RESURRECTION MARY: THE QUEEN OF CHICAGO’S HAUNTED ARCHER AVENUE


A Girl in the Road

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.

Changes

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!

Blog

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *