Seen below is last year’s attempt at drawing a flamingo and then carving it on a pumpkin. It’s not a typical jack-o-lantern, granted, but I think the spirit is conveyed effectively. This year I think I’ll try a house – that might be easier than a skinny bird.
Children tend to create stories in their social circles, often stories intended to scare their friends before daring them to touch the haunted house or look in that window. Every group (whether societal or cultural) shares familiar stories, experiences, riddles, etc. – what we might call folklore. According to The American Folklore Society, folklore is defined as: the traditional art, literature, knowledge, and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example. Many more definitions can be found on the website, with varying definitions that all add further depth the study of folklore.
Halloween seems like an appropriate holiday on which to discuss folklore, even though folklore goes far and beyond shared spooky tales of children. Yet, the antics of children are included, so I’m going to share some of the tales from my neighborhood when I was in elementary and middle school.
The Witch’s House
A brown, dreary looking ranch house, just two houses past mine, had been unoccupied for a few months and it was starting to look rather creepy. My good friend Sara and I would routinely sit on the edge of my neighbor’s property and peer through the hedges just to get a glimpse at the house. We wanted to get as close as possible without actually crossing the property line.
One gloomy, cloudy day, Sara and I decided to walk past the house. She stopped me in the middle of the street and swore that she saw someone’s hand on the window sill. And then she saw something move! Always easily scared, I believed her and we ran back to my house. We were convinced that a witch lived in the house.
Sara had likely imagined her vision and exaggerated it because she knew that I would believe her, but I avoided that house thereafter. This is the same friend who later told me she saw a ghost in my other neighbor’s window.
The Woods behind Norwood Avenue
Now the property is a gated community of town houses and swimming pools, but 15 years ago, the woods behind my elementary school yard were filled with garbage and the creepiest thing imaginable to my nine-year-old self. These woods scared me so much that if I was at the school yard on a weekend with my sisters and we were swinging on the swings, I wouldn’t face my back to the woods.
Two of my friends, Elisabet and Amy, and I always played together at recess and we would often talk about how scary the woods were. One day the girls told me that one of their brothers had actually gone into the woods. And he saw all sorts of garbage. But then, he saw a gun leaning against a tree and he was chased out of the woods!
The story has since faded from my memory (i.e. I’m finally over it), so the details are fuzzy, but the images of a gun and a psycho killer living in the woods hung in my imagination for a long time and I wished that I had never heard the story. I would never walk near the fence separating the school yard and the woods.
Elisabet and Amy either also found me very gullible or their brothers passed along an exaggerated, scary story to a couple of fourth graders.
One winter afternoon, Sara and I were playing outside in the big maple tree in front of my house, which was a common activity for us. We heard noises that sounded like gun shots from far away. (Of course, I didn’t really know what gun shots sounded like since I was growing up in a house full of girls who didn’t watch such things on television. Regardless, we assumed the sounds were gun shots.)
We froze. Sara and I looked around, wondering what was happening. Suddenly, Sara told me that she saw someone in a car parked on the side of the street. And she said that she saw a gun. (Sara had a wild imagination.) So we didn’t move. It felt like forever. We thought that if we just pretended to be part of the tree, then no one would see us. However, there were not any leaves on the trees and we probably had on brilliantly colored early 1990s jackets.
I think we spent most of our afternoon frozen in the tree. I don’t remember how we finally convinced ourselves to go inside.
Sara was not an evil friend, just to clarify this. I think she just liked to pretend. It’s probably caused some damage and can attributing to my distaste for scary movies, but it was always an adventure with Sara.
The Old Man’s House
Around the bend in my street, there is a house that has always been a mystery to my sisters and me. It’s a large lot, mostly hidden by tall maple trees and large shrubbery, and barricaded from the public by a four foot chain link fence and a really tall mailbox. For the longest time, there was a hole in the roof and cats would come and go as they pleased, through the hole. It often smelled like cat urine around that bend. Occasionally I’d see a light through the window or the front door would be open just a crack.
Needless to say, it was spooky. Probably after years of gazing at the house as I passed on my bike or in the car, I finally saw a tall, skinny old man who lived there. I asked my mom many questions. But what did he do? Where did he go? Did he ever leave the house? Why did he have so many cats?
This man and this house is still a mystery to us, but the roof has since been replaced, following the tarp that protected it for a while. However, it’s still a dark and hidden house with cats all around.
These stories are vaguely tied to folklore, but I do think it’s interesting to hear the stories that children tell each other and how these stories affect what they do. I think it can be categorized as folklore because it can help to define a certain group (in this case children of one neighborhood) by how they play and what they believe. I wonder if children younger than my friends and I believed the same stories, years later.
What do you think about the folklore of children? Should it be studied? Can it be studied? (Or has it been?) Or am I off the mark? Please feel free to share your thoughts.
I’m still easily scared.
Despite arriving on a rainy day, we still wanted to explore at least a few sites. First we dodged the rain and saw the exhibits at the Liberty Bell and toured the exhibits inside and saw the bell. You cannot touch it, but you can take photographs. The exhibits were interesting and there were a few short movies playing about the bell and its history, which entertains people who would rather not crowd around displays to read.
Next we dodged the rain to wait in line (then in the rain again) for Independence Hall. It was here that the delegates of the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. Needless to say, it’s a neat to place to see where all of our rights began and where these delegates truly put their lives on the line for the future generations of America.
And outside of Independence Hall, quite a pretty sight, even in the rain:
There is much more that we did not have time to see, but I do think Philadelphia is a field trip that every child and adult should experience. Sure, we learn about the Revolutionary War in elementary school and then in high school some more, but seeing an actual site can add much more value and help to piece together lessons. I’ll admit, I do not visit historic sites as often as I should, but those with national significance should be on everyone’s list of places to see.
More of Philadelphia to come!
Yesterday I discussed the future of digital research and how most of us have important parts of our lives on a computer or on the internet. I alluded to the fact that it would be around forever. I don’t know this – I’m not very technical/internet savvy in terms of the future and what is up to date. Today, let’s think about the other side. Will our email accounts ever be deleted? What happens if our blogs are deleted? What happens if Webshots or Picasa or Snapfish goes out of business? (Is that even possible?)
A back story: In high school, ca. 2001, my family had Juno accounts. From what I remember, we did not access it on the web, but more as a Microsoft Outlook account on the desktop (after the email came through on the dial-up connection.) Then one year we got a new CPU and we didn’t have that same Juno program anymore. We still had Juno accounts, but now we had to access them on the internet. The problem was that all of my previous email had disappeared! Most of it was inconsequential, but years later I still wish that I had some of those emails because some were from Vinny back in high school and I wish I could have those along with everything else I have saved. If I had known that would happen, I probably would have saved the emails as separate documents (but of course they’d be on a 3.5” floppy disk right now and that wouldn’t help me either.)
Clearly, that’s a lost cause but for some reason it’s still in my head. What does that mean now? Have I saved every email as a document? No, although I’ve never used a Microsoft Outlook type of program again. Instead, I rely on Gmail to save all of my email. What will eventually happen to it? Should I be saving all of my email? Considering the vast quantity of email that I write, it would be ridiculous. However, a good portion of my emails reveal much about my life. Although I have always kept a diary, sometimes I feel like email substitutes itself and I wish I could have both. This isn’t something I wish for so that 100 years from now, I’m easily researched. It is so I can look back on my life when I’m very old and gray and reminisce and remember where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and those who mean the world to me. With everything in digital form, this could be a challenge.
I don’t have a digital preservation plan for my email. The only things that I do make sure are safe are all of my files on my hard drive, which are stored on an external hard drive. My photographs are safe for the near future, all stored on Picasa. But a few years down the line, I have no idea what that will mean.
Aside from our personal lives, we should probably consider our professional documents. How does your office insure that files and records are safe? I’m not implying that everything should be in hard copy. That can be extremely expensive in terms of natural resources and human resources. And a natural disaster can easily destroy hard copies of everything.
I’m interested to hear what you are doing in terms of present digital preservation (historic records are another issue) whether for personal or professional purposes (and for email!) Is there a solution out there of which I am not aware?
Do you imagine what people will know about you 100 years from now? What will they remember? What artifacts from your life will remain? Comparing 1908 to 2008 and our current state / adoration for material culture, it seems as though no one will ever fade away. This is good news, right? No one wants to be forgotten and it is always interesting to learn about someone who lived 100 years ago.
Still, what about the artifacts? Aside from general stuff, like furniture, clothes, house wares, etc. the things that really speak about you are photographs, letters, diaries, or maybe a portfolio. But, what about the digital side of our lives? Most of us keep digital photographs and emails over photograph albums and boxes of letters. Some of us have blogs, whether something like Preservation in Pink or something more akin to a diary, only anyone on the internet can read it. Whatever you choose, much of our modern lives exist online.
On one hand, this makes everything portable without actually having to move it. You can access your digital life from anywhere: email, photographs, blogs, Facebook, etc. You don’t have to store hundreds of photographs and worry about losing them in the process of moving. Important letters (now emails) won’t get lost in your stacks of books and papers or accidentally recycled. Programs such as Google allow you to have many Gmail accounts and many Picasa albums online. I love these programs: no need for deleting email (and I can organize it) and I store all of my photographs on Picasa, heaven forbid something happens to my computer.
On the other hand, if we think in the long term: how do you pass on emails and digital space to your grandchildren? Do you have to write down all of your accounts and passwords? Do you really want your life stored on the internet forever? In the same vein, researching people in 100 years will be much easier, especially with the digitization of historic records.
It’s just something to think about: how to organize your digital life to insure its longevity and retain your unique personality (after all, there are only so many font types in existence, as opposed to individual handwriting.) And will future researchers use things such as email and blogs and Facebook to discover our lives? I don’t know that it’s something we have addressed yet – what happens to all of the digital records in the future. It could make for interesting research – of convenience, but lacking the character of libraries.
What do you think?
A few posts have discussed how the regions (or states, or towns) in which we live can play a hand in shaping who we become in life. What we have not discussed is how our parents and other parental figures have molded our personalities. Of course, just because you live in a specific area and your parents believe certain truths, does not mean that you are destined to be exactly the same. However, it is fair to say that both have some sort of impact. Since I’m not a psychologist and I’m not trying to study human development, I’ll leave it at that and anyone who is qualified can feel free to comment and speculate. Moving on…
My mother is a lover a history and historic buildings, which subconsciously seeped its way into my heart long before I knew the existence or definition of historic preservation. But her likes have clearly affected my beliefs in life and chosen career path. And when you spend time with like-minded individuals, your own thoughts tend to meld and become stronger. Take, for instance, spending time with a group of preservationists. It’s impossible to avoid some form of conversation about a historic building, development, quality of life, and flamingos (in the case of Preservation in Pink contributors.) So, when I received an email from my mom the other day, regarding our upcoming road trip, saying this:
I’m excited, but I think we’re likely to bore Erin. You know how much she likes history. Maybe this could be our opportunity to change her attitude about the past!!?!
I just had to laugh. It reminded me of my (our?) need to tell everyone in the world about historic preservation and why it could benefit and/or save the world. I mean this in a good way, like the desire to share a particular passion and help to improve quality of life for everyone, however you may define such a task.
On Saturday we’re headed to Philadelphia to explore the city, historic sites included, and to visit the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design Open House on Monday October 27. If you’ll be there, let me know! I’m very excited for the trip and to see the preservation program at UPenn.
Expect Philadelphia/UPenn recaps next week!
Who would expect suburbia to be showcased at an art museum? All of a sudden people are looking at suburbia with fresh eyes and examining its idiosyncrasies and theorizing about what it will become. Such is the case at the Carnegie Museum of Art and Museum of Natural History (though suburbia appears at the art museum, the two museums connect.) While art museums are not my typical outing as a tourist, I was up for a new adventure (knowing the admission fee covered both museums) and agreed to visit the museums with my colleague. My favorite exhibit at the museum is located in the Heinz Architectural Center: Worlds Away: New Suburban Landscapes.
Worlds Away addresses suburbia and its changes through the decades in the form of photographs, interpretive drawings, and a 19 minute “video” that I almost ignored, but then decided to watch. This video was created by the New York urban design and architecture firm, Interboro, a firm founded by four 2002 Harvard graduates (according to the website.) It is called In the Meantime, Life with Landbanking and was Interboro’s entry into the LA Forum for Architecture’s “Dead Malls” Competition. Interboro chose the Dutchess Mall of Fishkill, New York.
The project/video was displayed on a platform on the floor. The platform, perhaps made of foam core, had a 3D model of a strip mall built on it. The movie began with a 1st person voice, which turns out to be that of the Dutchess Mall, now designated a “dead mall” because it was officially closed ca. 2003. However, the voice of the mall explains how it cannot be “dead” because there is always activity going on, even with just a handful of businesses in operation. The local bus route still stops at the mall, there is a flea market every Saturday, truck drivers pull into the parking lot for an impromptu rest stop and a man sells hot dogs from his truck, someone practices golf, and many other random activities occur.
I have an aversion to strip malls, but for some reason I kept watching, perhaps because the building was talking to me and sounding like it needed a hug. Part 2 used a “ghost narrator” to explain the history of the mall and possible future uses, since it was still in a developing area. Even though the mall was empty, the owner did not want to sell. The ghost narrator explained an interesting idea – to plan temporary adaptive reuse if an owner does not want to do anything to the property. There is not a true outcome to this story, since the artists could not predict the future, however they envisioned what was possible and the variety of businesses that could serve the community together.
Different internet searches give the impression that the Dutchess Mall has been demolished, but I cannot find concrete evidence. However, I am amazed at the conversation on the internet about “dead malls” and what to do with them. Of course, a discussion that goes along with that, is what did the mall take the place of originally? Often, it was a historic site.
Despite opinions and the fate of the Dutchess Mall, it is fair to say that there are many modern but abandoned commercial buildings in this country and devising ways to revitalize them rather than demolish them only to build again, is preferable. Perhaps it will be a conversation more in vogue in the near future. If you have the chance, watch the video on the Interboro website* or see it in person on one of the traveling exhitions (see schedule there.)
Two books that were on the reading table near the exhibit that seemed interesting: Borderland by John R. Stilgoe (Yale University Press, 1990) and Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened by Rosalyn Baxandall and Elizabeth Ewen (Basic Books, 2000). I think these are going on my “must read before grad school” list.
PPG Place in Pittsburgh is home to six similar buildings, all constructed of glass. I felt like I was in Gotham or some imaginary land, particuarly because all of the buildings reflect each other and it’s feels like you are in the center of a fortress. I strolled around on a Saturday and found most everything to be closed, but the PPG website indicates that there is a skating rink in the winter and a fountain (where swimming is allowed!) in the summer. Due to the lack of activity, I spent my time looking up and taking photographs.
Most of you probably do not want to relive every detail that I could describe about the Oral History Association conference. Fair enough. Instead, I’m listing highlights of oral history projects that I learned about during the sessions. Enjoy!
Makin’ Do. The University of Mississippi – Department of History.
This project is about the life of women in rural Union County in Mississippi who came of age during the World War II years. Women were asked about their lives, what they did on a daily basis, and their families. A general theme that appeared was how they all “made do” with what they had, often by selling eggs from their chickens to make ends meet. The website is not fully operational yet, as the project is not completely finished, but the stories shared are wonderful. Click here to see the website with the flash introduction.
Utah Parks Company Collection. Southern Utah University.
This oral history project is pure fun – employees from the early decades of the Utah National Parks have shared their memories of summers when they worked for the National Park Service. Tales of pranks, gear jammers (bus drivers), washing dishing, putting on shows, singing goodbye to the visitors, and silly questions from visitors such as “What time do they turn on the lights in the Grand Canyon” make this project one that highlights the National Park Service. Currently the collection of photographs is housed on the SUU’s library, but will be on its own website with the oral histories in the future. (This project also made me want to visit the west even more!)
Catholic Chicago. Chicago History Museum.
Catholic Chicago is an oral history project that is the first in a series of exhibits at the Chicago History Museum, which will document how religious communities shaped Chicago. However, since exhibits are temporary, the project directors decided to add the oral histories to the website in order to always have a way to reach the project. I loved this project for its innovative means to do the oral history project. High school students were selected (applications required) to do this project. They were required to sign a one-year contract and they worked 40 hours per week in the summer and Saturdays during the school year to learn about Catholicism, find interviewees, conduct the interviews, and interpret them. Aside from revealing powerful information about Chicago’s history, the methods of using high school students as a way to bring the community to the project is amazing.
Trappings: Stories of Women, Power and Clothing. A Book by Two Girls Working: Tiffany Ludwig and Renee Piechocki.
Not a session, but a book and a book signing event at the OHA, I only had a chance to pick up a postcard about the book. The artists and authors spent six years interviewing 500 women by asking the same question, “What do you wear that makes you feel powerful.” I like the idea that oral history can be lighthearted and empowering at the same time, allowing people to express themselves, individually and collectively, to connect with other people. Check out the website for information about the book and the oral history project.