Tag Archives: homeless

Topanga’s Dog Eaters

JC is a university student who grew up in Topanga Canyon, a town in the mountains of LA. His mom works for the local animal rescue and knows a lot of people in the town. 

JC- So, growing up in Topanga Canyon, there was this story that the old timers used to always tell us about, which was that there was this group of unhoused people who were all meth addicts and lived under this bridge in Topanga in a big encampment. The story went that they would steal people’s dogs and eat them, so there was a superstition about not walking your dogs in this one specific area of town, lest they get eaten by the meth addicts. I grew up believing this my whole life, and it didn’t occur to me til I was older that this story probably wasn’t true, but I like to believe that they are still up there eating dogs

Me- Do you have any clue how this story originated?

JC- Given Topanga’s nature, It’s likely that someone just made it up so people would keep their dogs on leashes and not let them run around, um, it’s also possible that the legend started because it was real. My mom claims to know people whose dogs have been stolen and eaten, so who’s really to say, other than my mom.


Every town is riddled with its many personal stories and tales, and when they are passed from person to person it’s hard to know what is fact and what is fiction. It’s interesting how local tall tales like this appear, often having a pretty standard beginning, like wanting to keep people off of one’s property, that can very quickly spiral into heightened and darker tales. Like a game of telephone, the more the rumor spreads, the bigger it becomes, and the harder it is to know where it originally began. 

Studying local tales also gives insight into issues and values that are pertinent to the town’s population. The housing crisis in Los Angeles is an ongoing issue. When rumors like this are spread around and believed by wide portions of the population, it creates even more negative stereotypes towards the already struggling houseless people. These stories allow the population to have a reason to not like and be mean to their homeless community and further helps spread the hateful anti-homeless mindset that is prominent throughout the area. Hating the local homeless for eating dogs feels more valid a reason than hating them for being homeless. Creating stories like this helps stereotypes stay alive and gives communities a ‘common enemy’ to which their anger can be directed towards.

Hobo’s Castle


In the suburbs of Chicago, there is a long-deserted building by a railroad that stands about ten stories tall. It has holes, its windows are broken, and its doors remain open. This building is called Hobo’s castle. There are hobos that live inside, and if you go in there and get caught by them, they’ll eat you!


It’s probably called Hobo’s castle because its size makes it look like a castle from the outside and hobos would stay there in between hitching rides on trains back when it was first abandoned. There have been hobos living there since then. Parents would tell their children not to go there. So, obviously, the kids would all bike there and explore. Only the first floor was accessible, but the kids would explore it, all while poking each other to scare their friends and daring them to do things. The people living there would chase them out sometimes, which is likely what spurred the children to begin telling each other that if they got caught, they would be eaten. 


A recently popularized phrase found online is “fuck around and find out”, which is to engage in an action that is usually risky, and usually results in an unpleasant consequence. The desire to fuck around and find out is unquenchable in children, and this legend came about because of this. Children always want to feel more like full humans when they can, as in many areas of life they are limited by rules even when they feel that they have the physical and mental capabilities to be on par with everyone else, even if this feeling is erroneous. Thus, when there is no one around holding them to rules, they like to break the rules that they don’t think are necessary. They also embellish stories of their lives to make them seem more interesting and with higher risks, like how they view those of adults. Thus, the hobos in the castle will eat them if they are caught, not merely tell them off.

The Curse Cast on Salt Creek Elementary

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: “So near the back of my school, a lot of people would go through there for quick entry to school. There was this bridge nearby and underneath it went this pretty deep valley, and what every kid in that elementary school always noticed all the time, whether they were walking there or driving there, you could always see down into the valley and what you could see was this worn out mattress down at the bottom. Every time. So what we thought every single time was that there was this homeless man, but what we thought was he was actually down there casting some sort of dangerous spell or something like that beneath the school. Cause we found out, and I think it was just a funny coincidence, but you’d find around our school an abundance of holes in the grass area, and we thought that these holes are usually from snakes. We always thought you had to be careful because there were a lot of snakes there because of the old man, like he had something to do with it. It was our little story but we really always believed he was casting some spells.” 

Intv: “And what elementary school was this located at?”

Z: “This was at Salt Creek Elementary, and like every kid at the school knew about it.” 

Intv: “Do you think there was any sort of cultural significance to it being a curse? Thinking back on my time in elementary school in a very western upbringing, I don’t think I was particularly aware of curses as much as I was ghosts or spirits.”

Z: “I think, because among my friends a lot of them at the time were Filipino, so what kind of relation there would be culturally, I definitely think it could be related to this monster my mom always told us about in the dark. She would call it the mumu, or that’s what we called it as kids, I think that’s kinda the relation there, as we never saw him in the morning. So we thought maybe he was only there at night when it’s dark. Cause in the day every time we’d pass the mattress we’d never see anyone, and at the time as kids we just ended up putting it all together.”

Intv: “Can I ask you a little more about the mumu?” 

Z: “Yeah, I think it literally translates to monster in Tagalog, I think it’s like your equivalent to a boogeyman. You know? The whole, like, ‘look out or the mumu is gonna getcha!’ thing. At least that’s how I saw it.”

Analysis: After looking up a translation I can confirm that mumu translates to either ghost or boogeyman. This story speaks heavily on how our folk and specifically our more sinister folklore tends to reside in the dark. Across cultures, as growing up as a child in America I was aware of the mumu, just of a different name. It makes one wonder where the mumu or boogeyman originated or how it transcends cultures. A shadowy figure who targets children is seen often in folklore across the world. 

There’s A Man in The Woods

“I have a story about the man in the woods at the soccer field. So, as a child, my brothers and I participated in Brookside Soccer, which is you know like your average recreational soccer thing that children do and a lot of my friends, or at least a lot of people in my grade, also had older siblings who did Brookside and there was this one field, I don’t know how old my brothers were, but they would always play on this certain field and whenever I was there I would see people in my grade who also had older brothers who were playing and the big deal with this field was there was a huge forest surrounding it. The thing about the forest is, on the outskirts of it, would grow honeysuckles, and especially as a young child, they looked tasty. So the whole appeal to the soccer field- it was kinda great because we could eat honey suckles. So me and my friends, we would always go the border and get honeysuckles but you wanted to be fast because the whole idea was there was a man living inside- if you went a little deeper into the forest, you would inf a man and a campsite or something. The guy was always depicted as a homeless guy with a big beard and kinda dirty and ruffled. The whole idea was that you didn’t want him to catch you. There’s another part of the story, that in the forest where he stayed, there was an aluminum trash can that you would see around the soccer field. The idea was that as a kid, you would go to the trashcan by the soccer field and he could hear you. There was also a little bit of part of like asking for wishes, through the trash can to the homeless guy. So i don’t understand why we were scared of him but also like he would help us? The idea is that you’d want honeysuckles but you had to be quick because you didn’t want to see the man in the woods.”


My informant is a 16-year old who lives in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her two older brothers participated in a recreational soccer program when they were much younger based out of a neighborhood in Kansas City called Brookside. The school she attended was the same school her brothers went to and so it was not uncommon for friends of her brothers to have younger siblings she got along with. Oftentimes, she would come along to the recreational soccer matches and play with the other younger siblings. The area the soccer matches happens to contain several large fields, a few of which bordered dense forest as this area was on the outskirts of the town.  

My informant brought up this story during a walk around her neighborhood when I asked her about scary stories from her childhood. 


This story appears to be in the vein of urban legends about some crazed killer. In addition, it serves a very clear purpose, that being of regulating where these young children could and could not go. My informant emphasized how this topic came about mostly because her and her friends wanted honeysuckles from the nearby woods. Therefore, they probably created this figure from similar urban legends they had heard in order to justify not exploring the woods any further. This was only reinforced by any figures of authority, who did not want them to explore the woods. The informant mentioned to me that her older brothers might have corroborated parts of her story to instill the fear of the woods and keep her closer to everyone else during these soccer matches. The other interesting component is how a homeless man in the woods is scary for a child living in the city. The informant told me that she lived in a city, and these soccer matches were a time where she and her friends were far away from that environment. As such, their fears as an amalgam of the fear of strange men, which she would have seen growing up, and that of the woods, which were far more unknown and mysterious to her. The man is not supernatural, but to them he represented a very real threat but in a strange environment.

Guitar Players Without Girlfriends

What is being performed?
DA: I have another musician joke.
AA: What is it?
DA: What do you call a guitar player without a girlfriend?
AA: What?
DA: Homeless.
Why do they know or like this piece? where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to
AA: Why do you know this joke?
DA: I probably heard it on rode from a musician friend.
AA: Why do you like it?
DA: I think it’s kind of funny, but also somewhat real. It’s hard to make money doing music and I
think this joke is able to laugh at that pain.

Context of the performance- where do you perform it? History?
AA: Where do you perform this joke?
DA: I usually perform this joke to young musicians to instill a sense of reality in them but also to
my older musician friends to share struggle and laughter with them. I only really share it with the
musician community, although, I think anyone could get the joke.

I really like this joke because I feel like even if you’re not a musician, you can get it. I think it’s
straight forward and highlights the struggle of being a guitar player while adding another
element of dependency. I think it’s interesting to view the girlfriend in the joke as the person who
is economically supporting the relationship.