Folklore Fridays: Halloween Edition

(64320) Halloween, Games, Children, Ghosts, 1920s

It is that time of year again! Prepare thyself for the long nights to come with a sampling of supernatural tales drawn from student fieldwork projects for the Folklore Archive.

The Haunted Farmhouse
It wouldn’t be a proper Halloween without a story about an unsuspecting couple buying their dream house with disastrous results. The following story comes to us from James Gurski who collected it for his 1975 paper “Collection of Polish Legends and Tales.” [ref: 1982 (35)]

“This happened about four years ago. It was told by the sister of the woman who bought and lived on the farm.

Ruth had always dreamed of retiring with John to an old farm within driving distance of Detroit. After looking for a year, they found an old farmhouse located on twenty acres in Fenton. The house had been vacant for some time and needed a lot of work. Her husband being very handy looked forward to doing the work himself on weekends. The price was surprisingly reasonable. Next day they purchased it and ordered building material to be delivered on Friday so he could start work on Saturday. Arriving early they found it had not been delivered….the lumberyard claimed that a man on the farm had turned the order away. John re-ordered and asked for it to be delivered on Friday. Again, the driver claimed he was told the order was canceled. The driver described the man as being around six feet tall, partially gray, about sixty years old, and rather rude. John knew no one who fit that description. They decided that it must be some derelict who had lived in the vacant house.

The following weekend John and Ruth drove to Fenton early Friday and followed the truck to the farmhouse. They spent the night in a motel and started work on Saturday morning. The following weekend they returned and found that someone had pulled down the half-paneling that they had put up in the bedroom. They attributed it to vandals.

Repeatedly, ordered materials were turned away by the tall man and John’s work undone. To protect the house, they remodeled one bedroom, put in plumbing, and moved in. Ruth would see delivery trucks pull in the driveway, stop, the driver would lean out the door, then begin backing out. Running outside, the driver told her the tall man on the porch had canceled the order. Strange things continued to happen, but were explained away as jinx happenings. The strange noises were attributed to the settling of the house. The misplaced tools and fallen panels as careless work.

John retired four months later and began working with Ruth to put a bathroom on the second floor. They went shopping for fixtures and tile. Upon returning, they were stopped by their nearest neighbor and told that the couple that was staying with them had a very serious and ugly quarrel. The tall man chased his wife around the front lawn. Once again it was explained away. Some couple must have stopped on the road and quarreled. The neighbor just hadn’t seen the car. That weekend Ruth’s sister and brother-in-law came for a visit. The first morning the sister accused John of rudeness because he did not speak to her when she passed him on the stairway during the night. John swore he never left the bed. The following morning the brother-in-law accused John of coming into their bedroom and looking through their suitcases. A heated argument followed, finally, both the sister and brother-in-law conceded that it was not likely John. The man was tall and thin, while John was five-foot-ten and potbellied. So shaken by this and the noises that they heard at night, they left that afternoon. Ruth and John became increasingly ill-at-ease living on the farm. They talked to neighbors asking about the previous tenants. This is what they were told. The house was built by a hard-working, domineering man. He beat his wife and children if they disobeyed him. After the wife died his children left him, one by one. He accused them of trying to take possession of the house and farm by putting him in a nursing home and swore that no one but him would live there. After he died the farm was rented two or three times, but people never stayed for long.

The old man was seen by other people looking out of the windows or standing on the porch or walking towards the barn. The nights continued to be filled with strange noises. Things were moved or broken. John and Ruth never saw the old man and tried to rationalize the noises and broken china for a year-and-a-half, then they put it up for sale.”

Portents and Visions
The following stories were collected by Carol Gavin in 1970 for her paper “Tales of the Supernatural Told by College Students.” [ref:1970 (113)]. The informants were members of her sorority at Wayne State University, and the stories were recorded during a weekend retreat at a cabin in Washtenaw County. Each story deals with the idea of a supernatural portent, or a sign from beyond that something tragic has happened.

“My mother had an aunt in Pittsburgh whom she was very close to as a child. After not having seen her in twenty years, my mother woke up in the middle of the night and heard someone tapping on the bedroom window. She recognized the voice as that of her aunt. She was calling her by a pet name that only her aunt knew. The next morning my mom called Pittsburgh and her uncle said that his wife had passed away the night before and had been calling my mother’s name at the same time that she heard the voice.”


“Three people in my family have recently died and my mother has had the same experience for each of them: my father, grandfather, and grandmother. She was awakened in the middle of the night because she heard people walking up the stairs from the side door to the kitchen. The footsteps continued through the dining room and living room in a circle. The first two nights the footsteps walked back out the side door but on the third night, they stopped in the dining room. That was the night that each of these people died.”


“Recently, my brother was in Korea fighting. My mother woke in the middle of the night and heard him walking up the stairs. She recognized his footsteps and he walked right up to her. His left arm was all bloody and he kept saying “Mother, it will be alright.” Two months later we received a letter saying that he had an accident on base and had torn the muscles in his left arm on the same night that she had seen him.”

Southern Ghost Stories
The Great Migration brought thousands of African Americans to Detroit from the South during the first half of the 20th century and this is reflected in many of the student field reports in the Folklore Archive. In turn, there is a rich body of stories dealing with the supernatural recalled from Detroit residents from their time living in the South. Willie Pearl Scott’s paper “Supernaturalism in the Black Culture” is a fine example of this. Collected in 1977, it includes 4 legends and 13 memorats (personal recollections), many with their origins in the South. The stories found below were collected from family and friends who had originally lived in Arkansas.

“After my grandmama died, I moved into her room for a while. She never came back to worry me then. When Uncle Lanie took my grandmama's room, and I had to sleep in another room, she would worry me. I would hear grandmama’s slippers coming down the hall. I was so scared grandmama would touch me. Grandmama would come into my room and say “I’ve got to have somebody out of this family.” I would say “No grandmama. Don’t take anybody.” This went on for about three months. Six months later my grandmother on my father’s side died. She died on the same day, at the same time, in the same way, that grandmama had died. She died of a stroke of the brain.”


“I was working in the cornfield a mile from the house.The mules started acting funny. I thought it might have been a fly bothering them. I looked around but didn’t see one. Then I happened to look down the field and saw a little girl and a lady with no head. I vacated the cornfield.”


“Me and some friends went coon hunting. We got to this place and saw a funny light shining. I looked at it a little closer and saw that the light was hanging from a tree. It was a casket in the tree. I turned around and looked for my friends. They was gone. I took off after them.”


“We had been to a party in the country and was riding back to town in the wagon. We used to drive down this lane with a Baptist church on one side and the cemetery on the other. Lula always hid her face in my shoulder whenever we passed this way. Finally, I asked her why she did this. She said that she always saw something when we came this way. This time she said she saw six men carrying a casket across the road and didn’t none of the men have a head. She asked me if I noticed that the horses had stopped a while. I told her yes. She said that they stopped to let the men carrying the casket cross the road.”


“People used to tell about a haunted house. No one could stay there. A man said that he could stay there for five hundred dollars. The man got a lot of wood and built a

fire in the fireplace. He got a book to read and sat by the fire. After a while, about nine o’clock, a big tall cat came in and sat right next to the fire. The man and the cat eyed each other. Along eleven o’ clock another big black cat came in and sat by the fire. Both of the cats began eyeing the man. The man pretended to read. Pretty soon one (cat) said, “Are we going to do our business now or wait until Tom comes?” The man said, “I don’t know about you, but I am going to go do business now.” The man ran down the road. He ran so fast. He got to a big tree and stopped to rest and said “Whew! I am tired.” One cat said, “Me too!”

Happy Halloween!

Folklore Fridays is an exploration of a theme or topic found within the Folklore Archive through text, audio, or still imagery. It generally appears on the Reuther Library blog on the last Friday of each month. The Folklore Archive, established in 1939, contains the oldest and largest record of urban folk traditions in the United States.

Elizabeth Clemens is an Audiovisual Archivist at the Walter P. Reuther Library.