My informant told me about the legend of the ghost of the 600 wing from his high school.
These were a collection of stories or rumors that were spread in his high school. According to my informant, there weren’t ‘sightings’ of the ghost. Instead there were often events that were attributed to the ghost, such as the internet going out, or creaking noises being heard. These events were tied to the ghost because of other stories that were spread among the students. My informant wasn’t able to identify a clear source, but mentioned stories about a mysterious closet that contained corpses.
These stories all have the possibility of happening. The 600 wing is supposedly one of the older wings, leading to more warped floors which can be explanation for the creaking noises. The age of the wing can also explain the interruptions of the internet.
Ghost stories tend to originate in places that are spooky or eerie. These can include abandoned or old buildings, or places with religious significance. This high school wing checks both boxes. The environment allows the creation of these ghost stories.
The ghost stories are able to continue to exist because of multiple things. My theory is that teachers welcome them as the dissuade students from exploring too much. Although students may not truly believe in ghosts, there is always that “what if?” that stops students from going too far. On the student’s side, it is fun to have a ghost story tied to the school. It helps build a bond between the students and their school and can be something that they joke about.
Informant is LO, a USC freshman from New York City, New York.
“The Parkside Ghost has never been taken seriously. It’s common knowledge but no one truly believes in it. Sometimes all the lights will go dark and you’re in the hallway, and the lights on the other side of the hallway will start flickering which is just scary especially when it’s late at night. Then you have other instances where the elevator doors open randomly, like when the elevator is there but no one ever walks in. There’s also The Stench. It kind of smells like sulfur, rotten eggs, and you smell it and then it goes away. It usually stays for five minutes and we’re all like ‘Oh, it’s the parkside ghost.’ There’s also no hot water, although recently there has been. All of those have happened to me, so there definitely could be a ghost, but I think they’re all circumstantial. I think it makes it more fun, personally I don’t believe it. Also because Parkside is pretty old, so there’s that idea.”
The University of Southern California was founded in 1880, and the Parkside residential buildings which informant LO references were built over the course of multiple years in the 2000s, making them at least 10 years old. The Parkside residential buildings include Parkside Arts and Humanities Residential College — a special living community for freshmen interested in the arts and humanities — Parkside International Residence College — a special living community targeted at first year students seeking an international experience — and Parkside Apartments — a living space designated primarily for juniors and seniors.
As USC is an institution with a nearly 150-year tradition, there are bound to be certain legends and folk narratives that form. This memorize reflects one consequence of an old school, which is the presence of old buildings. However, unlike other ghost stories — such as those from Estonia which tell of demons which steal property from Ülo Valk’s “Ghostly Possession and Real Estate: The Dead in Contemporary Estonian Folklore” — this ghost story lacks any reference to “unfinished business,” whether from a failed ritual or disappointed ancestors. Rather, as LO states, the goal is simply to make fun of the poor quality of an old building, and perhaps give some explanation to the unexplainable, as some ghost stories do.
Context: Informant is a 50 year-old Taiwanese woman and this is her memorate happened on a camping trip. The interview was conducted through a facetime call.
Text: Informant: It was during summer a couple years ago. I took the kids on a camping trip about an hour away from the city. One of my sister’s kids said that she had something earlier that day and asked us to pick her up at a nearby train station. We arrived at the site in the afternoon and by the time I was supposed to pick her up, it was pitch black outside. There was a cemetery on the side of the road at about halfway between the train station and the camping site. I remembered it because we saw that earlier when we were heading to the site. I remembered setting the GPS map to the train station and I took a quick glance at where the route would be, nothing unusual, just one big straight road that leads to the town where the station is. I started driving and as I was approaching where the cemetery is located, the map start asking me to turn right. There is one small muddy road cutting through the cemetery and the GPS kept asking me to go through there, but it makes no sense at all because the station should be straight ahead down the big road. The closer I got to the intersection, the more I felt weird about the entire situation. The street lights were flickering and glowing in a strange tone and I just felt this uncanny feeling that the something is trying to pull me into the cemetery, down that road. I didn’t dare to look through the passenger window because I was convinced that I might see things that I shouldn’t see. As I drove past and away from the intersection that I was asked to turn by the GPS, the street lights seemed to go back to the normal, dimmed, warm-yellow tone and the strange feeling went away. Anyways, that is why you should always have a basic sense of where you are going and don’t fully rely on GPS. God knows what would have happened if I had just followed the GPS.
Analysis: The memorate demonstrates the common Taiwanese belief of the existence of ghosts. Cemetery are usually seen as a cursed or bad place where the wandering spirits or hostile ghosts will try to haunt or harm someone, either out of fun or malicious intention. In Taiwan, you often heard that GPS or other technologies involving energy wave passing through air and space often malfunction when the device is near the cemetery. The scientific explanation of this is still unclear. This type of experience therefore was explained way by the common belief of ghost.
J is a 35 year old woman from The Bay with three young siblings. She is my co-worker and a graduate student at USC. When anything unexplainable happened in her house growing up, her family would blame it on a ghost named Steve. Although she has never seen a ghost or had a divine encounter, she believes they are real.
J: “My mom and I had this thing where we would say there was a ghost named Steve in the house for a long time. And anytime something would happen, we’d be like, there’s Steve. Oh, Steve’s acting up again. If a light flickered or if you heard a sound or if you couldn’t find anything, like that kind of stuff. Unexplainable things that no body wanted to take responsibility, we’d blame it on Steve. We didn’t ever see him, or anything, though.”
Many people use encounters with the divine as ways to explain what they deem the unexplainable. By doing so, they can find an answer for everything. In terms of the way J was using Steve, it was a bit similar. She and her mother blamed “unexplainable” things on Steve as a joke, even when those things could be explained. The reason they did this was comfort humor. By attributing everything to Steve, responsibility was lifted from their shoulders. It was also a way for J to take a break from carrying the blame for everything her siblings did.
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.