Tag Archives: campfire story

The Golden Arm – Campfire Story

Context:

I called informant RM on the phone to ask if they could remember and retell any of the campfire stories they used to tell. RM remembered this one in particular because they could almost guarantee to get a scare out of at least one of their listeners.

For context, this story was usually told to a group of younger (around 7-11 years old) kids at night time either around a campfire or right before bedtime. When RM would tell this story they were sure to speak slowly and softly creating sustained suspense while enticing listeners to lean in closer.


Text:

The story is as follows:

“There was a farmer that lived out in the sticks and his wife lost her arm while working. The family was very poor, but she always wanted a golden arm so one day they got her a golden arm. As time went on, she died and the family buried her. Her two sons were having money problems so they went and dug her up but the golden arm was not there – one of the other ones had stolen it earlier. She was laying there in the coffin and then she set up and said ‘Who’s got my golden arm? Who’s got my golden arm?'”


At this point, the story is over and RM (the storyteller) would abruptly jump up and grab the arm of one of the kids who was leaning in to listen and scream, “YOU GOT IT!” RM reccounts many times where both the grabbed and ungrabbed listeners would jump with fright at this moment.

As RM finished retelling this story to the best of their memory, they laughed as they thought back to all of the times they tricked listeners with the same story.


Analysis:

As a campfire story, the story of The Golden Arm would not appear to carry any kind of meaning or moral. Its primary function is to simply entertain and scare listeners making for a enjoyable and memorable experience. While on its surface, this story might not seem to have any other significance, I am inclined to think that the artful performance of this story actually speaks to the relationship that is shared between the teller and its listeners. Since this story requires patience from both the listener and the teller and (ideally) culminates in a jump scare, I believe that this story would only be shared with listeners who the teller feels comfortable scaring. If there were no relationship between these parties, the teller could end up scaring the listener for good and lose their trust. The Golden Arm only works when trust is shared between its teller and its listeners. If this assumption is true, then perhaps The Golden Arm and other similar campfire stories might actually reveal more about the listener/teller and the relationships between them than initially meets the eye.

Campfire story-The Ghost With One Black Eye

Background: My informant grew up in a small town in Michigan in the 70s. Growing up, her friends would often sit around bonfires and tell stories. She tells me this is one of her favorite campfire jokes because you think it’s going to be a scary story, but it actually turns out to be a joke, which usually makes it funnier because people are expecting to be scared.  She tells me the joke is told at the campfire as if it’s something that happened to you at a different campfire. We sit in her living room as she tells me the story.

Main text:

“So we were all sitting around the fire, just like this”

She motions to the campfire we were pretending was in between us 

“And suddenly we all heard ‘I am the ghost with one. Black. Eye’”

She uses a deep ghostly voice for the part of the ghost

“Everyone looked around in shock like ‘what?! What was that?!’”

She says this part in a hushed tone

“Then we heard it again ‘I am the ghost with one. Black. Eye’ only this time it was louder”

She continues to speak in a hushed tone except when she does the ghost’s voice

“And then it gets closer, ‘I am the ghost with one. Black. Eye!’  by now everyone is shivering”

She makes a shivering sound

“Closer and closer, louder and louder, we kept hearing it. ‘I am the ghost with one. black . eye! I AM THE GHOST WITH ONE. BLACK. EYE’”

She gets louder

“And all of a sudden it’s right behind us  ‘I AM THE GHOST WITH ONE. BLACK. EYE!’ and I stood up and I shouted ‘IF YOU DON’T SHUT UP YOU’RE GOING TO BE THE GHOST WITH TWO BLACK EYES!’”

She starts laughing 

Analysis: As she was telling me this joke, I could tell it was important to her. She would smile to herself in the middle of sentences as if she was reliving her childhood sitting around campfires. While I did find the joke to be funny, I agree with her that part of the reason the punchline is so impactful is that you get caught up in the fear of there being a ghost that you aren’t expecting it to turn out to be a big joke. Sitting around a fire at night would have made it more impactful than sitting in her living room, but nonetheless the voices she used for the characters and the intensity in telling the story made it a very successful joke.

Taily Poo

Context:

The informant – BL – is a 20-year-old white male, born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He spent a lot of time hiking and camping in the mountain ranges near Seattle, and, therefore, had a few campfire stories to share. He shared this story with me in a fairly typical storytelling context – outside, alone at night, after I had asked him if he knew any scary stories.

Piece:

BL: This is the story of the Taily Poo. Once, there was a hunter who lived in the forest with his three dogs. Every other day, he would go out to hunt small game. Just rabbits and squirrels… the occasional deer if he stumbled upon it. And one week, he went out and didn’t get anything. And went out the next day, hoping he would get something, but still…nothing. He didn’t see a single lick of an animal. Um.

The following day, he went out, and he brought all three of his dogs, and he saw a squirrel hiding up in a tree. So he shot it down, blew its head right off. The dogs went and picked it up, but something else caught his eye… to his right. A large shape in a tree that he thought might be a panther… but… it couldn’t be a panther? Right? Panthers don’t exist in… Northern America. Um. He thought maybe a cougar. Either way, he was hungry, and he needed some big meat… (long pause, and some snickering).

So he pointed his gun at the animal… and shot it. And he heard a bloodcurdling yowl, and saw something fall off the tree, and the animal jumped into the night. He went to go look what fell out… off… and it was a tail. A long black tail with coarse hair, but still a fair amount of meat on it. So he decided to take it home and cook it up, – maybe put it in a stew.

So he goes home with his dogs, cooks it up. He and the three dogs eat their meal and then go to bed. Um. He wakes up in the middle of the night to some scratching sound. Um. And it’s pitch black, but he looks at the foot of his bed and sees two bright yellow eyes.

(In a harsh whispering voice) “Give it back… Give me back my taily poo.”

The man is petrified. “I’m sorry, what?” he says. (we both laugh)

“Give me back my taily poo.”

The man, realizing that this must be the creature who’s tail he shot off in the forest, pushes the dogs off the bed towards the creature, and they chase it off into the night. He waits for them to return, but when they come back, only two remain. He goes back to sleep. He wakes up later that night, in the early hours of the morning, maybe 1am… to see the same pair of bright yellow eyes, next to his bed this time. Scratching at the side of it with its claws.

“Give me back my taily poo.” Very startled, uh, the man sicks his dogs on the creature, chasing it away into the night. He waits for their return, but only one comes back.

It’s morning now, and he goes out to look for his two other dogs. He calls their names, but no response. He goes and looks for them, but is afraid of getting completely lost in the forest, and so, by sunset, he gives up hope, realizing the creature must have killed them. So he goes to bed that night, hungry, because the forest is bare. Um. Uhhh. Then he wakes up in the middle of the night to a ripping sound. (BL poorly imitates a ripping sound and we both laugh). He jumps awake, thinking it must be the creature, and he’s right. At the foot of his bed… No… revise, revise. On his bed, the creature is pawing and clawing his sheets, ripping them to shreds. It’s yellow eyes gleam in the pure darkness.

“Give it back! Give me back my taily poo!” The man sicks his last dog on the creature, which chases it outside the house. Only a few moments later, to hear a heartbreaking cry, which he only assumes can come from the dog. Now, shaking in fear in his own bed, in the pure darkness, he hears something walking up to his bed. Two yellow eyes peek over the bedframe. And that was the last we only heard of that man…

(We both laugh).

BL: That was terrible…

Me: That’s just how it ends?

BL: Alright…um. When his friends went to go look for him, because they hadn’t heard from him in days, when they show up at his house… his house was no longer there. The only thing that remained… was the chimney.

Analysis:

I think, for the most part, this story is just an entertaining campfire story, relying on the performer’s dramatic performance determine how well it’s received. BL here clearly did not remember the tale too vividly, as he paused with many “ums” and “uhs” to recall what happens next. Though the story is likely mainly for mere entertainment, it does have anti-hunting connotations, with the hunted returning for vengeance on the hunter, which is a common archetype in tales and stories. Also, the creature killing the hunter’s pets creates an interesting comparison between animals that we hunt and animals that we keep as pets. Stories like this often help us cope with the fact that we hunt and eat animals, as we soothe the moral complexity of the issue with stories of the hunted animals enacting vengeance on us.

Backseat Butcher Horror Story

Informant:

J, a 22-year-old, Caucasian male who grew up in San Francisco, California until he turned 16. He now lives in Boise, Idaho. He spent his summers at summer camp with his friends.

Background info:

During summer camps, counselors and children would sit around a fire-pit at night and tell stories. While some of these were positive, most of them would be told with the aim of scaring people. This is one of the stories told to Jacob during one of these sessions.

Context:

This was told among a group of friends sitting in a circle around a fire-pit late at night, slightly intoxicated, telling each other their favorite scary stories they heard as children.

Main piece:

“A young woman spent the night out on the town. As she decides to come home, she takes the back-roads to avoid having to stop at lights. That, and she can speed a bit haha…. It’s quite a far drive in the dark, so she decides to listen to music on the radio to stay awake. A few minutes into her drive, she notices a large truck driving up behind her. She slows down to let them pass, but the truck just drives directly behind, matching her speed…Nobody else is on the road and the truck flashes its high beams. No matter how fast she drives, or which turns she takes, the truck stays right behind her. Terrified, she speeds home and pulls into the driveway. The truck is still there… She considers locking her doors but opts to get out and run to her house. She opens her car door and starts to run. The driver gets out of his truck, as well, and aims a gun. Time seems to stop… She can feel her heart beating… *Thump*… *Thump*… *Thump*… Silence… *Bang*… The shot echoes in her ears as she looks down at her chest to inspect the wound. As her ears stop ringing, she hears a thud as a body falls out of her car, a butcher’s knife in hand…”

Thoughts:

Having someone follow you is a common trope in folklore that invokes fear in everyone. It rattles your nerves and using it in this story subverts expectations. The final part of the story utilized a lot of sound effects to make the listeners feel calm, despite being the crux of scariness. The ambiance of the environment in which it was told played into it with the cold, quiet, dark night with the flames casting shadows around us. It was obvious that some of the people in the circle were nervous of the shadows, thinking someone was behind them. It was interesting to hear that this was a campfire story told during summer camps due to it being set more in a cityscape. However, I think it works well in that setting because often back-roads had to be taken to get to/from the camps. There are many stories in which events happen in sets of three. This story utilizes it for the sound of the woman’s heartbeat. The sound effects that J used during the story really made it come alive, which is why I believe most recounts of live stories like this do not capture the actual experience of the story.

Camp Seven Hills Serial Killer

Abstract:

This piece is about a legendary serial killer that roams the woods near Camp Seven Hills in New York.

Main Piece:

“Informant: So I spent a lot of summers at a Girl Scout camp called Camp Seven Hills. And of course there were a lot of ghost stories around the fire, but every year they would tell a ghost story about a man who had wandered off from one of the neighbor farms, like right next to the camp, and wandered into the woods one night. Like a really creepy, scary, serial killer kind of man. And his favorite thing to do was to catch little girls, little Girl Scouts and kidnap and murder them. So the whole thing was never wander into the woods at night alone. They would tell this story every year.

Me: Where was this camp?

Informant: Camp Seven Hills in Western New York. I think it was to make sure we didn’t go off on our own, but it like totally freaked us all out every year.”

Context:

The subject is an adult woman who remembers her time as a child in the 1970s going to Girl Scout summer camp. She grew up in Buffalo New York and was an avid member of the Girl Scouts growing up. Camp Seven Hills is located in Erie County, New York and still functions as a Girl Scout camp today.

Interpretation:

I wonder if this legend of this Camp Seven Hills serial killer still exists today or if it has vanished from the folklore of this camp. Since this comes from the childhood of an adult, it would be interesting to compare the stories told to the young girls at this camp today and see if they are similar or very different. I think the informant was correct about the meaning behind this legend, that it would prevent girls from wandering around the woods alone or at night. Stories like this are terrifying for young girls and since it was localized to a nearby farm as the origin, it would make it more believable as well.