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Mysterious America

Calvary Cemetery and Seaweed Charlie

Compared to Chicagoland’s more notorious haunts, Evanston’s Calvary Cemetery is barely a footnote, yet it is not so obscure as to escape the pages of most books on Chicago and Illinois ghost lore. This picturesque resting ground along the shore of Lake Michigan is home to a tale too strange to resist even brief mention. It is the tale of “the Aviator,” or as he is sometimes affectionately known, “Seaweed Charlie.”

The Aviator’s ghost story appears in Ursula Bielski’s Chicago Haunts (1998), Jo-Anne Christensen’s Ghost Stories of Illinois (2000), Richard T. Crowe’s Chicago’s Street Guide to the Supernatural (2000, 2001), and Troy Taylor’s Haunted Illinois (2004).

Richard T. Crowe, as always, has done impeccable research on the tale and found its likely origin in a real event. Unlike most hauntings, that would make the story of Evanston’s “Aviator” grounded in historical fact as well as geography and folklore.

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Mysterious America

Archer Woods Cemetery’s Wailing Woman

Archer Woods Cemetery in Justice, Illinois sits near Chicagoland’s infamous Archer Avenue and shares many similarities with the more infamous Resurrection Cemetery. Both feature a tavern across the street, and both host the ghost of a woman in white. Some researchers believe this is no accident―that the two locations are inexorably linked in the beyond.

Ursula Bielski is one of the few credible folklorists to have examined this site in detail. As she pointed out in Chicago Haunts (1998), Archer Woods is easily passed over in favor of the more famous haunts that dot the area.

In the past, she assured her readers, Archer Woods Cemetery was one of the most notorious of the local cemeteries as a result of its resident specter, a lonely, sobbing woman. Like the sobbing woman of Bachelor’s Grove, it is likely that this spirit is in search of a lost child or lover. These apparitions are so common that they warranted their own category in Trent Brandon’s Book of Ghosts (2003).

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Mysterious America

Phantom Equestrians of 95th and Kean Avenue

A variety of eyewitnesses report ghostly apparitions of equestrians on horseback at the intersection of 95th and Kean Avenue along the Palos Trail.

At the westernmost edge of Hickory Hills, Illinois along 95th Street lies an inconspicuous intersection allegedly haunted by some unusual phantoms. According to a variety of eyewitnesses, ghostly apparitions of equestrians on horseback have been spotted at the intersection of 95th and Kean Avenue near Hidden Pond Woods.

The Palos Trail winds its way through these woods between Rout 20 and Kean Avenue, and popular opinion holds that a number of horses and their riders have been killed trying to cross 95th Street. Today, the area is not as secluded as it was in the 1970s when motorists began to see the phantoms.

Subdivisions are now tightly bunched along the east side of Kean, marking the boundary of the park district, but on one particular night in 1979, a couple named Dennis and Sandy told Richard Crowe, the intersection was dark, remote, and shrouded in fog.

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Mysterious America

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

A 19th-Century ghost story forms the backdrop to unusual sightings at this 168-year-old Catholic church southwest of Chicago.

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.

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Mysterious America

The Many Mysteries of Bachelor’s Grove

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery has been an enigma of southwestern suburban Chicago for over four decades. Like most such locations, it started out with a mundane existence. Over a century ago, picnickers dressed in their Sunday best lounged under oak trees in the park-like atmosphere of the cemetery. Two of the grove’s neighbors heated their small homes with coal burning stoves and drew water out of their brick wells, while horse drawn buggies trotted down the dirt road. It was a much different scene from today.

Much of the origins of Bachelor’s Grove have been obscured by the passage of time. Even its name is a mystery. Some say it was named after a group of single men who settled in the area around the 1830s, but a family named Batchelder already owned the land. According to Ursula Bielski, author of Chicago Haunts, the cemetery itself was originally named Everdon’s. Its first burial was in 1844, and the cemetery eventually contained 82 plots.

In the early half of the 20th Century, the Midlothian Turnpike ran past the cemetery, over the stream, and beyond. Today, the broken road appears to end at the cemetery gates, but closer inspection of a long ridge across from the stream reveals a roadbed that has been nearly reclaimed by the forest. The road was closed in the 1960s. Locals say that was when the trouble began.

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Mysterious America

Native American Lore of Healing Waters Park

An unassuming park in the far southwest Chicago suburbs holds the last vestige of the area’s prehistory.

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.

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Mysterious America

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Archer Avenue

Take a trip down Chicago’s most notorious road… if you dare.

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.