Tag Archives: Northern California

Memorate: My Grandpa’s UFO Sighting


Informant J is a 73 year old Mexican-American man and is the collector’s grandfather. He is from San Jose, California, but his family moved there from parts of Texas and Mexico. For the majority of his life, J was a manager at a regional grocery store, and studied art in college with a focus in jewelry making. J is now retired and his hobbies include guitar playing, metal working, and reworking vintage cars.


(Please excuse typos, this is an unaltered text message from the informant): “I was fifteen years old and had just finished watching Superman on my grandfather’s television (he had one of the only color television on the block so I would frequent his house regularly). I lived caddy corner from them across the street so it only took a minute to get home. Upon reaching my house I stopped at my father’s 1959 surf green four door Oldsmobile which was parked in our driveway. It had a huge trunk like most cars of that era and I layer back on the trunk as was a regular occurrence. I was laying back on the trunk looking up at the stars when I saw a  pattern of five or six lights moving across the sky moving at a very fast rate of speed in a tight pattern. I was extremely frightened when the pattern of lights stopped for a few seconds and then split in different directions. I could not sleep with the lights off for at least a week and i was very reluctant to lay on that trunk to look up at the sky after that experience.”


This was a story my grandpa had previously told me, and I asked him to write it out for this assignment. He claims that this was his own personal UFO sighting, and is the reason he believes in aliens now. It’s an interesting memorate, however, because he distinctly remembers watching Superman right before it happened. To me, that reads as inspiration for the story, something that may have convinced his brain that the stars moving in the sky were someone or something supernatural was moving, rather than a shooting star or a plane. My grandpa seemingly wanted to believe that whatever was in the sky was a UFO. It’s important to note, too, that this memorate made him reluctant to look up at the sky again for fear of seeing what he was convinced were aliens of some sort, and that he associated lying in the truck bed with that experience. I also wanted to mention that my grandpa specifically included details like the car’s make and color; it makes me think that those smaller bits of the story are what helps him to remember it.

Memorate: My Great-Grandparents’ Joaquin Murrieta Sighting


Informant J is a 73 year old Mexican-American man and is the collector’s grandfather. He is from San Jose, California, but his family moved there from parts of Texas and Mexico. For the majority of his life, J was a manager at a regional grocery store, and studied art in college with a focus in jewelry making. J is now retired and his hobbies include guitar playing, metal working, and reworking vintage cars.


(Please excuse typos, this is an unaltered text message from the informant): “My parents said they were just finishing up a picnic at Alumn Rock park on the East side of San Jose and were getting ready to head home when a man who looked like he had been dug up (his clothes was old and tattered and resembled clothes from the cowboy days. He came up to their car window and just stood there not saying a word but staring in a daze. They believe it was the ghost of Juan Murrieta who lived during the late 1900’s. He was famous for robbing people in that area of the park. My dad started the car and got the hell out of there! My parents were very scared and they were familiar with the legend of Juan Murrieta and never stopped talking about the incident!”

“Ps: The cowboy did have an old style revolver as well!”


I’d like to note that people often confuse Juan and Joaquin Murrieta, and that my grandpa was almost certainly referring to the latter. I did some research after being told this story, as I hadn’t heard of either figure until now. Juan was a pioneer, whereas Joaquin is a Mexican figure commonly known as the Robin Hood of the West. More specifically, stories about Murrieta rose in California during the Gold Rush. I find it interesting that my great-grandparents claim to have seen Joaquin Murrieta, because they associated something strange with something they already knew about (ghosts), and their knowledge of it is heavily influenced by culture. Even though my family was Mexican-Texan, they had heard enough about this specifically Mexican-Californian legend in the little time that they lived there that they assumed the figure was him. What’s more, this story hints at a combination of folkloric beliefs, as my great-grandparents claim to have seen a kind of undead version of Joaquin Murrieta, who is more of a legend than a popular ghost. There are debates over whether he existed, but stories of seeing him are rarer. But my great-grandparents seem to have believed in ghosts in general, so this memorate only furthered their personal view of the world.

4/20 Celebrations at UCSC

Background information/context of performance: DC is a 21-year-old student at University of California, Santa Cruz. She grew up in Los Angeles and Alameda, CA, but is currently living in an apartment in Santa Cruz. Now that she’s back on campus, DC has been able to engage with UCSC culture much more often, which includes a large amount of “stoner” culture that is specific to Northern California. Since this is very well-known about UCSC culture and its student body, I asked DC about any 4/20 traditions she has learned about as a student.

DC: We go to Porter Meadow which is on-campus where one of the colleges is and smoke every year on 4/20. It’s a thing for all the students, um, because it used to be a tradition for everyone every year. This was the first year everyone got to do it in a couple years because of remote school.

Me: Did you know about this tradition before you decided to go to UC Santa Cruz?

DC: Yeah, since, like, a lot of kids we know from high school go to UCSC, I feel like it’s kind of just a known tradition now. Plus I had older brothers who knew a lot of people who go there. I also had, um, some upperclassmen friends who go to UCSC now too. And 4/20 in itself is just well known in Northern California. I feel like as you grow up here you just learn these things.

Me: So is this how you spent your 4/20 this year?

DC: I went to Porter Meadow with my boyfriend and my friends and just kinda like stood outside in the grass with everyone and smoked. We brought picnic blankets and some food and it was pretty warm that day, so it was honestly really nice to see everyone hanging out outside together again…it felt like I was getting a very college experience (laughs).

Me: How was it for your first Porter Meadow experience?

DC: (laughs) It was fun! It’s so specific to my school, so it was cool to finally experience it.

DC and I have been friends since high school, but now that we’re at different universities I obviously am not able to see her or talk to her as often as I would like. I enjoyed being able to talk about this when I saw her during our Fall break. It was interesting to realize that hearing about the folklore that my friends are exposed to in their new environments was a great way to get to know what their daily lives are like now. In that way, I think that folklore and traditions not only creates a feeling of membership and belonging in a group, but also allows for connection through storytelling. Because we both grew up in the Bay Area, I do think that 4/20 traditions and celebrations are well-circulated among teenagers and adults, but DC was able to actually experience a piece of folklore that had only been something we had heard of through word of mouth for years as high schoolers. This emphasizes the idea that folklore and tradition are able to persevere for such long periods of time, despite something as life-changing as the Covid-19 pandemic. DC was still able to feel as though she is part of a specific group or culture at UCSC, despite missing over a year of in-person school.

Northern Californian Campfire Story: The Ring Man

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “The story of the Ring Man goes to back when I was growing up, and my dad and his best friend Jim Kaddy who used to go camping in the woods, around where our cabin is in Lassen. And up there, there would be when we were little; there are these trees with these rings on them. There were painted white rings, around various parts of the forest. And so what they told us was that the Ring Man paints a white ring on these trees. And the reason he does that, is that at night various campers are camping out in the woods and he comes to their tents when they are sleeping. And for the girls, he leaves them candy. But for the boys he finds, he kills them. And when he kills them, he puts a ring around the tree for each boy he kills. So you should never go out at night when you are camping, or the Ring Man will get you.”

Interviewer: “So the Ring Man only kills boys? Why?”

Informant: “Because boys are noisy. But you only tell that story at night, when you are camping.”


“The Ring Man” is a campfire story that is unique to the informant’s family.  The story is intended to be told as a campfire story, specifically to younger children.  The reason why the story is intended for children is because only children would believe that the rings on the trees indicate the murder of little boys.  Adults know that the rings on the trees actually indicate the lumber has been marked to be cut down by local logging industry, which has a strong presence in Humboldt County culture of where this story originated.  The high number of trees marked with rings makes the story more believable to the children, because the proof of the Ring Man’s existence is something you can really see.

The violence present in the tale indicates that the authors of the story had a dark sense of humor, and created the tale to playfully tease their children.  This tale also serves as an educational warning to the young audience, in that it warns them of the evils and violence that are present in the world that they should be aware of.  In this sense, “The Ring Man” tale is very similar to other folk tales that warn children of the evils present in the world such as “Hansel and Gretel”.  Another interesting aspect of this story is the idea that the Ring Man only kills boys, because they are noisy.  This comes from the stereotypical belief that girls are sweet and quiet, which is why the girls get sweet candy, and boys are loud and obnoxious.  Therefore the performer of this tale also uses “The Ring Man” as a warning to little boys that they should be well behaved and quiet or the Ring Man will kill them.  The fact that the story puts an emphasis on the importance of being well behaved also indicates that the authors of the story put a high value on manners.

I have heard this tale many times when my family and I would go camping. When I first heard “The Ring Man”, I thought the tale was real, and I became extremely upset when I saw three trees marked with the white rings by an elementary school.  After expressing this to the informant, he explained that the tale was not real and my anxieties were soon forgotten.  There is a sense of pride that comes from the story because it is unique to the informant’s family and a part of their traditions.

My informant was born in 1957 Arcata, California to a high school basketball coach and his wife.  After earning his undergraduate degree in engineering from the University of California, Davis, he moved to southern California to obtain his MBA in business from the University of Southern California.  He now a partner at Ernst & Young. He lives in Manhattan Beach, CA with his wife and has two children.