Visit Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery Not Only for Spooks and Scares, But Also For Its Rich Local History

BY ANDREW MORKES, FOUNDER & AUTHOR OF NATURE IN CHICAGOLAND

A ghost horse emerging from the waters of a stagnant pond near the cemetery’s entrance. A phantom farm house that grows smaller and then gradually disappears if you approach it. A blue flashing light that races down the footpath to the cemetery at night and chases people. A sad woman sitting atop a gravestone who is searching for her missing daughter. A man in a yellow suit who materializes, then disappears in a shower of sparks. The “Madonna of Bachelors Grove,” who, dressed in a long white gown, walks through the cemetery carrying a baby or putting flowers on graves. A gravestone that periodically moves throughout the cemetery. These are just some of the countless ghost stories and strange sightings associated with Bachelor’s Grove—which many consider to be the most-haunted cemetery in Chicagoland, if not America. 

Why are we fascinated by ghost stories? 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 (i.e., the simpler explanation of the cause of an event is usually the truth)? Or do we just enjoy having the #@*!#! scared out of us occasionally? I believe it’s a combination of these and other reasons.

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is located near the southwest suburb of Midlothian in the Rubio Woods Forest Preserve. White settlers moved into the area in the late 1820s and 1830s, and the first burial was made in the cemetery in 1836 (although some people believe burials occurred there earlier). Only 11 burials have occurred since 1952 (with the last one—the cremated remains of a Blue Island resident—made in 1989).

When I visited the cemetery in the early 1990s, tall grass obscured many of the overturned gravestones, and digging was evident at the base of some of the stones. Sadly, the cemetery had become a destination for drunken parties and occult activities. Public outcry prompted volunteers and the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to clean up the graveyard, and it’s now in much-better shape—although many gravestones are still overturned, many remain missing, and a few have been relocated to the Tinley Park Historical Society (which is located at the Old Landmark Church) to protect them. In fact, fewer than two dozen gravestones remain in the cemetery, although there are an estimated 127 people buried there.

Ghost-hunting is an industry in Chicagoland, and a hobby for many. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery remains a popular attraction for ghost-hunters, and I decided to visit a day after All Saint’s Day for a bit of nostalgia, but also because the woods that surround the cemetery are beautiful and offer great hiking. 

Getting There

In the old days, you could literally park by the side of the road next to the stagnant pond—which is actually an abandoned quarry—just north of the cemetery, but that’s no longer possible. (And in the even older days, you could actually drive right up to the graveyard.) You’ll need to park at Rubio Woods (just northeast of the graveyard), walk across to the south side of the busy Midlothian Turnpike, look for the cabled off entrance footpath with the closed sign, and hike the quarter-mile entry path to the cemetery. Crossing the turnpike is a bit like the video game Frogger, but if you’re careful you can avoid a quicker trip to the afterlife.

My Visit

Once I crossed the turnpike, the sounds of the road faded and I was soon surrounded by oak, hickory, black walnut, and black cherry trees—and silence. My mind shifted from my activities earlier in the day to ghosts and history. I’ve never experienced any supernatural moments at Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery. I typically view the world with a scientific mindset, but as a writer with a vivid imagination, I have no problem letting myself take flights of fancy regarding ghosts, disappearing houses, hovering lights, etc.

I arrived at the entrance to the cemetery, and I was alone with the gravestones and beautiful trees. I glimpsed Tinley Creek through the trees to the west. I remembered the supernatural stories of my youth and looked for signs of ghosts. The woods around the graveyard were still, and I felt calm and at peace. The Chicago folklorist and historian Ursula Bielski says that visitors to Bachelor’s Grove have been known to a feel a wide range of emotions when visiting the cemetery—from inexplicable euphoria (which I felt…maybe it was just the nice sunny day) to inexplicable anger or dread. I’ve never felt anything but happiness, peace, and curiosity when I’ve visited Bachelor’s Grove, and the only supernatural experience I’ve had in my life occurred in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (No, it was not Trump’s attempts to subvert the election. See “A Personal Ghost Story, Ghosts of Chicago’s Southwest Suburbs, and 11 Spots for Post-Ghost-Tour Fun” for my ghost story and some other ghost stories from Chicago’s Southland.)

As I walked among the toppled gravestones, the broken remnants of others, and the offerings left by visitors in recent weeks, I became curious about the people whose names appeared on the gravestones—some of which were barely legible due to deterioration over time and the wanton destruction of earlier years. Who were these German, Irish, and English settlers of the 1830s and beyond that rest below the earth in this sometimes sad spot that is now visited on ghost tours and by the curious, who leave gifts to the dead—especially at the foot of the simple gravestone titled “Infant Daughter”? Those interred in the 1830s to the 1880s and thereafter lived in the area when it consisted of vast stretches of forest and farms, canal towns, and perhaps remnant groups of Native Americans who had not yet been forcefully removed from the area.

Who were these people? What did they do for a living? Why did they come to the area? Who did they love? What did they enjoy doing in life? How did they die? Why did some die so young? And why did so many experience such tragic lives?   

As I read the names on the headstones in the stillness—the sun beaming down through the trees on a 55-degree afternoon—I realized that I wanted answers to these questions and others. I planned to go home and research a few names at time until I could create a glimpse of the people who had ended up together under the towering trees and slightly hilly terrain of the cemetery. I wanted to take their names from merely being “props” during ghost hunts and in visitors’ photos to something substantial and lasting. I also wanted to restore the names of people who had been erased by vandals or simply the passage of time.   

Research Reality Check

After I arrived home, I quickly realized that I was naïve to believe that I would need to do much research. All of the work had been done for me. I should have known—given the popularity of Bachelor’s Grove. (In 1994, Brad Bettenhausen—a historian and president emeritus of the Tinley Park Historical Society—conducted and published a detailed summary of the lots in the cemetery, listing all known information about the burials. Since then, others have conducted research to add to his work.) The following paragraphs feature some brief stories about some of the people who are buried at Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery. I obtained this information from Brad Bettenhausen’s work, Ursula Bielski’s Haunted Bachelors Grove, BachelorsGroveForever.com, ThePathToBachelorsGrove.com, news articles, and other sources. These stories are not meant to be comprehensive, but just serve as quick glimpse of some of the people buried in the cemetery. Consult the aforementioned books and websites, as well as other resources, for more detailed information. I didn’t get all of the answers to my earlier questions, but I certainly learned more about the “residents” of Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery.

There are 82 lots at Bachelors Grove Cemetery, some of which are unfilled. You can view a copy of the first known plat of ownership at the cemetery (circa 1864) at the Tinley Park Historical Society. I’ve also provided the lot numbers when discussing each family. Note that many stones are missing. Visit the following websites for organizational charts listing the lots and who is buried in each. These charts can serve as a handy reference when you visit the cemetery.     

Visit the following websites for photos of people buried at the cemetery:

Bachelor’s Grove Families

Fulton (Lots 15, 39, and 57)

The Fulton gravestone is the largest stone left in the cemetery—a symbol of the family’s oversized role in the community. John Fulton Sr. and his wife Jane were born in Ireland. In 1839, they immigrated to Illinois and purchased 80 acres and had 14 children as they made a life in America. The December 29, 1921, edition of the Blue Island Sun-Standard reported that local Native Americans would trade venison for milk from the Fultons. During the construction of the Rock Island railroad line (which I grew up living next to in Beverly), workers boarded with the Fultons. The workers paid 10 cents a day (which included meals). By the time John died in 1883, he and his wife owned more than 1,000 acres and were key players in the community that would become Tinley Park. Their descendants are still prominent in the area today. John Fulton Sr.’s father, Joseph Fulton (1772–1852), is also buried at the cemetery. Yes, 1772, four years before the Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress.

A popular destination for visitors is the gravestone titled “Infant Daughter,” which marks the grave of little Marci May Fulton, granddaughter of John and Jane. I couldn’t decide if the piles of stuffed animals, toys, a letter to Marci, and other bric-a-brac were moving or just a big mess. I hope that Marci is in a better place, and I hope that visitors also focus their energy and gifts on living children who are desperately in need of love and attention.   

The Fulton family had to weather other tragedies. On September 10, 1867, little Emma Fulton, aged 16 days, died, and was buried in Lot 15. The text on her gravestone read, “God’s lovely bud, so young and fair.” Emma’s gravestone was stolen and then recovered in 1990. It is now displayed at the Tinley Park Historical Society for safekeeping.

John and Jane’s son Robert committed suicide by walking in front of a Rock Island train near present-day Tinley Park sometime before 1935.

Rick (Lot 73)

The Rick family is more well-known for its gravestone (or what’s left of it) than any of its personal history. This famous “checkered stone” or “quilted stone”—as many people refer to it—is the site of one of the most famous ghost sightings in Bachelor’s Grove history. In 1991, a member of the Ghost Research Society took black and white infrared photos of the grounds. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, that is, until she had the film developed. In one of the photos, a woman wearing what looks like a burial shroud is seen sitting on the checkered stone. Click here for the photo. This woman became known as the “Madonna of Bachelor Grove.”

The “Quilted Stone” (center, middle foreground)
The “Quilted Stone”

Moss (Lots 43 and 58)

The well-known “Moss” marker is only a portion of a complete marker that once was located at the cemetery. After discovering that the top portion of the gravestone had been dragged nearly to the road, the Moss family moved it to the grounds of the Tinley Park Historical Society.

Patrick (Lot 44)

The most famous member of the Patrick family is Amelia Patrick, who married Senator John Humphrey. The “Humphrey House” in Orland Park is a historical museum and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Amelia is not buried at Bachelor’s Grove, but her daughter Libby May is. Tragically, she died in 1865 at 11 months old. Ghost believers posit that Amelia Patrick is one of the candidates for the famous “Madonna of the Grove” ghost mothers.

The Patrick family may have a roaming ghost mom, but it also has the famed “moving tombstone,” which has been documented since the 1950s to move to various locations throughout the cemetery. Whether its vandals, jokesters, or ghosts doing the moving, I’ll leave that decision up to you.  

The “Moving Stone” (foreground)

Deck (Lot 22)

Joseph and Jennie (nee Niklas) Deck were two of five family members involved in an accident who were killed in July of 1921 when their car got stuck on railroad tracks at 90th Street and Vincennes Avenue—not too far from where I grew up.

Rippet (Lot 41)

The Rippet stone is one of the most iconic at Bachelor’s Grove (although it is currently covered in grafitti). The Rippets were dairy farmers in Blue Island, and James Rippet served as a Blue Island police officer. 

Shields (Lot 17)

The Shields stone is one of the largest still remaining at Bachelors Grove. At this spot, the last burial (the ashes of Robert Shields) in the cemetery was made in 1989.

Turley (Lot 17)

There is no longer a gravestone for George Turley, but the following biographical information is from Ferdinand Schapper’s 1917 manuscript, Southern Cook County and History of Blue Island before the Civil War, Volume 2: “He was a Negro fiddler. He, with his fiddle, and Joe Natteau, a Frenchman, with his accordion, played at dances that were given nearly every Thursday evening while the Rock Island [railroad] was being constructed through here. He died and was buried at Bachelors Grove.”

Crandall (Lots 25 and 59)

There is no longer a gravestone for the Crandall family, who are known as some of the more colorful characters associated with the cemetery. At age 21, Heman Crandall (sometimes known as Herman in records) left the shores of Lake Champlain in New York and walked more than 800 miles to Chicago. His brothers David and Mark Crandall made the same journey—by canoe. According to the October 3, 1929, edition of the Blue Island Sun-Standard, somewhere near the cemetery the brothers were “attacked by wolves, but that was a mere incident of pioneer days.” Click here for more Crandall stories.

Warren (Lot 36)

Richard Martin Warren was born to Ezra and Susan (nee Lamsen) Warren on October 29, 1844. Family lore says that Susan was a cousin of President Martin Van Buren. When Richard was 3 or 4 years old, his family traveled by covered wagon to Bremen Township (where Bachelor’s Grove is located). His mom and dad became farmers, and he helped out as he grew older. Richard stood 5’ 8 and had dark hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion, according to the Illinois State Archives. Richard had an eventful, but sad, life. He enlisted in the Union Army in January 1864 during the Civil War. He was captured at the Battle of Ware Bottom Church, in Virginia on June 2, 1864 and was imprisoned by the Confederates at Andersonville (i.e., Ft. Sumter) in Georgia. On December 6, 1865, Richard was discharged, but family stories said that he was never the same after the war. Richard tried to rebuild his life, marrying Charlotte Hatch in June 1867. The couple had a daughter (Charlotte) in 1868. Unfortunately, Richard contracted tuberculosis and died at age 30 in 1875. The stone for Richard is missing, but a gravestone marking other family members (and the location of his burial) is located in Lot 36.  

OTHER FAMILIES

James Fullerton was born in Scotland. He met his wife, Sarah Chapman, in England in the 1860s. The two immigrated to Blue Island, Illinois, where James farmed until he died in 1929. (Lot 65; other Fullertons are buried in Lot 72 )
Members of the Hageman family were some of the earliest German settlers in Bremen Township. (Lots 56 and 74 )
“John Hamilton, for many years a resident of Bachelor’s Grove and later of Blue Island, died at his home…He was one of the oldest settlers of Bremen Township, being born there July 27, 1842, living on a farm next to the Midlothian Country Club, until 1903, when the family moved to Blue Island. With his wonderful philosophy of life, his kindly disposition, he spread cheer along his path and made many warm friends by whom his loss will be keenly felt.”—Blue Island Sun-Standard, December 3, 1925 (newspaper obituary identified by Brad L. Bettenhausen) (Lot 16)

Final Thoughts

To paraphrase the Bible, of dust we were made, and to dust we will return once our time on earth ends. This fact is immutable, but I think we all long for some type of permanence after we die. If we lived good lives, our names and actions are remembered by those who loved us. (The infamous, of course, are also remembered throughout history. The ultra-famous live on, but even their names are often forgotten with time.) But as those who knew and loved us pass on, our lives and achievements soon become summarized in a few sentences or a paragraph or two (if we’re lucky) by their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Eventually, our names become just another entry in the community of saints. But old cemeteries, local archives, and historians preserve the names and stories of people—both everyday folks and the renowned—who lived, loved, strived for greatness, and sometimes failed, just like we do today.

I enjoyed learning about the Fultons, Crandalls, and others who are buried at Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery. My visit to the cemetery and subsequent “research” (i.e., reading other people’s research) made me want to visit other Chicagoland pioneer cemeteries and do the same. Perhaps your visit to Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery will prompt you to explore our area’s pioneer cemeteries with your kids or other hobbyists—or perhaps spend time researching their own family’s history.

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery is a strange, forlorn, and fascinating place that is full of history, and worth a visit. But it’s important to remember that, if you visit, it’s still a cemetery that needs to be respected. Here are a few tips and rules for your visit:

  • The cemetery is open from sunrise to sundown.
  • Do not climb or stand on the gravestones—this is a basic rule of respect that’s violated by some people who visit the cemetery.
  • Do not light candles or start fires in the cemetery or nearby woods—this creates a serious fire hazard in this heavily wooded area.
  • Report any suspicious or illegal activities to the Forest Preserve District of Cook County. There’s a call box at the Rubio Woods parking lot.

Here are a few other things you can do near Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery at Rubio Woods and other forest preserves:

  • Take a hike on the Tinley Creek Trail System and other nearby trails
  • Go biking on the Palos Heights Bike Path, Orland Park Bikeway, and other connected trails
  • Try geocaching
  • Have a picnic at Rubio Woods or other nearby preserves

Here are some great resources that will help you to learn more about Bachelor’s Grove cemetery:

Haunted Bachelors Grove, by Ursula Bielski

Bachelors Grove Cemetery & Settlement Research Center

Bachelors Grove Forever  

The Path to Bachelors Grove

Tinley Park Historical Society

South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society

Copyright Andrew Morkes (text and photos, unless otherwise credited)

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

2021 BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT

Looking for more great nature destinations in Chicagoland? If so, I just published Nature in Chicagoland: More Than 120 Fantastic Nature Destinations That You Must Visit. It features amazing destinations in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Click on the title to learn more. 

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ABOUT ANDREW MORKES

I have been a writer and editor for more than twenty-five years. I’m the founder of College & Career Press (2002); the editorial director of the CAM Report career newsletter and College Spotlight newsletter; the author and publisher of “The Morkes Report: College and Career Planning Trends” blog; and the author and publisher of Hot Health Care Careers: 30 Occupations With Fast Growth and Many New Job OpeningsNontraditional Careers for Women and Men: More Than 30 Great Jobs for Women and Men With Apprenticeships Through PhDsThey Teach That in College!?: A Resource Guide to More Than 100 Interesting College Majors, which was selected as one of the best books of the year by the library journal Voice of Youth Advocates; and other titlesThey Teach That in College!? provides more information on environmental- and sustainability-related majors such as Ecotourism, Range Management, Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Built Environment, Sustainability Studies, and Sustainable Agriculture/Organic Farming. I’m also a member of the parent advisory board at my son’s school. 

In addition to these publications, I’ve written more than 40 books about careers for other publishing and media companies including Infobase (such as the venerable Encyclopedia of Careers & Vocational Guidance, the Vault Career Guide to Accounting, and many volumes in the Careers in Focus, Discovering CareersWhat Can I Do Now?!, and Career Skills Library series) and Mason Crest (including those in the Careers in the Building Trades and Cool Careers in Science series).

My poetry has appeared in Cadence, Wisconsin Review, Poetry Motel, Strong Coffee, and Mid-America Review.

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