Author Archives: Lauryn Soorani

Ghostly revenge

In 2011 my informant published a the book, The Empire of Death: A Cultural History of Ossuaries and Charnel Houses. The book’s 260 photographs were gathered by Dr. Koudounaris over the course of five years, during which he traveled to 70 different locations around the world, studying, visiting, and photographing charnel houses.

Dr. Koudounaris’ travels took him to the Catacombe dei Cappuccini (the Catacombs of the Capuchin monastery) in Palermo, Italy. Part of his process of learning about the catacombs included talking to the various fruit and flower vendors who sold their goods across from the monastery. Because the fruit and flower vendors are directly across from the monastery, they know everything that went on there and were able to tell him a variety of ghost stories about the monastery.

“The fruit and flower vendors are an incredible source of information. It’s hard to understand if you live in our type of society. Ya know, a street vendor, in societies like this is a source of incredible information. The fruit and flower vendors are across from the monastery and they know everything that goes on in the monastery. And everyone goes—it’s not like they go to super markets, they go to these vendors—so they are an incredible source of information if you really want to know what goes on in societies like that.”

The story is as follows:

“It’s a very complex story. She was a young girl and had fallen in love with this circus strong man. She was supposed to be married to a guy in Naples. Her family had arranged for her a marriage to this wealthy Neapolitan family but she was—was she 15 or 16?—anyways she was in love with this circus strong man named Garibaldi so she went to her parents and told her, ya know, that she would not marry the guy from Naples because she was going to marry Garibaldi, and Garibaldi was 47 and she was like 15, and that she had already given her virginity to Garibaldi which made her worthless and so her parents disowned her and cast her out. So she went to Garibaldi and Garibaldi, it turned out his only interest in her was sexual which is obviously not a surprise and so he, he was a circus performer and he started this pervert circus and it featured his young bride cause he married her at that time and they had private shows where she would have sex with midgets and animals and so fourth for wealthy clients. Eventually after a couple of weeks of this she wound up dead. They believe she had been penetrated by a horse and suffered severe injuries and her body was dumped in this alley where they found it and, her parents, ya know of course they were mortified but by this time ya know, they took her body but by this time she was dead. And they wanted charges brought against Garibaldi but it was not possible because of course no one would testify because to testify would mean admitting that you were at one of these shows. Anyways, these were wealthy Sicilians, members of the upper class and they weren’t going to say that they paid a 1000 lira to watch a girl have sex with a horse. Ya know, no way. So Garibaldi was going to walk free except that her ghost started pursuing and tormenting him and um, Garibaldi had left Palermo and gone to Siracusa uh, but apparently the ghost followed him to Siracusa. He had gone to a priest and asked the priest if he would help him and try to exorcise the ghost and the priest said that he would only help him if Garibaldi would make a full confession of his own misdeeds regarding the girl and Garibaldi refused. But eventually whatever was happening had gotten so bad that he decided he was going to talk to the priest and confess and he had left—this was still in Seracusa—he had left to go to the church and the priest was late that day and when the priest got there around noon he found Garibaldi’s dead body in the confessional booth. And the theory is that he had gone to the church and gone into the confessional booth but it was not the priest on the other side of the booth but the ghost and she had killed him. And the reason they believe that is because a candelabra was found shoved up his ass and he had died of also these internal hemorrhaging. Her injuries her vaginal whereas his were anal but it’s the same type of thing, so it was believed that perhaps that is how the ghost had enacted her revenge, by sodomizing him to death.”

This legend is a classic revenge tale. The girl loved Garibaldi and had given herself to him, which as my informant stated made her worthless. Once she had given her virginity to Garibaldi, there was no way for her parents to marry her off to the man they had promised her to. Finding out that Garibaldi wanted nothing from her other than sex and then to be exploited in the way she was ultimately resulting in her death left her as some might call, a vengeful spirit. Certain ghost beliefs say that a person wronged in life cannot go onto the afterlife until their killer has been brought to justice–one may assume that this is the case in this legend.

Make sure you have good parenting

The following story was not told directly to my informant, but rather to her older brother. When she was eight years old, she was riding in the back seat of the car and overheard her dad telling her thirteen year old brother this story. Though it was not intended for her it stuck in her mind because of how bizarre it was.

“Um, apparently this guy, his mother never disciplined him so he grew up to be quite the… deviant person. Ended up getting arrested, going to jail, and having to be executed because of all the poor choices he made in life, and uh… then, before he was executed, when they asked what he would like as his last whatever… ya know, do you have any final requests. Anything you want before you bet executed tomorrow. And he said he wanted his mothers breast milk… of all the weird things. He wanted to have milk from his mother’s breast. So they’re like “ok…”, so they had his mom come in and rather than suckling her nipples and taking the milk out, he mauled her breasts until they came off and she bled to death. He murdered his mother and when he asked him why he did it he said because she never disciplined me and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.”

The purpose of the story was to emphasize to her brother the necessity of good parenting. As the story says, this boy would not have ended up on death row if his mother had properly disciplined him. Thus, any forms of discipline that may seem strict or unfair can be justified through the use of this tale.

Downey Lane

The following legend is that of Downey Lane, a haunted road in Roseville, California.

“I come from a town called Roseville California. It’s been around for a really long time, it actually used to be a big railroad stop and so it became a really huge city based on the railroad. It’s small now cause the railroad isn’t running through anymore. But um… uh… there’s this one lane on the outskirts of town, like where the rural area kind of is—I actually live pretty close to it which scares the crap out of me, but it’s called Downey Lane. The legend is that back in civil war times, seven completely innocent black men were hung on the trees that line Downey Lane. And so one of the things that you are kind of obligated to do is to drive down Downey Lane with your headlights off. They say that the souls cursed the place. I had a friend who is really susceptible to psychic impulses—she was taken to the road and she walked just like a couple of steps down it and she started screaming, turned around, and ran. She said that she got a really really oppressive feeling. But it’s pretty scary and she went during the middle of the day.

Last year two of my friends, when I went back visiting home said, “you have to come with us and we’re driving you down Downey Lane.” I had never been down this road before. It’s out of the way and you usually don’t take it to go anywhere because it’s kind of in the farmland kind of area, so you don’t really need to go down the lane very often, especially in the dark. So they took me and it was actually pretty close to—well it was really late. It might have been like 10-11 o-clock. But we go down and roll down the windows and turn off the headlights and they are telling me these stories of how wild dogs will come and attack you and how people will run you off the road and as we were going down this road we noticed a car on the side of the road. And we were like, “okay this is really kind of creepy.” Just in case me and my friend, we ducked down cause we’re both girls and didn’t want to be seen, like if there’s any sketchy guys. And my friend’s boyfriend kept on driving, and so we kept driving for a little bit and I told them, “okay this is really spooky guys, can we just turn around soon and go,” and they were like, “no, just a little bit further.” And then we see headlights come up behind us, and we turn around and we think it’s the same car. They had the floodlights on—just as bright as it can go—and they start speeding up behind us. So we’re like, “crap!” We turn on the headlights and we start going faster, cause we’re like shit this person’s coming up really fast behind us and we speed up and they keep following us, speeding up more and more, and we’re tearing down the road at this point, cause we’re terrified that these are the people who go and drive people off the road. We eventually got around a corner, we turned our headlights off and were like ok, maybe—cause we had got far enough ahead of him that we could do that—we were like, ok, maybe they’ll just like stop and turn around. And they did stop, headlights still up, and we’re like ok… this road is basically almost like a one way road that just ends but uh… we didn’t want to go all the way around because it would have taken us a very long time to get back to the main street if we kept going the way we were and so we turned around, which I’m not sure if that was really a smart idea or not, cause, the car was still there with its brights still on. So we went back and were like ok they aren’t following us. Then the other car turned around and started following us a little bit more. One again we’re like, “oh my god, oh my god, we’re going to die” and then it stopped and started blinking its lights at us. By that point were just gassed it and drove off the road and went straight home.

There headlights were so bright that we couldn’t see who was driving and like, my friends were thinking it was probably just some gang members. They like to hide out here, run people off the road, and beat them for there stuff. But ya know… it was still really scary and creepy.”

My informant explained that her town has a troubled past with race relations, thus the legend of a haunted road as a result of past racism acts as a reminder of past misdeeds not to be repeated. While my informant does genuinely believe there is something haunted–or at least off about Downey Lane, she also thinks there there is likelihood that the legend might have been created as a reason to keep people away from what is a dangerous area. As her experience exemplifies, driving down the road at night has serious risks. The road is isolated, hard to get to, has no street lights, and is essentially the perfect place to get mugged. Furthermore, according to my informant, the wild dogs are actually a problem in the area.

“As my friend and her boyfriend were driving me down the road they were like, yeah, one of my friends who drove down this got—he was just driving down it and a wild dog just jumped hon the hood and started barking at him and he kept driving cause he’s like “ahhhh dog!”

As terrifying as the process of driving down Downey Lane was for my informant, she explained it as something everyone from her town has to do at least once. For the kids in her town, facing the terror that is Downey Lane is a coming of age ritual.

Occupy Jokes

My informant was an active participant in the Los Angeles branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement that came to life in Los Angeles in October of 2011. His participation spanned from its first day in Los Angeles, to the beginning of December.

My informant explained to me that during his involvement in Occupy Los Angeles, he and his friends would regularly come up with Occupy-related jokes.

Common jokes involved plays on the word “occupy” such as “I’m going to go and occupy the bathroom right now” or “I’m going to go home and occupy my bed.” Another theme brought up was the use of pie. “I remember, at a protest one time, a bunch of us were, we were getting arrested and um, this one guy, he takes this megaphone and starts asking the cops what their favorite pie is. Cause… ya know, occu-pie? It was weird, but it lightened to mood.” Some of the jokes were more widespread than others. He said using plays on any of the words of Occupy Wall Street was really common. Occupy Sesame Street was a popular one he said. “There were the occupy sesame street signs–It had… um, The Count on it right? “Count the ways we have been fucked over” or, uh there was the cookie monster one that said “1% of monsters are eating 99% of cookies””

These occupy jokes had a purpose much greater than being told just to make each other laugh. These jokes were used as a coping mechanism. My informant described being a regular occupier as incredibly stressful, “the whole thing–it turned my life upside down.” By making absurd jokes all the time, he and his friends were able to make light of what was often a stressful and difficult experience. “We had to deal with being torn down constantly, by the cops, city, the media, even our peers–so we had to keep laughing as a way to deal with it.”

Burning Man Initiation

My informant is a regular attendee of the Burning Man Festival. Burning Man is a weeklong festival held in the Nevada desert. It caps at 50,000 participants and is governed by 10 principals: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. The name “burning man” comes from the ritual of burning a large wooden effigy of a man on the Saturday of the week-long festival.

My informant told me of an introduction ritual for first time “burners” (this is the name for individuals who attend Burning Man)

“It is a tradition at Burning Man, a festival in the middle of the Nevada desert, that all first timers to the festival must first ring a bell and roll around in the dirt. The bell is placed next to the ‘welcomers’ who welcome all burners upon entry into the festival. Next, and in my opinion the most important part– rolling around in the playa dust.”

This process symbolizes ones initiation into burning man. Because burning man takes place in the desert, the experience can be difficult if you are not prepared to deal with the harsh environment. One has to bring all of his or her own supplies to survive for that week as nothing is allowed to be sold there. Thus the action of rolling around in the dirt for first timers not only displays their courage but is done to prove their ability to handle the harsh desert environment.