The distance that the dead have gone
Does not at first appear--
Their coming back seems possible
For many an ardent year.
- Emily Dickinson
The year is 1939...
the location is a small town just outside of Chicago - Justice, Illinois...the venue is the O'Henry Ballroom.
A young man, Jerry Palus, is attending a dance. Everyone around him is dancing and having a good time...but Jerry is lonely and considering leaving the dance altogether...until he spots her.
Suddenly, across the room, a young, extremely beautiful girl seems to appear from out of nowhere. She has long, flowing blonde locks and piercing blue eyes...she looks ravishing in her perfect white party dress. He has seen her at these dances many times before, but has never actually spoken to her. Finally, he summons the courage to ask her to dance. And she, of course, says yes. He leads her out to the dance floor and clasps her hands in his...and immediately he can't help but notice how cold her skin is to the touch - almost icy.
The couple spends the next several hours dancing together...and Jerry attempts to make light conversation from time to time, but the girl seems oddly distant and doesn't say much besides "yes" and "no". Nonetheless, as the night draws to a close, he leans in and gives her a light kiss on the lips...and he discovers, much to his surprise, that her lips, too, are also icy cold and clammy.
When Palus offers her a ride home, she accepts. As they pull away from the ballroom in his shiny black sedan, though, she directs him to drive along Archer Avenue...miles out of the way from where she'd mentioned she lived. He is confused by her request, but in no hurry, so he follows her instructions. A couple miles down the road, they approach the gates to Resurrection Cemetery. She excitedly demands that he pull over at once. Still confused, Jerry pulls his car alongside the road. The beautiful girl then turns quickly in her seat to face him and says softly, "This is where I have to get out...but where I'm going, you can't follow." Jerry, more bewildered than ever, watches as she runs toward the gates of Resurrection Cemetery...and vanishes just as she reaches them...right before his eyes!
Hundreds of people have seen her. Dozens have danced with her. A handful claim they've kissed her.
She walks along Archer Avenue in Justice, Illinois. Sometimes she's seen lying in a heap along the border of a cemetery or walking or dancing within its gates. Her name is Resurrection Mary, and her story has frightened, fascinated, and confounded local residents of Chicago and Justice for the past 70-plus years.
It was in the mid-1930's that passersby first began seeing a young, blonde girl in a white dress near a large Catholic cemetery constructed in 1907 - Resurrection Cemetery.
The girl would always appear to be real at first...but she would eventually vanish into thin air.
Soon, the strange encounters with this young woman moved further away from Resurrection Cemetery and began happening closer to the O'Henry Ballroom (now known as the Willowbrook Ballroom), a few miles down the road.
On more than one occasion - and in the exact same manner as it had happened with Jerry Palus - an eager young man would encounter the girl at the very same ballroom, dance with her for awhile, and then offer her a ride home.
And each time this happened, she would accept the invitation and then offer vague directions to her escort which took them north on Archer Avenue...and when the car would reach the gates of Resurrection Cemetery, the young woman would always vanish.
More commonly, though, motorists would see her lying alongside Archer Avenue in front of the cemetery, sometimes in the road itself, and a few times, it was said, that she tried to jump onto the running boards of passing vehicles. Some would offer her a ride and watch as she vanished from the car. All, however, could describe the girl in detail and nearly every single description precisely matched the previous accounts...from the light blonde hair to the blue eyes to the perfect white party dress. And a few more attentive witnesses would sometimes add that she wore a thin shawl, dancing shoes, or that she had a small clutch purse.
Other experiences involving Mary, though, weren't so light-hearted, however. Many witnesses claimed to have hit the girl with their car when she would bolt across Archer Avenue...even hearing the sickening "thud" as they ran her over. But when they stopped to help her, she'd already disappeared. Other motorists claimed to be stunned as they watched their car pass right through the girl instead of hitting her.
The big question is...who is Resurrection Mary? (Or, at least, who was she when she was alive still?) Most agree that she was very likely a young girl in her late teens to early twenties who was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver as she was hitchhiking along Archer Avenue in the mid 1930's.
Many believe she was originally coming from a dance at the O'Henry Ballroom, where she'd had a fight with her boyfriend. But instead of letting him drive her home, she opted to brave the winter cold and walk home alone. She was struck shortly thereafter and left in the road to die. Her parents buried her in Resurrection Cemetery wearing her favorite white party dress and dancing shoes.
There have been several suggestions as to who Mary actually was when she was alive. Some speculate that she could have been a woman named Mary Bregovy, who is buried in Resurrection Cemetery and was killed in an auto accident in 1934. Unfortunately, though, there are too many factors that might preclude this from being true. The accident in which she was killed took place on Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago. The car that she was riding in collided with an elevated train support and she was thrown through the windshield. (This is quite a stretch from being killed by a hit-and-run driver on Archer Avenue in Justice, IL.) Also, according to photographs, Bregovy had short, dark hair - unlike the beautiful blonde locks of our fair-skinned, often-seen ghost. Moreover, the undertaker who prepared Mary Bregovy for her funeral, John Satala, recalled that she was buried in an orchid-colored dress, not the legendary white one.
So, if Resurrection Mary was not Mary Bregovy, who was she? A number of people claim that Resurrection Mary was actually the ghost of a young woman named Mary Miskowski, who was killed crossing the street one night in October 1930 on her way to a costume party. Several individuals who remember Miskowski being their babysitter when they were young believe it to be her...but really have no evidence to support their claims other than their distant memories of her. Still others believe Resurrection Mary to be the ghost of a 12 year-old Polish girl named Anna Norkus, who called herself Marija (Mary) in devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. She loved to dance and begged her father to take her to the O'Henry Ballroom as a birthday present. On the way home, however, they were in a car accident...an accident which killed Marija. (Note: Nearly all of Resurrection Mary's numerous "dance partners" have said that they believed the girl they danced with to be closer to 18 or 20, rather than to 12 years old.)
But if Mary is not one of the aforementioned women, then who can she be?
Some disregard her story out of hand, believing that she is nothing more than an "urban legend"... Chicago's version of the "vanishing hitchhiker". And while the story of Resurrection Mary does bear some resemblance to that tale, the folklorists have forgotten one important detail...Mary's story has credible eyewitness accounts, places, times, and dates. Many of these reports are not just stories that have been passed from person to person. In fact, some of the encounters with Mary have been chillingly up close and personal and remain unexplained to this day.
Jerry Palus, the first young man to have an up close and personal encounter with Resurrection Mary, on that chilly night back in 1939, made an attempt to discover her identity AFTER she vanished in front of the graveyard. Jerry remembered the address that she'd given him before they left the dance. So, the day after the dance, he decided to go to that house across town and see if she was there...and maybe straighten out what had happened the night before. The woman who answered the door, however, told him that he couldn't possibly have been with her daughter the night before...because she had been dead for several years. Palus, though, was able to correctly identify the girl from a family portrait which the woman had above her fireplace. (Palus has, over the years, since forgotten the address and identity of the girl in the picture. Nonetheless, despite this memory lapse, Palus' story remains the most credible of all of the Resurrection Mary encounters.)
There have been countless reported sightings of Resurrection Mary over the last 70-plus years. Most of the sightings occurred during the cold winter months, like the account passed on by a Chicago-area cab driver. The cabbie in question picked up a girl who was walking along Archer Avenue one night in 1941. It was very cold outside, but he noted that she only had a thin shawl over her shoulders...her blonde, wet hair was plastered to her face and she looked almost blue in color. She hopped into the cab and told him that she needed to get home very quickly, telling him to drive along Archer Avenue, then sat back in her seat and wrapped her shawl tightly around herself as she stared out the window silently. The cabbie noticed in his mirror that the girl was shivering so he turned up the heater. He attempted to comment on the weather, to make conversation, but she didn't answer him. He wondered if she might be a little drunk since she was acting so very odd. Finally, the girl spoke...she shouted at him, ordering him to pull over to the side of the road, stating this is where she needed to get out. The driver jerked the steering wheel to the right and stopped in an open area in front of two large, metal gates. He looked up and realized where they had stopped. "You can't get out here," he said to the young woman, "this is a cemetery!"
When he looked into the rearview mirror, though, he realized he was in the cab alone...the girl was no longer in the backseat. He never heard the back door open or close...the beautiful girl simply disappeared.
In 1973, Mary was seen at least twice at a nightclub named Harlow's on the southwest side of Chicago...dancing alone in a faded white dress. Despite the fact that bouncers checked the I.D.'s of everyone who came through the door, no one ever saw the girl enter or leave.
Later that same year, an annoyed cab driver entered Chet's Melody Lounge, located on Archer Ave. across from the gates to Resurrection Cemetery, looking for a girl that had exited his cab without paying. The young blonde woman that he reportedly picked up was nowhere to be seen. The manager explained that no blonde woman had entered the bar.
And during the middle 1970's to the middle 1980's, the number of Mary sightings increased drastically. Hundreds of people, from all different walks of life, reported picking her up and giving her a ride...only to have her vanish moments later. (It was during this time that Resurrection Cemetery underwent some major renovations - and perhaps this caused Mary's state of heightened restlessness.)
On Tuesday night, August 10, 1976, the Justice Police Department received a phone call from a man who stated he was driving past the cemetery gates when he saw a girl locked inside, gripping onto the bars and crying. It was going on 10:30 PM when Sgt. Pat Homa of the Justice Police got to the scene. He looked for the girl, flashing his spotlight in the general area and calling out to her on his loud-speaker, but to no avail. However, when shining his flashlight around the gates, he discovered that two of the bars in the gate had been pulled apart and bent at sharp angles. As he looked closely, imbedded in the metal he found the impressions of handprints imbedded with blackened scorch marks. On the surface of the green patina of the bronze bars, the scorch marks looked remarkably like skin texture. (These marks were then shown to various metallurgists, copper, and bronze experts, but nobody could explain how the bars could have been bent, nor how such detailed prints could have been embedded within them.)
The news of these small handprints spread like wildfire...and curiosity-seekers came from all over the area to see them. In an effort to discourage the crowds, cemetery officials attempted to remove the marks with a blowtorch, but in turn made them look even worse.
Resurrection Cemetery emphatically denied the supernatural version of what might have happened to the bars. They instead claimed that a truck had backed into the gates while a city utility crew was doing some sewer work at the cemetery, and that the workers had tried to fix the bars by heating them with a blowtorch and then bending them.
The imprint in the metal, they attempted to explain, was from a workman trying to push them together again.
While this explanation was quite convenient, it did not explain why the marks of small fingers were so clearly visible in the metal.
The bars were eventually removed to discourage onlookers, but taking them out had the opposite effect of that which was intended, and soon people began asking what the cemetery had to hide. The events allegedly embarrassed local officials, so they demanded that the bars be put back into place. Once they were returned to the gate, they were straightened and painted over with green paint so that the blackened area would match the other bars. Interestingly though, the scorched areas continued to defy all attempts to cover them...the twisted spots and the handprints remained obvious until just recently, when the bars were finally removed for good.
And things get stranger from there.
One heavily reported sighting happened on August 12, 1976. Cook County police officers investigated an emergency CB call about an apparent hit and run victim. The officers discovered a young female motorist shaken and in tears, CB microphone still in hand, and asked her where the body was that she had allegedly discovered beside the road. She pointed to a wet grassy area and the policemen could plainly see an impression in the grass that matched the shape of a human body. The girl swore that just as the police car approached the scene, the body on the side of the road vanished!
In 1978, the month of May produced many sightings of Resurrection Mary as well. A young couple was driving down Archer Ave. when a young girl suddenly darted out in the road in front of their car. The driver swerved to avoid her, but knew when he hit the brakes that it was too late. As they braced for impact, the car passed right through the girl standing in the road! She then turned and ran into Resurrection Cemetery...walking right through the bars in the gate!
On another occasion that month, a man was on his way to work in the early morning hours and spotted the body of a young girl lying directly in front of the cemetery gates. He stopped his truck and got out, quickly discovering that she was apparently badly injured, but still alive. He jumped back into his truck and sped to the nearby police station, where he summoned an ambulance and then hurried back to the cemetery. When he arrived back, though, the body was gone...but its outline was still visible on the grey-black, dew-covered pavement.
Reprinted from the Suburban Trib, January 31, 1979 and written by Bill Geist:
"It was Thursday night - would have been two weeks ago - and I was lost, basically," says Ralph, a cab driver.
"I'd dropped this big spender way the hell down in Palos Heights or Hills or someplace like that and was trying to make my way back to the toll way. I'd just turned on to Archer, down there where it's still a lonely road, especially at midnight.
"And there she was. She was standing there with no coat on by the entrance to this little shopping center. No coat! And it was one of those real cold ones, too.
"She didn't put out her thumb or nothing like that. She just looked at my cab. Of course, I stopped. I figured maybe she had car trouble or something.
"She hopped right in the front seat. She had on this fancy kind of white dress, like she'd just been to a wedding or something, and those new kind of disco-type shoes, with the straps and that.
"She was a looker. A blonde. I didn't have ideas or like that; she was young enough to be my daughter - 21 tops.
"I asked her where she was going and she said she had to get home. I asked her what was wrong, if she'd had car trouble or what but she really didn't answer me. She was fuzzy. Maybe she'd had a couple of drinks or something or was just tired. I don't know.
"Oh, the only thing she did say really was 'The snow came early this year' or 'The snows came early this year' or like that. Other than that she just nodded when I asked sometimes if we were supposed to just keep going up Archer. She was just looking out the window at the snow and the trees and that. Her mind was a million miles away. Maybe she smoked something or something. Who knows?
"A couple miles up Archer there, she jumped with a start like a horse and said 'Here! Here!' I hit the brakes.
I looked around and didn't see no kind of house. 'Where?' I said. And then she sticks out her arm and points across the road to my left and says 'There!'
"And that's when it happened.
"I looked to my left, like this, at this little shack. And when I turned she was gone.
"And the car door never opened. May the good Lord strike me dead, it never opened."
He was understandably upset - and not just about being stiffed for the fare - both when he told me the story over the phone and when he repeated it in person.
He wouldn't tell me his last name. He wouldn't give me his telephone number or let me see the car he was going to leave in. "You might trace my phone or my plates and put my name in the paper and make me look like a maniac or an idiot," he said. "No way. I'll call you."
He says he is neither an idiot nor a maniac, but rather "a typical 52-year-old working guy, a veteran, father, Little League baseball coach, churchgoer, the whole shot."
The simple explanation, Ralph, is that you picked up the Chicago area's preeminent ghost: Resurrection Mary.
On the last weekend in August 1980, Mary was seen by dozens of people, including the Deacon of the Greek Church located on Archer Avenue. Many of witnesses contacted the Justice police department and reported their sightings. Squad cars were dispatched to the various locales of the sightings, and although the young woman was not actually present when the police arrived, they did find the witnesses who had called in the sightings. Many of them flagged down the officers to tell them just what they'd seen.
On September 5th of that same year, a young man had just left a softball game and was driving down Archer Avenue. As he passed the Red Barrel Restaurant, he spotted a young woman standing on the side of the road in a white dress. He stopped the car and offered her a ride...she accepted, asking that he take her down Archer. He tried to draw her into conversation, even joking that she looked like "Resurrection Mary", but she was not interested in talking. He asked her several times to stop for a drink with him, but she never replied. He was driving past the cemetery, never having stopped or even slowed down, when he looked over and saw that the girl was gone...she'd simply vanished!
Just before Christmas of 1980, Mary was seen dancing down Archer Avenue. Two young men saw her and were instantly aware that there was something very unusual going on. They stood and watched her dancing near them, when they began to pick up the strangest sensations. There were other people walking by who didn't even seem to notice the girl. The boys ran home and told their father what they had witnessed. They'd never heard of Resurrection Mary, but their father recognized her by the description they provided.
In October 1989, two women were driving past Resurrection Cemetery when a girl in a white dress ran out in front of their car. The driver slammed on the brakes, sure that she was going to hit her - but there was no impact. Neither of the women could explain where the girl had gone.
During the 1990's, reports of Resurrection Mary declined, but they never really stopped altogether. Many of the roadside encounters began happening near a place called Chet's Melody Lounge, which is located across the road and a little south of the cemetery gates. It's open into the early morning hours, so passersby often stop in and make inquiries to patrons and staff about a young girl who seemed to vanish before their eyes right outside the lounge. A number of shaken drivers have stumbled into the bar after these strange encounters...like a cab driver did early one morning. He claimed that his fare, a young woman, jumped out of the back seat of his cab without paying. He watched her run off into Chet's and decided to follow her inside to collect his money. He told the bartender that an attractive blonde had skipped out on her fare - but imagine his surprise when staff members told him that no young blonde woman had come in that night!
Another bizarre encounter involving Chet's took place in the summer of 1996 when the owner of the lounge, the late Chet Prusinski, was leaving the bar at around four in the morning. A man came running inside and told Chet that he needed to use the telephone, explaining excitedly that he had just run over a girl on Archer and then he couldn't find her body. Chet was skeptical about the man's story...until a truck driver came in a few moments later and confirmed that he, too, had witnessed the whole thing. He had also seen the girl but stated that she had vanished "like a ghost". The police investigated but, not surprisingly, they found no trace of her.
In July 2001, a young man was driving with his girlfriend, heading north along Archer Avenue, when they spotted a young girl walking alongside the road. The driver's girlfriend was from Lithuania and spoke only broken English. She had never heard about the legend of Resurrection Mary when this bizarre incident occurred which makes her account even more believable.
As the couple drove past Resurrection Cemetery, both of them saw a blonde girl wearing a white gown that blew crisply in the wind. After the sighting registered in his mind, the man who was driving the car quickly relayed the legend of Mary to his girlfriend, and then called his sister on his cell phone, marking the exact moment of the sighting. After he explained to his girlfriend what they had just seen, she insisted that they go back for another look. He turned his car back around and headed in the direction they had from which they had just come, but there was no sign of the woman in the white dress. Once more, the couple turned back around and headed north again. Suddenly, the figure seemed to lurch out at them from alongside the roadway. The driver stated that the girl seemed to simply appear out of nowhere and then stood alongside the shoulder of the road, three to five feet from the pavement, facing toward their vehicle.
"She wasn't looking at us," he later recalled, "she was just staring to the south. She looked somewhat young with the blankest expression on her face that I have ever seen." The man went on to say, "After that July, I refuse to drive by the cemetery alone. I take another route if I ever have to go that way."
The story of Resurrection Mary seems to be more than just a fable.
Too many people, young and old, from all walks of life, have not only claimed to have seen her, but they've also talked to her, they've touched her - they've even kissed her.
Their stories are too similar to ignore and descriptions of Mary are too much alike to just dismiss them out of hand as local folklore.
So where does that leave us?
If we can't rationalize Resurrection Mary away as a myth, then what is she?
We'll probably never know who Mary actually was, nor where her actual headstone lies.
Many people remain skeptical about what to believe, but, nonetheless, sightings of her keep occurring to this very day and scores of people continue to flock to Resurrection Cemetery every day of the week, in search of her headstone - or to catch a glimpse of her themselves.
Truly, though, it doesn't really matter if you are one of those people who believe in her wholeheartedly, or if you insist on dismissing her as just another local legend.
Because the beautiful young blonde girl who walks along Archer Avenue and dances at the local ballroom and disappears from vehicles and skips out on cab fare, will continue to live on...whether we actually believe in her or not.