This blog post takes a break from nature to focus on the ghost stories I heard growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Come along with me as I suspend disbelief, momentarily turn my back on science and reason, and embrace the supernatural.
I’m not sure if I believe in ghosts, but I believe in something supernatural because of firsthand experience. Fifteen years ago, my wife and I rented an old house in our favorite town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The first floor was just a typical home, but when I walked up to the second floor (which consisted of a bedroom and a big closet), I was consumed by a massive feeling of unease. I wanted to turn around and walk right down those stairs. I wanted to turn around and RUN DOWN THOSE STAIRS! It was as if something primeval had been triggered in me that said, GET OUT! GET OUT! But I hid my misgivings and carried up our luggage, and we settled into the house for a four-day stay. (Note: We couldn’t sleep on the couches downstairs because they were covered in cat and dog hair, and we’re both allergic to cats and dogs.) Each night as we lay in bed with the closet light on, I felt like someone or something was lurking just out of sight. When I was in the room, I felt a sense of sadness and despair even though we were having a great time outside the house at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (a must-visit if you haven’t been there). But I reasoned that it was all in my head. Nevertheless, each morning, I would wake up and try to get downstairs as soon as possible. The sense of inhuman darkness—and even evil—stayed with me when I was in the room during the day. And even when I would glance up the stairs from the living room couch, I felt a sense of foreboding.
To make a long story short, I kept my fears to myself so I wouldn’t ruin my wife’s trip. Until, that is, we were driving out of town on our way home. I mentioned my second-floor dread to my wife, and within a second, she blurted, “I FELT IT TOO!!, but I didn’t want to ruin the trip for you.” We both laughed nervously as we put more distance between us and the house.
You don’t have to go to Michigan to have the stuffing scared out of you. Chicagoland’s forest preserves, cemeteries, and towns are loaded with ghost stories. I heard these stories frequently as a kid when I sat around Boy Scout campfires, when I drove with my parents through the dark forest preserves at night, and at other times. Stories of scary specters wandering forlornly along roads that wind through Chicagoland’s dense forest preserves, mysterious houses and blue lights appearing in graveyards, strange ghost animals running down paths in the woods, oozing piles of slime and bones creeping across lonely country roads, and one sad young woman in a white dress and dancing shoes continuing to haunt Archer Avenue. Here are some of the most popular ghosts and haunted destinations in the southwest Chicago suburbs, should you decide to take a ghost tour:
Resurrection Mary is the most-famous ghost in Chicago. Her story falls into the vanishing hitchhiker genre. As the legend goes, Resurrection Mary was a beautiful young lady who was killed in a hit-and-run accident while walking along Archer Avenue after having an argument with her boyfriend at the Oh Henry Ballroom, which was eventually renamed the Willowbrook Ballroom (8900 Archer Avenue, Willow Springs; the ballroom burned to the ground in 2016). Mary’s parents buried her at Resurrection Cemetery (7201 Archer Avenue, Justice) in a pretty dress and dancing shoes, in which her ghost appears in most stories.
The first sightings of Resurrection Mary began in the late 1930s. A man named Jerry Palus met a stunning woman at a dance hall. They made beautiful music together all night on the dance floor. At the end of the evening, she asked Palus for a ride home down Archer Avenue. When they reached the gates of Resurrection Cemetery, she exited his car and promptly disappeared. In the ensuing decades, similar stories emerged of a beautiful woman in a white dress hitching a ride down Archer Avenue and then vanishing near or at Resurrection Cemetery. Stories also abound of a young woman in a white dress jumping out in front of cars on Archer or walking on the side of the road crying. Ghost hunters have linked the story of Resurrection Mary to the tragic deaths of two young women in the 1920s and 1930s—one who died on the way home from the Willowbrook Ballroom.
When I was a little boy, my friend’s dad, who drove a bread delivery truck, claimed he picked up Resurrection Mary on one of his delivery runs. I never knew if he was serious. But this guy also loved to whip loaves of bread through the open car windows to surprise unsuspecting friends (including us) whom he spotted at stoplights while on deliveries. So, who knows.
The Lights Above Maple Lake
Maple Lake is located in Pulaski Woods East, off 95th Street and Wolf Road in Willow Springs. For years, strange lights have been spotted hovering over the lake—even in the dead of winter when few fishermen would be on the lake. An odd red glow has also been seen around the shoreline. Ghost hunters classify the types of lights at Maple Lake as nocturnal lights. “These are lights, generally spherical, almost always moving just above ground, sometimes disappearing upon approach and reappearing nearby,” William Corliss explained in his book, Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena.
Chicago’s Miracle Child
Mary Alice Quinn was born on December 28, 1920. She was a serious child who loved to pray and go to church. Mary Alice suffered from a serious heart condition, and she and her parents prayed to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was known as “The Little Flower,” for her to be healed. Unfortunately, she did not get better and died at the age of 14 on November 8, 1935. After Mary Alice’s death, people reported that she had appeared to them and even healed serious or terminal illnesses. Her gravesite at Holy Sepulcher Catholic Cemetery in Alsip became a place of pilgrimage, in which people came to ask Mary Alice to intercede to heal their illnesses or those of their family members. More than 80 years after her death, it remains so. Many pray for favors at the site. Some leave prayer cards and crosses. Others scoop up handfuls of dirt believing it has supernatural qualities. Many visitors report a strong smell of roses at the gravesite regardless of the season. Roses were Mary Alice’s favorite flowers. St. Thérèse of Lisieux (who Mary Alice often prayed to while she was sick) had promised to “send showers of roses” to those who prayed in her name.
Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery
Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is located near the southwest suburb of Midlothian in the Rubio Woods Forest Preserve. The first burial was made there in 1844, and no new burials have been made for many years. It’s a sad and solemn place. When I used to visit, tall grass obscured many of the overturned gravestones, and there were signs of digging at the base of some of the stones. The cemetery has been cleaned up in the last few years.
Once you hike in from your parking spot off the Midlothian Turnpike, you are surrounded by tall trees and silence. Countless ghost stories and strange sightings are associated with this cemetery—from the apparition of a ghost horse emerging from the waters of a stagnant pond near the cemetery’s entrance, to a phantom farm house that grows smaller and then gradually disappears if you approach it, to a bright orb that flies down the footpath to the cemetery at night, to a man in a yellow suit who is reported to materialize and disappear in a shower of sparks, to a sad woman sitting atop a gravestone. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is a strange and forlorn place, and worth a visit. But it’s important to remember that, if you visit, it’s still a cemetery that needs to be respected. Click here to read my detailed article about the ghosts and human history of Bachelor’s Grove.
A Haunted Church and Grounds
The final destination is a beautiful old church surrounded by a graveyard on a hill down the road from the ruins of the Willowbrook Ballroom. This site in Lemont, Illinois, is the crossroads of three cultures. Native Americans once lived atop this hill. They were followed by the French, who built a fort and church here in the 1600s. In 1673, it is believed that Father Jacques Marquette said Mass at the French fort. And in 1833, Irish settlers built another church on the site. I won’t name the still-operating church because it’s has ongoing problems with ghost-hunters and Halloween revelers. I was married there on this day in 2001, and it has a special place in my heart. This hill is ghost ground zero. There have been sightings of phantom monks, who sometimes chant in Latin, wandering the graveyard and neighboring Red Gate Woods, which many say is also haunted; it also holds remnants of the Manhattan Project). Others have seen the ghosts of a young couple who were killed in a carriage accident right before they were to be married, and a rider-less, horse-drawn hearse carrying the casket of a child through the church grounds.
There are many more ghost stories and destinations in Chicagoland, including The Italian Bride (this is an especially interesting story), Archer Woods Cemetery, and the haunted intersection of 95th Street and Kean Avenue.
Why are we so fascinated by ghost stories? They linger even in the age of social media, 24-hour surveillance technology, and a skepticism about almost everything we used to believe in our post-truth world. Is it because we seek some connection to or understanding of the afterlife? Is it because stories of the supernatural that explain strange occurrences are far more captivating than adhering to the philosophical principle of Occam’s Razor (the simpler explanation of an event is usually the truth)? Or do we just enjoy having the #@*!#! scared out of us occasionally? I’d say it’s a combination of these and other reasons. But that’s neither here nor there…and I still will never stay at that house in Michigan again.
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING TO DO BEFORE/AFTER YOUR GHOST TOUR? If so, check out the following options:
COVID-19 UPDATE: CHECK WITH EACH DESTINATION BEFORE YOUR VISIT TO VERIFY HOURS OF OPERATION AND AVAILABILITY OF INDOOR/OUTDOOR DINING (FOR BARS/RESTAURANTS)
Near/General Vicinity of the All the Locations Mentioned Except Bachelor’s Grove and The Italian Bride:
If You Like Beer: Imperial Oak Brewing (501 Willow Boulevard, Willow Springs, 708/330-5096). I’ve not visited yet, but this place looks interesting.
If You Want Beer, Food, and Ghosts: The Irish Legend (8933 Archer Avenue, Willow Springs, 708/330-5264). Another place I’ve not tried yet, but it is allegedly haunted, and it offers “haunted tours” of the building. The Irish Legend is located across the street from the ruins of the Willowbrook Ballroom.
If You’re Hungry, Like Antiques, and Enjoy History: Lemont. This canal town was founded in 1833. Its historic downtown is just a few miles from Red Gate Woods. Lemont is a perfect stop for lunch or an early dinner after ghost hunting, a dash of history, some antiquing, and some great restaurants and bewpubs.
If You Want the World’s Best Ice Cream!: The Plush Horse (12301 South 86th Avenue, Palos Park, 708/448-0550). The Plush Horse has been one of the go-to places for fantastic ice cream in the southwest suburbs since long before I was born (it was founded in 1937). It changed my life, and it will change yours, too!
If you want the best Middle Eastern food this side of Jerusalem: Al-Bawadi (7216 West 87th Street, Bridgeview, 708/599-1999)
If you want to visit a Latin American-inspired brewery: 5 Rabbit Cervecería (6398 West 74th Street, Bedford Park, 312/895-9591)
Near/General Vicinity of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery:
If You Want to Visit an Old-School, Nearly 100-Year-Old Steakhouse: Jack Gibbons Gardens (147th & Oak Park Avenue, Oak Forest, 708/687-2331). A hidden gem in the south suburbs. Try my favorite heart-attack-on-a-plate meal: chopped sirloin the size of a giant’s hands, au-gratin potatoes, and a big salad covered with enough blue cheese to take two years off of your life. Plus, you’ll get to enjoy a relish tray that would make any Wisconsin supper club diner jealous. Wonderful.
If You Want Fantastic Deep-Dish Pizza: Louisa’s (14025 South Cicero Avenue, Crestwood, 708/371-0950). Voted the 37th-best pizza in Chicagoland by Chicago magazine. I rank it higher.
If You Want Great Beer and Tasty Food: Horse Thief Hollow Brewing Company (10426 South Western Avenue, Chicago): No one should feel haunted after they savor the tasty craft-beer and food at this Beverly gem. Art adorns the walls, live music is featured on certain days, and there is just a wonderful vibe at this great destination. Open Outcry Brewing Company is another must-visit destination in Beverly/Morgan Park. I would never have left Beverly if Horse Thief and Open Outcry were around when I lived there. Looking for something haunted in Beverly? Then drive by the Irish Castle (10244 South Longwood Drive, Chicago), which is now the home of Beverly Unitarian Church. Some of its hauntings include a young spectral girl in a long dress roaming the rooms and strange moving lights and sounds when the castle is supposed to be unoccupied. You can actually visit the castle through the Chicago Architecture Center’s Open House Chicago initiative.
Copyright (text/photos) Andrew Morkes
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When I’m not suspending my disbelief about ghosts, I write books and newsletters about careers for teens and adults who want to change occupations. I also write college-planning books and newsletters, including They Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, 3rd Edition. You can learn more about my newsletters and books by clicking here.