Chicago is a city filled with ghosts, from haunted houses to ghostly graveyards. But of all of the tales, there is one that rises above all of the others. I like to think of Resurrection Mary as Chicago’s most famous ghost. It is also probably my favorite ghost story of all time. It has all of the elements of the fantastic from the beautiful female spirit to actual eyewitness sightings that have yet to be debunked. There is much about the story that appeals to me and I never tire of hearing or talking about Mary, her sightings and her mysterious origins.
Although stories of "vanishing hitchhikers" in Chicago date back to the horse and buggy days, Mary’s tale begins in the 1930’s. It was around this time that drivers along Archer Avenue started reporting strange encounters with a young woman in a white dress. She always appeared to be real, until she would inexplicably vanish. The reports of this girl began in the middle 1930’s and started when motorists passing by Resurrection Cemetery began claiming that a young woman was attempting to jump onto the running boards of their automobiles.
Not long after, the woman became more mysterious, and much more alluring. The strange encounters began to move further away from the graveyard and closer to the O Henry Ballroom, which is now known as the Willowbrook. She was now reported on the nearby roadway and sometimes, inside of the ballroom itself. On many occasions, young men would meet a girl at the ballroom, dance with her and then offer her a ride home at the end of the evening. She would always accept and offer vague directions that would lead north on Archer Avenue. When the car would reach the gates of Resurrection Cemetery, the young woman would always vanish.
More common were the claims of motorists who would see the girl walking along the road. They would offer her a ride and then witness her vanishing from their car. These drivers could describe the girl in detail and nearly every single description precisely matched the previous accounts. The girl was said to have light blond hair, blue eyes and was wearing a white party dress. Some more attentive drivers would sometimes add that she wore a thin shawl, or dancing shoes, and that she had a small clutch purse.
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Others had even more harrowing experiences. Rather than having the girl vanish for their car, they claimed to actually run her down in the street. They claimed to see a woman in a white dress bolt in front of their car near the cemetery and would actually describe the sickening thud as she was struck by the front of the car. When they stopped to go to her aid, she would be gone. Some even said that the automobile passed directly through the girl. At that point, she would turn and disappear through the cemetery gates.
Bewildered and shaken drivers began to appear almost routinely in nearby businesses and even at the nearby Justice, Illinois police station. They told strange and frightening stories and sometimes they were believed and sometimes they weren’t. Regardless, they created an even greater legend of the vanishing girl, who would go on to become Resurrection Mary.
But who is this young woman, or at least who was she when she was alive?
Most researchers agree that the most accurate version of the story concerns a young girl who was killed while hitchhiking down Archer Avenue in the early 1930’s. Apparently, she had spent the evening dancing with a boyfriend at the O Henry Ballroom. At some point, they got into an argument and Mary (as she has come to be called) stormed out of the place. Even though it was a cold winter’s night, she thought, she would rather face a cold walk home than another minute with her boorish lover.
She left the ballroom and started walking up Archer Avenue. She had not gotten very far when she was struck and killed by a passing automobile. The driver fled the scene and Mary was left there to die.
Her grieving parents buried her in Resurrection Cemetery, wearing a white dress and her dancing shoes. Since that time, her spirit has been seen along Archer Avenue, perhaps trying to return to her grave after one last night among the living.
It has never been known just who the earthly counterpart of Mary might have been, but follow this link to several suggestions that have been made.
Over the years, there have been many sightings and encounters with the ghost alleged to be “Resurrection Mary”. Dozens of young men have told of picking up the same girl, or meeting her at the ballroom, only to have her disappear from their car. Perhaps the most believable encounter with Mary took place in 1939 and involved a young man named Jerry Palus. Click here to read about his close encounter!
The majority of the reports seem to come from the cold winter months, like the account passed on by a cab driver. He picked up a girl who was walking along Archer Avenue one night in 1941. It was very cold outside, but she was not wearing a coat. She jumped into the cab and told him that she needed to get home very quickly. She directed him along Archer Avenue and a few minutes later, he looked back and she was gone. He realized that he was passing in front of the cemetery when she disappeared.
Click Here to Read about Other Sightings of Resurrection Mary!
The stories continued but perhaps the strangest account of Mary was the one that occurred on the night of August 10, 1976. This event has remained so bizarre after all this time because on this occasion, Mary did not just appear as a passing spirit. It was on this night that she left evidence behind!
A driver was passing by the cemetery around 10:30 that night when he happened to see a girl standing on the other side of the gates. He said that when he saw her, she was wearing a white dress and grasping the iron bars of the gate. The driver was considerate enough to stop down the street at the Justice police station and alert them to the fact that someone had been accidentally locked in the cemetery at closing time. An officer responded to the call but when he arrived there was no one there. The graveyard was dark and deserted and there was no sign of any girl.
But his inspection of the gates, where the girl had been seen standing, did reveal something. The revelation chilled him to the bone! He found that two of the bars in the gate had been pulled apart and bent at sharp angles. To make things worse, at the points on the green-colored bronze where they had been pried apart were blackened scorch marks. Within these marks was what looked to be skin texture and handprints that had been seared into the metal with incredible heat.
The marks of the small hands made big news and curiosity-seekers came from all over the area to see them. In an effort to discourage the crowds, cemetery officials attempted to remove the marks with a blowtorch, making them look even worse. Finally, they cut the bars off and installed a wire fence until the two bars could be straightened or replaced.
The photograph above shows the bars at Resurrection Cemetery that were allegedly scorched and pulled apart by the ghost of Mary herself. Regardless, just how this feat was accomplished remains a mystery.
The cemetery emphatically denied the supernatural version of what happened to the bars. They claimed that a truck backed into the gates while doing sewer work at the cemetery and that grounds workers tried to fix the bars by heating them with a blowtorch and bending them. The imprint in the metal, they said, was from a workman trying to push them together again. While this explanation was quite convenient, it did not explain why the marks of small fingers were clearly visible in the metal.
The bars were removed to discourage onlookers, but taking them out had the opposite effect and soon, people began asking what the cemetery had to hide. The events allegedly embarrassed local officials, so they demanded that the bars be put back into place. Once they were returned to the gate, they were straightened and painted over with green paint so that the blackened area would match the other bars. Unfortunately though, the scorched areas continued to defy all attempts to cover them and the twisted spots where the handprints had been impressed remained obvious until just recently, when the bars were removed for good.
During the 1970’s and 1980’s, Mary sightings reached their peak. People from many different walks of life, from cab drivers to ministers said they had picked her up and had given her rides. It was during this period that Resurrection Cemetery was undergoing some major renovations and perhaps this was what caused her restlessness.
During the 1990’s, reports of Mary slacked off, but they have never really stopped altogether. They continue to occur today and while many of the stories are harder to believe these days, as the tales of Mary have infiltrated our culture to such a degree that almost anyone with an interest in ghosts has heard of her, some of the stories still appear to be chillingly real.
So, who is Mary and does she exist? Many remain skeptical about her, but I have found that this doesn’t really seem to matter. You see, people are still seeing Mary walking along Archer Avenue at night. Drivers are still stopping to pick up a forlorn figure who seems inadequately dressed in the winter months, when encounters are most prevalent. Curiosity-seekers still come to see the gates where the twisted and burned bars were once located and some even roam the graveyard, hoping to stumble across the place where Mary’s body was laid to rest.
Who is she? No one knows but that has not stopped the stories, tales and even songs from being spun about her. She remains an enigma and her legend lives on, not content to vanish, as Mary does when she reaches the gates to Resurrection Cemetery.
You see, our individual belief, or disbelief, does not really matter. Mary lives on anyway. I doubt that we will ever know who she really was, or why she haunts this peculiar stretch of roadway. And, in all honesty, I don’t suppose that I ever really want to know who she was. I guess that prefer Mary to remain just as she is, a mysterious, elusive and romantic spirit of the Windy City.
© Copyright 2002 by Troy Taylor. All Rights Reserved.