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Supernatural Occurrence Studies

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A two-headed monster, a disappearing house, flying orbs of blue and white light, a beautiful woman in white, a man in a black trench coat and fedora hat, a hooded monk, a phantom horse and carriage, unearthly growls, decapitated bodies and demon dogs – all in the same place and while you’re awake? Sound like a nightmare? That’s exactly what all types of people from all walks of life claim to experience at one of Illinois’ most haunted locations - Bachelor's Grove Cemetery.

Investigated for decades by paranormal enthusiasts and curiosity seekers alike, Bachelor's Grove Cemetery, or just “The Grove,” never lets the camera-toting curiosity seeker leave its confines with a blank roll of film. Located on 143rd & Midlothian Turnpike in Bremen Township, near Oak Forest, Midlothian and Crestwood, Illinois, The Grove consistently produces intriguing signs of what is believed to be ghosts and other supernatural phenomenon.

Bachelor's Grove is a cliché horror movie graveyard. There’s its isolated location, set back a quarter-mile into the forest preserves, abandoned and forlorn. Flanked by a stagnant, green-slime covered pond, who knows what kind of creepy crawlers inhabit the pond’s shores and slink their way into the cemetery at will. Gullies formed by macabre grave robbers trip up the careless wanderer. Tombstones stick up from the ground at awkward angles, jutting out like rotting teeth from the earth’s dirt gums. At any time of the year, The Grove is overrun with weeds and grass, concealing rumbling tombstones, ritual markings and other cemetery treats. Legend has it people have been decapitated here. Others swear they’ve seen a two-headed “monster” creep its way out of the cemetery’s adjacent pond. A woman in white has been noticed, and photographed, aimlessly wandering The Grove’s pulverized grounds. People have been chased by orbs of blue and white light. Some have caught a glimpse of a mafia-type figure, complete with a trench coat and fedora hat, ominously lurking the grounds. Others run from the cemetery after hearing unearthly growls and groans. And of course, probably The Grove’s most famous mystery, the disappearing house – the one that is seen off in the woods, but can never be reached.

Climbing over the rotting cable with its rusting NO TRESPASSING sign, I bravely navigate the infinitely dark path leading to the cemetery – any hope of light choked out by the dense, foreboding trees surrounding me. After walking for what seemed like forever, off to my left I notice a small clearing. The land is surrounded by an old fence, its gate yawning open like a broken-jawed giant. There are no comforting street lights back here. No power lines overhead. It’s a place time has forgotten. I take a deep breath and enter the cemetery.

The first thing I notice is the cemetery’s stillness. Silence engulfs me, only to be broken by the occasional high-pitched squeal of a bat flying overhead or the relentless questioning of an owl. Around me, the trees have disappeared allowing the full moon to listlessly light up the cemetery. Everything has a silvery aura. Overgrown with foliage, every corner, crook and cranny takes on an ominous form, the potential hideaway for a lunatic or ghoul lying in wait for me to innocently walk by. All I need is a bit of rain and a good lightning storm and I’m instantly transported into my favorite horror movie. Suddenly I’m the innocent coed finding myself in a situation I really don’t want to be in.

Measuring roughly 264’ X 286’, some believe that no other place produces paranormal phenomenon like Bachelors Grove Cemetery. Norman Basile, Chicago ghost hunter and psychic, maintains that this 1-acre trapezoidal-shaped plot of land is one of the most haunted locations in Chicago, if not the world. Even the most skeptical visitor will be left scratching his or her head while looking through their photographs taken at Bachelors Grove, triggering the inevitable, “I-know-that-wasn’t-there-when-I-took-the-picture,” response.

Bachelors Grove had nearly 160 people buried there since its inception in the late 1830s or early 1840s, according to Brad Bettenhausen of the South Suburban Genealogical & Historical Society. In its heyday, The Grove was a tranquil place where family and friends came to picnic while visiting their deceased. Children played among the trees and tombstones, while others fished and swam in the adjacent pond. It was a place of quiet reflection, mixed with the celebration of life and death.

As time passed, so did the living relatives of those entombed in The Grove. With no one caring for family plots, the cemetery quickly fell into shambles. Trees, weeds and patches of day lilies took over, suffocating the once beautiful landscape. Because of its out-of-the-way location, Bachelor's Grove became a lovers-lane, exploited by necking teenagers. With the onslaught of teens came the inevitable drinking parties. Broken glass quickly replaced green grass. Sadly, of the 160 people buried at Bachelors Grove, fewer than 20 grave markers remain. Markers were smashed and spray-painted, some were stolen or heaved into the adjoining pond. Some tombstones were even stolen only to be returned at a later time because their owners thought them jinxed or cursed. To gain entrance, vandals destroyed the chain link fence surrounding the cemetery, ripping its gate wide open and off its hinges. When the gate was repaired, delinquents cut several holes in the fencing instead.

Things have gotten so out of hand at Bachelor's Grove that Forest Preserve Police regularly patrol the cemetery in efforts to curb violence and vandalism, as rapes, murders and decapitations happened at one time or another in or around the cemetery. From October 15th to the 31st 2004, one Cook County Forest Preserve officer, who asked not to be named, claimed to have issued 250 tickets for trespassing, concealed weapons and other violations of local ordinances, and promised to write another 150 by November 15th. That gives an idea as to how many curiosity seekers come to the graveyard to try and catch a glimpse of the unknown, or to conduct some other type of macabre business. But the officer insists that all the stories and legends are false.

I went to Bachelors Grove this past Halloween 2005. The cemetery was alive with action. Some 20 people were lingering about, some taking pictures while others shot video. A man in a tiger-striped, leather jacket with long, greasy hair offered tortilla wraps as hors d'œuvres. He rested his bright silver platter of vittles on top of an ancient, square-shaped tombstone for other visitors to use as a makeshift buffet.

Jeff Johnson and Robert Mackey, Chicago-area documentary filmmakers, focused their equipment on various tombstones for a short film based on the legend of Bachelor's Grove. Another visitor, Steve Schultz, said he frequents the cemetery because in the past, he has heard some strange stories about The Grove and has even seen some strange things while in its confines.

A young Chicago couple, Abby Wall and Ian Meston, haunt the cemetery simply to indulge curiosity. “I've heard about the lady in white who shows up along the trail, balls of light, and sometimes a house that shows up,” Meston said. “One year I heard about the coffins floating when the cemetery flooded, when the water cut away the soil. Across the street in the forest preserve, there were attempted homicides, murders. My mom was there one year when a guy got out of his car and started shooting people,” he said. I asked the couple if they thought all the rumors and speculation were foolish. “I believe in today’s world, anything is possible,” Wall said. Meston answered sharply, “Foolish? I view them as demons.”

It is the legends that keep people coming back. “They come back here to be scared,” said Officer Dave Griffin of the Cook County Forest Preserve. “Boys try to impress their girlfriends. But when the police get there, the boys are the first to run, leaving their girlfriends behind.” Griffin agreed that the cemetery has a history of haunted rumors but he insists that “there are no ghosts and the disappearing house everyone describes never existed.” Although certain there are no ghosts, Griffin did confirm that there has been evidence of satanic activity in the cemetery’s past. “Someone dug up a skull to use for evil purposes,” and several disemboweled rabbits were discovered on The Grove’s grounds, proving the existence of satanic activity," Griffin said. “I don’t know if there are ghosts, but of course there are things beyond our comprehension."

While most of The Grove’s activity might be passed off as mere legend, I was able to unearth the truths regarding some of the more disturbing myths, those regarding decapitation. As it turns out, they are not just tall tales. According to Officer Griffin, they actually happened. When the trail leading to Bachelor's Grove was still a functioning access road, a careless man stuck his head out of his sunroof or convertible while driving too fast. Unbeknownst to the driver, his head was about to wage war with a sturdy, low hanging tree branch. The branch won. Innocuous as this story might seem, another proven legend is more dastardly. According to Officer Griffin, a depraved individual strung piano wire across the cemetery’s access trail, attaching it to a tree on either side. The perpetrator then preceded to scare some people out of the cemetery, forcing them to run down the trail to what they believed would be safety. The runner-in-lead caught the piano wire across the neck, completely separating the poor victim’s head from their shoulders.

Neighbors living near the cemetery have fallen victim to its darker side. William O’Shea and his wife Teresa, along with their two young girls, have lived next to the infamous cemetery for 15 years. I have dubbed their Victorian-style home “The Last House on the Left” after a 1972 film by Wes Craven. When I approached the house this particular Halloween, Mr. O’Shea reacted violently. He cursed me and approached as if wanting to strike me. He was big, probably 6-foot-something and dressed like a blue-collar worker, heavy button-up shirt, blue jeans and boots. His hair was messy.

I did not back down. I pleaded my case for 5 minutes, and finally after understanding that I wanted to interview him – not merely park in his driveway to access the cemetery – he surrendered. “I’m on the defensive,” O’Shea said. “Four carloads of people came here yesterday asking to park here.”

I learned that cemetery visitors, or what O’Shea calls “the Scooby-dooers,” haven’t been too nice to his family over the years. People, mostly teenagers, have broken his car windows after being told not to park in his driveway. They have slashed his tires. His chickens have been stolen and later found mutilated in the cemetery. O’Shea has since stopped raising chickens. In the wee hours of the morning, people have knocked on his door asking to use the bathroom. O'Shea smiled dimly while recounting a story. "One time around midnight, a young man rang my bell and asked to use my telephone to call his mom because he was afraid of breaking curfew."

Although not a believer in the supernatural, O’Shea understands why people flock to the cemetery. “If you write about Bachelor's Grove and someone else writes about it, and people read that stuff, they’ll come because they want to experience the strange.”

O’Shea’s wife, Teresa, is a believer. A short, round woman with long, black hair and a huge smile, Teresa casually told me that the walls of her 160 year-old 5-bedroom home bleed on occasion, and that wallpaper cannot be hung, she’s tried several types, "because ghosts can’t breathe through it."

Teresa says her daughter’s room fills with the stench of pipe smoke when no one is smoking, and hears sounds like poker chips being stacked when no one is playing poker. She mentioned that the previous caretaker of Bachelor's Grove used to own her house and hinted that maybe his connection to the cemetery explains her house’s haunted happenings.

Teresa, a photographer and I, walked back toward Bachelor's Grove. It was now dark. Suddenly I became frightened. After all, it was nighttime and it was Halloween. I didn’t really want to go back in there. What about the devil worshippers? What about the freak who prefers people’s heads anywhere but on their shoulders?

After cautiously traversing the wooded path and making nervous chit-chat, my photographer went back into The Grove and snapped some 50 pictures on his Nikon digital camera while Teresa and I finished up our interview outside the cemetery gates. Suddenly we were both overwhelmed with the feeling that something was not right. At the same time we turned and saw someone, or something, walking up the trail about 10’ in front of us, then it was gone. Simultaneously, my photographer walked out of the cemetery and said that he felt something strange. We hadn’t told him about what we had seen, yet he felt it too. Suddenly, all three of us got the chills and goose bumps. We all agreed that it felt as if a bucket of cold water was thrown over us. We looked at each other frantically. No one else was around. It was just us and the inky darkness...and the awful silence. Teresa suggested we leave immediately.

On our way out, Teresa nonchalantly said, “That was a girl. She went that way,” and pointed into the immeasurably dark woods surrounding us, undoubtedly trying to explain away our fright. It didn’t work. †

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ARCHIVE NOTATION:  "I finished up our interview outside the cemetery gates. Suddenly we were both overwhelmed with the feeling that something was not right. At the same time we turned and saw someone, or something, walking up the trail about 10’ in front of us, then it was gone."