Residence: Los Angeles/Tampa
Date of Performance/Collection: April 17, 2014
Primary Language: English
I collected this piece of folkore from a co-worker who grew up in Tampa, Florida. He told me about a common story that was used to scare children into behaving. His learned it from his parents, who would tell him the story in order to make him behave. Nowadays, he finds the story amusing, but when he was a child he took it very seriously and was very scared of it.
“Sometimes she’s referred to as “the bad lady” other times she’s referred to as “the swamp lady” The common theme of the story and the story I was told as a child was that there was a woman who would live in the swamps in the Everglades who was kind of like a witch who would have whole groupings of gators that would live on her property in these swamps, that she would be very close to and have a deep-seated connection to, like she could speak to them, control them and if you were bad your parents would threaten to drive you into the swamp and she would put you in a cage above the gators and depending on how bad you were she would lower you farther and farther into the lake and you’d have to try to survive with these gators. If you were really bad, your parents would just say “put him in” and you would be thrown to the gators and she would control them to whether or not they were going to kill you or how they were going to go about it based on her judgment of your crime.
So, I remember when I was five years old, I really didn’t want to go to church, and I knew I wasn’t allowed to go to church if I didn’t have shoes on, so I told my parents ‘I’m not going to put my shoes on. You can’t make me go.’ And they threatened to take me to the bad lady and leave me there with a ‘he goes straight to the gators’ thing and I very quickly put on my shoes and went to church. I was devastated when I was a little bit older and I realized there was no woman who would do this, that was against the law! But, I don’t know, it was a really common thing growing up, I would talk to my friends and be like ‘Did your mom tell you you were going to go to the bad lady?’ and they were like ‘Yeah, she’s real’. It was like Santa Claus”
This piece of folklore feels very specific to the location it comes from, since swamps and alligators don’t exist outside of a specific geographic region. So, it makes sense that the swamp lady would be in Florida, and that this specific story probably wouldn’t exist in a different state. It’s also interesting that children learned the story from their parents, and not from other children.