Archer Avenue

St. James of the Sag Church and Cemetery’s Phantom Monks

St. James of the Sag Church and Cemetery, abbreviated as St. James-Sag, sits on a bluff overlooking the juncture of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and the Calumet Sag Channel in southwest suburban Chicago, Illinois. Two roads, Archer Avenue (Route 171) and 107th Street also converge at this point. It is the tip of a heavily forested triangle in between Palos Hills to the east and Lemont to the southwest.

The area has a long history. According to Richard T. Crowe, there is evidence that French explorers used the bluff as an observation post as early as the 1690s, and before that, Amerindians camped there and may have lived nearby.

The church and cemetery also have distant origins. One burial can be traced to 1818, but the graveyard began to be heavily used in the 1830s when Father St. Cyr built a log chapel to accommodate the spiritual needs of the Irish canal workers. St. James-Sag was in fact the second Catholic house of worship founded in the Chicagoland area. The limestone building that exists today was built in 1850.

As the geographic focal point of the area, St. James-Sag also happens to be the supernatural focal point, if you believe the stories. In her book Chicago Haunts (1998), Ursula Bielski claims that phantom monks have been seen at the location since at least 1847.

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Native American Lore of Healing Waters Park

An old Indian trail followed the Des Plaines River along what is today Route 171, or Archer Avenue, in southwest suburban Chicago, Illinois. Across Archer Avenue on the north side of the Des Plaines River and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, nestled in a subdivision at the corner of 85th and Willow Drive, lies Healing Waters Park.

The park, which consists of a small pond and a row of boulders 92 yards in length, is the last vestige of the area’s prehistory. Long before the first Europeans set foot on the land that would one day become the village of Willow Springs, the Algonquian peoples traveled to this area to drink from springs that reportedly possessed healing powers.

The boulders that mark the location are arranged in a precise north-south direction, with a circle of smaller stones at the southern end. “A circle of boulders contained the ceremonial eternal flame kept burning by the Mascoutin Society, a religious group,” a plaque at the park explains.

The Mascoutin were a tribe of Algonquian-speaking American Indians also known as the “Fire Nation” or “Nation of Fire”, though their name literally meant “a treeless country.” They were virtually eliminated by rival tribes and disappeared from records around the Revolutionary War.

The plaque continues: “The Indians came to this place to be cared for until healed.” Although the pond and its miraculous waters remain, it is surrounded by a black fence and a sign warns visitors against attempting to collect or drink the water.

Further Reading

Jim Graczyk and Donna Boonstra, Field Guide to Illinois Hauntings (Alton: Whitechapel Productions Press, 2001).
Willow Springs Historical Society, Untitled Plaque, 1984, Healing Waters Park, Willow Springs.

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Archer Avenue

Starting with Resurrection Cemetery and ending at St. James-Sag Church, this section of Archer Avenue in southwest suburban Chicago forms the northern border of a triangle of forest preserves, lakes, trails, and burial grounds that could easily be described as the most haunted area in Illinois.

Encompassing most of the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s Palos Division, this triangle is defined by the Calumet Sag Channel to the south, Archer Avenue and the Des Plaines River to the north, and S. Kean Avenue to the west. It is a hilly, wooded area filled with over a dozen small lakes and sloughs—shallow depressions that often fill with water during the spring and summer.

At the hinterlands of civilization, this area has a well deserved reputation built upon generations of strange encounters and creative storytelling. It is home to no less than ten mystery sites involving everything from hauntings, to unsolved murders, to healing springs, to the site of America’s second nuclear reactor. These locations dot the area on either side of Archer Avenue, with the majority falling inside the boundaries of the triangle.

The unusual qualities of this southwest suburban wilderness make it a favorite for ghost tours, paranormal researchers, and curiosity seekers alike, not to mention hikers, horseback riders, fishermen, and the many thousands who come there to escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city, if only for an afternoon. The roads there are long and dark, the lakes and parks remote, and the landmarks emerge from the shadows to capture the imagination of visitors.

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Paranormal Illinois is Now Available!

Why did hundreds of people line up, in the winter of 1980, bumper to bumper in rural Illinois, to catch a glimpse of a scantily clad phantom along Kennedy Hill Road? Did you know that a ghost of a homicidal mother still haunts the road near her former home? What is the real history behind Independence Grove and Devil’s Gate? When these questions and more are answered, you will never look at the history of Illinois the same way. This painstakingly researched book leaves no ghost unturned.

This book is the culmination of years of research, and it is accessable both to casual fans of the paranormal and anyone interested in Illinois history and folklore (or, what I like to call “folk history”). It’s fun, informative, and greatly entertaining. Even though I wrote the book, I became engrossed in it as soon as I got the preview copy in my hands. It’s not every day an author can say that!

The book is divided up into four sections:

  • Archer Avenue
  • Haunted Colleges and Universities
  • Rivers and Roads
  • The Abandoned

I promise you, you have never seen most of this information before! If you think you’ve read everything there is to know about Airtight Bridge from my previous writing, you are mistaken. Paranormal Illinois is the first and only book to contain the complete story, featuring interviews and first hand accounts by people who were involved with the case. This book also contains a detailed history of the abandoned schoolhouse along Shoe Factory Road, as well as camp St. Francis and “the Gate.”

Paranormal Illinois is available at several fine retailers, as well as a local bookstore near you. If you don’t find it there, ask them to order it! The book is also available online at the following websites:

Amazon.com ($13.25 – a really good deal!)
Borders ($14.99)
Schiffer Books ($16.99)

So what are you waiting for? Order it today before it’s sold out!