.

The story is as follows (paraphrased):

There was a television show in the 1960’s called Bozo the Clown that had children as guest stars on each episode. It was supposed to be an honor to be one of these guests, and most kids were happy to be there. These programs were not heavily edited and time-delayed like the television shows of today. There was one kid, though, that was not having it. When Bozo asked the child to do something or answer a question as was normally done, the child loudly said “Cram it, Clownie!” This was obviously not the expected response and is probably why this story gets told.

The story caused my informant to laugh as he told the story. My informant had not actually seen the episode in question, and the show was probably not rebroadcast if this did occur. This really shows the unpredictability and unfiltered nature of some children, which was entertaining even to 10-13 year old boys in the 1960’s. This wouldn’t be entertaining if children were ‘supposed’ to be like that, so the fact that the story is still entertaining shows something about how children realize that they are not supposed to behave that way. I think he remembered this legend because he has seen instances of children misbehaving like this in public throughout his life and career and therefore enjoys an example that was publicly broadcast. Because he has raised two children (19 years old and 22 years  old) I think he has a different perspective now as a parent than he did when he first heard the story as a child who wasn’t much different in age from the child in question.

 

[geolocation]