Tag Archives: American

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.

The Rodeo Queen

Context

The interviewee is one of my housemates and we often engage in conversation about our different hometowns. This folklore about a festival comes from a dinner where the house was sharing various stories from our childhood.

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Performance

The following is transcribed from the story told by the interviewee.

“In my hometown, we had a frolic and rodeo. There were lasso cows and ride bucking broncos and barrel racing. And at the Rodeo, they would select a Rodeo Queen that will represent the rodeo until the next year. And there is always a parade right before the rodeo of all the log trucks in my hometown that would drive down the main street. And you get to eat carnival food and do the classic carnival things”

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Analysis

Carnivals are fairly common around America. What I found unique about his story were the log trucks that were paraded around. This is very specific to his hometown of Philomath where logging is the main source of income for the people that live there. Putting log trucks on display and parading them around shows how the people recognize the importance of that industry and how they celebrate it. It is meant to reinforce and instill a sense of pride in people of the industry that their town relies on. While it can seem like a festival about fun and games, it is very much about building a spirit of community and getting everyone to gather around a single and common idea. To have a Rodeo Queen is an example of creating a symbol is which people can rally around. And while America is clearly not a monarchy anymore, the concept of it is used in order to build a sense of hometown belonging.

Med Student’s First Coat

Main Description:

RA: “One of the most exciting, I remember, things in medical school, other than graduation, is getting the white coat and stethoscope before beginning clinical rotations, the first time we’re allowed, as med students, to start practicing basic techniques on living people. These weren’t the long coats that go down to your feet, but shorter ones that only went down to your waist. They were embroidered, of course. They came with the schools embroidered, but we would also get our names if we could afford it. I don’t remember if I got mine embroidered or not, but I probably did. We would wear them everywhere, so everyone knew you were a med student. We wore them on our clinical rotations, obviously, but we also would sometimes wear them out to bars and pubs so everyone would know we’re real med students. They got dirt super quickly of course, because their white, and I remember washing mine all the time so I could wear it. Eventually when we got our scrubs, once we’ve made more progress with our rotation, we didn’t wear the white coats as much. White is a really bad color for doctors, really, because it shows stains, especially blood, really well. It’s funny, we get another white coat (the foot length one) when we graduate, also embroidered, but we rarely wear it because it’s white. That coat’s much less exciting to get. We also got tools with our first coat. We would get the basic tools used at checkups, like the reflex hammer, the thing you use to look in people’s eyes and ears and throat (can’t remember what it’s called), tongue thermometers, and really whatever else we could afford. We didn’t need them, because tools are usually provided to you during the rotation, but they were fun to practice with on ourselves and each other. They were also fun to show off to our friends and family. I definitely don’t have my tools any more, they all broke or I lost them or gave them away. I still have my first coat, though of course I don’t wear it anymore because it’s kind of ratty looking, but I used in a Halloween costume as a mad scientist once.

Informant’s opinion:

AB: “Why were the initial white coats and tools so exciting? Why did you wear them so often?

RA: “We wore them everywhere because they were the first things we had that really showed we were med students. I don’t know why they were white, but there was something so exciting about having something to show to my parents that I’m really becoming a doctor.”

Personal interpretation:

The white coat seems to mark an important rite of passage for medical students. Being able to work with live patients, usually about two years in, is wear students first begin to practice being doctors. For the first time, the students’ actions will have consequences on living people instead of anatomical dummies, so the coat allows students to celebrate the greater degree of responsibility they’ve taken as growing physicians. Tellingly, the coats are primarily for social performance, and not intended for use during actual work with patients due to their color.

The Baby that lives in the Operating Room

RA: “Lots of hospitals have ghost stories about the people who have passed away in the operating rooms. When I worked at Ben Taub hospital in Houston, there were so many because it was such a big trauma hospital. I can’t remember them now, partially because there were so many, but there were lots of stories of dead patients lingering in the rooms where they died, especially if it was an especially difficult case. One that I remember from my time at Children’s… well, it’s a little creepy. I don’t know if you want to hear it.”

AB: “Creepy is good!”

RA: “Well, there was a baby that passed away in one the cardiac operating rooms, which is rare because we usually don’t have babies in there. One of my colleagues was in charge of that case and was really broken up about it. Ever since then you could hear a faint baby’s crying or laughter in that operating room. We knew it was the baby, and that she had stayed in the operating rooms as her final resting place. We could hear her from some of the nearby rooms, and the crying usually seemed to come from within the walls. Me and my friends, especially Erika, and some of the nurses would sometimes go to the room just to talk to the baby. We would usually just read stories, sing lullabies, and talk about our cases with it. She seemed to listen, and the crying always seemed to disappear after we talked to her. Sometimes, when I had little kids as my patients, I would take them to that room if it wasn’t being used so they could talk to the baby. They all got a kick out of it, and the kids that knew about the baby would even ask if they could play with her. Looking back, I’m sure it was something weird happening with the vents. There were lots of weird noises all over that hospital, and it usually had to do with fans and vents and wind blowing around in an old building, but everyone could tell that it was a baby laughing in that room.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “Do you think the ghost of the baby really lived in that room?”

RA: “Well, in this case, that baby was just born. The only rooms it ever knew were in that hospital, and it probably spent most of its life in the operating room. She passed away peacefully, so I think she stayed in that room because it felt like her home. There was no sense that the ghost was evil or scary or anything, so I really think, the baby just chose to stay in space where it felt comfortable.”

Personal interpretation:

Ghosts often inhabit liminal spaces, and indeed, the operating room is a quintessential liminal space. Patients only enter this room during an operation, thus this room stands between sickness, pre-operation, and recovery, post-operation. When a newborn that has spent no time outside of a hospital dies in this space, doctors may perpetuate the life of the baby as a ghost that watches over a space that stands between life and death. The informant emphasized that the spirit was not malicious, and that she and her colleagues would often discuss difficult cases with the baby, so the ghost may even act as a kind of guardian of the operating room, protecting future patients and doctors.