Tag Archives: ghosts

Burmese Ghost Story – Memorate


In Burmese culture, people become spirits for a short time after they die. After someone dies, their loved ones will permit their spirit to occupy the house for seven days, after which they must be sent away by a Buddhist priest. My mother grew up in Burma (now Myanmar) and her family abided by this tradition. One of my mother’s aunts died when she was young – she was around 10-12 years old and living in Malaysia at the time. When it was time for the priest to send the spirit of her aunt away, my mom’s mother (my grandma) suddenly flew out of the chair she was sitting in, flew across the room near the priest and spoke with her dead sister’s voice. The priest confirmed that it was not my grandmother, and had a short conversation with my grandmother’s sister. She bid farewell to everyone, and my grandma was exhausted and didn’t remember much about the experience afterwards. My grandma classifies herself as “lait pya”, or susceptible to being possessed. A very similar possession happened much later in her life, after she and the rest of my mother’s family immigrated to the United States. Another of my mother’s aunts passed away and after seven days a Buddhist priest was summoned to send her spirit away. This time, my possessed grandmother’s voice was only gargling sounds; the aunt that passed away died from laryngeal cancer and had a tracheostomy – she wasn’t able to speak but she was able to make that noise.


My mother was actually present at this event, although she did also hear other similar stories from my grandmother herself. She feels forced to believe in the spirits because of how many examples there are and because she actually witnessed a few instances of possession. She still isn’t sure if she believes in any sort of afterlife, but she was upset that her parents didn’t possess anyone or try to contact her after their deaths. 


In Burmese culture, spirits are seen as a much more natural phenomena than in Western or American culture, where we treat them as anomalies (ghosts). Most don’t think much of them – they believe they exist and stay around the house for a week after a death. How could they not? This story confirms that belief, and there’s just too much evidence and too many witnesses to call it something else. Therefore, the story’s purpose is to assure Burmese family members that this phenomenon does exist. It’s just one of many spirit or ghost stories that all work together to provide logical proof for a cultural belief. 

The Green Hand: A Family’s Traditional Ghost Story

The informant heard this ghost story from his grandfather. The narrative is told each time the family visits their grandparents on a ranch in Wyoming during campfire night. It is a story that caused sleepless night for the young grandchildren, but as they grew up they came to appreciate the humor and entertainment value of the story as well, such as the chosen name of “Beaver Dick” and the occasional history lesson the ever-changing story included. Now, the story is told to entertain family events and to reminisce on family get-togethers and childhood memories. The story generally brings about positive nostalgic feelings and familial memories.

Here is the story as told: “There was two beaver hunters named Beaver Dick and Buffalo Bill. They used to go out all the time together to go hunt beavers to sell their skins and they did it all the time until one night they are camping out and they had a little too much to drink and they got in a big fight and during that big fight Beaver Dick decided to pull out his giant machete that he uses to kill the beavers and he grabs Buffalo Bill by the arm and chops his arms off but not Buffalo Bill is super mad at him so he tries to kill him but in the process, Beaver Dick kills Buffalo Bill. But now Beaver Dick doesn’t know what to do with Buffalo Bill, so he throws his body into the river – yes that river right next to the house – but he forgets to throw his hand in the river too. That night, he sleeps, and the next morning he packs out and takes all their skins and goes to another place to hunt more beavers. He has a pretty good day that day and catches a lot of beavers. He decides to camp out by that lake, and has a good dinner and a nice fire and goes to bed. But then, all of a sudden, in the middle of the night, he wakes up and hears scratching on his tent door (makes scratching noises by dragging nails on the chair he sits on). He thinks it might just be an animal, like a small squirrel or something, so he goes back in his tent and goes back to bed. But he hears it again (makes scratching noises again) and decides to go out and check out whatever it is. So he goes out and lights a gas lamp or oil lamp and shines it around, but doesn’t see anything. He goes back to the tent and tries to go to bed, but he hears something in his tent. He thinks it’s a squirrel or something that got in his tent, so he turns over to try to catch it and throw it out of his tent. But there he sees a green, rotten hand! The Green Hand jumps on top of him! Ahhh! The hand strangles him! (Makes strangled screaming noises) and strangles him and strangles him and strangles him until he dies!”

Campfire stories are told to cultivate community through group entertainment, which happens in this family context as well. The grandchild says that he and his family now reminisce on these story-time fires as good memories, which demonstrates that the community was strengthened through the telling of this story. Why it was a ghost story and not some other story is likely due to entertainment value for the adults of telling scary stories and seeing the kids believe their fearsome legends. Fear brings people closer together as well, so that is a reason to (slightly) scare the children perhaps. This culture clearly values family bonding as they get together to tell stories around a fire each year, which is more often than most American extended families see each other. The culture also clearly finds a sort of fantasy and entertainment in the stories of the American Frontier as that is where the story is based: old beaver trappers in the newfound West.

The Lost Dutchman

‘ This story is a true folklore story, at least for Arizona, and like all folklore, at least I believe, it has molded and changed over generations. This is the permutation that I learned and now recall… which is certainly probably not even close to the original form of this tale. In Arizona, back in the mid-1800s, there was a miner, a gold miner. This takes place in an area called the Superstition Mountains, directly east of Phoenix. Beautiful red rocks with huge buttress cliffs. On the north side, there is a place called Weaver’s needle which is a huge spike of sandstone sticking out of the desert. When the Apache’s lived in this area, there was a Dutchman and his partner… he was German and not Dutch, but back then everyone referred to Germans as Dutchmen. The Dutchman was portrayed as being an old, grizzled man with a long beard and a mule or donkey with saddle bags and a pickaxe. They were out prospecting for gold, and the Apache were living in this area. The Dutchman and his partner had gone into this area that the Apache considered sacred… a sacred burial and hunting ground. No one was supposed to go in there, but the Dutchman and his partner did. They found gold and created a gold mine. At one point, he and his partner brought out a few of the gold nuggets to have them assayed and confirmed that it was real gold, not fool’s gold. It turned out to be 100% 24 carat gold… so they went back to the mine and began mining out all of the gold. They buried the treasure nearby and took as much as they could. The legend has it that the Apache found out about this and killed the Dutchman and his partner for invading their sacred lands. The Dutchman and his partner never told anyone where this mine was, and awhile later, the remains of the Dutchman was found, but never of his partner… The idea was where was the mine? So, legend has it that the mine was found within the shadows of weaver’s needle. We don’t know if its morning shadows, evening, afternoon… For many years, people would go searching for the gold mine and treasure, and often when the prospectors got close to finding this mine, they mysteriously disappeared. The Apache would tell no one what truly happened… that they know nothing about this… but hundreds of people went missing. The legend goes that the ghosts of the Dutchman and his partner would kill and hide the prospectors when they got close to the gold.’ – PB

When PB was growing up, him, his brother, and his dad would go hiking and camping all around the Superstition Mountains in Arizona. His dad would tell them stories about the lost Dutchman… PB recalls that he cannot remember if they were the stories his dad learned growing up, or perhaps they got mixed up with stories he had mixed ups from the tales told during campfire nights with the scouts. PB’s dad would tell him this story whenever they would go camping in the shadows of Weaver’s Needle, and of course PB would get up to go look around for the gold mine. He grew up learning about this legend, and everyone in his scout group did too. He would often tell and recount these tales on hikes and around the campfires with his friends while being at the Superstition mountains.

While I have been to the Superstition Mountains many time growing up, I had never heard this legend before, but I knew of many ghost stories surrounding the history of the Native American peoples who lived in this area of Arizona. This piece of folklore fits well into the oral tradition that much of folklore embodies. This tale has been passed down throughout diverse communities for over a century. It combines cultural beliefs and important historical characteristics allowing for the imagination of story tellers to further spread and most definitely adapt this tale, as PB recalled his version is most likely very different from the one he heard decades ago, and especially from the original narrative. This legend also uses the supernatural to provide moral understandings for the disappearances of many and the cultural significance of the land. This piece of folklore has been an integral part of the folklore surrounding this part of Arizona, and the seemingly well-named Superstition Mountains. It is a tale I will now pass through to my peers and family when going back to visit this beautiful desert.

“Johnny, I want my liver back…”

Genre: Folk Narrative – Ghost Story


One day a boy named Johnny is told by his mother to go to the butcher’s to get some liver for dinner. He takes the five dollars she gives him and heads off toward town, taking a shortcut through the local cemetery. When he gets to the butcher’s shop, Johnny is distracted by a stand of comic books, where the newest edition of his favorite series is on sale for only five dollars. Without thinking, he immediately buys the comic book and begins to read it, losing track of time until the sun begins to set.

Jonny realizes he’s made a mistake: he now has no money to buy the liver for dinner, and his mother is going to be furious that he spent it on a comic book! He has no choice but to hurry home, cutting again through the graveyard. But on his way home, just as he passes a freshly-dug grave, Johnny has an idea – a way to get a liver for free.

“What kind of liver is this?” his mother asks when he gets home and gives her the liver. “It looks old… you’re sure you asked for the freshest cut?”

Johnny tells her that he’s sure it’s fresh and it’s what the butcher gave him. Johnny’s mother finally accepts the liver and tells him to wait upstairs while she makes his favorite meal for dinner: spaghetti and liver.

While Johnny is waiting in his room, he begins to feel sick, thinking about the graveyard, the fresh grave, and the liver currently being prepared into spaghetti. When his mother calls him down for dinner, Johnny feels too sick to eat and tries to just go to sleep.

But late that night, once his mother has gone to bed, Johnny hears a low call…

Johnny, I want my liver back…

Johnny sits up straight in bed. The call sounds like it’s coming from the direction of the graveyard. He feels even more sick now and hides under his covers, but then he hears a thudding on the front door…

Johnny, I want my liver back… I’m outside your front door…

Johnny is crying now in fear, desperately wishing he hadn’t spent his five dollars on a comic book and instead had gone to the butcher’s.

He hears the front door creak open and then slow footsteps coming up the stairs, getting closer… and closer… and closer… Then there’s a rattling on his bedroom door.

Johnny, I want my liver back… I’m outside your bedroom…

Johnny runs to his closet and shuts the door, trying to hide but knowing it is too late. There is a sudden pounding on his closet door…

Johnny, I want my liver back… I’m inside your bedroom…

Johnny holds his breath. The closet door creaks open… and then…

AHHH! (the narrator screams)


“I grew up going to a summer camp near Lassen National Park and the camp led day trips through a bunch of subway tunnels. The tunnels were dark and cold and eventually led to a larger opening, where all the campers would gather in a circle and turn off their flashlights while the counselors told a ghost story. It was tradition to tell this story and the younger campers would always get scared, but it became a part of the camp’s culture. The story didn’t have an exact narrative ending, but it ended with the counselors suddenly turning on their flashlights and jumping at the campers while their screams echoed through the subway caves.”


This story has a pretty clear message to the listeners, who are primarily children: that dishonesty will only get you in more trouble and to follow directions. If Johnny had listened to his mother’s directions and spent his five dollars on the liver, nothing bad would have happened. But because he wanted to cover up his mistake of spending the money on a comic book, he ended up getting an old liver from a fresh body in the local graveyard and his actions came back to haunt him.

I also see this experience as a whole as a “rite of passage” for the participants in the summer camp described by the informant. Young listeners who are hearing the story for the first time will be hanging onto every word and will therefore receive the most shock at the end, when the counselors scare the campers. In contrast, campers who have heard the story before will know what to expect and may even join in on scaring the younger campers. The shared experience of anticipation, fright, and eventual laughter likely creates a sense of bonding/community within the group of listeners.

“The Yellow Ribbon”

Genre: Folk Narrative – Ghost Story


A man named Johnny was going out for coffee one day when he saw the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. He introduced himself to the woman, whose name was Jane, and the two of them began to fall in love. Everything about Jane was perfect, but there was one thing that confused Johnny: every single day, Jane wore a yellow ribbon around her neck.

“Do you ever take it off?” Johnny finally asked her after a month of dating. Jane told him that she never takes it off, even to sleep, and that he should never untie it. But even though Johnny pushed and pushed, she would never tell him why.

“One day, I’ll tell you,” Jane would always say whenever he asked.

The years went by and Johnny and Jane fell deeper in love and eventually, Johnny proposed to her. Yet every day, Jane still wore the same yellow ribbon around her neck.

The night before their wedding, Johnny finally had enough. He decided he absolutely needed to see what was under that ribbon, that he couldn’t wait a single day longer.

That night, Johnny waited for Jane to fall asleep. When he was certain she was sound asleep, he reached over to her neck and gently tugged on the end of the ribbon to untie it…

But when Johnny pulled the ribbon undone, he realized why exactly Jane had worn it every single day: because without the ribbon to hold it in place, her head rolled right off her neck and onto the floor, where Jane’s eyes slowly opened.

“Oh Johnny,” she said, even though her severed head was now a few feet away from her body. “I told you not to untie the ribbon.”


“I first heard this story from my older brother when I was growing up, but I heard it a few times throughout my childhood at places like childcare centers and in elementary school. I think it’s a pretty common ghost story among kids. I always thought it was creepy to think about a woman’s head being held onto her body by only a ribbon, and for a while, I was scared of anyone I saw wearing a ribbon or a thick choker around their neck.”


The theme of this story seems to be trust within a relationship: Jane withheld a secret from Johnny – the only apparent “fault” about her. But Johnny could not trust her enough to live without knowing what the secret was, and it was his scheming/distrustful nature that led to him trying to discover the answer on his own and accidentally revealing that Jane’s neck was severed. The implication of this happening the night before their wedding suggests that a lack of trust within a couple is potentially ruinous to a marriage. However, another possible interpretation is to take the opposite stance: that it is withholding secrets from one’s partner that destroys a marriage, and that the skeletons of one’s past will always end up being revealed.