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A Spooky Undertaking

A Spooky Undertaking
Chicago Tribune - Chicago, IL USA
October 24, 2006
By Jason George

The Tribune's Jason George checks out `The Most Haunted Place in Chicagoland,' Bachelor's Grove Cemetery, a spot known for necking, grave desecration and the paranormal.

Just as the sun started to set over Bachelor's Grove Cemetery, the psychic heard a child's voice rise from the beyond.

"He said he lost something, some money," Ken Melvoin-Berg said on a recent evening, appearing to `lose it' himself, as he staggered out of the cemetery toward an adjacent algae-filled pond.

It was there, at the water's edge, that Melvoin-Berg stopped, bent down, stuck his shaking hands into the chlorophyll-tinted water and pulled out a 1942 Walking Liberty Half Dollar--just where the boy "said" it could be found.

Believe it?

Well the experts in such matters don't call Bachelor's Grove "The Most Haunted Place in Chicagoland" for nothing.

Such spooky tales have spun from these parts for decades. The mere mention of this cemetery and the surrounding slice of forest preserve near Midlothian can cause jaws to tighten, eyes to dart and hearts to gallop.

Unmarried immigrants who labored and died nearby in the 1830s gave the area its name of Bachelor Grove Woods. Or maybe not. Another tale claims the place is named after the Batchelder family, who once owned the land.

Either way, once it was public land, Bachelor Grove became a retreat straight off of a Manet canvas, a place where Chicagoans could enjoy days of picnics and country drives, far from factory fumes and stockyard stink.

Since then, the roads those visitors traveled within the woods have been reclaimed by the forest floor, but not before they acquired a reputation as a magnet for the paranormal and paramours seeking shaded, and at times shady, seclusion. Grave desecration and necking might seem strange dance partners, but both activities became quite popular at Bachelor Grove in the 1960s. And then it got worse.

In 1966 a mushroom hunter found the body of a dead teenage girl from Indiana in the woods. Then in 1988, a 20-year-old woman confessed to killing her former boyfriend, whose body was found at the cemetery. Four years later, two south suburban men were found guilty of severely beating a man by shoving a pointed stick into his ear, puncturing an eardrum. The two had traveled to Bachelor Grove to attack and rob gay men.

Forest Preserve Police Chief Richard Waszak said he thankfully hasn't had any hate crimes or homicides in the area recently, only tombstone vandalism and people gathering there after sundown, which is illegal. He said his officers regularly give out hundreds of citations during the Halloween season for various infractions.

"From our understanding it is one of the scariest places in Illinois," he said with a measured laugh.

Walking down the trailhead off 143rd Street, the woods don't appear particularly scary at first steps. The pathway is covered with golden leaves, and the urban breadcrumbs of cigarette butts, Cheetos bags and beer cans.

About 75 yards down, the visitor arrives at the one-acre cemetery, which contains the 30 or so graves that have not been removed or forgotten underfoot. The most recent gravestone is from 1965, and the cemetery is officially closed to new residents, so to speak, Waszak said.

Leaving something at a grave marked "Infant Daughter" is supposed to be good luck, according to local lore, and many apparently believe and oblige. On this visit there were piles of gum and candy, a movie ticket stub from "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning," a lunch card from Riverside-Brookfield High School and a mysteriously lighted candle.

But even here, in the supposedly frightening cemetery, the traffic whizzes by within earshot and can comfort nerves like a baby monitor. One must go deeper into the woods to truly get that spooky feeling--and a chance at seeing the phantom house.

For years, visitors have claimed to spot a lamp-lighted house in the woods, despite the fact that no building exists in the grove. If one did though, it could do good business as a boarding house to the crowds of various ghosts said to haunt these woods. Bachelor Grove supposedly hosts blue orbs, a yellow man and a bright white lady carrying an infant--and those are just the ghosts associated with a color.

"There's about 80 ghosts reported here," Melvoin-Berg, who is also a guide with Weird Chicago Tours, said with delight.

No phantom house was observed on Melvoin-Berg's recent visit, although four real-life high school students were spotted deep in the woods. They had been the ones who lit the candle back at the graveyard, they confessed, to the obvious disappointment of all around.

They hadn't seen any ghosts that day either, no phantasmal plowman and hitched horse--a regular back at the pond--or even the ghost car, sometimes seen on 143rd Street. It was simply an afternoon of butternut trees, skinny oaks and a trickling stream--all rare sightings, in their own way, around Chicagoland.