Author Archives: Henry Connor

Rise, Run, and Dip

LC: “So Rise Run and Dip was a tradition at Hotchkiss. At orientation your first year, one of the first mornings, everybody had to get up at about 6 in the morning and go for a run, and the run would be, I don’t know, 2 or 3 miles, and it would end by running down the hill, sort of from the top of campus to the bottom where there was this big lake, Lake Wononskopomuc. And you would run run run down the hill and just keep going into the lake and go for a swim. And this was in the foothills of the Berkshires, so it was generally very crisp. And then people also did this for various sports teams, like when you go for preseason practice. It, you know, it was one of those rites of passage, it was definitely difficult, and cold, and particularly unpleasant on the way back up the hill. But it was also kind of beautiful, and peaceful, and very memorable. It was meant to be a bonding exercise, something that everybody did, and that everybody at Hotchkiss had done at least once, in their time there.”

Background: Hotchkiss is a boarding school in Connecticut which LC went to for high school. This tradition has been going on since long before she went there, and continues to this day. She remembers it as a significant rite of passage that was both strenuous and beautiful.

Context: This tradition took place during freshman orientation, as well as at various points of the year for members of different sports teams.


Rise, Run, and Dip is a fairly clear-cut rite of passage and initiation ritual. Through a shared ordeal, suffering in the brisk mountain air, freshmen and teammates bond with each other. The ritual is seen as important to becoming a real member of the Hotchkiss community, and becomes a shared memory of those who went through it. Additionally, LC mentioned that at the most recent high school reunion she went to, one of the scheduled events was Rise, Run and Dip. When calling back to high school days, the community recreates this event which marked the beginning of their high school experience.

Little Mikey, Killed by Pop Rocks

JC: “Alright, so one of the most common and commonly repeated commercials on television when I was a child, in the 1970s, was a commercial for Life Cereal, in which three boys are depicted, basically at table height. And the first two boys are clearly friends, and a little older. And one of them asks the other, ‘what’s this stuff.’ And the other kid says, ‘dumb cereal, is supposed to be good for you’ (dismissively). And the one kid says, ‘well, you try it.’ And the other kid says, ‘nah, I’m not gonna try it, you try it.’ And then one kid says, ‘yeah, let’s get Mikey. He won’t eat it, he hates everything,’ his little brother. They slide the bowl of cereal  over to his little brother, and he just starts chomping it down, just like shoveling spoonfuls of it into his mouth. And then the kid who’s basically trying to punish his brother and get out of eating the cereal says, ‘He likes it! Hey Mikey!’ So Mikey, even though it wasn’t a common name, became a thing we said like all the time.

“And then we heard, maybe ten years later, that Mikey died from, um, eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda. Yeah, it was a shame. And it was one of those stories that, like, came both with people who would say, like, “I know somebody who knows somebody” or whatever attestations, and it also came, like, pre-marked as fake. But then there’d be like weird spin-offs, like ‘it wasn’t really Mikey but it was this other kid’ or, like, the actual urban legend-ness of it didn’t die, it was a real weird vibe. There was a fear underlying it, that this would happen to you. And I think at some point Pop Rocks stopped being sold for a while, and so we attributed it to the death of various children. Like some marketing decision a candy manufacturer makes turns out to be, ‘they’re killing children with Pop-Rocks and Soda!’ The Pop Rocks and soda challenge wiped out a whole generation of Midwestern boys. Yeah we all tried it. Dude, when Pop Rocks were around we put them in everything, of people’s unsuspectingly. Put them in their cereal, you’d put them on your tongue and have to like go to class with it and not open your mouth and have to let the stuff come out your nose and that was really awful. Um, yeah, Pop Rocks… the candy of death.”

So, did you have any other traditions you did involving Pop Rocks?

JC: “I mean, not really? I mean we poured them in people’s food at lunch and stuff. So we definitely messed with people with them. And we tried various things. We all, like, threw a handful of Pop Rocks in and then, like, took a swig of Mountain Dee or whatever… Mello Yello, just to see what would happen.”

Was the messing with people, was it limited to high school or middle school, or did it continue through college?

JC: “Ohh, it totally continued through college. You have to remember, our college coincided– our college years coincided with the great sort of peak in American prank phone calling culture. Like, the Prank Yankers show was on television with puppets reenacting prank phone calls. And, like, people thought this was the peak of humor. So we messed with a lot of people.”


JC grew up in Ohio. He remembers the commercial because he watched a lot of television as a child. The urban legend about Mikey and the other shenanigans involving Pop Rocks, from JC’s description, were just part of the middle American zeitgeist during the 1980s and early 1990s. The legend has no particular significance to him, other than as a memory.


The story of Mikey (or some other kid) dying from eating Pop Rocks and drinking soda is an urban legend which would be told in many situations.


The story of Mikey dying has variations involving other kids, but generally involves the same story: a kid eats Pop Rocks and drinks soda, and the combination causes his stomach to inflate, somehow killing him. Among JC’s circle, the story was entirely recognized as fake, to the point where they fearlessly tried the combination which allegedly killed Mikey. It may have been the type of story to scare older, more gullible people while younger people either knew better or did not care.

Gravity Hill

JC: “Gravity Hill is a place in Mentor, Ohio, which is upa round the Lake Erie shore, north of Cleveland. And I have no idea why, how we planned the trip that got us all the way up there, four and a half, five hours up from Dayton. But we had heard about it, and I believe we had even seen it on That’s Incredible, which was a TV show that sort of anthologized folklore and weirdness and Guinness Book things and so on. So we drove up to Mentor Ohio, a group of us, in high school. And the road it’s on, I don’t remember what the road is called, but we had to look it up on a map–a paper map, cause there were no Internets, and we got to the place on the road where it was, and we had to take the car, and put it in neutral, at the bottom of what looks like a hill, and then the car slowly goes up the hill and gathers a little bit of speed. Apparently, somehow, it’s just an unbelievably convincing optical illusion, but it really feels like your car is being pulled uphill. Like it looks like it’s uphill, it really does look that way. So that’s Gravity Hill.”

Background: JC is an Ohio native. He and his friends likely heard about this Gravity Hill, or a similar phenomenon, from television.


The Gravity Hill phenomenon is fairly common, and dozens of these stretches of road exist around the world. The conditions required to maintain the illusion come about naturally or unintentionally in many places in the United States, and most of these places likely have their own set of stories surrounding them, with some similarities and more variations. JC had no further information about this particular hill with regards to any stories surrounding it. This particular feature was considered just an illusion by JC and his friends.

Interestingly, there is a Gravity Hill nearby in Altadena, California, which has further folklore surrounding it. A range of ghost stories involving crashed school buses or cars of cheerleaders claim that this particular hill is haunted, and perhaps the “magnetic” effect is ghostly hands pushing your car to ensure you don’t meet the same fate as they did. A common practice of “ghost hunters” is to put baby powder or flour on the front or back of their car, and see if handprints show up while rolling “uphill.”


For more information on Gravity Hill in Altadena, see another local account of this gravity hill:

Christmas Pickle

LC: “So every year that we would celebrate Christmas at my grandmother’s we would have all the grandkids gather around the Christmas tree and try to find the pickle on the tree and I think it was for Jesus or good luck or something. And one year I found the pickle and that was cool! But we haven’t been to my grandparents’ house in so long now, so it’s just a fond memory.”

Is this just a tradition in your family, or was it a regional thing, do you know?

LC: “I feel like other people do it as well, but I haven’t really met anyone else who does it. I feel like it’s a Southern thing maybe?”

LC: “Really it was just a game for kids to play in the family. You know the thing with the wishbone where you pull it apart and whoever gets the big piece wins? It’s sort of like that except only one person wins out of the like 9 grandkids or so.”


LC picked up this tradition from her family, who live and have lived in both Florida and Texas. It is not particularly significant to her, and serves more as a fun game than a serious tradition. She remembers it fondly; it has no positive or negative ideological significance, only nostalgia.


LC mentioned this custom during a discussion of family holiday traditions after we had Easter dinner with friends. The tradition takes place only during Christmas, and is associated with other physical aspects of the holiday; it piggybacks on the larger, more general tradition of decorating the Christmas tree.


I tend to agree with LC that this tradition, wherever it might be practiced, is almost certainly a lighthearted game played for fun among families. She mentions that it might be for Jesus or good luck, but her uncertainty and lack of concern about such significance suggest it has no particular ideological or religious role. As for the extent of the tradition, LC is right in that other families also have Christmas Pickle ornament traditions. However, its history is fairly uncertain. A brief search suggests that it could be a German tradition, or could be a fabricated tradition by 19th-century glassblowers to sell ornaments. Either way, it seems to be a moderately common Christmas tradition, similar in some ways to Elf on the Shelf. Both are unconnected with the more religious aspects of Christmas, and both involve adults hiding an object from children. Furthermore, both might be created to encourage product sales.

For another description of the Christmas Pickle tradition given by a seminary employee, see here



Dropped silverware summons guests

LC: “What we always said when I was a kid was that if you dropped- when you dropped a knife on the floor, somebody would say, ‘oh, that means a man is coming for dinner.’ And if you dropped a fork, that meant, ‘oh, a woman’s coming to dinner.’ It was my job to empty the dishwasher, and to set the table with silverware and stuff. And I don’t know if anybody ever told me this, but I sort of extrapolated that if you dropped a spoon, it meant a kid was coming to dinner. I would drop spoons now and then in hopes of generating some visitors. It worked.”

Was this just your family or was it a more widespread belief?

LC: “I don’t feel like it- it wasn’t just us. It was definitely something I feel like other kids did. I would think it was regional, I don’t think it was like a family thing, like from one side of the family or the other. I feel like it was something that came from my sisters rather than my parents. You know, a lot of things in our family came from my dad and his Boy Scout stuff, but I don’t think that did.”

Background: LC grew up in Connecticut. This belief was held by many of her peers, including her older sisters. She does not hold this belief anymore, simply due to outgrowing it.

Context: This ritual, as it were, is performed when setting the table for dinner, or otherwise handling silverware.


This belief both reflects a superstition about dropping silverware having seemingly unrelated consequences, as well as an intentional ritual which takes advantage of this superstition to try and invoke the consequences. I find it interesting that in this superstition, clumsiness is connected to a neutral or even beneficial consequence, rather than to a negative consequence. For example, spilling salt leads to bad luck, unless you negate it by throwing salt over your shoulder. Because the clumsy act in this case leads to a consequence which LC saw as positive, she was motivated to intentionally drop spoons from time to time.