Calumet Sag Channel

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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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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