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Spooks And Apparitions In Our Suburbs

Spooks And Apparitions In Our Suburbs
The Star
October 20, 2002
Tom Houlihan

Under an October night sky, I am walking the dog along a stretch of dark road just north of our house.

Clouds pass next to a bright moon and a steady wind shakes the trees, casting shadows across the pavement.

We are headed toward a small bridge. It is surrounded by trees and, at this time of year, seems an especially lonely spot. Two weeks before Halloween, it is easy to imagine a "Legend of Sleepy Hollow" scenario at the bridge, with an unearthly horseman tossing his pumpkin head at Louisa and me.

This time, however, we don't make it to the bridge. Just before the trail to the creek, Louisa senses something in the trees and abruptly jerks around, tearing herself off the collar and running back south. It takes me a couple of blocks to catch up with her and get her back on the leash. Then we go home.

What did she sense? A bad smell? An unfriendly animal in the trees?

Or, perhaps, a ghost.

In October, seemingly, ghosts are everywhere. This is the month when neighborhood haunted houses go up all throughout our suburbs. When Jaycees and Lions Club members, raising funds for their organizations, dress up like vampires and ax murderers. When it all builds up to a few hours on Halloween, and our kids putting on their costumes for the very unscary exercise of collecting as much candy as possible.

Normally sober-minded institutions, such as public libraries and community colleges, sometimes get in the spirit of things this month and sponsor lectures or tours on the supernatural.

The message is clear: For 11 months of the year, ghosts are pretty much the exclusive domain of those people who are looking for answers that are literally out of this world. In October, ghosts are mainstream.

Now, I like a good scary story as much as the next guy, but I have a hard time taking ghosts seriously — and that's true for all the rest of the supernatural stuff, too.

I know that we live in a scary age — one filled with Osama's terrorists, Saddam's terrible weapons, anthrax in the mail and snipers in white panel trucks — but I really can't regard our once-a-year interest in ghosts as anything more than piffle.

My thoughts, I know, will hardly protect us from another couple of weeks of hearing about famous Chicago-area spook sites.

About Bachelor's Grove cemetery, north of Tinley Park, where blue balls of fire and ghostly dogs have been sighted by generations of forest preserve party-goers.

About poor Resurrection Mary, forever wearing her party dress along Archer Avenue.

About the haunted Irish castle in Chicago's Beverly's neighborhood.

Maybe I wouldn't be so cynical — and maybe I'd be more receptive to the supernatural — if we had more up-to-date ghosties.

I don't pretend to believe any of this but, over the years, have received unsubstantiated reports of ghosts in our area. Are they real or not? You can judge for yourself:

* The haunted van. Supposedly seen along eastbound Interstate 80-294 in high traffic times, it is a ghostly vehicle containing two adults and five kids. They are, for all eternity, on their way to the Indiana Dunes, and traffic is backed up all the way to Michigan City. Ghastly cries of "Are we there yet?" and "I need to go to the bathroom" have been heard by other terrified drivers.

* Political poltergeists. Allegedly spotted at the Lincoln Highway Metra station in Matteson, this is a ghost of a middle-aged man running for an unspecified political office. "I'll cut your taxes, end corruption, restore family values, improve the schools and make the streets safer," he says, grinning with glowing teeth and extending a phosphorescent hand to shake.

* Make that eight dozen. At the Midlothian Krispy Kreme doughnut outlet on Cicero Avenue, an enormous apparition — he has been described as "looking somewhat glazed" — has been spotted waiting in line for fresh, hot doughnuts. "I'll take four dozen," he says. "That might get me through the rest of the night."

* Fasten your seat belts. In a soybean field near 279th Street and Governors Highway, an entire airport has made occasional appearances on misty nights. It includes planes arriving and departing, terminals, parking lots and hotels. This, of course, is smack dab in the middle of the proposed site for the third Chicago airport near Peotone.

Witnesses have reported hearing noises from a jumbo jet taking off before getting a brief glimpse of the ephemeral airport. Then it vanishes into the mists and then, just as before, you're surrounded by nothing but soybeans.

"Can you imagine that?" one witness reportedly said. "An airport down here. Have you ever heard of a goofier idea?"