The Legend of Resurrection Mary
One of Chicago’s most famous ghosts stories is that of Resurrection Mary. The legend goes that she was killed in a hit-and-run while walking home from a ball sometime in the 1920s. Ever since, the ghost of a young woman in a white gown has been seen by dozens of people along Archer Avenue. Generally, she tends to be walking down the side of the road, searching for a ride home. Those kind enough to pick up the stranded woman are surprised when she vanishes into thin air before reaching her destination. She’s duped several cab drivers, and according to one man, she somehow got out of the car without ever opening the doors. Resurrection Mary has also been spotted in popular dance halls in the Southside, and men who have danced with her usually noted her ice-cold hands. Resurrection Mary is so named for her connection to the nearby Resurrection Cemetery, where she is said to be buried. She often asks for a ride to or from the graveyard, promptly disappearing once she reaches her destination.
Death at the Oh Henry Ballroom
The story of Resurrection Mary starts at the Oh Henry Ballroom in Willow Springs, Illinois. A young woman named Mary was attending a dance with her boyfriend. Later on that night, the young couple got into a heated argument, and Mary decided to walk home. She marched on through the rain down Archer Avenue, wearing her white gown. Mary never made it home. She was struck and killed by a car between the Oh Henry Ballroom and the Resurrection Cemetery. The driver of the vehicle that hit Mary was never identified. It was assumed to be a hit-and-run, with the driver leaving Mary to die on the side of the road.
The Legend of Resurrection Mary
Since her death in the late 1920s, several people claimed to see the ghost of a young woman hitchhiking down Archer Avenue. While the stories vary, almost all of them share the same basic characteristics. The woman always appears at night, she’s always seen wearing her trademark white gown, and she’s found either on Archer Avenue, at the ballroom, or in the cemetery. According to some, she’s also been spotted around various dance halls and nightclubs around Chicago’s Southside.
Most of the stories follow a typical version of the “vanishing hitchhiker” story. She’s usually given a ride, only to disappear upon reaching her destination. Due to the number of sightings and the credibility of those who claimed to have seen her, Resurrection Mary is said to be one of Chicago’s most famous ghosts.
The first person who claimed to encounter Resurrection Mary was a man named Jerry Palus. In 1939, Jerry was at a popular dance hall on the Southside, when he was lovestruck by a young blonde woman. He approached her, and the two hit it off and spent the night dancing away. They even shared a kiss. But something was off. According to Jerry, her hands were as cold as ice. He described her as having “cold hands but a warm heart.”
Closing time came around, and Jerry offered the woman a ride home, as she said she lived in the Southside. Still, the woman asked to be taken down to Archer. Jerry was confused. Archer Avenue was in the opposite direction. So why was she asking to go there instead of home? Jerry took the woman down towards Archer anyway. She motioned for Jerry to stop in front of the Resurrection Cemetery. When he stopped the car, she got out and vanished before his eyes.
Jerry was shaken with disbelief but not too frightened to seek out answers. The next morning, he made his way to the address where Mary said she lived. He knocked on the door and encountered her mother. When Jerry asked about the woman he met the previous night, she informed him that she’d been dead for nearly three years. It turns out that Jerry had encountered Resurrection Mary, and over the next few decades, several other men would have similar experiences. But Jerry’s encounter was the one that began the legend.
Several people claimed to have run-ins with Resurrection Mary in the 1970s and 80s. One cab driver in the 1970s claimed to see a young woman standing in front of the Resurrection Cemetery one night. He pulled over to check if she needed a ride. As the woman approached the vehicle, she disappeared.
Another encounter with Mary occurred in 1979 when a separate cab driver named Ralph claimed to pick up a young female hitchhiker. He said she was no older than 21. As the two drove up Archer Avenue, she suddenly jumped up and said, “Here! Here!” The car came to a sudden stop, and the woman pointed to a small abandoned shack off the left side of the road. Ralph questioned whether this was actually where she wanted to go, but before he got an answer, she disappeared without ever opening the door of the cab. His encounter was detailed in a 1979 issue of Suburban Trip magazine.
In 1980, Clare Rudniki and her husband Mark were driving down Archer Avenue toward the Resurrection Cemetery when they spotted a young woman in a white gown slowly walking down the side of the road. It was immediately obvious that she wasn’t an ordinary person. She was partially transparent with a white aura around her, almost as if she was glowing. Shocked, the Rudniki’s wondered if they had just seen a ghost. Believing it to be the infamous Resurrection Mary, they did a u-turn to confirm what they had just seen. When they once again reached the spot where Mary was walking, she was gone.
In 1989, Janet Kalal was out with her friend for an evening drive. While passing by the Resurrection Cemetery, a young woman wearing a white gown jumped in front of her car. Janet didn’t have enough time to stop, and ran into the woman. But something was strange. There was no impact and no sound. The woman just disappeared into thin air. When Janet and her friend got out to check out the scene, the woman was nowhere to be found, and there was no damage to their car. Both Janet and her friend both saw the woman, yet she vanished without a trace.
Was Mary a Real Person?
While some doubt whether the story of Resurrection Mary is real, some particularly persistent paranormal investigators have begun digging to uncover Mary’s true identity. They combed through the thousands of graves at the Resurrection Cemetery looking for a connection. It was once believed that Resurrection Mary was actually a woman named Mary Bregovy, who was struck by a car and killed in 1934. This was later proven to be false, as Bregovy was killed in the Downtown Loop District.
Today, many agree that a woman named Anna “Majira” Norkus is actually Resurrection Mary. She was killed in a car accident in 1927 while on her way back from a party at the Oh Henry Ballroom. Her story seems fairly consistent with the legends.
There have been several ghost sightings and unusual phenomena related to Resurrection Mary. For several decades, two of the bars at the front gate of Resurrection Cemetery were bent apart, as if someone had tried to open a space in the bars. Some attribute this to Mary, as there are even a few people who claimed to have witnessed the event. Locals point to the handprints seemingly burned into the bars as evidence for this taking place, but the cemetery officials vehemently deny any ghostly occurrences. Instead, they chalk up the bent bars to an impact with a truck.
Some have claimed to see the ghost of a young blonde woman walking around Resurrection Cemetery at night. It’s unknown whether or not this is Mary, but she does have a similar appearance. Other strange apparitions have been seen around the graveyard as well.
Want to see more Chicago haunts?
Want to see what terrors await in the Windy City? Why not take a tour of the Old Joliet Prison? Several ghosts are said to hide within its stone walls. Hundreds died in Joliet over the years, either from executions, murder, or simply old age. John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown, was said to have done some time in Old Joliet. Gacy murdered over thirty people, and did a frighteningly good job covering up his tracks. But he got caught when he cockily decided to sell marijuana at a gas station. The Excalibur was one of the hotspots of Chicago’s nightlife. But before it was a popular club, it was the headquarters of the Chicago Historical Society. Being a storage space for old artifacts and human remains, ghosts and spirits flocked to the building. Want to see more Windy City haunts? Check out the top ten haunted hotspots in Chi-town right here!
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