Author Archives: Benjamin Ma

The Beanie Dip

Main Piece

The Beanie Dip is an Southern Methodist University (SMU) band initiation ritual which revolves around the use of the Beanie, a traditional band hat.

The Beanie Dip takes place just after Band Camp, which occurs in late summer before the Fall semester begins. The Sophomores are recognized and initiated into the Band (“the freshmen aren’t because they haven’t finished playing one season yet, which consists of both football and basketball” –AB). The whole freshman class is guided by 2 seniors on a route from the freshman hall to the main campus fountain at midnight. The sophomores are escorting and policing the freshmen. The escort arrangement consists of 4 lines: the inner 2 lines are freshmen, with the sophomores flanking in two lines on the outside. On this walk, the seniors tell stories about the history of the university. The freshmen are strictly prohibited from speaking.

Once the group arrives at the fountain, the fountain is ringed by juniors and seniors in a circle. When the sophomores arrive, they become the closest circle to the fountain, while the freshmen are the furthest circle, merely observing. One senior is standing in the fountain and gives a short speech. The sophomores are then told to take their beanies out, submerge their beanie fully in the water, and then dunk that water over their head. AB calls this part “signifying a birth or entry into the band.” After this, the sophomores are congratulated by the juniors and seniors.

Informant background

AB is a university student at Southern Methodist University (Dallas), originally from the California Bay Area. He is a member of the SMU band.

Performance context

AB described this to me during a phone call when I asked him to tell me about SMU traditions, rituals, and rumors.

Analysis

The Beanie Dip is the threshold ceremony (i.e. the initiation ritual) that signifies the sophomores’ official entrance into being a fully-fledged band member. Interestingly, the use of pouring water from a fountain over the head strongly mimics the Christian tradition of baptism, and AB even used the word “birth” when describing how this ritual is the start of a person’s official band career.

KKK Ghost Bridge

Main Piece

CD told me about a haunted bridge in his hometown of Zionsville, ID. The rumors would swirl around at his middle school, and a little bit at his high school:

“Back in the day, the KKK was pretty big in Indiana. Like, a town in southern Indiana is where the 2nd chapter started. There’s this bridge in town that doesn’t exist anymore because it got destroyed by a tractor a few years ago. It was a 30-40 yard long bridge; a backroad nobody really drives on.

Supposedly it’s haunted: If you drive your car there at night, and turn off all the lights, you’ll see things or hear voices. It’s haunted because the KKK would lynch people there. One of my friends said when they’d go there at night, they’d sit in their car, roll down their windows, and hear voices, indistinct whispering in the woods.

Someone who went, they were there long enough that there was fog on the windows, and there were handprints on the windows.”

Informant background

CD is a student at the University of Southern California. He is from Zionsville, ID.

Performance context

This story was told during a folklore collection event that I set up with a diversity of members from the USC men’s Ultimate Frisbee team. We were in a classic folklore collection setting: sharing drinks around a campfire, in a free flowing conversation.

Analysis

The “haunted place” rumors often involve some kind of action that you must do while at the place in order to bring out the haunting: in this case, turning off all your lights or rolling down your windows. This activity seems to legitimize the “legend quest” of going out and trying to see if the rumors are true or not, because it is more complicated than simply going there – you have to actively participate in the ritual once you arrive. CD’s haunted bridge seems like a typical example of a legend quest where the primary participants are teenagers (middle and high-school aged children.)

There’s No Right Answer

Main Piece

“There’s No Right Answer” is a long-drive car game that CD learned from his friends. It is typically played when on a road trip with a group of friends, ideally with an even number of people in the car. You are partnered with one other person in the car. The goal is for you and your partner to say the same word at the same time (there is a countdown so you say the words in sync.) However, no communication is allowed between you and your partner besides just saying the words. The partner pairs all alternate saying words until one of the pairs says the same word at the same time.

CD says “the only strategy is to try and be on the same page as the other person based on what you’ve said in the previous turns.”

Informant background

CD is a student at the University of Southern California. He is from Zionsville, ID.

Performance context

This story was told during a folklore collection event that I set up with a diversity of members from the USC men’s Ultimate Frisbee team. We were in a classic folklore collection setting: sharing drinks around a campfire, in a free flowing conversation.

Analysis

Road trip games seem like a typically American tradition – the idea of the car and the open road, even the road trip itself, are tied to American youth and freedom-loving culture. I wonder if non-American cultures have popular road trip games?

Murder on the Island

Main Piece

When JJ was growing up in Massachusetts, he used to go to a fishing camp that would take a day trip to a tiny island off the coast of New Hampshire. Every year, they would tell a “true story” about an abandoned red house on the island:

“A family used to live in that red house, with a wife and husband, and their maid. The husband made his living fishing from the island. The husband and wife would sleep upstairs, while the maid was downstairs. Once, the wife’s sister came to visit, and slept downstairs with the maid. There had been some longstanding conflict between the husband and the wife’s sister, since she hadn’t wanted her sister to marry him.

The maid woke up in the middle of the night to a scream. She found the wife’s sister dead in her room. She ran upstairs and woke up the husband and wife: “You sister’s dead! You have to get out of here!” The maid goes back down to check on the sister. The husband tries to help his wife escape through the second story window, but as soon as her head is out, her head got chopped off by an axe! Then the husband is freaking out. He runs downstairs and finds that the maid is dead, next to the wife’s sister.

He hops in his rowboat and starts trying to row to shore, but it’s the middle of the night, and it’s miles to shore. He starts rowing, he’s falling asleep, his hands are getting tired, he’s starting to let go of the oars. It’s winter so it’s freezing cold. He dips his hands into the water to freeze his hands to the oars. It works and he finally arrives to a city in New England, and goes to a hotel. He’s covered in blood trying to tell them what happened. His hands are completely frostbitten. They arrest him on the spot. He got convicted and sent to jail. Up until his death he denied it and said there was someone else on the island.

On his deathbed he admitted to murdering everyone.

Or so they say he confessed…”

Informant background

JJ is a student at the University of Southern California. He is from Newburyport, MA.

Performance context

This story was told during a folklore collection event that I set up with a diversity of members from the USC men’s Ultimate Frisbee team. We were in a classic folklore collection setting: sharing drinks around a campfire, in a free flowing conversation.

Analysis

JJ’s story, along with every scary story I collected for this project, professes to be a “true story.” While the plausibility of this is in question, the effect of even the plausibility of this story having happened causes an extra layer of fear and fascination for the story—especially since the story is almost always told while the listeners are actually at the site.

The SMU Beanie

Main Piece

The “beanie” is a peculiar bit of Southern Methodist University (SMU) material lore that is “like a baseball cap, but it’s been shortened and it intentionally fits badly.” AB tells me about the beanie’s history at SMU:

The whole university’s freshman class, circa 1930s, used to wear them as a signifier that they were freshmen. They were required to wear them at all times when outside, and recommended to do so while inside. Over time, they were less and less used and enforced until it became just the football team and the band that kept the tradition (this was around the 1980s). By the 2000s, only the band was still enforcing the beanie tradition.

Nowadays, the band makes freshmen wear their beanies just at ceremonies, such as Homecoming. However, while not required to wear their beanies at all times, the freshmen are expected to carry it at all times: if an upperclassman asks them where their beanie is, and they don’t have it, they have to sing the Beanie Song:

  1. “Oh where, oh where has my beanie gone?
  2. Oh where, oh where could it be?
  3. With its big-ass blue bill and its diamond M on the back
  4. Oh where, oh where could it be?”

This song carries the tune of Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Informant background

AB is a university student at Southern Methodist University (Dallas), originally from the California Bay Area. He is a member of the SMU band.

Performance context

AB described this to me during a phone call when I asked him to tell me about SMU traditions, rituals, and rumors.

Analysis

The beanie tradition seems to be a good example of an initiation ritual (or, in other terms, “hazing”) that serves to humiliate the new members so that they have to go through what all the other upper-classmen have been through, to officially be a part of the group. Also, it is notable that the tradition started with the entire school, but dwindled down to just the band over time, who are charged with carrying school spirit.