clutch purse

Resurrection Mary

Resurrection Mary is likely the Chicago area's best-known ghost story. Of the "vanishing hitchhiker" type, the story takes place outside Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, Illinois, a few miles southwest of Chicago.

Since the 1930s, several men driving northeast along Archer Avenue between the Willowbrook Ballroom and Resurrection Cemetery have reported picking up a young female hitchhiker. This young woman is dressed somewhat formally and said to have light blond hair, blue eyes, and wearing a white party dress. Some more attentive drivers would sometimes add that she wore a thin shawl, or dancing shoes, and that she had a small clutch purse, and is very quiet. When the driver nears the Resurrection Cemetery, the young woman asks to be let out, whereupon she disappears into the cemetery. According to the Chicago Tribune, "full-time ghost hunter" Richard Crowe claims to have collected "three dozen . . . substantiated" reports of Mary from the 1930s to the present.

The legend

The legend says that Mary had spent the evening dancing with a boyfriend at the Oh Henry Ballroom. At some point, they got into an argument and Mary (as she has come to be called) stormed out. Even though it was a cold winter’s night, she thought she would rather face a cold walk home than another minute with her boorish lover.

She left the ballroom and started walking up Archer Avenue. She had not gotten very far when she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver, who fled the scene leaving Mary to die. Her parents found her and were grief stricken at the sight of her dead body. They buried her in Resurrection Cemetery wearing a beautiful white dancing dress and matching dancing shoes. The hit-and-run driver was never found.

The historical record

One of the many legends of Resurrection Mary is that she was a young Polish girl, perhaps named Mary Bregovy. Even though Bregovy was killed in an auto accident in 1934, it is unlikely that she was returning home from the Oh Henry (now the Willowbrook) Ballroom, as some have claimed. 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.

Other theories suggest that Resurrection Mary is the ghost of a twelve-year-old Polish girl named Anna Norkus, who called herself Marija (Mary) in devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Marija loved dancing and persuaded her father to take her to the Oh Henry Ballroom as a birthday present. However, they were both in a car accident on the way home, an accident which killed Marija. This leads some to claim that Resurrection Mary is really Anna Marija Norkus. However, Resurrection Mary's dance partners have said that their spectral date was closer to eighteen or twenty than to twelve or thirteen years old. Other researchers have turned up stories of girls named Mary who died on or near Archer Avenue, but none of them precede the first sightings in the 1930s.

Reported sightings

Jerry Palus, a Chicago southsider, reported that in 1939 he met a person who he came to believe was Resurrection Mary at the Liberty Grove and Hall at 47th and Mozart (and not the O Henry/Willowbrook Ballroom). They danced and even kissed and she asked him to drive her home along Archer Avenue, of course exiting the car and disappearing in front of Resurrection Cemetery.

In 1973, Resurrection Mary was said to have shown up at Harlow's nightclub, on Cicero Avenue on Chicago's southwest side. That same year, a cab driver came into Chet's Melody Lounge, across the street from Resurrection Cemetery, to inquire about a young lady who had left without paying her fare.

There were said to be sightings in the 1976 and 1978 which involved cars striking Mary outside Resurrection Cemetery. Mary disappears, however, before the motorist exits the car.

She has also reportedly burned her handprints into the gate at the cemetery, in August 1976, although officials at the cemetery have stated that a truck had damaged the fence and that there is no evidence of a ghost.

Reports of Mary seem to have stopped around the early 1980s when Archer Avenue underwent reconstruction. The original road that Mary is said to have walked down has since been razed and changed and believers suggest that this may have stopped the walking of her spirit. Despite this, reports still show up from people seeing the apparition walking from time to time.


Resurrection Mary's story may have inspired similar legends in other cities. One such story, written in 1965 by fifteen-year-old Cathie Harmon for a Memphis, Tennessee newspaper, was picked up by psychologist-songwriter Milton Addington, who used it as the basis for Dickey Lee's song Laurie (Strange Things Happen In This World).

Jerry Palus's story incorporates elements of "The Girl in the Lavender Dress," which was said to have occurred in the Ramapo region of upstate New York. It was known by 1939 and was the basis of a short story by Carl Carmer. In no other Resurrection Mary sighting was her appearance and contact with the witness as sustained as in the story told by Palus, which even included an address and supposed contact with her mother which should have helped locate "Mary's" home. Searches of the neighborhood Palus indicated failed to turn up any leads as to Mary's identity, nor have Chicago accident reports proven of much help. The stories of Mary and Lavender resemble the "Veela" of Slavic Folklore. It is interesting to note that Mary is identified as "a young Polish girl," although Anna Norkus was Lithuanian. Some Resurrection Mary encounters are of the classic phantom hitchhiker type, while the 1970s hit-and-run accounts bear a striking resemblance to the ghosts of Blue Bell Hill in Britain.



Further reading

  • Taylor, Troy. Haunted Illinois: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Prairie State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.

External links

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