March 15, 2015
I visited the most haunted place in the US and bumped into a witch. The witch bumped into a crazy writer.
Amtrak Residency - Day 2
March 14, 2015
I got up before dawn to sit in the observatory car and work on Little Rock while watching twilight brighten gray flat farmland becoming suburbs as we pulled into Waterloo, Indiana. Later I moved to the cafe car for breakfast and wound up sitting across from fellow passenger Mark Wyatt, a grass roots activist who runs the 2000-member strong Iowa Bicycle Coalition, on a return trip from DC where he was “lobbying Congress.” Why didn’t he just fly there? “I don’t enjoy flying and I’ve come to enjoy train travel. It’s easy, it’s comfortable, and I can write three grants along the way.” He and his organization have come up with some novel ways of increasing bicycle appreciation and awareness in Iowa, including the annual bacon ride, where cyclists make stops along the way to enjoy BLTs, bacon chocolate sundaes and bacon everything. Good luck, Mark.
After arriving in Chicago at around 10:30am I walked directly from Union Station to a nearby Zipcar I had reserved in advance, threw my luggage into the back and drove 40 minutes outside of town to visit the infamous Bachelors Grove Cemetery, supposedly the most haunted place in America. As a taphophile my visit was partly out of curiosity and a love of funerary art, and partly reconnaissance to consider the feasibility of performing my solo theatrical show Boneyards outdoors there sometime in the future. Bachelors Grove, aside from being supposedly haunted, spent years being neglected, desecrated and repeatedly vandalized by drunk teenagers. Bodies were exhumed and abused for sport. Sometimes occult rituals occurred there. Fortunately today a group of concerned citizens helps maintain and protect it although many of the damaged and overturned tombstones still need restoration.
I found the Rubio Woods parking area with no problem but wasn’t sure where to find the cemetery path. Supposedly it’s not just the cemetery that’s haunted but the woods around it. Over the years people have reported strange occurrences there, like seeing and hearing old timey ghost cars from a bygone era moving slowly along the dirt roads at night. Witnesses have also reported floating blue lights, misty figures, the ghost of a farmer killed in a nearby swamp, the “Madonna of Bachelors Grove” who walks the trails. Suffice it to say I was a bit apprehensive as I stood outside my car zipping up my jacket and feeling for my pepper spray and Swiss army knife. What if I vanish into the cemetery and no one hears from me again? What if I encounter a coven of cloaked, bedaggered devil worshippers who stalk me and sacrifice me to their dark overlord?
Just then a woman with dyed platinum hair, black fingernails and a baggy black dress sauntered past me and I thought, witch. I knew where she was headed. So I followed her at a safe distance, crossing the busy highway, walking down the shoulder and finally cutting onto the path. I then walked less than a quarter-mile into the soggy, mushy, slushy woods. The only terror I felt was the strong possibility of sliding up and busting my ass. As my sneakers got caked with mud on this thawing March day I realized why the witch had wisely opted for flip-flops. Sure enough she led me to the jackpot. The cemetery is smaller than I thought and enclosed by an indecorous chain link fence. The witch and I were the only two there and we kept a respectful distance from each other as we separately wandered in silence. I walked around snapping lots of photos but sadly no apparitions showed up in any of them.
At one point I looked up and saw my witch sitting on a tree stump holding two dowsing rods in her hands attempting to suss out any unseen presences with yes or no questions. It would have made a great photo. I trotted over to her.
“Excuse me. Do you mind if I get a shot of you holding the dowsing rods?”
“No! Do not take a picture of me here!”
“No problem, sorry, good luck,” I said and scurried back to my half of the graveyard. Some people are just crazy. Next I decided to contact the dead. I fired up my trusty P-SB7 spirit box to see if I could record any ghost voices. I recorded the 3-minute session but haven’t had time to play it back to see if I picked up anything decent. It’s always the first test of whether a place is Boneyards-worthy. It needs to be not just haunted but haunted by ghosts who are hams who want to be a part of the show. I’ll report back as soon as I get around to analyzing the audio.
I was back in Chicago by 12:30 and spent the day writing in my hotel room before heading out to see a play. Before showtime I had a quick scotch at Ceres’ Table. After the show I quickly cabbed it back to my room to read my 4-year-old son a bedtime story on Skype (his idea; he had shoved 6 of his books into my luggage the morning I left along with one of his stuffed animals for me to sleep with), and then strolled out for a late dinner and one more scotch at Miller’s Pub.