Legend – Ontario, California/Missouri

“There was this tree with the bark kind of shaped like a menacing face.  If someone climbed up on it, evil devils or like Satanic spirits will come out and push you off.  Once this boy climbed up and he fell off the tree and died.”

Joseph said that he heard this local legend about a cursed tree in Missouri during the second grade from a female classmate.  Though he was living in Ontario, California at the time, his friend whom he heard the legend from had moved there from Missouri.  He said that she drew a frightening picture of the gnarled tree and after seeing the drawing and hearing of this story of the cursed tree, he frequently had nightmares and would always shudder at the thought of the tree.  Though he is unsure of the exact details that his friend told him, Joseph reported that the Missouri town’s newspaper included a story of a young boy around his age who climbed the tree and later fell to his death.  Joseph said he does not know how exactly the boy fell, but he doubts it was an accident because of his belief in the legend—he considers the idea of evil spirits rushing out of the tree to push the boy off as a real possibility.  This, in turn, proves the influence of legends and their ability to invite discussions about belief.

This particular local legend indeed deals with the supernatural—in this case, demonic forces rather than a heavenly deity.  It also speaks volumes about the (probably rural) town in which it arose.  For a second grader to be able to recount its unpleasant details, the legend must be of major significance to the town’s identity, or at least to young people’s perception of that identity.  Now, I cannot help but be amused at the idea that an old legend can still frighten the likes of a tough, grown male.  Yet ultimately this demonstrates the lasting power of the legend and its continued relevance to contemporary society.