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A Good Time For A Good Ghost Story

A Good Time For A Good Ghost Story
Southtown Star - Chicago Sun-Times
October 28, 2011
Paul Eisenberg

The following story is true. Which is to say, that it’s false.

I borrowed the line above from Leonard Nimoy, who said it during a guest appearance on “The Simpsons.” That episode is many years old now, but I often think of that line when someone begins to relate ghost stories, a popular pastime this time of year. Good ghost stories come off as true, even though they are inherently false.

It’s hard to figure what makes a ghost story stick. Bachelors Grove cemetery between Midlothian and Oak Forest is arguably the “most haunted” locale in the region. It’s old, with some graves dating back before the mid-1800s, somewhat remote as it’s in the middle of a forest preserve, and abandoned. All of those elements help when it comes to establishing a place as “haunted.” Teens have emerged from Rubio Woods there with stories of mysterious sights and sounds since the 1970s, causing more teens to hike out there on chilly October evenings. But aside from the presence of old graves and the reports from spooked youngsters, there’s not a lot of good material there from which to craft a good ghost story.

North of there is Archer Avenue, a road descended from an old Native American trail. It’s along that route that Resurrection Mary is said to occasionally appear. She’s reportedly been beckoning motorists for a ride there off and on since the 1930s. Resurrection Mary’s story is probably the Chicago area’s most famous ghost story, and one worth looking up if you haven’t heard it.

But here in the southeast suburbs, we have to rely upon Axeman’s Bridge as our one and only bona fide ghost story. The bridge, which is small, rusty and in the eastern reaches of Crete, was supposedly the site of some murders in the 1970s and is now haunted by the ghosts of the victims and the killer, who used, of course, an ax to commit his murderous deeds. The story is easily verified as false, as there were no murders in that area in the last few decades.

But there’s so much scarier raw material to work with here than an old rusty bridge in rural Crete. We have Hubbard’s Trace, now known alternately as Illinois Route 1, Chicago Road and Dixie Highway, which started out as a Native American path, and Sauk Trail, which some speculate began as a bison migration path before Indians began using it in prehistoric times.

We have spooky abandoned factories, such as the old windowless AMSCO plant at Lincoln Highway and State Street. We have Gypsy cemeteries along Halsted Street in Homewood. Gothic homes were once used as speakeasies along Euclid Avenue in Chicago Heights, while a nearby forest preserve is inexplicably named Indian Hill. We have neighborhoods called Hungry Hill and Beacon Hill and forests containing trees that date back to the day when wooded areas were called groves to distinguish them from the wide-ranging prairie.

But there is a place in Chicago Heights that could make for the perfect Halloween season story. All the pieces are in place for fright: A forgotten cemetery is located quite close to the crossroads of those two ancient Indian trails, Hubbard’s and Sauk. It lies behind a barbed-wire fence, marked only by an old sign placed askew on the fence. Buried there are some of the earliest area residents; indeed they were interred before Chicago Heights was even called Chicago Heights. To the north, expansion of the cemetery was limited by the excavation of clay pits. In more recent times, a landfill has begun to encroach on that hallowed ground.

To my knowledge, there are no ghosts in Bloomvale Cemetery on East End Avenue. But a sturdy fence and two strings of barbed wire ensure that nobody knows for sure…