Author Archives: Gillian Allou

The Boojum

BACKGROUND: My informant, ES, was born in the US. Her parents are mostly Irish and her mom is part-Cuban. ES has worked as a camp counselor for a few years now. This piece is a bit of folklore from her specific camp, told to her by past camp counselors. It is encouraged for the counselors to share the story with the campers and is considered an essential part of the unofficial camp history.

CONTEXT: This piece was brought to my attention through a casual conversation with my friend who is currently a camp counselor at a camp in North Carolina.

ES: So Camp Henry in like 1800 was this thing called Sunburst. And it was like a timber yard, like a whole like huge business. And, um, there’s this woman who lived there named Annie (mumbles) Annie went missing and it was believed that she was taken by this man called the Boojum.

Me: Who’s that?

ES: Boojum wasn’t really a man. He was like this old decrepit, uh, human, like person. [Had a] huge beard and the tail of a cat. (laughs) Um, he lived up in the woods by camp or by Sunburst and, um, he would collect gems, diamonds and whatever was in the river from all of the timber stuff, I guess. So, um, basically when Annie went missing there, her family was certain that the Boojum took her. But the Boojum was very — no one knew where his cave was and some people didn’t believe he was real.

Me: Do you?

ES: (laughs) Apparently if you walk along the river at night, you can hear yells like “Annie where are you?” Oh! And apparently the Boojum was in love with Annie. That’s also an important piece of information. (laughs) I’m telling this very poorly. 

Me: (laughs) No, you’re good, you’re good!

ES: But the main parts are: Annie is missing, her (ghost?) family yells “Annie where are you?”, and the Boojum’s in love with her and collected like gems and diamonds. And she was one of his “diamonds”. So now allegedly the Boojum is still there. He just like chills out. Sometimes the kids see him. Um, we have like our hangout spot for the, for our counselors is also called the Boojum. Um, and it also means vagina. I think, like, the counselors use that as like the, um, code word.

Me: (laughs) Wait really? What?

ES: Yeah, he’s not like a scary guy. He’s actually kind of nice.

THOUGHTS: I think it’s interesting that almost every camp I’ve visited or talked about with friends has some version of a “camper kidnapped story” in order to keep current campers in check. In most cases, it’s a way to keep campers from wandering off the site, staying on the trail, or not tampering with potentially dangerous areas. But something that struck me about this story is that the Boojum isn’t necessarily a scary creature or something to be feared. The way ES presents him is as a mostly harmless resident of the camp.

Fish dreams

BACKGROUND: My informant, NN, is a student from the US. The following piece is a belief that was told to NN by her mother, who is of Jamaican descent. This belief struck NN just because of its seeming randomness.

CONTEXT: This piece is from a text conversation with my friend to discuss Jamaican beliefs.

NN: There’s a lot of weird ones. Like the whole if your mom dreams of a fish you’re pregnant.

Me: Do you have any idea if there’s a story behind that?

NN: Not really but my sister got pregnant and my mom hasn’t said anything so

THOUGHTS: This belief really strikes me because of how disconnected I perceive the two elements to be. Other cultures may associate fish with fertility so perhaps that is where the two things intersect. One thing that I’ve heard pretty consistently is that the phases of the moon affect fertility in women. In a similar vein, the phases of the moon also affect the tide and the oceans on Earth. Perhaps through the association of the moon, menstruation, water, and fish are where this belief derives.

Cover mirror at night

BACKGROUND: My informant, MT, is a Mexican-American born in the US. Her parents are both immigrants from Mexico and speak Spanish. I asked MT if she had any familial superstitions or rituals that she wanted to talk about and she brought up this one. Despite not being very spiritual or religious, MT does this ritual every night. 

CONTEXT: This piece is from a text conversation with my friend to discuss superstition in her family.

MT: I have to cover all of my mirrors at night because my mom said ghosts and spirits can enter our world through them. 

Me: Do you have to use a specific thing to cover it?

MT: I just use a blanket and toss it over.

THOUGHTS: This belief was interesting to me because during my conversation with another friend about folk beliefs I heard about the same ritual only carrying an entirely different meaning. My friend of Irish heritage mentioned that his family always thought that mirrors and photographs can trap souls. Hence when a loved one dies, they cover up mirrors so their soul isn’t trapped in their reflection. It’s interesting however how both cultures associate mirrors and reflections with spirits.

3 6 9 the goose drank wine

BACKGROUND: My informant, AC, was born in the US and attended boarding school in NH. AC was very active in theater and this rhyme was something that the drama department would chant before a few other students brought to their attention that it was less light-hearted than it seemed.

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend where we talked about our time at boarding school.

THE RHYME: Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine. The monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line. The line broke. The monkey got choked. And they all went to heaven in a little rowboat!

AC: Yeah — we used to chant it like, before every show for good luck. I don’t really know where we got that from but like basically I was taught it from all the older [theater] kids and I guess they got it from the people before. But I think it might be a song or something, like there’s more words.

Me: And when did you stop [the chant]?

AC: Well um, I know you already know, some people pointed out the chant might have some racist undertones. Like the monkey that got choked on the line could be — it’s almost representative of a lynching of a black person. So yeah, we don’t use that chant anymore.

THOUGHTS: This rhyme is interesting to me because as someone who also briefly did theater in high school, I would watch other students chant this backstage before a show to get pumped up. I never really knew why this was what they chanted, it seemed completely unrelated to theater, but people seemed to really like its bouncy quality. The interpretation of the song as a slave allegory makes some sense to me. “The monkey” being a racist term for a black man and the rest of the rhyme details how the man minds his business on a streetcar until he is lynched and sent to Heaven. Some students disputed the racial interpretation of the rhyme, dismissing it as harmless. But based on the tumultuous history of the school — having been built from slave labor — I wouldn’t be surprised if that interpretation held some truth.

The unlucky arches

BACKGROUND: My informant, AC, was born in the US and attended boarding school in NH. As we were talking about our different high school customs, AC remembered this superstition held by many of the students. It is a superstition that is passed down from upperclassmen to lowerclassmen.

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend where we talked about our time at boarding school.

AC: And I just remembered about the arches too. Like how everyone at [NH Boarding School] would avoid crossing under the big arches because they thought that if you were under there an odd amount of times you wouldn’t graduate. I’m not even superstitious but — I remember when [redacted] got kicked out and he lived in [dorm near the arches]. He was like the only one who would do it. (laughs) And it got him on the ass.

THOUGHTS: It was interesting to me how even in a high school, where people are decidedly not as superstitious about school fables as they are in middle school, most students were avoidant of the big arches. Even I would walk around the arches instead of under it and I didn’t even believe it was real. That leads me to believe that the fear surrounding the arches wasn’t a mystical one but a social one. People avoided the arches in order to fit in with the widely accepted school tradition rather than deviate from the tradition and be labeled as an outsider.