RESURRECTION MARY: THE QUEEN OF CHICAGO’S HAUNTED ARCHER AVENUE
Just southwest of Chicago, Chet’s Melody Lounge sits bravely across the road from Resurrection Cemetery, drawing in a steady stream of locals to shoot the breeze and have a few. For years, regulars pretty much disregarded the Bloody Mary eternally perched at the end of the bar and “The Ballad of Resurrection Mary” once listed among the selections on the jukebox (now replaced by a digital jukebox) just as they have adopted Chicago’s most famous phantom as an accepted fact of life. Certainly, the impact of phantom-related folklore on Southwest-side culture, well captured in Kenan Heise’s novel, Resurrection Mary: A Ghost Story, is indeed most obvious in the cultural prominence of this persistent legend. But while Mary’s legendary spirit has contented itself with the haunting of a tiny stretch of Archer Avenue in the village of south suburban Justice, the image of this elusive personality has thumbed itself into the hearts and history of all Chicago. From the old-timers’ still-vibrant accounts of her to the young Chicago rap artists singing about “Rez Mary,” this specter’s appeal reaches every generation. With good reason: For more than 80 years, travelers along Archer Avenue have reported bizarre encounters with a single-minded young woman in a white dress and dancing shoes who seems as real as can be until she proves herself decidedly otherwise.
Typical is the following incident: Many years ago, several young men, out for a night of dancing and drinking, met an aloof but gorgeous young woman, with whom they danced and tried to socialize. At the end of the evening, she asked for a ride home and squeezed into the front seat of the car with the driver and one of his friends. Sure enough, after directing the driver to head north along Archer Avenue, she vanished from the car at the cemetery gates. After some deliberation, the young men, having earlier coaxed the girl’s address out of her, decided to drive to her home in Chicago’s Back-of-the-Yards neighborhood and see if she had turned up all right. True to the classic tale, they were promptly informed that the girl was dead, having been killed in an automobile accident some time before. Weary but wiser, they resolved to forget the whole incident and go on their way.
Time and again, young men would meet the moody young woman at the ballroom, share dances with her, and later describe her as “cold,” both physically and emotionally. After these dances, the girl would accept rides home, giving vague directions to her escorts to drive north along Archer Avenue. As their cars passed the gates of Resurrection Cemetery, the girl would most often simply disappear from the car. Famously, in 1936, the late Jerry Palus spent a whirlwind evening dancing with a lovely young woman at the Liberty Grove Hall and Ballroom, previously believed to have been a tavern in her neighborhood but now believed to have been another name for the old Oh Henry Ballroom, later the Willowbrook, which stood on Archer Avenue. When Palus offered her a ride home with he and his brother she accepted, directing him up Archer Avenue. In front of the gates of Resurrection Cemetery, the young woman said she had to leave him, and that he could not follow her. She left the car, disappearing at the main gate, leaving Jerry –and his bewildered brother—speechless.
As dance hall encounters with this phantom partner multiplied, they seemed to center on the Oh Henry, and it was here that Mary forged her reputation. But it was on the road itself, in the wee hours of many a dark morning, where she has made her biggest impact.
Mary first appeared to unsuspecting Southwest-side drivers on Archer in the 1930s as well, when late-night revelers complained to the police that a woman had tried to jump on the running boards of their automobiles as they made their way home after a night of dancing. Other Archer Avenue drivers have been surprised by a beautiful young woman who will simply open the car door and climb in, directing the driver to proceed up Archer Avenue, where she disappears in the usual way, at the cemetery gates. Some bewildered drivers have even watched as she runs right through the locked gates and into the darkness beyond. At still other times, drivers have watched a woman in a flowing white dress walk along the roadside and then vanish, as if switched off like a light. In some of the most harrowing incidents of all, the woman has been struck while bolting in front of moving cars. Bleeding in the road after these crashes, she has been known to dematerialize before or during approaches by would-be rescuers.
Who is Mary?
Some researchers speculate that this mystery woman heads for one grave among thousands at the 475-acre burial ground known as Resurrection Cemetery: site number 9819, section MM, that of a young Polish woman, Mary Bregovy. Records indicate that Bregovy was killed in a car accident in 1934, allegedly on her way home from a dance at the Oh Henry. But attempts to link this Mary with the Resurrection legend have yielded far less than satisfactory results.
The evidence begins with the following report, which appeared in the Chicago Tribune on March 11, 1934:
Girl Killed in Crash. Miss Marie [sic] Bregovy, 21 years old, 4611 S. Darnen Avenue, was killed last night when the auto in which she was riding cracked up at [word missing] Street and Wacker Drive. John Reiker, 23, of 15 N. Knight Street, Park Ridge, suffered a possible skull fracture and is in the county hospital. John Thoel, 25, 5216 S. Loomis, driver of the car, and Miss Virginia Rozanski, 22, of 4849 S. Lincoln [now Wolcott] were shaken up and scratched.
The scene of the accident is known to police as a danger spot. Thoel told police he did not see the El substructure.
A close friend of Bregovy’s discovered in the mid-l 980s that her late girlfriend’s name was being connected with the famous phantom. She went on to describe the fateful day of the accident to an understandably eager reporter. According to Vern Rutkowski, who was interviewed by the Southtown Economist on January 22, 1984, the two young women had planned to go shopping on March 10, 1934, near 47th Street and Ashland Avenue. The girls accepted a ride to the popular shopping district from two young men who Bregovy had met, but Rutkowski became irritated with the young men, who she remembered as “wild boys.” The girls left the men’s car while still some distance from their destination, but not before Bregovy made a date for that night. On their way home, Bregovy criticized Rutkowski’s unfriendliness and her disapproval of Bregovy’s taste in men. Nonetheless, Rutkowski continued to express her dislike of their latest escorts and cautioned Bregovy about her plans for that night. Determined to keep her date, Bregovy left her girlfriend for the day and went home to 4611 S. Darnen Avenue.
Rutkowski stayed home that Saturday night, and was awakened the next morning by her mother, who informed Rutkowski that Bregovy had been killed in a car accident in the Loop sometime during the evening. Bregovy’s parents would learn that, although their daughter had been sitting in the back seat before the time of the accident, she was persuaded by her girlfriend to switch seats, since the latter was not getting along with the driver. Described by Rutkowski as an agreeable and personable young woman, Bregovy was happy to oblige. Because of that congeniality, she was thrown through the passenger window when their car struck one of the I-beams of the downtown elevated structure. Three days later, Mary’s Polish and Czechoslovakian parents buried their daughter at Resurrection Cemetery.
Since Bregovy was killed in downtown Chicago, probably at Lake Street and Wacker Drive, it is highly doubtful that this Mary was on her way home from any Southwest-side ballroom and most definitely not on the road outside the legendary cemetery. This Mary, according to the records of the Satala Funeral Home from which Bregovy was buried, was a young factory worker who died in the ambulance on the way to Iroquois Hospital, then on North Wacker Drive.
Old newspaper interviews with Satala suggest one obvious reason why Bregovy was pegged as the famous phantom, despite having the “wrong” hair color and style, the wrong clothes, and regardless of her dying in the wrong place. Nearly 50 years ago, a caretaker at Resurrection phoned Satala and told him about a “ghost” that had been walking the cemetery grounds. In the caretaker’s opinion, the ghost was Bregovy’s.
According to Rutkowski, Bregovy loved to dance. But she also had short, dark hair, a far cry from the flaxen fantasy described through the years by Mary’s various escorts. In addition, the late John Satala, the undertaker who prepared Bregovy’s body, and once described Mary as “a hell of a nice girl,” remembered that the eternal attire was, in fact, an orchid-colored dress, not a white one.
Ultimately, the musing of that one man may have been responsible for the permanent matching of the two Marys in local memory. Apparently, the social conditions of Bregovy’s neighborhood were such that the pairing was instantly acceptable, the rumor was spread, and no one seemed to mind the dubious nature of the connection. Still, the transformation of the Bregovy ghost into a “vanishing hitchhiker” did not gain regional cultural prominence until much later. A general feeling exists that neighborhood old• timers knew of a phantom Bregovy long before the folklore of distant Archer Avenue popularized the story, presumably according to universal vanishing hitchhiker legends. It is probable that Mary’s peers picked up adults’ talk about the ghost of Bregovy in Resurrection Cemetery and began to elaborate upon the tale during their drives to and from the old Oh Henry Ballroom.
The Ana Norkus Connection
Far more compelling is the connection solidified through the rigorous research of Frank Andrejasich of Summit, Illinois, which matches the legendary lady to a wholly different entity. In August 1994, Andrejasich’ s brother mailed him an article which mentioned the Southwest Side’s most famous phantom. Already familiar with the story, Frank became swiftly smitten with the tale, finding that a number of his fellow parishioners at Summit’s St. Joseph Catholic Church had more than a nodding acquaintance with the local legend.
In assembling his impressive dossier on the elusive Mary, Andrejasich accumulated many opinions on the phantom’s earthly identity. Relying heavily on the recollections of his cousin, Mary Nagode, and the keen memory of John Poljack, Sr., a Slovenian emigrant, retired Prudential insurance manager and St. Joseph parishioner, Frank waded through a variety of first and second-hand accounts, newspaper articles, burial records and photographs. He was astounded by the prominence of the legend in local lore and fascinated by the ability of so many individuals, including a number of his fellow parishioners, to place Mary in their own experience. One of these, Chester “Jake” Palus, turned out to be the younger brother of the now-famous Jerry Palus, who is supposed to have been Mary’s first dance partner at the Liberty Grove Hall and Ballroom in Brighton Park in 1936. According to Jake, Jerry had been a passenger in his friend’s car when the pair took “Mary” home that remarkable night, and she disappeared en route to the address she had given as her home. Though he recites the story with ease, Jake himself has no comment on his brother’s tale, refusing to express either credulity or disbelief.
Claire and Mark Rudnicki-friends, neighbors, and former St. Joseph parishioners-told Andrejasich that Resurrection Mary could be traced to the 1940s, when a young Polish girl crashed near Resurrection Cemetery at around 1 :20 a.m., after she took the family car to visit her boyfriend in Willow Springs. According to this version of the story, the girl was buried in a term grave at Resurrection. Appropriately, Andrejasich wonders why a couple that well off enough to own a car in the 1940s would need to bury their daughter in a term grave. Adding to the explanations is another parishioner, Ray VanOrt, who tells how he and his bride-to-be were the first witnesses at the scene of an accident on Archer in 1936, when a black Model A sedan collided with a wide-bed farm truck at 1 :30 a.m. According to VanOrt, of the two couples in the car, only one person survived, a girl who was badly hurt. Both men and another girl perished. Today, VanOrt is convinced that this was the accident that killed our would-be Resurrection Mary. Still another parishioner, claims that the wayward wraith was, in life, Mary Miskowski of the southside Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport. In this narrative, Miskowski was killed crossing the street in late October in the 1930s, on her way to a Halloween party.
After pondering the variety of accounts, combing early editions of the local papers, and checking with funeral directors and cemetery managers, Andrejasich came to believe that the ghost known as Resurrection Mary is the spiritual counterpart of the youngest of all the candidates: a12-year-old girl named, surprisingly, Anna Norkus.
Born in Cicero, Illinois in 1914, Norkus was given the name of Ona, Lithuanian for Anne. In that era, it was not the custom to christen infants with two names. But after 1918, children were baptized with a Christian name and an historic name to further pride on their main country. As a young girl, Anna’s devotion to the Blessed Mother led her to begin using the name Marija, Mary, as her middle name. By the time she neared her teenage years, Anna had grown into a vivacious girl. Blonde and slim, she loved to dance, and it was her relentless begging that convinced her father, August, Sr., to take her to a dancehall for her 13th birthday. On the evening of July 20, 1927, father and daughter set out from their Chicago home at 5421 S. Neva for the famous Oh Henry Ballroom, accompanied by August’s friend, William Weisner, and Weisner’s date. On their drive home, at approximately 1 :30 a.m., the travelers passed Resurrection Cemetery via Archer Avenue, turning east on 71 st Street and then north on Harlem to 67th Street. There, the car careened and dropped into an unseen, 25-foot-deep railroad cut.
Anna was killed instantly.
After the accident, her father, August Norkus was subject to devastating verbal abuse, even being told that Anna’s death had been God’s punishment for allowing the girl to go dancing at such a young age. In reality, the blame rested with the Chicago Streets Department, who had failed to post warning signs at the site of the cut. In fact, another death, that of Adam Levinsky, occurred at the same site the night after Anna’s demise.
Between July 28th and September 29th, an inquest was held at Sobiesk’s Mortuary in adjacent Argo. Heading up the five sessions was Deputy Coroner Dedrich, the case reviewed by six jurors. The DesPlaines Valley News carried the story of the inquest. Mary Nagode described the sad procession that left the Norkus home on a certain Friday morning.
First in line was Anna’s older sister Sophie, followed by her older brother August, Jr. The pastor, altar boys, and a four-piece brass band preceded the casket, borne on a flatbed wagon with pallbearers on each side. Relatives and friends followed the grim parade for three blocks to the doors of St. Joseph’s in Summit, where Anna had made her first communion only a year before. Between the band and the priest walked a terrified Mary Nagode, a friend of Anna’s who had been pressed into service as a wreath-bearer. On summer vacation, Nagode was weeding on an asparagus farm in Willow Springs when she had a visitor. It was Gus Norkus, Anna’s father or brother, asking her to participate in the funeral, since Mary had made her first communion with Anna and owned a white dress. When Mary returned home that evening, her mother informed her that she had accepted the request on her behalf. The girl was deeply dismayed at the proposition. Mrs. Nagode reminded her daughter that refusal of such a request would be a sin against Roman Catholic moral living, which dictates that one must attend to the burial of the dead. Anna was scheduled for burial in one of three newly-purchased family lots at St. Casimir Cemetery, and it is here where Andrejasich found the “if’ that may have led to an infamous afterlife for Anna as Resurrection Mary, or as Anna called herself, Marija.
Andrejasich discovered that at the time of Anna’s death a man named Al Churas Jr., brother-in-law to Mary Nagode, lived across the road from the gates of Resurrection Cemetery, in a large brick bungalow that still stands today. Al’s father was in charge of the gravediggers and was given the house to live in as part of his pay. In the mid-1920s, gravedigging was hard, manual labor, rewarded with low pay. Strikes were common. As Resurrection was one of the main Chicago cemeteries, the elder Churas was often sent to the cemeteries of striking gravediggers to secure the bodies of the unburied. Returning to Resurrection with a corpse in a wooden box, Churas’ duty was to bury it temporarily until the strike ended and the body could be permanently interred in the proper lot. Because of poor coffin construction and the lack of refrigeration, a body could not be kept long, except in the ground. If the strike dragged on, identification at the time of relocation could be gruesomely difficult. Thus, reasons Andrejasich, if the workers at St. Casimir were striking on that July morning in 1927, it is quite possible that young Anna Norkus was silently whisked to a temporary interment at Resurrection, and that a rapid decomposition rendered her unidentifiable at the time of exhumation. The result? A mislaid corpse and a most restless eternity, if only one is willing to believe.
Those not quite convinced may be persuaded otherwise by a further bit of Frank’s musing, this time connecting the otherworldly Anna to the sneering specter seen on the road outside of her alleged resting place. The elder August Norkus followed his youngest child to St. Casimir 30 years after her death, a broken man besieged by alcohol and blamed to his grave for his daughter’s demise. As Andrejasich reasons, it wouldn’t take much else to make a ghost out of this ill-fated character. And yet, how much more there is (again, if only one believes in ghosts) if Anna was mistakenly buried away from her family.
For here, the stories merge, almost too easily. The resulting image is classically and completely appealing: Resurrection Marija combing the southwest suburbs for her kin, her father wandering the road outside her unknown destination, watching and waiting for his lost beloved.
Despite widespread belief in such scenarios and the untiring work of devoted researchers like Frank Andrejasich, specialists in modem folk tales have utterly disregarded local attempts to trace Resurrection Mary to any earthly counterpart. Instead, many scholars explain Mary as merely a localized version of the widespread vanishing hitchhiker legends. These legends have passed from generation to generation throughout history, but the 20th– century versions always follow a strikingly similar pattern. A hitchhiker, usually a young woman, is either picked up along a dark road or met at a dance, from where she is given a ride home. In the latter situation, her would-be suitor may report having danced with the young woman, finding her somewhat cold. In both situations, she gives her escort vague directions to her house, but along the way she suddenly vanishes from the car. Sometimes, the driver will have procured her address and proceeds to the house to ask whether the girl has returned safely home. Upon his arrival, he is told that the girl, whom he recognizes in a photograph displayed in the home, was previously killed in a car accident on the road or near the dance hall where she met her unfortunate escort.
The Resurrection Mary stories bear an uncanny resemblance to these widespread tales. In fact, accounts of Mary by eyewitnesses have conformed to the universal model even. more perfectly than do most second-hand legends. However, the existence of so many first-hand reports raises questions about the assertions that Mary is mere folklore.
Reports of Resurrection Mary increased significantly during renovations of the cemetery in the mid- 1970s. It was also around this time that the phantom began to become more animated . . . and adventuresome. In 1973, Mary is believed to have shown up at least twice in one month at a far Southwest-side dance club called Harlow’s, 8058 S. Cicero Avenue, wearing a dress that looked like a faded wedding gown. A Harlow’s manager described her as having “big spooly [sic] curls coming down from a high forehead. She was really pale, like she had powdered her face and body.” Dancing alone in an off-the• wall fashion, she was as obvious as could be, yet, despite bouncers at the door who carded all guests, no one ever saw her come in or leave.
That same year, at Chet’s Melody Lounge, an annoyed cab driver bounded in asking about his fare, a young blonde woman. The manager gave him the only answer he had: “A blonde woman never came in here.”A number of years later, a driver happened to be passing the cemetery when he glimpsed a young woman standing on the other side of the gates, clutching the bars. Worried that someone had been locked inside after closing, he hurried to report the incident to the local police, who hastened to rescue the reluctant prisoner. Upon their arrival, they found the cemetery deserted, but their inspection of the gates revealed a chilling spectacle: not only had two of the bars been pried apart, but the impressions of a pair of delicate hands remained, bearing witness to the feminine touch that had accomplished the task.
When cemetery management saw the state of the bars, they reportedly called in officials from the Archdiocese of Chicago, who allegedly removed the imprinted bars and whisked them away. Akin to stories of aliens in warehouses are local whisperings about the mysterious bars sitting today in some secret Archdiocesan storehouse. Not long after the removal of the damaged bars, embarrassed cemetery officials installed what they called “repaired” bars, insisting that the bent bars had been welded back to normal and not, as many asserted, replaced with new ones. Still, some cemetery workers maintain that the bars were bent by a crew member’s truck backing into the gate; the handprints were left by a worker’s glove when he attempted to heat the bars with a blowtorch and bend them back into shape. In response to that claim, local believers say: Yes, the cemetery tried to blowtorch and restore the bars, to eradicate evidence of the spectral handprints, which witnesses continue to describe as the well-defined fingers of a frail female.
Whatever the claims, the tale’s undeniable fascination lies in viewing the cemetery gates even to this day, as two strips of discolored metal remain in the exact spot which once bore the mysterious handprints. In fact, and there seems to be no reason to doubt the rumor, it is said that this part of the gate refuses to “take” either primer or paint. The result? An embarrassing but apparently ineradicable scar on the face of the cemetery and its management.
As if this carnival weren’t enough for the cemetery to bear, it was also around this time that Mary began to experiment with new methods. Actually, folklorists have described a certain model of the phantom hitchhiker which is best termed the “spectral jaywalker,” that is, the ghostly vision that walks or simply appears in front of a moving vehicle. One such story tells of a Justice police officer who called an ambulance after hitting a woman in a bloody white dress who was wandering the road in front of the cemetery. When the paramedics arrived on the scene, there was no trace of the distressed woman. According to some stories, the officer in question went on the nationally-syndicated television show, “That’s Incredible!” and told of his experience. Before doing so, he was warned that he would be fired if he did. Notwithstanding the alleged threats, the officer told his story to network audiences and was at least by local accounts relieved of his duties.
After a bizarre decade that seemed to mark the climax of her restlessness, Mary was back to her old tricks. Yet she didn’t seem quite her old self. In 1989, on a blustery January night, a cab driver picked up a desolate young woman outside the Old Willow Shopping Center. Despite the inclement weather, she wore a beautiful white party dress and patent leather dancing shoes. Climbing in the front seat, she made it clear that she needed to get home, motioning the driver up old Archer Avenue. But this time she behaved differently. She seemed confused, unable to give lucid answers to the cabby’s polite questions. Finally, with all the clarity she could muster, the girl remarked, “The snow came early this year.” Then, in front of a time-worn shack across the road from Resurrection, the disoriented passenger ordered, “Here!” disappearing without another sound.
Also in the late 1980s, two teen-aged boys were driving along Archer A venue at Christmastime when they saw a strange woman dancing down the road outside the cemetery fence. They noted that other passers-by seemed totally unaware of her antics; in fact, they didn’t seem to see her at all. The teens reported the bizarre scene to their parents, who at once related the famous tale of Resurrection Mary. Never having heard the story before, the boys must have questioned whether the off-the-wall vision they had seen was really the same as the legendary hitchhiker, whose aloof sophistication seemed wholly unbefitting the wacky wayfarer of their own experience.
What has happened to Mary in these past decades? A ghosthunter’ s classic summation would point to the disruption of the Bregovy grave during cemetery renovations. Investigators might theorize that this disruption could have caused Mary’s apparent disorientation. Possibly. For, although the site of the grave was finally disclosed to the public after many years of secrecy, the plot turned out to be unmarked. Mary Bregovy’s was a “term grave,” a plot that was sold on 25-year terms during the ’20s and ’30s, in a section of Resurrection that was renovated during the ’60s and ’70s. It is therefore possible that the girl’s family either did not repurchase the grave, resulting in the filling-in of the plot, or that they or the cemetery administration moved the grave to discourage the curious.
There is one other peculiarity worth noting. Resurrection Mary has traditionally been connected with the former Oh Henry (Willowbrook) Ballroom, where she is alleged to have danced during her lifetime, and where she is guessed to have danced her last. Some accounts, however, specify that on the night of her death, Mary was at a dance for Christmas or even Advent, the Christian season preceding Christmas. The fact that so many Resurrection Mary encounters occur in December might seem to render this obscure lore somewhat more credible, although the timing would also undermine the connection to the Mary Bregovy who was killed on March 10th. Dealing only with conjecture about the behavior of ghosts, researchers continue to seek the Bregovy grave at Resurrection Cemetery in hopes of finding some end to a grueling but engaging search.
An Enduring Legend … or something else?
Whoever Resurrection Mary is, and whenever she may materialize, the apparent changes in this legend’s “personality” continue to present a nagging appeal to the folklorists who have denied that Mary has any psychic reality, and who have accordingly classified her with other bizarre by-products of the oral tradition. With good reason. One “lost” haunting, which is supposed to have occurred in the late 19th century at St. James-Sag Cemetery at the southern end of Archer A venue, curiously parallels the Resurrection Mary story. In fact, the two legends share a great number of specific elements, including the singular image of a woman in white waiting for a ride in front of a dance hall on Archer Avenue.
Ultimately, regardless of the temptation to give in to folkloric categorization of Mary, the primary difficulty remains: a good number of first-hand accounts of these encounters have been recorded. In the case of urban legends like that of the vanishing hitchhiker, the incidents are supposed to have occurred to “a friend of a friend” or someone’s “boyfriend’s mother’s friend” and so on. If we accept the first-hand accounts of this hitchhiker at face value, the phenomenon of Resurrection Mary continues to challenge the most skeptical observers, and to lure the most hopeful believers to her stomping grounds.
Susan Stursberg was one of the latter who decided to try her luck at spotting the famed and filmy form. Her account is unique in this author’s experience, and deserves retelling:
I was out with a friend one night who had just bought a new car. I had not been to Archer Avenue and was itching to go, so we decided to take a drive. First we stopped to see her boyfriend who was playing in a band at a nearby suburban bar. We said hi, told him we were going for a drive but did not tell him where. So we proceeded to Chet’s Melody Lounge, talked to the regulars, played “The Ballad of Resurrection Mary” on the jukebox and some pool. We left in a couple of hours when 2 a.m. rolled around, drove to the cemetery gates, parked and peered in, seeing the repaired gates and getting a good case of the creeps. On the way home we joked about giving Mary a ride in the new car. Later that night my friend, Kristin, dropped me off at my apartment and went home to hers.
As her boyfriend, Mike, heard the car pull up he peeked out the window, then not wanting to appear worried and waiting up he dropped the shade. Kristin let herself in and closed the door. Mike asked, “Where’s Susan?” Kristen told him that she dropped me off first. He asked, “Well, who was in the car with you?” To this day he swears that when he looked out the window he saw a pale face look back at him from the passenger’s side of the front seat.
Despite such compelling accounts as this and those others detailed in these pages, the doubters stand fast. Among them are those extreme locals like Gail Ziemba, who lives across the road from Resurrection Cemetery. Easily summing up her 20 years’ experience with the legendary ghost, Ziemba maintains: “I’ve never seen anything.” In response, believers would remind her that only men are privileged to see Resurrection Mary, although there have been cases in which a man and a woman traveling together have both reported a glimpse or two of something.
And while neighbors like Ziemba continue to shake their heads at the legend, other neighbors of the cemetery have been pushed to reconsider their doubt. Early one morning in late summer of 1996, Chet Prusinski himself, owner of Chet’s Melody Lounge, was backing out of his driveway when a man came rushing across the road, yelling that he needed a phone. He had hit a woman on Archer Avenue and couldn’t find the body. Attesting to his claim was a truck driver who had been driving behind him. He, too, had witnessed the grisly incident and remained at the scene to testify on the woman’s behalf. Prusinski agreed to call the police, but hastened to disengage himself from the whole affair, fearing that he would be accused of staging a publicity stunt for his bar. The “accident” was quietly resolved and little was made of the event. However, those who always take note, took note. And, of course, those who always laugh, laughed.
Yet, even those Southwest-siders who discredit Resurrection Mary know that much of what makes their culture special is wrapped up in the folds of her legendary white dress. And because of this, she is, even to nonbelievers, a priceless treasure, just as she was to a fictionalized witness in Kenan Heise’s novel, ” … something precious, whoever or whatever she is. . .. To her, I say, ‘God bless you.'”
The Vanishing Hitchhiker
In a 1997 article for Fortean Times, a magazine devoted to the probing of baffling occurrences and related theories, Sean Tudor offered some further insights into the phenomenon of the so-called “road ghost” as he explored the phenomenon of the infamous phantom of Blue Bell Hill in Kent, England. As Tudor states at the outset of his analysis, “(I)t is to folklore that we must tum to gain any kind of understanding of what is really happening” in such cases. Indeed,
(t)he same PHH (Phantom Hitch-Hiker) script is repeated around the country and indeed the world with an identical pattern of events being reported over and again by reliable witnesses: of figures rushing into the paths of vehicles, and/or of disappearing hitch-hikers … which suggests that it has less to do with any specific case and its accepted explanation … but, at the same time, more than purely ‘human’ factors such as imagination and hoaxing.
In the case of Blue Bell Hill, one of the spirit’s manifestations is that of a young woman in white, who has been known to appear in front of moving cars, staring calmly at their drivers while she is run over. Like Chicago researchers who trace their Resurrection Mary to any of a half dozen 1920s and ’30s accident victims fitting her description, residents of the Kent region almost always tie their road ghost to a 1965 incident in which three young women were killed in a car crash on Blue Bell Hill just hours before one of the girls was to be married. Highly skeptical of the connection, Tudor has his own theories concerning the “haunting” of Blue Bell Hill. One of the most intriguing is the relation of the story to that of the Cailleach of pre-Celtic mythology, an Earth mother or goddess who variously took the form of an old crone or a beautiful young woman. The Cailleach is known as a guardian of a particular sacred place, and it was Tudor’s awareness of this mythology that allowed him to notice in his own research that great increases in road ghost sightings, including those at Blue Bell Hill, have occurred during times of environmental upheaval, especially during the construction of roads and highways. With this in mind, Chicagoans might ponder the fact that the building of Archer Avenue over an old Indian road, not to mention the digging of the Illinois and Michigan Canal which it preceded, seemed to coincide with the beginning of that road’s extraordinary supernatural history, a history which features one of the most famous of all road ghosts, the blonde-haired and beautiful young woman known as Resurrection Mary.
Another of Tudor’s compelling explanations for the sighting of road ghosts goes back to the subjectivity of the witness himself. Referring to Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols, Tudor reminds us of Jung’s theory that the unconscious typically manifests itself in the dream state, and often symbolically, as a figure of a woman or man. The specific form taken depends on the gender of the dreamer. A woman’s unconscious, then, usually resembles a man (animus); accordingly, in the dreams of men, the unconscious generally takes the shape of a woman or (anima). In light of the fact that the overwhelming majority of sightings of young and beautiful phantom females, including those of Resurrection Mary, are reported by men, it is almost easy to believe that the dreamlike state imposed by lonely late-night driving could be the culprit in so many of these cases.
Why Archer Avenue?
Still, despite the temptation to dismiss the complex paranormality of Archer Avenue as simply a jumble of various renditions of some ancient and unfounded ghost stories, the continuing reports of eyewitnesses defy attempts to dismantle this road’s reputation. And so, some, trusting in more than a century of experiential accounts, have tried to find an explanation for the seeming concentration of paranormal activity along Route 171.
Theories abound, most based on the area’s geography. Archer Avenue was originally one of a number of the Chicago area’s old Indian trails; accordingly, I’ve long wondered if the road may be an American example of a “ley” line. The concept of ley lines originated in Britain, when Alfred Watkins, a retired brewer, noticed that the English countryside was covered by long tracks, which he termed leys (“lea” meaning “meadow”), which intersected at various points. Watkins’ 1925 book on ley lines, The Old Straight Track, drew quite a following upon its release, creating a breed of researchers (“ley hunters”) who began to locate and map these leys. The points at which two or more ley lines meet were later termed nodal points. Observation of these nodal points led some researchers to believe that such crossroads were, in fact, ancient sacred sites. Many ley hunters came to assert that these nodal points/sacred sites often host extraordinary phenomena and that equally mystifying events also can occur along the lines that connect them.
Later, Guy Underwood, a dowser, claimed to have discovered that these points contained underground springs, which seemed to create patterns of spiral lines of “force” around them. He also found straight lines of this same force, which he termed holy lines, passing through these sites. Occult investigator Stephen Jenkins speculated that poltergeist activity and other haunting phenomena may actually take its energy from nodal points. Like• minded observers have wondered if ancient cultures—including Native Americans– harbored an awareness of these energies and utilized them as sacred paths and sites for their ritual activity.
Covering similar ground is E.T. Stringer’s concept of Tellurianism, set forth in his 1974 volume, Secrets of the Gods. According to Stringer’s philosophy, there is a Telluric or “earth” force that exists and “holds people together in a particular place … ” Besides encouraging tight-knit communities such places are often hotbeds of purported paranormal activity. Author Joe Cooper, who studied Stringer’s philosophy, speculated that Cottingley, an English settlement noted for unusual apparitional phenomena, especially so-called “fairy sightings,” was one such place. Incidentally, ley hunters have pointed out that in many English areas ley lines are called “fairy paths” by locals, suggesting that there may actually be some sort of energy running along these paths which, magnified at their intersections, promotes the occurrence of unusual events, especially apparitional sightings.
One final theory that may explain the Archer Avenue phenomena holds that running water nurtures psychic activity. It is worth noting that St. James-Sag is nearly surrounded by waterways, bounded by the Cal-Sag Channel to the south and the DesPlaines River, the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal, which all run parallel to each other along Archer A venue. These waterways follow Archer all the way southwest to Joliet and northeast to Summit, just north of Resurrection Cemetery. This whole area is also covered with lakes, sloughs, and other minor bodies of water. Nearby Maple Lake, as already mentioned. has been the site of dozens of ghost light sightings over the years. If paranormal activity really does feed off of water, the dank passage of Archer A venue would certainly provide plenty of nourishment.
From these descriptions of ley systems and Tellurianism, one is tempted to peg Archer Avenue as a ley line, or the area it covers as some center of Telluric force. Working from such premises, we might appropriately credit the sighting of the road’s myriad specters to the “magic” of an ancient sacred path, just as we might credit the complex folklore of the Archer Avenue area to a kind of “force” that keeps its populace utterly enmeshed in the physical and cultural worlds of Chicago’s far Southwest Side.
Whatever the explanation, the stretch of road mapped as Route I 71 has long been associated with many unseen forces• forces which create inexplicable lights and eerily frequent car crashes, spectral chants, and full-fledged apparitions. The nature of these events-recurrent, sobering, ever-elusive-has long convinced South siders that Archer Avenue is one place, is any, where the living in the dead pass in the road with great regularity . . . before continuing on their own lonely ways.
JOIN US FOR OUR RESURRECTION MARY AND ARCHER AVENUE GHOST TOUR with a visit to Old Joliet Prison on April 28th. Departs Chet’s Melody Lounge in Justice, across from Resurrection Cemetery. We also offer our Archer Avenue tour without the Prison visit on a regular basis. Visit us at www.chicagohauntings.com to see the calendar and book your tickets!