Author Archives: Mary Overbey

Ghost Story

” In St. Charles, Illinois, there is a very fancy hotel on the west side of the river, right downtown on Main Street. The facade is done in a faux-spanish style with a terracotta roof and beautiful painted tiles. Inside, the whole lobby and the ballroom is made a gleaming marble; they are separated by a short flight of stairs and a wall of doors that are always open.  Way back when, a family was staying in the hotel. There was a mother and a father and a little boy that came to the hotel every year in the summer. The little boy used to play in the lobby and the ballroom with his ball. He would roll it down the stairs, and watch it bounce on each step, boing, boing, boing. But one time when he was running down the stairs after the ball he tripped and broke his neck on the marble.  His mother threw herself into the river in grief not long after, and his father only lasted a few years before he also killed himself. To this day, on afternoons in the summer, you can hear the ball bouncing down the stairs. You might see a man and a women standing next to each other in the ballroom, watching the stairs.”

Dawn heard this story when she was 17 and, although it is set in the town where she grew up, she heard it from her manager at a shoe store one town away.

Research failed to turn up this exact story, but there are records of another haunted hotel story in St. Charles that shares some similarities with this one.
From” As the story goes, a chambermaid was thrown over by her lover, also an employee of  the hotel.  When he left her cold after a bad night of poker, she cried for days and days, finally drowning herself in the shallow Fox river behind the hotel.  Her cries are reportedly still heard by guests to the upscale establishment, and she likes to mess up the sheets once in awhile.”
That story is also documented in’s Haunted Hotel Guide:

It is possible that the original ghost story was simply modified into a macabre cautionary tale about what happens when parents leave their children unattended. However, St. Charles, IL hosts ghost tours that are based out of the St. Charles Historical society, so it would seem that there are a plethora of ghosts to be found, and this story could be a distinct, but less-documented one.

Body Art

"This too shall pass"

Aya is a Filipino-American living in New York City. This is her second tattoo- Hebrew script for “This too shall pass.”

Her story: “I got my Hebrew script a few days after I turned 22. It’s from a story about King Solomon. He asked his servant to find him a magical ring that had a saying on it that would make the saddest man on earth happy and the happiest man on earth sad. The ring said, “This too shall pass.” It’s kind of a reminder to myself not to give up or get too attached, to keep my head level. It was a belated memorial to my grandmother who died my sophomore year of university. I was really close to her, and when I found out that she died I kind of fell apart. It’s also just a memorial for everyone I’ve ever lost, either by death, distance, or just a falling out…it helps me move on. I got it in Hebrew because the phrase is originally in Hebrew.”

Further information about King Soloman can be found here.

Annotation: Abraham Lincoln used a version of this tale in a speech on September 30, 1859, approximately one year before he was elected president. Source: The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler. The speech can be found at

Folk Speech – Oklahoma

Kylie Sparks grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma and began traveling to Los Angeles to pursue acting when she was 13. She moved to California permanently when she was 17 and graduated from the University of Southern California with a degree in Theatre in 2010.
When asked if she had any regional phrases (“Oklahoma-isms”) that she could share, she provided some of her favorites with an example of each.
“Naked as a jay bird.”-When someone is totally naked. Example: “Little Luke just decided to take his clothes off and he was as naked as a jay bird running around the yard!”

“How the cow was going to eat the cabbage.”-telling it like it is.
Example: “Ruby was the kind of dog who didn’t just bark. She held a conversation and told you EXACTLY how the cow was going to eat the cabbage!”

When asked if she ever had to explain what these meant in California, she replied, “I always use them and no one ever understands me until I explain them.”

Analysis: Oklahoma has a much stronger agricultural based culture than California does. While there is agriculture in California, it is largely restricted to rural and sparsely populated areas. Thus, it makes sense that regionalisms about cows and cabbage would not register with Angelenos.
As for “Naked as a jay bird,” the saying appears to stem from the observation that baby Jays are born with with very little down, thus leaving them essentially naked. Again, although Jays are native to most areas of the Unites States, California included, this phrase is unlikely to be understood by someone in a city like Los Angeles unless he or she had heard it from someone else. []

Folk Belief

My informant, who grew up in Northern California learned this fortunetelling rhyme from her late father (1922-2005), the first American child of two Irish immigrants.

Journey to go.

“The idea is that if you have a white spot on your thumbnail, you’ll receive a gift at about the point in your life when the white spot reaches the edge of your nail. Similarly with index finger nail and friend, middle finger nail and foe, ring finger nail and sweetheart and little finger nail and journey to go.”
She went on to add:
“I have yet to encounter anyone else who’s heard of it, possibly because it doesn’t seem to have any actual usefulness for fortunetelling.”

While internet research did not turn up any other versions of this song, it bears similarity to another fortunetelling folk song for children which goes:
Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace,
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go,
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for a living,
But the child who is born on the Sabbath Day
Is bonny and blithe and good and gay.
The “Monday’s Child” song is not as arbitrary as the fingernails, as there are both underlying and overt religious connotations- “Wednesday’s child is full of woe” could possibly be a reference to the Wednesday preceding The Last Supper, when it is believed that Judas Iscariot accepted payment to betray Jesus, and the Sabbath Day is regarded as a day of joy among Christians because it is the Lord’s Day (and because it is a commonly accepted belief that Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday).
The rest of the days seem arbitrary though, in the style of the fingernail rhyme, although the middle and index finger connotations do reflect two American traditions. Holding up the middle finger is an obscene gesture in the United States and would be reserved for “foes” while the ring finger is so named because it is the finger that wears the wedding band, thus it would be the “sweetheart” finger.

Monday’s Child is actually included in the Roud Folk Song Index with the number 19526.

Birth rituals

Jean is a Korean-American woman whose parents moved to the United States in 1966. She shared with me some customs and rituals that her family performed during her first pregnancy.
“I’d gotten an ultrasound and so was told that it was a 70% chance we’d have a girl [they did]. Mom insisted on my lying down, and then she held a string tied around a pencil over my belly and watched it turn slowly. When it stopped in a particular position, she then declared I’d be having a girl for sure.

“My non-Korean husband and I also wanted to give our daughter a Korean middle name, so my mom went to a name broker for a list of lucky names using the second syllable that would be part of it. In Korea, each generation of a particular branch of a particular surname shares one syllable in their first name. There’s literally a list of syllables for each generation (my dad showed me the family book, written in Chinese characters, which he owns because he is the first son of a first son and so on), and the list specifies whether or not the syllable will be the first or second part of the name. All of the male siblings and cousins in that family will have the same syllable. My dad even discovered he had a cousin very far removed because when they met for the first time, they shared the same syllable in their first name. Usually the naming happens after the baby is born because things like date and time of birth affect the naming, but because we were in the US and needed to put something on the birth certificate right away, mom and the broker used the due date. Since this naming is usually applied only to the males of the family, which may be why quite a few Korean people have commented that my daughter’s Korean name is more masculine than feminine.

Mom also made me a traditional after-birth soup, seaweed soup (mi-yuk gook), which I ate for several days, [one recipe available here:] and then she asked if I could please stay home and not go out with the baby for 3 months. In the olden times, the newborn and mom didn’t go out for that period of time, which makes sense because of cold weather, too many folks who might pass on sicknesses, and general infant mortality rate. We then had a 100-day party (small) to officially celebrate her birth, and then on her first birthday, my parents held a really big party to celebrate their grandchild’s coming out. My daughter wore a traditional hanbok, and at the ceremonial table, several items were placed in front of them. The item she grabbed first would mean something about her life to be. She picked up uncooked rice, so my mom said she would never be hungry. (Pencils represented a scholar; money meant she would always have money; string meant a long life, etc.)”

These traditions are interesting because they reflect beliefs shared by many cultures regarding the importance of birth in determining the way a child’s life will progress. For example, the family book containing the name syllables and the tradition of each member of a generation sharing a particular syllable is similar to the less ritualized Western traditions of “family names” that are passed on through generations- my father is Edward Alexander Jr. and if I had been a boy, I would have been Edward Alexander III.

The 3 months ritual and the 100 days party are very interesting because they are traditions carried over from a time without pre-natal care and obstetrics, yet they still survive. Also interesting to note is that because Jean and her husband were living in the U.S. and needed a name right away, they modified the naming tradition a little bit and had the broker use the due date for the baby. It is possible that future generations of her family will continue to do the same thing, if they continue to live in the United States.