The Bachelor Grove Cemetery Report, circa 1933

October 27, 2012
www.chicagonow.com
By Richard Davis

Nobody knew for sure when the report was published, but the Tinley Park, Illinois, librarian believed it was in the 1930's. She further decided that the short pamphlet had to have been written in 1933, as she remembered it was her first year working in the library system.

"We just had a few hundred square feet for a library then," she said to me.

It was 1977, and I was doing some investigating of my own about what was becoming known as the most haunted site in the Chicago area.

A few years prior, a coworker at Montgomery Wards, Jim, told me about his old high school buddy who was having fun and making some money taking people around to haunted houses, buildings and places in the area. The guy's name was Richard Crowe.

Crowe went on to become a celebrity in his own right. Crowe is likely to be viewing things from the other side, as he died this year. He himself had a number of favorite haunts, so I would not be surprised if he sprang up in one.

"Can I see what he wrote?" I asked the librarian.

"Nobody has asked to look at that ever," she said. "Not since Mr. Geist left it on deposit here in the library."

She smiled, as if she were keeping a secret, and she beckoned me to follow her to pamphlet file. In those days all libraries had a big file cabinet for those one of a kind oddities that came into the library. Often, the pamphlets were from a local source, and they were non-circulating, so you had to either read them on the spot or make a photocopy.

The librarian handed me a typewritten booklet, not more than five pages, "The Bachelor Grove Report", by Huburt Geist. She handled it with the care one might give to a copy of the Magna Carta. "It is our only copy," she cautioned. "Why are you interested in Bachelor Grove, Mister....

"Davis. I'm interested in history," I said. "And this will make a good story for my radio show."

The radio show was at WLUW-FM, the Loyola University station. I was doing a talk and interview show, called "At Times". Silly name for a radio show, I know, but I had to think of it in just a couple of minutes, when I was offered an hour slot on the then new station. I even had a co-host, "Julie B". We planned a Halloween show. I didn't think it necessary to tell the librarian that I had hoped to snag this Richard Crowe-ghost-hunter for an interview and talk about "ghosts".

I sat at one of the long tables in the library, which was empty except for a few old retired folk, some sleeping and some reading.


Mr. Geist began his story...

It seems that for many years Mr. Geist was active in the small community that surrounded the Bachelor Grove Cemetery area. He settled in the area in 1873, as a young man, and opened a black smith shop just to the east of the old cemetery (it was old even then) and made a living for himself taking care of those who traveled the trail -then- road that became known as the Midlothian Turnpike. When horses were no longer the mainstay of transportation between the pioneer settlements, he learned about mechanical things and opened one of the first repair and filling stations for automobiles in the area. Eventually, he took care of a number of rich peoples autos, those that belonged to the near-by Midlothian Country Club. This was in the 1920's. This is when the trouble started, according to Mr. Geist.

The 1920's was the age of flappers and flivvers and bathtub gin. Prohibition had made alcohol illegal, so young people, most sons and daughters of the country club members, used to get illegal hooch and turn off the turnpike and settle next to the pond in front of the old cemetery.

Mr. Geist liked his nights quiet. Though he never married, he was apparently a good and faithful member of the Zion Lutheran Church and believe in the maxim of early to bed and early to rise. He had a lot of autos to tend to, not to mention the thriving garden behind the station and house, where he quartered. At that time, as it does today, sound carries in the woods, and Mr. Geist could hear every activity, including, according to him, the "immoral" ones. I do not think he was talking about swearing, but maybe he was. He did not elaborate.

This is where in his accounting that Geist explained his reason for putting pen to paper. "I want to leave a record," he said.

First, Geist included a brief history of his life prior to coming to America. He had been a Prussian solder, and had taken part in some "fantastic" and "bloody" campaigns, on behalf of the Kaiser, but that he had a revelation from God.

In one of those campaigns he and his group of soldiers killed a man in his house, who had been shooting at them. Geist himself had fired the kill shot through the open window at the man. When his fellow soldiers carried the dead man out he saw not a stranger, but himself, his "doppelgänger". (Dopplegangers are described as a double of yourself, and usually mean that something evil or bad will happen to you if seen).

He admitted to deserting the Prussian army, changing his name, and stealing away, first to England and then to America. When he landed in the New World, Geist decided to put everything about his past life in the past. He was once a drinker and ladies man, and a gambler, but he walked into the small Zion Lutheran Church not far from where he finally settled and prayed for his soul and offered his live to God. He had been christened as a Roman Catholic, and he related toward the end of his writings that he was overall happy with his Lutheran beliefs, he still longed for the idea of a direct absolution of his sins, which can be done through the confessional.

When the quiet of his nights being shattered grew too much for Geist he decided to put an end to the problem. For Geist, the solution was simple: scare the kids and they will not come back. People frighten, often too easily.

Knowing the woods, he crept back around the back of the cemetery and began doing some simple things, such as walking in woods clumsily with a candle and hooing and booing and making unearthly noises. He did this many nights, sometimes holding up an old bed sheet so as to be seen.

It worked! He noted that usually the woman were frightened at first, but he could tell from his hidden positions that the young men were just as frightened. Maybe more so. The auto soon cranked over and he was left with his peace.

Then the unthinkable happened. Soon more and more people were coming to Bachelor Grove Cemetery. They were coming to see "spirits". One lady, interviewed by a reporter form the Chicago Tribune, allowed that she played with the Quija Board and tried to talk in seance with the departed, and this was a place where they -- the dead-- could more easily leave and re-enter the neither world.
Geist scoffed at the idea of the dead coming and going as such, and the harder he tried to scare people off, the more they came. One time, he even saw an auto bus rumble past his repair station, and, sure enough, when the dust had settled, he saw from the edge of the road that it had stopped in broad daylight in front of the old cemetery.

This sent him into a rage, and he crept back along the secret trails in the woods and was ever more determined to frighten the lot.

He marched around and did his hooing and booing, but nobody among the men and women and even children seemed to notice. This surprised him. There was no reaction at all.

Finally, he quit and walked out of the woods and approached the driver of the auto bus, who was sitting on a tree stump with his back to him, watching the crowd as they wandered back and forth. Some seemed to be in a trance, and some were laughing and had even laid out blankets for a meal on the banks of the pond.

Geist asked the seated driver: "They are not frightened?"

"No," said the driver. "No reason to be."

The driver slowly turned and stared at Geist.

It was, according to Geist, the same man he saw as a young Prussian soldier, the man he shot and killed. His own double, his doppelganger.

The librarian said that Geist had died a year or two later, found sprawled in the woods behind Bachelor Grove Cemetery. Or maybe he had died shortly after depositing the pamphlet at the library; she couldn't be sure.

Today, where Geist's old repair station used to stand, at the bend on the Midlothian Turnpike, is an old light pole, bent forward like a strange iron beast feeding on the weeds grown up around it.

Richard Crowe, the ghost hunter, never answered my phone calls, so Julie B and I interviewed another person, whose name I cannot now remember. I had wanted to ask Crowe if this account by Geist --surely he had read it?-- might be how the haunting legend got started at Bachelor Grove Cemetery.

Not long ago, I went back to the Tinley Park library, now a huge building complex with easy chairs and rows of computer terminals, and tried to see if they had a pamphlet file, or anything on Hubert Geist. The young woman came back, smiled, and politely said they did not.

I regret not making a photocopy, but I didn't have any change with me at the time, and the older librarian was busy with three people in the check out line.

This report might explain how ghost stories get started.

Comments