HAUNTED ARCHER AVENUE
Willowbrook Ballroom - Did Resurrection Mary Really Dance Here?
Haunted Archer Avenue
Perhaps the greatest cemetery ghost story of Illinois (and perhaps of all time) is centered around a stretch of roadway on the south side of Chicago called Archer Avenue. It appears that this road may be the perfect location for a haunting as there are a number of locations along its route that boast more than their share of ghosts. The paranormal activity on the roadway seems to be anchored at both ends by cemeteries, both of which have their own ghost stories. One of them is the famous Resurrection Cemetery and the other, lesser-known, burial ground is St. James-Sag.
But what makes Archer Avenue so haunted? In the early days of Chicago, the road was an Indian trail and some have suggested that the original inhabitants forged a path here because of some mystical, magnetic force that connected it to the next world.
They say that paranormal energies would also be attracted to this magnetism and this would explain the hauntings in the area. The author also mentions that the area may be so haunted because of its proximity to water. Archer Avenue is nearly surrounded by water sources like the Cal-Sag Channel, the Des Plaines River, the Illinois-Michigan Canal, the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal and even Maple Lake, which reportedly is the scene of "ghost lights" activity.
But no matter what the reason, Archer Avenue may be the most haunted street in Chicago! The Indian trail that it used to be was turned into an actual road in the 1830ís. Irish workers on the Illinois-Michigan Canal completed the construction. Most of them lived near Lemont, at the southern end of Archer Avenue. Here is located the St. James-Sag Church and burial ground, which dates back to around 1817, a few years before Archer Avenue was built to follow the route of the canal. Most of the men who worked on the road and canal moved out of Chicago and became parishioners of the church.
Legend has it that they settled into a small, nearby community, which was cursed by an early rector of St. James-Sag because the residents were lax in their attendance at services. The story has it that the curse caused the community to die out and no trace of it can be found today.
Supernatural events have been reported at St. James-Sag since the middle 1800ís. It was around this time when the first sightings of the "phantom monks" took place here. These stories continued for decades and there were many reliable witnesses to the strange activity. One of them, a former rector of the church, admitted on his deathbed that he had seen ghosts roaming the cemetery grounds for many years.
One winter night in 1977, a Cook County police officer was passing the cemetery and happened to turn his spotlight up past the cemetery gates. He claimed to see eight hooded figures floating up the cemetery road toward the rectory. He pursued what he first thought were pranksters into the graveyard but while he stumbled and fell over the uneven ground and tombstones, the monk-like figures eerily glided past without effort. He said that he nearly caught up with them when "they vanished without a trace".
Another, earlier legend of the graveyard concerns a phantom hearse that is possibly the same vehicle seen on Kean Road and at nearby Archer Woods Cemetery. The description of the vehicle is the same, from the black horses to the glowing coffin of a child, and was first reported back in 1897. According to a report in the Chicago "Tribune", two musicians spent the night in a recreation hall that is located at the bottom of the hill below the St. James-Sag rectory. They were awakened in the early morning hours by the sound of a carriage on the stones outside. They looked out and saw the macabre hearse. They became the first to report the eerie vehicle, but they would not be the last.
And in addition to the many alleged haunted houses, businesses and graveyards along this stretch of roadway, Archer Avenue has also become home to one of Chicagoís longest standing tales of diabolical delight. It was to a ballroom along Archer Avenue where the devil himself came to dance many years ago. Local tradition in the Bridgeport neighborhood recalls that this supernatural event occurred at Kaiser Hall, just west of Loomis Street on Archer Avenue.
The story recalls that a young woman became entranced one night with a handsome and dashing stranger that she met on the dance floor. As they danced the night away, she happened to glance down at the strangerís feet - turning her cries of pleasure into a horrified scream! Assuming that the stranger had made an inappropriate advance toward the girl, the neighborhood men angrily pursued the man, who quickly fled from the room. He refused to fight and instead managed to get himself cornered near a second-story window. Suddenly, he leapt out of the window and surprised everyone by landing on his feet on the sidewalk below. When the crowd rushed to the window to peer after him, they discovered him running away.
The folks from the neighborhood followed the man outside (wisely using the staircase) and were amazed to see the real reason for the young womanís scream. Pressed into the concrete, just where the stranger had landed, they found the unmistakable mark of a hoof print!
What is it about this strange and haunted place called Archer Avenue? Is it really connected to the world beyond, or is there a natural explanation for the ghost sightings linked to the region? Are they truth or legend? That remains to be seen, but there may be more to this seemingly innocent roadway than meets the eye!
© Copyright 2002 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.