Have you heard about Homey the Clown? He was a clown who drove a white van around the neighborhoods of Chicago, and said to lure children into his van before dismembering them and sticking the body parts in freezers. Children in every school in the ’80s or ’90s report seeing him, and there was even a police notice issued.
Or Resurrection Mary, the ghost of a girl in a white dress, who always asks for a ride along Archer Avenue before vanishing from the car? She’s been sighted from the 1930s to this day.
The most famous urban legends have a feeling of truth to them. That’s what makes them effective. With Chicago’s murky history, it isn’t surprising that tours such as Weird Chicago and Haunted Chicago have so much material. I won’t go into all of them, mostly because I am easily terrified, so you can go read them yourself.
While science can explain the cold spots where ghosts manifest, the sounds on “ghost tapes,” and even ghost sightings themselves, the question persists. The stories remain. Why are people so attracted to these stories?
Maybe it’s related to one’s spirituality, one’s religious beliefs. Or maybe it’s mass hysteria, or collective effervescence (my SOSC teacher should give me extra points). Maybe it’s the belief that human trauma will remain after people move away, that trauma will leave an indelible mark on the place where it occurred. Maybe it’s for the chemical rush, for the cathartic effect you feel after watching a horror movie.
Personally, I think people just love a good story, especially when it comes with a bonus of scaring your friends. Scarier stories are more memorable after all. And you can grab for their candy while they’re distracted. Horror stories, too, employ the mechanics of a good story—mood, setting, and most of all, pacing. Try and scare up a few of your own stories this Halloween. They don’t have to be long—just check out the two sentence stories on Reddit. Mix in some memorable details, but make sure the story sounds like it could have happened, at least in the beginning. Try adding in “this happened to a friend of a friend” for verisimilitude. Carnage and other squelchy things are good for effect, but they won’t carry the story. Uncertainty is key— ah, one could say, the skeleton key.
As long as there is a bit of doubt at the back of your mind, the story can follow you until you walk down a similar dark hallway, a similar dark street… and hear a noise, a low, low noise…