New book explores campus legends and folklore

10/21/05

Binghamton University Professor Elizabeth Tucker loves to explore the roots of folklore, and the types of stories that flourish at colleges and universities have long held a special place in her heart.

Her new book, "Campus Legends: A Handbook" (Greenwood Press, 2005), addresses the classic ingredients of a legend as well as the history of campus folklore. From there, it plunges into a wealth of stories focused on characters ranging from ghosts and witches to professors and exams.

"I think the stories are very important as a sort of initiation for new students," said Tucker, an associate professor of English and director of the department's graduate program. "They're good stories. They're interesting, dramatic and strange."

Tucker remembers the first time a campus legend grabbed her attention. She was an undergraduate at Mount Holyoke College and rumors circulated about a hatchet man coming to attack co-eds on the East Coast.

"I felt scared out of my mind," she said. "The person who told it to me told it as a real story."

Like that tale, many campus legends frighten young people about what might happen when they're all alone late at night. "Part of this kind of storytelling is dealing with the inevitable dangers of growing up and taking your place in the world," Tucker said.

For generations of students, the day-to-day college experience has been spiced up with stories of the unexplained and the unknown. Campus legends often reflect students' hopes and fears, and subsequently have become an important part of popular culture.

Tucker and her husband, Geoffrey Gould, traveled extensively for the book, visiting campuses throughout the United States and in Europe. Gould took photos that accompany the stories Tucker gathered.

Tucker believes the campus landscape sets the stage for legends of all types, but especially ghost stories. "There's not only this scene of exotic buildings," she said, "there's the history of learning going back centuries."

Tucker, who's teaching a class on folklore of the supernatural, is so interested in ghost stories that she's now working on another book focused entirely on them.

"We're taught to think scientifically," she said. "But nevertheless many people have experiences that are hard to explain rationally."

About the author:
In addition to "Campus Legends,' Elizabeth Tucker has been widely published on the topic of the unexplainable, including "Ghosts in Mirrors: Reflections of the Self" for the Journal of American Folklore; "'Mean Girls': The Reclassification of Children's and Adolescents' Folklore" in Children's Folklore Review; "I Saw the Trees Had Souls: Personal Experience Narratives of Contemporary Witches," in Festschrift for W.F.H. Nicolaisen, a publication of the American Folklore Society; and "Texts, Lies, and Videotape: Can Oral Tales Survive?" for the Children's Folklore Review.

For more information on Tucker, visit her website at http://english.binghamton.edu/faculty/etuck/index.htm

About the book:
For more information about this new book, visit the Greenwood Press website at http://www.greenwood.com/books/bookdetail.asp?sku=GR3285

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