Tag Archives: 1960s

Not Eating the Last Bit: An American Superstition

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 61
Occupation: Dog Trainer
Residence: San Diego, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/24/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Background: The informant is my mother, who is a third generation Irish immigrant from Bridgeport, CT. She learned the superstition from her mother and has vehemently abided by it ever since. 

Context: The following piece was collected in a casual, in-person interview at the informant’s home in San Diego, CA. 

Piece: 

Informant: “I can’t eat or drink the last bit or piece of anything.”

Collector: “Why?”

Informant: “Because then I will become an old maid.”

Collector: “I don’t know why that’s just the way it is you know that’s what my mother taught me.”

Analysis: I grew up hearing my mother refuse the last drop of wine or last piece of food at nearly every meal. I believe that it is entrenched in American gender roles and concepts of femininity from the mid 20th century. The words “old maid” imply that the practice is gendered, although it is worth noting I have witnessed my uncle practice this superstition. I interpret the piece as perpetuating the idea that women should be selfless and thus offer the last of their food to others and not consume it themselves. Throughout my life, I questioned my mother’s practice and particularly what was implied by the words “old maid.” Continuously, my mother interpreted becoming an “old maid” as dying old and alone. This is particularly dire to her as she grew up in 1960s America, a time in which a woman’s self-worth was still largely tied to her relationship status and the wealth of her husband. Although this concept has been largely contested in American culture today, my mother and her mother who value family and marriage considered being old and alone a fate worse than death, the ultimate symbol of being unwanted and unloved. By controlling the tangible, they attempt to control and quell these fears.

UC Davis Haunted Lecture Hall

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 24
Occupation: Actuary
Residence: San Diego, CA
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/27/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Background: The informant is an American UC Davis 2018 alumni who currently works as an actuary in San Diego, CA. He learned the tradition while attending university in Davis, CA, but never partook in it himself. 

Context: The following piece was collected in a brief, casual over-the-phone interview.

Piece: 

Collector: “Were there any haunted places on the UC Davis campus?”

Informant: “Yeah there was a lecture hall…People would say that it was haunted because um it was like a building made in the 1960s with a whole bunch of like narrow corridors and rooms that were really like close together. Um so pretty much like a nightmare. You would be pressed up against forty people trying to get into your classroom. 

Collector: “Why did people think it was haunted?”

Informant: “Um I think like the lights would flicker on and off. They weren’t super good. And then like the rooms on the bottom floor got really cold really fast. But like there were no rumors of people like haunting it at night just because it was such a used lecture hall building that there were always people walking around it.” 

Informant: “Do you remember the name of the lecture hall?”

Collector: “Yeah I do. I think it was called like Wellman.” 

Analysis: College campuses are often the setting of ghost stories and hauntings as they are liminal spaces in which students are often transitioning from adolescence to adulthood and are forming their own belief systems. I was surprised at how little explanation and description were offered surrounding why the building was haunted, although it is important to note that while the informant was familiar with the legend, he does not believe in ghosts nor any other supernatural entity. According to the perspective he offered, the haunting appears to not have been an intensive or detailed legend, but was merely a way to make a mundane space interesting. Coldness/chills are often associated with haunted places and was used as a sort of proof of hauntedness in this class. This association may be related to how the human body temperature lowers following death or could be associated with the sense of shock that cold temperatures procure. Ultimately, this legend doesn’t appear to have much stake in actually convincing people that the hall is haunted, but rather serves as a way to color the everyday and generate excitement.