Occupation: Aerospace Engineer
Residence: Sunnyvale, California
Date of Performance/Collection: March 2013
Primary Language: English
“Okay, so when I was a kid growing up in Fairfax, Virginia, there was a house about a half-mile away from the house I grew up in and, uh, it’s a very old house – very well maintained, people do live there – but, uh, legend has it that it served as a hospital during the Civil War and, uh, obviously, injured soldiers would go there and, of course, some of the soldiers died. The legend is that, um, the house is haunted with the ghosts of the dead soldiers from the Civil War and this was well-known throughout my neighborhood among the children, and whenever we passed by the house, we’d always get a little nervous or scared or excited, and, um, we would also play in the front yard. The front yard was quite large – a few acres – and it had beautiful boxwood plants, all around the front yard and we would, uh, play hide-and-seek in the front yard, and it had a creek that ran through the front yard along with trees, and it was a lot of fun to play in the front yard. We also played in the backyard, which consisted of grass and, uh, thick woods. We played in the woods. We didn’t play in the grass area of the backyard, and there were times when I had met other adults my age who had grown up in the same city and, uh, for whatever reason, once in a while we would, uh, talk about that haunted house and the other people would remember that as well – that they had grown up believing it was a haunted house as well.”
The informant describes a childhood folk belief about a haunted neighborhood house. He heard about this folk belief from his peers. They would play in the yards of the haunted house. Though they believed in the spooky legend, it seems as though they played in the surrounding areas to taunt the “ghosts” residing in the house. The neighborhood children freely played outside in nature and allowed their imaginations to consider the possibility of the existence of Civil War soldiers’ ghosts. However, context is important. The children played near the well-maintained house presumably during the daytime. So, the idea of ghosts probably seemed less scary. In addition, the house was not considered taboo or forbidden. In bright daylight they were able to entertain the thought of ghosts and treat it as a subject that was not so serious. Had they met up at the woods around a dilapidated house at nighttime, maybe their attitudes toward the legend would have changed.
Through this pastime of playing in the woods, the children were able to share the story of a neighborhood house. The legend of the house and their playing near it affected the young children so much so that later, they were able to recall this story in their adulthood. This memorable pastime seems to be a defining, shared characteristic of their respective childhoods. Thus, the story holds significance in intertwining personal, regional, and national histories.