RG – This place is called “the bloody pit.” It’s the Hoosac train tunnel in North Adams (Massachusetts), and it’s called that because it took the lives of hundreds of construction workers while being built because it was a nightmare of a tunnel to build. It’s really long, and looking in it’s just black. We went to check it out. It was the same summer we did a bunch of other stuff (like visiting graveyards or other supposedly haunted places at night) because we were really attracted to death for some reason. C was just staring into the tunnel as if he were in a trance. I tried getting his attention, snapping, saying his name, getting in front of him and waving, etc. Suddenly he got really angry, pushed me aside and started walking in. He eventually snapped out of it but it was all really uncharacteristic of him. The tunnel is still an active freight route. It’s 4.75 miles long, and when you go a decent amount in and turn around, it’s just a pinprick of light. And it’s a mess in there. The walls are pretty decrepit and leaking, and it sounds really ominous and wet in there. We knew the history of the tunnel. It’s called the bloody pit for a reason. But we went in anyway. And C acted all weird when we were heading in. But we weren’t super freaked out until on our way out we all noticed, quite at the same time, a penny lying heads up on the rail. We hadn’t noticed it going in. And it freaked us out because a penny lying heads up is a symbol of good luck. But right before one of us picked it up we all realized, again at the same time: ehhhh don’t touch that. It’s like if you think about an angler fish, there’s something so tempting and shiny in front of a great dark maw. We didn’t want any type of luck that tunnel had to offer, if that makes sense. We didn’t really think about what-ifs, we just knew not to touch it.
The informant enjoys telling the stories of their various adventures each time we speak. This time was about one summer where the informant went to graveyards, haunted construction sites, and The Bloody Pit. It takes a certain kind of person to knowingly go into a place named so threateningly. The informant has had several encounters with ghosts. They are not the most nor the least superstitious out of the group they went with, but all of them agreed there was something not right with the location, in a way that they could not logically explain away. This story combines ideas of haunting, historical events, and the non-localized folk belief of finding a penny lying heads-up being good luck.
AO: “Growing up, I was always told that finding a penny face up was good luck.”
Collector: “Do you still believe it?”
AO: “I’d like to think I do. I still get a smile on my face when I come across a penny on the ground.”
Collector: “Is there any bad luck associated with finding it with the tales facing you?”
AO: “I never though so…it’s more so that it is just regular, or doesn’t possess the same magic. It does not have any affect on you, negative or positive.”
Collector: “Do you know of any other coins being good luck?”
AO: “No, but I think finding money in general is a good sign of fortune coming your way. In the US at least, the penny is the only one that is really associated with the good luck motif, though.”
Finding money without an owner in public is clearly a fortunate encounter. Pennies, being the least valuable of American currency, have probably come to mean good luck because they are the most common, but also the hardest to spot. The face of the penny being Abraham Lincoln probably also plays a large part into why the coin is associated with this belief, with the president considered by many as the most influential and often considered a favorite.
So this is a team ritual for the St. Champion Outlaws, my old cheer team:
Every year before Nationals, we would get a penny of that year… our coach would give us a brand new penny of that year and the coach would get it done and like drill 2 holes in the side. And we would unlace our shoes and put it on the top of our right shoe (demonstrates to the front part) so you can see it… so imagine your shoes are laced, it’s on the top right of your shoe. So, we always prayed before we’d go on for health and safety on the floor and we’d all put our right foot in, which is the foot with the lucky penny.
How long has this been a team tradition?
I know it’s been for years… maybe a parent or one of the coaches thought it was cute. I think originally it was a penny on a necklace, but then they realized you can’t wear jewelry for competitions, so we laced it in our shoes. It’s like a lucky penny.
Why do you think they’ve kept it going all these years?
Um…it’s just a good luck thing and then it became a superstitious tradition.
My roommate told me this tradition when I asked her if she had any folklore. At first, she insisted “Asian people don’t have that.” But, after I explained what folklore was and that rituals and superstition counts. She told it to me one-on-one and I already knew competitive cheer was a huge part of her life.
A physical reminder before the competition of all the work put into the year serves as an important ritual. It clearly meant a lot to her and I know she is still in contact with her teammates and coaches. Plus, it is a great souvenir for after Nationals.