Tag Archives: American

Wooly Worm Weather Prediction

Background: My informant is a 50 year old woman from Tennessee. She first heard about the folklore from her father, but has heard it many times anecdotally since.

J: Wooly worms are funny little caterpillars, I’m sure you’ve seen them before. They’re everywhere in the south. 

Me: I saw tons of them in Maine when I went to summer camp! So, tell me more about them. 

J: Well, I’m no bug expert. I know they’re orange and black, and they’ve got fur! *laughter* I always thought they were funny-looking. They’re usually in the foliage, but some of them come out to uh, say hello at picnics and such. But people think the ones you find in fall can predict the severity of the winter. If the orange band is big, the winter will be mild. A bigger black band means a nasty winter. It’s a common belief. 

Me: I think I’ve heard that before. Do you think it’s true?

J: I had some cousins who really thought so. When we were younger we’d go out and look for them and they’d try to make predictions. I was probably only 6 or 7. I didn’t care so much, I just wanted to hold them, and uh, I suppose I didn’t have a good frame of reference back then. I didn’t really know what was a big band or a small band, they usually all looked the same to me. I think I can tell better now. But I’m not sure myself if it’s real. I remember bad winters, but I don’t remember if I saw big black bands on the caterpillars before them.

My thoughts: This superstition is very common, especially east of the American continental divide, so much so that after our conversation I looked it up and saw that a scientist in the 50’s tried to scientifically prove its accuracy. He didn’t ultimately do that great because his sample sizes were too small. Very similar to this practice is Groundhog day, where Punxsutawney Phil looks for his shadow, and if he sees it, it means six more weeks of winter. The difference is that the wooly worm predictions are more localized and personalized, as anyone who finds a caterpillar can make their own predictions. Groundhog day is mostly endemic to Pennsylvania, though even in California some people take it as a prediction for our own winter, which is quite silly. I think the wooly worm predictions have a better chance of being legitimate than the groundhog prediction, though both are ultimately just longstanding and fun folk superstitions. 

For more info on wooly worms, see https://www.almanac.com/woolly-bear-caterpillars-and-weather-prediction

Be Careful in the PetSmart Elevator

Background: The informant is now doing marketing for a wine company in the bay area. However, at the time of the encounter she was working in Arizona in a corporate office of PetSmart. She has never had an encounter like this before the one she describes and she has not had any other encounters since. 

BW: So it was 2013 and I worked at PetSmart in Phoenix in the corporate office. And It was not an old building, it was just your average boring corporate office that looked like anything else, not like haunted or anything. My friend and I were just chatting. We were on our way to a meeting. Everyone worked on the main floor and there’s like an elevator and we are going up to a conference room up to another level. So, she and I were just we were walking probably carrying notebooks or whatever and just walking through the lobby until like this little elevator Lobby and in the elevator bank there were three elevators and so we’re walking and there’s always people standing there you know waiting for the elevator, it was right by the cafeteria as well and so tons of people around. you know probably like 2000 people worked in the buildings, there were a couple of buildings kind of like a complex. And so just always people around and you don’t really pay much attention and you don’t know everyone. 

Me: Oh so not the normal place people would think of seeing ghosts. So where did you actually feel like the encounter happened? 

BW: Well, we’re just talking, walking to the elevator we see this woman standing there and she’s waiting for the elevator and you know she had something in her arm like she had a binder in her arm and she just looked like anybody else.

Me: Do you remember more about her physical appearance? Like why didn’t she stand out much? 

BW:  She was probably maybe late 20s early 30s so not like way older or anything you know. There was nothing unusual about her whatsoever; she looked like anyone, she wasn’t like see through anything. She just looked like anyone waiting for the elevator in the building that works at PetSmart.

Me: Okay, then why did you think there was something off with her? 

BW: Well, we were just walking and the elevator doors open, she walks in and then the doors shut and like we had hit the button and they just they like popped back open again so like they were closed for like 2 seconds maybe like they were close and then they popped back open and my friend and I we both walked in and at the same time we both said ‘oh sorry’ because it’s rude. We were rude. She was on her way up in the elevator and we kind of delayed her and so we both walked in and both said “oh sorry” and we walked in and there was no one in the elevator, there was no one there.

Me: Do you think there could have been some other explanation? Like a door to get out or some other exit to the elevator? 

BW: There was nowhere for her to go, there wasn’t like a back door or entrance, some elevators have two sides, but this one didn’t. There was only one way in and out of the elevator. 

Me: And you said you were with someone else right? So you must have both seen her? 

BW: Yes, we both obviously saw her because we both said sorry at the exact same time and then B and I looked at each other and we were both just looking around like did you just see what I saw did you see a woman walk in here and it’s like yes, we both saw her. She described her to me and it was the same person I saw and it’s like we thought we saw the same thing and so like we walked up to the meeting and we were like, my God I think you saw a ghost I mean we saw something we don’t know what we saw but we were just really both pretty shaken by it.

Me: Did you or anyone else ever encounter the same woman again? 

BW: I didn’t work there much longer. This was February 2013 and I moved to Northern California in May so I was only there for like a couple more months so I didn’t see her again. But since then B worked there for a long time after I did and she said that people would see this woman like they would see her occasionally. Someone would say hey B, somebody saw your ghost you know someone who saw the woman you saw in the elevator Lobby again.

Me: So do you have a theory or explanation for what it actually was? 

BW: Well, I mean that’s it I just there’s no I don’t know that she was a ghost obviously but all I know is that I can’t explain what it was. 

I discussed this with the informant in person while sitting across from her. 

My Thoughts: This is one of my favorite “ghost” stories because it is so void of any explanation. It is purely just a story of what she and her friend saw. I definitely believe that it happened; that they did see this woman go into the elevator and then somehow miraculously disappeared. Yet, like her, I have no explanation. 

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.

Hitchhiking And Serial Killers In The U.S.

Informant’s Background:

My informant, DK, is a undergraduate student at Arizona State University studying aerospace engineering. He lives in Tempe, Arizona. His family is American and he was born and raised in Arizona, where he has lived his entire life.

Context:

My informant, DK, and I are friends, after meeting online through a mutual friend during the pandemic. I asked him if he had any folklore to share.

Performance:

DK: “Alright. Uhh… My middle-school math teacher, his name was (REDACTED), uh, very interesting guy. He fled home when he was 18, and I think he joined… he joined up with a traveling circus. (DK laughs). Like, I’m not making this up he legitimately joined a traveling circus. Uh, and then, at another point he decided to hitchhike across America. You know, hitchhike from point A to point B… uh, not really caring where he was going, you know… it’s the 70s. Uh, and so he is on the West Coast, in California during this time… And uh, he is hitching of course, like I said… and so he gets picked up by some guy, guy is giving him real creepy vibes. Just like a no-good dude kind of situation. Uh, and the guy keeps asking like creepy questions like… “Do you have any family? Do you live nearby?” Like that kind of stuff. And eventually my math teacher gets creeped out SO much the decides to bail from the car, literally like jumps out of the car while it is still rolling and runs away. And… you know, and normally that’s the end of the story except my math teacher saw on the news later that day, err…. The next day, actually, that there was a hitchhiker found who was found dead on the beach, uh, nearby where he was. And that… probably was the like same guy picking up another hitchhiker and killing him. And that that was like a serial killer who was doing that stuff so… that’s the story of my awesome math teacher who was almost killed by a serial killer when he was a young lad.

AT: “Ok, did you hear this from your math teacher?”

DK: “Yeah!”

AT: “Ok, what was the context in which he told you the story?”

DK: “Uh… It was math class. (DK laughs.) We didn’t have much to talk about at the time. He was a really neat dude, he had a lot of stories like that.”

AT: “Was it a known or a famous serial killer?”

DK: “I think it was, but… it… it’s been so long that I’ve forgotten which serial killer.”

Thoughts:
Serial killers have played a prominent role in American culture and folklore ever since the late twentieth century, if not earlier. While serial killings still occur in modern American society, the rise of mass shootings and other large-scale violence and killings such as the rise of domestic terrorism have in a way pushed serial killings and serial killers away from the limelight, and at least in the collective conscious they have become a almost quaint thing of the past. Television shows such as Netflix’s Mindhunter, or it’s various documentaries about real-life serial killers have propelled the murderers of the late twentieth century into the status of myths and legends. This particular story seems a perfect encapsulation of this kind of serial killer tale. The time period is the late twentieth century, with the setup of the story being that the informant’s teacher is hitchhiking, a phenomenon that has widely fallen out of practice as it is nowadays deemed “unsafe”, primarily because of stories such as this one. Popular American media is also full of such stories, such as in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where a group of hitchhikers find themselves at the mercy of a family of hillbilly serial killers. The scary and widely now considered relatively unsafe times of the late twentieth century in America lead themselves to all sorts of morbid tales, cults, serial killings, and the like were at the forefront of American cultural consciousness at the time, and as a result many such tales of the period, such as the one found in this article, have lasted to this day.

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.