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Julia Buccola and Mount Carmel Cemetery

(Reprinted with permission of Lake Claremont Press.  From Ursula Bielski's Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City : Lake Claremont Press.)  

Along Roosevelt Road in West Suburban Hillside, a curious conglomeration of souls awaits judgment. Here, in one of the largest post-mortem gatherings of Chicago's Italian-Americans, some of the most notorious of Chicago's gangland players lie side by side with some of the most pious of the city's faithful, all nestled in a curious and cramped communion. While generally there is a fair balance between good and evil, now and then the strength of one or another seems to overpower its opposite force.

Mt. Carmel briefly captured international attention in 1996 when Joseph Cardinal Bernardin was entombed in its Bishop's Mausoleum after losing his grueling battle with pancreatic cancer. Pilgrims trudged to the site for weeks, toughing the cold to glimpse the interior of the otherwise closed tomb—everlasting home to the bodies of Chicago's past Archdiocesan leaders. But before the spectacle of that recent season, pilgrims had been traveling to Mt. Carmel for a peek and a prayer at the comparatively modest monument that marks the grave of a mysterious young woman named Julia.

Over the past seventy-five years, Julia Buccola Petta has been engaging the interest of thousands of Chicagoans, becoming no less than a martyr to many of Chicago's Italian-American women. Such status is partly due to the circumstances of her death, but is ultimately due to the circumstances that came after that death.

In 1921, the young bride died in childbirth and was buried at Mt. Camel carrying her baby. When in 1927, Buccola's mother had recurring visions of Julia begging to be dug up, Julia's casket was opened. To the shock of witnesses, the girl's body, six years in its grave, had remained in unblemished condition. Astonished admirers hastened to display a photograph of the perfectly preserved corpse on Buccola's tombstone, where it remains today along with the Italian-English inscription:

Filumena Julia Buccola aged 29
Questa fotoraha presa dopo 6 anni morti.

As a further tribute, a life-sized statue of "The Italian Bride" serves as a beacon to the endless stream of curiosity seekers who come to pay homage to a powerful image, the instantaneous meeting of birth and death.

According to some of those visitors, not only Julia's flesh has endured the rigors of the grave. Buccola's spirit also seems to have survived, joining the handful of Women in White featured in Chicago ghostlore. The ghost of this dead mother, clad in the wedding gown she was buried in three-quarters of a century ago, wanders near her resting place, say witnesses. In fact, one story recounts the day a small boy was accidentally left behind in the cemetery by his family. The boy's shaken kin rushed back to the cemetery and spotted the child taking the hand of a white-gowned woman. Upon the family's arrival at the scene, however, the woman vanished.

Over the years, the ongoing search for the phantom Julia spread to all generations. Even local Proviso West high-schoolers would make ritual attempts to catch a glimpse of this fabled apparition, sometimes leaving school dances en masse to line up, eyes wide, along the Mt. Carmel fence.

In 1947, 20 years after the unearthing of the Buccola grave, Mt. Carmel's ground was broken once again, this time for the interment of Alphonse Capone. The family plot, gathering several of Al's siblings, his mother Theresa, and his father Gabriel, is nondescript by Mt. Carmel standards. In a burial ground filled with life-sized likenesses and family mausoleums, the Capones' humble flush stones would go unnoticed but for the force of the family name.

Visitors to the Capone grave find flowers, beer cans, coins, and other tokens of varying sentiment: the love and regret of family; the compassion or curses of strangers; the grotesque admiration of the anonymous. At least a few unknown visitors, perhaps heirs to his wrath, have made attempts to soothe Al’s soul with peace offerings. Though few haunting-related stories exist to enforce the fear, the admonition to tread softly here is taken to heart by most.

The fear of being haunted was something to which Capone himself confessed. In his later years, he became convinced that he was being stalked by the vengeful spirit of James Clark, brother-in-law of Capone's arch rival, Bugs Moran, and a victim in Capone's cold-blooded coup, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.