Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (AH).
AH: “So when I was at Salinas High, I was very active in theater. And the first year of my theater program, the older classmen have always told the freshmen about gertrude who is our theater ghost. And I kinda thought that it was all bullshit at first, you know, I didn’t really believe in ghosts, and I didn’t think that it was anything worth paying attention to until my sophomore year. Now the story behind Gertrude, is um… Gertrude was one of the first students at Salinas High back in…..actually I don’t remember when the school opened. But the story was that she was one of the first students there, the first freshman when the school opened. And she was in love with a boy from the opposing school, and he was colored as well. So it was a big to-do. And one night she snuck out to go see him, and he got caught, and he got beaten up by some of her family members. And so he ended up dying from the beating. And she was just so overwhelmed with grief, and she was in the basement of the theater, which back then I don’t remember what it was, at one point it was a bowling alley… but yeah, she went down to the basement and took her own life. And so she has continued to haunt Salinas High for the rest of eternity.”
CB: “Why do you think that the upperclassmen would tell the underclassmen the story?”
AH: “I used to think that the upperclassmen told them to try and scare them and as a kind of hazing sort of thing. It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I actually thought gertrude might be real.”
CB: “Well why do you think it’s important to share the story still?”
AH: “As a warning for one, because some scary shit goes on. Like some really unexplainable stuff has happened. And so we explain it with Gertrude, you know, it’s kinda our way of reasoning. And I think that it also passes down a certain tradition to kinda keep a connection between older and younger generations.”
CB: “And what does Gertrude mean to you?”
AH: “Gertrude will forever hold a place in my heart as my first theater ghost. She probably scared the shit out of me more than any other theater ghost I’ve ever encountered.”
My informant has spent many years actively involved in theater programs, and attended a high school with a very active program. There are tons of stories of theater ghosts, and the tradition can be seen going back to ancient times. Every theater has a different ghost, with a different personality. The story and moral associated with the ghost changes depending on the theater in order to represent the values associated with the theater.
My informant called me with stories prepared after hearing that I had been interviewing other members of our family for folklore. We had a fun and casual conversation, exchanging versions of stories that we had heard growing up.
Growing up in Salinas, my informant was in a very diverse community with staggering differences in socioeconomic status. This led to a lot of racial tension. It makes sense that their ghost’s story would portray this tension, however it’s interesting that it is portrayed as tragic. By doing this, this specific theater makes it clear what sort of attitudes are and are not tolerable within their community. My informant cites that the older members of the community told the new members as a warning against the actions of the ghost, but I believe that it was also told as a code of conduct. The older members used the story as a way to acknowledge that bigoted sentiments are common in the larger community, but to remind the new member that they are not tolerable in their theater’s community. My informant also cited the ghost as a means to explain unexplained incidents. She claims the ghost is memorable because of these incidents and her belief in it. In this way, by first explaining the code of conduct, and then by introducing the new members to a shared belief, the story telling acts as an initiation ritual. Once the new member accepts the code of conduct and respects the beliefs, they are a member of the community.