Tidbits of Chicago Ghost Stories

   Ghostly Chicago

Paranormal and ghostly activity, and the stories and myths that come with it, is something that goes back as far as anyone can remember. Folklore, film, and art having to deal with the horror genre all exist due to the fact that paranormal activity is something that is very real and appreciated by those who believe in and have studied these mysteries. The idea of the afterlife being a potential hell on earth that cannot be ended by death is something that forces a chill to crawl up your spine.

It seems as though there is a general theme to paranormal and ghost stories and that is that everyone has their own version or interpretation as to what happened to the subject at hand. The most common argument that stems around the campfire while ghost stories are being told, is how the incident took place. Whether you’re talking about Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman or about the Boogeyman, everyone has their own version of the story that they initially heard from a friend of a friend. Although some, perhaps most, stories may have no actual evidence to back them up and they’re just coming from word of mouth, it is still fun and fascinating to believe in a world where these paranormal stories can take place.

But the most frustrating part of these stories is that we will never get a straight answer as to what happened. Stemming from that, we will never know for certain what is true and what has been made up along the way. However, as someone who doesn’t like to live in a black and white world, I chose to believe that there is a lot of gray area when it comes to the paranormal and that there is a lot more to the afterlife than what we know. It is rare to come across someone who doesn’t have a story or myth to contribute while talking about ghosts or the unknown.

My interest in paranormal phenomenon began in high school when I heard about a local house that was said to be haunted. Rumor has it that the house, located only two blocks from mine, was home to a couple in the 1970’s. The couple got into a heated argument that ended in a murder-suicide. After that, it was said that the ghosts of the couple haunted any residents that lived in the house after their death. Locals reported seeing blood and knives upon looking through the windows of the house.

One day I was walking home from a nearby restaurant and passed the so-called “haunted house” on my way. The house was located on a street of mismatched homes located in between subdivisions. I had never noticed the house before but, after hearing the stories at school, I made sure to seek it out on my walk. While looking at the line of homes, the one I was searching for was easy to spot as it had a dated and deserted look to it. Despite the fact that I was walking through broad-daylight, I felt a chill run through my body when I looked up at the attic window and saw what appeared to be a bloody handprint. I then continued home with a frightful bounce in my step and told friends and family what I had just seen.

A few weeks later, I was driving with my father down that street. Ready to point out the house and show him what I had seen, I was suddenly hit with confusion when I saw that the house was no longer there. “How in the world is it possible that a house that has been standing there for forty years disappears just weeks after my acknowledgment of it?” I thought. From this moment on, I had an inexpiable interest in ghosts and paranormal activity. I figured that if something this unusual could happen practically in my own backyard, imagine what wild stories are out there around the globe.

Let us now journey to Chicago, Illinois – one of the biggest and greatest cities in America. Although there have been so many frightening stories to come out of this seemingly beautiful city over the years, it is fascinating to see that many of the ghosts haunting Chicago are that of women. Even stranger than that is that these female spirits are described in a similar manner, often wearing white gowns and are somewhat somber, not scary or threatening as some would expect.

However women are not the only repetitive component in these bone-chilling ghost stories. A recurring characteristic is that many stories and sightings take place in cemeteries. Whether it be Bachelor’s Grove or Resurrection Cemetery, each resting place has an equally eerie story to tell.

While learning about what led to some areas of Chicago to be as haunted as they are today, we will be sure to pay respect to the wandering female ghosts – who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, as well as to some of the most famous, and most disturbing, resting places that history has ever known.

Within this city and it’s surrounding suburbs lives a vast history of unusual stories and activity. Whether we’re talking specific ghosts or even an entire road that is said to be haunted, Chicago has a story for it. Through “Ghostly Chicago,” we will learn about some of the strangest and scariest stories that Chicago has to offer.

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery

We will begin the journey of Chicago’s greatest frights with what is said to be one of the most haunted places in Illinois – Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery. Located south of Chicago in Midlothian, Bachelor’s Grove is a place that has attracted many curious folk throughout the years, and for good reason. There have been more than 100 documented reports that describe paranormal activity throughout the cemetery, many of which describe realistic apparitions.

Being that the cemetery has been closed for years, there are no longer burials taking place on those grounds. What was once home to over 200 graves now only holds around twenty after years and years of destruction and grave robberies.

While the cemetery is technically closed to the public, you can still get to it by walking the long and forested trail that leads you deep into the woods, though it is frowned upon by authorities. Once you get back into the cemetery, you are able to see the destruction and graves, or lack-there-of. Back behind the fenced off cemetery lies a pond. Legend has it that, back in the 1800’s, there was a farmer using a plow pulled by a horse. After something frightened the horse, it ran for the pond – ultimately drowning himself and the farmer. It is said that, to this day, you can see the ghosts of the horse and farmer in the pond late at night.

The dark and creepy nature of Bachelor’s Grove dates back to the 1830’s when men from Germany ventured to open land in what would eventually become Illinois. These men were called Batchelder’s because they would come to their new farm alone before sending for their wives and children. This is allegedly the reason behind the name of the cemetery. The calm and peaceful farm area became a place of fear and destruction when, as legend has it, a farmer began to hear voices from the nearby cemetery telling him that he must kill his family. He then took an axe, murdering his family and brutally destroying the sanctity of the farmland. The farmer then felt great remorse for his actions, and ultimately hanged himself on a tree. This tree is located close to, what is now, the entrance gates of Bachelor’s Grove.

Ever since those tragic deaths, Bachelor’s Grove has become a place known solely for horror. Located deep in the forest preserve of Bachelor’s Grove Woods, the cemetery has not seen a burial in many years and has not been an operating cemetery for years – despite the many curious visitors it still receives.

In the 1930’s and 40’s, Bachelor’s Grove allegedly became a popular place for men involved in Chicago’s mafia outfits to dump the bodies of their slain. Due to the seclusion of the location and the unsearchable, algae-filled lake within the cemetery, it was the perfect place to leave a body with no intent of it being found. The cemetery became a draw to an even stranger crowd in the 1950’s and 60’s, when worshipers of the devil would break into the grounds late at night to perform séances and Satanic rituals. These acts of hell and bloodshed only add to the creepy feel of Bachelor’s Grove, and what is even scarier are the apparitions and spooky activity that visitors – or trespassers – have claimed to see.

One of the most famous apparitions is the ghost of a woman who is said to walk throughout the cemetery holding a baby.  This woman is often referred to as the “White Lady” or sometimes the “Madonna of Bachelor’s Grove.” Some people even call her “Mrs. Rogers”. It is believed that this ghost is of a woman who is buried next to her young child. Many people have reported seeing her during the night when a full moon is present. The reports always claim that the ghost is holding an infant and appears to be walking throughout the cemetery with no sense of direction. Over the years, those who have claimed to see the ghost wandering have said that she remains unfazed by the human life present in cemetery. There is no evidence to support exactly who the woman is or when or how she died. Those who have claimed to see her have reported that she looks like a living woman, however you can see through her.

In 1991, Chicago-native, Jude Felz, was taking a tour through the cemetery and snapped a few photos. After getting them developed, she noticed something strange in one of the photos. Upon further inspection, she saw what appeared to be the ghost of a blonde woman in a white gown, sitting on a tombstone. The woman is looking out into the woods and seems to have no awareness of those around her. Many believe that this is the ghost of the “Madonna of Bachelor’s Grove.” The photo was published in the Chicago Sun Times, showcasing to the masses the strange feats that take place in the cemetery.

However, this is far from the only unusual activity that takes place in Bachelor’s Grove. The cemetery has gone years without a burial and has gone almost unforgotten, except for those who have a desire to seek out the unknown. Over the years, the cemetery has been vandalized and is pretty unkempt today, giving a feel of abandonment that only adds to the disturbing nature of Bachelor’s Grove.

What is arguably the most unusual occurrence within the cemetery is the legend of the disappearing farmhouse. Many who have walked deep into the woods have claimed to see a large, Victorian style farmhouse with a wrap around porch and swing. Upon walking closer to get a better view of the house, it slowly begins to disappear with the more steps taken towards it. Experts who have studied Bachelor’s Grove for years have said that there is absolutely no record of a farmhouse of that style ever existing on that land. In addition, there are no property records to support its existence.

To this day, people are still gravitated to the wonders of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery and these unusual stories explain the attraction. It is a popular topic of conversation for ghost hunters and fans of the paranormal. There is even a community of people who go to visit the cemetery from time to time, in search of a scare. Those within this community often leave toys on one of the last-standing graves, known as the Fulton infant.

Through the years, the attraction to finding a good scare at this out-of-operations cemetery has never gone away. The amount of reports regarding apparitions, unexplained glows of light and a variety of other unexplainable happenings would lead one to believe that Bachelor’s Grove definitely lives up to its reputation as one of the most haunted places in Illinois, if not one of the most haunted places in the United States.

Archer Avenue

In an effort to save the best for last, we will now travel down what has been called by many the most haunted roadway in America – Archer Avenue. This road runs through the south suburbs of Chicago, located primarily in Justice, Illinois, and is home to some of the most frightening and lingering ghost stories that have been told. Ranging from vanishing hitchhikers to ominous, red orbs of light to a haunted castle, Archer Avenue has a story for everyone and everything.

Located in an extremely wooded and forested area, Archer Avenue is a dark and secluded place, which is especially frightening at night. There is a body of water that backs up to the road known as Maple Lake. Drivers have reported seeing strange, red lights floating above the lake. Some say that the hue of the light is from a lantern held by the ghost of a farmer who was decapitated while working in the field. It is told that the ghost uses the lantern to search the lake for his missing head. This very well could just be legend, but this is just the beginning of the spine-tingling tales that originated on one of Chicago’s most famous streets, which attracts many spectators who travel along the road in search of a story to tell.

Along Archer Avenue, passersby will come across one of the largest cemeteries in the Midwest, known as “Resurrection Cemetery”. This is the home to over 150,000 departed souls and holds the grave of one of the most famous ghosts in history – Resurrection Mary.

Resurrection Mary

There is a famous sub-genre in ghost stories that deals with vanishing hitchhikers. The central idea being that someone who was killed in an accident on a road will occasionally reappear to said road, giving passersby the impression that they are a hitchhiker. When the driver approaches the hitchhiker, they will then vanish into thin air. The tale of the vanishing hitchhiker is the very plot of one of Chicago’s most legendary ghost stories – Resurrection Mary.

The story of Resurrection Mary dates back to the early 1930’s. Details concerning her life and death are still up for debate and still argued about to this day. However, it is generally agreed upon that the incident happened when Mary was attending a dance at the Oh Henry Ballroom in Justice, Illinois. After an argument with her boyfriend, Mary decided to leave the dance and to walk home.

In order to get to her house, which was said to be on South Damen Avenue, Mary had to walk down a long and dark stretch of road, which is still known today as Archer Avenue. While walking, Mary was struck and killed by a passing automobile, and the aftermath of this accident is still haunting Chicago to this day.

The legend of Resurrection Mary is not only famous in Chicago but has become one of the most well-known ghost stories and is a story that is difficult to refute. Mary has yet to be officially identified by is believed to have been a young Polish woman by the name of Mary Bregovy, who was killed on Archer Avenue in 1934. She was buried in Resurrection Cemetery on Archer Avenue, which is where her ghostly nickname comes from. Legend has it that her grave was moved during cemetery maintenance, causing her spirit to become disturbed and what is referred to as a “lost soul”.

Unusual occurrences began to be told in the years following her death. Dozens of people have reported seeing a young woman, walking down Archer Avenue, late at night. The reports have been steadily similar and have described Mary as a young blond between the ages of 18 and 21, and she is dressed in a white party dress and satin shoes. Initial reports of Resurrection Mary sightings were said to be close by the cemetery. Not long after, sightings began to span further down Archer and closer to the Oh Henry Ballroom, now known as the Willowbrook, which is where she was said to have been seen last. Some people have even claimed to see her inside the ballroom.

The first and most bone chilling story to come about concerning a sighting of Mary came from a man named Jerry Palus in 1936. Palus said to have been at a dance hall in Brighton Park when he spotted a woman that caught his attention. According to a documented video interview, Palus claims to have danced with this mysterious woman all night, learning little about her other than her name, Mary, and where she lived. Palus says that while dancing with her, he noticed she was cold to the touch but did not think much of it. When the dance came to an end, he offered her a ride home – thinking that he would be taking her to South Damen. He was confused when she insisted on being taken down Archer Avenue, but accepted her request.

As the two quietly drove down Archer, there was a sudden shift in the mood as Mary allegedly yelled for Palus to stop the car upon passing Resurrection Cemetery. Surprised by her demand, he quickly stopped the car and followed as she got out. According to his testimony, Mary suddenly vanished right before his eyes.

Rather than jumping to the conclusion of Mary being a ghost, Palus instead went to South Damen the following day to where Mary had said she lived. Upon walking up the steps, a woman answered the door. Palus asked if he could speak with Mary, to which the woman said there was no one there by that name. Looking into the house, Palus reportedly saw a photograph of the woman he had danced with the night before. The woman said that was impossible, being that it was a picture of her daughter, Mary, who had been dead for five years.

Palus, who ironically worked in a funeral home and passed away in 1992, was just the first of many to share their stories of Resurrection Mary encounters. In 1980, Clare Lopez-Rudnicki was driving down Archer Avenue with her husband, Mark, and two friends. Looking out the window, Lopez-Rudnicki claimed to have seen a girl, almost illuminating against the backdrop of a dark night, standing on the side of the road, walking very slowly. A sinking feeling went into Lopez-Rudnicki, knowing that she had just witnessed Resurrection Mary. Her husband says he still enjoy driving down Archer at night to try and catch another glimpse of the infamous ghost but Lopez-Rudnicki says, “I never want to see her again,” (Unsolved Mysteries, 1987 – present).

Another encounter similar to that of Jerry Palus was from an unnamed cab driver who was driving through the south suburbs of Chicago one dark night. He was not from the area and was searching for a way to get back to the expressway. He spotted a woman walking down the street and pulled over to ask for directions. The driver told her that if she could help him out, he would drive her wherever she would like, free of charge. Again upon approaching Resurrection Cemetery, the girl requested that he stop. The driver, baffled as to why she would want to get out in the middle of the street, turned around only to find that the girl had vanished without even the slam of a door. He then realized he had just encountered Resurrection Mary.

Claims of Resurrection Mary sightings skyrocketed during the 1970s and 80s, and have since slowed down. Many drivers who have had encounters with Mary, such as Janet Kalel, said to have seen a girl running across the street. By the time the driver spots the running figure, it is too late to slow down and they ultimately “hit” the girl. However with no impact, they learn that it must be Resurrection Mary.

Dozens upon dozens of claimed sightings have come out over the years, and most, if not all, have had a very similar story. Resurrection Mary has been said to have the best documentation as far as sightings go, and she is seemingly present to mainly men who are blue collar, middle class types.

It’s no secret that ghosts stories have been, and continue to be, a popular topic of conversation among teenagers. On late summer nights with not much else to do, it is not unusual that kids will go out to Archer Avenue in the search of confirmation of the stories they’ve been told. “The most appealing thing about Resurrection Mary is well-documented her sightings have been. It makes it more real knowing that people have actually seen her get into their cars,” said Maddie Benjamin, a Chicago native who has spent time researching, and searching for, Resurrection Mary.

While it has been years since the last documented sighting of Resurrection Mary, many still believe that her spirit roams around Justice, IL. Every year on Halloween, bartenders around the area always place a drink at the end of each bar, just in case Mary decides to drop in for a libation. So if you’re one who believes in the mystery and presence of one of history’s most famous ghosts, be sure to keep an eye peeled if you’re ever driving down Archer Avenue late at night.

Grimes Sisters

There is always a warning to women, especially in big cities, that they should never walk alone at night. The dark allows a mask for crime and violence, and innocent victims in late night attacks are often women. Unfortunately this gets more frightening as the years go by, but is something that has always held true – you can never be too careful. And for two sisters in the late 1950’s, this warning quickly turned into a nightmare.

The year was 1956 and the location was a cold and snowy road in Chicago. Sisters Barbara and Patricia Grime, 15 and 13 respectively, headed from their home on South Damen Ave to the Brighton Theater, which was only a short mile away. The girls were simply going to see Love Me Tender, starring their favorite heartthrob, Elvis Presley. However this outing for the show turned into an outing for a lifetime.

To this day the details are hazy, but it is said that the girls were last seen on a bus around 11PM. When they didn’t arrive home by their curfew, their mother began to worry. After a while she sent her other daughter and her son out to look for their sisters. The siblings searched bus stop after bus stop but returned home without Barbara and Patricia. The strangeness of the situation was only beginning.

Many people reported seeing the girls in the hours before their disappearance, as well as in the days following. These reports lead the police to think that the girls had run away but their family knew better. In the weeks following their disappearance, their mother, Loretta Grimes, began to receive ransom letters. The letters read that if she brought $1,000 to a location in Milwaukee, her daughters would be returned to her. Mrs. Grimes was escorted to said location by the FBI, only to find nothing. The letters were later discovered to have been sent by a patient from a mental institution.

The girls’ disappearance was making enough headlines that Elvis Presley himself caught wind and made a statement requesting that the girls come home and alleviate their mother’s concern. After days of a variety of stories coming in from people claiming to have seen the girls, and some people even claiming to know where the girls could be found, the situation came to a climax on January 22, 1957. Leonard Prescott was driving near Willow Springs on German Church Road when he saw what he thought to be two department store mannequins on the side of the road. He and his wife later went in for closer inspection, and found what turned out to be the dead bodies of Barbara and Patricia Grimes.

St. James Sag Church and Cemetery

If the creepiness of Resurrection Cemetery and the mysteries of Archer Avenue weren’t enough of a scare, take a ride down to the other end of Archer. When coming from the south through Justice, IL and Willow Springs, you pass what appears to be a normal looking town. Shops, restaurants, and houses line the streets and give off the vibe that you are just in Anywhere, USA. However, it’s when you keep going that things get scary.

Archer Avenue begins with the open gates to Resurrection Cemetery where, again, it is said that Resurrection Mary is buried. When you travel further down the road, you are surrounded by dark, wooded areas that go on for what seems like forever. And, right before you get back to civilization, a large structure appears that catches the eye. This is known as St. James Sag, one of the oldest Catholic churches in the Northern Illinois area and it dates all the way back to 1856.

Dylan Kelley, a college student who frequents Archer Avenue looking for a good scare, reflects on his younger days and an unusual occurrence with “Monk’s Castle”. His interest in paranormal activity and the supernatural began at a young age when his father would tell him ghost stories from near and far.

Kelley explains the unusual nature of St. James Sag, “My dad and his brother went driving around Monk’s Castle sometime in the ‘70s. My dad said that they went late at night and must’ve overstayed their welcome because a cop stopped them and asked them to move it along. When they didn’t move as fast as the cop would’ve liked, the cop told my dad that he needed to get out of the car because his taillight was broken.”

Kelley’s father was confused due to the fact that he knew for certain that his taillight wasn’t broken. Despite this, he obliged to what the police officer said and got out of the car to investigate. Just as he suspected, the taillight was not broken, but before he could defend himself, the officer took out his flashlight and broke the taillight, signifying that the men better get out of there.

During this point of the conversation, Kelley began fiddling with a loose string on his sock and was sparse with his eye contact, hesitant to share the next part of his story. “We were driving past [St. James Sag] and my dad turned off the car lights as a joke. He would put them back on every minute or so while driving down the creepy, wooded area.” He pauses and collects his thoughts before continuing on with the story, “And as we were driving down we saw a man just wearing a bathrobe walking down the middle of the street. Luckily by this point we had turned the lights on and just swerved to miss him.

Kelley then regales his confusion as to why there would be a man just walking around this deep, dark road in the middle of the night, wearing only a bathrobe. “We were all astonished by it,” says Kelley. “We drove past three more times and each time just found him wandering with dead eyes and dark, shaggy hair.” Kelley then went on to share a story of how he was visiting his aunt near St. James Sag and, when he family was pulling away from her house, a man covered in blood ran up to their car and was begging for help.

While all of this could be chalked up to happenstance and police officers doing their job to keep vandals out of the cemetery, the urgency and unusual-ness of these situations would make a person question what exactly goes on there. When I, along with three friends including Kelley, went to see St. James Sag with my own eyes there was a definite chill in the air that set over the car as the conversation between my friends and I slowed.

It was an eerie combination of a full moon and Friday the 13th, which gave the journey even more of a rush. When we came up to the gated driveway of “Monk’s Castle”, there was a fog over the 1:30AM sky and a general vibe that we should not be there. Seconds after we pulled up, we saw a person walk past the gate and suddenly disappear. When we moved the car to get a better look as to where this person could have walked to, we saw nothing – despite there being security lights surrounding the property. While the person may have easily been maintaining or working security at St. James Sag, it seems strange that they would just seemingly vanish before the eyes of four people.

In the end…

Whether you are discussing theories about Resurrection Mary or the oddities surrounding “Monk’s Castle”, it is safe to say that Chicago has a very expansive haunted history. It is difficult to know for certain whether these events actually happened or if the ghosts discussed ever actually existed in human form, but the long-lasting power of these tales would lead many to believe that there is some truth to what haunts Chicago.

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