Tag Archives: missouri

Car Rituals dealing with Hazard Avoidance – Automobile Superstitions

Description of Informant

PV (52) is a pharmacist and businesswoman from St. Louis, Missouri. Raised in a Persian household, PV spent some of her early childhood between the US and Iran, prior to the revolution. For the last two decades, PV has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area.


Context of Interview

The informant, PV, sits in her kitchen browsing Twitter, while her daughter, LK, snacks on french fries. The collector, BK, is PV’s son, and lives with her and LK.


BK: So tell me about these car games/superstitions.

PV: I think… my memory is… so there’s all these things, when I was a teenager, right? And we would be driving with friends, you started to pick up some of these, kind of, rituals that people had in their own— because, like, when you’re friends and you’re not driving in a car you never really, like, pick these things up. So it was more like when I turned 16 and we were driving, all of a sudden I noticed— we’d be driving and it would be a Friday night— and all of a sudden I remember a car went by and one of the headlights was out, and all of a sudden [my friend] went, “Perdiddle!” And I’m like, “What?” and she’s like, “Oh, don’t you guys do that?” and I’m like, “Don’t I do what?” *laughing* And we were like, so we were like, “Oh okay cool!” So whenever another car would go by that had a headlight out, then somebody would yell “Perdiddle!” So that became kind of a thing, right?

PV: And then there was this thing about if you go over a bridge… now that’s the part where I can’t remember. I think some people would tap the ceiling when you go over the bridge. I don’t know what that was about. But other people would lift their feet up [in the car] when they’d go over a bridge. Silly games, I guess.

BK: And LK you said you had something about…

LK: We’d just hold our breath. When we’d go through a tunnel. And see who could hold their breath through the whole thing. I don’t know really when it started but it’s— I feel like a lot of people know about it. Like whenever I’m with friends or whatever I’m always like, “Okay, ready? 1-2-3!” And we all hold our breath and like, everybody just does it and knows that it’s a thing, but we don’t, like, know how we all found out about it. Like, I felt that probably one time it happened and we all did it— like nobody was shocked when we all did it. It was like nobody was surprised.

PV: Oh, when I was with [my ex], they always honked when they went in the tunnel. 

BK: Honked… long? Or, was it just like a “beep!”

PV: Well, I will tell you. The idea was you were only supposed to honk when you went in the tunnel. Just a tap, I thought that’s all it was. But one time I got really mad because, we were in… believe it or not, of all things we were in, you know, like Monte Carlo? We’d gone from south of France, Monte Carlo, south of Italy, you know, like that area. And we were going through a tunnel. The whatchamacallit had been going on… the Tour de France. And we were in a tunnel and he’s going honk! honk! honk! honk! for the entire long tunnel. And his daughter starts crying cuz her ears are hurting and he doesn’t stop. He’s like “You’re supposed to honk in tunnels.” So like, his desire to do the honking in tunnel… was stronger. That ritual was stronger than his daughter crying.

Collector’s Reflection

Looking over each of these car games/activities, one may immediately suspect they are methods to keep yourself occupied on a long drive, especially pre-smartphone. However, upon inspection, a pattern becomes clear: hazard avoidance. Each of these games is performed in the presence of a potential hazard, and seems to be a superstitious ritual to protect oneself/the occupants of the vehicle.

Take the bridge and tunnel examples. Both present the threat of imminent collapse. Perhaps tapping the roof represents lifting the car over the bridge. If there’s water under the bridge, you may lift your feet to keep them from “getting wet”; otherwise, raising your feet may help you float above the bridge, or avoid adding excess weight so the structure stays standing. Holding one’s breath in a tunnel seems to be an act of prayer, akin to holding your breath in a high-stakes situation. Again, superstitious and intangible, but for good reason.

These car games can have more practical origins/applications too. Perdiddle (or padiddle as it’s sometimes known) can keep the driver and passenger aware of reckless drivers on the road. If a car approaches with one headlight, calling perdiddle ensures that your driver is aware of the potential risk. Such a threat posed by these single-headlight cars is their similar appearance to motorcycles in the dark. If the driver isn’t paying attention, they might get too close, not realizing the oncoming vehicle is much larger/wider than it seems.

Similarly, honking as you drive through a tunnel signals to oncoming traffic, much in the spirit of old trains. The auditory cue will allow any pedestrians or oncoming cars not yet in the vehicle’s line of sight to clear out, keeping everyone safe.

The Ragman

Main piece:

“So when I was growing up, I was raised by a single mother and my grandmother, my mom’s mom, stepped in to help raise me while my mom was working so I spent a lot of time with her in her house in her neighborhood and she was much older for a grandmother, she was born in 1911 and she didn’t have my mom until she was almost forty so she came from another generation and mostly spoke German at home where she grew up on a farm in Arkansas. I don’t know if this is where the story comes from, but I have no idea where it comes from. But she was a great grandmother and would never use violence or anything to keep us in line but if we were misbehaving, the most ominous threat was that if we didn’t get back in line and start doing what we were supposed to do, that the next time the Ragman came by, she would leave us out and tell him that he could take us away. So my sister and I were terrified that there was this- there also was this man that wondered occasionally in the neighborhood at twilight and I think he was probably, if not homeless then verging something on that, but it was back in the day when I don’t think i’d ever seen a homeless person in my small town. So he was always pushing some small cart and I think when she was first living in that home there was a man who came by to take pots and pans and whatever little knick knacks were broken so he was known as the Ragman and he’d take trash or whatever and take it away. So that’s really it, is that- I think in my sisters and I’s mind we associated it with this specific man but it was this nebulous threat really of this Ragman that was gonna come and- we we’re going to be taken out with the trash if we didn’t get back in line and we did not want to be taken away by the Ragman so we got back on the straight and narrow.”


My informant is originally from Joplin, Missouri and currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri. She’s lived all across the United States but lives there currently with her husband and three kids. Her mother lived in the Ozarks in southern Missouri for most of her life and so the entire family has ties to that specific area. Her grandmother, who told her the story of the Ragman, was born in Northern Arkansas but spoke primarily German in her household as both her parents had emigrated here.


This piece was brought to my attention through research into legends from Missouri which I used to approach my informant. She has told me about this phenomenon several times but this specific conversation occurred in the living room of her house in Kansas City when I asked her about using the story for the archives.


This piece seems to be a variant on the classic archetype of the boogeyman. The goal of the monster in this case is to scare children and teach them to stay in line. The parts I find most interesting about this iteration of the boogeyman-like creature are the name and the legend’s relationship to the grandmother of the informant. First, the term Ragman is usually tied to a street vagrant or another unsavory type individual. As such, this would make sense on why the informant and her young sister might be afraid of the Ragman as he seemed to be a dangerous man. Another common use of the name Ragman is when in association with the devil. This would further emphasize the role of the Ragman as an evil doer. The other major component of the Ragman story is the role of the informant’s grandmother. While it cannot be said for certain, her upbringing was heavily entrenched in German folklore and traditions which might result in the Ragman having ties back to German folklore. This shows the ability for folklore to transfer and adapt to new locations, with this example showing German folklore adopting to the cultural landscape of the Ozarks and Southern Missouri culture.

The Spook Lights in Joplin, Missouri

Main piece:

“The spook light which is sometimes known as the Joplin spook light because that’s the biggest town closest to it but it’s actually in the town of Hornet, Missouri which is, as far as I know, has no population. So it’s just a little ways outside of Joplin Missouri and for decades- probably going back to the turn of the century, this legend has been around this area that on certain nights if go out on this specific roads that’s very dark and abandoned and park your car and are quiet, that you will see a light floating at the end of the road. There’s all sorts of legends about what it is, the most famous one is that it is tied to American Indians somehow, that either during the Trail of Tears or something terrible upheaval, a Native American couple was separated and this is one of the lovers out with a lantern in the nighttime looking for their lost love, but there’s other legends too. In reality there have been scientific studies of it, and some people say it’s some sort of swamp gas, some have said it’s the way this road is positioned relative to a highway a few miles away creates some optical illusion with headlights from the road but it has not been definitely said what this thing is.”


My informant is originally from Joplin, Missouri and currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri. She’s lived all across the United States but lives here currently with her husband and three kids. Her mother lived in the Ozarks in southern Missouri for most of her life and so the entire family has ties to that specific area. Historically, Joplin is not a big town and is known for very little outside of Missouri.


This piece was brought to my attention through research into legends from Missouri which I used to approach my informant. She has told me about this phenomenon several times but this specific conversation occurred in the living room of her house in Kansas City when I asked her about using the spook light for the folklore archive.


At face value, the spook lights are seemingly very similar to similar pieces of folklore like the will o’ wisps or other light-based phenomenon. What I feel differentiates the spook lights from other similar folklore though is their use in unifying the town of Joplin and the influence of Native American superstition. The town of Joplin is in the south of Missouri, near the start of the Ozark Mountain range. This area is rife with folklore that comes out of isolated communities who are restricted through natural landscapes like lakes or mountains. Joplin is on the fringe of this culture, which makes it so it mixes Ozark culture with the broader culture of Missouri. By having a local legend, the town is unified in a collective legend. Furthermore, the spook lights are restricted to a single specific road and at certain times, making seeing them even more of a marker of your place in the community. This can also be seen in how the spook light is popular amongst teens who, according to my informant, visit the spook light as a right of passage. The other component to the spook light is how it reflects concerns about the treatment of Native Americans. The legend is that the light is the ghost of a Native couple who have been separated by not only death but also circumstances. By making their local legend a reflection of the poor treatment of Natives, the town recognizes the injustice and seeks to remember it.

For an in-depth look into the history of the legend, see: https://www.joplinmo.org/575/The-Spook-Light

Momo, or the Missouri Monster

Main Piece:

“I think in the 70s it was, I know the name of the town because it’s called Louisanna, Missouri. It’s on the Mississippi river in the south of the state and in the 70s apparently a few people reported seeing a very tall, like 7 to 8 foot tall, ape-like swamp creature in the woods- they also called it a swamp ape. But the distinguishing feature of this thing was it had a very huge like bulbous onion shaped head, but like an upside down onion though, so like big and bulbous- and it had shag all over it and like big, big like freakishly huge red eyes because it’s a shitty B-Movie monster pretty much. So it’s like Bigfoot but with a big onion head and it reeks because it lives in a swamp near the river. For a brief period in the 70s and 80s, I think it was, people got really into the idea- it became called Momo, Missouri Monster, from the state abbreviation monster.”


The informant is a 21-year old male from Kansas City, Missouri who has lived there for the majority of his life. His family comes from southern Missouri, near Joplin and the Ozarks. The town in question for this piece, Louisiana, apparently tried to profit off this cryptid very shortly after its sightings similar to other towns who use Moth man or Bigfoot sightings to drive tourism, however Momo was not nearly as successful as those previous examples. The town remains a relatively quaint and small town.


I overheard this story when the informant was talking to a group about cryptozoology and I asked him to share it again with me for the sake of transcription. The exact exchange occurred in his room a few hours later.


This piece appears to be another example of the common cryptid of Bigfoot. A large, ape-like creature that is elusive and on the fringes of society. Furthermore, these creatures are typically very smart and nearly human-like but not quite enough to warrant describing it as human. I feel there are a lot of these types of legends ranging from Bigfoot to Sasquatch and I feel this creature is another attempt to fit into that mold. What differentiates it and what makes this monster interesting, in my opinion, is how Momo is shaped to specify Southern Missouri. The Mississippi River is a huge part of the culture of Southern Missouri and so the monster being based out of a nearby swamp of the Mississippi River makes a lot of sense. What I like most about this legend is how it is clearly an attempt to cash in on the cryptid craze of Bigfoot and similar legends. While undoubtedly some people believe they saw the monster, the town quickly moved to monetize the creature and tourism surrounding it. However, compared to similar towns that attempt to make a tourism industry out of a local legend, this one did not work nearly as well, which makes it interesting to me. Finally, Momo is interesting as it fits the entire culture of Southern Missouri and the Ozarks as it is a creature on the fringe of society, which reflects the often isolated communities that exist in this area. Compared to a heavily urbanized city, a legendary monster like this is far more likely to appear in areas with lots of forest and mountains with small isolated communities, such as those in the Ozark Mountain range.