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Favorite Haunts: Chicago's Ghostly Legends Make It A City Of Big Shudders

Favorite Haunts: Chicago's Ghostly Legends Make It A City Of Big Shudders
Chicago Tribune - Chicago, IL USA
October 30, 1989

Credit to Stacy McArdle of for sending in this material.

The ashes of Clarence Darrow were scattered in Jackson Park near the Museum of Science and Industry.

That's a fact.

Whether the famous lawyer's ghost haunts the park and the grounds of the nearby museum is a matter of opinion, folklore.

Every Halloween, without fail, an old cemetery named Bachelor Grove, in the Cook County Forest Preserve District's Tinley Creek Division near Midlothian, is overrun with teenagers looking for fun--so much so that police prepare for it every year.

Whether the cemetery is actually haunted and has a ghostly, disappearing house in its midst is something else. But the lore lives on.

As Halloween approaches, scores of ghost stories surface in Chicago and its suburbs. Some of them come back year after year and seem to have lives of their own, formed in history's graveyard and passed on through generations.

The spirits are pursued by swarms of curious celebrants of Halloween, but they are most often seen by those who look the hardest and believe in earnest.

In Chicago, these hauntings have become something of a tourist industry.

"Ever since `The Blair Witch Project' came out, my business has skyrocketed," said Richard Crowe, referring to the summer's hit horror movie.

Crowe, 51, has made a career out of ghost stories. For more than 25 years, he has offered tours of ghostly sites in and around Chicago. Along the way, he says, he has documented at least 100 supernatural sites--including spots along the Chicago River where there have been fatal boat wrecks.

For example, Crowe said many people have heard muffled screams and have seen human forms floating in the water or hovering over the Chicago River near Wacker Drive between Clark and LaSalle Streets.

It is the site of one of Chicago's worst disasters. An excursion vessel, the Eastland, overturned there in 1915, killing more than 800 people.

"The weird thing about all this is that the people who usually tell me about these screams don't even know that there was a major boat accident in the area years ago," Crowe said.

"Chicago has the population the size of a small European country," he said. "There are Jewish ghosts, Polish ghosts, Italian ghosts. Everybody has brought the old country with them and the tradition lives on with them, in their folklore and ghost stories."

Most Chicagoans have heard the tale of Resurrection Mary, a ghost hitchhiker who wears a long white dress and is occasionally spotted along Archer Avenue, her hair flowing in the wind.

Then there is Darrow's ghost, which supposedly wanders the banks of the lagoon behind the Museum of Science and Industry. Crowe insists that he saw the ghost a few years back while conducting one of his tours.

"I remember seeing him near the lagoon," Crowe said. "He was dressed like a lawyer would be dressed of that day," in a topcoat and felt hat.

Crowe said a couple of men on the tour got off the bus and started chasing the figure. When the old man noticed that he was being chased, Crowe said, he didn't flinch or even walk faster. Instead, he just turned around and looked at them, and the men froze in their tracks.

Then he disappeared behind the trees in the lagoon, "real slow-like," Crowe said.

Farther south and west, at Bachelor Grove Cemetery, the supernatural presence is said to be a phantom house that periodically appears and vanishes. That is, on some days people will see the house, but on other days, it is nowhere to be found.

That's according to Dale Kaczmarek, 46, who heads the Ghost Research Society in Oak Lawn and conducts haunted tours in the Chicago and metropolitan areas.

"People have seen it--it's a white house with pillars, and when they walk toward it, it vanishes," said Ruth Kaczmarek, Dale's wife.

There have also been sightings in Bachelor Grove of a blue light that comes and goes in the middle of the night. It's about the size of a pool ball, and it has been seen hovering over the cemetery.

These days that blue light might be mounted on a police car. About 20 years ago, some folks attracted by stories of a haunted cemetery became destructive. They knocked over a few headstones in the cemetery and dug up a few of the graves. Since then, the cemetery has been chained off and patrolled by police at Halloween.

After all these years, dozens of curious teens continue to haunt the area at Halloween. Police continue to chase them away.

"These sorts of myths, they just stick around," lamented Steve Castans, chief of police for the Forest Preserve District. "They never go away. They just lie in there."

But Castans, who grew up on the city's North Side, offers a scary yarn of his own, about a tomb in Oak Brook where monks "come out of hiding" if one dares to scale the cemetery fence.

"We always heard about how they'd jump out at you if you weren't careful, so we were always scared to walk by that tomb, even though we never actually saw it," Castans said.

Joseph Troiani, who has a PhD in psychology and teaches at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, said a good ghost story will often find its way around the world, putting down roots wherever there is an opportunity.

"A lot of this stuff is universal in its telling," Troiani said. "What happens is, many people will come across a story in one particular area, and before you realize it, somebody takes that story and makes it happen in their geographic location."

Hence, stories eerily similar to that of Resurrection Mary are often told in New England and along the Eastern Seaboard. And stories about disappearing blue lights and vanishing houses have been heard in Houston, Troiani said.

Crowe hasn't seen the blue light that hovers over Bachelor Grove Cemetery, but others have told him about it, and he thinks he has it figured out.

"It's an evil light that tries to lure you off the path of life and into the dark forest," Crowe said, "where anything can happen."