Author Archives: Sophia Meyer

Haunted house at the end of the street

[A]: I grew up in like an 8 house horizontal neighborhood, you know like 8 houses and they were gated off, and when I turned 5 or 6 the last house at the end, the people left and the house was just there sitting for like 3 years between the period that the family was living there and the next one. So me and my friends that lived in the other houses always used to say that that house was haunted and that’s why they had left. So when Halloween would come around we would walk over to the house, ‘cause there was also like…it was at the end and it was blocked off with big hedges so you couldn’t totally see it like the rest of the neighborhood. So we used to go in there and grab little stones from the pavement and toss them at the windows to see if a spirit would appear or something. So for that whole time we used to say that the house was haunted.

[Me]: Did you guys just decide one day that the house was haunted or was there something specifically that happened?

[A]: I think we always used to just say it…I don’t think there was anything specifically but we used to say a bunch of stuff about why it was haunted. It was the last house, number 8, and we used to say that 8 was a haunted number and that we had seen the number in the night and that the house would spin in circles and the lights would flicker on and off…allegedly…we were probably just little kids making up stuff

[Me]: Did you ever go on to the property?

[A]: I don’t think we ever broke into the house but we definitely went into the yard and on to the patio and the driveway and we used to again throw rocks at the windows then one of us would scream that we saw something then we would run away or whatever

A is 21 years old and grew up in a small town in Mexico. He told me this story after I had asked him if he remembered any scary or ghost stories from when he was younger, but as he recounted it like more of a happy memory than one that still scared him—as most scary stories from youth seem in adulthood. Afterwards I prompted him to tell me a bit more about the role the number 8 played in the story, but the details were unfortunately lost to time. Regardless, reflecting on our class discussion about the “luckiness” of numbers in certain cultures, it got me thinking about how the number 8 is perceived in popular American culture; typically it’s considered a lucky or at least auspicious number (i.e. magic 8 ball), so I’d be interested to dive deeper into whether this was just an instance of kids being kids or if there’s some deeper significance in Mexican culture.

A’s story contains many motifs common to the general concept of a haunted house: blocked off from the rest of the community, a mysterious backstory, etc. I found it interesting that both of the haunted house stories I collected for this portion weren’t necessarily well-known in the community but were instead primarily known and/or created by a group of young kids.

Haunted Manor

[S]: This is a ghost story…or at least what we considered a ghost story and have told many times. When I was younger, in the town that I live in there was this one old, abandoned manor. It was huge, built out of stone with moss vines up the side…like the definition of what you see when you picture old ruins, grown over colonial style housing. There was a huge, 8-foot by 4 foot wide stone wall that surrounded it so it was very blocked in and there were rumors surrounding the abandonment of this home. The story in the town was that it was last inherited by this woman who lived there alone for many years and was very reclusive and…I don’t really remember the specific details about this part but she was either a seamstress or somehow sewing or fashion or something related to that was very involved in the lore surrounding her. There was this story that she disappeared and barely anyone knew her so no one could trace her, no one could find her and or any trace of her and the property was foreclosed and left abandoned, but there was blood found in the bedroom that she disappeared from and so everyone had this rumor that she died and then of course the rumor became that she still haunted the place. Kids all the time would hop the fence or walk around it and kind of hang around the courtyard…oh and there were all of these really creepy statues in the yard space…kinda like I described before as Medusa’s garden in the Percy Jackson movie…me and my friends in middle school climbed the fence and were running around amongst the stones and when we were walking around the house…we tried to get in but all of the doors were super bolted and the windows were closed…from above us, cause it was a 3 or 4 story house, 2 of the window panes slammed shut and so we ran cause we were freaked out and as we went to go climb the fence one of my friend said “Look!” and so we looked back and I swear, to this day, again it might’ve been a real person…who’s to say…we saw a woman dressed in white like half watching us through one of the windows who disappeared behind the window very quickly. We freaked out and jumped the fence and ran away and the other weird thing that I remembered about it…this is the sewing thing…you know those plush tomatoes that people put sewing needles in? There were a bunch of them with needles stuck in them all over the yard, and it was really weird because they looked really new, not old and worn like everything else was so that was really weird and creepy…but we ran away so that was the story of when we saw a ghost.

S is a student at USC and told this story during our discussion section. We talked for a bit afterwards, and it seemed like this was one of those stories that kids come up with amongst themselves when they encounter something new or unknown.

The story contains several motifs that are common in ghost stories. These include the abandoned and decrepit building, the mysterious disappearance of a woman, and the blood found in the bedroom. These motifs contribute to the eerie and unsettling atmosphere of the story. Several supernatural elements make an appearance, such as the ghostly woman in white and the plush tomatoes with needles stuck in them. These elements add to the sense of mystery and terror surrounding the haunted house.

La Befana

[A]: My father spent most of his youth in a small town in the Campania region of Italy…I believe he was 13 when he came to America with his parents. It was so sad…they came here at a time where immigrants were treated very poorly for having accents and…or speaking a different language, so he had lost a lot of his Italian traditions by the time he was married and starting his own family. One of the things that he made sure carried over to our new generation though was the story of La Befana…let’s see if I remember it correctly…in a lot of parts of Italy the big gift exchange happens on January 6th instead of Christmas day…I remember distinctly because I always got more presents the day after my birthday…and the night of January 5th kids would hang their socks or stockings along the chimney in hopes that La Befana (the witch) would come in the night and fill them with candy and all other sorts of treats. If you had been bad that year, supposedly, La Befana left you a hard black candy called carbone (coal) —a lot like what Santa does! I don’t know how much I remember about her background or why she would do this…but I think she was considered a sort of…add-on to the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. If I remember correctly, she lived near Bethlehem and on the night Jesus was born the Three Magi stopped to ask her for directions to the town and for food and shelter. She helped them but before she sent them on their way they invited her to come with them but she…I believe politely declined and so they went on their way. But that night she was awoken by this incredible bright light that she took as a sign to go find the Magi and baby Jesus…I don’t remember what happened in between but she couldn’t find them and the story goes that every year on January 5th she flies all around, still looking for baby Jesus and she drops treats off for sleeping children…something about hoping baby Jesus is with them or safe or something like that. When I was younger I remember my father buying small broomsticks and leaving them outside our doors to try to keep the magic alive…I guess it worked! I can’t believe I didn’t do that for the boys…frankly it’s been many years since I thought about that story.

A is a 76 year old woman who’s spent her entire life in a suburb in northern New Jersey. Both of her parents come from an Italian background, and her father specifically lived in the south of Italy until he was roughly 13.

A is a family member, and I was on the phone with her thanking her for sending me an Easter card when I realized I had the perfect opportunity to ask her if she could think of any stories that would help me with my project. She didn’t totally understand what I was asking at first, so I told her about some of the other pieces I had collected already and when I mentioned ghost stories and monsters she pretty quickly remembered the story of La Befana. She told the story with a kind of reverence and nostalgia that you only feel from someone like an older relative when they recall a magical story from their youth, and I could tell she was so very happy to remember that small piece of her father that she’s lived without for the past 30 or so years.

One of the things that sticks out most to me from hearing this story from A is the power that folklore has. A hadn’t thought about this story since she was a young girl, and although she would likely argue the point, she remembers it extremely well. This tale about a witch from thousands of years ago traveled across the ocean in the early 20th century with a little boy who managed to practically tell it across generations, and now I’ll likely remember the story for years and years to come.

La Befana serves as a sort of Santa-like figure to children, but can also be interpreted as a piece of religious folklore. The story of the birth of Jesus Christ and the 3 wise men is relatively fundamental to most forms of Christianity, but I’d never heard the addition of La Befana before and likely won’t hear it outside of the context of Italian culture. It struck me as both odd and interested that La Befana is affiliated with the story of the birth of Jesus because although I’ve never had much religious education, from what I understand about Christianity, witches and witchcraft is frowned upon; yet, nothing about what A told me frames La Befana in a negative light. She actually seems like a very positive character, as she gave food and shelter to weary travelers.

Lebanese Coffee Grounds Readings

L is 20 years old and a student at USC. She grew up in Michigan, but spent most summers in Lebanon with family. Her dad grew up in Lebanon and immigrated to the United States in his early 20s, and her mom grew up in the United States in a Lebanese immigrant family.

L and I were taking a break from studying and finishing up our coffees when L shared this with me:

“After you’ve drank Lebanese coffee, you flip your cup upside down and then let it sit for a second and with the patterns that form in the grounds at the bottom of the cup, there’s specific readings you can interpret about your future.”

L said that she doesn’t know how to interpret the grounds, only that it’s a rite of passage after every time she drinks coffee with her Lebanese grandmother.

This reminded me of the stereotypical psychic experience that’s portrayed in western media—you walk into a tent, drink a cup of tea, and a psychic is able to discern your future path from the way the leaves sit at the bottom. It was cool to hear a variation of this that actually appeared in someone else’s life/culture.


T is 18 years old and a student at USC. She grew up in Georgia and spent a few years in London as well, learning to speak Georgian, Russian, and English as a child.

T was in the room with me and one of our other roommates when we were talking about stories we remembered from our childhood, and told us about the story of Kolobok:

“There’s this pastry made of dough, and this old woman baked it and put it on the windowsill and then it rolled and rolled and rolled away and everyone threatened to eat it because it’s so tasty…and they thought it was so clever. It met a hare, a wolf, and a bear, but the kolobok was so smart that it escaped all of them and tricked them. It kept saying ‘I managed to escape from the old man, the old woman and the bear’ and thought it was so smart and then the kolobok met a fox and it outwitted it and ate it”

“It’s kind of a story about how you can’t be too cocky because…yeah. About pride and cockiness and that you shouldn’t be too prideful because you will get eaten. He had a lot of pride..the kolobok got a bit cocky with how he was outsmarting everybody and because he let his guard down the fox ate it. This story is very famous where I’m from [Georgia].”

“I learned them from a collection of stories and every night either my grandma or mom would read them to me..that’s for sure how I learned them. I had a book of fables, a book of short stories, and tiny books with hard covers…same style of Russian caricatures”

This story reminds me of a kind of mix of Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks. It made me think about how many other variations of “fairytales” that I grew up hearing exist in other cultures, and more so what they mean to the people in those cultures.