*Note: Taylor is a member of the student organization USC Troy Camp, a group that mentors/tutors students in the South Central L.A. area and raises funds during the year to send 200 elementary schoolchildren from South L.A. to a week-long summer camp in Idyllwild, CA. This week-long camp is completely run by the counselors, and through the year many legends and traditions have developed that are upheld/told each year at camp, carried on by newer counselors as older ones graduate. Because I am also a member of Troy Camp, she didn’t provide any context for this, so I figured I’d do so to minimize confusion. This particular story is the story of “Mary Brown,” which we tell to the 5th grade students (the oldest) when they spend a night in tents instead of their cabins.
INFORMANT: “I’m going to tell it like I’d tell it to the kids, okay? Okay. So… years and years ago, kids just like you were coming to Troy Camp for a great week at camp. They were so excited, and on the first day everyone was running around and making friends. Everyone except one. There was a little girl named Mary Brown, and she stood in the corner and didn’t talk to anyone – she was so shy. She would just stand in the corner and stare at her sparkly red shoes. The kids started to make fun of Mary, asking why she never played with anyone else and making fun of her red shoes. But no matter what they said, Mary would just stand there silently, staring down at her shoes. The bullying got much worse, and no matter what the counselors did, they couldn’t stop it. One day in the dining hall, a girl walked up to Mary Brown and started making fun of her shoes. At first, Mary was quiet and just stared down. But suddenly, she grabbed the fork from her plate and brought it down right on the bully’s hand – stabbed her in the hand with the fork. Silent the whole time, even as the bully screamed and cried. Her counselor took her aside and tried to reason with her, told her they were going to have to call her parents for breaking the rules and hurting another camper. But Mary said nothing… she just stared down at her red shoes. Her counselor tried that night to call Mary’s parents to come pick her up, but she couldn’t get through to anyone. The number was disconnected. So the counselor went back to the cabin, and all the girls were fast asleep in their beds… except one. Mary. Mary Brown was nowhere to be found. The counselors all panicked. They searched, they looked everywhere, and they just couldn’t find her. Finally, in the middle of the night, some counselors went down to the river, and that’s where they found her. There she was, standing on a rock in the middle of the river, dripping wet, holding a fork and staring down at her red shoes. “Mary, Mary! Please come back!” they yelled to her. They begged her to come back, to let them help her. After many… after many minutes of this, she finally looked up. She looked them straight in the eyes, raised the fork, and without saying a word, STABBED HERSELF, again and again and again with the fork until her body fell limp into the river. The water washed her right away, and no search party or the Idyllwild police was ever able to find her body. And now, every seven years, a couple forks go missing from the dining hall, and one camper falls victim to the wrath of Mary Brown, who comes click-clacking into the cabin in her sparkly red shoes, and STABS them with her fork. It’s been said you can hear her approaching because she scrrrrrrrrrratches the outside of the cabin door with her fork, scrraaaaaatches along the door. And… I hate to say it, but this year is the seventh year since the last incident. So watch out, kids, listen carefully for the fork on the door. And tell someone right away if you ever catch a glimpse of a pair of sparkly red shoes walking through the forest.”
This legend is cool because I’m fairly certain it’s completely unique to Troy Camp – at least under the name “Mary Brown.” One day I got curious and googled ‘Mary Brown ghost story,’ and found almost nothing similar to our story. Mary Brown is also interesting because there tends to be one counselor who tells it best, and they’ll tell the story to the campers until they graduate, at which time the job of primary storyteller is passed down to another counselor. This year, the guy who usually tells Mary Brown to the campers is graduating, so nobody knows who’s going to tell the story next year at camp. The story changes a little bit with each person who tells it, so there’s no way of knowing how the story began. No one in Troy Camp knows what year they started telling Mary Brown, but it’s an established tradition now.
“Mary Brown” also exemplifies the difference between a story like “La Llorana” and a regular ghost story – legends like La Llorana tend to have a message, a rule to obey. Contrarily, Mary Brown exists just to scare the kids! Ghost stories don’t usually have messages or morals, they’re for entertainment purposes only. One could argue that Mary Brown teaches campers not to bully other campers, but the bullying seems a little beside the point. I’ve also never known counselors to actually go around with forks on the cabin doors, because that would probably be too scary.