Main Piece: Mad Bess

Background: The informant’s elementary school is said to be haunted by the ghost of a former tenant of land, Mas Bess. The school’s campus is very old and used to house many of the town’s silver mines in the late 19th century. The buildings have been remodeled, but never torn down. The school’s headmaster tells the students that if they are destructive towards the land or the buildings, Mad Bess will not be happy and will curse us all. 

Context: I asked the informant if she had ever seen a ghost before and she told me that she has yet to see her with her own eyes, but knows that Mad Bess is always looming around school. She promised me she was not afraid of Mad Bess, but some of her classmates are. She told me that she would never litter on the campus or disrespect the playground or the classrooms because she is certain Mad Bess would cause a miniature earthquake at her school. 

I also asked the informant if the teachers speak about Mad Bess frequently and she responded very matter-of-factly “Of course they do. Mad Bess is part of our community. The school would be incomplete without her. She has been on campus longer than any of the rest of us and deserved to have her home taken care of.” 

Thoughts: I attended the same school as the informant about a decade ago. While I was at the school, we had a different headmaster, but the legend of Mad Bess was the same. She was spoken about in two contexts. One, she was a legend of entertainment that served as a community point of connection. Two, she gave the teachers a threatening ghost story that they could strategically use to make the children behave. They could scare us into being respectful because the consequences of not doing so were grave. This is a folk legend that has been circulating and bringing together people on the campus since its founding. Ghost stories have so many purposes!