Cuba Road sits nestled between the towns of Lake Zurich and Barrington, Illinois in Lake County, northwest of Chicago. 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. 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.”
Along Cuba Road, a few yards west of Route 59, sits the most frequently visited spot along Cuba Road: White Memorial Cemetery. There would, arguably, be no other legends along the road if it wasn’t for the alluring power of this cemetery, which was the first to attract the attention of curiosity seekers and paranormal enthusiasts alike. Dale Kaczmarek called White Cemetery, “the most haunted location on the north side.”
White Cemetery is one of the oldest burial grounds in Lake County. It dates back to 1820, when Barrington’s mighty mansions were nothing more than farmer’s fields or untamed wilderness. Like many other cemeteries in Illinois, this one developed a reputation during the 1960s as a place to get drunk, smoke pot, and “just be.” Not all the activity at the cemetery was harmless fun, however. According to Dale Kaczmarek, in 1968 vandals spray painted swastikas on many of the headstones and knocked down many more.
The vandalism led to the cemetery being locked up at night, but as it can be seen clearly from the road, that hasn’t prevented the curious from trying to catch a glimpse of the mysterious, white balls of light that are said to hover around the burial ground. In More Chicago Haunts, Ursula Bielski claimed that “luminescent figures” have occasionally accompanied these spook lights.
Strange things continue to happen there to this day. In April 1993, vandals carried a headstone out of White Cemetery and left it on Cuba Road. A passing car struck the stone, but the driver wasn’t injured. In the summer of 2001, I found a pile of chicken bones in the cemetery, and the previous spring several trespassers overturned and broke several gravestones. The ongoing vandalism led Cuba Township officials to take extreme measures to protect the cemetery.
“The nuisance has gotten so bad that township officials have permanently locked the gates,” the Chicago Tribune reported. “The only people allowed in are family members, who are given a gate key.” Area residents have also voiced their frustration. “Every time we get some press, some wacko climbs in his car convinced he can see a ghost at midnight,” Tom Gooch, a longtime resident of Barrington, told the Tribune.
The phantom cars and passengers reported along the section of Cuba Road between Route 59 and Northwest Highway are more difficult to dismiss. Some motorists have reported glancing in their rearview mirror, only to be startled by the appearance of a burly man dressed in 1920s attire, puffing on a Cuban cigar. Others swear they have been tailgated by a truck or a black car that shines its headlights into their rear windshield. Rumors that Cuba Road and Lake County were a vacation destination for the likes of Al Capone are the stage upon which stories of these vanishing cars are set.
For instance, a woman named Julie told author Scott Markus that around ten years ago an eighteen-wheeler followed her down Cuba Road for a short distance before it abruptly disappeared. Interpreting her experience in the context of Prohibition era gangsterism, Markus speculated, “If one were to attempt to link this back to a Mafia presence, one theory could be bootlegging trucks shipping goods to a safe storage area away from the tough Chicago police.” The leap from vanishing automobile to the Sopranos is a natural one for an active imagination steeped in the particular history of this part of Illinois.
Unusual activity has also been reported at a railroad crossing near the intersection of Cuba Road and Route 14, approximately a mile and a half west of White Cemetery. Sometimes, motorists will notice an oncoming train and stop in front of the warning gates. The gates do not come down, however, and the train never arrives. Other times, the warning gates will come down, but the train never comes. This phenomenon could be explained by malfunctioning warning signals, if not for the haunting train whistle that is said to accompany the strange events.
Past the railroad tracks, Cuba Road makes a few haphazard turns and ends at Plumtree Road. From Rand to Northwest Highway, Cuba Road is five miles of asphalt burned into the folk-consciousness of Illinois. For youths of northern Cook County, this road has become just as much a rite of passage as Archer Avenue 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).
Dale Kaczmarek, Windy City Ghosts: An Essential Guide to the Haunted History of Chicago (Oak Lawn: Ghost Research Society Press, 2005).
Chicago Tribune (Chicago) 2 April 1993.
Chicago Tribune (Chicago) 23 May 2000.
Chicago Tribune (Chicago) 7 November 2005.
Scott Markus, Voices from the Chicago Grave: They’re Calling. Will You Answer? (Holt: Thunder Bay Press, 2008).