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Mysterious America

German Church Road and the Grimes Sisters Tragedy

When the frozen, nude bodies of teenagers Barbara and Patricia Grimes were discovered along a remote roadside in 1957, it ignited one of Chicagoland’s most famous mysteries. But was it murder?

German Church is a nondescript avenue running between Willow Springs Road and County Line Road, just a half-mile north of Healing Waters Park. The area is sparsely populated and two streams, Flag and Devil’s Creek, gently wind their way through the nearby woods. During the 1950s, not very many people had a reason to venture out to that particular edge of Cook County, but it was along an isolated stretch of German Church Road near Devil’s Creek on a cold day in January 1957 when a passing motorist discovered the remains of Barbara and Patricia Grimes.

The two sisters had been missing for three weeks before a Hinsdale man named Leonard Prescott noticed their nude bodies lying on the outside of the guard rail just before the culvert leading down to Devil’s Creek. Upon identifying the girl’s remains, their father, a truck driver named Joseph, exclaimed, “I tried to tell the police my daughters didn’t run away, but they wouldn’t listen to me.”

It was the end of a long and exhaustive search, but only the beginning of a case that would shock and fascinate Chicago for decades to come. Many writers have declared that moment to be the end of innocence, but it was, in fact, only one in a series of similar incidents stretching back a decade.

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Photography

To Mourn is a Virtue

This graceful neoclassical bronze door opens to the Duda mausoleum in Bohemian National Cemetery, 5255 N. Pulaski Road in Chicago, Illinois. Joseph Frank (1870-1950) and Albine T. Wolf (1872-1931) Duda were born in Bohemia (now the Czech Republic) and emigrated to the United States. Joseph was a clothier in Chicago until his retirement. The couple had three children.

Duda
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Mysterious America Reviews

Chicago Haunted Handbook Features a Few Surprises

You would be wrong if you thought nothing more could be written about Chicago ghostlore. Chicago Haunted Handbook: 99 Ghostly Places You Can Visit in and Around the Windy City (2013) by Jeff Morris and Vince Sheilds discovered new gems among well-worn territory. Though a little dated at this point, it still offers enough tales to delight readers.

Published by Clerisy Press, Chicago Haunted Handbook is part of the “America’s Haunted Road Trip” series. At 226 pages and with a retail price of $15.95, this book invites you to, “Join in Chicago’s Grandest Ghost Hunt.” It features 99 haunted places, along with four “places that didn’t quite make the book.” The locations are divided into five sections: Cemeteries; Bars and Restaurants; Roads and Bridges; Parks; and Museums, Theaters, Hotels, and other Buildings.

The authors are an unlikely pair. Jeff Morris, from Cincinnati, Ohio, is an experienced author with several titles under his belt. Vince Sheilds was born in Elgin in 1984 and moved to Chicago in 2006, where he formed the Chicago Paranormal Investigators.

I’ve read just about every book on Illinois ghostlore, so I look at them with a discerning eye. Chicago Haunted Handbook has several good qualities that make it worth owning. First, it features several locations seldom covered by other books. The old Huntley Grease Factory is my favorite, but the Polish Museum of America, Joliet Potter’s Field, Tyrell Road Cemetery, and The Drinkingbird, are all relatively new.

Second, the book contains an appendix of day tripping “mini tours.” Each features a couple of different stops (or days), with a different location for each stop. There is even a haunted pub crawl and a gangster tour. I enjoy extras like this, especially since it allows you to explore these places at your own pace (as opposed to going on a bus tour).

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Photography

The Pilgrim

Designed by Albin Polasek, former head of the Art Institute of Chicago’s sculpture department, “The Pilgrim” is a bronze statue, now stained seaweed green, of an elderly woman walking toward the mausoleum belonging to the Stejskal-Buchal family in Bohemian National Cemetery, at 5255 N. Pulaski Road in Chicago, Illinois. It’s now sometimes simply called “Death” or “Walking Death.”

The Pilgrim IV
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Photography

The Mother

Designed by Albin Polasek, former head of the Art Institute of Chicago’s sculpture department, “Mother” depicts a woman sheltering two children, while her young boy holds an upright torch. It stands outside a Renaissance Revival-style crematorium and columbarium in Bohemian National Cemetery, at 5255 N. Pulaski Road in Chicago, Illinois, and was erected in 1927. Polasek also designed another bronze sculpture in this cemetery called “The Pilgrim.”

Mother
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Photography

Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois

Bohemian National Cemetery, at 5255 N. Pulaski Road in Chicago, Illinois, was created in 1877 by Chicago’s ethnic Czech community, and has since expanded to 126 acres. Approximately 120,000 of the city’s former residents are buried here, including victims of the SS Eastland shipwreck. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006.

Bohemian Civil War Memorial

Erected in 1892, this bronze statue of a private in the Union Army holding an American flag is dedicated to the 18 Civil War veterans buried in Bohemian National Cemetery. It was designed by sculptor Joseph Klir and called the Bohemian Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Its inscription reads “Pro Novou Vlast”, or “for the new country”. Like many immigrant groups, Czechs fought on both sides, though primarily for the North.

Kropacek

This beautiful neoclassical granite statue of a cloaked woman is a tribute to Vincencie Kropacek (1863-1944) and her husband, Jan Kropacek (1860-1906). The woman stands next to a pedestal with a vase or urn. She appears to be holding reeds or palms in her right hand.

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Mysterious America

Witchcraft in Chicago’s Stockyards

The strange case of Mary Vogel and Augusta Wilke is a fascinating glimpse into a WW1-era Chicago neighborhood.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Chicago was known as a hub for the meat packing industry. Thousands of immigrants, particularly from Eastern Europe, flooded into the southwest side Back of the Yards neighborhood to work at the Union Stock Yards. Upton Sinclair famously wrote about this area in his 1906 novel The Jungle.

These immigrants, mainly Bohemians, Moravians, and Slovakians, brought their folk beliefs with them when they came to the Windy City, including a strong belief in witchcraft. We will never know how many accusations, confrontations, and strained relationships this belief caused, but occasionally an accusation of witchcraft made its way to the courthouse and into the press.

Victor Sleeth was an assistant superintendent for Armour & Co., the meatpacking company that defined Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood. Armour & Co. opened in Chicago in 1867 and by 1910 employed over 8,700 people at the Union Stockyards.

Victor’s 22-year-old wife, Mary, had contracted consumption. She was in the advanced stages of the disease when her sister, 21-year-old Augusta Wilke, an assistant foreman at Armour & Co., called in a 50-year-old nurse named Mary Vogel.

Vogel attended to Mary Sleeth for a month, until Mary died on February 2, 1919. On Monday, February 24, William L. Sehlke, a masseur and husband to Mary Vogel’s other sister, Martha, went to the Stockyards police to ask for warrants for the arrest of Mary Vogel and Augusta Wilke.