Tag Archives: American folklore

Muscle White.

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 first of these two stories, which he first heard as a teenager in the 60s.

L: Ok so this is the story of Muscle White… and Muscle White.. was a really bad man, he was always in trouble and been to prison two or three times, and uh been in a bunch of fights and stuff and he got in a fight where he was hurt really bad one time.. and he lost his right arm. And uh, they fixed him up a hook in prison, so he had this hook on his, on his right arm… Well he was in prison, in Parchman Prison in Mississippi… and he broke out, he escaped. And there was this state wide manhunt for Muscle White because he, he was a bad man. They, everybody was looking for him because uh.. he’d been in fights he’d killed some people I mean, he, he robbed some banks this was a bad guy. So everybody was out looking for him.. So, around Meridian where I lived, there were several places where, uh, teenagers liked to go and uh, park and pad, and.. you know and, and uh.. So, one of ‘em was a place that we called Lover’s Lane. And it was a place out in the country. And so uh, this boy and, and girl went out there, they were I think sixteen years old or so, and they went out there and they’re talking. And.. and uh.. um. The girl said that uh, she thought she heard something. And, the boy said “no it’s just your imagination there’s nothing out here there’s nobody out here” and they look, there’s no other cars out here, so there’s nobody here. And she says “no I really thought I heard something, you know or somebody or something” and he goes “no no it’s ok there’s nothing, there’s nothing out here.” And uh, she says “well, see I’m scared.” She says “I really wanna go.” He says “well no, see it’s ok really no no no” she says she really really wants to go and she’s really scared. He says well ok. Uh.. I, I guess we’ll go. And, and then he heard some—a bump on the car. Just as he was cranking up, and that kinda spooked him, and he threw it in drive and he took off real quick. And went down the road, and he said well “the night is ruined so I might as well take you home.” So he took this girl over to her house.. he got out and walked around to the side of his car to open the door for her, and there was a right arm hanging on the door with a hook on the door handle. Muscle White had been there.

Reflection: I have heard the Hook Man urban legend enough times over the course of my life to assume it offered me no more surprises. Yet, L managed to offer a version of the story that was both compelling in its execution and completely unfamiliar to me. I found it fascinating how fleshed out the Hook Man was in L’s telling of the narrative, as most versions of the story I know reduce the Hook Man to a faceless, nameless escaped convict. I believe the local geographical details that L imbues Muscle White’s backstory with provide excellent insight into Mississippi’s cultural history. Specifically, I believe L’s linkage of Muscle White to Parchman prison (a real prison in Mississippi) speaks to the prison’s historical notoriety in Mississippi. As Parchman prison is linked to a storied past of forced labor and terrible conditions for its inmates, it’s not hard to imagine how the story of the Hook Man and the prison eventually melded together through a shared association with evil in the Mississippian collective conscience.

 “For another version, see Brunvand, Jan Harold. 2014, Too Good to Be True: The Colossal Book of Urban Legends, Page #1659

Mudding

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my mother/informant (SW).

HS: So you had a high school tradition that you would like to elaborate upon, is that right?

SW: So back in high school, when I was still living in Kansas there really wasn’t that much to do. Here in California, you can go to the beach, surf, play volleyball, your options are virtually unlimited. You can take a drive to the desert or go to the mountains. But in Kansas, the options are a lot more limited. So what we would do as entertainment is something that we called, “mudding.”

HS: And what exactly is “mudding?”

SW: Okay, this is going to sound dumb, but there was literally nothing to do in Kansas. That’s why I moved back to California as soon as possible! But anyway, my friends and our guy friend group would take out our jeeps and trucks to the nearest muddy, flat area, and do donuts and drive around. The competition was to get as much mud on your car as possible and the winner would get paid out by all the other drivers.

Background:

My informant is my mother. She was raised in Huntington Beach, California, but she moved to Kansas with her family when she was 16 because a majority of her family was living there and in Missouri. She always dreamed of coming back to California and took the first opportunity she could get to come back. She now lives in Dana Point.

Context:

I was sitting at dinner with my parents and was talking to my mom about why she moved back to California from Kansas.

Thoughts:

This tradition in my mother’s community shines a light on smaller local contexts in which people seek entertainment. Mudding made me realize that traditions are widely confined to their regional context and are cultivated and transformed within those communities. Out of circumstance, individuals are confined to the cultural and regional settings in which they are raised.

The Goat-Man Of Pope Lick Creek

Informant’s Background:

My informant, AH, was born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, but now lives in Los Angeles where she attends undergraduate study at USC. She is 21 years old.

Context:

The informant is a close friend and former roommate of mine. I asked her if she had any folklore from her hometown in Kentucky she could share with me. For the purposes of this performance, she is labeled as AH, and I am labeled as AT.

Performance:

AH: “So there’s this creek, pretty close to my house, probably about like ten minutes away, it’s called Pope Lick, I don’t know why, but uhm me and my friends would go there pretty often because there’s these like train tracks that run up above and underneath there is where the goat man is supposed to be. So the goat man he’s supposed to be like legs of a goat, top part of a dude, and what he’s supposed to do is if you’re there at night (which we were pretty often), he’d go and like either like lure you down and then go and like grab you and eat you or he’d like fucking jump down and get you. But that was his whole thing like (*in spooky voice*) oooOOhhh we’re hanging out, and we might die! Someone’s gonna get killed by the goat man! But it was very fun, yeah, that’s most of the stuff.”

AT: “Where did you first hear about it?”

AH: “So I first heard of it… my uh-my girlfriend at the time she was like “oh, have you heard of the goat man?” and I was like “no” and she was like “yeah so if we go here at night we might see this like goat man person thing.” And that was like when I first heard about it and then we went together and we didn’t see anything, but it was definitely kind of like a creepy vibe, like abandon fucking train tracks, kind of creepy.”

Thoughts:

The first thing that came to mind upon my hearing about this was Ray Cashman’s article Visions of Irish Nationalism, which we read in class, more specifically where Cashman discusses how a seemingly innocuous location can hold a special meaning to the locals of the area or to those properly informed (Cashman, 373). In this case, the location is seemingly mundane, a railroad trestle bridge, yet there it has a different meaning to those that live in the area that are “in the know”. According to my research, there actually have been a number of deaths as recently as 2019 at the location, as it is actually not abandoned and is a major railway for trains. So in this case we see an example where depending on the time of the visit, and how safe they were being, the informant and their partner could easily have been seriously injured by going to a location that is actively dangerous and prohibited of entry to the public, yet the myth surrounding the location provides a new meaning to the location, and makes it a desirable destination to visit for locals.

Cashman, Ray. Visions of Irish Nationalism. Journal of Folklore Research, Vol. 45, No. 3. Pp. 361-381.

Euchre – Midwestern Card Game

Informant’s Background:

My informant, JA, is a undergraduate student at the University of Southern California. He moved from his family home in Arizona to attend college in Los Angeles. His family is of German ancestry.

Context:

I (AT) am a close friend of JA, and he comes over to hang out at my apartment often. I asked him if he had any folklore he could share and telling me about this game that I had never heard of was his response.

Performance:

JA: “So anyways Euchre is a card game that I think is relatively popular throughout the Midwest, but it’s a card game that is typically is played with four players, but it can be scaled up and down, where players take tricks based on suits and everyone is divided into two teams and every hand in the basic four-player variant you play with your partner across from you, and a trump suit is decided by dealing out 5 cards to each player. It’s only the cards nine, ten, jack, queen, king, and ace are the only cards in each suit in the game, uh, five cards are dealt to each player and four are set aside, and the top is turned over which determines the trump suit. Then its played like a typical trick taking game where high cards take tricks, unless the trump suit is played in which case those cards take the trick, but in Euchre, uhm, the highest card of the trump suits are the jacks instead of the aces, so if heart is trump then jack of hearts is the highest, while the other colors spade and clubs in that hand would have the normal order. And you play enough rounds until one team gets ten points. I dunno, it’s just a very easy game to teach people, you can get into it very quickly, and I play it a lot with my parents and my grandparents, especially when they’re around, because it’s just… the primary activity that we do together, it’s kind of a tradition we do it a lot after meals, family meals, with big gatherings like that. It’s… I dunno I guess the primary tradition we have on that side of the family – it’s very casual, it’s a good time.”

AT: “Who taught you the game?”

JA: “I think my mom had to have taught me the game first, uhm, but she might have taught it in conjunction with my grandparents, I’m not sure.”

AT: “But they all already knew it? Do you know where they learned it from?”

JA: “I mean my mom learned it from my grandparents, beyond that, I don’t know.”

Thoughts:

I don’t have much to add to this one, other than that I think it’s interesting that a specific card game can become such a tradition in someone’s family, with the rules being passed on through generations. I had also never heard of the game itself, so I thought it was worth documenting here. 

Knocking on Wood

Main Content:

M= Me, I= Informant

M: So you said you grew up with a lot of fairy folklore?

I:  Yeah, um, you know like the knock on wood, that’s the most common one.

M: so what’s… what’s the background behind that? What happens if you don’t knock on wood? You know, why is it knock on wood?

I: Well knock on wood, uh you do it when you say something like that might not happen. Like uh  let’s so you want to get a good grade on a test and you are like “I.. I’m pretty confident, like, I’m gonna ace this test,” then you knock on wood. *knocks on wood* Sorry I shouldn’t have done it. *both laugh* You knock on wood because fairies live in the wood

M: Uh-huh (In agreement)

I: And if they hear you saying something that you want to happen, they’re gonna make it not happen.

M: Ohhhhhh, okay. That’s cool.

I: ‘Cause like fairies used to live in trees and stuff, so you would like, so it would… it would be like outside kinda stuff. 

M: Yeah

I: But since we don’t see trees *laughs* a lot anymore. It’s just become any wood. 

Context: Her parents passed this folk practice to her by simply doing it around her and when she asked why, they told her it so that the fairies don’t stop good things from happening. She was very little when she first learned this so she did believe in this initially. But even though she continued the practice as she grew up, she did not continue truly believing that the fairies were responsible.

Analysis: Given how prevalent fairies are in Scottish and Irish, it makes sense how her parents would pass down this practice to her. This is quite a common practice in the US and even if people don’t fully believe in it, they may do it in order to ‘not risk it’ or even to comfort others fears who do believe in it. This is common with many superstitions as while there may not be scientific evidence to support a superstitions, people still ‘believe’ in them or ‘don’t want to risk it’ because we learn beliefs from those around us. This practice is also consistent with other/earlier portrayals of fairies as they are often portrayed as mischievous creatures in lore and not the sweet and fragile creatures that has been popularized by the media, particularly by Disney.