Category Archives: Folklore

The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History

In The Great Cat Massacre: and other Episodes in French Cultural History (1984), historian Robert Darton attempted to reconstruct and understand the mental world of early modern French peasants through their folktales. He began with the story of “Little Red Riding Hood” as told around firesides in peasant cottages during long winter evenings in eighteenth-century France. It’s a little different than the version you may have been told. The story went as follows:

A young girl was instructed to bring some milk and bread to her grandmother’s house. While walking down a path through the woods, a wolf stopped her and asked her where she was going. She told him, and the wolf took off down a second path. The wolf, “arrived first at the house. He killed grandmother, poured her blood into a bottle, and sliced her flesh onto a platter. Then he got into her nightclothes and waited in bed…”

When the young girl arrived, the wolf (disguised as her grandmother) offered her meat and wine from the pantry. “So the little girl ate what she was offered; and as she did, a little cat said, ‘Slut! To eat the flesh and drink the blood of your grandmother!’ Then the wolf said, ‘Undress and get into bed with me.’”

After a prolonged scene in which the young girl is instructed to undress and toss her clothes into the fire, the conclusion proceeds in the now familiar manner until, at the very end, the wolf eats the girl. No hunter comes to her rescue in the original version.

The version as we know it today, according to Darton, was taken by the Grimm brothers from Charles Perrault, a popular writer at the turn of the seventeenth century, who changed the stories to suit the tastes of the Paris elites. The ending we are familiar with, in which the hunter rescues Little Red and kills the wolf, was added by Jeannette Hassenpflug, the Grimm’s neighbor, from a popular German story “The Wolf and the Kids.”

Through an examination of folktales like “Little Red Riding Hood”, Darton hoped to unlock the mentalité of the French peasant during that time period. “Folktales are historical documents,” he argued. “They have evolved over many centuries and have taken different turns in different cultural traditions… they suggest that mentalités themselves have changed. We can appreciate the distance between our mental world and that of our ancestors if we imagine lulling a child of our own to sleep with the primitive peasant version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’”

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American Vampires Long on Lore, Short on Vampires

americanvampireAmerican Vampires: Their True Bloody History from New York to California by Dr. Bob Curran is an interesting look at the darker side of American folklore, but ultimately falls short as a guide to American vampire lore. Published in 2013 by New Page Books, American Vampires is 254 pages and retails for $15.99. It contains 14 chapters (including the intro and conclusion), and includes stories from Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, Massachusetts, Ohio, Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Wyoming. It is beautifully illustrated by Ian Daniels.

American Vampires takes a multicultural view of American folklore, drawing from American Indian, British, Irish, and African sources to explain the origins of many of our tales. Readers will be treated to a rich tapestry of myths, all of which merge together to form the foundation of our own unique American folklore. This reminds us that certain themes about mortality—and what lurks in the darkness, are universally human. It is a fresh perspective that Dr. Curran, as a native of Ireland, brings to this book.

However, American Vampires suffers from a major thematic problem. Although Dr. Curran argues that vampires are more diverse and complex than often portrayed in popular culture, he stretches the definition of “vampire” to the breaking point and beyond. He describes any supernatural or folk-entity that drains energy or tastes blood as a vampire, and entire chapters go by with only passing reference to a “vampiric” creature.

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Mapping the Invisible Landscape: Folklore, Writing, and the Sense of Place

Mapping the Invisible Landscape by Kent C. RydenFirst published in 1993 by the University of Iowa Press, the importance of Mapping the Invisible Landscape: Folklore, Writing, and the Sense of Place by Kent C. Ryden cannot be understated. Alongside The Last Laugh by Raymond Moody, it is one of the few books that has fundamentally changed my perception of the study of folklore and ghost stories. Over the years, I’ve had a number of scattered thoughts on the subject that this book suddenly arranged into a clear picture. Just like that, a light bulb turned on and put everything into perspective. The idea that folklore is fundamental to how we understand and experience the places in which we live is simple, but often overlooked. The author, Kent Ryden, holds a Ph.D. in American Civilization from Brown University. He was awarded the American Studies Association’s Ralph Henry Gabriel Dissertation Prize in 1991 for an earlier version of the book.

Mapping the Invisible Landscape is divided into five essays. The first, “Of Maps and Minds: The Invisible Landscape,” the second, “Folklore and the Sense of Place,” and the fifth, “The Essay of Place: Themes in the Cartography of the Invisible Landscape,” are the three most important. The remaining two essays are just detailed examples of the theories developed elsewhere in the book using history, geography, and literature. If Mapping the Invisible Landscape has a flaw, it’s that it tends to get bogged down in rich, detailed descriptions that start to meander away from the central theme. Though interesting, the third and fourth essays can be skipped in their entirety without taking anything away from the book.

Ryden’s fundamental insight is that places hold meaning for us, and that folklore is an important vehicle for expressing that meaning. Maps only convey a limited amount of information about a place. Physical geography is limited to a stark, black and white description of the landscape and says nothing about the wealth of human experience there. Ryden calls this collection of stories, recollections, feelings, and history the “Invisible Landscape.” It is the meaning we impose on the physical world, a meaning that is exclusive to human experience.

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Goatman: A Refreshing Look at a Strange Legend

Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? by J. Nathan Couch

Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? by J. Nathan Couch

What do we make of the hundreds of legends and sightings of alleged half-man, half-goat creatures across America? This is the question J. Nathan Couch attempts to answer in his new book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? Published by the author in 2014, Goatman is 152 pages and is available in both print and digital formats. Its cover, a dark, haunting image of a cloven hoofed creature with thick horns and an eerily human face, was illustrated by Amber Michelle Russell.

Before reading this book, I was only peripherally aware of the goatman legend. I vaguely recalled that I had heard something about a goatman once, but never took the idea seriously. One of the many redeeming qualities of Goatman is the author’s awareness that yes, most people find the notion of a half-man, half-goat to be absurd. Yet he demonstrates that this creature has been a persistent (albeit obscure) part of American folklore since at least the 1960s. Always straddling the line between skepticism and belief, Couch examines every possibility, from the mundane to the magical.

Couch begins his exploration in his own backyard, Washington County in southeastern Wisconsin. Washington County is home to several locations believed to be visited by a creature known as “Goatman.” Fascinated by the tale, Couch soon discovered other goatman legends in Missouri, Maryland, Texas, California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Indiana. The tales varied. In some, the goatman stalked lover’s lanes in search of amorous teenagers to kill. In others, the goatman was the result of a cruel genetic experiment gone wrong. In still others, he was a wild recluse or an escapee from a carnival freak show.

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The Legend of Pemberton Hall – Expanded, Revised, and Updated!

Pemberton Hall is the oldest all-female dormitory in the state of Illinois, and its ivy covered walls are home to one of the most famous ghost stories in Illinois—the legend of Mary Hawkins. Her ghost is said to roam the hundred-year-old building, protecting the young women who reside within. This popular campus legend greets many a college bound girl as she finds herself away from home for the first time, and has become an enduring part of campus life at Eastern Illinois University.

Join author and folklorist Michael Kleen as he brings you an in-depth look at this legend, its history, and meaning, with rare photos of Mary Hawkins herself. Learn:

  • Who was Mary Hawkins?
  • What did she really look like?
  • How did she die?
  • How long has this story been told?

Now peer behind the locked doors and find out what really happened on that dark and stormy night at Eastern Illinois University. The answers to all your questions about this famous story are just a click away! Feel free to download, print, or email this .PDF to your friends. It is 100% secure. If you cannot view the file because you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader, or you do not have the latest version, download it here for free.

Click on this image to download and read "The Legend of Pemberton Hall" in .PDF

Click on this image to download and read “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” in .PDF

If you have trouble downloading the file by clicking on the photo above, right click on this link and select “save as”: The Legend of Pemberton Hall by Michael Kleen

Citations: if you wish to use any of this in a paper or presentation, cite it in the following way (Chicago style): Michael Kleen, The Legend of Pemberton Hall (Rockford: By the author, 2014), page#.

There’s Something About Mary

The Ghost of Mary Hawkins by Katie Conrad

The Ghost of Mary Hawkins by Katie Conrad

Creaking wooden floors, stone walls, a forbidden fourth floor–if Eastern Illinois University’s Pemberton Hall didn’t come with its own legend, the students that live there would probably invent one. Pemberton Hall is home to one of the most famous ghost stories in Illinois: the legend of Mary Hawkins. A lot has been written about this story over the years, but only one article has ever told the complete story from beginning to end: my own “The Legend of Pemberton Hall.” First published as a free PDF in 2008, “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” has been downloaded over 2,200 times. This year, I am releasing a revised and updated version of that article with three more pages of additional information and rare pictures of Mary Hawkins herself.

In anticipation of the article’s release this Friday, October 10th, Mysterious Heartland and I will feature the story of how and why Charleston, Illinois and Coles County (where EIU is located) is such a  fascinating place everyday this week. Then, on Friday, “The Legend of Pemberton Hall” will be posted for free to download. Who was Mary Hawkins? What did she really look like? How did she die? How long has this story been told? Peer behind the locked doors and find out what really happened on that dark and stormy night at Eastern Illinois University. The answers to all your questions about this famous story will be just a click away!

But first, enjoy this video of me telling the story of Pemberton Hall last year at Eastern Illinois University.