When I’m not out filming projects in locations that I probably shouldn’t be at, I’m most likely reading books, online articles, magazines, you name it. I’ve been a big geek for history and mythology for as long as I can remember so very few narrative types hit the sweet spot for me as ghost stories do. Creepy tales–are they real or not? did they happen or are they completely bogus?–tend to be a nice collision of rumors, darkly wishful collective thinking, and factual history. That’s the type of cocktail that filmmakers seem to enjoy and I’m no different. Big-time, international legends (Robin Hood, Mulan, Pecos Bill, etc.) are widely celebrated, as they should be, but I’ve always felt that lesser-known, community-based stories are often underrated and underexamined.
There can be an inclination to throw away local legends (the kind all of us here on earth are bombarded with from time to time) when they don’t hold up to scrutiny. Fact-checking is best served in courts of law, not necessarily when it comes to telling fright stories. Ancient paper files disintegrate, get lost, catch fire, and are intentionally discarded. People lie and others make mistakes. It happens all the time. History–the concise, crunchy kind that we cling to nowadays–can be more delicate and elusive than we’re comfortable admitting. One flawed or misread vintage article can easily send a researcher down the wrong street. We must give space and respect for legends and how they function in fleshing out the bigger pictures of sociocultural values. If you squint and turn your head a certain way, there’s more truth being revealed than you may realize.
Chicago, Illinois is similar to many other big cities in the sense that it has a messy history. Lots of people came crashing towards a chosen area during a time when institutionalized documentation wasn’t quite on the same level that we have today (to put it mildly). Sometimes rumors and legends are all that we have left. They fill in the gaps where files fall short. Folks in the earliest decades of the 20th century, and beforehand, had a difficult enough time keeping track of the living so when it came to the dead….the details can get easily muddled.
A lengthy, old travel route coursing through Chicago and certain suburbs, Archer Avenue is heavy in history and graveyards which means that ghastly stories are inevitable. The value of these tales–and the value of neighborhood legends in general–is that they’re reflective of the histories of their respective locations. Religious obsession? Covered. Guilt, fear, and fascination regarding displaced peoples? Absolutely. Industrial Age tech shock: scary innovative equipment and automobiles turning machines into new monsters to watch out for? Very much there. The ever-present threat of poverty? Constantly highlighted in bright, blazing lights.
What were the past preoccupations of the people in your area? Dig into whatever the rumors are and you’ll gain plenty of insight.
The Archer Avenue stories presented in this short documentary are captured in their quickest essences. This is only a brief, 13-minute adventure–history, and twists on history, as a kind of carnival ride–not a day trip. It’s designed to spark your curiosity. The beautiful, awful, silly, unnerving folktales included here call for further investigation and in-depth reading. It may seem like there are too many creeps crammed into a singular line of land to be believed–do they ever bump into each other and, if so, what happens then?–but remember that these are tales circulating around just one street in Chicago so you can imagine what the rest of the city is like…..
*This is a guest post written by Derek Quint, Director of Addovolt Productions
*Derek Quint is an independent filmmaker based out of Chicago and the director of the short documentary, “A Murky Path Down Archer Avenue”. “A Murky Path Down Archer Avenue” is an entertaining and fast-paced ride through the folklore of Chicago’s spookiest street. This project is narrated by Michael Marius Massett and features music compositions by Andre Miguel Almaraz and Michael Marius Massett