Tag Archives: ghost story

Mad Bess: A Ghost-Story

The informant heard this ghost legend in elementary school, particularly from the older middle schoolers and the old principal. It was a legend to give the campus character and teach the kids some history as well through talking about the mines and buildings around campus. It was an entertaining story from childhood intended to scare young kids as well. Now, the informant tells it to reminisce on childhood and to entertain friends, usually around a campfire or during other such story-telling times.

“The school I went to for elementary through middle school had a lot of old buildings that used to be people’s houses, like people used to live there because they’re super old old mining houses. There’re a little, like, I don’t know, like, kind of like victorian-ish era and from mining times. This family lived in the old lunchroom because the old buildings that the campus was made of were originally old mining homes. Her father worked in the mines that are located around campus and her mother was a stay-at-home mother, doing the cooking and cleaning. There was that collapse in the mine, that like 10 other ghost stories are about, that killed her father. Her mother was, like, older and got very sick and also died. So the young girl was left as an orphan and lived in the house still, but because she was so young couldn’t take care of herself and she just died a bit later because she couldn’t provide for herself but she still stayed in the house after all those years and now she haunts it and protects the house in a wrathful, mean way.”

Although this story teller did not really tell a story so much as a recount of the story, one can still get the general idea of what the story was supposed to be. The story was likely intended to entertain children as well as teach them about the history of the school campus. Being a mining town, the campus is surrounded by mine shafts (safely covered for the children) and all the school buildings are old houses from the mining days. Ghost stories are a good way to teach children about the place they inhabit as the legends reinforce that there were times before the kids got here. They will certainly remember history if it has an exciting story that goes with it. Thus, this culture values remembrance of place and times before. They value history, especially of the relevant place in which they reside. The culture values teaching children about said history, which is unsurprising considering that it is a school, and they realize that stories help knowledge stick. If nothing else, the culture values entertainment for children and thus created the story to do just that.

The Green Hand: A Family’s Traditional Ghost Story

The informant heard this ghost story from his grandfather. The narrative is told each time the family visits their grandparents on a ranch in Wyoming during campfire night. It is a story that caused sleepless night for the young grandchildren, but as they grew up they came to appreciate the humor and entertainment value of the story as well, such as the chosen name of “Beaver Dick” and the occasional history lesson the ever-changing story included. Now, the story is told to entertain family events and to reminisce on family get-togethers and childhood memories. The story generally brings about positive nostalgic feelings and familial memories.

Here is the story as told: “There was two beaver hunters named Beaver Dick and Buffalo Bill. They used to go out all the time together to go hunt beavers to sell their skins and they did it all the time until one night they are camping out and they had a little too much to drink and they got in a big fight and during that big fight Beaver Dick decided to pull out his giant machete that he uses to kill the beavers and he grabs Buffalo Bill by the arm and chops his arms off but not Buffalo Bill is super mad at him so he tries to kill him but in the process, Beaver Dick kills Buffalo Bill. But now Beaver Dick doesn’t know what to do with Buffalo Bill, so he throws his body into the river – yes that river right next to the house – but he forgets to throw his hand in the river too. That night, he sleeps, and the next morning he packs out and takes all their skins and goes to another place to hunt more beavers. He has a pretty good day that day and catches a lot of beavers. He decides to camp out by that lake, and has a good dinner and a nice fire and goes to bed. But then, all of a sudden, in the middle of the night, he wakes up and hears scratching on his tent door (makes scratching noises by dragging nails on the chair he sits on). He thinks it might just be an animal, like a small squirrel or something, so he goes back in his tent and goes back to bed. But he hears it again (makes scratching noises again) and decides to go out and check out whatever it is. So he goes out and lights a gas lamp or oil lamp and shines it around, but doesn’t see anything. He goes back to the tent and tries to go to bed, but he hears something in his tent. He thinks it’s a squirrel or something that got in his tent, so he turns over to try to catch it and throw it out of his tent. But there he sees a green, rotten hand! The Green Hand jumps on top of him! Ahhh! The hand strangles him! (Makes strangled screaming noises) and strangles him and strangles him and strangles him until he dies!”

Campfire stories are told to cultivate community through group entertainment, which happens in this family context as well. The grandchild says that he and his family now reminisce on these story-time fires as good memories, which demonstrates that the community was strengthened through the telling of this story. Why it was a ghost story and not some other story is likely due to entertainment value for the adults of telling scary stories and seeing the kids believe their fearsome legends. Fear brings people closer together as well, so that is a reason to (slightly) scare the children perhaps. This culture clearly values family bonding as they get together to tell stories around a fire each year, which is more often than most American extended families see each other. The culture also clearly finds a sort of fantasy and entertainment in the stories of the American Frontier as that is where the story is based: old beaver trappers in the newfound West.

Memorate: My Great-Grandparents’ Joaquin Murrieta Sighting


Informant J is a 73 year old Mexican-American man and is the collector’s grandfather. He is from San Jose, California, but his family moved there from parts of Texas and Mexico. For the majority of his life, J was a manager at a regional grocery store, and studied art in college with a focus in jewelry making. J is now retired and his hobbies include guitar playing, metal working, and reworking vintage cars.


(Please excuse typos, this is an unaltered text message from the informant): “My parents said they were just finishing up a picnic at Alumn Rock park on the East side of San Jose and were getting ready to head home when a man who looked like he had been dug up (his clothes was old and tattered and resembled clothes from the cowboy days. He came up to their car window and just stood there not saying a word but staring in a daze. They believe it was the ghost of Juan Murrieta who lived during the late 1900’s. He was famous for robbing people in that area of the park. My dad started the car and got the hell out of there! My parents were very scared and they were familiar with the legend of Juan Murrieta and never stopped talking about the incident!”

“Ps: The cowboy did have an old style revolver as well!”


I’d like to note that people often confuse Juan and Joaquin Murrieta, and that my grandpa was almost certainly referring to the latter. I did some research after being told this story, as I hadn’t heard of either figure until now. Juan was a pioneer, whereas Joaquin is a Mexican figure commonly known as the Robin Hood of the West. More specifically, stories about Murrieta rose in California during the Gold Rush. I find it interesting that my great-grandparents claim to have seen Joaquin Murrieta, because they associated something strange with something they already knew about (ghosts), and their knowledge of it is heavily influenced by culture. Even though my family was Mexican-Texan, they had heard enough about this specifically Mexican-Californian legend in the little time that they lived there that they assumed the figure was him. What’s more, this story hints at a combination of folkloric beliefs, as my great-grandparents claim to have seen a kind of undead version of Joaquin Murrieta, who is more of a legend than a popular ghost. There are debates over whether he existed, but stories of seeing him are rarer. But my great-grandparents seem to have believed in ghosts in general, so this memorate only furthered their personal view of the world.

Memorate: A Coworker’s Ghostly Encounter


Informant N is the collector’s supervisor in the technology department of USC SCA. He is 27 years old and grew up in Denver, Colorado until age 7, when he moved to Sandpoint, Idaho. His father’s family is from the “deep south,” and his mother was “an army brat” who lived mostly near the east coast. N’s family has been in the US “since the mayflower,” and his ancestry is mostly German, Northern English, and Welsh. He now lives in Los Angeles, CA and is a singer/songwriter, as well as an employee of the film school’s technology services.


Informant: “Okay so when I was a kid, my mom – in the first floor, this was like a three story house, the house was like a hundred years old if not more. Um, classic brick style home, it was in Denver. And there was a doctor who lived in the house with his um… I think she was a distraught person, probably back then. Like she probably had some mental illness that was untreated and you know, back then they kind of skewed those people into obscure…”

Collector: “What year was this?”

Informant: “Oh this was like 30s (…). So she was a well-known pianist at the time and she eventually committed suicide in the house and the house was also a historical site. So the house is old, there have been people who lived there who had some musical connection and there was the suicide and you know… There was a couple times growing up where I would hear the piano play and my sister would hear the piano play while we were upstairs and my mom wasn’t home playing the piano nor was my dad or whatever, or we had a babysitter at the time. So there was just a couple weird moments in that house where the piano would be playing and we’d go downstairs and it would stop playing so whether that’s true or not I don’t know but I remember it and my sister clearly remembers it and to this day it’s very bizarre to me and it makes me feel a little… (*informant trails off*)”

Collector: “How did you find out about the woman who died?”

Informant: “My parents – my mom found out about it after they bought the house. The history of the house.”

Collector: “From who?”

Informant: “I think from a neighbor’s family or something. (…) It was like a local thing so it was kind of weird. (…) The piano that was in the house was over a hundred years old at the time.”

The informant also mentioned that his sister, who was 8 or 9 at the time of the piano incidents, is “still perturbed” by them to this day. He also mentioned that he experienced what he called “typical ghost stuff” – that he would hear dogs barking at nothing, and that one of the room’s in the house (his sister’s room) was specifically colder than others. His family checked and made sure that “the piano wasn’t a player” piano (a self-playing piano), and noted that the music he heard was notably classical, and that the woman who had died was a classical pianist.


N’s ghost story seems pretty typical upon first glance, but I find it interesting because of both his personal context and folkloric trends in memorates. For one thing, the informant seems to truly believe that all of this happened and that something supernatural was going on because his sister also experienced it. He mentioned her multiple times throughout the story and when he was providing more context, and we’ve talked a number of times about how people tend to believe what their peers, family, friends, etc do. What’s more, his family heard about the woman who supposedly died in the house from a neighbor, making this particular figure almost a local legend. While I wouldn’t label her a full-on urban legend for lack of popularity or name, the story about her being mentally unstable and her death in the house is legend-like. She has the traits of one as a woman believed to be mentally unwell and responsible for a haunted area. The apparent ghost is not necessarily true, but there is a negotiation of sorts about whether to believe it for the informant, his family, and his neighbors. This woman’s story lines up with a lot of what we know about ghosts – having unfinished business of some sort (to play music for others), hauntings that happen when things don’t go as they should (her suicide), and the idea that ghosts’ have property even after death (the piano). This story is definitely a memorate for the informant, who seems unsure whether he believes in ghosts entirely, but is fairly convinced that something happened in this house, and still finds it inexplicable and bizarre 20 years later.

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.