Tag Archives: massachusetts

Smith College “Grateful Gate” Superstition

Context:

Smith College is a historically women’s college in Massachusetts. EZ is a current Smith College student.

Main Piece:

“So there’s this gate in the front of campus called the Grateful Gate, and you’re not supposed to walk through it until graduation, so um, I’ve never walked through it yet, and that way hopefully I’ll graduate on time.”

Analysis:

Many colleges and universities have a superstition that involves not interacting with some architectural part of the campus until graduation, with the superstition stating that if one does the superstitious action, one will not graduate on time. In this case, walking through the Grateful Gate is a part of the graduation ceremony at Smith College, so the transgression of the superstition is moving through this action at the improper time. By walking through the gate (metaphorically symbolizing graduation) before the actual completion of studies, the transgressor brings themselves bad luck.

For another college superstition with the punishment of not graduating on time, refer to this piece of folklore: “Auburn University – Seal Superstition,” Eli Alford, USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 1, 2021. http://folklore.usc.edu/auburn-university-seal-superstition/

Boston University Seal Superstition

Context:

The informant, NR, is a current Boston University student and heard about this superstition from friends while walking around campus.

Main piece:

“So, there’s a, there’s a giant seal in the center of Marsh Plaza, which is kind of like the center of campus. And it’s superstition that like, if you step on the seal, you won’t graduate in time. Literally like, you can go to Marsh Chapel like any time during the day, and like it’s the center of campus so like it’s always going to be, there’s always going to be people walking every which way. But if you observe, you’ll, uh, notice that people will like actually go out of their way to avoid stepping on it, on the seal.”

Analysis:

I think this is a pretty common college superstition, and I’ve heard mention of multiple similar versions on different campuses. Many universities have school seals embedded somewhere on their grounds, and since the seal is associated through its shape with the authority of the university, stepping on the seal could be seen as disrespecting the authority of the educational institution.

Alternatively, the seal could represent the college community, and disrespecting the community by stepping on the seal would result in being left behind while your classmates graduate on time. Other versions, like the one linked below, include conversions for reversing the bad luck drawn by stepping on the seal, but the informant says he has never heard of a conversion for stepping on Boston University’s seal.

For another version of this superstition, see this superstition around stepping on the seal at Auburn University: “Auburn University – Seal Superstition” by Eli Alford, USC Digital Folklore Archives, May 1, 2021, http://folklore.usc.edu/auburn-university-seal-superstition/

The Legend of Captain Kidd’s Treasure – New England Legend

Description of Informant

NM (49) is a Massachusetts native living in California. He commits to a regular exercise routine and owns/operates a metal decking supply firm. NM enjoys strategy games, world news/current events, and participates in a weekly chess match with friends. From 1970-1980 (his birth through elementary school), NM lived at 118 Andover Street, Wilmington, MA (the address is significant given the legend). Wilmington was a bit further inland, about 20 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Context of Interview

The informant, NM, is met in his garden by the collector, BK, his nephew. They speak poolside.

Interview

NM: Ah, there was a pirate legend when we lived in Wilmington. In the back of that house, there was a huge rock wall, and a cave at the bottom of it, and, uhh… the legend… and we would have people come and knock on our door, in Wilmington, to take their little metal detectors and walk around the backyard. Because the legend was that Bluebeard or Blackbeard or some old pirate was seen coming down the street with a chest and a couple slaves. And then he left that street with just the cart. With no slave, and no chest. So the legend was that he buried his treasure, killed the slaves to protect it, buried them with it, and that there’s treasure somewhere in that backyard. And the cave is called Devil’s Den. So we would have people looking for that treasure in our backyard every once in a while with their metal detectors. But obviously *laughing* none was ever found!

BK: Was there a ghost story associated with this legend?

NM: No. Just that story. That the slaves were killed to protect it. But yeah, we were never, as kids, nervous about being back there. I climbed pretty far into that cave but it had a dead-end. There was no treasure down at the bottom of it. It was just a dead-end, and extremely claustrophobic. You start getting really nervous when you’re surrounded by that much stone.

I wouldn’t be surprised— I’ve got to ask my mom if I’ve got the pirate’s name right… I think it was like Blackbeard or Bluebeard.

BK: Was your house in Wilmington close to the sea?

NM: *thinking* No! Yeah, what the heck was he [the pirate] doing in that area? Yeah like I said, we were a good 15-minute bike ride, 20-minute, hmm, maybe 15-minute car ride. So I don’t know what he would be doing that deep into, uh, suburban. Yeah, that raises a flag on that legend. Why he would go that far into suburbia to bury his treasure.

BK: When you say this was in your backyard… could you give me some sense of scale?

NM: That property was like an acre-and-a-half, I guess, and I think our property line probably ended above this rock wall. Y’know it was an old, 1800s type of house. Sort of victorian. Mainly people would go from just, near the cave, and wander within a 50 meters circle. Wandering around to see what they could— the trouble was there was a lot of magnetic rock in the area so *laughing* they got a lot of false… probably made them give up pretty quickly when they realized how much magnetic rock was around there and not finding anything worthwhile.

NM: If you were looking out the backdoor or the back window, you could’ve easily seen everything. It was probably about 100-feet from the backdoor to the face of the rock wall. And you could see the cave and… uhh… everything was pretty open.

BK: Would people ever come dig up your yard? Would your mom get upset about it?

NM: I don’t remember anybody doing any digging. I feel like they— they’re thing would go off. They might go a few inches deep and realize it was a rock. I’d have to ask them [my parents] if anybody ever got really serious about digging a hole. But I don’t remember ever going back there and seeing a big hole that somebody dug. I mean, by the time you were really looking where they were looking, it was woodsy. It wasn’t like our lawn. So, maybe they didn’t care, and maybe that’s why we didn’t know. Maybe they were digging holes, filling them in, covering them with leaves, and we just didn’t know.

BK: If you could figure out who the pirate was, that would be really helpful.

NM: I’ll ask them. I don’t know why I think they had a beard in it… but I’ll ask my mom.

Collector’s Reflection

It seems the pirate did not have “a beard in it” after all; Captain William Kidd is the legendary swashbuckler said to have hidden his treasure in Wilmington’s Devil’s Den cave. According to local legend, Kidd would frequent Harden Tavern. Today, the tavern is a preserved, victorian style home. NM’s mother used to volunteer there as a guide for tourists, and he has visited several times. Given Kidd’s seeming regular presence in the town, the idea of him burying his treasure there does not seem so far-fetched.

Contrary to NM, versions of this legend do account for a ghostly aspect. It is said that the slave Kidd murdered remained there in spirit; his ghost would move the treasure should anyone try to find it. 

I find the legend dubious, as (1) the supposed treasure has yet to be found, (2) I find it dubious that such an infamous seafarer would move his treasure so far inland, and (3) the original legend is based on an eyewitness account from children, who claimed to have seen Kidd’s oxcart move down the lane. Regardless, it’s a fun tale and an exciting piece of Wilmington, MA culture.

For another account of Captain Kidd’s legend, please see:

Neilson, Larz F. “Buried Treasure in Wilmington?: A Look Back at Wilmington of Yesteryear….” Wilmington Town Crier, 22 Dec. 2008. 

LINK: http://homenewshere.com/wilmington_town_crier/article_a807bfb2-2228-5cc0-b2de-647c2e04f97d.html 

Relievio – New England Street Game

Description of Informant

NM (49) is a Massachusetts native living in California. He commits to a regular exercise routine and owns/operates a metal decking supply firm. NM enjoys strategy games, world news/current events, and participates in a weekly chess match with friends. From 1980-1989 (his middle- and high-school years), NM lived in Merrimac, MA. Merrimac was a small town on the MA/NH border, approximately 10 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Game

Relievio is a team-based hide-and-seek style game, where the first team, the “seekers,” try to catch all members of the second team, the “hiders.” If a seeker finds a hider, the chase begins. The seeker must grab hold of the hider and yell “Caught!” three times. If successful, the victim must go to a predefined waiting zone (“jail”). Once all hiders are jailed, the seekers win. The teams then switch roles and begin again.

There is a “jailbreak” rule, where if a “living” (i.e. not yet caught) member of the hiding team physically touches the jail and yells “Relievio!”, all jailed individuals are set free. Much of the game’s strategy (e.g. guards, sneaking to jail, faking being caught) stem from this mechanic. 

Context of Use

Relievio was a common street/neighborhood game for the children of Merrimac, MA. The game was often played after nightfall, so as to augment the “thrill of the hunt.”

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Context of Interview

The informant, NM, is met in his garden by the collector, BK, his nephew. They speak poolside.

Interview

BK: So what would kids in Merrimac, Massachusetts do?

NM: The biggest was a game called Relievio, which was a very popular neighborhood game. And our house was kind of a home base. Like yeah, central home base for the whole thing. We had a massive oak tree in our front yard. That was the jail. But yeah, basically, if you had, if you had eight people, you could have a pretty great, great game of Relievio. Four people would be just split up evenly. Four would stay at the tree, which was home base, or the jail. The other four would take off and hide and we’re talking– the neighborhood was the bounds, you know, everybody’s house neighbor, whether we knew them or not, were in-bounds. So about five or six houses. So I would say at least five acres worth of property. And then the other four would go out and seek. And, and usually, we do this at dawn or even night. I mean, some of the games were at day, but at night, it was a little bit more thrilling. Cuz nobody, you know, we’re still little kids, nobody loved hiding in the dark. *chuckles* But as soon as you found somebody, you know, the chase would begin. And the chaser would have to grab hold of the person and say “caught! caught! caught!” three times. You had to say “caught!” three times. And that person would then go to jail. So they’d be at the tree. And usually, one person would be guarding them. And the other three would still be seeking. But once someone got caught, it was the goal of the people who hadn’t been caught to touch the tree, say the word “Relievio,” and that would release anybody captured at the tree. So yeah, that’s where the strategy came. But you know if you had two people and you coordinated and there was only one person guarding the tree, that would be pretty easy release. So sometimes I would have two people guarding it. 

NM: At some point, a couple of us got old enough to climb the tree. And we’re talking, like, when I was like 14 or 15 years old. Because this tree was six or seven feet in diameter, as far as the base, with no low limbs, and the first low limb was about 10 feet off the ground. The first limb to get your hands on was about two-foot diameter. So it was a, it was a massive tree. And with no easy branches, just had to hang on, you had to climb up the bark, hug the first limb, and then kind of shimmy your way around that first limb. And then once you’re on that first limb, you had a little bit of mobility around that first layer branches 10 feet up. But the trick was to sneak back to the tree while the seekers were still seeking. Climb the tree, so you’re in the jail so that nobody knew you were there. And then they start bringing in people as they’re caught. And then you’re sitting up in the tree, and they don’t see you and then you just announce “Relievio” and it completely would shock them. Yeah, we played hours and hours and hours of Relievio.

NM: That was not a game we knew about before I lived in Merrimac. Yeah, I mean, we didn’t have the number of the kids for that. But when I moved to Merrimac, there were a lot of us. There were 1, 2, 3, 4… 8 boys. All within four years of each other. And then yeah, whenever we had friends over, yeah, you could easily get to 10. Occasionally my father would play. I think my father and my father’s brother played once.

NM: Yeah, I mean, it’s there. There’s nothing like the thrill of getting chased in the dark. And basically generally knowing where there are dark places to hide. And just getting ahead, just enough to duck into them. But then, not being able to control your breath. Because you’re in the dark and then you’re super tired and breathing heavily and just trying to find a way not to breathe. So that they don’t hear it, because I’ll be walking right by you. Because they wouldn’t have thought you ducked into that dark, little space. Like, do you really want to go stick your head in some dark corner of the bushes? You usually didn’t. So it was only if you’re breathing that you’re gonna get caught. Yeah, that was a great game.

BK: What years did you live in Merrimac?

NM: In 1980. I think. And yeah, through high school. So 1989 when I moved. The summer of fifth grade we moved. So I must have been probably 11.

Collector’s Reflection

Relievio is an extremely well-documented game with international variations. It began in New York, where it was called “Ringolevio.” Relievio is the name of the Canadian variant, which found its way to Boston and Ireland— the former being in Massachusetts where NM played the game, and the latter being NM’s country of origin. I won’t spend time going into each of these versions here (annotations below).

One difference in NM’s version of the game, which has not been documented across any versions of Relievio, is the use of “Caught! Caught! Caught!” as the catching phrase. Documented “catch-phrases” are “Chain chain, double chain, no break away”, “Ringolevio, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3!”, “1-2-3 come with me, you’re my prisoner”, “1-2-3 caught by me, no Relievio rest” (this final version is that documented of Boston and its suburbs). Common among all is an obsession with threes; either the expression is constructed of three parts, contains a three-count, or, in the case of NM, is a thrice-repeated term.

Though NM mentions that the game can be played at any time, he emphasizes that nighttime or in-darkness are preferred. Other versions of this game do not mention a time preference, but it seems as though the majority of data collection was done in large cities. In these environments, children playing outdoors at night may have been forbidden or dangerous. In a safe suburb such as Merrimac, though, there was likely more openness. The associated thrill, then, developed the preference among the children.

For other versions and descriptions of Relievio, please see:

“Ring-a-levio.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ring-a-levio. Accessed 25 Apr. 2021.

“Ring-a-Levio is a sophisticated cross between Tag and Hide-and-Seek.” Albert, David H. Dismantling the Inner School. Retrieved 25 April 2021.

NOTE: The Wikipedia article “Ringolevio” is expansive, but many contributions are uncited.

Ghost on MA-70

[The subject is PD. His words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: PD is a college student from Massachusetts. He is Caucasian, of Irish-Catholic heritage, and has lived in the United States for his entire life. This story was told to a small group of people during a party, just after midnight, when the conversation had shifted to ghost stories.

PD: It was like… this is how I know it was definitely a ghost, because it was like 2 AM, like broad daylight, like I was driving from Clinton to Worcester, and like to get from Clinton to Worcester is like this ten mile stretch of like nothing but woods. Like no people, no houses, no nothin’… and I was like stuck behind this like 19-like 80s, 90s, like fuckin’, like a… it was like a Plymouth, like a car they don’t even like make anymore and shit. And the dude was going like 10 miles below the speed limit, and I was like fuckin’ pissed as shit. And like out of nowhere, the dude just like pulls over to the road, and like gets out of his car, and sprints and just like leaps over the fence and into the woods. And I’m like, ‘what the fuck was up with that?’ So ten seconds later I do a three point turn and turn around, dude’s gone, car is gone, I don’t know what in the fuck happened, but I asked my fuckin’ boss Emily, who’s like been in the parks department for like five hundred years, and she was like, “oh yeah, I’m pretty sure like a bunch of people died on route 70 back in the eighties before we started like improving it.” And I’m pretty sure I saw a ghost!

Thoughts: At the beginning of the story, I think PD meant to say it took place at 2 PM, since it was in broad daylight, and he was sure that this was a ghost because he could see it clearly. I noticed that this legend is very dependent on the modern time frame that it is set in, because the old style of car that the ghost was driving stood out to the storyteller, and connects to what Emily had said about the roads being unsafe in the eighties. I also found it interesting that the car the ghost was driving was said to be a Plymouth, since the story takes place in Massachusetts and Plymouth, Massachusetts is one of the oldest towns in the United States and is generally thought of as a place with lots of history and folklore, including ghost stories.