Tag Archives: legendary figure

Rubbing Abe Lincoln’s Nose

Background: The informant  is a 22 year old male currently living in San Luis Obispo, California. The superstition was told to her by his past girlfriend, X, who attended University of Madison-Wisconsin. He stayed with her for a summer at the college and is well versed in the community.

Context: The informant shared the context when the UW-Madison was brought into conversation while over the phone, as was speaking about past trips around the United States.


WC: So, at UW-Madison there’s this Abraham Lincoln statue on campus. It’s a statue of Lincoln, where he is sitting in a chair and he is staring out, sternly. It’s a pretty large statue, you’ll have to climb up and reach his head.

Me: What do students do with him?

WC: People will do a lot of different things. The most common I heard was that students would rub his nose for good luck. I think they also rub his feet. You can see this on the statue because it’s worn down a bit. [X] also told me that her friends would sometimes climb up onto his lab and whisper things, like their dreams after graduation, into his ear.

Me: Has it always been like this in history?

WC: I’m pretty sure. I believe people will also dress Lincoln up, depending on the time of year, just to celebrate whatever was happening on campus. It’s pretty cool.


Informant:  As he wasn’t part of the college and was looking in from the outside perspective, it’s clear he thought the tradition was very unique and popular enough to report on. He has seen the statue and noticed the physical marks that folklore left behind on it.

Mine: The statue represents that signs of good luck do not need something small that can be carried around by the person. Instead, they can be large objects that are stationary, all that matters if what is put into it. For instance, with the Lincoln statue, there is the want to have good luck or the wish for their dreams to come true. People believe in this statue because it’s something personal to their school, making it intimate to them. Also, Lincoln is a very popular figure in the Midwest, and likely was chosen as a symbol of good luck because he is generally seen as someone who brings good tidings, can end conflict, and more. He is an example of a historical figure that has taken on a somewhat folkloric role as time has passed on. He nearly doesn’t seem real, but simply a figment of fantasy.

Bocca Della Verità

Context: B is a 22 year old University student who grew up in California. B moved to Italy roughly four years ago where he is actively pursuing a degree in archeology. His classwork often has him interacting with artifacts and ancient sites. This account was collected over a phone call. 

B: “In terms of folklore I’ve encountered in Rome, I really love the Bocca della Verità (mouth of truth) and it’s said that in the olden days if you put your hand in the mouth and said a lie then it would bite your hand off. Outside of that you have your typical ‘Julius Caesar haunts this area and emperor Nero haunts that area’ but those are less accredited, and are all across Italy.”

Analysis: The legacy of Caesar and Nero can still be seen across Italy, throughout the folk claiming their spirits reside in iconic locations, like the Colosseum or the Vatican circus. Also the legend of the Bocca Della Verità lets us know that truth was considered a very important aspect of at least ancient roman culture, as a lie is worth losing a hand over. 

Legendary Figure: Davy Crockett Fountain

Context: The informant is among two peers of mine who grew up in Texas. My peers began sharing and comparing amusing and humorous pieces of folklore from their hometowns, as well as discussing how the folklore has worked to shape their families’ beliefs and southern values.


Informant: Okay, so one of my branches of family is from a place called Crockett, Texas, which is a small town near Jasper, Texas, which is a small town near Tyler, Texas, which is a small town near nothing. And, in Crockett, Texas, the claim to fame is that there is this water fountain that David Crockett… and if you know anything about Texas, you know that David Crockett is a Texas history folk legend… took a drink out of one time. And that’s why the whole town is named after it! So, the first time I ever visited that part of my family, I was like six. Everyone was making this big deal about it. They were like, “Oh, we have to go see the Crockett Fountain.” So, I thought it was going to be this gorgeous fountain. No. It was like this… this tree? I just distinctly remember there being a family of bugs living in the water, and my family being like, “Drink from it! Everyone drinks from the Crockett Fountain!” And I was like, “No.” I think you’re supposed to get like good luck or something from it because you’re drinking from the same place as the folklore guy. Everyone is like, “David Crockett took a drink here, so you should, too!”

Informant’s relationship to the item: The informant found this piece of folklore regarding Davy Crockett and his legendary fountain to be very amusing. He expressed disbelief that people would believe in its magical properties, or that he could somehow earn good luck from drinking the same water as Davy Crockett. He did not seem to understand why someone would be willing to brave the sanitation risks in order to take part in an old and seemingly unfounded superstition. The Crockett Fountain clearly holds a lot of significance for the informant’s extended family, as they found it important to organize a family outing to the legendary site. While the informant did not personally share their beliefs, he was able to recognize the site’s importance to his family members. Additionally, the fountain’s association with Davy Crockett, a legendary frontiersman, solider, and American politician, is clearly significant to Texas citizens.

Interpretation: The Crockett Fountain in Crockett, Texas serves as a prime example of folklorist Jame George Frazer’s theory of sympathetic magic, particularly contact or contagious magic. His theory describes the belief among folk groups that certain objects contain magic or good luck that can be spread through touch. Another example of this concept would be when people wear or use lucky items during tests, sporting events, or theatrical productions because they believe the items contain magical properties that will improve their performances. The famous site also reveals how some superstitions have legends associated with them. The spring’s association with David Crockett, the American frontiersman and politician who has become a legendary figure in many southern states, reveals the root of its significance to the people of Texas. His military service in the Texas Revolution and his death in the Battle of the Alamo has framed his existence as being synonymous with Texas folklore.

Works Cited:

To read more about James George Frazer’s theory of Sympathetic Magic, refer to:

Dundes, Alan. “The Principles of Sympathetic Magic.” International Folkloristics, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999, pp. 109-118.

Qu Yuan

Sophie is an international student from Taiwan. She is pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. She hopes to find a career in computer security and plans to stay in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, to work. She enjoys watching anime and learning; from USC-sponsored workshops, she has learned how to code and create chat bots.

Original Script

So, in ancient Chinese times, there’s this poet whose name is Qū Yuán. And he wrote these really great poems and he’s also this really successful government official but then the emperor died. The new emperor doesn’t like him, so the emperor banished Qū Yuán. And then he got to this river and he was really sad and he just wrote his last poem and then jumped into the river and died. But the people around that area were really sad because he was this really good government official and then they just threw all this zòngzi, which means “rice dumplings,” and threw them into the river so that the fish would just eat the rice dumplings and not Qū Yuán’s body so he doesn’t get eaten. So yeah, and uh, Duān Wǔ Jié, which is Mid-Summer Festival, we eat rice dumplings to remember this great poet.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant hears this story every time she attends the Dragon Boat Festival near the summer solstice. At the festival, people re-enact the tragic life of the poet and minister, Qū Yuán, up to his death. It is a folk legend that the informant grew up hearing as a child, and it holds heavy historical importance to her.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

Qū Yuán is a famed and respected Chinese poet and minister from the Warring States period of the Zhou Dynasty. Known for his contributions to classical poetry and verses, he served as a role model for scholars and officials during the Han Dynasty; the public admired him for staying true to his principles unto death. In certain regions of China and Taiwan, people commemorate the death of Qū Yuán in the Dragon Boat Festival. They believed that the locals rowed through the Miluo River on dragon boats to retrieve Qū Yuán and tossed zòngzi, or balls of sticky rice, into the river to save the poet’s body from being consumed by the fish.

My Thoughts about the Performance

While I have read about Qū Yuán in history books, I did not realize his legend was also considered the origins of dragon boat races and zòngzi. It was fascinating to hear about this famed historical figure, who is still celebrated today, and the legacy he left behind. I also find it interesting that he is commemorated only in certain parts of China during the Dragon Boat Festival. In other parts of China, such as southeast Jiangsu, people celebrate Wǔ Zǐxū at the festival; in northeastern Zhejiang, they celebrate Cao E.

Zhong Kui

Sophie is an international student from Taiwan. She is pursuing a B.S. in Computer Science at the University of Southern California. She hopes to find a career in computer security and plans to stay in the United States, specifically Los Angeles, to work. She enjoys watching anime and learning; from USC-sponsored workshops, she has learned how to code and create chatbots.

Original Script

There’s this guy in ancient China in Tang Dynasty. Actually, um, he’s a really smart guy and he went through this test to be a government official, and at that time, the test was taken in pen. So, um, they don’t know how the guy look like when he takes the test, and then the person grading test assigned the guy to be in first place. And then he went to the emperor and the emperor saw him and the emperor thought the guy was so ugly. He couldn’t be a government official because he was so ugly. And then the guy was really sad because he was so smart, but because he’s too ugly, he got rejected to be a government official so he killed himself in front of the emperor. And then the emperor felt sad too because he killed a guy by calling him ugly. So, the emperor put the guy’s face and everything on chūnlián, which is the red paper we put in front of temples and houses in New Year’s, so the guy could scare off bad spirits with his ugly face.

Background Information about the Performance from the Informant

The informant read about this legend from a book when she was small. She remembered the story of Zhōng Kuí because she found it very amusing. Both the emperor’s reaction to Zhōng Kuí’s suicide and the fact that the man’s hideous appearance was the cause for the tragic end to his life were so ridiculous to her that it was funny.

Context of the Performance

I interviewed the informant in a study room at Parkside IRC.

Zhōng Kuí is a legendary figure in Chinese mythology. He is widely regarded as a vanquisher of evil who commands a force of 80,000 demons. His image is often publicly displayed on household entrances for protection, due to his disfigured appearance and fearsome reputation.

My Thoughts about the Performance

Although I knew about the legend of Zhōng Kuí, I was surprised to hear from the informant that many Taiwanese people place Zhōng Kuí’s face on red paper to repel evil spirits on Chinese New Year’s. In contrast, most Chinese attach ménshén, or door gods, to entrances to protect themselves from evil. However, both countries plaster chūnlián on walls for luck and protection on New Year’s. Even though China and Taiwan share some similarities, I find the many cultural disparities or variations between the two very interesting.