I grew up in the northwest Chicago suburbs. Des Plaines to be exact. Home of the famous Choo Choo Restaurant, the first franchised McDonald’s, and the stomping grounds of John Wayne Gacy. When my friends and I wanted a scare, we usually trekked out to Cuba Road, a lonely avenue north of the Chicago suburbs, about a good half hour drive from my home. My sister, being four years older than I, was the first person I ever heard mention the road. She had just gotten her driver’s license, and like many teens, wanted to take her new found freedom somewhere thrilling. Cuba Road was such a place.
It was dark and remote, filled with mansions set far back from the road, and where one never knew what was lurking around the bend. There were rumors of abandoned insane asylums, phantom cars, haunted cemeteries, and a whole host of things that went bump in the night. For added danger, a few of the more fool hardy visitors turned off their headlights to see how long they could drive along the inky black avenue before common sense, and fear, got the better of them.
Cuba Road sits nestled between the towns of Lake Zurich and Barrington, both upper and upper-middle class retreats. The main portion of the road runs between Route 12 (Rand Road) and Route 14 (Northwest Highway) and is home to a veritable cornucopia of legends. White Cemetery, located along the western half of the road, has its spook lights. The avenue itself hosts a phantom car (or cars), a pair of spectral lovers, and a vanishing house. Rainbow Road, a side street off Cuba, had the distinction of being home to an abandoned mansion that some believed was either and old asylum or a getaway for gangsters. That building has since been torn down and the property is being redeveloped.
The ghost stories that seem to literally pour out of the mouths of visitors led famed author Ursula Bielski to proclaim, “For Chicagoland ghosthunters, Cuba Road is the single most notorious haunted site north of southwest suburban Bachelors Grove Cemetery.” Those familiar with the notoriety of Bachelor’s Grove understand the challenge of filling shoes of that size. Scott Markus, who has done impeccable research on the folklore of the road, dubbed it “the Archer Avenue of the North Side,” because of the variety of stories.
The road, however, is located in Lake County, and the residents there do not consider themselves a part of Chicago or its suburbs, which are located in Cook County. The Barrington zip code, 60010, is the seventh wealthiest in the entire United States, when considering areas that filed more than 20,000 tax returns in 2008. It is rivaled only by Hinsdale, Illinois, and five zip codes in New York.
The economic disparity between Barrington and a suburb like Des Plaines adds to the allure of Cuba Road, since many of its visitors have a profound sense that they are intruding in a world in which they are not entirely welcome. It is a kind of reverse “slumming.” Needless to say, area residents, who came there for the purpose of finding privacy, do not appreciate that their front yards have been turned into a paranormal playground.
Our tour of Cuba Road begins at the intersection of Rand Road, where gas stations and mini malls have grown up to nearly obscure the entrance to the notorious avenue. Turning west, the first landmark to appear is the Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve. During the day, the marsh is a popular spot for cyclists, rollerbladers, and joggers, but at night it takes on an eerie quality. It is the first sign that visitors have left the safe confines of the suburbs. There are no streetlights there, only the drone of insects and the croaking of frogs and other amphibians that inhabit the marsh. Some motorists attempting to find a shortcut through the marsh have gotten more than they bargained for along Ela Road.
Ela Road cuts through the Forest Preserve and heads north and south, intersecting with Cuba Road a little over a mile from Route 12. According to Rachel Brooks, author of Chicago Ghosts, an old barn sat along Ela Road somewhere south of Cuba. There was a swing set near the barn, she claimed, and the spirit of a young girl has been heard laughing and playing—sometimes crying—in the shadow of the dilapidated building.
While there is currently no barn along Ela Road, there have been farms there in the past, and there are abandoned entrances that once led to those farms. Like many legends, the story of the red barn of Ela Road might be the last vestige of a memory of such a place.
In Chicago Ghosts, Rachel told the story of David, a young man who, along with a few friends, decided to explore Ela Road, but found himself unnerved by the presence of the marsh, thick with trees, on either side of the street. It was dark, and it looked like the road might go on forever. Determined to turn around and continue their trek down Cuba Road, David found what he thought was a driveway.
“He pulled the car into the driveway and prepared to back out when he noticed a child’s wagon sitting in the driveway near the rear of his vehicle,” Ms. Brooks wrote. The disembodied laughter of a child followed the odd appearance of the toy, and David and his friends wasted no time in leaving.
Continuing along Cuba Road, with the Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve on the left, you will come to railroad tracks. Approximately 800 feet beyond these tracks sits Rainbow Road. Rainbow Road winds its way north through a wooded residential area populated by the wealthy and reclusive. The road turns sharply to the left, continues on, and then turns sharply right. A stone wall and a wrought iron gate formerly sat on the outside of the second curve. Behind that gate was a blacktop driveway that led deep into a grove of willow trees that obscured an old, abandoned mansion. The property was littered with buildings, a pond, a silo, and even a dog house.
According to Scott Markus, the former owners of the mansion left in a hurry. “The closets still contained clothes, and the kitchen drawers still held silverware,” he wrote in Voices from the Chicago Grave. One woman with whom he spoke described rooms full of toys, and satanic markings and animal skulls in the basement. In Haunted Illinois, Troy Taylor claimed that trespassers witnessed lights in the windows, “strange figures,” and “moaning and crying sounds.”
Some of the more imaginative visitors brought back stories that the building was a former insane asylum or sanitarium. For someone who never saw the property itself, or who had limited knowledge of local history, it would have been easy to believe these rumors. Many did, but in fact there never was an asylum along Rainbow Road, only this decaying old house, which was more than enough to ensure its place in local legend.
Sometime in the early 2000s, the local fire department intentionally burned down the old house, but according to Mr. Markus, a guest house, tennis courts, and a barn remained. The property was redeveloped as Kaitlin’s Way, “Barrington’s Finest Custom Home Neighborhood.”
In his research, Scott Markus uncovered much information about the property, including an account of a tragic accident that claimed the life of a young boy. As it turned out, the owner of the mansion was a real estate developer named Robert Krilich. Mr. Krilich employed a full time groundskeeper who looked after the property and whose family, the Cokenowers, lived in the guest house.
Scott spoke with the daughter of the groundskeeper, Sherry Cokenower-Mitchell, who related the story of how, in 1968, a stone birdbath struck and killed her brother William as he attempted to climb it. He was seven years old at the time of the accident. Apparently, the ghost of a boy in a red shirt and overalls has been seen along Cuba Road, and William’s father believes it might be the spirit of his long deceased son.
There was another abandoned home in the area, this one less notorious. It was formerly located kitty-corner from Rainbow Road, tucked in Cuba Marsh. “Kids used to drive up there before the road was closed and neck and drink beer,” a local librarian named Dorothy told Dale Kaczmarek. This house was torn down some time ago, but its driveway and foundation remain.
Cuba Road is haunted by a third house, this one of a more metaphysical nature. Somewhere between the intersection of Cuba and Route 59 (Hough Street) and White Cemetery, passing motorists have caught a glimpse of a simple farmhouse—occasionally engulfed in flames—only to have it mysteriously vanish on their return trip. In Chicago’s Street Guide to the Supernatural, Richard T. Crowe appeared to link this phantom house to the house in Cuba Marsh. “Debris from the house was still visible in the early 1980s,” he wrote. “On rainy, overcast days or stormy nights one can see… an apparition, a ghostly house where once the real physical house had existed.”
Wherever its location, the lore is pretty clear that this house burned down, possibly with its owner inside. According to both Ursula Bielski and Rachel Brooks, an elderly woman has been spotted wandering the yard. In Rachel’s account, the woman carried a lantern while she walked. “But should you try to approach the old woman or walk down the path to the house, all will be gone,” she added.
The mystery houses of Cuba Road, both real and imagined, bring to light a disturbing history of which most are unaware. While the stories of gangsters roaming the Barrington area, dumping bodies and doing the things wise guys do, inhabit in the murky past, there were times in recent memory when terror filled the homes along this secluded avenue. Murder occasionally left behind the abandoned properties that littered the road, and teens drank and fooled around oblivious to the violence that occurred right under their noses.
In early August 1972, a group of black Vietnam veterans, who had been dishonorably discharged, slaughtered millionaire Paul Corbett, his wife, step daughter, and sister-in-law in their Barrington Hills mansion around four miles southwest of Cuba Road. The gang called themselves De Mau Mau, after the Mau Mau uprising of Kenyans against British colonial rule from 1952 to 1960. On October 16, 1972, a 19 year old girl was found dead of a gunshot wound in the bedroom of her father’s home, which was located in a wooded area near the intersection of Route 59 and Cuba Road.
Still nervous over the deaths of the Corbetts, local residents panicked. According to the Chicago Tribune, Lake County Sheriff Orville Clavey “warned reporters on the scene not to approach houses because many Barrington area residents are heavily armed.” Tragically, it was that very precaution that led to the death of the teenage girl. Her family had stockpiled over a dozen rifles and handguns in their home, and the girl’s 12 year old brother found a .38 pistol, tripped, and accidentally shot and killed her.
More than one author of Chicagoland ghostlore has noted that a romantic couple has been seen strolling along the road near the cemetery. Sometimes making an appearance in the summer, sometimes in the fall, the two walk hand in hand into the sunset before ultimately vanishing on the horizon. According to Scott Markus, it is not the actual people, but their shadows that eyewitnesses spot.
One possible explanation for the vanishing lovers is that, while driving due west into the setting sun, a person’s vision can become obstructed, even blinded, by its orange glare. It is certainly possible for a couple on an afternoon walk to disappear from sight as a result of the sun reflecting in a review mirror, or shining directly through the front windshield.
From Rand to Northwest Highway, Cuba Road is five miles of asphalt that has burned its way into the folk-consciousness of Illinois. For the young adults of northern Cook County, this road has become just as much a rite of passage as Archer Avenue has been for those of the south and southwestern Chicago suburbs. Residents of unincorporated Barrington may not welcome these interlopers, but as long as local teens seek out adventure along this secluded route far from the safety of city lights, they will have to bear the notoriety.
Ursula Bielski, More Chicago Haunts: Scenes from Myth and Memory (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 2000).
Scott Markus, Voices from the Chicago Grave: They’re Calling. Will You Answer? (Holt: Thunder Bay Press, 2008).
Dale Kaczmarek, Windy City Ghosts: An Essential Guide to the Haunted History of Chicago (Oak Lawn: Ghost Research Society Press, 2005).
Rachel Brooks, Chicago Ghosts (Atglen: Schiffer Books, 2008).
Troy Taylor, Haunted Illinois: The Travel Guide to the History & Hauntings of the Prairie State (Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2004).
Richard T. Crowe, Chicago’s Street Guide to the Supernatural (Oak Park: Carolando Press, 2000, 2001).
”De Mau Mau,” Time Magazine, 30 October 1972.
Chicago Tribune (Chicago) 17 October 1972
Chicago Tribune (Chicago) 18 October 1972.