Tag Archives: Southern

Radiator Ghost

–Informant Info–

Nationality: American

Age: 53

Occupation: Teacher

Residence: Los Angeles, California

Date of Performance/Collection: 2022

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): N/A

(Notes-The informant will be referred to as DS and the interviewer as K)

Background info: DS is a mother of 1 who grew up in the southern area of the United States, moving to Los Angeles in 2020. She remembers both being told this story and experiencing it herself.

K: Ok, so what’s the name of the folklore, where did you hear it from, and what’s the context of the performance? Like uh…under what uh circumstances is the story told?

DS: Well, it doesn’t really have a title, does it! I suppose I would call it the radiator ghost as that’s where she lived. Uh I heard it from my momma originally when I was a girl but I met the ghost a few times. I tell it to scare my kids but also teach em that sometimes whats scary on the surface ain’t so much when you look into it.

K: Ok cool, whenever you’re ready.

DS: Well, it’s simple, ain’t it. In my home I grew up in there was one of them old fashion uh radiators that would burn the hell outta you if you touched it *laughter*. Uh, when I used to walk down the hallway at nighttime, cuz the radiator was right next to the bathroom, I used to get this REAL bad feeling when I go too close to it so I always avoided it. One day, when I was about 10 or 11, I hadn’t felt the bad feeling in a while. I realized at that point that uh..the ghost was protecting me till I wasn’t stupid enough to touch the radiator. *laughter*

I liked hearing this more common ghost story, especially that it had a more happy ending! The idea of a ghost that is trying to help a child is really sweet, and it also makes sense for that culture. Southern culture is very stereotypically helpful and kind, so a southern ghost upholding those standards follows perfectly. Even if it’s something psychosomatic, meaning the informant’s mother told her about the ghost so she imagined it, the ghost and its personality make sense. I do want to note my personal bias here, in that I believe in ghosts so that affected my interpretation of the folklore and possibly the informants telling of it, as they could see my positive reactions as they were telling me.

Chitlins & Sals in Southern Food

Main Piece:

Me: So, what are these foods that you’re describing?

DH: Uhm… Sals is leftover pig parts— I don’t know what parts specifically. Uhm, it’s good… Chitlins is really more of a Southern delicacy now, but it used to be… I’m pretty sure that’s just pig intestines and all that, right?

Me: I believe so. Yeah.

DH: So, the reason that black people eat that is, you know, back in slavery, the owner would give you whatever they had left… You gotta eat something… I’ve never eaten chitlins, but…

Me: Have you had family members who have eaten it?

DH: My dad. Uhm, mostly every family gathering—you know like Christmas, Thanksgiving—they’re gonna have that at somebody’s house.

Me: … It’s interesting too, because I’m pretty sure my mom eats chitlins as well and so does my dad, occasionally.

DH: It’s really more of like a Southern thing.

Me: It’s interesting how it’s evolved in that way.


This was performed over FaceTime with one of my best friends from high school, who is African-American. She lives in Brandon, Mississippi, a small town right next to the state capital of Jackson and is a freshman studying Communications at Copiah-Lincoln Community College.


As my friend said, this most likely derives from Slavery Era practices in the American South. When slave masters were finished with their meals, they would give the scraps to their slaves. This included all the undesirable parts of a pig, and so this adaptation to ‘eating anything’ and making the most out of a bad situation was most likely necessary for survival. It was probably passed down through generations and developed as a cultural delicacy amongst black southerners. This is evidence to how people take traumatic experiences from their collective histories and evolve it into a way of embracing one’s past and culture. It has now developed more as a general Southern delicacy, right along the line with gizzards. Food that is so rich in history like this, that was once used as a way of division, is now being used as a point of connection amongst communities.

See more on ‘Ethnic Folklore’ below:

Oring, Elliott. “Ethnic Groups and Ethnic Folklore.” In Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, edited by E. Oring, 23-44.Logan: Utah State University Press, 1986.

If it ain’t pig, it ain’t BBQ

Background: The informant was born and raised in Western North Carolina. He has lived in North Carolina his whole life. The following phrase expresses a sentiment of North Carolinians surrounding a classic Southern dish: barbecue.

“If it ain’t pig, it ain’t BBQ”

I was told that for most people in North Carolina, barbecue is specifically pulled pork. It’s a very regional thing whereas other parts of the country also have barbecue, theirs is anything that’s cooked on a barbeque–could be tri tip, could be chicken, could be pulled pork, could be sausage. North Carolina also has a vinegar based barbeque sauce, where other places use mustard or ketchup based sauces.

Context of the performance: This was explained to me over FaceTime.

Thoughts: This short, fixed phrase states what is considered a truth among North Carolinians. It reveals a regional difference in a big part of the Southern culture–which is food. The phrasing suggests a binary view of barbecue that distinguishes region, and in North Carolina, you wouldn’t call something barbecue if it isn’t a form of pork, usually pulled pork. Barbecue seems to be a small way of forming an identity in North Carolina.

Moonshine custom

Background: The informant was born and raised in Western North Carolina. He has lived in North Carolina his whole life. He wanted to share some Western North Carolina traditions or knowledge. He specified that this really only takes place in the rural areas of the state and that this isn’t common knowledge outside these areas or in the more urban areas and cities. This knowledge was passed down from his father.

If you’re ever walking in the mountains, the woods, and you ever come on a live still that’s cooking moonshine as you speak (this is just basically taking corn and mix and you cook it and it converts. Then you take it and run it through copper pipes and you get it cool and cool the alcohol and that becomes corn liquor–also known as moonshine), you have to be really careful. Sometimes it’ll be booby trapped and if not what you’re supposed to do is, you see the still, get a stick and put it in the fire to say you’re going to help it and keep it going. This signals to anyone that might be watching in the woods with a shotgun that it’s okay and you’re not here to cause trouble.

Context of the performance: This was explained to me over FaceTime.

Thoughts: I am also from North Carolina but I’m from a city so I had never experienced or even heard of this kind of thing. This is so interesting because it reveals that the cooking of moonshine itself is a sacred tradition and the punishment for messing with moonshine is potentially getting shot. I didn’t know it was such a protected tradition or secret. I have alway felt some selective pride in being from North Carolina, but I felt like I was coming from an etic perspective. It shows that within the state, lifestyle and knowledge of traditions varies very much by region and that certain parts of the state will share very different common knowledge and unspoken rules than others.

Sometimes you just have to poke the frog to get him to move

Background: The informant was born and raised in Western North Carolina. He has lived in North Carolina his whole life. He wanted to share some Western North Carolina expressions and proverbs because he uses them frequently, liking their “local” nature.

“Sometimes you just have to poke the frog to get him to move.”

The informant said this proverb comes from a very literal place. When he was younger, he and his friends would go around poking frogs in the swamps with sticks to make them jump, saying: “It’s like, if you can imagine, when you’re growing up that’s what you do, you take the stick and poke the frog and it’ll jump.” Frogs are unique because just being around them or getting close to them doesn’t phase them or disturb them, only by actually touching them will they move. He explained that you would use this when it seems like you can’t get someone to do something, and it just means you have to take action to get others to act, especially if they’re being lazy.

Context of the performance: This was explained to me over FaceTime.

Thoughts: While the meaning can be inferred, the practice behind its meaning was a local thing for him. It’s a short, fixed phrase that provides an easy way to understand the world, given that the person hearing the proverb understands the meaning. In this example region comes into play, as this a widely understood sentiment, but its form as a proverb would perhaps not make complete sense to those outside the region of Western North Carolina, and perhaps some other areas of the south. I did not understand the context behind it, but got the gist of it. It made sense in terms of his life experience and that of people who grow up in rural, swampy areas after he explained.