Tag Archives: cautionary tale

Devil in disguise.

C is a 49-year-old Hispanic-African-American female originally from Tucson, Arizona. C is currently a full time homemaker to two daughters in Phoenix, Arizona.

C performed this folklore during a phone conversation. I asked C if she had any folklore she would be willing to share with me.

C: A big dance was happening and a very handsome man came in. All the girls wanted to dance with him. He was the best dancer and girls were fighting over him, and men wanted to fight him because wives and girlfriends were going crazy to be the next dance partner. At midnight while he was dancing both legs turned into rooster legs. It was the devil in disguise.

Reflection: I wish I was able to get more context about this folklore from C, but there is enough content in the story to make some base assumptions. In my opinion, the story seems like a reverse version of the beauty and the beast template. Instead of a beast hiding a handsome man within, a handsome man is hiding a beast within. With this in mind, the legend could be a cautionary tale that not everyone is who they appear to be. This would make sense within the context of C’s Hispanic heritage given that courtship is taken very seriously in Hispanic culture, and potential suiters are must be carefully evaluated beyond outward appearances before they are allowed to marry.

The Boojum

BACKGROUND: My informant, ES, was born in the US. Her parents are mostly Irish and her mom is part-Cuban. ES has worked as a camp counselor for a few years now. This piece is a bit of folklore from her specific camp, told to her by past camp counselors. It is encouraged for the counselors to share the story with the campers and is considered an essential part of the unofficial camp history.

CONTEXT: This piece was brought to my attention through a casual conversation with my friend who is currently a camp counselor at a camp in North Carolina.

ES: So Camp Henry in like 1800 was this thing called Sunburst. And it was like a timber yard, like a whole like huge business. And, um, there’s this woman who lived there named Annie (mumbles) Annie went missing and it was believed that she was taken by this man called the Boojum.

Me: Who’s that?

ES: Boojum wasn’t really a man. He was like this old decrepit, uh, human, like person. [Had a] huge beard and the tail of a cat. (laughs) Um, he lived up in the woods by camp or by Sunburst and, um, he would collect gems, diamonds and whatever was in the river from all of the timber stuff, I guess. So, um, basically when Annie went missing there, her family was certain that the Boojum took her. But the Boojum was very — no one knew where his cave was and some people didn’t believe he was real.

Me: Do you?

ES: (laughs) Apparently if you walk along the river at night, you can hear yells like “Annie where are you?” Oh! And apparently the Boojum was in love with Annie. That’s also an important piece of information. (laughs) I’m telling this very poorly. 

Me: (laughs) No, you’re good, you’re good!

ES: But the main parts are: Annie is missing, her (ghost?) family yells “Annie where are you?”, and the Boojum’s in love with her and collected like gems and diamonds. And she was one of his “diamonds”. So now allegedly the Boojum is still there. He just like chills out. Sometimes the kids see him. Um, we have like our hangout spot for the, for our counselors is also called the Boojum. Um, and it also means vagina. I think, like, the counselors use that as like the, um, code word.

Me: (laughs) Wait really? What?

ES: Yeah, he’s not like a scary guy. He’s actually kind of nice.

THOUGHTS: I think it’s interesting that almost every camp I’ve visited or talked about with friends has some version of a “camper kidnapped story” in order to keep current campers in check. In most cases, it’s a way to keep campers from wandering off the site, staying on the trail, or not tampering with potentially dangerous areas. But something that struck me about this story is that the Boojum isn’t necessarily a scary creature or something to be feared. The way ES presents him is as a mostly harmless resident of the camp.

Wilhelmina Von Ark

BACKGROUND: My informant, DT, is a student from the US. Her parents are part Irish but also born and raised in the US. This piece is something that she learned from her grandparents — a cautionary tale of sorts to stop her from eating the mushrooms around her grandparent’s house. 

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend to discuss a story she heard from her grandparents.

DT: Ok so there was the story of Wilhelmina Von Ark who was like this little girl who used to live in my grandparent’s house. My grandparents live really close to the woods and the legend is that she went into the woods by herself and got lost. Lost and hungry, she accidentally ate a poisonous mushroom and died. So every time we [her brother and her] went over to their house our grandparents were like “Don’t eat the mushrooms you remember Wilhelmina!” 

Me: Wilhelmina feels like a strong name. Is that from somewhere?

DT: I always thought this was like a story everyone knew, like, but apparently it’s just a true story of the girl who used to live in that house.

THOUGHTS: It’s hard to tell whether this story legitimately chronicles the unfortunate life of a little girl that dies of mushroom poisoning or whether this is a fictional story made with the purpose of curbing DT from the woods. Regardless, I think it’s important to note that the story still did two significant things. (1) Whether or not it’s true, it still did its purpose of stooping DT from eating random mushrooms from the woods, and (2) DT believed (and still believes) it, so to her, it’s still 100% authentic.

“The Tale of Heungbu and Nolbu,” Korean Tale

Main Piece: “Once upon a time, there were two brothers named Heungbu and Nolbu. Nolbu, the older of the two, was a greedy man and after their father died he got the heritage and family fortune. Huengbu, who was at this point dirt poor, received little to nothing from the family heritage. Nolbu lived in a fancy house, that was made of a brick roof and his house was safe from wind and rain, but Huengbu lived in a house under reed. One day, a bird flew to the younger brother’s house and it crashed into the ground breaking its leg. Heungbu felt bad for the bird and so he took it upon himself to treat it nicely, feed it, and nurture it, even though he had little to no food for his own family.The bird eventually healed from its wound, and when it was ready to leave it gave Heungbu a seed of a plant. When he planted this seed and watered it, a month later gold began growing out of the plant. This plant provided for Heungbu and his family, and he was able to sustain a better life due to the plant and the kindness of the bird. Word spread of this to Nolbu and when he heard about the brother’s plant he got jealous, and sought to seek this out for himself. After a few days, Nolbu found the same bird that Heungbu had nurtured back to health, and when he got a hold of the bird he broke its leg. He then proceeded to heal the bird, like the younger brother, giving the bird food and treating to the wound. When the bird was healed, it too gave Nolbu a seed, and left. While Nolbu was excited that he had been given the famous seed, when he planted it and watered it the plant did not provide gold like it did for Heungbu, From that seed came a bunch of ghosts and other bad spirits to destroy his house and wealth. Heungbu was then left with nothing as everything he owned had been taken away by the bad spirits.”


Background: MP is from South Korea, and he says that he heard this story from his parents when he was growing up. He mentioned that it had a very special place in his heart as it was a tale that he found particularly interesting. Additionally he goes on to explain that one of the main reasons he likes this story so much is that he finds the message to be very relevant to his culture and his values. He interprets this story as being a commentary on having a good heart, and a good mindset for the actions that you take. “its not always about doing a good deed, it’s about the spirit. It’s why you do it, and the people who have a good spirit will eventually come out on top at the end.”


Context of Performance: MP performed this story for me at my apartment, while we were discussing each other’s different cultures and the stories that are most common to our respective families.


Analysis: I find this piece to be very indicative of the cultural values from South Korea. In talking with MP, he mentioned that honor and having an honorable heart of of the utmost importance. This tale seems to perfectly explore that very theme, as it shows the benefits for the poor brother when he acts out of kindness even though he has nothing. And likewise I believe this piece is also warning of the consequences for doing things for the wrong reasons, and being greedy. Because while both brothers technically did the same thing for the bird, the greedy brother’s intentions were for personal gain and personal gain alone. He did not care for the bird, and even went so far as to harm the creature so as to be able to heal it. These values are somewhat similar in America, so it is interesting to see how well this story crosses over from one culture to mine. In America we put a lot of emphasis on honor and doing the right thing, however I would say we don’t always condemn greed and attempting to pursue wealth. In fact, because American culture is so capitalistic it could even be argued that there is potential for greed to be a unwanted consequence of the very American desire to “obtain wealth and power.”

Scary story

“When I was in Elementary school there was this weird scary story, well it scared me to death at the time. This one girl, Samantha told me her babysitter told it to her.

This one girls parents left her home for a night, home alone and when the girl went to bed she felt her dog licking her hand and then heard dripping in the bathroom. Um and then she went into the bathroom and saw that her dog was dead in the bathroom with blood dripping. That was the dripping. And then she went back to her room and there was a man in there that killed her.

Samantha told everybody in our class this story, at least all the girls. She was a few years older than us so she seemed really cool and we believed her. ”

So about how old were you?
“I would say like second grade so seven or eight.”

For how long did this story scary you?

“It scared me for awhile. I would say, I asked my mom about the story and she said she had heard it too. So i stopped being so scared by it because I realized it was fake. But now I don’t know if she said that because it was true or she was just trying to make me feel better.”

Did it change any of your behavior, after hearing it?

“Not really. It just made me more cautious at night. I didn’t want to walk my house at night by myself. But I got over that.”

So this story wasn’t popular amongst the boys?

“No, it was definitely just the girls.”


The informant has provided a cautionary tale warning against children being (left) home alone. It is interesting that the informant noted that the story was directed towards the girls and not boys, even before I inquired again about it. The story warns against young females about being alone and not young boys. It could be said that females are more physically vulnerable than males. Also, girls especially young ones are more often victims of abuse and assault than their male counterparts. I also found it interesting that there is no implications that the girl in the story put herself in the position of being home alone so she is not directly responsible for the repercussions. I’m assuming since the original source of this story was a babysitter, her intention was to reinforce the important of her presence while the girls parents were away. Most elementary school kids perceive themselves to be older than they are and without need of adult supervision so this tale serves as a violent reminder that they still need to be taken care of and protected.