Chicago's Haunted Cemeteries

by J. M. Pressley
First published: May 18, 2011

Chicago has a rich history of ghost stories. Several of the city's most notable hauntings emanate directly from its historic cemeteries.

An old cemetery can quickly make anyone feel ill at ease. Surrounded by the dead, often secluded, passing the stone memorials to lives long since fled, a person doesn't need much imagination at times to feel an eerie sensation come over them. This is even more true once the sun sets. Add to all this our natural fear of death and generations of tales about residents who may not lay so quietly in their final resting places, and it seems a wonder when a cemetery doesn't harbor some sort of ghostly spirit roaming about. Chicago's cemeteries are no different. Several of the city's most notable hauntings emanate directly from its graveyards.

Archer Woods Cemetery

Just south of Archer Avenue in suburban Justice, IL is the Archer Woods Cemetery. It's known now as Mount Glenwood Memory Gardens West, but its eerie reputation ensures that people still keep the name Archer Woods alive. The worn monuments and gravestones are nestled among old trees, lending an atmosphere that is at once rustic and mildly unsettling.

There are two reported ghost sightings associated with Archer Woods. One is the spectral Weeping Woman, a ghostly figure shrouded in white who walks among the graves sobbing with her hands over her face. Even more disturbing is an alleged phantom hearse that hurtles down Archer Avenue driverless, pulled by a team of mad horses and—according to some—bears the luminous casket of a child.*
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Bachelor's Grove Cemetery

Located in south suburban Midlothian, Bachelor's Grove has maintained a reputation as the most haunted acre of graveyard in northern Illinois. It has been incorporated into the Rubio Woods Forest Preserve, accessible off the old Midlothian Turnpike only by a small dirt path that cuts a quarter mile through trees and undergrowth. Years and vandalism have taken their toll on this small cemetery. Of approximately 200 original grave markers, only 20 remain, and some of the graves themselves have been desecrated.

The hauntings associated with the cemetery include eerie lights, a vanishing ghost house, a phantom car, and several apparitions of which the most famous is the Madonna of Bachelor's Grove, who reportedly wanders through the woods carrying a baby in her arms. Perhaps the most controversial apparition is the subject of a 1991 photograph, which shows a woman clad in white sitting on a gravestone. The photograph is generally explained as a double exposure; if authentic, it certainly would be one of the most detailed snapshots ever taken of a ghost.
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Graceland Cemetery

Graceland is a beautiful garden cemetery located at Clark Street and Irving Park Road. It was established in 1860 as one of the replacements for the first Chicago City Cemetery (which became Lincoln Park after hundreds of bodies were exhumed and moved). Many Chicago icons are interred within the cemetery's 119 meticulously landscaped acres. And any cemetery with as many tales to tell as Graceland is bound to include a few ghost stories.

The most prominent legend is that of Inez Clark, a six-year-old girl who allegedly died in 1880 when struck by lightning while on a family picnic. The family buried her in Graceland and erected a magnificent life-size statue of her over the grave. It's said that the statue occasionally vanishes on stormy nights, only to appear the next morning, and that her small ghost has at times been seen strolling about the grounds. However, if Inez Clark even existed—which is very much in doubt according to researchers—there is absolutely no record of her having been buried in Graceland Cemetery. The statue said to be of Inez actually stands over the grave of an eight-year-old boy, Amos Briggs.

Graceland's other famous legend concerns a robed, eight-foot statue at the monument of Dexter Graves. The sculpture is named Eternal Silence but more popularly known as the Statue of Death. It's said that those who look directly into the statue's face will see a vision of their own death.
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Holy Sepulchre Cemetery

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Alsip, IL was consecrated in 1923. Occupying a large tract of land between 111th and 115th streets, the cemetery is home to the magnificent Mausoleum of the Archangels and the grave of "Hizzoner," former mayor Richard J. Daley. But the cemetery is also home to the legend of Mary Alice Quinn, known as Chicago's Miracle Child.

Mary Alice was a mystically religious child who was known locally as a healer. She died when she was fourteen, and the family buried her in their Reilly family plot. Soon after, pilgrims began to visit her grave, leaving gifts and praying for healing. Visitors have occasionally reported seeing her apparition at the gravesite. Many others have detected the strong scent of roses at the grave, even in winter. To this day, people continue to leave candles, religious items, and prayer requests at the Reilly headstone.
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Mt. Carmel Cemetery

The predominantly Italian Catholic cemetery of Mount Carmel in suburban Hillside is an interesting study in contrasts. On the one hand, it houses the Bishops' Mausoleum, final resting place for the heads of the Chicago Archdiocese, such as Cardinal Bernadin. On the other hand, the cemetery holds the remains of some of Chicago's most notorious crime figures, including Al Capone, Frank Nitti, and Sam Giancana.

Among the burials there is Julia Petta, a young housewife that came to be known as the Italian Bride. She died in childbirth and was buried in Mount Carmel. Her mother, however, kept having vivid dreams over the next six years in which her daughter would plead with her that she was still alive. The mother finally had the grave exhumed, at which point it was discovered that although the coffin had completely decomposed, Julia's body was perfectly preserved. Some visitors to the cemetery report witnessing Julia's ghostly presence near the grave, clad in the white wedding gown in which she was laid to rest.
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Resurrection Cemetery

Resurrection was first consecrated in 1904 in Justice, IL to serve the burgeoning southwest-side Polish population of Chicago. Located on 400 acres of land adjacent to Archer Avenue, the cemetery is noted for its striking shrines and mausoleums. For many years, it has also been the haunting ground of Chicago's favorite ghost legend, Resurrection Mary.

The basic story is that a young woman who went dancing with her boyfriend at the O Henry Ballroom (now the Willowbrook Ballroom) on Archer Avenue. Following an argument, the woman stormed off into the night to walk home down Archer. A hit-and-run driver struck and killed her, and she was buried in Resurrection Cemetery. Although researchers disagree on a historical basis for the legend, ever since the 1930s, drivers on Archer have reported strange encounters on cold winter nights.

Some have met a mysterious young woman at the ballroom or picked her up as she walked along the avenue, only to have her disappear from their car once near the gates of Resurrection Cemetery. Others have told tales of striking or nearly avoiding a woman who darts out in front of their cars near the cemetery and then vanishes. One witness encountered her late one night standing behind the closed gates, her hands gripping the bars; when police were alerted, they found the cemetery deserted—but two of the gate's bars were scorched, bent apart, and reportedly had two small handprints seared into them. Although sightings may have tailed off over the past couple of decades, Resurrection Mary remains an enduring Chicago legend.
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Rosehill Cemetery

Rosehill Cemetery, located in the 5800 block of North Ravenswood Avenue, is the largest and oldest cemetery within Chicago's city limits. Consecrated in 1859, the cemetery was established (along with Graceland) to replace the old Chicago City Cemetery. Like Graceland, many prominent Chicagoans are interred within Rosehill's 350 acres. The cemetery also has a number of ghost stories attached to it.

The mausoleum of real estate tycoon Charles Hopkins reportedly comes alive at night on the anniversary of his death with an eerie moaning and the rattling of chains. Within the Rosehill Mausoleum, some say that the ghost of Richard Warren Sears can be seen in top hat and tails leaving his crypt to visit that of his business rival, Aaron Montgomery Ward. And then there is the legend concerning the white marble sculpture of Frances Pearce and her infant daughter.

Frances died aged 20 in 1864; tragically, her daughter died a mere four months later. Her grief-stricken husband commissioned the monument for the grave at the old city cemetery. It was later moved to Rosehill, and at some point, the entire sculpture was encased in glass to protect it from the elements. It's said that on the anniversary of her death, the enclosure fills with an unearthly mist.
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St. James of the Sag Church Cemetery

St. James, Sag Bridge in suburban Lemont is the endcap of the haunted Archer Avenue corridor. The church stands atop a small rise in the southwestern corner of the Red Gate Woods Forest Preserve near the intersection of Archer and 107th Street. The church graveyard, consecrated in 1837, has the distinction of being the oldest Catholic cemetery in the Chicago Archdiocese.

Almost since its inception, the cemetery has harbored a reputation for eerie happenings. Legend has it that a young couple who worked at St. James planned to elope but were crushed beneath their carriage when their horses bolted. Some say that their ghosts re-enact the event long after their burials in an unmarked grave on the premises. St. James's most enduring ghosts are phantom monks that are reported to wander in a group amidst the tombstones and into the surrounding forest, sometimes even chanting in Latin. Curiously, no monks have ever resided at the church, so the appearance of these apparitions is all the more mysterious.
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* The phantom hearse has also been associated with St. James of the Sag and Resurrection cemeteries due to its appearance between those two burial grounds. One variant of the legend even has it that the body in the hearse is that of the young girl who became Resurrection Mary.

Sources

Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City (Ursula Bielski, 2009), Chicago Tribune, Find a Grave, GhostVillage, Legends and Lore of Illinois