Tag Archives: ghost stories

“The Water Fountain Ghost”

Genre: Folk Narrative – Ghost Story

Text:

“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.”

Context:

“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.”

Analysis:

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).

Spirits using Smells to Contact the Living (Memorates)

Text:

Informant 1 (son): “I will have experiences where if I’m at a deep state of indecision I’m or if I’m doing something that may not be right. I can smell [my Nana]. A smell will come to me and it smells like a mix of cigarettes and perfume. And I know that it’s her. Or if like I need to be doing something or calling someone or just doing something I can smell it. And it’s a very distinct smell like nothing I own smells like that.”

Informant 2 (mother): “When my Mom first left, she was a smoker, so I’d be driving, and all of a sudden I could smell smoke in my car. You just kind of know. [My son, Informant 1] snuck out one night and he left and then he called us. He was like: ‘Don’t get mad, I was going to a party but I started smelling smoke in the car, I knew it was Nana so I’m turning around.’”

Collector: “So the spirits can use specific smells? To communicate or make their presence known?”

Informant 2: “Yes. The spirits have to figure out how to get your attention.”

Context:

Both Informants are related. Informant 2 is the mother of Informant 1 (Male, 26 years old). I conducted two separate interviews asking the Informants to share memorates, and both mentioned the ability to smell the deceased. This smell came from the same deceased family member they refer to as Nana (Informant #1’s Grandma and Informant 2’s Mother). 

Analysis:

In both stories, a ghost contacts the living in moments of internal conflict or bad behavior. The Deceased’s unique smell signaled their “spiritual presence” which helped guide the Informants into making the right decisions. Almost like an Angel sent to protect the living from danger. Informant 1’s spiritual encounter while sneaking out reminded me of a quote from Ülo Valk’s article, “Ghostly Possession and Real Estate.” The author writes that perceived interactions with spirits, “are sometimes caused by fears related to the breaking of behavioral norms.” (Valk 34) The son’s conscience knew sneaking out was wrong. When the smell appeared, he perceived the dead as present, the spirit of a family member was watching over his actions. The “fear” of disappointing the dead swayed Informant 1 into “turning around” to obey the “behavioral norms” set forth by his parents.

The Ghost of Lib

Folklore:

“So basically, at our highschool [elite new england boarding prep school) there’s this dorm that is above the library. The library is 3 floors and then the dorm rooms are a floor above that and there are NO ELEVATORS, so everyone has to walk up about a billion stairs to get to their bedrooms. Not only is this dorm, which is colloquially referred to as ‘lib’, is one of the tallest buildings on campus, but is also one of the oldest. Because of that there’s no ac, and since heat rises it gets really hot to the point where they’ll get these giant fans from the gym, or some people will have to sleep in another dorm or the health center during the hottest days of summer. That’s kinda irrelevant to the sorry but i said it to set the stage of how old this dorm is. The pipes creak, the windows barely open, and the doors creak. So its basically just the building being old, however any time anything weird happens, people in the dorm blame it on the ‘lib ghost’. Essentially, there’s this story that there’s a ghost who lives in the lib attic. I think she used to be a student that lived in the dorm but she got so tired of the stairs that she just never came down. So now, anytime things go mysteriously missing, or strange noises late at night, or a light flickering. Or this one dorm door that notoriously opens by itself (probably just a faulty hinge or weird airflow) everyone just says “oh, it’s just the lib ghost.”

Context:

IL is a current college student who attended a boarding prepatory highschool in the late 2010s. She first heard this story from the prefects in her dorm during her sophomore year when complaining about a creaky door that sometimes randomly opens.

Interviewer: “Is the ghost evil? are students scared of it?”

IL: “No, not really. Think kinda like Casper the Friendly Ghost. But honestly not really because it’s not exactly friendly just kinda… ambivalent. Like just sorta coexisting with the students. We don’t bother it, it doesn’t bother us. We just sorta accept and acknowledge that it’s there and go about with our day.”

Analysis:

Ghost stories are a norm when it comes to folklore, particularly in the west. There is a fascination with the unknown, of what happens to the intangible thing we call a soul once we die. It is something that happens to everyone, yet we know so little about it. That, in addition to the American view of time (how it is finite, and we always want more) lends itself to this common acceptance of the supernatural. Additionally, in this instance, students cannot explore many places where the ghost supposedly resides, therefore it creates an enticing mystery ripe for storytelling and myth. That’s where this ghost story was formed, from the unexplainable being blamed on the unknown. We accept anyone as driven as a student would stay after death if their life was cut short, because we understand that time is a precious commodity and conversely know nothing about life when it ends.

Girl Scout Camp ghost story

Text:

“So this is a ghost story that I heard when I was probably ten years old at girl scout summer camp. Basically, there was a little girl who went to the girl scout summer camp, and one night while she was sleeping, she heard a loud bang outside and it woke her up. Then she heard it again, and when nobody else woke up she took her flashlight and went outside to see what the noise was. Now, what she didn’t know was that there was an ax murder who had escaped from jail and had wandered into the same woods the camp was located. While she was wandering around outside, he found her and cut her up and threw her body parts in the lake. Ever since, she’s been stuck here and will try to lure girls out of their cabins at night so the ax murderer can cut them up too. I know it’s kind of dumb, but imagine hearing this when you’re like ten and staying in supposedly the exact cabin the dead girl stayed in. It scared me so bad I refused to go anywhere alone the rest of the week.”

Context:

E is a nineteen year old from Southern California. She, as mentioned above, heard this ghost story while at a weeklong summer camp designed for girl scouts. It was told to her while her bunkmates were telling ghosts stories before going to bed. She retold the story to me over the phone.

Analysis:

This ghost story was specifically generated to scare the audience. It is also important to note that the audience is essential in this narrative. It is a story about a girl scout told to other girl scouts. It would not hold nearly the same impact if it was told in a different location or to a different group of people, especially considering the role those elements play in the story. It is also important to note that no one claims to have seen the ghost, but just that she exists. She is also designed to be the same age and type of girl (a girl scout) as the audience. The performance of the story was strong enough to convince these girl scouts that the ghost was real. This piece of folklore is very contingent on the culture it was created in and is not as impactful outside of that culture. The narrative is also designed specifically to scare the teller’s peers, so it has a hoax-like element to it, told to scare than as a fact or honest belief in ghosts.

Can you get me a glass of water?

Context:

The informant, JB, is my older brother who is twenty-four and currently lives in New York City. We both grew up in a small town in Tennessee surrounded by our close family. The story I interviewed him about is very well known throughout our family and is centered around our grandfather and his supernatural experience in rural Kentucky.

Main Piece:

JB’s summary of the story- Papaw was at a little store/restaurant in Kentucky, and he sat on a stool and ordered a Pepsi at the counter. While the lady was opening his drink an old, straggly looking man with long white hair and a long white beard sat down beside him. He asked papaw to order him a class of water, which he did. The man drank the water and then got up and walked towards the door. As he reached for the door, he looked back at papaw and said something he couldn’t understand. He got to go after the man and see what he said but the mysterious man had disappeared, and no one outside seen him. Three or four years later, in the middle of the night, Papaw was woken up by someone pulling him out of his bed, and I think the first few times he assumed it was Mamaw or mom messing with him. The last time was really aggressive, so he was wide awake and at the foot of his bed was man from that little restaurant with a long white beard and hair. He looked at papaw and said, “I’ll come back one more time, just one more time” then he disappeared; at the time, Mamaw was wake in the living room and didn’t hear or see anything.

Interviewer- Who told you this story for the first time?

JB- Papaw told me when I was younger, but Mamaw and mom referenced the story all the time. Mamaw always that she believed it was true because of how scared papaw was after it happened. She always said it was some kind of angel.

Interviewer- So what was your interpretation of it?

JB- It sounds like some kind of omen, but the time difference is weird since the man came back just a few years later but it’s been at least forty years since it happened. Maybe the 3rd time will be before he dies.

Analysis:

My grandpa’s supernatural encounter can be categorized as a folk legend since he, and the rest of our family considers it to be true. This is my family’s most passed around piece of folklore, so we all develop different interpretations of what this meant.  The way that I interpreted the legend was that of warning, and moral upkeep. Although the story is unique to my grandpa, it contains common motifs of folklore like a figure with a long white beard, the significant group of 3s, and proverbial warnings. Folklorists have consistently found that supernatural legends often develop during times of stress or change as a way to cope. Given my grandfather’s religious background, the man could have represented a pure figure, like an angel, coming to check on the state of his soul. Along with that, the threat of the man coming back at random could act as a deterrent of immoral acts. Although I don’t know if my grandpa was engaging in bad behaviors, it is common for spirits to function as a way to externalize negative feelings, perhaps guilt in this case.