I was unable to record the conversation with PK, but his quotes were transcribed by hand.
PK’s high school was divided into five main groups, with each cluster representing a different area. These clusters were meant to have students get to know each other better and develop stronger bonds within the student body. However, “there used to be six groups and it was thought that the school went from six to five because a girl (or guy) had drowned in a pond that the sixth cluster was named after.” In order to cover it up, the school re-divided the clusters into five. There’s one specific dorm that was very far from all the other buildings in its cluster, yet it was still listed in that cluster, which raised suspicion among some students–maybe the school “quickly drew up a borderline to redistribute.” Unsure if this was related to the story or not, PK remembered his biology teacher warning students: “Don’t go near the pond when it’s winter because, first of all, it’s kind of gross, and it doesn’t freeze over properly, so don’t even bother trying.” As PK entered his junior and senior year, he saw fellow classmates making and displaying posters joking about “bringing back the sixth cluster.”
This was a story that PK never really told before–it wasn’t a narrative that he thought much of after high school. He mentioned that he “doesn’t believe anyone died in that pond because it was kind of shallow, but it did sometimes freeze over very thinly.” Moreover, there’s “no way” his school could hide a student death. As he told the story, he began to remember more details about what other people said about the sixth cluster pond. Especially since it wasn’t necessarily a legend he took seriously, there was no reason for him to really spread it to other people. However, as he looked back on childhood and his life before college, he realized that these stories were simply ingrained into his high school’s culture, even if he didn’t actively partake in their spread.
In order to become a part of a group, you have to understand their folklore–the unofficial knowledge, like the inside jokes, legends, and, in this case, school “secrets.” Incoming freshmen are transitioning between phases of their life and entering a brand new sphere where they have to adapt to the school’s internal culture in order to truly feel like a member. Scare tactics are forms of initiation- upperclassmen tell these legends to intimidate younger students and accentuate the feeling of danger when facing new surroundings. However, once overcoming the initial shock or fear, the younger students become nestled within the community surrounding the legend. No matter if they actually believe in it or not, engaging with the story as part of school tradition strengthens the school’s identity. The more one interacts with the story, the more they begin to speculate: even after claiming the story was most likely false, PK added, “It’s plausible to believe that someone went out at night and on thin ice and fell and died. It’s possible.”
In a way, developing the narrative of a student’s potential drowning on schoolgrounds resists the organized forms of authority established by school officials. Rather than accepting practical rationales given by teachers or heads of the school, students created this legend as a much more interesting alternative, perhaps as a way to share an inside joke that adults aren’t in on. This isn’t necessarily a story that is meant to be taken seriously, but it requires a certain initiation and deeper knowledge to realize it is a joke. Once students understand, they can carry on the tradition by disguising the inside joke as an eerie legend, and the cycle continues.