Resurrection Mary

Resurrection Mary One of Chicago’s most famous and oft-sighted Ghosts. Resurrection Mary is a beautiful blond, blue-eyed girl dressed in a fancy white dress, white dancing shoes and thin shawl, and sometimes clutching a small evening bag. She takes her name from Resurrection Cemetery, a 475-acre burial ground located on Archer Avenue in Justice, a suburb of Chicago, where she is supposed to be buried. She appears on the road and sometimes asks for a ride, always vanishing at the cemetery.

Sightings of Resurrection Mary have occurred since 1936. According to legend, Mary was killed in an automobile accident one winter night in 1934 after an evening of dancing at the former O. Henry Ballroom, now the Willowbrook Ballroom. By some accounts, the dance was for Christmas or Advent. She got into an argument with her date, left the ballroom and began walking up Archer Avenue. She was struck by a car and was killed. The driver left the scene and was never found. Her parents buried her at Resurrection in her white dress and dancing shoes.

Resurrection Mary’s ghost has made appearances since 1936. In that year, a man named Jerry Paulus met a young woman in a white dress at the former Liberty Grove Hall and Ballroom (since demolished). They spent much of the evening together, though she seemed aloof and distant. Her skin was cool and clammy, as were her lips, he discovered, when he kissed her. The girl asked him for a ride home. She directed him down Archer Avenue and told him to stop in front of Resurrection Cemetery. Then she leaned over and whispered that she had to leave him and he could not follow her. She got out, ran toward the gates and vanished.

Subsequent sightings have been similar. Most have occurred in the Archer Avenue vicinity. Mary usually shows up in winter—especially in December—wandering along the road in her white dress and thin little shawl. Sometimes she hitches a ride to the O. Henry Ballroom. Sometimes drivers stop and offer her a lift. In the late 1930s, she jumped on the running boards of autos; in later years, she has walked up to autos, opened the doors and gotten in, and asked for a ride. She always asks the driver to go on Archer Avenue past the cemetery. She either vanishes from the car as it passes the cemetery or asks the driver to stop at the cemetery, where she gets out and disappears through the locked gates. She also has been seen inside the cemetery, staring through the bars of the gate. Other motorists have reported hitting a girl dressed in a white ball gown who suddenly runs out into the road in front of them. Sometimes the car passes through her and she vanishes.

Other times, motorists think they’ve struck a person and call for help, but the body vanishes before help arrives. She has been reported dancing at the old O. Henry Ballroom until closing, when she asks someone for a ride home, past the cemetery, of course. Those who say they’ve danced with Mary describe her as did Paulus: aloof and cold to the touch. Reports of Resurrection Mary increased following renovations to the cemetery in the mid-1970s.

She has been seen and picked up at various distant suburban locations as well, but her destination always takes the driver past the cemetery.

In 1976, an unusual sighting occurred. On August 10, a man was driving past the cemetery late at night when he saw what seemed to be a young woman in a white dress standing inside the gates, clasping the bars. The man reported to the Justice police that someone evidently was locked inside the cemetery. Offi cers who investigated found no one inside; however, two of the iron bars of the gate where the girl had been standing were found pried apart and bore what seemed to be human handprints seared into the metal.

Cemetery officials said there was a natural explanation for the bars: they had been bent by a service truck that had backed into them. A workman heated the bars with a blowtorch and unsuccessfully tried to bend them back into position. The marks supposedly were made by him. Skeptics of this explanation pointed out that the workman’s hands were gloved, and the marks seem to bear clear hand and fingerprints.

The story encouraged a steady stream of curiosity seekers, so the cemetery had the bars removed. This action resulted in rumors that the cemetery was trying to hide something, which encouraged more curiosity seekers. The bars were replaced and painted. It was rumored that workmen tried in vain to remove the scorched handprints and could not and also that a Scientific laboratory could not explain what had caused them.

The true identity of Mary has never been established, although the story may be drawn from facts involving multiple persons. A 13-year-old girl named Mary Bregovy was killed in an auto accident in downtown Chicago on March 10, 1934, and was buried in Resurrection Cemetery. However, this Mary had short, dark hair and was buried in an orchid-colored dress. Her grave was a “term” grave, resold every 25 years, a common practice in the 1920s and 1930s. It is not known whether others purchased the same plot in later years. The plot is in a section of the cemetery that underwent renovation in the 1970s.

In July 1927, a 12-year-old Lithuanian girl named Anna Marija (Mary) Norkus was killed in an auto accident following an evening of dancing at the O. Henry to celebrate her birthday. She was tall and blond and went by her middle name, Marija. The car in which she was riding passed by Resurrection Cemetery and accidently fell into a 25-foot-deep railroad cut, killing Marija.

Marija was supposed to be buried in St. Casimir Cemetery. It has been speculated that perhaps she was temporarily interred in Resurrection due to the frequent cemetery labor strikes—and perhaps she was forgotten and left there.

Other candidates put forward include a young Polish girl who died when she crashed her parents’ car near Resurrection and was buried in a term grave there; a girl who was killed in a collision of a Model A and a farm vehicle in 1936 on Archer Avenue; and a Mary Miskowski, of Bridgeport, on Chicago’s south side, who was killed while crossing the street in late October in the 1930s.

Resurrection Mary may also be part URBAN LEGEND. Her story follows the Phantom Hitchhiker, or “Vanishing Hitchhiker,” legend. A hitchhiker, usually a young woman, is picked up on a lonely road, shivering from the cold. She gives the driver the address of her home. She doesn’t talk much, or at all. He may give her his coat to wear. When he arrives, she vanishes from the car, taking the coat. The occupants of the house are the parents of the girl, who tell the driver she is dead, killed near the spot where he found her on the road. Later, he finds her grave and sees his coat folded on top of it.

Mary also fits a variation of the Phantom Hitchhiker legend, the “Spectral Jaywalker,” in which a person—usually a woman—suddenly appears in front of vehicles and is struck, or suddenly runs out into the middle of the road and is struck. She either vanishes immediately or lies bleeding until help arrives, when she vanishes.

Perhaps related to Resurrection Mary is a ghost reported nearby in 1897. The sighting was close to St. James Sag Church and Cemetery, which is near Resurrection Cemetery and is famous for its PHANTOM MONKS. On September 30, 1897, two musicians, Professor William Looney and John Kelly, decided to stay the night in a small building in the area after finishing their performance. At about 2 A.M., Looney was awakened by the sound of hooves on the gravel road of what is now Archer Avenue. He looked out his window and saw a carriage stop at the entrance and turn around. A girl in a white robe appeared out of nowhere and got inside. As the carriage passed the archway, everything vanished.

“Rez Mary,” as she is known to many locals, inspired the composition of a song, “The Ballad of Resurrection Mary.”

Further Reading:

  • Bielski, Ursula. Chicago Haunts. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 1998.
  • Scott, Beth, and Michael Norman. Haunted Heartland. New York: Warner Books, 1985.
  • “St. James Sag Church and Cemetery.” Ghost Research Society. Available on-line. URL: https://www.ghostresearch. org/ sites/sagbridge/. Downloaded on July 20, 1999.
  • Taylor, Troy. Haunted Illinois. Alton, Ill.: Whitechapel Pro ductions Press, 1999.

The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley  – September 1, 2007

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