Author Archives: mooring

New Orleans Haunted House

Context: The informant is my father (DM) who grew up in California. He told me about how his father, my grandfather, grew up in a haunted house when he was young. The house is located in New Orleans and was supposedly home to the pirate Jean Lafitte, who now haunts the house. The following excerpt is from a passage written about the house that my dad showed me.

Main Text: “Legends are many of this old Pirate House. One has it that a secret tunnel runs from a sub-cellar into the Gulf, and through this tunnel, pirates transferred their booty from ships to their strongholds beneath the house.”

“This old house at one time sheltered Jean Lafitte. It was more than a century ago that Lafitte, during the historic days of private terror along the Gulf Coast, captured and scuttled ships form almost every country.”

Analysis: This haunted house in New Orleans that my grandfather lived in interests me because a “pirate ghost” seems like a blend of two outdated beings. Pirates are a thing of the past and the belief that the ghost of Jean Lafitte still haunts this house in New Orleans pays homage to his historical significance and notoriety. My grandfather also supposedly searched for the tunnel underneath the house but was unable to find it. It is still important to note the presence of Jean Lafitte and his legacy in this location regardless of the factuality of him haunting the house.

Black Joy Parade

Context: The informant is my sister (LC) who lives in Oakland and has become an active participant in the community.

Main Text: “A celebration that I attended was this one in Oakland called ‘The Black Joy Parade’ in February. The celebration uses joy as a form of resistance to celebrate all the achievements and culture of the Black community, despite all the years of suffering and injustice. It’s this parade with cars, dancers, and different marching groups of black cultural groups. There are black entertainers and different artists who promote their work. It was an awesome experience and I really liked the idea that the black community was fighting their oppression through self-expression.”

Analysis: This celebration is interesting because it shows how the black community has created its own culture in the United States, undeterred by the oppression they have faced for centuries. By overcoming their disadvantages through joy, they change the narrative and empower themselves.

Boston College Football Cheer

Context: The informant is my brother in law (BC). He studied at Boston College and was a big fan of the football team. The following ritual is performed in the student section of the football stadium and both he and I have participated in it.

Main Text: BC: “At every home football game at BC it was a tradition or a ritual to throw someone up in the air every time the Eagles scored. You would throw the person up in the air, like they were crowd surfing, as many times as there were points up on the board for us. So if Boston College scored the first points with a touchdown, you’d throw the person up 7 times while everyone counts them out. It was a really fun thing we did but I’m not sure how it started, it’s probably been around for a while.”

Analysis: Football is a sport that’s full of traditions and camaraderie; teamwork and community are a huge part of the sport. This ritual at Boston College emulates the sense of community that both a college and a football team can create within a group of people. It is a great way to make the crowd feel like they are a part of the game and adds to the excitement of the Eagles scoring. I visited my sister and my now brother in law at Boston College when I was younger and I was lucky enough to be thrown up in the air when the Eagles scored. It is a memory I won’t soon forget.

Throwing Salt Over Your Shoulder

Context: The informant is my mother, identified as L.M., a woman born, raised, and living in Northern California. As a child, her immediate family lived in the same general area as all four of her grandparents, and most of her aunts, uncles, and cousins. At dinner with my parents during the Covid-19 Shelter in Place timeframe, I asked her if she knew of any family superstitions or protection rituals. She was also raised in a practicing Catholic household.

Main Piece: “I do remember one from a Thanksgiving Dinner with our extended family. I was six or seven years old, and we were all sitting around the oval table in my parents’ dining room. I think that both sets of my grandparents were there, plus my great aunt, my mom, dad, and brother, and another aunt and uncle or two, and some cousins. We were ready to eat our turkey dinner, and I asked my brother to pass the salt, which I then accidentally spilled on the table. My great aunt, who was French, told me to quickly throw some salt over my shoulder. I went ahead and did what she said, assuming it had something to do with avoiding bad luck, but my great aunt and grandmother said it was done to ward off the devil. I thought at the time it was just fun, but never learned the origin of this custom.”

Analysis: One widespread explanation of the folk belief that it is unlucky to spill salt is that Judas Iscariot spilled the salt at the Last Supper and even Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper depicts Judas Iscariot having knocked over a salt-cellar. Because Judas betrayed Jesus Christ in the Bible, people began associating salt with lies and disloyalty. Some Christian beliefs hold that the devil hangs around behind your left shoulder, waiting to take advantage of you and force you into bad behavior. If you spill salt, the devil sees it as an invitation to step in and do evil. Throwing it over your shoulder into his face blinds him and renders him helpless. And the belief is that If you spilled the salt, you must be the one to throw it over your shoulder or you won’t thwart the bad luck or the devil. This superstition is now commonplace and is no longer associated with Catholocism. It is depicted in a lot of contemporary media and its origin is widely unknown. 

Wish Upon a Star

Context: The informant is my mother, identified as L.M., a woman born, raised, and living in Northern California. While having dinner together at my family home, I asked her whether she remembered any rituals she and her friends had when they were young.

Main Piece: “Growing up in a relatively small town, my brother and I used to play outside a lot at night during the summers with the neighborhood kids. I remember from a young age being with my childhood girlfriends and we’d lay on the lawn in one of our backyards and wait for the first stars to come out and sing:

‘Star Light, Star Bright, the first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might have the wish I wish tonight.’

Then, we’d each close our eyes and make a wish. It felt almost like a solemn oath and mysterious ritual to me. I think we kept the wishes to ourselves, rather than tell each other what we wished for. I don’t know who I learned this poem from. It was definitely something that was passed on orally and just seemed to be universally known by us all from a very young age. I think that I probably had a nursery rhyme book that included it, too.”

Analysis: “Star Light, Star Bright” is an English language nursery rhyme, has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 16339, and first began to be recorded in the late nineteenth century. The song and tradition seem to have reached Britain by the early twentieth century and then spread worldwide. This particular song calls out to the first star of the night, whereas other similar superstitions were based upon the granting of wishes made when seeing a shooting or falling star. The custom of wishing on a first star likely predates the rhyme, and that of wishing on a shooting or falling start may date back to the ancient world and the influences of the astronomer Ptolemy. (For another version of this chant, see the Disney Park Fireworks show performances.)