Tag Archives: camp

“The Water Fountain Ghost”

Genre: Folk Narrative – Ghost Story


“At the summer camp I went to as a child, we were told a ghost story about a woman who roamed the grounds at night. The director of the camp sat down all the campers on the evening of the first day and told us that long ago, back in the earliest days of the camp, there was a camper who decided to leave their cabin in the middle of the night to explore. They decided to go to the water fountain by the pool, but because it was so dark outside, the camper couldn’t see where they were going and they tripped and fell into the water and drowned. The ghost of this camper, now a grown woman, is seen haunting the camp grounds at night, particularly in the area near the old water fountain. If she sees any campers wandering around outside where they are not allowed after dark, she will drag them into the pool so they can join her as a ghost.”


“I first heard this story when I was six or seven years old, and I was terrified! I totally believed it, and every night, I would look out my cabin window and look for the ghost lady. It took a few years for me to stop believing it, and it was really only when I had to go to the nurse’s office during the night and I was too scared to go because of the ghost, and the counselor told me that it wasn’t a true story and just something they told to scare the campers into staying inside the cabins. Later on, when the directors of the camp changed, they stopped telling the story which made me kind of sad, because I felt like it was part of the camp lore and kind of another rite of passage in growing up there as a camper.”


I agree with the informant’s realization that the story was something made up in order to scare the campers into staying inside their cabins during the night. In such a rural location, it would be likely that campers leaving their cabins during the night would get them hurt, either by their own actions or by a wild animal. It also discourages campers from engaging in misbehavior that wouldn’t be appropriate in a children’s camp setting, like meeting up with other campers during the night. I think, as the informant experienced, that this is probably a fairly successful method for the younger campers who believe the story, as scaring them into obedience probably has a higher success rate than telling them a seemingly arbitrary rule.

This ghost story reminded me of the story of La Llorona, who is a character from Mexican folklore who also takes the form of a wandering woman. La Llorona is found near bodies of water (just as this ghost is found near the water fountain/pool area) and is said to drown unfaithful men (while this ghost drowns disobedient children).

Generational Fire

CONTEXT: DM is a current USC student who attended a North Carolina Christian sleep-away camp in the summer of 2011. This is a story that she heard from an elderly woman named Libby. Libby had been raised at the camp, was head of camp for a number of years, and taught Bible Study and Devotional at the camp. DM interprets this story as a personal story based on the region of North Carolina that Libby was from. Different from many of Libby’s other stories, DM does not believe this was explicitly religious in theme.

This was a story that was said to be sort of local, in the area where I went to this summer camp. It was said to be from a long, long time ago, but in these same hills. Like, back when white people, I guess, first came to these hills. And it’s a story about this tiny village and there are these two young people – this young couple – that falls in love and decides to get married. The boy was learning new skills and working overtime so he could afford to buy the things, like the wedding dress and buy the food for the feast, and have a pig ready when the time comes, so they could kill it and roast it and give it to everybody. He was making all these preparations to get his own stuff and learn how to build a cabin because their dream was to go off into the woods and go away together and build a cabin in the woods. She was bartering things so she could get the best white wool to spin her dress with and she spent months and months sewing
her dress together so it would be perfect. The day comes and everything goes wonderfully, and they get sent off into the woods and basically pack up their two backpacks worth of belongings and set off into the woods together. Their first night in the woods they’re along and cold but they were together, and they were so, so happy. And he chops up some wood and builds a fire for her as his first gift of their marriage. They sleep next to the fire and the warmth from the fire and the warmth from their love is what kept them warm. So, the next morning, when they got up to leave to go find a place to build their cabin, the husband scooped up all of the live coals and put them in this pot that he was gifted – this cast iron pot. And she carried around the ashes and coals from the fire all day, and then as soon as they got where they were going, he would start a fire with these coals and then would continue on like that. And the story is for five generations somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains this fire has been kept going by their daughters, their daughters’ daughters, their daughters’ daughters’ daughters, and they keep this one fire going with the original coals and ashes from the people who found this new place to settle down.

ANALYSIS: This story uses a common symbol of embers/coals/fire as a representation of love. If the love of the young couple is represented in this way, both the relationship and the fire are undying, resulting in new fires, and generations of children. The couple nurtures the fire together, with the husband building the fire and collecting the coals, and the wife nurturing the coals during the day as they walked. This could be representative of the life they built together, lasting long after they were gone. The foundational fire and foundational love that they had set them up for future success in their posterity and survival of the fire itself.

I Can See Clearly Now

CONTEXT: DM is a current USC student who attended a North Carolina Christian sleep-away camp in the summer of 2011. This is a narrative joke that she heard from the head of camp, Jimbo. She heard this during Jimbo’s “Breakfast Club” during which he talked about God and told jokes. DM interprets this as a joke and a pun.

Alright, so one time there was this kid named Jim who lived in the fine, fine city of
Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was just coming up into high school, and in his
sophomore year of high school he’d just started to get a little bit interested in girls. And
there was this one girl in his English class that he really liked, and her name was
Lorraine. And he thought “oh my gosh, what an interesting name.” She was beautiful,
she had, like, beautiful eyes, beautiful hair, she was smart. They start talking. They
eventually start going on dates, and at first, everything’s awesome. Y’know, they’re
going on dates, hanging out all the time, getting to know each other, and then right
around when he says, “I love you,” world stops. Everything changes. And now, she is all
over him all of the time. She does not get off his case, is blowing up his phone while
he’s in class, while he’s at home, while he’s at work. And, like, he cannot get away from
this girl and it starts driving him crazy to the point where he goes “I think I need to break
up with this girl, but I don’t know how.” Same time, about halfway through his school
year, they get a transfer student from abroad. And she’s from some hippy-dippy
European family, whatever… she shows up in school and says that her name is Clearly,
and instantly AH, by-God, Jim is just struck over with love. He is falling head over heels
in a second, and he has forgotten completely about Lorraine. He is all about Clearly. All
he has to do is do it. So, he decides “What do I have to do? How can I sweeten the
deal? How can I make this go over without her actually killing me?” And he decides
“Alright, I’ll take her to the finest site in the city of Chattanooga – the Chattanooga River.”
Which, if you’re familiar, just is laden with the most beautiful., impressive, walls and
walls of concrete and big steel churning dams, and puffs of black smoke, and trash
floating all down the river in beautiful colorful sequence. And he takes her down to the
river, and he starts going “Well, y’know, I don’t… I don’t… I don’t really know how to say
this but I, um, I’ve been feeling…” and she’s going “yes?” As they’re walking, he sees
something cool in the river and he thinks “oh my god, what a great opportunity to
change the subject, ‘cause I cannot do this right now.” And he points in the water, and
he goes “Look!” And she turns around and leans over and falls into the river. And she
floats away and eventually drowns in the river. How sad. Oh my gosh. And he’s thinking
as he starts to call the police “Oh my gosh my girlfriend just fell in the Chattanooga
River. She’s probably suffocating on some plastic right now. How sad is this.” And then,
a thought crosses his mind, and he starts singing to himself as he walks away down the
river, “I can see Clearly now, Lorraine is gone.” (To the tune of I Can See Clearly Now
by Creedence Clearwater Revival)

ANALYSIS: This is a narrative joke in which the punchline is a play on a popular song from the 1970s. It is a play on words of the concept of seeing visually versus “seeing” someone in a romantic sense. The set up uses the names of two of the characters, Clearly and Lorraine, which doesn’t seem to be important until the punchline. It also relies on the similarity in sound between “Lorraine” and “the rain.” The punchline is sung so that the audience recalls the music it is based on. The joke will only work if the audience is familiar with the song. Knowing the storyteller, it is clear to me which parts of the story were added or embellished based on her personal preferences and style. It is a great example of how details are changed through oral tradition, even when the basic premise of the joke remains the same. It is also interesting that the main character of the joke, Jim, shares a name with the person DM heard the joke from
originally. It is the only character whose name has no bearing on the punchline. I wonder if that character has a different name in other versions of this joke, or if his shared name is a coincidence. It is also a “clean” joke, suitable for an audience of children at a Christian summer camp.

“The Johnson Boys” Campfire Song


KR’s grandfather was a Scoutmaster in Ontario who led Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts on camping trips and also enjoyed going camping with his own family. He remembers this piece as one of the songs his grandfather used to sing around the campfire with them.

Main Piece:

“The Johnson Boys”

Verse 1:  
Oh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill,
Verse 2:
Oohh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill,
Verse 3:
Ooohhhhh, the Johnson boys, the Johnson boys,
They lived on a mill on the side of the hill.

Continue ad infinitum, with the “oh” being drawn out longer with each repetition of the verse.


KR remembers “The Johnson Boys,” as “the song with one hundred thousand verses.” He says it’s, “a fun little song that everyone gets to chime in on,” since the lyrics were easy to remember and stretching out the “oh” always made the kids laugh. This song fulfills the classic roles of a good campfire song: something easy to pick up and remember, but with a fun twist to entertain the children. Since KR’s grandfather was a scout leader, the trips he led were mainly composed of children, it makes sense that he would have a library of these songs that are easily accessible for anyone.

This facet of folk song is interesting to me because while it is folk culture, it is also in some ways an institutionally pushed song. By this I do not mean that it was integrated into standardized education, or utilized by the government/corporations, but it significantly differs from some other children’s songs because it is a song that was taught to children by adults, and generally performed between children and adults. Often, folkloric children’s chants and songs evolve within the young population, perhaps even against the will of the adults surrounding them. But this song, and other campfire songs like it, are more of a bridge between the cultural worlds of the child and the adult leaders. They are neither the children’s song (because the children did not create it or claim it as their own to change and sing on their own) but also not a song for the adults (because the adults sing it primarily for the enjoyment of the children).

One Eyed Willy of Chollas Lake

Context: H is a  23 year old American, born in California and lived there until moving to Denver Colorado for College. After spending nearly five years in Denver he moved to New Mexico where he currently lives and has lived for the past two years. This entry was collected over a Zoom call. 

Intv: “Do you remember any of the tales that came out of the summer camp we went to?”

H: “There was that one, of like One Eyed Willy… I wish I could remember the story better, you might actually be able to help me out a little.” 

Intv: “Hmm wasn’t there like a kid who was fishing or something?”

H: “I thought it had to do with a fish that took the eye of a fisherman? Oh, didn’t it go like The fisherman hooked the fish in the eye, and when the fish started to pull, he wouldn’t let go and got dragged down into the lake? Cause I remember there was that structure out in the lake and we all used to say that’s where the fisherman remained, and we were always told to look out for a fish with one eye when we would fish.” 

Analysis: I can’t say for certain, but I wonder if One Eyed Willy got his name from The Goonies. However, for a kid without any prior knowledge of The Goonies, it so easily became a piece of folklore that many children, myself included, believed. Outside of being a fun ghost story however, it also serves the purpose of informing young campers how to be safe while fishing. To be careful so that One Eyed Willy wouldn’t get you.