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Disney Folklore: Naming Animatronics

Transcription: “All the animatronics in Disneyland have a name. For example, the snake in Indiana Jones is named Fluffy. The Yeti in the Matterhorn is named Harold. Cast members aren’t supposed to pose with the animatronics, but we do and post them in our Facebook groups.”

The naming of the animatronics signifies a way to give life to the mechanisms. Similar to the way we use human names, the rides become more personalized when an individual knows the names of the machines contributing to the ride’s atmosphere.

By giving each machine a unique and specific name, the cast members can create a dichotomy. Those who know the names are on inside the group, while those who do not know the names are outside the group. Overall, knowledge of the animatronic’s names evokes a sense of group identity. The cast members can exemplify their group identity by name dropping the machine’s name.

As Van Gennup said, transitional or unsettling moments in one’s life often become paired with jokes. The ironic nature of the names function as a joke shared between cast members. For example, the snake on the Indiana Jones ride is supposed to jump out and scare people. However, with a name like Fluffy, the snake can hardly be considered daunting. The joke counteracts the tension created at the moment the snake appears.

During times when the ride is powered down, cast members pose and take pictures of each other with the animatronics. The behavior qualifies as breaking the rules, but the cast members are not deterred since it has become apart of their group culture. Not only are their pictures a form of rebellion, they are shared over social media. The Facebook groups on which these photos are shared facilitate the multiplicity and variation of the folklore.


Halcyon House Underground Railroad

Transcription: “In the 1950s, a family owned the house. A bunch of rats and critters were crawling up from the basement so they hired a carpenter to close up the space. When he was down there, he heard wailing, but he decided to ignore it. When he was putting the last brick in, he heard a blood curdling scream and felt a strong gust of wind. They say that the explanation is that the house was a stop in the Underground Railroad. The house is next to the Potomac, which is right across from Virginia. They say that the wailing and moaning come from the spirits of slaves who were upset that their last glimpse of freedom was being sealed up.”

The same informant who works for a Washington D.C. tour company told me another more recent story involving the Halcyon House. Despite its origins in the 1950s, the story relates back to a renowned moment in American history, the Underground Railroad.  

My informant began the story in the 1950s by describing the rodent infestation in the Halcyon House. A seemingly typical household repair was converted into a ghost story when a carpenter was hired to seal off the basement from the rest of the house. When the carpenter was laying the final brick that would seal of the basement, he felt a strong gust of wind and heard a scream. With no logical earthy explanation, those involved turned to history.

The Halcyon House is rumored to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad. Due to its location near the Potomac River and proximity to Virginia, the Halcyon House could have been the final stop for runaway slaves on their way to freedom. Slaves who did not make it to freedom across the Potomac would have been trapped in the Halcyon House. Some reason that the scream from the basement came from the spirits of slaves who were upset that their path to freedom was being permanently sealed off.

My impression of this story is that it signifies a reanimation of history. In other words, American history is made new through this ghost stories of the Underground Railroad. The story acts as a reminder of a period in American history that should not be forgotten. To dramatize its memory, the Underground Railroad was translated into a ghost story.


Halcyon House (Washington, D.C) Albert Clemens

Transcription: “A couple generations later, the house was bought Samuel Clemens’ (Mark Twain) nephew, Albert Clemens. He owned it in the late 1800s. Albert believed that as long as the kept building the house, he wouldn’t die. He built stairways to nowhere, doors that open into nothing, and rooms within rooms. He was adamantly opposed to electricity. He didn’t let anyone bring anything electric into his house. They say that to this day, people will walk into the house and their phones will stop working or light bulbs will burst. When he died, he wanted the coroner to put a pick-ax in his heart to make sure he was dead.”

The same informant who works for a Washington D.C. tour company told me another story involving the Halcyon House. Several decades later, the house was owned by Samuel Clemens’ nephew, Albert Clemens. I did not realize the historical significance of Samuel Clemens until my informant told me I would recognize his pen name, Mark Twain. Therefore, the Halcyon house is not only connected with American history, but American culture.

I do not know much about Samuel Clemens or his nephew, but according to my informant, Albert suffered from mental health problems. Albert convinced himself that he would not die as long as he continued to build and renovate the Halcyon property. Albert likely attached some spiritual significant to the house or associated it with his life purpose. In hopes of postponing his death, Albert built designs that would inhibit the completion of the house. He built stairways to nowhere, doors that open to a wall, and rooms within rooms. He believed these paradoxes of design held the key to his immortality. Albert’s superstitions were not limited to structural design and immortality. He also was opposed to electricity and had a fear of being buried alive. His rejection of electricity could be explained as a fear of progress and technology.

This story combines multiple genres of folklore since it documents the superstitions of an individual, includes a legendary figure, and the history lives on today in the form of a ghost story.


Spanish Proverb 1

Original Transcription: “Más vale prevenir que curar.”

English Transcription: “It is better to prevent than to cure.”

This proverb came from Spain. The literal translation of the phrase is, “it is better to prevent than to cure.” One would use this proverb when you do something that you do not need to do, but you do it as a precaution. For example, a student might say use this phrase while studying their notes in case their professor gives a pop quiz the next day. By reviewing their notes even when unnecessary, the student can prevent (cure) a bad grade. This proverb is a mark of the hardworking, cautionary individual.

English has a proverb that is very similar to this Spanish saying. I thought of this Spanish proverb as the equivalent to the English proverb, “better safe than sorry.”  Both proverbs seek to encourage hard working, forward-thinking behavior. If one is prepared for a variety of possible futures, they will never fall into a precarious circumstance. I found it interesting how these shared cultural values were translated across the world.


La Llorona

Transcription: “In Mexico, there was supposedly a woman who drowned her own kids in the river and then regretted it. Her name is La Llorona. She wears a white dress with a veil–wedding attire–because her husband left her. She appears at all the rivers, crying “ay, mis hijos.” When I go to Mexico, there is a river down the street from my grandma’s house and they say that she appears there late at night. All the kids go down there to check it out, but I have never gone because I was scared.”

For another version of this legend, see

This collection is a variation of the La Llorona legend. The Spanish word llorar means “to cry.” Therefore, La Llorona is the feminized variation of crying. The most common structures of the legend are present. The story takes place at a river and involves a woman who drowned her children. However, the version I collected has more specific details. She includes La Llorona’s clothing, a white dress and veil. At first, my informant did not remember the story line that La Llorna’s husband left her, but after mentioning her clothing, she remembered the meaning behind her attire.

My informant likewise mentioned the words La Llorona is said to be weeping. The phrase, ay, mis hijos, means “oh, my children” which relates back to the idea that La Llorona drowned her children then regretted her actions. I assume that variations of the legend that provide different motives for La Llorona would have her call out different words.

My informant’s variation of the legend was unique to others I have heard since she had personalized the legend. The river by her grandmother’s house in Mexico is rumored as a site for La Llorona. The purpose of the legend is to act as a safety precaution that scares children away from rivers at night. The legend fulfilled its purpose with my informant since has never ventured down to the river at night out of fear. Nevertheless, my informant claims that the legend has had the opposite effect on the those who are fascinated by the supernatural and investigate its validity.