You shouldn’t walk across a grave

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 59
Occupation: Creative writing teacher and head librarian at a high school
Residence: Durham, NC
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/29/21
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Background: The informant was a boy scout and eventually became an Eagle scout. He remembers a game he used to play with his fellow scouts that involved a superstition about graves and respect for the dead.

TR: The superstition that you shouldn’t walk across a grave. It is bad luck to walk across a grave. The scout troup would meet at a Methodist church and the meetings would be at night. We would play capture the flag a lot and across the property and graveyard in the dark and it would be spooky. I was hesitant to play, because you’re just not supposed to, disturb the dead, particularly at night. It’s all tied to respect for the dead. Back then when you are just trying to scare one another, it added another element, and it’s a long standing superstition that you don’t walk across graveyards, or play capture the flag and run. That seems even worse.

Me: If this is widely held, did you know of the superstition when you were doing it?

TR: Well yeah, it was well known that you aren’t supposed to do it and you’re walking across a body, a dead body.

TR: We thought about it, and had various levels of investment in the superstition, but I was not particularly invested. Some might have been more worried about incurring the wrath of a ghost or receive bad luck, but I didn’t think much of it. The idea of displeased ghosts became more believable playing at night than it would be playing during the day.

Me: Was it more believable at night?

TR: Definitely.

Me: If it was more believable, why did you do it?

TR: The fun of the game weighed in heavily, but the hesitation came from it being disrespectful. It is widely known that it is disrespectful.

Context of the performance: This was told to me over a Zoom call.

Thoughts: The informant considers this superstition just widely known–it’s not officially codified. It takes a sentiment, being respectful of the dead, and turns it into a superstition using an object–the gravestone representing the person it’s placed for. It also reveals children’s thought processes surrounding death, where the fun of the game outweighed any feeling of disrespect. The superstition and “spooky” nature added an element of fun to the game as the informant and his friends tried to scare each other, perhaps signifying young children’s non-confrontation of the taboo; they use the superstition to make the fun scary, but don’t think about the taboo of death that is incongruous with childhood.