Author Archives: Austen Le

San Felipe Road- A Cursed Street

Informant is a student from San Jose, California.

“So there is an urban legend about a road that cuts through San Jose called San Felipe road. It’s a street that goes on for miles across the city, so there are some areas that are very densely populated. However, if you keep on driving down the road, you will eventually reach areas that have very little people very few lights. According to stories that I’ve heard, if you keep on driving down San Felipe very late at night, there are some very creepy things that will happen.”

Tell me about what happens.

“So, if you drive down really late at night and keep on going down, eventually, you’ll reach a stretch with no streetlamps, so that only your headlights will illuminate the road. Once you reach this part, uhh, I’ve heard that a bunch of things can happen. Sometimes, if you look in your rear view mirror, you’ll see a shadowy figure, but if you turn around there won’t be anybody. Also, you might see a white van that will appear and disappear. People have reported some really strange happenings around there. I’ve heard that when you drive back to a lit area and look at your car, you’ll see hand prints on your windows and doors. It’s some really creepy shit, and I don’t think I’ll ever try it, but my friends have told me about it.”


Collector’s Comments:

I feel that stories about haunted or cursed locations are very popular, because many people pass through them and can report different occurrences. This is an example of belief being increased by context, as a person who was driving down the road and experiencing it for themselves would most likely be more afraid than someone just hearing about the story. Still, I am very interested as to why these legends are believed to occur, and if there is some back story behind the area that led to the legends.

The Bus Joke

This is a fake story/joke that my dad likes to tell people, which he will pretend is a ghost story. My dad works for the US Department of Defense as an engineer, and he has been stationed at aerospace companies across California. When he was younger and he and my mom were still dating, he worked in Southern California, while my mom worked in the Bay Area. Because of this, every other weekend, he would take a bus back and forth between the two areas so he could see her. This story is based on one of his times on the bus, and is brought up any time that people are talking about scary stories or ghosts.

The tone of the storytelling is as if this is a real occurrence, and while he told the story, his face was very serious, as if it were a real ghost story. The original story was told in Vietnamese, but this is a translation:


“Did I ever tell you about the time that I saw a real ghost? When I was younger, I was working down near LA, but your mom was up in San Jose, so I would go and visit her every few weekends. I always took the bus out of Orange County, and one day, I had to catch the late-night bus on Friday because I was held back during work. So I sat down on the bus, and there were only a few other people because it was so late. Not long after it left, I became very drowsy and fell asleep.

When I woke up a few hours later, I realized that the bus was completely dark, and everyone else was gone. The driver was nowhere to be found, but when I looked outside of the window, I saw that the bus was still moving forward, very slowly. I was so scared, so I called out,

‘Hey! Is anybody there?”

And suddenly, I heard a voice!

‘Hey! Idiot! Come help us push the bus!’ ”


Collector’s comments:

This is one of the many jokes that my dad likes to tell. The effectiveness of the joke is very dependent on how serious the teller seems, and how believable he or she can make it. It takes advantage of the tension built up by the fear of the audience based on the belief that they are about to hear an actual ghost story, and then makes a silly, but welcome release that leaves the audience either laughing or groaning. The ghost portion is not completely made up however, as I have heard other stories about people making the trip between Northern California to Southern California late at night and seeing paranormal activity, such as the figure of a woman on the side of the road, or finding hand prints on their rear windows. These occurrences usually happen at 3 AM, or the ghosting hour, and I have heard multiple versions from different relatives. Over all, this story doubles as both a ghost legend and a joke, making it a combination of folklore.

The Pilgrim Treehouse

Informant is from Franklin, a small town 45 minutes away from Boston. Her neighborhood was very close knit, and people would stay in contact and interact with each other, including the children. This is a story about one of her childhood experiences.

“So, when I was in elementary school, like around six years old, a bunch of kids in my neighborhood all around the same age would play with each other. We would go to this one kid’s house, because he had a really big treehouse, which no one else in the neighborhood had. So, when we started going to the treehouse, we asked where it had come from.”

Did you ask his parents?

No, we just asked him. And he didn’t know, so he went and asked his older brother, who didn’t play with us because he was too old. So, his older brother came and told us the story of how the treehouse came to be. He said that it had already been at the house before they moved in, and was there even before any of the houses were built. He claimed that first pilgrims who came to America had built it and lived in it. Since Massachusetts has, like, the oldest history in the US, we really believed him, even though our neighborhood was built on a quarry. We were six, and stupid. He then said that the pilgrims had left the treehouse once they learned that they could leave the treehouse when they learned that they could be friends with the Native Americans. He kept on telling us that this treehouse was really big historic landmark, and if anybody were to destroy it, they would be ruining a part of American history.”

At the time, how did you react to the story?

“We all believed it. We even went back up and tried to look for pilgrim artifacts and signs that they had left behind. There were even some scratch marks on the tree, which we thought was some ancient language or something. It turns out that they were just natural scratch marks though.”

How long did you believe the story for?

“Well we believed it for about half a year, and we tried to keep it a secret because we didn’t want anyone else to come by and ruin it. Eventually, my older brother dropped the news that the story wasn’t true and that the family had built the treehouse when they had moved in. I was pretty sad when I found that out. But now it’s a really funny story to tell everyone.”


Collector’s conclusions:

This is a legend that would be confined to a very small area, such as the neighborhood where the informant is from. It takes advantage of Massachusetts historic past as one of the first places in America to be settled, and as a result the story is not completely unbelievable, especially to young children. This is an example of belief that grows with context, as the children believed the story more and more as they were in the treehouse, and began drawing conclusions and making observations that supported the legend. While it eventually turned out to be untrue, this is a typical story of an older sibling playing a trick on younger children that goes farther than originally intended.

The Mummers Parade- A Philadelphia New Year’s Tradition

The informant resides in Westchester, a suburb about 30 minutes outside of central Philadelphia.

What exactly is the Mummer’s Parade?

“It’s a Philly tradition that has gone on for a really long, started way before I was born. It occurs every New Year’s Day, on January 1st of each year. It’s a parade that goes through Broad Street in Philly, which is like the main street that goes through the city. A bunch of different clubs throughout the city sponsor people to march through the parade, all wearing crazy costumes and holding signs, while there is music and dancing going on the whole time. I think there are probably 50 different groups that participate, and it has become pretty much a competition/fashion show to see which of the clubs has the most creative or beautiful or cool presentation. A bunch of people, including my friends and I come to watch every year, and all of the spectators stand on the side and cheer on the parade.”

When did you start going to this thing?

“I started going with my dad and grandfather when I was in elementary school, so it’s an mostly geared towards families. I haven’t gone lately, but I have some great memories of seeing the different organizations in the city people represented. Some of the costumes are wild and really colorful and creative, so it brings me a lot of great memories from back in my childhood. I’ve never participated in it, but it has become one of the most unique parts of my Philadelphia identity.”

Anything else that is special about it?

“One thing that I noticed is that the participants are mostly from the South Philly area, which has a lot of Italian people. Makes me wonder if this is originally an Italian tradition. Either way, it’s just a really fun, cool part of Philly tradition that I am happy to take a part in each year.”


Collector’s Comments:

This is a tradition that I’ve never heard of before, which means that it is most likely very unique to the city of Philadelphia and the people who live there. I find it interesting how the parade is not focused on a single culture or ethnicity, but is instead celebrated by different organizations from across the city, making it an original Philadelphia tradition. However, the fact that many Italian people celebrate it makes me wonder if this tradition has roots in some other European celebration, and further research reveals that it was a combination of Irish, Swedish, and even African heritage, making it a real melting pot of cultures. It is interesting to see how the city has taken all of these different cultures and combined them to make something that is unique to itself.

The Evil Eye- A Hindu Superstition

What is the evil eye?

“So, basically, the evil eye is a Hindu superstition that a person will have bad luck if they are given too much attention, good or bad, by other people. This can be done because of jealousy, but also can occur if someone gives another person too much praise. Pretty much, it is a curse of bad luck that is cause when somebody looks on your too much, whether with bad intentions or good intentions.”

So what traditions are associated with this superstition?

“Usually, mothers will protect their babies by putting black eyeliner on their eyes or a dot of black eyeliner on the side of the neck to ward off the evil eye. There are also charm bracelets, tattoos, or other objects that can be worn by people to prevent the curse. It can affect anyone, but I’m assuming that people usually protect their children because they don’t want them to die. But yeah, this is a very common Indian tradition that I’ve heard a lot, and when I went to India, it was actually a huge deal that basically everyone believes in. I think it’s a pretty interesting part of my heritage, even though I don’t really believe in it.”


Collector’s Comments:

This is a tradition that we have discussed in class, and seems to be shared by many different cultures, not just Indian traditions. There are variations of this story from Turkey, China, Italy, and all over the world, making me wonder if the superstition was developed in one country and spread all around given how many places have a similar tradition. This is an example of contagious magic, as it is passed through contact from one person to another through eye contact.

The Nuns and the Indigenous People

Informant is a sophomore at USC majoring in Computer Science. He attended Catholic school from Kindergarten to 8th grade. This is a story that he heard during this time.

“This is a story that I heard from a priest when I went to Catholic school in elementary school. So two of the most faithful nuns were sent from the Vatican to a foreign country to spread the word of God, and when they arrive, they got lost. These nuns had brought nothing but their Bibles and the clothes on their backs, and had no food and water. They couldn’t find the village that they were looking to convert, so they wandered around lost and hungry for three days. Finally they ran into an indigenous person, who asked them why they are there. They said that they were there to spread the word of God to the villagers, to which the person said that he would help lead them to the village. So, they started walking to the village, which was multiple days away, and as they’re walking, the indigenous person showed them plants that they could eat and the plants that were poisonous. After the first day of travelling, they take a rest. The next day, the person tells them that they are only one day away, but that they must trek through wetlands in which there are no edible plants. And, um, the nuns say to gather all the food in the area, to which the indigenous person responds that if people before had taken everything, then they wouldn’t be alive today. They all argue over taking some or all of the food, and the nuns decide to go with their plan. One of the nuns reaches to a bush to grab a berry, when suddenly lightning comes down and strikes the bush, killing all the food on it. At this point, the nuns realize that the indigenous person was being more Christian than they were. Basically, the point of the story is that by coming to the indigenous land, the nuns had brought Christianity to these people without even trying.”

Do you remember how you and your classmates reacted to the story?

“Well I had to hear it basically every year, so I got real tired of it by the end. Plus, it seems super unbelievable, but apparently it’s a true story and a miracle. Either way, it’s something that they told a lot in my Catholic school.”


Collector’s Comments:

“This is a story that is supposedly true, but is within a religious context so its validity is questionable at best. It is very interesting in that it shows Catholicism in the context of indigenous conversion, although it is very watered down in that it omits much of the violence that went into the conversion of indigenous populations. However, this story is very much geared towards believers of the Catholic faith, as it would be most believable if the audience believed in the miracles of God.

Bloody Mary

Tell me who Bloody Mary is.

“Bloody Mary is a story that was really really popular among my schoolmates back when I was in elementary school. Basically uhh…, she was like a ghost or phantom or something that was the Virgin Mary with bloody eyes. And you could conjure her in a mirror through a ritual, and she would kill you. I don’t know why it was so popular looking back on it, cause it was basically asking for a death sentence if you did the ritual. But yeah, we used to tell it to each other and dare each other to do it, especially if there was someone who said they didn’t believe in ghosts. It’s especially fun to do at sleepovers, which is what my friends and I used to do.”

How is the ritual performed?

“You go into a room alone with all the lights off, and there has to be a mirror inside obviously. You stand in front of the mirror and you chant ‘Bloody Mary’ three times. After the third time, Bloody Mary is supposed to appear in the mirror, where she will slit your throat and you will die. I actually have tried it before, but nothing really happened which is good cause I really didn’t want to die. It was super scary though, and sometimes you even feel like something might happen, especially when you’re in the dark standing in front of the mirror and have said it twice already.”


Collector’s Comments:

This is perhaps one of the most famous ghost stories out there, and one that I have heard multiple times before. One very interesting thing that I noticed is that the informant describes the ghost as a bloodied Virgin Mary. In the versions that I have heard, Bloody Mary is another woman entirely, with no relation to the Catholic Mary, so this makes me wonder if the fact that the informant heard this story at Catholic school had affected the telling. Another point that is interesting is that the informant had actually performed the ritual, and while nothing happened, the fear that he felt was very real, making the context and the setting a large factor in his belief.


For another version of this story, see the horror film Paranormal Activity III (2011), which has a scene where the characters recreate the Bloody Mary ritual.

Wong Fei Hung- A Chinese Legend

Informant is a Chinese American student at USC from Houston, Texas. Her parents were born in China, but she was raised in the United States. This is a story that she was told when she was younger.

“So, uh, this is one of the stories that my dad used to tell me about when I was younger. It’s about a person called Wong Fei Hung, who was a legendary Chinese martial artist who was born sometime in the late 1800’s. So it was actually a real person haha. But there are many stories about how he was the greatest kung fu martial artist of his time, and had mastered many of the kung fu styles, including one that he had made famous, called the Hung Gar style or something. One of the stories goes that he helped to save parts of China from the Imperial Japanese Army by teaching the local farmers kung fu so that they could fight back, and then leading them against the Japanese troops to save their lands. He’s a pretty big deal in China, so I guess its pretty cool because he was a real person and not just a myth. I’m not sure if all the stories I heard were completely true however.”

Did you ever do kung fu?

“Oh no not me hahaha. But this is a famous story for a lot of Chinese people, so you don’t have to be a kung fu student to have heard of it.”


Collector’s Comments:

This is an example of a legend about a person who actually lived in real life and did important things, but the stories told about them may have been exaggerated or made up to make them seem like an even bigger deal. I have also heard about this story from my Vietnamese dad, so it is a very popular tale in Asia.


For another modern version of this story, see the movie Rise of the Legend (2014), a Chinese film on Netflix that tells about the Wong Fei Hung legend and how he rose to fame and saved his town.


Vietnamese Coin Remedy

Informant is my cousin, who lives in San Jose, California, an area with the second largest population of Vietnamese immigrants in the world outside of Vietnam. This is a form of folk medicine that was used on him before.

“So my grandma, who was born in Vietnam, really believes in using the coin treatment for when anybody is sick or is in pain. Basically, you take a large coin, like a quarter or something, and you rub it on the sick person’s back and neck and other skin areas really hard. It’s supposed to break your blood vessels, so it looks like you’re bruised everywhere, but apparently it also helps you to recover quicker and numbs your pain.”

Have you ever tried it yourself?

“Yeah, my grandma used it on me when I was really little once, when I had come down with a cold. To be honest, it hurt like hell, and afterward my cold didn’t feel much better, but now I was also in a lot of pain from the marks on my body. It seems like this is a pretty common Vietnamese treatment for many people though, as a few of my friends have told me that they used the same thing.”


Collector’s Comments:

This is a story that is near and dear to my heart, as our grandma used to use this same kind of remedy when we were sick. In Vietnamese, the name of the treatment translates to “scraping wind”, which relates to how the word used for a cold is “catching wind”. This treatment was believed to help release the symptoms, but it is very painful. However, it is long time tradition of Vietnamese medicine, and is still used today, both in Vietnam and in parts of Asia and the rest of the world with Vietnamese people.

Tet- Vietnamese New Year

Informant is from San Jose, California, a city with a very large Vietnamese population.

“So in addition to the regular January 1st New Year that everyone in the US celebrates, my family and I also celebrate the Lunar New Year, which is called Tet in Vietnamese. Basically, it is usually in late January or early February, and is when the new lunar cycle begins, which marks the beginning of the year in many Asian countries like Vietnam. During Tet, there are a few superstitions and traditions that everyone follows to have good luck for the next year, and there is a ton of food and gathering around with family.”

Tell me about some of the traditions.

“Well, my parents always told me that whatever you do on the first day of the year, you will do for the rest of the year, so you’re supposed to practice good habits and be clean and all that. Uhh… Oh, also, you aren’t supposed to work or do any cleaning around the house, as people believe that you will sweep away any good luck. One of the big traditions, and my favorite tradition, is giving out red envelopes with money to all of the children, which is supposed to be a sign of fortune and good luck. Other than that, there is a lot of good food, and there are Tet festivals in San Jose and I think in Orange County too.”


Collector’s Comments:

The Lunar New Year is commonly celebrated in many Asian countries, and this is a variation of that celebration. Some of the traditions seem to be the same across the cultures, such as giving out the red envelopes and the feast. However, the no-cleaning rule is very interesting, in that it seems to imply that luck can be brought in and out of the house, which is something that I haven’t heard before. This is a holiday that is familiar, yet unique, to many different peoples.