Resurrection Mary: The Eerie Tale of Chicago's Most Famous Ghost

They say her spirit dances past the cemetery at night, dressed entirely in white.

resurrection cemetery
  • Photo Credit: Richie Diesterheft / Flickr (CC)

Just outside of Chicago, Archer Avenue leads motorists past Resurrection Cemetery, the final resting spot of a young woman killed in the 1930s. Many believe the same young woman mysteriously returns to the cemetery night after night, dancing and hitchhiking her way back down the avenue. Of all of Chicago’s ghost stories, this one has been told and retold for over 80 years.

Resurrection Mary, as she is called, was reportedly first sighted in 1939, when a man named Jerry Palus met a beautiful young blonde woman in a white dress at a local dance hall. After dancing together all night, Jerry offered the beautiful stranger a ride home. She directed him down Archer Avenue, stopping in front of Resurrection Cemetery, where she vanished before reaching the front gates.

resurrection graveyard
  • Resurrection Cemetery.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Decades later, tales of encounters with Resurrection Mary continued to surface. One of the most prominent sightings of the spirit was reported in the Suburban Trib in 1979. Reporter Bill Geist interviewed a man named Ralph for an article aptly titled, “Cryptic Rider Leaves Taxi Driver with the Willies.” The taxi driver requested that his last name be withheld—although he stuck by his chilling story, he didn’t want people to think he was crazy. 

Ralph explained that he had picked up a strange young woman in a white dress one evening, who had directed him down Archer Avenue. She was mostly silent, except to remark that the snows had come early this year. When she abruptly requested that he stop in front of Resurrection Cemetery, Ralph slammed on the brakes. He looked away for only a moment, when something happened that made his blood run cold: “When I turned she was gone. Vanished!  And the door never opened.  May the good Lord strike me dead, it never opened.”

Related: Lady in White: The Haunted Burial Grounds of Union Cemetery 

Throughout the years, dozens of other men came forward with eerily similar stories. They all involved an attractive blonde wearing a white party dress who would dance--and ultimately disappear near the cemetery. Some claimed to see her walking down the road, sometimes even jumping into oncoming traffic. Others would say that they stopped to give the girl a ride, and in traditional “vanishing hitchhiker” form, the white-clad woman would disappear as they neared Resurrection Cemetery—sometimes after she got out of the car, and sometimes as the driver walked around to the passenger side to open her door. 

resurrection graveyard
  • The original Oh Henry Ballroom.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The stories of the girl behind the ghost vary. The most prominent is that Mary, as she came to be called, was out one evening with a boyfriend, dancing at the Oh Henry Ballroom (now the Willowbrook Ballroom). They got into a spat, and unable to stand his company any longer, the young woman stormed out of the ballroom to walk home alone. Not long after departing the dance hall, Mary was struck by a car. The driver fled the scene, leaving her for dead. Mary’s parents later found by her body; they dressed her in a white gown and dancing shoes and buried her in Resurrection Cemetery. The young woman’s spirit then rose from the grave, wandering the cemetery grounds and haunting her favorite dancing places. Unlike other reported ghosts, it seems that this spirit does not hide from human contact—rather, she seeks it out.

The story of Resurrection Mary’s death explains another type of strange encounter that people have had with her spirit. Several people traveling down Archer Avenue have made distressed phone calls to police claiming to have discovered a young woman’s body on the side of the road, seemingly abandoned after a hit and run accident. When officers reported to the scene, the body seemed to vanish. The only sign left behind was a dent in the grass, in the shape of a human body.

Related: The Bronze Lady: The Spooky Legend of Sleepy Hollow That You've Never Heard of 

Over the years, many researchers have attempted to pin the ghost’s identity on young women named Mary that were killed in automotive accidents in the late 1920s or early 30s. One theory proposes that the disturbed spirit is Mary Bregovy, a 21-year-old woman who was killed in 1934 when the driver of the vehicle she was riding in crashed into a structure on the side of the road. Another possibility is that Resurrection Mary is the ghost of Anna Norkus, whose devotion to the Virgin Mary led her to adopt Marija (Lithuanian for Mary) as her middle name. Norkus was killed in an automobile accident in 1927, on her way home from an evening spent at the Oh Henry Ballroom.

However, Mary Bregovy was a brunette, and Anna Norkus was just shy of 13 years old—neither matching the description of a blonde in her early 20s. They also weren’t involved in hit and run accidents, leaving the true identity of Resurrection Mary a mystery.

resurrection cemetery
  • The section of the front gate allegedly burned by Mary’s touch.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Another chilling aspect of this local legend involves the cemetery itself. Resurrection Cemetery encompasses over 540 acres, making it one of the largest—and possibly most haunted—cemeteries in North America. One night, a man reported seeing a young woman who looked like she was locked in the vast cemetery. When a police officer went to go check out the scene, he didn’t see anyone there. However, the bars on the gate of the cemetery looked scorched and warped. Although authorities chalk it up to a maintenance accident with a truck, legend has it that Resurrection Mary seared the bars with her hands when she grasped them, as if trying to free herself.

Related: Beware the Black Angel of Oakland Cemetery

In any case, Mary’s story has captivated ghost-hunters for decades. Some write it off as merely an urban legend, but the consistent sightings of this mysterious figure over the years are undeniably striking.

Featured photo: Richie Diesterheft / Flickr (CC) 

Published on 2 Apr 2019