USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘chicago’
general
Legends
Narrative

Demon Baby of Hull House

Storyteller:

“Do you know about the demon baby of Hull House? Hull House was a settlement home developed by Jane Adams, the godmother of social work. And in 1902 a baby was born outside of Chicago, outside of wedlock, where it was born with horns and a tail, and cloven feet. Unable to keep the baby, they brought it to Hull House where it could be cared for and most importantly prayed for…but nothing could fix it. They kept it away as it started to become a draw. And so they kept that baby up in the attic where it wouldn’t bother anyone or be bothered by them. And it’s said that still today, you can see that baby up in the window…”

Background Info: The storyteller lives in Chicago and it is a story that buddies of the storyteller had been telling while living in the city.

Context: I was with my family and I was telling them that I had this project coming up and told them some of the stories people had told me for it. That spurred a conversation where everyone started sharing their pieces of folklore and this was one of them.

Thoughts: I was immediately captured by the title of this story. When the storyteller asked me if I had heard of a demon baby I was intrigued. The storyteller’s performance was captivating because the storyteller used a tone of voice that many use when telling creepy stories. I read up on the story after it was told and I discovered that some people refer to the baby as a “devil baby” and there are many different versions including an Italian version and a Jewish version which can be found here:

Addams, Jane. “The Devil-Baby at Hull House.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 1 Oct. 1916, www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1916/10/the-devil-baby-at-hull-house/305428/.

 

Legends
Narrative

Pullman Hotel Tennis Ghost

Main Piece:

 

The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as TM. I am marked as DG.

 

TM: When I was working, um, at Pullman Hotel, and it’s in the uh Pullman neighborhood in Chicago, and it’s the hotel that housed people that used to visit the Pullman Palace Car Company and made railroad cars-really fancy ones. And so, uh, they had a factory in that neighborhood, and then they had a tower of houses…And so it was built in 1880, and it’s no longer used as a hotel, um, partly because there’s no way to get out if you’re on the top floor. Yeah, um, and I…was kind of manning the front desk for tourists to come in and walk around the old hotel and these three women walked in and one was kind of a little bit, you know, younger–not 20s but maybe 30s, and, um, then there were two women maybe a little bit older and they had like fanny packs on, you know, and kind of tourist looking… And, um, the younger one had on like a tennis skirt or something. It looked like she played tennis or something, um, it looked a little dated but not really so I talked to them…Um, it was mostly–it was the two older women who were talking to me, I guessed the other was their kid, and, um, it used to be a restaurant at the hotel-and it was fancy-which isn’t there anymore. Um, so they all kind of went off and the two of them went to do the tour where, um, you have your piece of paper and you walk around and take the tour on your own, and the other went off to the bathroom. And then the woman comes walking around the corner from the bathroom, kind of reaching into her pocket to, you know, maybe hand me a piece of paper, and then she just just disappeared. Just completely gone! She had a tennis skirt on, it was kind of 80s. It was kind of funny 80s, I thought it was kind of dated, but then I was like she’s kind of close to my age so like. I have no idea what that was about.

 

Apparently the hotel was supposed to be haunted and many people have had ghost experiences there.

 

 

Context:

 

The conversation was recorded while sitting in a hallway outside of a classroom on a university campus. The context of where the interviewee saw the ghost was in the front desk area of the old Pullman Hotel. Apparently, the hotel is a well-known haunted site, and most who have worked there have had sightings.

 

Background:

 

The interviewee is a professor at the University of Southern California. They are also a practicing archeologist. Originally from Chicago, IL, they now live in Los Angeles, CA, with their husband. The interviewee worked in Finance before pursuing a teaching degree.

 

Analysis:

 

I think this story held a lot of weight because I’ve had my fair share of ghost stories. I’ve also worked long hours in a retail setting, and know that feeling you get towards the end where you’re starting to imagine things. I think that made this story even better, because I could easily imagine the feeling of “Did I just see that??” Beyond that, many others have apparently seen ghosts at the Pullman Hotel, adding legitimacy to the legend. It also made me wonder what was on the paper–was it a message that the apparition was trying to tell TM, or was it just a recording ghost that does the same act in the same place forever?

Customs

Chicago Parking Chairs

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: So there’s this really strange tradition where I’m from in Chicago. And I mean, I don’t know if it’s only a Chicago thing, I don’t know if they do it in other parts of the States too, but it’s very common to see in Chicago. So like, basically, what the tradition is is that during the cold months, when people have to shovel the snow off of their parking spots, they have to remove their cars, right? So what people do is that they will put a chair, sometimes they put other things, but usually it’s a chair, and they will put the chair in their parking spot so that no one takes it. Because parking in Chicago is really hard. And like people will do this for games too. Like I’ve done it before when I went to a Cubs game. That’s a baseball team in Chicago by the way. But yeah, so it’s super popular to go to, and everyone’s looking for parking, so people will put chairs in their parking spaces to reserve it for them.

Collector: Do people actually respect these chairs?

Informant: Yes. I mean, of course there’s some people who don’t. But most of the time, because everyone does it, yes, they respect it. Like you won’t really see someone removing a chair unless it’s their chair, and they’re taking their parking space. It’s just because parking goes so fast there, because there’s so many people. But people tend to be respectful of it, it’s a pretty big tradition there.

Collector: Is there anything that you particularly like about this tradition?

Informant: Well, I always find it funny when I go down the streets and I see a bunch of chairs all over the place. I like it because it reminds me that it’s going to be the holidays soon. But other than humor, I’m pretty indifferent towards it.

I think this story is really cool because its so different from my culture. Where I’m from, Sao Paulo, there are a lot of people and also difficulties finding parking, but if somebody were to put a chair to save their parking space, people would laugh, remove the chair, and park their anyways. I think it’s interesting how this has become such a tradition in Chicago that people respect other people’s chairs and parking spaces. It’s also cool to see how a tradition can arise from external factors such a temperature and spacial arrangement.

general
Humor

Lights off on Elm Street

Folk Piece

“The movie nightmare on Elm Street was filmed in my town, on Elm Street. One of the things that’s been a legend on elm street is that cars would be driving on Elm Street, like at night, and there would be a car behind them and they could see it and they could see it, and then all of a sudden it would just disappear. And suddenly someone would appear in front of their car. It was just like super freaky, and I don’t know, that’s just one of the stories that I’ve heard. So my friend tried to like fuck with people at night because he had an all black car that was really quiet. So he could like drive up right behind people and when there was nowhere to turn or anything he would turn off his lights and just roll on behind them and people would like pull over and freak out that he was like gone, but he was actually there the whole time”

 

Background information

The informant began by saying “Well, my town is boring, I don’t think we really have many cool stories or anything… Well, we did have Elm Street from that movie.” She had said that she’d never seen the movie, but that it had an impact on the way that people thought about the street. Especially kids her age, that weren’t born for another decade after the movies’ premiere, would tell stories of Elm Street, but not necessarily ones that originated from the movie.

 

Context

“No, it wasn’t just my friend, a lot more people did it. But, like, he just drove down it a lot and yeah, he did a few times.” She said that the prank itself was done by a lot of people, mostly older high schoolers, though. She had never witnessed it herself, but only heard about it.

 

Analysis

Pranks, or practical jokes, are performed for a variety of different reasons. In this circumstance, the prank is driven by a legend about a mysterious figure that would appear in front of people’s cars on the street where A Nightmare on Elm Street takes place. The legend is so widely known, that the exploitation of a plot point in the story can lead to drivers becoming very scared. It is interesting to note that A Nightmare on Elm Street doesn’t have a scene where there are cars driving down the road and the lights turn off. The original authored story transformed the street itself into somewhat of a legend, which in turn was exploited as a prank. This transition from authored material, to legend, to prank could be explored further with more data from other town members.

Also interesting is that older high schoolers are the one performing this prank. Presumably, these are drivers that had just acquired their license and are given some autonomy. That they take this new found freedom and also exploit it for humor and rebellion shows why this might be such a popular prank in this town.

general
Holidays
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dyeing the Chicago River Green

My informant grew up in Chicago, IL and he says that every year on St. Patrick’s Day, they dye the Chicago River green. He explained that every year, he would be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day with his family and “one second it’s blue, or grey…it’s nasty, and then 30 minutes later, it’s green.”

For 43 years now, a private company has been “dyeing” the Chicago river green. Supposedly, the tradition got started in 1961 when Stephen Bailey saw a plumber with a splendid emerald green color all over his white coveralls. Bailey asked the plumber how his coveralls got that color and he explained that the dye they used to detect leaks turned the water green. So, Bailey saw this as a start of a tradition and from then on without fail they turn the Chicago river an bright emerald green on St. Patrick’s Day.

St. Patrick’s Day has always been an interesting holiday to me. It falls right around my birthday and I never liked getting pinched when elementary school boys were not able to tell the difference between blue and green.  The holiday derived in Ireland as commemoration of Saint Ireland who was associated with the start of Christianity in Ireland. Supposedly, Saint Patrick was originally associated with the color blue, but then later was set to green. There we have the addition of leprechauns, shamrocks and pots o’ gold. The holiday in Ireland set a day for church services, parades, and lifted the “Lenten restrictions” on eating and drinking alcohol. Holidays now have become less focused on its origins and more on the feasting and jovial activities.

Here is a video link: Dyeing the Chicago River

Source URLs: http://greenchicagoriver.com/story.html, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick’s_Day

Foodways
Material

Marzipan Potatoes

The source’s father is a second generation Norwegian. Her grandfather immigrated from Norway to Chicago. While marzipan isn’t a specifically Norwegian desert, its found at every family gathering.

What makes the family marzipan unique, is that they always make it in the shape of a potato. This tradition was started by the source’s grandmother, who felt that potatoes were good luck, and wanted to serve marzipan potatoes to the family member so everyone would drive home safely. Her grandmother has since passed on, but the family tradition is now carried on by her Aunt Camille.

I believe that the tradition of making their favorite marzipan desert in the shape of potatoes reflects the family’s new home in Chicago, which has always had a very large Irish population.

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Kutchky’s Army

The source’s mother grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, in a predominantly Italian neighborhood. Most of the families on her street didn’t have more than three children.

When she was growing up, her mother and a lot of the other people in the neighborhood had a saying, if they have a lot of something, they would say they have enough for Kutchky’s Army. So if they had a lot of food, for example, they’d say “We have enough food to feed Kutchky’s Army.” Growing up, the source’s mother always assumed it was a reference to a real army in a war.

However, it was really a reference to the one Polish family on the block that had at least ten children.

Now, neither the source, nor the mother live in Chicago, but its been adopted as a common saying inside the family, and their friends from back home in Chicago.

 

Chicago has been, and still is one of the most segregated cities in the country. I think the saying reflects the tension between established ethnic groups in certain neighborhoods, and newcomers from different ethnic backgrounds. The saying probably started as a way for the established Italian families in the neighborhood to playfully separate themselves from the Kutchky’s, who they probably saw as Polish interlopers.

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