Author Archives: Matthew Pennala

Legend: How to Catch a Thief

This is an old Irish legend and ritual.

Theft was not taken lightly in Ireland, and the Irish people had a ritual in order to classify these criminals as thieves and make known to others that the crime they committed was indeed theft.

The legend goes that, if someone convicted of theft died, as they were buried and put into a coffin, the diener, the person who handles the body, would raise the person’s right arm up.  This would let everybody else know that the man or woman was a thief and lived a life of crime.


The informant who told me this story is a long-time family friend of mine (she is a friend of my mother’s and I have been close with her children for most of my life).  Her heritage stems from Irish culture, and she was told this legend by her mother.  Her mother was born in Ireland and knows much about Irish folklore, and through many stories about her heritage, the informant has kept them in her mind for many years, for learning about ones past and background is something one does not forget.  It is interesting that such a small-scale ritual has been passed down through their family.  She loves everything regarding her culture, and it is no different in this context.  She did admit that the legend is somewhat invasive and creepy, but it was from old Ireland, and back then customs were very different compared to today’s world.


I found this legend surprising.  I am Irish as well, but I have never heard of anything like the legend I was told, but it nevertheless fascinated me.  Theft was such a big deal that, when deceased, the dead would be branded as a thief even after his death, and upon hearing the legend made me realize that the Irish were not to be stolen from.  The process is in fact creepy and invasive, but I realized that it was due to the pride that the Irish hold over living a life free of crime and full of drinking.

Legend: The Treasures of Captain Kidd

The legend is that before Captain Kidd was convicted and executed for piracy, he buried treasure all throughout New England: Connecticut, New York, and even areas of Canada and Nova Scotia.  But in Maine, it is rumored that Kidd buried a lot of treasure near the town Wiscasset.

The coast of Maine was pretty quiet and has tons of islands and a coastline that’s actually longer than California’s.  it has tons of places to safely hide treasure and to maybe even hide from other pirates and the navy.

The treasure included gold, diamonds, rubies, and silver and enticed all who heard about it.  However, Captain Kidd never gave up the location of his treasures and created the legend of Captain Kidd and his buried treasure.

The legend has resulted in years of trying citizens competing in a treasure hunt but they haven’t found it yet.


The informant is one of my close friends I met during my time here at USC.  He is from Maine and heard about the treasure of Captain Kidd from his friends back home.  He is fascinated by the legend of a vast wealth buried beneath his feet and has been intrigued by the legend since he heard about it.  It is a well-known legend that has spawned years of searching for it, even tempting the informant to try and find some, though he knows he won’t prevail.  The idea of having untold riches buried underneath your home is something that will remain a mystery for all who live there.


I am always fascinated by legends like this.  Growing up and watching the Pirates of the Caribbean was really my first real introduction to anything related to pirates, and the stories they have and the adventures the go on have always fascinated me.  The life of a pirate is thrill-inducing and dangerous, and I believe that there truly is treasure scattered around Maine and New England, and the idea of discovering even a small portion of it is exciting to think about.  The legend of Captain Kidd was one I had not known prior, and upon learning about it made me feel like a kid completing a scavenger hunt.  The historical background of the legend is interesting in its own right, and coupled with the mystery of a vast fortune only adds to it.


For other versions of the legend of Captain Kidd and his treasures, visit

“Pirate Captain Kidd’s ‘Treasure’ Found in Madagascar.” BBC News, BBC, 7 May 2015,

Urban Legend: The Children with the Black Eyes

I’ve lived in Texas for about a year now, and all the locals I work with have told me a lot about the mysterious events that are connected with the state.  The creepiest one I’ve heard is The Children with the Black Eyes.

In the nineties, a man was returning to his car after work when two kids knocked on his door asking for a ride.  He could tell the kids were odd in some way, and he became very anxious and scared.  He looked away from the kids for a second, and when he looked back, their eyes turned pitch black and they started screaming at him to let him in.

Obviously he drove away, and later he spread the word about the event.  Weirdly enough, other people who heard about his experience came forth and said that they and others have had similar encounters.


The informant is my sister.  After college, she moved to Texas for her work at FedEx.  Her colleagues told her about many folkloristic and supernatural legends about the state, but this one was the one she feared most.  She is not a fan of real supernatural encounters—she would rather watch fabricated stories on television—and was scared during the entire work day.  The knowledge is fairly fresh in her mind, having heard it less than a year ago, and when I confronted her in order to obtain interesting examples of folklore from her new home, this was the first one that came to mind.


In contrast to my sister, hearing about the supernatural, hauntings, and real-life ghost stories is both scary and intriguing.  Safe in my California residency, I have no need to fear these children, but I can empathize with the origin story and the man involved.  I think this legend is different from most others because it was not just the one man who encountered the children, but many people; this statement gives the legend more validity—I actually believe that instances like this did occur—and makes for a more enticing and interesting legend.














Folk Belief: Smoke Travels to the Prettiest Girl

This is a Hungarian legend that was used by men when searching for a beautiful woman to take as their own.  It was during the fifties, a time when smoking was prominent in everyday life.

The legend is “the smoke always travels to the prettiest girl”.  With that in mind, men would take a puff and blow it into a room full of people, and wherever the smoke traveled, the men would follow it in order to find the prettiest girl to date.


The informant is a descendent of Hungarian culture, and she was given this legend by her father, whose parents grew up in Hungary.  They passed the legend down to him, and he passed it down to the informant.  As a symbol of her heritage as well as the fact that her father lamented the legend to her, she has kept this knowledge since she was a child; one rarely forgets traditions, legends, or customs from their ancestors, and this is no exception.  The informant admits that the legend is a little far-fetched—smoke can travel anywhere, especially with external forces—but entertaining all the same.  She finds it humorous that men, in the fifties, would rely on such a legend in order to find a companion.


I thought this legend was quite funny.  The image of grown men blowing smoke into a room in the hopes that it will find the prettiest girl is entertaining to think about.  However, the fact that it was used makes me wonder if the legend has some truth to it.  It is definitely far-fetched, but the humor surrounding the legend makes me love the legend; it is a funny, light-hearted legend without any historical or serious undertones, and I enjoy that aspect of it.