Tag Archives: cemetery

The Whaley House

Context: Z is a 21 year old Filipino American man. Growing up with a close community of Filipino friends and family. Z went to an elementary school within California. This story was collected over a Discord audio call.

Z: “The one that I thought of the other day, which is ‘spooky’ but not really, is The Whaley House. Which is like the only ghost house I know of, like, a unified school district takes everyone in the school district out of class to go visit it for like a week. There’s like a bunch of weird stories, and I don’t know a lot of the history off of the top of my head, but I know there was a family that lived there in the 1800s, and they all had some untimely deaths. Then there was some guy who was hanged who got buried in the graveyard adjacent to it.” 

Intv: “So there were just a ton of stories surrounding the place?”

Z: “Oh yeah, and you know one thing that I think really contributed to that, were the people who would always be walking around in period dress, like era accurate garb to the 1800s and you’d wonder if you saw a ghost. You know, it’s supposedly one of the most haunted houses in America, but I’ve never seen a ghost there, and I don’t know if I really believe in all of it. I think it’s probably just an old house, but it at least made an old house fun.” 

Analysis: I find it very interesting that the Unified School District of San Diego actually pulls  children out of class for a week to go and study the myths of The Whaley House. While some historical activities are present (like children learning how early settlers panned for gold) it really is a week that glorifies to the children of San Diego just how important culturally folklore can be. As Old Town and The Whaley House are two major tourist attractions within an already tourist heavy city. 

Holding Your Breath As You Pass A Cemetery

Main Piece:

Subject: Well. Whenever I pass cemetery, I hold my breath because I don’t want to disrespect the spirits who aren’t as lucky as I am to breathe. Because then they might come and haunt me.

Interviewer: Where did you hear that?

Subject: Um… from my older sister. Yeah you do it because you don’t want to disrespect the ghosts as you pass by. They’ll literally haunt you. Because they’re like, “Fuck you. You can breathe and I can’t.” You’ll piss off the spirits. I also used to think that you could like literally breathe them into your lungs. Like if you inhaled when you went past a cemetery, then they would enter you through your lungs.

Context: The subject is my 17-year-old younger brother in his senior year of high school. He is supposed to attend Yale in Fall of 2020. He is of Ashkenazi Jewish and Russian descent. We have been quarantined together due to the Coronavirus pandemic and staying at our home in Charleston, South Carolina. After dinner, we were sitting in the dark in the living room and I asked him to tell me any folklore he could think of off the top of his head.

Interpretation: I remember being taught this superstition from my older sister as well. It was a very appealing superstition as a kid because it felt like a game. Whenever I would pass a particularly large cemetery, it was a great challenge between my siblings and I of who could hold our breath the longest. Related to this superstition is the act of covering your mouth when we yawn. Breath has always been associated with life and spirit, so it makes perfect sense that breathing when you passed the dead would be offensive. I thought it was interesting how this superstition seems to specifically in the context of driving in a car. It’s not realistic for a person to hold their breath as they walk past a cemetery, so it suggests that this superstition practice is modern. The old version of the superstition seems to go back to The Black Plague, when it was believed that the illness could be transmitted from dead bodies because of people inhaling as they passed by. The “spirit” that possessed people was actually the plague.

Eid and Indonesian Cemeteries

Main Piece (direct transcription):

S: “In Indonesia, When Ramadan, or the thirty days of fasting has past, Eid is the last day.  On Eid, it’s tradition to go to the mosque in the morning, and after the mosque, you go directly to the cemetery where all your relatives are.  Sometimes, in my case, some of my relatives are in different cemeteries so we’ll go to the first cemetery, and then the next.  It’s tradition to go to the cemetery and bring water, food, and flowers.  We bring gallons of water and water bottles, and then we open the water bottle and pour it over the grave to hydrate the dead and feed them since it’s Eid, and it’s the last day of fasting.  We also put the food near the headstones.  The headstones look a little different than traditional American headstones.  Even though it’s important to bring flowers and such on other occasions to the cemetery, it’s especially important to bring these things on Eid after going to the mosque.”

Me: “Can you describe what the headstones look like?”

S: “They’re not very large.  In America, it’s really funny because in cemeteries, the bodies are very spread apart, and very far from each other, but in Indonesia, they’re very, very close together.  What would be two burial sports in America would be around six to eight in Indonesia.  They are VERY close together.”

 

Context: I was skyping my friend S, who is a student at University of Seattle and went to middle and high school with me in Albuquerque.  She is half Indonesian from her mother’s side and grew up with both Muslim and Catholic faith.  I was asking her about her about Indonesian traditions and folklore since she’s visited the country regularly to see her Indonesian family, and I hadn’t really heard anything about Indonesian folklore before.  Since her Muslim faith is closely intertwined with her Indonesian heritage, she told me that she had a lot of traditions and stories that reflected both Indonesia and Muslim faith in her family.

 

My thoughts: I like this piece because it not only gives insight to Muslim faith and their traditions after Ramadan, but also about how Indonesian culture treats life after death, and their loved ones who have passed on.  She told me this through her experience from visiting Indonesia during Ramadan, which I think is really special because she has first-hand experience with this tradition during Eid.  I thought that her description of the cemeteries and the closeness of the graves in Indonesia were helpful to envision what the actual event is like, and she later told me that she thinks it symbolizes the closeness of Indonesian culture, and how Indonesian individuals really like being close to one another, and forming a close community.

The Witch of Yazoo

(Setup)

Storyteller:

“On my dad’s side of the family…he grew up in a town called Yazoo City, Mississippi. And did you ever see a movie called My Dog Skip?

Me: “No”

Storyteller: “Okay, so it’s a movie..based on a book about an author who grew up in the same town as my dad did. A white author who grew up there. And in the movie, they portray this legend which is the Witch of Yazoo. And supposedly, people are like ‘well he invented that for the book.’ On the black side of town…because it is Mississippi so there is still a very distinct black side of town. On the black side of town, the Witch of Yazoo was a preexisting legend. And again, whether it was a story he coopted or whatever, I don’t know. But I know that I heard about this form my aunt and uncle before I ever heard of this author or My Dog Skip or anything.”

(Here is the chunk of the story)

Storyteller: “And so, basically the story is that there was this woman and she was…and I’m going to try to remember it as accurately  as I can. I believe she was having… an affair with a man in town and it was either an affair…or some sort of family drama. I don’t remember specifically that part of it. But she ends up being murdered essentially by the man in her life in a fire. And then they bury her and everyone forgets about it. And then at a certain point fairly soon after…or it may have bene close to the anniversary of the death, half the town burnt down. And everyone was like wtf, like what happened. And her grave had been dug up.”

Me: “Oh My God!”

Storyteller: “And so people were like…’It was her! She came back and she did it’. And of course people were like ‘that’s crazy.’ But also people were like ‘um maybe?’ So they built a chain that goes around her grave that is supposed to keep her inside.”

Me: “Oh My God, that’s terrifying”

Storyteller: “And in the movie, if you see the movie My Dog Skip, it’s like a crypt that’s there…but in the black cemetery there was a grave because we went to see my grandmothers grave and I asked about it and my aunt was like ‘oh girl lemme tell you this story.’ So either there is one for the black side of town…because you know it used to be very segregated. Or it was a thing that happened on the black side of town originally and it just got coopted on the other side of town…I have NO idea. But it is this hilarious thing because it was this chain with GIANT weights and I was like ‘what the hell is that?!’ And yeah, so the inspect the chain…or at least they used to supposedly…they inspect it so she couldn’t come back.”

Me: “So this was true and it became a movie? Or what?”

Storyteller: “The thing is I have no idea…my aunt tells that story as if it is gospel truth right? But then when the movie came out and I looked it up, all this stuff online said it came from the book. But my aunt told me that story without ever having read that book. Because I asked her and she was like ‘what are you talking about?’ And she knew the guy (the author) but she had never read the book. So I don’t…I have no idea if it’s just one of those local stories that people know so he used it in the book or what…But it’s the south and it’s full of ridiculous scary stories. Really I think all these stories are made to just keep us from doing bad stuff or whatever.”

 

Background: The storyteller is form the south and her dad’s side of the family is from the city where this legend takes place. After listening to her other story that she shared with me, it is clear that her family has passed down many stories that are unique to the south. The storyteller is a professional writer and has used some of these stories and filled in the gaps to write short stories upon the narrative.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me three stories…a couple were stories from New Orleans and the other was this one. Both occurring in the south. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is in a different post)

Thoughts:  I think that the stories that come from the south are fascinating. I don’t know what it is that draws me and so many other people to them. Perhaps it’s because the stories are incredibly rich or perhaps it’s the stories’ attention to details that make the stories so real. There are a lot of stories about revenge in the south and once again, I believe that this is the case because there is a lot of unsettled business. There have been a lot of wrong done in the south and the only way for people to cope with what happened may be to create stories that serve a small percentage of justice to those that were killed or unfairly harmed.

 

 

Hold your breath out of respect — Cemetery

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty woman from San Jose, CA. The woman will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “I used to do something as a kid and..haha…I still do it now. Haha I don’t know, I guess it stuck around.”

Collector: “What do you do?”

Informant: “Well, whenever my family and I drove past a cemetery, everyone in the car would hold their breaths.”

Collector: “Because you didn’t want the bad spirits to enter you or something?”

Informant: “No, actually. We would do it because my dad told me once that it was disrespectful to breathe in front of all the people who couldn’t breathe anymore. So we held our breaths.”

Context

            The Informant learned this from her father when she was a child, then she passed it on to her younger siblings. She remembers it clearly because she had actually heard about holding your breath when you pass a cemetery thing from her friend. She started doing it though because of the reason her dad told her they did it. It made more sense for her to hold her breath out of respect rather than out of fear. While she laughs about it being ridiculous now, she still does it if she remembers in time.

Interpretation

            Just like the Informant, I had also already heard of holding your breath when you pass a cemetery. And also like the informant, I thought the reason was to keep bad spirits from entering your body. I was surprised and also interested in hearing there was another reason why other people did it. The idea that people passing any cemetery feel the need to show respect to the graveyard is one that makes me both happy and sad. Happy because I’m glad to hear that people want to be respectful of the dead, but also sad because that respect shows itself in the sort of dark way of holding your breath in solidarity with the dead. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this tidbit of information.