Tag Archives: urban legend

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.

Missing Prime Minster in Australia

Background

Informant: R.P. Italian-Australian Male, 28 years old

Location: Sydney, Australia

Context

Told to me by a 2nd generation Italian male, whose family immigrated to Australia from Italy and Naples a generation earlier. R.P. was born and raised in Australia and learned of this legend as a young boy playing with friends. The main piece/urban legend itself is based on an event that actually occured in the late sixties, however the legend deviated from the official telling of Harold Holt’s fate by speculating why he may have disappeared. I have summarized the legend below:

Main Piece

In the sixties, there was a Prime Minister, Harold Holt, that was known for being athletic, but a little outlandish. He had been the Prime Minster of Australia for a short time and people were generally okay with him, from what R.P. remembers in the story. At some point, the Prime Minster was swimming in the sea in the region of Victoria. He called out to the press and reporters that had gathered to photograph him “watch how deep I can go!” He then swam directly way from the shore where the reporters were waiting, he kept swimming until everyone lost sight of him. He never came back. He mysteriously vanished into thin air. They sent out search parties to look for him but never found him or any remains. It stunned the country because no one could understand how this man went missing when there were so many witnesses. Some speculate that he was kidnapped while in the open ocean by communists. Some say that he was caught in a riptide and couldn’t escape. Others say that he purposefully went missing to avoid the responsibilities of being Prime Minster. In the end, no one knows what happened, and his body was never found.

Thoughts

When asked about his opinion on why the Prime Minister went missing, R.P. replied that though it’s unlikely, he thinks that the Prime Minster purposefully went missing for some unexplained reason. From his perspective, and based on what he’s heard from members in his family, it may not have been an incredibly unexpected thing for Harold Holt to do. We discussed why some people may believe that Holt was actually kidnapped. R.P. posited that it was likely due to the political tension of the times. There were many reasons in that time period for controversies to spread, and due to the nature of the disappearance, it was easy for people to create conjecture and rumors about the situation. R.P. also offered clarification about the cultural reasons for why this was a particularly popular topic of debate. Because Australia is a relatively removed, yet developed country, certain types of stories will dominated the media cycle for an extended period of time. Because overall, it is a safer country when compared to America, stories about disappearances or other mysteries capture the public and become massive points of discussion, news is often privy to “overreaction” from the public in R.P.’s opinion. It is interesting to me, that in times of political tension, there are often public reactions to events that play on the perception of the event, rather than the practical elements. I liken the debate around Holt’s disappearance to some of the conspiracy theories of the sixties in America, in which distrust infused daily life to the point where people developed many controversial explanations for certain occurrences.

Peacock for Dinner

Background

Location: Pasadena, CA

Informant: 21 year old male from Austria, living in Pasadena with his father after moving to America.

Context

Heard from source local to the Pasadena area. This area is heavily populated by wild peacocks that live outside among the homes there. This urban legend was told to me in response to my question of where the peacocks came from. I have paraphrased the response below

Main Piece

The informant heard from his father who owned the property in Pasadena, that the peacocks migrated down to the neighborhood from the mountains above. There, the peacocks bred uncontrollably and now was considered an “infestation.” As a result, some residents had taken to hitting the peacocks with their cars and taking the corpses of the birds home to prepare them as meal, in soups, stews and other dishes.

Thoughts

The origin story of the peacocks is interesting, the informant is attempting to decipher how these peacocks came to be so prevalent in the area based off of what he has heard. Due to the fact that there are an overwhelming amount of peacocks living in the neighborhoods of Pasadena, the emergence of the urban legend points to a possible dislike for the peacocks. It also seems somewhat taboo, as Americans culturally do not regard peacocks as a typical bird for consumption. The legend itself seems farfetched, but it also points to the “quirkiness” and interesting characteristic of the neighborhood that so many wild peacocks roam around.

 

 

 

The Pregnant Student

Background

Location: New Lebanon, NY

Informant: J.R. – 23 year old male, originally from New York State, attended the same high school as the collector

Context

Urban legend specific to a boarding school located in the remote mountains of the Berkshires in New York State, of which I attended. The rumor apparently occurred at least 3-4 years before my freshman year of high school. This urban legend had been repeated and modified over time; I have recorded the core legend here, as told to me by J.R.:

 Main Piece

There was a student and a teacher that developed a secret, romantic relationship. Because of the close proximity that being on a campus allowed, the relationship carried on for a few months, even though the teacher was married at the time. At some point, the student realized that she was pregnant and pleaded with the teacher to get her a pregnancy test so she could confirm. The teacher did buy the test, but was intercepted by school administration, who was unaware of who the student was or her relationship with the teacher. The administration insisted that the teacher inform them of the student’s identity, which the teacher refused to do. As a result, this teacher was fired and soon after he and his wife divorced.

Thoughts

As the collector participated in this folklore when they were a student, they choose to believe the story is an urban legend specific to the school, rather than a retelling of events that actually occurred. The emergence and continued telling of this story could represent the repressed sexuality that students attending the school feel. There are disciplinary consequences for being caught in a sexual act at the school, this heightened a lot of the sexual tensions or feelings that students may have had by making it somewhat taboo. It fits within the archetypes of “forbidden passion” by dramatizing the passion students may feel for one another in the context of a student-teacher relationship. Perhaps this story is a cautionary tale of what could happen if a student was to break the rules and pursue sexual experiences while on campus. This story also represents the very common idea of a student having a relation with a teacher, which is very popular in boarding school settings. The tension between the faculty and his wife is also a popular point of discussion in boarding schools, as salacious or controversial drama that occurs between faculty remains a point of interest for students attending the school.

 

Dead Bodies in The Rock River: A Legend

The following is a conversation with JK that describes his interpretation and knowledge of the legend that dead bodies are dumped into the Rock River in Rockford, IL.

 

JK: So, Rockford [Illinois], is this small town but is actually one most dangerous cities in Illinois and one of the worst cities to live in in the country (U.S.A.). But anyway, the worst part is the West side, kind of in the downtown area, it’s super sketchy there, it’s like the hood. So, there’s this river called the Rock River that flows through the city close to the bad part of town, I don’t know really where it starts or ends, but basically, it’s really gross looking and murky and dirty, no one swims in it or fishes or anything; it’s just nasty looking. So, there’s this legend that the river is full of dead bodies that have been dumped from murders downtown. And tbh (to be honest) I’m pretty sure dead bodies have been pulled out of there. So, like, because of that, no one swims in the river. And it’s kind of funny and ironic because some of the nicer houses in town are on the river, but the last place I’d ever want to live is on the river for this reason.

 

EK: So how did you learn of this legend? What does it mean to you?

 

JK: I think it’s something that every kid picks up if they grow up in Rockford. I remember learning it in Kindergarten or First Grade, some corrupted little kid probably told me, and it spread like wildfire. But if you ask any kid from the area, regardless of the school, it’s just a legend that everyone knows; kind of like common knowledge. I’ve definitely passed it on to people before, haha.

 

My Interpretation:

The legend of dead bodies showing up in the Rock River seems like it can travel fast in a smaller town, especially because it has a lot of shock value. I’m sure some kids even tell it as a ghost story around Halloween. I also assume that the legend plants uncertainty in a lot of people, especially those who don’t live right by the river and are unfamiliar with the area; where the area goes from being the good part of town to “the hood.” The fact that JK believes that people have actually been found in the river, regardless of whether the person found was the result of a murder, a suicide, or an accident, it makes the river that much more eerie to citizens in the area, and helps the story spread like wildfire among kids in grade school who are looking to share the “next big thing” with their friends. When JK told the story, he told it very eerily/spookily, as if it were the perfect Halloween story.

The Bay Area: The Toys R Us Ghost

Context:

My informant is a 21 year old student from the University of Southern California. This conversation took place in a university dining hall one evening. The informant and I were in an open space, and the informant’s significant other was present and listening to the conversation, as well. The SO’s presence, is the most likely reason that the informant was much more dramatic and told the legend quite jokingly, as if for the purpose to get laughs out of both me and the SO. In this account, he explains a legend of a ghost in his town that he doesn’t remember who he learned it from: “Everyone just seems to know about it.” This is a local legend, and has also been reported on Mercury News, SFGate, and a series of blogs. This is a transcription of our conversation, where he is identified as A and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

A: Before the bustling suburb of Sunnyvale grew to its imminent heights that now houses Amazon and Google offices, it was once a sleepy little farm town in Silicon Valley, where tech was replaced by fields and farms and orchards. One day, this man (as it was explained to me) was out in the field, in one of those like, you know, he has some kind of labor agreement with the farm… So he’s hacking away with his hoe, and this guy injures himself. Turns out he bleeds out into the field and dies. Decades later, there’s now a Toys R Us here… long story short, this guy who self-maimed himself with a hoe and bled out… he hunts, this uh, Toys R Us. Even though Toys R Us just got bought out, before that, all the ghost hunter people would come into Sunnyville to see this ghost. He would come into the aisles at all hours of the night, pretty crazy stuff… You can say Sunnyvale’s not sleepy anymore!

Don’t sleep on Sunnyvale….

K: Ok, what did you take away from this story?

A: Um, I think especially in areas like suburbs, when there’s not traditionally a lot of culture, people latch on to certain stories, just to impart some kind of history onto a town that otherwise wouldn’t necessarily be that notable.

K: What effect did this story have on you?

A: I still shopped at Toys R Us, but honestly I heard it after I stopped shopping, but I still do play with Legos just as a disclaimer.

 

Thoughts:

I thought this story was particularly interesting and ended up looking it up to find out more about this ghost. As it turns out, this ghost has made quite a name for itself in the Bay Area. Just like my informant said, this ghost worked the land as part of a labor agreement, where he would have housing in exchange for his work. However, what my informant didn’t mention was the fact that this ghost fell in love with the daughter of the family that owned the land; she eventually ran away with a lawyer, breaking his heart. Distracted by the pain of his broken heart, the ghost ended up hurting himself with one of his tools and slowly bled to death, thus leaving his unsettled ghost to roam the land.

Years afterwards, many people came to the newly built Toys R Us that was constructed on top of the land that he worked to ghost hunt for him., but it seems that this story has re-emerged under the new context that Toys R Us is now shutting down. It seems that this story has a new relevance, where people can now interpret this story in the death of people, but also in the death of companies. Many of the new articles wonder whether or not the death of Toys R Us will also result in the disappearance of the ghost. However, the ghost’s story is separate from Toys R Us’s: he was clearly wronged by a member of the family that owned the land, and his haunting is meant to instill guilt in the owners of that land. Furthermore, ghosts are believed to be tied to the soil, not the structure that they resided in, so it’s most likely that the ghost will remain and that for those that were hopeful that he would leave, they will have to continue to remember the wrongdoings of the daughter that broke his heart.

 

For more on this ghost story, please refer to this article below:

Dowd, Katie. “Will the Death of Toys R Us Kill off This Famous South Bay Ghost Story?” SFGate, San Francisco Chronicle, 17 May 2018, www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/haunted-toys-r-us-sunnyvale-ghost-store-12750779.php.


The Witch of Yazoo

(Setup)

Storyteller:

“On my dad’s side of the family…he grew up in a town called Yazoo City, Mississippi. And did you ever see a movie called My Dog Skip?

Me: “No”

Storyteller: “Okay, so it’s a movie..based on a book about an author who grew up in the same town as my dad did. A white author who grew up there. And in the movie, they portray this legend which is the Witch of Yazoo. And supposedly, people are like ‘well he invented that for the book.’ On the black side of town…because it is Mississippi so there is still a very distinct black side of town. On the black side of town, the Witch of Yazoo was a preexisting legend. And again, whether it was a story he coopted or whatever, I don’t know. But I know that I heard about this form my aunt and uncle before I ever heard of this author or My Dog Skip or anything.”

(Here is the chunk of the story)

Storyteller: “And so, basically the story is that there was this woman and she was…and I’m going to try to remember it as accurately  as I can. I believe she was having… an affair with a man in town and it was either an affair…or some sort of family drama. I don’t remember specifically that part of it. But she ends up being murdered essentially by the man in her life in a fire. And then they bury her and everyone forgets about it. And then at a certain point fairly soon after…or it may have bene close to the anniversary of the death, half the town burnt down. And everyone was like wtf, like what happened. And her grave had been dug up.”

Me: “Oh My God!”

Storyteller: “And so people were like…’It was her! She came back and she did it’. And of course people were like ‘that’s crazy.’ But also people were like ‘um maybe?’ So they built a chain that goes around her grave that is supposed to keep her inside.”

Me: “Oh My God, that’s terrifying”

Storyteller: “And in the movie, if you see the movie My Dog Skip, it’s like a crypt that’s there…but in the black cemetery there was a grave because we went to see my grandmothers grave and I asked about it and my aunt was like ‘oh girl lemme tell you this story.’ So either there is one for the black side of town…because you know it used to be very segregated. Or it was a thing that happened on the black side of town originally and it just got coopted on the other side of town…I have NO idea. But it is this hilarious thing because it was this chain with GIANT weights and I was like ‘what the hell is that?!’ And yeah, so the inspect the chain…or at least they used to supposedly…they inspect it so she couldn’t come back.”

Me: “So this was true and it became a movie? Or what?”

Storyteller: “The thing is I have no idea…my aunt tells that story as if it is gospel truth right? But then when the movie came out and I looked it up, all this stuff online said it came from the book. But my aunt told me that story without ever having read that book. Because I asked her and she was like ‘what are you talking about?’ And she knew the guy (the author) but she had never read the book. So I don’t…I have no idea if it’s just one of those local stories that people know so he used it in the book or what…But it’s the south and it’s full of ridiculous scary stories. Really I think all these stories are made to just keep us from doing bad stuff or whatever.”

 

Background: The storyteller is form the south and her dad’s side of the family is from the city where this legend takes place. After listening to her other story that she shared with me, it is clear that her family has passed down many stories that are unique to the south. The storyteller is a professional writer and has used some of these stories and filled in the gaps to write short stories upon the narrative.

Context: I asked her if I could interview her for this project. I knew that she was from the south and after collecting a couple stories from people who grew up in the south, I was fascinated with them and wanted to hear more. She gave me three stories…a couple were stories from New Orleans and the other was this one. Both occurring in the south. I drove back home to meet her for some coffee before diving into the interview (along with another storyteller who is in a different post)

Thoughts:  I think that the stories that come from the south are fascinating. I don’t know what it is that draws me and so many other people to them. Perhaps it’s because the stories are incredibly rich or perhaps it’s the stories’ attention to details that make the stories so real. There are a lot of stories about revenge in the south and once again, I believe that this is the case because there is a lot of unsettled business. There have been a lot of wrong done in the south and the only way for people to cope with what happened may be to create stories that serve a small percentage of justice to those that were killed or unfairly harmed.

 

 

The Winchester Mystery House

The informant is middle-aged family friend who grew up in New Jersey. He heard this legend while in medical school in the Bay Area.

Note: The initials DW denote the informant, while A refers to me, the interviewer.

——————–

A: Okay. So what is the Winchester Mystery House?

DW: Yes. So the Winchester Mystery House is this ginormous, sprawling mansion somewhere in the Bay Area. I think it’s in San Jose. Um, so Winchester is actually the family that made Winchester guns, made an enormous fortune manufacturing firearms. Um, and so, I believe it was … the or one of the heiresses to this fortune, I think back in the late 1800s or early 1900s? I think she was involved in mediums, and seances, which was really en vogue all across English-speaking world back then. She became convinced that there were evil forces that were out to kill her, and the only way to prevent that from happening is to continually keep building her house, to never have construction stop. Twenty-four hours a day.

A: [laughs] Huh. That’s interesting. Why would that keep them away?

DW: I have no idea. That was, like, her delusion. I guess we would call it a delusion. Who knows? Maybe it was real. But she did end up dying eventually.

A: Oh! Of… supernatural causes?

DW:  [laughs] I don’t think so. Unlikely. I don’t know of what. Not killed by demonic forces.

A: [laughs] Okay.

DW: So, this huge house is… it’s like a… you can visit as a tourist today. It’s huge! And lots of rooms. But what she started doing also is just building, like, hallways that stop at nothing, staircases that go nowhere, doors that open to nowhere. Just building for building’s sake without any purpose or function.

A: How big did the house end up being?

D: I don’t know, like, in square feet, but really big.

A: Where do you think the lady got that idea?

D: I don’t know… It kind of reminds me of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Obviously, the spirits were her obsession, and then her compulsion was to keep building the house.

——————–

The thing I found interesting is the fact that the legend centers around the widow’s motives for building the house rather than the house itself. The house exists, and the fact that there was so much construction is true (though I could not verify that it was actually twenty-four hours a day). But when I did further research on the house, I found that no one actually knows why the widow undertook so many bizarre renovations. I think that the fact that a legend arose from this is an interesting demonstration of the human need to rationalize the things we don’t understand–for example, when we hear phonemes (or single-syllable sounds) in another language that we don’t recognize because they don’t exist in our language, our brains interpret them as the closest phoneme in our own language. Because there is no reasonable explanation for why someone would do something so bizarre, it makes sense that a legend would arise suggesting that the house was haunted, or that spirits or psychics instructed her to keep building the home. To me, it was an example of how folklore can arise to meet our needs or to explain things to us.

Don’t Get the Cheese Touch

Piece:

Interviewer: “What about games? Any you remember from childhood?

L.F.: “Lemme think…. Oh yeah haha the cheese touch.”

Interviewer: “What is the cheese touch?”

L.F.: “It was kinda like the elementary school bully version of tag. Basically when someone had the “cheese touch” no one would speak to them out of the fear of getting it.”

Interviewer: “What was it though?”

L.F.: “hahahaha… I don’t know… It was just like cooties. No one knew what they were but you definitely didn’t want it.”

Informant:

Informant L.F. is a teenage boy who recently became an adult. He is half Japanese and half Jewish and has spent his entire life in Northern California. During the summers, L.F. likes to attend away summer camp, and had attended the same camp for the past five summers. The camp is ranges from three weeks to 2 months and L.F. will be returning this summer as a counselor.

Context:

I asked informant L.F. to sit down for a formal interview on young adult folklore and if he remembered any weird games from his childhood or now. This is what he thought of.

Interpretation:

To L.F. the cheese touch was a childhood game used to ridicule and scare kids into bullying one another. And, while her has fun memories of playing the game, he admits it was a representation of childhood bullying. L.F. does not remember who he learned the game from, but it was the sort of game that never really ended and all his school friends were apart of it. It reminds him of simpler times and of his youth.

 

Legend of Hicks Road — Albino Colony

Text

The following piece was collected from a nineteen-year-old female during a road trip from Los Angeles to San Jose, CA. As we were driving, she yelled out and pointed at an exit sign to “Hicks Road” leading off the freeway. Girl hereafter referred to as “Informant” and I will be referred to as “Collector”.

Informant: “Look, look! There’s an old ghost story about that road! Have you guys ever heard of Hicks Road?”

(Chorus of negative responses)

Informant: “So, the myth is that at the end of Hicks Road there’s an albino colony. The albinos all live up there in really creepy trailers. They say that the albinos really hate outsiders, or, like people that aren’t albino. So its supposed to be that if you ever are routed somewhere and you’re supposed to go through Hicks Road, you should reroute because if you go through there, the albinos will get you.”

Collector: “Do they just live on the road? What will they do to you?”

Informant: “No, they live in the dead end, basically a cul-de-sac of albino people. There are some parts of Hicks Road that are okay, but if you turn right at the dead end part, it will take you right to the albinos. Nobody knows what they’ll do to you, all you know is that they don’t take well to strangers.”

Context

It was obvious that my informant found this story to be highly entertaining. While the Informant made it very clear that she did not truly believe that there was an albino colony living at the end of Hicks Road, she was still very adamant that we did not venture near it when I suggested we make a quick detour. The informant lives in San Jose and claims to have known the story for a very long time; she believes she heard it at school. When I asked her when she learned of it, or from whom, she couldn’t recall but remembers it as always being present. She remembers it because it is one of the signs she always sees on the drive from her home in San Jose to USC. She heard a theory that the story originated from a couple of people who were out at Hicks Road one night when they stumbled across a man. The kids ran away because they were scared of being caught trespassing, and apparently during an account of what they had seen, one of the kids claimed that one guy had been “very white”. Thus, the myth of the albino colony.

Interpretation

I was very interested in hearing this story. I similarly do not believe that there is truly a colony of albino people living on Hicks Road in San Jose, CA. Like my informant, I am inclined to believe that the myth began when the story passed from friend to family member after one of the originators claimed to have seen a “very white” man up at Hicks Road. I love the idea that whole myths begin by one person’s account of an event, that childhood horror stories can be created by a simple phrase.