Tag Archives: 1950s

Moss Back.

L is a 78-year-old Caucasian male originally from Meridian, Mississippi. L is a retired drill sergeant and veteran of the American war in Vietnam.

While visiting Phoenix, Arizona I met with L to discuss folklore, as he had previously helped me collect war stories for an oral history project. I met L at his Phoenix office where he provided me with two scary stories he remembered from his past. The following is the second of these two stories, which he first heard as a boy in the late 1950s.

L: Moss Back, Um.. I think it was a Cherokee Indian… What happened? Trying to think, guess we’ll see, he gets his head cut off.. and uh, then he goes around looking for his head. You know laughs and you could hear him moaning at night when he’s coming through the brush and through the trees. So you didn’t want to go out at night and you didn’t want to hear “Moss Baaack.. Moss Baaack’s coming..” laughs Oh God, probably seven eight years old when I first heard it. It was really funny, uh, so at church we had a group called “RA’s” Royal Ambassadors. So we had a ball team we played softball and that kinda stuff so we had, I’ll never forget him. He was our assistant pastor to church and he did all the stuff with the boys. We had some friends that had a lake out in the country about ten miles outside of Meridian.. and so he fixed up a deal to throw us camping out there and fishing, an overnight stay at the lake. So, we fished that day and you know uh did some swimming and fishing and all kinda stuff. And then that evening, they built a big ol’ camp fire. And they started telling us ghost stories you know laughs and Moss Back was one of ‘em and all kinds, all kinds of stuff and here’s a bunch of boys from.. seven eight, to ten maybe twelve. Um, so we listened to all these stories.. and there was somebody I don’t remember who it was, but there was another man there helping the Pastor out. And they said ok said, uh, “you boys”, uh, you know “go on to bed and do whatever you’re going to do and we’re going to go on and fish for a while there’s good fishing out here at night.” So they got in this boat and paddled out into this lake. Well, they went to the other side and came around through the dark laughs and we’re all sitting around here heard all these ghost stories you know laughs and here they come you know they got right up close to us and they went “Moss Baaack’s a comin Moss Baaack’s a comin!” laughs imitates scream we jump up running in every direction laughs oh my God! laughs boy they got us good. They, they likely scared us out of a year’s growth you know.

Reflection: L provided a great example of a common way folk have historically interacted ostensively with scary stories, pranking. The ”insiders” with knowledge of a scary story tend to prank the ”outsiders” (those without knowledge of the scary story) as an act of initiation for transitioning from ”insiders” to ”outsiders” of the story. As L’s account demonstrates, this often takes the form of the ”insiders” pretending to be the monster featured in the scary story in order to frighten the ”outsiders.” Moss Back as a character appears to be based on racially problematic history, as beheading is a known method of execution that American settlers used to punish Native American populations.

The Haunted Art House in Woodneuk

Context

My grandmother enjoys telling us stories of Singapore when she was younger, one of the stories she most enjoys telling is that of the haunted art deco house at Woodneuk. This story came about during one of our conversations.

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Performance

The following is translated and transcribed from a story told by the interviewee.

“When you go behind Holland Road there’s the old mansion. Now everyone goes there and takes photos but last time no one went there because it was haunted. It’s still haunted, but nowadays no one cares, no one respects the place. It’s an old house build for the Sultan a hundred years ago. The house was very big for time, and it meant to be a beautiful place. The Sultan had a Scottish wife, but when she died, he left the place, and he never bothered to go back. So it just sat there. And the place is haunted, the wife never left the house because she loved it so much and never wanted to leave it. But now kids go there and take photos and they are disturbing the wife.”

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Analysis

This is a fairly common ghost story told in Singapore about the abandoned mansion. There aren’t many abandoned buildings in Singapore as it is a small city with limited space and the government is proactive in ensuring that all the space available is used. Thus, the very abandoned places like the mansion in Woodneuk have many myths and tales surrounding it. Historically, the story is accurate. There was a Sultan with a Scottish wife that build the mansion, though the story gets a little blurry with whether the wife died and why the Sultan left the house. I think in the case of the Woodneuk mansion, the ghost story was put in place to scare people away from visiting it. My grandmother was frustrated with children going there to take photos and felt that they should’ve just left the house alone. The architecture in the house is traditional and unique and it would stand that there are those that would hope to protect it. However, because the government does not protect the house and make it a cultural landmark, people have spread ghost stories in an attempt to keep people away. In the age of social media and with the new generations believing less and less in superstition, this no longer works effectively. And instead, the idea that the place is haunted actually drives people to go visit it.