Hey Legend Trippers,
I know it’s been a while since submitted my last post. In my defense, I’ve been out promoting my book. Which is not an easy task. I did a couple of presentations and did some radio shows. I had a good time doing them. I got to talk to a lot of interesting people and hear some really interesting stories and legends.
One of the main questions I get is “Where does the term legend tripping come from. Wikipedia defines it as:
The concept of legend tripping is at least as old as Mark Twain's 1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which contains several accounts of adolescents visiting allegedly haunted houses and caves said to be the lairs of criminals. Tom Sawyer is based on lore that was current in Twain's own boyhood, and by Twain's time the main features of the ritual were already in place.
Much older versions of the custom may be glimpsed in traditional ballad tales such as the ballad of Tam Lin. In this ballad, a young woman is warned that the elf Tam Lin is known to haunt a place called Carterhaugh, and that all who go there must lose either an article of clothing or their virginity to Tam Lin. Janet, the heroine, defies the warning: she goes to Carterhaugh, picks a rose, encounters Tam Lin, and becomes pregnant with his child. She learns that Tam Lin was once human, and that to free him, she must make a second trip on Halloween night to a crossroads, where she has an encounter with the Queen of Elphame, and succeeds in reclaiming Tam Lin from fairyland.
In both the old ballad and in Mark Twain's version, there is a specific location that is supposed to be accursed, ghost-haunted, or otherwise dangerous. There is a folk story, of the type that is now called an urban legend that explains why the place is haunted, accursed, or dangerous. The story is retold in preparation for the legend trip. In outward form, the legend is a cautionary tale warning of a danger; in practice, however, the cautionary tale is turned into a dare, inviting the trippers to go test its veracity. There is sometimes a ritual that must be performed at the site, the ritual is explained in the legend. The ritual invokes whatever dangerous spirits haunt that place.
The custom may be based on folk practices from Great Britain involving holy wells and similar shrines; on certain days of the year, young people would visit them, and these visits attracted attention on account of drinking and sexual activity at the site. In more recent times, legends have been reported in Britain concerning sites where the Devil, or an evil ghost, could be summoned by visiting a grave or a megalith and performing a ritual like running around it. In some of the British legends this must be done on a certain day or date, a condition seldom found in the United States. In Britain, too, certain headstones are said to be cursed: anyone who moves them will be cursed, and the stone will magically move back. The paradoxical effect of these warnings has been to encourage, rather than discourage, visitors.
Tales telling of marvels, wonders, or mysterious phenomena have excited human curiosity and inspired travel for centuries. What distinguishes legend tripping from other sorts of tourism is the notion of a dangerous experiment. The legends of legend trips typically warn of dangers. The legend trippers violate the tabooed site for the specific purpose of flirting with that danger. The legend trip is a specific ritual, and as such takes place in ritual time and ritual space. This creates a sort of mentally separate sphere in which the legend trip occurs, and allows the legend trippers to flirt with the dangers while minimizing their psychic effects in ordinary (i.e. non-ritual) life. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legend_tripping
When people bring up legend tripping they talk about when they were teenagers and checking out the local legend. I do agree that legend tripping starts during our teenage years. When you get your first car, you now have the freedom to go where you want and check out things that interest you. It’s like when you’re in the car with the family and you see an advertisement for some really neat road side attraction, and your father tells you “no” when you suggest that they stop and check it out. Now you have that freedom to go see this attraction.
The headless railroad phantom
I remember back in 1980 as teenager growing up in Kansas, I talked a couple of my friends into going to these railroad tracks outside of town and check out some ghost light. Now the ghost light as legend had it would be seen late at night moving down the railroad tracks. It was supposed to be of a headless train conductor, who lost his head during a train accident. He was now doomed to walk eternity the tracks with his lantern to search for his lost head. If you approached the light, it would disappear only to reappear after you walked away or further down the tracks.
Most of the time, when we went up there, we would see anything, so we would wait for about two hours and then leave. One night, we did see the light. We arrived shortly after midnight. We decided to go check after we finished work. The location where you’re supposed to see the lights is on a state park. In Kansas, the state parks are not closed at night, or I should say this one wasn’t. You would see cars parked in clearings, with fogged up windows. I always wondered what the occupants were going on in the car. It looked like they were wrestling. Anyway, back to the ghost lights. There used to be a train station with some warehouses at the sight. But it had long ago, fallen into disrepair and then destroyed, so now all there was an open field with railroad tracks going east to west, through them. Now these tracks were no longer used anymore so there was grass growing everywhere.
On certain times there would be other cars out there with people all waiting to see the ghost lights. On this night, we were the only car there. It was fall time and starting to cool off at night. We all had to put jackets on, because of the wind. Remember Kansas is a flat state so there is a lot of wind, especially at night. We all walked up to the train tracks and looked around. It was quiet except for us as the wind. We looked down the tracks and waited. Now legend had it that the ghost light would come in an easterly direction so we contracted our attention in that direction. As you can guess as all scary stories go, we didn’t see anything. There was never any noise associated with the ghost lights so we weren’t sure if we were to listen as well. I guess maybe with thought we’d hear a train coming down the tracks, but again nothing. We talked about the lights. We’d exchange stories we heard from other teenagers, who claimed to have witnessed the ghostly lights.
The ghost lights
I remember thinking that it wasn’t going to happen this night, when my friend Phil pointed down the tracks and said “What is that it?” We all turned to see them. At first I didn’t see anything, but then I saw it. I remember thinking that it looked like somebody walking with a flashlight on the tracks. We all stared and listened. If it was a person with a flashlight, we would have been able to hear them walking on the gravel. Sound travels further at night. All we heard was the wind and the light was coming toward us. I tried hard to look closely at it and try and make some logical sense. “It couldn’t really be a phantom train conductor looking for his head” I thought. When the light came about a hundred feet from us, my friend Phil yelled “Who is that with the light?” The floating specter light continued to come down the tracks. I finally mustered up the courage and walked toward it. My friends followed. When we were about twenty feet from the light it suddenly went out. We all stopped in our tracks and looked around. The light had vanished. I then pulled out my flashlight, turned it on and scanned the area. There was nobody out there except us. Finally Phil spoke “What do think that was?” I didn’t answer and I continued to scan the area with beam from my flashlight. The silence was broken as Robert yelled as he pointed “There it is!”
The ghost light had reappeared further down the rail road track heading west on it search. We watched as it slowly got smaller as it went away from us. Then we could barely see it down the tracks. We then started going on about seeing a real ghost light. We slowly walked back to the car, always looking over our shoulders to make sure it light didn’t reappear. As we approached the car, Phil was the first to unlock it and open up the driver’s side door. I reach for the passenger door, suddenly I saw a large figure standing next our car. And the figure it into have a head. I don’t know who screamed louder, me or Rob, but Phil jumped back out of the car to see what we were looking at. The figure didn’t move, it should stood there. Suddenly it made a sound “What are you doing out here, the parks closed. The headless figure bent over to reveal a head of a man with a large gray mustache and a large ranger hat on.
Relieved that we were not going to be spirited away, we all started laughing. We then told the park ranger our story, he stated that we were at the wrong place. In fact we were in the wrong state. The legend of the headless railroad phantom was in Missouri, about a hundred miles from where we were at. Well, that was the end of that legend trip. On a side note, while researching the legend of the headless railroad phantom, I found out that there are three other states besides Missouri that have that same legend. Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina all have headless phantoms associated with ghost lights.
Wanting to check out more legends I talked Rob and Phil into going with me to check out another legend in Louisiana, Missouri. There were sightings of a Bigfoot like creature called Momo that prowled along the banks of the Mississippi river. Oddly enough Louisiana is about twenty five miles from Hannibal. The birth place of Mark Twain. It end up being an overnight trip and because we didn’t properly prepare ourselves for this trip, we end up sleeping in the car. Long story short, we didn’t see Momo or anything weird or strange that trip. The town folk were not to cooperative, in fact most of the residents didn’t really believe in it. We did talk to some teenagers and they were nice enough to show us where the sighting occurred. We did have a good time and enjoyed the freedom on going out on our own and go on a real adventure.
In conclusion, the definition of Legend tripping states that it is going out as a teenage and checking out a local legend. So, why do you have to stop now that you grown up? My answer is that is that you don’t. Now is the best time go legend tripping. The world is full of legends and there is nothing stopping you. If you have a family, then take them with you. It's even better when you have somebody to enjoy it with. Being an adult, you’re smarter and know how to better prepare for this trips, so you don’t end up sleeping in a car.
Legend Tripping comic story courtesy of Kevin Pyle
From Bad For You: Exposing the War On Fun, By Kevin C. Pyle and Scott Cunningham
As shown in the comic story above from Kevincpyle.com, teenagers back in my day took some unnecessary risks like trespassing into a supposed haunted house. Unfortunately I was one of those teenagers. If I heard about a legend, I had to go check it out, even if it meant sneaking past "No Trespassing" signs. Now that I'm an adult and I see how dangerous it is, I don’t do it and I definitely don't encourage that behavior. No legends is worth getting hurt or put in jail over. As a parent, we are example setters, so do not break the law on your legend trip. You are your family can have great time and at the same time, following the rules.
So with summer upon us, go out and take your family on a legend trip and create memories that last a life time and be safe.