Tag Archives: chicago

Haunted Coin House in Chicago

  • Details 
    • Collected on 03/23/2024 
    • Genre: Memorate 
    • Language: English 
    • Nationality: American 
    • Relationship to Informant: Friend
  1. Text 
    1. Summary: 
      1. There was a house that always had people moving in and out. Typically, these people moved out because some misfortune fell on them during the time they lived there. One family that lived there with a young child kept noticing that coins would randomly appear on the floor. Then, they learned that the house was haunted by an old woman who lived there for a long time and was known to always carry change.
    2. Direct transcription of folklore:
      1. “So there’s a house that’s two doors down from me and for my entire childhood this house has been a revolving door of people just going in and out…it was like so-and-so’s wife cheated on them, then a family furniture store burned down and they couldn’t afford to live there, the next family got divorced and the kids don’t talk to them anymore. Everyone who lived in this house, some wild s*** happened to them. I always thought ‘hmm, that’s weird,’ but I didn’t think anything of it. So then, I had these neighbors that moved across the street [from me], but before they lived across the street, like 10 years before, they lived in that house two doors down from me. They were like ‘yeah, that s*** is f****** haunted.’ And I said, ‘why do you say that?’ So I guess there was an old woman that lived there for a long time and then she died. I guess she was known for always having change on her – quarters, pennies, dimes, whatever you needed – she always had a ton of change. And [my neighbors] had a young daughter who was a toddler at the time, and they would always find change just on the floor – on the ground. My neighbor would ask her husband, ‘why is there change? Are you dropping stuff out of your wallet?’ and he was like ‘no, what are you talking about? I don’t know where it is coming from.’ So one day, their daughter picked a quarter from the ground and almost choked on it. They got it out of her, but she almost choked to death. Out of frustration, the mom says to the ghost ‘leave me alone!’ They never heard from the ghost again. So they move across the street ten years later, and they start talking to the neighbors that currently live in that house. And they are like ‘this weird thing keeps happening … we keep finding change all over the floor and we have no idea where it is coming from,’ and they told them it was the ghost.” 
  2. Context 
    1. Informant is a USC student in her early 20s who was born and raised in Chicago, IL. This ghost story was told to her by her neighbors who lived in the haunted house, and it has become an oral tradition within the neighborhood. 
  3. Analysis 
    1. This story reflects the idea of property ownership after death and the idea that spirits can have a strong connection to the physical world. Since the old woman’s identity was partially defined by her possession of the house and coins, this is how her ghost manifests itself. “As the human spirit is strongly connected with notions of self and personal identity, we should not be surprised that spirits can control their belongings even if their primary possession—the body—is long dead and buried.” (Valk, 36) This ghost story also suggests cultural values of material ownership and wealth.

Hobo’s Castle


In the suburbs of Chicago, there is a long-deserted building by a railroad that stands about ten stories tall. It has holes, its windows are broken, and its doors remain open. This building is called Hobo’s castle. There are hobos that live inside, and if you go in there and get caught by them, they’ll eat you!


It’s probably called Hobo’s castle because its size makes it look like a castle from the outside and hobos would stay there in between hitching rides on trains back when it was first abandoned. There have been hobos living there since then. Parents would tell their children not to go there. So, obviously, the kids would all bike there and explore. Only the first floor was accessible, but the kids would explore it, all while poking each other to scare their friends and daring them to do things. The people living there would chase them out sometimes, which is likely what spurred the children to begin telling each other that if they got caught, they would be eaten. 


A recently popularized phrase found online is “fuck around and find out”, which is to engage in an action that is usually risky, and usually results in an unpleasant consequence. The desire to fuck around and find out is unquenchable in children, and this legend came about because of this. Children always want to feel more like full humans when they can, as in many areas of life they are limited by rules even when they feel that they have the physical and mental capabilities to be on par with everyone else, even if this feeling is erroneous. Thus, when there is no one around holding them to rules, they like to break the rules that they don’t think are necessary. They also embellish stories of their lives to make them seem more interesting and with higher risks, like how they view those of adults. Thus, the hobos in the castle will eat them if they are caught, not merely tell them off.

Andre Jackson


Andre Jackson is a football player who grew up here, in the suburbs of Chicago. He was the size of King Kong, could lift 500 pounds, and most of all, he was a hell of a football player. You should be like Andre Jackson. 


Andre Jackson was a real person who became a local legend while out of town because of being someone extraordinary for his area. He went to the University of Iowa, a D1 school, and played linebacker. 

The interviewee grew up not knowing Andre Jackson, but hearing the legends and that Andre was 5 years older than him. VL thought Andre sounded pretty cool, but didn’t think that much of him until Andre visited VL’s school in 7th or 8th grade and gave a talk about what his life as a D1 athlete looked like, as well as what path he had taken to get there. That, and especially Andre’s pure physical presence in the room, really spurred VL’s desire to follow in Andre’s steps and is why he ended up playing D1 football himself.VL later learned that one of his closest friends was Andre Jackson’s little brother.

 Andre was one of few people in that area to go to college, and he inspired VL and 6 of VL’s friends to do that as well, instead of doing what most would, which is graduate high school and go straight to working a job. He was different and he was special, which inspired others in the area to try and be that as well.


I think the idolization of Andre Jackson speaks to the hope for great success that his existence instilled into a community that was otherwise mostly resigned to their lives being rather ordinary. Other than this, I think the interviewee’s interpretation of the legend is pretty spot on. 

The Ghosts of the Congress Plaza Hotel


MO is my mother. She grew up in Chicago, Illinois in the 70s. She was born to two Puerto Rican parents who came to America in their teenage years. Her father is from San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, and her mother is from Moca, Puerto Rico. They go visit Puerto Rico every summer and have done so for decades. 


DO: Chicago’s an old city, do you have any myths or legends that are specific to us?

MO: The old hotel over on Michigan Ave in downtown is apparently haunted. 

DO: The Congress?

MO: Yes. Apparently there’s a bunch of different ghost stories. The famous one is the story about the man with the peg leg. You know I love true crime so my favorite one is about the bellboy that’s a ghost. 

DO: Can you tell me about them?

MO: I think they called the famous ghost Peg Leg Johnny. He became an alcoholic after some accident where he lost his leg but then he did work at the hotel. Like maintenance stuff. People have said they’ve heard knocking on the door and then seen a man with a peg leg. The bellboy one is about a young kid who worked there and everyone loved him. Then one day he just went missing and nobody ever saw him again. Some people say they see him pushing the luggage carrier things and waving at people then he just disappears. Me and your dad actually have stayed in that hotel

DO: Really? What was your experience like? 

MO: Well we stayed there before we knew it was haunted. Your dad swears he did hear anything, but I heard people knocking on our door. I didn’t see anything thank God. After we stayed there we heard all the stories. 


All cities have folklore narratives that are unique to their major landmarks. The Congress Hotel in Chicago is no different. This massive hotel is hard to miss, seeing as it is on our most popular street downtown and is distinctive. The hotel has an old look to it which further encourages ghost stories to be told about it. After talking to more of my family each of them had their own ghost story that has been passed down by other Chicagoans. If you live in Chicago this hotel is pretty well known. These ghost stories bring Chicagoans together to talk about a landmark that they share as common knowledge.



The informant grew up in Chicago in the 1960s. There was an abandoned elevator for trash called a “dumbwaiter.” It was used by residents to send their trash down to the basement before the informant lived there. It went out of use when residents began carrying their own trash down themselves. The informant’s older brother would scare her with stories of a crazed man, named Ozok, who lived in the abandoned dumbwaiter and carried an axe through the halls of the building at night.


This piece was related to me over a Zoom call with the informant, discussing her childhood in Chicago.

Main Piece:

E: No one used the dumbwaiter when I was living there. It used to be used to send trash down apparently, but eventually people just learned it was easier to their own damn trash out themselves (laughs). But the trash room was in the basement, and the dumbwaiter and the basement were mostly abandoned. There was a legend that a spirit used to live in the abandoned dumbwaiter. The story was that there was some sort of crazy man named Ozop… no Ozok, I think it was. But the story was that Ozok lived in the dumbwaiter and the basement, and he used to carry an axe when he walked the halls of the apartment building at night.

Me: All the kids in the apartment building believed this?

E: I don’t know about all of the kids, but my siblings and I certainly did. Our oldest brother told us that Ozok lived in the dumbwaiter and the basement and haunted the building. He took me down to the basement one time during the day and showed me an axe leaned up against the wall as proof. I don’t think I slept for a week after that! My parents allowed us to believe it and even told us when we were being too rambunctious at night that we better get to sleep before Ozok came down our hall. I had these wild visions of what he looked like. My younger siblings and I would talk about it. We thought he looked like something out of that movie, the old vampire one…

Me: Nosferatu?

E: Yes! I conjured up some image of the vampire from Nosferatu in my head. That movie was the scariest thing I had ever seen as a little kid, and I thought there was a crazed vampire living in my own apartment building!


The tale of some deformed creature haunting a residency is a legend as old as time. It is a theme well known to all, and it naturally takes on its own variations as people author their own variations of ghost stories and hauntings. In this case, the informant’s older brother authored a variation of a crazed man, Ozok, who haunted the halls of the informant’s apartment building. Children, as my informant was at the time, are particularly susceptible to the tales intent on scaring. The informant’s older brother applied much of a classic ghost tale’s motifs to Ozok and their environment. He pointed to the axe as evidence of Ozok’s existence, and claimed that Ozok inhabited the abandoned dumbwaiter and basement, just as a ghost or creature of the night might live in the attic of a haunted house. Folk beliefs regarding ghosts have existed for centuries. The legend of Ozok living in an abandoned dumbwaiter and basement was simply a new variation of an age-old legend.