Author Archives: Peter Park

USC Webb Tower’s 13th Floor (Or Lack Thereof)

DH is an Asian freshman male at USC, who took me up to his room on the 14th floor of Webb Tower in the elevator. Webb Tower provides on-campus apartment-style housing, and it is special in that it has the most floors of any residential building at USC.

In USC’s Webb Tower, there are 14 physical floors. That is, if one were to take the stairs to the highest floor, they would have to climb 13 flights of stairs (14 flights to get to the roof). However, by taking a quick glance at the Webb Tower’s elevator buttons, one would get the impression that there are actually 15 floors in the building; it appears that an additional floor simply materializes. Upon closer inspection of the buttons, they would instead realize that the floor counts jump from 12 directly to 14, and then to 15. The 13th floor, although physically present, does not officially exist. Such is the case of many hotels and tall buildings in America and other countries with superstitions regarding the number 13. The number may be viewed as unlucky or related to bad luck, so a building’s designer may decide to abstain from labeling the 13th floor as a whole. Other countries in Asia have buildings missing a fourth or fourteenth floor as well since the number sounds like the character for death.

Though we had heard about this phenomenon of a missing 13th floor, DH and I were surprised to see this firsthand in an academic institution. The building, erected in 1972, is a prime example of the influence that superstitions or one’s innate beliefs have on places or aspects of life that are usually approached with a very critical and scientific mind. Some might say that skipping the 13th floor doesn’t hurt as it is merely a small change to the numbering and has no impact on the building’s structural integrity. The omission of a 13th floor may also put superstitious tenants at ease, especially those who might live on the 13th – now 14th– floor. However, countries such as Canada have banned the act of skipping the 13th floor since it can confuse emergency responders in a life or death situation. Personally, I believe it is simply an old tradition that is based on silly superstition and is not worth the possibility of becoming deadly.

Makers Onion Tradition

L is a senior studying computer science at USC, and he also serves as the 2022 co-president of USC Makers, a project-based engineering club. Here he recounts the origins of the Makers Onion Tradition and its significance during the 2022 Makers Spring Retreat.

L:  There was a man named Y, who was one of the founders of USC Makers in 2016. One of the most anticipated events of the semester was the Makers retreat, which was usually held at a venue off-campus. Later into this retreat while everyone was having a great time, some more intoxicated than others, Y decided that it would be a great idea to pass around a whole, raw onion and see how much of the onion the club could collectively consume.

Me: That’s disgusting! Did they actually eat it?

L: Yup! To his surprise and mine, most of the onion was gone. We even saw people who are usually very against onions take a bite. After the onion made its rounds, he handed the remainder of the onion to me and chose me to continue this spontaneous happening, which quickly became a Makers tradition.

Me: Wow, that’s fascinating. Are there certain criteria to become the next onion carrier or can it just be any old person? 

L: Every retreat, the role of the onion bearer is passed on to someone that the previous bearer believes embodies the spirit of Makers – curiosity, determination, and an eagerness to get their hands dirty. This person is preferably younger, but there are no solid requirements. 

As of April 2022, I am the fourth onion bearer, and I have the responsibility of carrying on this tradition for the next year and ensuring that the history of this tradition is not lost. The story of the Makers Onion Tradition has explicitly been orally recounted, and this is the first time that the tradition has been documented. Though this is not to say that it is guaranteed that the tradition will stay the same for the years to come; as oral histories go, change is often expected, and this documentation is purely meant to act as a snapshot of the Makers Onion Tradition in Spring of 2022 and not impede its natural progression.

Paper, Feet, and Buddha in Nepali Culture

Context: I is a middle aged Nepali man working as a banker. He told me about the importance of keeping feet away from paper in Nepali culture while at a coffeeshop.

A prevalant Nepali tradition or belief is not stepping on paper. Paper, since it is the basis of writing, represents education as a whole. Many of the Nepali gods are also manifested in a physical sheet of paper, as it symbolizes the god of knowledge in a nation where education is highly valued. It is therefore regarded as very pure and respected by the people.

Feet, on the other hand, are very often seen as the dirtiest part of the body. Coming home, it is not uncommon for people to wash their feet straight away. Therefore, touching anything with one’s feet is often seen as disrespecting it, and moreso for a piece of paper. It is highly frowned upon to touch paper with one’s feet.

If one does somehow manage to touch a piece of paper with their feet, there is a way to reconcile this disrespectful act. In Nepali culture, it is commonplace to touch your head to someone that you deeply respect, almost like a more physical bow. So if one accidentally steps on a piece of paper, they must take it and tap it on their head to atone for their mistake. This concept of touching one’s head to something in respect is seen in other places as well. In the presence of very respected elders or royalty, it is traditional to bow and touch their feet with one’s head to signify deep reverence for them.

Bad Luck with Double Doors

“Opening both doors at the same time will lead to bad luck.”

CL is a Taiwanese student at USC who lived in Taiwan for a few years before moving to the United States. This is a superstition that I have never heard before, and it is definitely interesting since it is focused on such a mundane task as opening a door. The above quote was said after CL opened one door of a double door entryway at the same moment that someone opened the other door from the external side.

When asked where she learned this superstition, she replied that it had been passed down to her from her mom, though she had never questioned its origins. There are some theories as to where it comes from. Other door superstitions state that it is bad luck to leave through a different door than the one that someone entered through, particularly in houses. Though the above superstition is not exactly similar, a person is leaving the door while someone enters simultaneously in the above situation. This could be a variation of the superstition of departing and entering through different doors that has been adapted for a double door entrance.

Doorways often represent a transition or a gateway into another space, the passage between one place or state of being and the next. As such, it is not surprising to see superstitions that arise out of these passageways. They could also be regarded as thresholds between the physical and spiritual worlds, so it can be seen that our interactions with doorways have an influence on the external forces acting on our lives, which in this case takes the form of good or bad luck.

McCarthy Ghost Stories

Within the University of Southern California’s Freshman Honors Dorm, also known as McCarthy Honors College, there are two elevators that traverse up and down between the building’s five floors. The insides have metal walls with a neat dappling texture, and they can comfortably fit around 12 people.

M is a male worker at McCarthy whose job is to ensure that its facilities are clean and that the residents are not collecting a buildup of water residue or gunk in their bathrooms. When asked if he knows any folklore, he claims that some of the workers have experienced strange, possibly paranormal activity in its elevators. 

Me: So how long have you been working in McCarthy?

X: This is my first year working in this residential building, and frankly it’s a lot better than some of the other dorms I’ve been at. 

Me: That’s great to hear. Just out of curiosity, do you know any folklore that is related to your job or to your heritage?

X: Yeah, I personally have a story about the, the elevators in this building. Particularly the right elevator. Since I’m a janitor, I have to go up and down the elevators a lot during the nights and in the early mornings, depending on my shift. Sometimes the elevator will just stop and open its doors on the second floor even when I’m going to the fourth. And so I look around, and there’s no one there. But what’s more strange is that I look down at my watch and it’s 5 A.M. It makes no sense!

Me: Wow, that seems pretty scary-

X: And that’s not even the end of it. Sometimes, the doors will start to close and then just jam, as if someone or something was physically stopping it. Then it’ll suddenly just close with a bang.

Me: Wait, I’ve witnessed that too! That used to happen a lot during the first semester and I’d also get kind of freaked out.

X: Yup, and we’ve had lots of accidents dealing with vomit in the elevators. For some reason, they say that they’re fine before, but then when they get on the elevators and overwhelming nausea causes them to throw up. Most of the time, it’s drunk kids on a Friday but it’s happened to completely sober kids too.

Me: Oh yeah, I’ve seen them air out the elevators a lot. I feel a little better about just taking the stairs haha. Do you have any suspicion of what causes these incidents?

X: Yes, a lot of the workers have had the feeling that someone was watching them or that something was a little off in the right elevator, so there has been a rumor going around that there’s a ghost. HA! I don’t really believe it myself, but it is pretty fun to think about sometimes.

Me: Yikes, I really hope it’s not a ghost! Thank you for your time X and for sharing this story with me.

X: Yeah no problem.

Personally, this story fascinates me because I have been a fan of ghost stories for years, so hearing about potentially paranormal activity in my own dorm is very intriguing. It has been speculated that elevators can sometimes act as bridges between different dimensions, as well as between the physical and spiritual worlds. Although these events in the McCarthy elevator are somewhat compelling, I also think they could all be explained in some degree by more practical means. For instance, the elevator doors could open on empty floors because somebody on the floor pressed the button to call the elevator. Only, they realized the elevator would take too long so they walked down the stairs, leaving the elevator to open onto an empty hallway. The only strange part is that this was happening at odd hours, though college students are notorious for having unconventional sleep schedules. The door getting jammed and then slamming shut could be an issue with the alignment of the doors, as a hitch in the closing could result in lots of force building up and acting on the door at once. The vomiting also, could just be a result of the motion of elevators, as the increased compression when it starts going up or the feeling of weightlessness when it goes down can induce vomiting in someone that already feels sick. In all though, this is a really cool story and I hope that if there actually was a ghost, it would be a friendly one.