Old Man List House

“My older sisters would always tell me about this, this house in our town, a few blocks away. When they wanted to scare me they would talk about how this big businessman had lived in this nice mansion, but he had fallen on some hard times so he lost all his money. It didn’t take long before he went crazy and everyone was scared to go by his house because he would just sit on his porch and yell at anyone that walked by. They always told me about his red tie that he wore, even though he had lost his job he always wore the tie. I was so freaked out, I mean I was only seven or eight. But it gets scarier. They would put on their spooky voices and turn off the lights to tell me about how one night, he just lost it and killed his whole family, and left them in the dining room and disappeared, and they were still looking for him today, some people thought he was somehow still living in the house, either alive or as some kind of spirit. So because my sisters had told me this story, and it kind of circulated around our town, we would always walk by the house and dare each other to go into the abandoned house or get as close to it as possible or something like that.”

Informant Analysis: “Well when I grew up, came to understand that it was just a scary story, and I was actually watching TV one night and, saw that they had finally caught this criminal named John List, who had been on the run for years. As they described his crime, which was killing his whole family and leaving them in sleeping bags in the living room before disappearing, I got this horrible feeling that he was the old scary man from my town. Realizing that the story was based on something real (I’m sure my sisters added some false details) actually scared me more than the original story. He had haunted me for my whole childhood, and here he was on the TV.”

Analysis: This is another example of an urban legend that seems to extend far beyond childhood. The informant’s sisters were obviously trying to scare him by telling him about the scary house, and it’s unclear whether they knew the real story or not. This legend becomes a challenge for the informant and his friends, a way to prove themselves by going into the dark, abandoned house. The experience of seeing this mythical, almost ghostlike figure come to life as an actual criminal must have been jarring, as these urban legends and ghost stories usually remain abstract, so the danger is not immediate.