Author Archives: Riley Pietsch

Kissing the Wall

Item:

Me: “Do people look for their specific lip marks when they come back?”

Informant: “Oh god no, it would be impossible to find them.”

In the informant’s ballet company, when a member was doing their last performance of a show (as in, your last ever Nutcracker performance), it was tradition to put on bright red lipstick and kiss a specific wall, leaving a mark. The mark not only signified you were a part of the show, but was symbolic of a part of you always being tied to the company. People would come back years after graduating to visit the wall they had kissed previously.

 

Context:

The informant was involved in ballet through most of her life and knows a lot about the secrets and traditions carried with being a part of a ballet company. She takes them all very seriously and indicates that most all of the other dancers did as well. According to the informant, everyone kissed the wall at some point as long as they were in the company for a full run of a show. The informant wasn’t clear about exactly when you kissed the wall — it was after the show, but not necessarily directly after completion. Additionally, the go-to action didn’t used to be kissing the wall. The tradition used to be signing it, but it got too messy, so the lip marks were the evolved method.

 

Analysis:

Perhaps the most interesting part of this piece of folklore is that the tradition changed from signing the wall to kissing it, for reason of “the signing got too messy,” according to the informant. It’s perhaps telling of how significant or deeply rooted a tradition is when the reason for completely changing it is one of rather minor inconvenience.

Luminaries

Item:

“The first time I remember one staying lit the whole night I was like… blown away, I ran inside and got my parents.”

Families take time just before Christmas to set up paper bags full of sand and a candle along sidewalks, driveways, and streets throughout the town. They are called luminaries, and setting them up is a community effort that results in beautiful lanterns lining all of the streets in the days leading up to Christmas. The purpose of setting them up was apparently to light the way for Mary and Joseph on their journey to Nazareth. If a candle remained lit by the next morning in front of your home, it was considered to be a sign of good health.

 

Context:

The informant couldn’t pinpoint a specific time when the ritual started, since it had been going on in his town for countless generations. He believes that the idea of creating and placing luminaries is originally a hispanic tradition, although there aren’t still connections to hispanic culture in his enactment of the tradition. He says it was extremely rare to see a candle stay lit overnight, but on occasions that it happened it was a big deal, at least when he was a kid. His family isn’t particularly religious, but participation seemed to be more encouraged by a sense of community than a sense of spirituality. Not doing so would make your family stick out like a sore thumb. It was akin to setting up Christmas lights, but more significant and meaningful to him.

 

Analysis:

For a town in Ohio that doesn’t have much of Spanish community, it’s interesting that he pegs it as a traditionally Hispanic ritual. The tradition definitely involves a lot more setup than just Christmas lights, but provides a much more beautiful display it seems. It’s nice that there didn’t seem to be any element of age associated with the significance of tradition, like a lot of others. It had the same meaning for adults and kids alike, and called for both to take part in set up. Finally, the emphasis on community being the driving factor to participate more so than religion raises the point of how the folklore has changed over time. It likely started as a religious act (since there was no pressure from a community to participate in something that wasn’t done on a repeated basis) and over time shifted to a community ritual as religious relevance faded over time.

A Lineage of Names

Item:

“Yep I like it. I get asked to repeat it all the time though like when I order stuff like coffee.”

A friend’s family has maintained a naming lineage for several generations. They possess in the family a large scroll with a family tree dating back to the 1500s. It began with Thor the first, who’s grandson was given the name Thor the second. Flash forward to now, where the informant’s father is Thor the 4th. His father named his children after other Norse gods, and the first of them to have a male child will be expected to name it Thor the 5th. His father maintained the naming because he wanted to stay true to his Scandinavian roots and not betray a long established tradition. The informant doesn’t mind, and says he too would feel an obligation to continue it if he is the first to have a son.

 

Context:

My good friend, the informant, loves the tradition. He and his brothers all have pretty awesome sounding names that are unique. He says it makes him feel like he’s a part of something larger, but also feel unique since he doesn’t meet people who share the same story. He hinted at wanting the Thor naming right, but didn’t seem eager to rush into having children just for that purpose.

 

Analysis:

It’s certainly a unique naming scheme to come across, at least in America – I can’t speak for other regions. The dedication to cultural roots is admirable and impressive when it lasts for several generations. The informant and his father don’t have much with regards to information about the original Thor in the lineage, since the informant’s grandfather passed away very early in his son’s life. In any case, whether or not the original Thor had intention to create a pattern or that was the standard at the time isn’t known by the informant.

Overnight Resident in Campus Shack

Item:

“There was no way we were going to see what made the sound, we were way to scared.”

The informant went to an elementary school that had a wooden structure in the middle of the playground that held all of the playground equipment. The structure was a bit ominous looking, with a pointed roof and fencing over the windows when it was closed down. The kids would sign up for shift to man the shack, and it was their job to hand out things like balls or jump ropes when other kids would request them. At the end of the day, it was the child’s job to get everything back and put things where they should be. The shack was then closed by fences being pulled over the windows and the door being shut.

There was a rumor among the students that someone would break into the shack and live in it overnight. This was reinforced by their own reports of things being moved around by the next morning after closing it up. The person who supposedly lived in the shack was homeless and came and went when nobody was around. On one occasion, when the informant stayed late for daycare, he and his friends apparently heard a crash sound come from the shack, although they opted to not investigate.

 

Context:

According to the informant, the rumor of the man in the playground hut originated some time around when he was there, so it wasn’t terribly old. But it lasted through his entire time there and didn’t really lose believability among children, even into middle school. The instance of him hearing a noise come from it at night was, he admitted, likely just something falling over, but it was more than enough confirmation as a child for him.

 

Analysis:

The most interesting part of this story is the fact that the rumor didn’t fade as the children got older. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that the story itself isn’t so farfetched that middle schoolers would rule it out as impossible. Something like an axe murderer or magical being living in the shack would lose realism as children got older and rationalized things, but the possibility of someone sneaking onto campus and taking up temporary residence in an unlocked hut is there. It’s easy to say the stuff got moved around just naturally, or someone cleans up the shack at night from the school, but the fact that nothing in the story is “out of this world” makes it even more haunting to a certain extent.

Grandma Walking Stick

Item:

The informant’s great grandmother, a well-loved Argentinian woman, passed away when he was very young — at an age where he could only speak a little bit. He and his mother’s side of the family called her “Abuela Bastón”, or Grandma Walking Stick, for the distinct sound of her moving around with her trusty walking stick. After her death, there was a day where the family was sitting around, and the informant was nearly sleeping lying on his back. Suddenly, he sat up, pointed ahead, and exclaimed “Abuela Bastón! Abuela Bastón!”, claiming he heard the sound of the walking stick. It caused a bit of a reaction especially with his grandmother, who was very spiritual.

 

Context:

The grandmother (daughter of the deceased) was apparently very spiritual. She completely believed the informant was pointing at the spirit of Abuela Bastón only he could see. The rationale was that Abuela Bastón was there to check in on her great-grandson. While the informant doesn’t remember this incident, he does have vague memories of the sound of the walking stick during his youth. He doesn’t believe in ghosts or spirits but does respect the fact that it’s an important part of his family and culture, so he stays pretty objective about it so as not to offend.

 

Analysis:

It stands out the the informant, despite not really believing the spirituality of the situation, is motivated by cultural and familial respect to not refute that it was indeed a spirit. It’s also not quite a “ghost story” — more so a visitation from the spirit or soul of a recently dead family member. There wasn’t anything terribly haunting about it, and there wasn’t a visual component. Plus, it came from the mouth of a young child, although the clarity with which he suddenly woke up and spoke her name was uncharacteristic.