Text: “One popular myth from my town is that about the Edison and Ford Winter Estates being haunted by the ghosts of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The estates used to be the winter homes of these two famous inventors, and after their deaths, there have been reports of strange occurrences and paranormal activity. According to the legend, the ghost of Thomas Edison is said to wander his estate, tinkering with machines and conducting experiments. Visitors have reported hearing strange noises and seeing unexplained lights, and some claim to have seen Edison’s ghostly apparition.
Similarly, the ghost of Henry Ford is said to haunt his estate’s gardens and greenhouse. Some visitors have reported hearing the sound of footsteps and seeing the ghostly figure of a man walking among the plants. I was always too afraid to visit and the houses were pretty far from my home, but it was still a super scary story I heard about in like middle school.”
Context: This story was told in a lighthearted manner because me and JD are very close, but I could honestly tell that telling the story kind of made him uncomfortable or on edge. While not necessarily a super famous legend among the whole state of Florida, it was apparently very common in the immediate city where JD resides. He was first told the story by his cousin when he was in the 6th grade, which likely explains why he became frightened when talking about it. JD is personally a believer in ghosts and super natural beings but he is unsure about whether or not this particular ghostly legend is true or false, but he also has no intention of finding out or “getting anywhere near those places”. JD and I had a good conversation about how the story circulated among his friend group but because of his superstition he was frightened of the story.
Analysis: I personally found this legend fascinating. I think The ghost stories associated with the Edison and Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers, Florida add a layer of intrigue and mystery to the already fascinating history of these historic sites. According to legend, both Thomas Edison and Henry Ford are said to haunt the estates, with many visitors and staff members reporting paranormal activity and unexplained phenomena. While there is no concrete evidence to support these claims, the ghost stories associated with the Edison and Ford Winter Estates add to the sense of mystery and intrigue surrounding these historic sites. Many visitors are drawn to the estates specifically because of these stories, hoping to catch a glimpse of the supernatural. It’s worth noting that many of the ghost stories associated with the estates may be attributed to the power of suggestion. The estates are known to be haunted, and visitors may be more likely to see or hear something unusual if they are already primed to believe in the paranormal. Because many people believe these ghosts to be real, but they are not yet proven to be so, this falls perfectly into the category of a legend. I for one had no idea these famous figures resided in Florida, but I was interesting in seeing them after hearing this legend.
[A]: I grew up in like an 8 house horizontal neighborhood, you know like 8 houses and they were gated off, and when I turned 5 or 6 the last house at the end, the people left and the house was just there sitting for like 3 years between the period that the family was living there and the next one. So me and my friends that lived in the other houses always used to say that that house was haunted and that’s why they had left. So when Halloween would come around we would walk over to the house, ‘cause there was also like…it was at the end and it was blocked off with big hedges so you couldn’t totally see it like the rest of the neighborhood. So we used to go in there and grab little stones from the pavement and toss them at the windows to see if a spirit would appear or something. So for that whole time we used to say that the house was haunted.
[Me]: Did you guys just decide one day that the house was haunted or was there something specifically that happened?
[A]: I think we always used to just say it…I don’t think there was anything specifically but we used to say a bunch of stuff about why it was haunted. It was the last house, number 8, and we used to say that 8 was a haunted number and that we had seen the number in the night and that the house would spin in circles and the lights would flicker on and off…allegedly…we were probably just little kids making up stuff
[Me]: Did you ever go on to the property?
[A]: I don’t think we ever broke into the house but we definitely went into the yard and on to the patio and the driveway and we used to again throw rocks at the windows then one of us would scream that we saw something then we would run away or whatever
A is 21 years old and grew up in a small town in Mexico. He told me this story after I had asked him if he remembered any scary or ghost stories from when he was younger, but as he recounted it like more of a happy memory than one that still scared him—as most scary stories from youth seem in adulthood. Afterwards I prompted him to tell me a bit more about the role the number 8 played in the story, but the details were unfortunately lost to time. Regardless, reflecting on our class discussion about the “luckiness” of numbers in certain cultures, it got me thinking about how the number 8 is perceived in popular American culture; typically it’s considered a lucky or at least auspicious number (i.e. magic 8 ball), so I’d be interested to dive deeper into whether this was just an instance of kids being kids or if there’s some deeper significance in Mexican culture.
A’s story contains many motifs common to the general concept of a haunted house: blocked off from the rest of the community, a mysterious backstory, etc. I found it interesting that both of the haunted house stories I collected for this portion weren’t necessarily well-known in the community but were instead primarily known and/or created by a group of young kids.
[S]: This is a ghost story…or at least what we considered a ghost story and have told many times. When I was younger, in the town that I live in there was this one old, abandoned manor. It was huge, built out of stone with moss vines up the side…like the definition of what you see when you picture old ruins, grown over colonial style housing. There was a huge, 8-foot by 4 foot wide stone wall that surrounded it so it was very blocked in and there were rumors surrounding the abandonment of this home. The story in the town was that it was last inherited by this woman who lived there alone for many years and was very reclusive and…I don’t really remember the specific details about this part but she was either a seamstress or somehow sewing or fashion or something related to that was very involved in the lore surrounding her. There was this story that she disappeared and barely anyone knew her so no one could trace her, no one could find her and or any trace of her and the property was foreclosed and left abandoned, but there was blood found in the bedroom that she disappeared from and so everyone had this rumor that she died and then of course the rumor became that she still haunted the place. Kids all the time would hop the fence or walk around it and kind of hang around the courtyard…oh and there were all of these really creepy statues in the yard space…kinda like I described before as Medusa’s garden in the Percy Jackson movie…me and my friends in middle school climbed the fence and were running around amongst the stones and when we were walking around the house…we tried to get in but all of the doors were super bolted and the windows were closed…from above us, cause it was a 3 or 4 story house, 2 of the window panes slammed shut and so we ran cause we were freaked out and as we went to go climb the fence one of my friend said “Look!” and so we looked back and I swear, to this day, again it might’ve been a real person…who’s to say…we saw a woman dressed in white like half watching us through one of the windows who disappeared behind the window very quickly. We freaked out and jumped the fence and ran away and the other weird thing that I remembered about it…this is the sewing thing…you know those plush tomatoes that people put sewing needles in? There were a bunch of them with needles stuck in them all over the yard, and it was really weird because they looked really new, not old and worn like everything else was so that was really weird and creepy…but we ran away so that was the story of when we saw a ghost.
S is a student at USC and told this story during our discussion section. We talked for a bit afterwards, and it seemed like this was one of those stories that kids come up with amongst themselves when they encounter something new or unknown.
The story contains several motifs that are common in ghost stories. These include the abandoned and decrepit building, the mysterious disappearance of a woman, and the blood found in the bedroom. These motifs contribute to the eerie and unsettling atmosphere of the story. Several supernatural elements make an appearance, such as the ghostly woman in white and the plush tomatoes with needles stuck in them. These elements add to the sense of mystery and terror surrounding the haunted house.
When she was in elementary school, T recalls going into the girl’s restroom with a group of female classmates. She remembers it being an eerily cold and cloudy day, so she and her friends believed it was the perfect opportunity to put the Legend of Bloody Mary to the test. Before they had to line up to return to the classroom, T stood in a huddle with her friends before the only mirror in the girl’s restroom. After chanting the name three times, each girl began to scream and sprint from the restroom in fear. Afterwards, each claimed to have seen an older woman, but each girl described the woman quite differently. T recalls seeing a ghostly phantom with bloody and dejected features, and says that, after that day, she and her friends never used that bathroom ever again.
The Legend of Bloody Mary claims that if you chant “Bloody Mary” at a mirror three times, a woman– believed to be the historical and genocidal British queen, Bloody Mary— appears before you.
The trend of challenging the Legend of Bloody Mary is extremely common among young, pre-pubescent children, especially girls. At this age in life, young girls look forward to the daunting prospect of adulthood, or womanhood. The Bloody Mary challenge can actually be viewed as a metaphor for how the uncertainty of puberty and receiving one’s first menstrual cycle can be a terrifying experience. Like in T’s story, young girls confront a mirror, which in return projects back an image of themselves. Once completing the challenge and chanting Bloody Mary, the girls are faced with another image: the image of an older, often bloodier woman. This can be taken as a literal reflection of puberty, menstruation and other foreign aspects of womanhood through the eyes of young girls.
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.