Author Archives: Victoria Westmoreland

The Legend of the Zodiac Shack

Informant: The informant is Briana, a nineteen-year-old freshman at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Vacaville, California, in the Bay Area, and has lived there for her entire life, until she moved to Los Angeles for college. She is of African descent.

Context of the performance: This performance was done while we were sitting on the grass outside of my dorm building on USC’s campus.

Original Script:

Informant: There’s a legend of a shack out far in the country of my hometown, Vacaville, California. So there’s this little abandoned shack or storage unit, where the Zodiac killer would take and murder his victims. The Zodiac killer, who came up with his title himself, goes murdered multiple women and couples. My friend, April C., told me about this legend in Vacaville. April had visited the shack before, and a lot of people do, for the excitement of exploring the scene. High school students tend to go to the shack most, once they learn to drive, because it’s in the middle of nowhere.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece?

Informant: I like this piece because it’s connected to my hometown and an interesting story to tell visitors. My family and friends from home and I like this piece because even though we don’t believe it to be true, it’s something exciting for a small town to have. We can get together and visit the site at any time of the year, mainly at night.

Personal Thoughts: I found this piece to be very interesting because I had never heard of the Zodiac Killer and assumed he was created by Vacaville. After Briana shared her town’s side of the legend, I looked into the Zodiac Killer and was appalled yet fascinated by the results. In the late 1960s, he allegedly murdered at least five people and injured two, though he admitted to killing thirty, in the San Francisco Bay Area. After his murders, he would taunt the police and members of the community, providing hints as to who he was, including a three-part cipher, letters, phone calls, and fingerprints. Yet, the police could not solve the case. Perhaps the townspeople in Vacaville came up with the idea that the legend that the Zodiac Killer took his victims to this shack because they felt lost without answers as to his identity. Therefore, they may have used this story for a sense of comfort and relief, so that they could feel that they know some information about him and his whereabouts. For more information, visit


Stepping Over Someone

Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.

Context: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: Basically, if you’re sitting or lying down, you can’t have someone walk over you. It will bring bad luck. If they do, they have to cross back over you so that you’re safe. I learned this from my parents who were both born in Greece, and I believe that it is a Greek tradition. They taught me and my four siblings this when we were little. My friend actually does it too, and her mother told me once that I actually don’t have to do it anymore because, apparently, stepping over someone will stunt your growth. Since I’m done growing, she said that I don’t have to do it, but I still do.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s important. Everyone has that piece of superstition that they follow. I know it’s not real, but I feel better doing it. Also, one time at soccer practice, I was sitting down with my legs stretched, and one of my teammates stepped over my left leg. I wanted to tell her to come back but didn’t want to bother her or sound weird. Then the next day, during a game, I pulled my hamstring in my left leg. I knew I should have told her to come back and step over me again.

Personal Thoughts: I find it interesting that although Aliki heard that she no longer had to perform this piece of folklore, she did anyway. Her decision to continue with it demonstrates the power folklore, especially folklore that people learned growing up, has over people. What is also unique about her piece is that she experienced an unfortunate event after not having followed the superstition, so she blamed herself for pulling her hamstring.

Compliment or Curse?

Informant: The informant is Thomas, a fifty-five-year-old man who has lived in Westchester, New York for his entire life. He is a financial consultant for hospitals, has two children, and is of English and Russian descent.

Context: We sat across from each other at the kitchen table in Thomas’s house one afternoon during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: When I was little, my grandmother always told me about her belief that if I, or anyone for that matter, complimented something in her home, she felt that I wished her dead because I wanted the item. I was at her house one day when I was about twelve years old, and she had just gotten a new coffee table in her living room. I admired it, and she responded, “You wish me dead!” Then she went to my dad and said, “Your son wishes me dead; she wants my coffee table.”

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like this piece of folklore because after she died, my family said that I should be the one to get the coffee table. It’s still in my living room today, and every time I look at it, I smile and recall what she told me.

Personal Thoughts: I think that this piece of folklore is interesting because I had never heard of someone being offended by a compliment, or taking a compliment as a curse. What I like most about Thomas’s story is that his family got involved in accepting and appreciating the folklore after his grandmother had passed and gave him the coffee table. In a sense, the tradition can then say alive through Thomas.

The Colors of the Devil

Informant: The informant is Janet, a fifty-six-year-old woman from Yonkers, New York. She has lived in the Bronx and Westchester County, New York throughout her entire life. She is of Italian descent, is married, and has two children.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on a couch in the living room of her house in Yonkers, New York over my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: In the late 1980s, I was working at Whitehall Laboratories in New York City. One day at work, I wore a beautiful black skirt and a purple jacket with black trim, with matching purple and black suede shoes. While walking through the office, a coworker I barely knew said to me, “Oh, you’re wearing the colors of death.” A little while later, when I was back at my desk, my phone rang, and I was told that my cousin Maria died. Years later, my nephew was attending College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, and he gave me a purple and black coffee mug, to represent his school’s colors, for Christmas. I refused to use it for months, until I thought that I was being ridiculous. So I used it one day, and that night, I got a call that her aunt was very ill and was rushed into the hospital. I wouldn’t throw the mug away because I was scared that it would only add to my bad luck. So I left it at the top of the cabinet and haven’t touched it since then, in 2012. Ever since, I totally avoid the colors purple and black together, and purple in general.

Interviewer:Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: This idea is very important to me. I feel unsafe wearing this mix of colors and won’t let my children do it either. I always warns people who wear these colors together to be careful because I truly believes that they are the colors of death.

Personal Thoughts: I think that this is very interesting because I’d never thought of purple as a color associated with the devil. Also, what’s interesting is that Janet has two instances of hard proof of this superstition. These pieces of proof could not have occurred because this superstition was in her head. These unfortunate events happened and were entirely out of her power.

An Extra Birthday Candle

Informant: The informant is a twenty-two-year-old named Samantha. She graduated from Providence College last year and is currently working in New York City as an Advertising Sales Assistant for VERANDA Magazine. She lives in Yonkers, New York with her parents and has lived there for her whole life. She is of Italian, English, and Russian descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat next to each other on the living room floor at her house in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: I learned that you when celebrating someone’s birthday, you always need to have one more candle than necessary on the birthday cake. This candle has to be left unlit. I learned this from her grandma. For kids, this extra candle is one to grow on, so it symbolizes the hope that they will grow big and strong in the following year. On the other hand, for adults, this extra candle is for a long life and luck.

Interviewer: Why do you like this piece of folklore?

Informant: I like it because it’s a family tradition. It reminds me of my childhood because I always had an extra candle on her birthday cakes. Also, this concept always excites children who want to grow and become big and strong. As an adult now, I likes the idea of having this candle to promise a lucky year. I definitely plan to pass this tradition on to my children one day.

Personal Thoughts: This tradition is interesting to me because it highlights the fact that superstitions and traditions in general are not only for children; they are important to adults too. While kids love the idea of growing up to be big and strong, adults do not easily forget such traditions they celebrated growing up. They keep the tradition alive by changing its meaning to something which they want in their lives no matter how old they are- good luck in the next year.