Author Archives: Laurel Goggins

The Old Slaughterhouse

A Tale about an old slaughterhouse up in Northern California and the ghosts that haunt the decaying building.

C: There’s an old slaughter house, up near some of the old, um–not old, it just got bought out again — golf course on March Creek Road.

L: Up in Brentwood?

C: Yeah, well, yeah. Well up in, kinda, there’s like this big farm area and there’s like, these hills that lead, like, up towards Mount Diablo. You keep going that direction, and in that area is this old slaughter house. I don’t know if it was actually a slaughterhouse, but it’s like this old, decrepit building in the middle of nowhere that you can hike out to. And rumor has it you can go up there at night– Ghost!

L: What kind of ghosts?

C: Like, ha-ha-ha, the most real thing that happened is like, someone saw a figure with a gun. But it’s also like, spooky shenanigans, strange figures, weird noises. Ooh, spooky. And, like, teenagers hanging out in a place where they’re not supposed to noises.

L: Is it just because it’s a slaughterhouse or did something happen?

C: I think it’s just because it’s a slaughterhouse. And like, there’s other– there’s a hill and I don’t know where it is because I’ve never gone there, but, um. I’m just thinking now because it’s like, yeah, because it’s a freaking hill, like um, where people would go to do “the make outs” and it was also considered haunted for some reason. The one that I remember is like, “Oh your car will start moving” and I’m like, yeah, duh, it’s a hill. You don’t put your car– haha–you don’t  put your break on that’s gonna happen.

Thoughts:
There are a plethora of spooky tales about areas that are associated with death. Graveyards, hospitals, and in this case, a slaughter house are all places that fill our imagination with ghost hauntings. Death– whether it’s human or animal– forces people to confront their own mortality, and so, stories of ghosts haunting this slaughter house are passed by word of mouth from person to person in the Brentwood town it neighbors.

Opening Windows to Let the Soul Out

The informant worked as a nurse in South Carolina and in Southern California for almost two decades. Here she recounts a cross-cultural tradition that nurses perform after a patient has passed.

T: As far as nursing goes, we would have nurses who would, uh, come in the room. We would have nurses come in, and even nurses here in California I would have some, and um, I don’t know if it was regional or not, cause I would have a lot of nurses that were travelers and a lot of nurses that were from all over the country. You know, cause we have– cause California has so many nurses from so many different places. And you know, how you say, there’s no Californian born in California. But, um, we would have nurses once the patient had died and the family seen the patient, and sometimes even before that, they would open, if they could, they would open the windows in the room.

L: Oh! So their soul could get out?

T: Yeah. So that was another superstition as far as nursing goes. Nurses would, uh, tend to do when they weren’t superstitious in any other way. Nurses tend to be very scientific and clinical–that kinda stuff. But that was a nursing thing that nurses would do, not just the nursing assistants. 

L: Do you remember if that was from any specific nationality or culture? Or did it sort of catch on with everyone? 

T: It crossed a lot of barriers, I think. I know they did it in the South a lot. When I was in the South, I mean, it was very a Southern thing. But when I came here (To Los Angeles) I noticed that a lot of different– cause there are a lot of different cultures here– I noticed a lot of cultures did that. It wasn’t just a Southern thing. Yeah, a lot of different cultures did that. And a lot of different religious cultures seemed to do it. Like, letting the soul be free and not trapped. That kind of thing. 

Thoughts:

It’s interesting how the informant says that this tradition is not only seen on opposite sides of the United States, but is also crosses ethnic boundaries as well. This leads me to wonder if the origins of opening the window for someone’s soul to leave may be polygenetic, or if it is a tradition that is passed down from nurse to nurse in the United States and has slowly worked its way across the country.

Tying Sheets to Keep Patients Alive

The informant worked as a nurse in South Carolina for almost a decade. Here, she recounts a way the nurses would try to ward off death from patients on their death beds.

T:  The first one I can think about is in nursing. When, um, I know this sounds terrible, but in nursing when a patient who would not be doing well, who would be passing away, and dying, the nurses would go into their rooms and tie sheets to the corners of their bed. And supposedly that would keep them from dying until, at least– and keep them hanging on supposedly– so they wouldn’t die until later. At least until they were gone. So they wouldn’t die while they were there. 

L: In the room with them?

T: Until the next shift, yeah. 

L: Wait, is this a thing you did in the South or a thing you did in LA? 

T: The South. I didn’t hear about it much here in LA. 

L: It’s like, “Don’t die on my shift, please!”

T: Yeah, they would do it all the time. I would go in and find the corners tied to the bedsheets and I would have to reprimand them. Because families would come in and want to know why there would be, um– and mostly it was the nursing assistants. It wouldn’t be the nurses. And you know, I hate to say it, but, you know, the nursing assistants wouldn’t want to have to deal with the extra work and everything. So I would have to go reprimand the nursing assistants cause the families would come in like, “Why are the corners tied on the end of mama’s bed sheet?” 

L: Wait, so how–? So they would tie a bed sheet to, like, the post? 

T: No, no. You know how you have the top sheet and you have the fitted sheet? The top sheet, the corners on the sides, the corners on the ends. Where the corners are, they would tie a knot in all four corners. Supposedly that would keep the patient hanging on. 

L: Oh, so they’d tie the sheet to itself? 

T: No, no. All four corners, you know how when you take the sheet out of where its tucked in– you know how it hangs down before it’s tucked in? They would take that long sheet out and then they would tie a knot in it, in that corner and the knot would hang down. And a knot would hang down on the other corner, a knot would hang down on another corner. And all four corners would have a knot hanging on it.

 And I would come in, and the family would come in and I’d be like, “Oh my God! They did it again!” It would make me so mad. And I would be like, trying to explain, “you have to understand, our nursing assistants have different beliefs. And they’re just trying to keep mama here as long as possible. And we understand we’re just trying to make her comfortable”. And it would be hospice patients too! People we were trying to make comfortable and let go. You know? And here they come, trying to look like they’re trying to hang onto them. Like, “No! Don’t do that!”

L: Do you remember if this was, like, a white person thing? Or like a black person thing? Or like a both?

T: It mostly was a black person thing, to be honest. So, um, there was a lot of education there. Especially on our hospice unit when I was involved with, um, being in charge of the hospice patients. I really had to do a lot of education and make sure the girls were not doing that. And have to really, really, “y’all can not do that with these patients”. That’s totally the opposite of what our goal is here. You could almost explain it like, “Oh, we’re just trying to make mama hang in there,” but it was really difficult on the hospice unit. 

Thoughts:

The reason I asked the informant if this tradition was a white or black thing is because neighborhoods in the Deep South of the United States are still very much segregated based on race. While whites and blacks from the Deep South do share a unifying cultural identity, there are many differences and nuisances that distinctively the two. So I thought it important to know which community this this tradition came from.

Later, the informant agreed with me that this tradition would seem sweet on any other unit that the hospice unit. This tradition runs counter-intuitive to the purpose of a hospice unit.

Jewish Home Remedy for Colds

L: You said that you had. . . the home remedy that your dad has for colds?

M: That one’s not super complicated. It’s mostly just, uh, it’s something that his — That [my ancestor], taught my grandpa, who taught my dad, who taught me. Basically, like, you lie down, you give a person with the cold a whole buncha Vicks Vapor Rub on their chest. And you make warm milk with honey and lavender. So it’s like, the combination of both of those things is supposed to make you feel better. 

It always makes me feel better because its a nice warm drink with honey in it. The Vicks Vapor Rub clears your nose. Like, even if it doesn’t cure the cold, it makes you feel a lot better. 

Thoughts:

A lot of remedies for colds revolve around comfort and consuming a warm liquid. For instance, there is the American tradition of making chicken noodle soup, which warms the throat and the steam from the soup helps clear congested sinuses. This Jewish drink recipe does the same thing. The Vicks Vapor Rub helps clear the sinuses and the warm drink helps soothe a sore throat. The goal of both of these is not to cure the sickness, but rather to alleviate it and to comfort the sick.

“Wear it in Good Health”

 The informant explains how a common Jewish expression came into existence and the importance of it within the community.

L: Why do the Jews say “wear it in good health?” 

M: Okay, so that’s something– um, basically every adult in my life, whenever I got a new pair of shoes, would tell me to “wear them in good health”. And for years, I just thought that was a thing that people said, until I moved away from south Florida and was made aware, no that’s just Jewish people. 

So, I asked my one grandmother who’s still alive about it and she told me it’s because, like, growing up in New York– or not even New York — growing up as a Jewish person in the 40s and 50s, like, there was always this sense that you could just die. So, when someone tells you to wear something in good health it’s both like a command to tell you that you need to be healthy, but it’s also, like, a wish for your well being. Because, like, there’s a culture of worrying about people. 

Like, there’s a stereotype of the Jewish grandmother who’s always worried. Those things sort of come from the same place. They’re sort of like, a wish for your health — like, don’t do something stupid!

Thoughts:

Upon further research, this Yiddish saying is directly related to the saying “Use it in good health”. “Use it in good health” is simply a version of “wear it in good health” that has become popularized throughout the United States.

It’s interesting how much Yiddish vocabulary has made it into the American vernacular. Words like “schmuck”, “bagel”, “glitch”, and “klutz” are just a small selection of words that have crossed over from Yiddish into American English. It’s no surprise that Yiddish sayings have followed with the Yiddish words themselves.