Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal

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.