Bachelor's Grove Seeks Single White Apparition

Bachelor's Grove Seeks Single White Apparition
© 2007 Sue St.Clair & Matthew Didier's Paranormal Blog -
March 07, 2007
Chris Laursen

Weird Wednesday... With Chris Laursen

On January 10th historian Chris Laursen took a fascinating look at two mysterious photos that may show apparitions lurking behind the living. This week, he continues his survey of famous ghost photos by taking us to Bachelor's Grove Cemetery in Illinois.

It was the magic moment any paranormal researcher hopes for. On the afternoon of August 10, 1991, Ghost Research Society President Dale Kaczmarek led a group of nine investigators through the famous Bachelor's Grove Cemetery outside of Chicago armed with copies of a hand drawn map, cameras and some equipment. Electromagnetic field fluctuations occurred in various parts of the cemetery, in particular at one spot near an unmarked checkerboard-pattern tombstone. Not only that, several people had a strange feeling about the spot.

"We had a mother and her two daughters there, Paulette Stanek and Jude and Mari Huff. They had a 35-millimetre camera loaded with high speed infrared film," Dale recalled in a phone interview I did with him. Infrared film highlights images to bring out greater detail, creating a glowing effect where foliage in particular appears very bright. "Sometimes things not visible to the naked eye show up on the film."

Pictures were taken with their camera, as well as Polaroid and regular 35-millimetre film that day, and none of them showed anything unusual. But there was one picture that Jude Huff-Felz took that couldn't be explained. It was taken in the direction of the checkerboard-pattern tombstone and showed what appeared to be a woman sitting on it in a relaxed pose, staring off. To me, her clothes and hair appear to be in the style of the early part of the twentieth century. "There were other people wandering around the cemetery that day, but there was absolutely no one dressed like that," said Dale.

An enlargement of the photo was published in the Chicago Sun-Times and the National Examiner and became the target of sceptics who suggested the photograph was faked. Later, the photo was examined in a Discovery Channel special called Phantom Photographs in which an expert from Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York said it was simply a real person sitting on the tombstone because it cast a shadow.

The fact remains: not one of the ten people at the cemetery that afternoon saw the woman in the photograph, including the woman taking the photograph and her sister. "I was there. I know nobody was dressed like that. I know no one there faked the photograph. I know there were several other members at the same time taking photographs of that tombstone with different film, and nobody else got anything," said Dale. "I can't explain that photograph.... It was one shot out of thirty-six where anything showed up."

Dale, celebrating the Ghost Research Society's thirtieth anniversary this year (he's been researching things paranormal himself since 1975), is no stranger to coming up with inexplicable images in photography. He has taken several photos that included strange shadows and transparent figures, many of which are featured on the GRS's website. Several photos are e-mailed to him daily, and he's taken the time to document common image effects that are misinterpreted as being of supernatural origin to try and curb the inundation of faux ghostly photos. "It's so difficult to produce an authentic photograph... especially in this day and age where you've got computer programs like Photoshop," he said. "There are a lot of good frauds on the Internet," referring to one that he plans to expose soon on his website. One person was even trying to sell Dale a photograph without even letting him see it, which, of course, he declined.

The photo is made even more controversial by Bachelor Grove's reputation. The birthplace of many urban legends, the cemetery has been frequented by teenagers since the mid-60s. Some say that during the height of the Chicago mob era, bodies were dumped in a stagnant pond near the cemetery. Dead animal remains have been found near the lagoon, suggesting occult rituals.

In The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits (New York: Checkmark Books, 2000), Rosemary Ellen Guiley wrote, "Youthful vandals also began visiting the cemetery, overturning tombstones, desecrating and opening graves and strewing bones about." Today, volunteers maintain the cemetery and post images of vandals (such as the one below) caught in the act to prevent further damage to the 163-year-old burial ground. It's the sad reality of this landmark.

Guiley documented some of the tales spawned from Bachelor's Grove, all textbook urban legends. There is the tale of the young couple parking their car in the woods to make out. They hear a radio report of a mass murdered who has escaped an asylum and is on the loose. The couple decide to leave, but the car won't start. The boy goes to get help and leaves the girl waiting in the car. She hears strange scratching noises on the roof of the car. Later the police arrive and tell her to get out of the car. The girl is horrified to find her boyfriend's dead body hanging from a tree above the car, his throat slit. Similarly, there is another story about a young couple having a run-in with a ghost with a hook for a hand.

Mixed with the urban legends are eyewitness accounts of unusual apparitions, including a black dog, a phantom car and even ghostly monks. The GRS's photo has been connected to the "White Lady" commonly seen wandering the cemetery during full moons with an infant in her arms.

Dale's personal favourite is the appearance of a phantom house. "This phantom house is always seen along the trail as you walk into the cemetery from the side of the road. It's always described in the same fashion: a white wooden house with pillars, a porch swing, even a light burning dimly from the window," he said. "But as you walk toward it, people say it shrinks - it gets further and further away. You can never just step on the porch." Dale's research has not turned up any house ever existing along that road.

Straining actual reports of paranormal activity from the plethora of urban legends is especially hard at Bachelor's Grove Cemetery. Generations of young people going there to get scared might have affected the spooky mood there, not to forget people's general unease in places of burial. No doubt popular culture, ghost stories and disrespectful pranks have coloured the cemetery's reputation negatively. Yet the lady in white remains sitting on the tombstone in a photograph taken one summer afternoon, an inconclusive hint that there is more to behold than mere legends.

Further reading:

Ghost Research Society:

Bachelor's Grove Cemetery:

Image credits:

The female apparition in Bachelor's Grove Cemetery, Illinois was photographed by Jude Huff-Felz; courtesy Ghost Research Society.

Photo of vandal from Bachelor's Grove Cemetery website.