Travel Log…The Devil’s Tramping Ground

There’s something to the Name Game, but there are times when a legend plants itself so deep into the minds of residents it forces them to actually name the place for the odd folklore born there.  We recently came across something like this with Bloody Bucket Road in Wachula, Florida, a road named after a story which then inspired a story which inspired an urban legend.  We’ve also found our way to places informally named after the weird happenings there, like the Devil’s Tree and Thrill Hill.  Rarely does a crazy story, known by the people living in the area if not fully believed, make the powers that be change the name of a place to reflect the popularity of a story.

20170711_113012The Devil’s Tramping Ground in Bear Creek, North Carolina is one of those places.  As we heard more about the story, given our obsession at the time with all things named after the Devil, we knew if we were going to North Carolina to look for phantom trains and hitchhikers, we were going to have to stop in and see if we could glimpse something unknown and supernatural making circles in the middle of the woods.

It started with a search into an area of North Carolina known as the known as the Piedmonts.  While looking for something else, I stumbled upon Craig Payst’s Web site North Carolina Ghost Stories.  He has a whole section of his site dedicated to the odd stories from that area, including a weird legend that has gained popularity among the people there over the last few decades.  Some of the details were familiar in that way a good piece of folklore should be, but one of the most interesting slants to the story was that the legend was shifting, adapting with the times to conform to changing ideas.  As we changed as people, the little tale of a patch of land where nothing would grown changed with them.

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The basics of the story should sound like something you’ve heard before.  In the woods near an area known as Harper’s Crossing there is a patch of land where things would not grow.  The infertile pattern was in an almost perfect circle, so people said there had to be something sinister and supernatural about it.  The first stories, which is said to date back at least two hundred years, tell of the Devil himself cast down, or up, to earth to contemplate what evil deeds to commit against the people of the Piedmonts.  Payst attributes this foundation to the strong religious ideas of the Scotch-Irish immigrants who made their way to the State.  No reason is given as to why these people should be a target for him, but there he walked in a circle debating and scheming what to do and tearing up the ground as he walked.   

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Listen to Episode 17…Trips, Triangles, and North Carolina Folklore

20170711_105007.jpgThere is more than just barren land in the story though.  Men and beast avoid the spot for reasons they can’t explain.  People who have dared to try and stay there at night have left with terrible visions.  It is also said that anything placed in the middle of the circle, living or dead, will be cast out by unseen hands.  Some have seen unexplained lights, and like many sites like this one, people have reported seeing hooded figures, either dark souls or Satanic cult members, walking the circle and the surrounding woods.  

If that was end of the story, it would make for an interesting tale.  But there is more to the story.  In the past few years, every trend in the paranormal has been used to explain the site or offer up a backstory for the unexplained.  According to Payst and some others who have looked into the stories, over the years the story has shifted to aliens, a witchcraft hotspot, and an ancient Indian burial location.  Each variation reflects the fears and the interests of the people who are making the story their own, evidenced by the newer idea that the spot is actually a vortex.  Whether to keep the deep folklore alive or just to claim a little ownership in the story, the little patch in the woods transforms itself into what people want.  

This, along with the idea of being pushed by unseen hands drew us to the site.

When we got there is a warm summer day with clouds and a slight breeze.  It was not hard to find, especially considering the street is named for the legend.  We set up a stationary camera to capture the whole thing and walked the perimeter of the circle.  It was littered with garbage, convenience store cups, and beer bottles.  There was a metal chair set up roughly in the middle and a makeshift fire pit.  Someone had been there recently, confirming the Devil’s  Tramping Ground as a party place.  

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We walked a ways into the woods and found evidence of other activity.  There were animal bones scattered in different locations, proof of either cult activity or people wanted it to look like there was cult activity.  Other than the bones and tarps, there was not too much to the area itself.  We spent time in the circle itself to see if we could feel anything trying to get rid of us, but our feet remained firmly planted.  Natalie had the idea to make a cross out of some of the local vegetation to see if it would get tossed from the circle.  We stayed for about an hour, mainly to say we had been there, and made our way to the hotel to get some much needed sleep.

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The original plan was to go back that night and see if we could talk to some of the people who partied there or even interview the dark forces, but we spent too much time looking for the hitchhiking Lydia and were not able to get back.  A follow-up the next day revealed nothing else out of the ordinary and our cross was in the same place.  In fact, after the being molested by ghostly redheads in Greensboro and getting new Pukwudgie reports in Indiana, the Harper’s Crossing and the Devil’s Tramping Ground felt mundane.

IMG_3104It was not until we reviewed the camera some time later that things got eerie.  One of the things I noticed, and we had not talked about it at the time of the trip, was how little time we spent in the middle of the circle.  Most of the time we were there was spent trailing the woods, but we seemed to unconsciously avoid actually being where the Devil was believed to walked.  It was subtle.  We had travelled 1,000 miles and didn’t spend much time in the middle.

You can’t put your hands on that kind of idea or hold it up.  It could just be an overactive mind wanting to justify having touched a legend.  The camera, however, picked something up which almost defines the eye.  At one point the lighting completely changes (perhaps due to the clouds overhead), but then several odd noises are heard.  These climax with a clear clanging of metal.  At that exact moment, something flies through the frame and out of the circle.  We have broken it down and determined it was not a bird and was too big, even in perspective, to be an insect or something else hanging out in the woods.  This, mixed with the sound heard right before the movement, leads us to believe one of those beer or soda cans was kicked out of the circle while we played in the woods.

Like the legend itself, there is no clear cut answer to what we saw.  The Devil’s Tramping Ground has exist for decades, and if every bit of folklore is born from some truth, there might be more to the story than just some dead vegetation and some odd lights in the woods.  People will continue to tell their stories about the place, odd first hand accounts with their choice of background to give it context.  The legend will continue because we want it to, but just when you think it’s safe to sit back and think of it all as just a story, a swift kick and clang might happen and make you rethink whether a ghost story, or even a tale of the Devil, has more fact than fable to it.  

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Listen to Episode 19…Tripping Carolina in My Mind

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Listen to Conversations on Folklore with Craig Payst

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My First Year as a Tripper

by Natalie Crist


This will be my first dive into the realm of personal online publication. Naturally  I’ve written previously, however it was always for the purpose of professional advertisement, or literature for product knowledge. In short I’ve never put myself out there for the world to read. Wish me luck!

 

In 2016 I was introduced to Christopher Balzano, and quickly learned about his ongoing Legends Project. Immediately I was drawn in by his enthusiasm, and extensive knowledge. Not only was I in presence of someone who truly had a passion for his field, but a highly educated individual who could offer fresh perspective and alternative opinions on the popular or widely accepted ideas the modern paranormal world had to offer. Hell, not even just the world of weird, he has an opinion on everything!  He asked me to join in on the Legends Project – specifically resparking the Tripping on Legends part, and of course I wanted in.  
shirt1At the time I didn’t even really realize what I was signing up for… I’ll never fully grasp why me, but I suppose it has something to do with my naiveté, my natural inclination to trust what’s given to me. Be it words, smells, sounds, or gut instinct, I have a tendency to blindly believe, and ask questions later. And I was a newbie into the paranormal, so I had no preconceived notions of right or wrong when it comes to stepping into the spooky.  


From the very beginning we hit the ground running. I had never been a part of such an engaging adventure.  Picking the theme song for the podcast was like destiny embodied. I’ll never forget that moment. Pure entrancement. Choosing artwork for the cover. (We argued here – for I’m not zombie fan!) We compromised. The picture of the spooky forest, was perfect for us in my humble opinion.. For me it stood as an allegory – a seemingly blank yet terrifying forest, with a touch of mystery – this was us. It calls to me. It has a luring quality, like you just have to know what lies beyond the blackness…  We had both undergone life altering changes in our personal lives, and we were ready for the next chapter. The empty spaces needing to be filled with adventure; paranormal adventures.

 

17626251_10212808826124518_9004207747878773194_nThis adventure came with a set of issues though – I’m prone to spiritual attack, or at least I think I am.  It could just be my empathic tendencies picking up strong emotions, and I can suffer.  Number two, I despise attention (Not really the personality traits of a Paranormal Podcast host, huh?). Thankfully we’ve worked around these issues!  Christopher is kind enough to shoulder my need for anonymity and does most of the publicity. I don’t really love to be seen on camera, and he respects that. (He’s also much more charismatic, and, er, enigmatic, so the role fits him) But, I am slowly stepping up.

 

2016-2017 was a hell of a year!

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Listen to the Tripping on Legends episode about it…

We’ve been to so many places I had never heard of, experienced so many things I never thought possible, had lengthy discussions about the philosophical meaning of legends, but in the same breath joked about them as well. We have had the cards stacked against us, and we’ve had to learn on our feet. We’ve shelled out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars just experiencing new places, and I wouldn’t want a dime back for the lessons, the connections, and the memories are invaluable.

 

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Natalie investigating the difference between traditional Mary hair and the statue’s

The next time I write I think I’ll delve into the what draws me in so strongly and what my reactions have been. One sentence kind of drives me – Often I forget the words that are said, however I feel forget the feelings.

 

Thanks for reading… I welcome feedback!

 

 

The Monsters Of Tennessee — Hondacsr

Like every state in the Union, Tennessee has its local legends, ranging from First Nations stories that predate the arrival of Europeans to the land to modern urban legends the likes of which reflect modern fears and unease. Among these legends are legends of local monsters. Given the centuries of human habitation in the state, […]

via The Monsters Of Tennessee — Hondacsr

Some interesting side stories to follow up on if we go to Tennessee…

http://www.hipcast.com/podcast/HSQQNTpQ

Met State: The Asylum Time Forgot

There’s an odd thing how paranormal landmarks work.  There’s an ebb and a flow to the popularity of locations which draw people in.  Whether it’s the Lizzie Borden’s Bed and Breakfast or Eastern State Penitentiary, these locations have a tendency to flare up, become very popular and eventually take a backseat to the next supernatural trend. Usually it’s due to television and media exposure, and much like a hot trend on television for the season, unless there is a deep rooted sense of community or legend within the story behind the location, it is almost impossible to keep the momentum.

Metropolitan State in Massachusetts is a lot like that.   Obviously when the hospital was still open reports from there were frequent.  When you consider its closing aligned with the rise of ghost hunting television shows and the founding of investigation groups, it’s no wonder it became one of the most popular legends in the Metro Boston area.  The longer it sat unoccupied, the more the stories grew.  The larger the fence was around it grew, the more people needed to see what was behind it.  It was even featured in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places.  Then nothing.  

After I found this old article, I tried to connect with some of the people I had spoken to about it and research whether things were still being spread the old building.   People I spoke to who research and investigate in the area had to look  it up when asked about it.  Met State’s time has come and gone.  It will be interesting to observe what might happen to it as time passes.  These things tend to go in cycles.

 

Asylums feed into our very idea of terror.  The insane, the locked doors, the masked doctors performing treatment we’d rather not think about.  To hear the word conjures up images we try and block out.  The buildings, designed to be inviting and practical, fit into our worst visions of these asylums, and as they fell into ruin they became more and more intimidating.  The torment that went on in them and the patients who died without names and without peace create a settling ripe for ghosts and ghost stories.

Although not as famous as its nearby cousin Danvers State Hospital, Metropolitan State Hospital in Middlesex County, Massachusetts has become known itself for the type of ghosts and ghostly legends that give people nightmares.  No one knows what went on behind the cement walls of that building, but our imagination has created its resident’s lives.  When reports started to come out about the strange happenings on its grounds, Metro State was labeled as haunted, and since its closure in 1992 those rumors have been confirmed time and time again.  Trespassers inside the building and people just interested in the beauty of the land say the same things doctors and mental health workers had said for decades.  Metro State is haunted.

metstateWhen looking at the hauntings at Metro State Hospital, it is important to separate the facts from the legends that now surround them.  The rundown buildings lie in Waltham, Belmont and Lexington, Massachusetts, cutting into the landscape of three very different communities.  It was originally opened in 1930  and functioned successfully for decades..  Although many mental health treatments in the past century seem ludicrous to us today, Metro was always on the cutting edge of the field.  As methods changed, Metro changed with them, and when severe financial cutbacks hit the state in the 1980’s, Metro felt them as much as the other institutions in the state.  The buildings were plagued with overcrowding and understaffing.  Unlike other hospitals that could be converted to prisons or juvenile detention facilities, Metro State was hampered by the design that had made it unique.  The building was finally closed in the early nineties. 

During the time it acted as a functioning hospital, its residents suffered horrible conditions and saw the worst of human sorrow.  Lost souls filled the rooms, giving in to homicide and suicide by its residents.  Doctors tinkered with experimental treatments like mind-altering drugs and electroshock therapy.  The poor died without family around them to grieve.  The psychic energy amassed in within its walls makes the hospital a prime area for the appearance of ghosts.

The reports started while the building was still open.  Several employees spoke of shadowy figures seen at night.  Described as a looking like a tall slender man but having no solid form, the unknown visitors would walk through walls or appear in locked rooms.  Residents reported the same shadow, but the reports were ignored as delusion.  Then nurses and security officers began seeing them too.  One woman described at least three different men who all walked differently.  She stated it became common knowledge around the main buildings and were talked about but ignored.

Other residents reported hearing the screams of residents who had passed, especially those who had suffered electroshock treatment at the hospital.  One employee went to assist a certain patient he had had a close relationship with.  The man was screaming about his mother, but when the worker, recently back from a vacation, went into the room a different man was there.  His resident had died over the week.

met6Underneath the hospital runs a network of tunnels once used to travel to different parts of the 23 acre grounds.  The tunnels were lit by intermittent bare light bulbs, and patients were often found in them after having wandered off.  There were also reports of deviant workers would take willing and unwilling patients down there for sex.  Whispers were often heard down in the tunnels although no people could be found.  One man described always feeling as if there was someone behind him or in front of him, but he never saw anyone there.

Not all the spirits in the yard are happy.  Poorer patients without families were buried on the site.  Hundreds of bodies were laid to rest in unhallowed ground with nothing but a marker stating their religion and a number.  Although there have been recent attempts to find their identities and give them a proper burial, their souls seem trapped.  Glowing red and green figures have been seen in the areas of the old and new cemeteries.  The emotions of these people are felt throughout the grounds.  People have heard whispers and footsteps and one woman stopped walking near the grounds after she continuously saw visions of the patients while near the building.  Although she walked without really thinking about what went on there, she would see them inside her head and feel what they had felt.

met5The reports continued after Metro State’s closing.  The longer it remained closed, the more the main building looked like a stereotypical haunted house.  What was once a beautiful and intriguing piece of architecture was became covered with graffiti with broken windows and crooked doors.  Adventure seekers and paranormal investigators found their way in.  Inspired by their own fears and the media coverage of the asylum, they broke in.  Equipment has registered activity such as EMF readings, bizarre changes in temperature and ghostly photographs.  They have experienced the same shadows and screams reported while it was still open, but they have also felt sudden sadness and depression hit them and seen objects in plain sight move by themselves.

The ghosts are not confined to the buildings.  There have been numerous sightings made on the grounds.  Designers envisioned a active yard where patients would receive occupational therapy and grow their own crops.  Touch and sensory treatment was also utilized.  This positive energy has also been imprinted at Metro State.  In the daytime there have been reports of people with a glowing aura picking flowers with smiles on their faces.  These people disappear when approached and have even been seen floating slightly off the ground.

met3Like other asylums throughout the East coast, the grounds at Metro State are being recycled.  AvalonBay Communities Incorporated has purchased part of the land and is converting it to apartments and a golf course.  Buildings are already being torn down and construction has started, giving rise to a new chapter in the land’s history.  The same company has been buying old hospitals and building homes, laying the foundation for a new set of hauntings and legends.  Instead of a haunted house being on what was once an old Indian burial ground, people will begin to talk of houses built over the sunken remains of old asylums.

met2If a society is judged on how it treats its sick and helpless, should it not also be judged on how it remembers it?  Metropolitan State began as an experiment in curing those society had cast away.  The souls trapped in the hospital may never find peace and those walking the grounds may never find rest.  That then remains the legacy of Metro State; a reminder of what we tried and a living ghost of just how far we need to go.

Old Ghosts at the Almshouse in Walpole

The Almshouse on East Street in Walpole has been the sight of hauntings since a fire in the late 1800’s and may have been the site of more than one tragedy before that.

 

Built in the early 1800’s by the houses original owner, Daniel Allen, the house was transformed into a house for the poor of the town and a weigh station for the homeless who jumped the railroads tracks nearby.  The poor farm allowed people to work in return for room and board and was supported mainly by town funds.  Because many of the people who lived in the house were unregistered with the farm it was difficult to keep track of who was there and tragedies that might have happened to people who lived a high risk lifestyle, but in the late 1800’s a fire killed anywhere between 16 and 26 boarders.  The house switched hands many times after the fire and in the early 1900’s children accidentally set fire to the barn and caused other damage to the property.  There are also rumors of the house being used as part of the Underground Railroad, and as we have seen in other stories, there has been a coloration between these locations and hauntings, often because of escaped slaves caught, but also because of the emotion releases during the tense moments hiding for one’s life.

 

The house has been known to be the spot of several hauntings, the most regular of which is known as Uncle Joe.  He is said to be responsible for tickling people on the back of their necks and misplacing thing.  There is a bit of sadness in his haunting, as he seems to play out his failed escape from the fire by opening and closing windows and rattling windows.

 

There have been various investigations of the hauntings at the Almshouse, but they have yet to produce anything more than medium impressions and scary stories.

 

The majority of information for the Almshouse came from a 1970 article by Janathan Kannair and an Article in The Walpole Times which ran on October 31, 1985 by Steve Mackinnon

 

Thank you to The Walpole Public Library and librarian Warren Smith for the information.  Libraries and Librarians like them are vital to the research I do and proved most helpful.  Help them keep up the work they do by checking out the Friends of Walpole Public Library and giving what you can.

Revisiting Charlesgate

This was one of the first articles I wrote on Massachusetts Paranormal Crossroads, even before it was called that.  Part of this appeared in Jeff Belanger’s Encyclopedia of Haunted Places and was “borrowed”  by several other books.  Charlesgate is where it all started for me, so it holds a special place in my heart.
Two things hit me upon reading the article.  The first is that I hope my writing has become better since this was first published around 2002.  Not sure I can say that’s true.  The other is that so much of what I was putting out there about the building and its history was based on things I was told and information passed down rather than researched.  I think that works sometimes.  Natalie Crist of Tripping on Legends was going through the story and asked me questions about the dates and times things had actually happened.  I had no answers for her.  I don’t think I need them.  So much of the legend of Charlesgate comes things that cannot be verified.
Before I left Boston, I took a haunted tour of the city that went by my old dorm.  The person giving the tour retold my stories back to me, not knowing I was the one who had experienced them or at least had written them down.  They were mixed and matched, with details added that had never happened.   The Federal Government story was its centerpiece and almost none of the details were right.
In that spirit, I offer you the unedited original story.

 

The old Charlesgate Hotel is one of the most haunted buildings in Boston. Over time the building has taken on legend status, making it difficult to separate the truth from the mystique that surrounds it. It was built in 1891, supposedly by the Mafia, although there has been no connection between the original contractor and architect and organized crime. From the outside you can’t see the eighth floor, where some of the illegal activity was supposed to have happened. There are several areas that are boarded up or filled in, revealing hidden rooms that were once used but that you cannot see unless you follow the slight cracks in the wall. One such room on the sixth floor was the sight of a suicide. Walking through the halls, checking out the rooms and then comparing it to the original blueprints (on file at the Boston Public Library) shows many inconsistencies and points to potential areas of hauntings.

After serving as a hotel it was sold and sold again until it eventually became a BU dorm. The lore began with the influx of students. BU sold the dorms and it became a tenement, serving some of the worst tenants in Kenmore. At that time, students began to move in as well, often charged far more than the other people living there, creating an interesting mix of college kids and sketchy “adults”. Emerson College bought the building in the 1980’s and renovated it back into dorms, placing its foot firmly in the square and extending its influence in the city.

100_0170Some of the legendary spirits that walked the halls are very old. In the basement there are the spirits of horses that died when there were stables there. There is a little girl that haunts the elevator where she died. Often people had seances and weird things would happen, and more than once magic and black magic had been practiced in the dorm rooms. But there were other strange things that went on. Often at night there was scampering in the ceilings, too small to be people, but too big to be rats. There would be voices and light problems. Some student would see a gurney roll by their room.

Suicide plays a major role in the mythology of the building, often being the root cause of things that cannot be explained. In the 1970’s there was an alarm clock in a room where a supposed suicide had occurred that would go off at 6:11 am although it was not set. Another time 3 girls moved into a room on the 6th floor. Although each of them wanted the big closet upon moving in, they all had unusual sensations when they approached it, deciding it was better to let someone else use the closet. Research discovered another suicide in that closet. Once a student woke up to see a spirit hovering over him. The ghost was also seen by the RA who ran in to see why the student was screaming.

cgate3It was a hotbed of activity, and if you used a Ouija board anywhere in it, you’d get results (See the Federal Government story).  One night we got an answer to some of the activity. We contacted a spirit that called itself Zena that would clearly write out answers to our questions and offered a detailed history of its existence. It was not a normal spirit because it had never lived, but was more of a spell that had been cast on doorways by one of the original builders to protect those inside. They saw everything and tried to help people and often communicated on the board as different people to make them do what they thought was right. They told me of a spell placed on me by someone that was later confirmed by two psychics who had no idea what I was going in for. It knew things only the people themselves would know, and made a believer out of more than one skeptic that would try the board.

After we left the dorms it was sold again, and one person who lives in the building says he never has had anything happen. I think back to a rule of Ouija boards though. If a spirit is on the board and it is not cleaned, and it is destroyed somehow, the spirit is said to escape. If there was something in those walls, I wonder what might have happened when they gutted the place out to make the condos.

100_0175Recently, while taking photographs for a new book coming out I evaluated some of the designs at Charlesgate. I had lived in the building for two years, but I had never noticed the faces, some obvious and other not so obvious, around the windows and in the rest of the metalwork. There were also scratches which appeared random, but upon zooming appeared to spell things out. Some of the expressions I found, hidden in the beauty, were “No Exit”, “Hell”, and “Gone”.

What’s Up, Doc: Being Rejected by the Professor

And here I thought I was doing it right all along.

I set nets and lobster traps out there.  I publish a story I hear in the hopes that a person keywording something they experienced or were told about will fall in and tell me their version of the story.  I then document what they experienced.  I go out to the places where things happen and try to experience it myself, maybe asking a few people nearby if they’ve heard about it.  I’ve been doing that for more than twenty years, since I first asked people what they had heard about my haunted dorm, Charlesgate.  If I’m looking at a place I don’t know, I send out e-mails to the gatekeepers of the tales; librarians, members of town history groups, professors at local colleges.  It’s my way of trying to get my hands on what Charles Johnson once called, “our human inheritance.”

Today I received a response back from a doctor of folklore studies from a university in Pennsylvania.  Nine words if you don’t count our names.

This is not the way to conduct folklore research.

Thanks, Doc.

Years ago Tim Weisberg from Spooky Southcoast gave me the label of Analytical Folklorist.  I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded official and important and close enough to what I do for me to embrace.  After all, I was slowly moving away from investigating the paranormal and had long held to the idea that the value in looking into the paranormal was in finding what it had to do with the people who experienced it and those who sought out their stories.  Tracking down a good ghost story was an exercise in recording oral and written history, and writing it down was capturing more about society than capturing a ghost (or a Ghost on Film).  I believed then that tales of the paranormal and supernatural were a major part of our modern folklore, and my work over the past three years has done nothing to change that.

It’s not that I think ghosts don’t exist.  There are unexplained things in this world, and those things will always remain that way.  The paranormal is our way of trying to make sense out of the unseen, and for every story where we see a possible reason for the ghost, there are ten more that only point at our existing ideas on ghosts or the growing new mythology we are creating concerning the unknown.   There is much folklore in how we look for ghosts, including the people who do it, as there is in the ghosts they look for.

But that’s a story for another day.

This is more about the Legends Project and its goal of searching out stories to trip this summer outside of Florida.

I had started the project a few years ago and restarted it about six months ago with the goal of traveling to sites I could trip and collect stories from.  The idea was to find places where the locals knew of a story, ghost or just off-center, and then go to the location and see what I could collect by talking to people and enacting any ritual connected to the story.

IMG_1978For example, you go to a cry-baby bridge.  You turn your lights out like the tale tells you to do.  Honk twice as instructed and be ready to see the bride appear before you with the dead baby in her arms.  Before that, you hit the Internet finding variations of the story and ask people about it when you get to the town.

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Perhaps the best example of Tripping on Legends doing this would be the case of the Devil’s Tree in Port St. Lucie.  We searched the Net for hours, and when we got there we asked everyone we could find the stories they had heard about it.  We were able to record four or five variations of the story or little add-ons (the serial killer lived in a shack near the tree) and this led us to other mysteries, like what were the ruins near the tree and was the whole thing signal some kind of disturbance in the area where serial killers, sketchy asylum owners, and random acts of violence would find their way to the same spot.

To me, that’s what modern folklore is about.  Find a story, look into the story, try to connect the story.

TImage result for food for the deadhis is what I learned from reading the people who inspired me.  Food for the Dead was one of the most influential books to my early work because Michael Bell set out to find the stories and experience them himself, even though he never really thought there were vampires out there. Jan Harold Brunvand laid out similar methods in collecting as many versions of urban legends as he could.  The same could be said for Charles Robinson in prepping New England Ghost Files.  I would even say hearing Joseph Campbell describing connecting myths follows a similar pattern.

So what am I doing that’s wrong, Doc?

The logical first step is to find a story.  This is a copy of the e-mail I send out to get the pot stirred:

My name is Christopher Balzano, a folklorist living in Southwest Florida.

I am starting a new project looking to explore and celebrate the stories that have become the foundation for the rich oral and written tradition of this country.  I am looking for the folklore that has contributed to the development and tradition of America, and I am hoping for your help.

I believe the journey of a folklorist starts with asking a question to get the adventure started, so today I am asking you.

Is there a story in your area that your citizens view as folklore or local myth?

Having done this for more than two decade, I understand how difficult that question may be. It involves sifting through old stories and urban legends to try and sort things out.  I am not asking you to go that far, mainly because that’s where the love of the trip lies for me.  I’m just searching for whatever information you might have and perhaps a lead.

I am looking to document the more obscure stories, the hidden John Henry of your area.

The story may be familiar but region specific, creepy or spooky, or just plain entertaining or important.  Folklore, urban legends, or just regional legends are all fair game.

I am especially interested if you know of storytellers who make these tales come to life or know of local archived audio files of them.

I thank you for your time, and I hope to hear back from you.

 

I have sent this to countless libraries and historical societies.  I have sent it to paranormal investigators and professors.  It’s a feeler, and more often than not it gets ignored.  The goal is to have someone get the e-mail and remember a story, or be bored enough to look through their files and find something that might fit the bill.  Sometimes there is a near-forgotten story in a drawer somewhere, like the Haunted Schoolhouse case a few years ago.  The bigger hope is that I get into their mind, so when something comes along, they think of me and what I am doing and get back in touch.

img_1614Almost every legend trip I have done in the past six months was born of this letter.  A librarian told me about the Singing River.  A newspaper writer pointed me towards the Mini Lights.  A member of the historical society asked me if Talking Mary fit into what we were trying to do.

So what do I do differently, Doc?

I have since sent a return e-mail asking what more I need to do to warrant a moment of his time and a lead on a story, but when I look at what I do, I am confident I’m going about it the right way.  I do it with a love of the story and an eye to what it says about us.   I do it with respect and awe.  I do it with the hope of experiencing what people have claimed to be their town’s truth but with the realization that more often than not I’ll just be shouting into the wind.

The first paranormal story I can remember involved a retelling of a Devil’s Footprint in New Hampshire.  I was living there at the time (seven years old), and as I read how the town had created whole mythos around this imprint in stone, I became fascinated with what was the truth behind the story, especially after the writer gave several different account of the legend.  Then he put his socked foot into the print and it fit exactly.  I was hooked.  Years went by and the same idea of the Devil’s footprint kept coming up.

Maybe I’m not going about this the right way, but methods have to shift.  We do not tell our stories the same way, and we do not hear them like the days of old.  Smart phones are handheld campfires, and Reddit is your sketchy cousin letting you in on the haunted house down the street.  Folklore is happening as we live and changing as quickly as we can switch apps.  There is history in the ghost story.  There is societal knowledge in the cryptid still wandering in the woods.  The best way to hold this knowledge is to experience and squint and look for the strings.

Here’s hoping that’s good enough for you, Doc.