Halloween is upon us. I am not at all a fan of ghosts, especially the hitchhiker stories that come up every year at this time. In the Chicago area, most of us know “Resurrection Mary” from Resurrection Cemetery in Justice. But as the television commercial goes: “but wait, there’s more! There is “Melody Millie” who supposedly visits Forest Home/Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park and the “Flapper Girl” supposedly around Jewish Waldheim and the Phantom girl at Woodlawn Cemetery. It turns out that the hitchhiker story repeats itself all over the country, in cemeteries from coast to coast.
But bowing to the season, I will breathe life into these ghosts for just one solitary blog, and then I will put them all to bed while I write about the more factual cemetery stories. Maybe this topic will inspire people to take a more serious interest in real cemetery issues. I prefer to concentrate on the history and preservation of cemeteries, the genealogical benefits, and the moral value of honoring those who have come before us. I say many times that cemeteries tell us who we were.
The hitchhiking ghost has been a staple of American folklore for many generations. Usually the hitchhiker is female and quite beautiful and her destination is invariably the cemetery. So which one is the real hitchhiker? Well, take your pick. Here are just a few on my dance card.
Resurrection Mary-Resurrection Cemetery-Justice Il.
For 80 years, our most famous ghostly hitchhiker in the Chicago area is Resurrection Mary, a young woman is dressed in a white party dress with light blond hair and blue eyes. Other reports claim a thin shawl, dancing shoes, carries a small clutch purse. She was reportedly first sighted in 1939, when a man named Jerry Palus in 1939 claimed he met a beautiful young blonde woman dancing at the Oh Henry Ballroom in Willow Springs, Illinois along Archer Avenue.
The ballroom was founded in 1921 by John Verderbar and was originally named Oh Henry Park. It was supposedly named after the Oh Henry candy bar and later known as the Willowbrook Ballroom. The 1940s orchestras of Harry James and Count Basie played the ballroom, and singer Helen O’Connell graced the stage, later so did Wayne King, Guy Lombardo, Sammy Kaye, Jimmy Dorsey, Bob Crosby, Dick Jurgens, Glenn Miller Orchestra and Harry James. In later years, Chubby Checker played the ballroom as did The Cryan’ Shames, The Association, The Buckinghams, Otis Day and the Knights,The Village People, and Martha Reeves. In 2016, the Ballroom was gutted by a fire.
After dancing together all night, Jerry reportedly gave her a ride home. She directed him down Archer Avenue, having him stop in front of Resurrection Cemetery, where she disappears into the 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. Others have tried to pin Mary’s identity on a couple of other young girls named Mary that were killed in automotive accidents in the late 1920s or early 30s-neither matching the description oft told of a blonde in her early 20s. In 1973, Resurrection Mary was said to have shown up at Harlow’s nightclub, on Cicero Avenue on Chicago’s southwest side. Still another story claims a cab driver came into Chet’s Melody Lounge, across the street from Resurrection Cemetery and encountered Mary. The stories are endless.
FLAPPER GIRL- Jewish Waldheim- Forest Park, Il
“The Flapper Girl”, or ghost, dates back to around the Century of Progress Exhibition of 1933/34, well before the time of Resurrection Mary, her better-known counterpart. Described as a beautiful young brunette with bobbed hair the flapper girl was dressed in the style of the Prohibition Era in a short-skirted Roaring Twenties flapper dress. The story states that she was a young nameless Jewish girl who attended dances at the Melody Mill Ballroom, formerly at 2401 DesPlaines Ave. in North Riverside, Illinois.
The Melody Mill was opened on the site of a former picnic grove, during the Depression, around mid-November 1930. The familiar windmill on top could be seen from 22nd Street, before it became Cermak Road until it closed in 1984. There was a 15,000 square foot dance floor, a roller rink and a miniature golf course in the basement. On evenings in the 1930s, as many as 3,000 dancers came by car, by foot, and by streetcar. The admission price to Melody Mill, in the early years, was about 10 cents. Over the years, many big name dance bands played at the Melody Mill. Among them were Benny Goodman, Sammy Kaye, Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, and Les Brown and His Band of Renown. The “house tune” for the ballroom was “Moonlight on Melody Mill” written by Henry Cramer..
The Flapper Girl was thought to meet many young men there, dance, chat and later, ask for a ride home. She was known also to hitch rides on Des Plaines Avenue and most often was seen near the Jewish Waldheim. After they drove her to the cemetery, the girl would explain that she lived in the caretaker’s house (since demolished) and then get out of the car. Often with her admirers in pursuit, she would then run out into the cemetery and vanish among the tombstones. On occasions some would run after the girl and watch her as she disappeared farther back into the tombstones.
There have been times that the flapper ghost was seen during the daylight hours! On a Spring day in 1973 a Jewish family, father, mother and daughter supposedly were visiting a grave of a deceased loved one when they were suddenly startled to see a girl dressed like a flapper walking towards a crypt where she then disappeared. In 1979 a North Riverside patrol officer supposedly saw a beautiful young girl walking near the ballroom on a rainy evening around midnight. He offered her a lift, well aware of the ghost stories and how the ghost was dressed. On the drive home she commented on how she enjoyed ballroom dancing and frequently walked home from the Melody Mill. She too disappeared.
Blond Woman – Woodlawn Cemetery Forest Park Il.
According to a 1984 newspaper article the owner of the Melody Mill said that “… in the fall of 1934, a gent named Wally met a young blond woman in a snow-white gown at the Melody Mill. After a night of dancing to Buddy Stone and His All-Star Band, they were on their way home when the woman asked to be dropped off near Woodlawn Cemetery, just north of Melody Mill. “A week later, when Wally went to pick up the woman at her home her mother told her that her daughter had been dead for three years. Over the years, there have been periodic sightings of a blond woman, in a white gown, wandering along highways near the cemetery.”
Melody Millie – Waldheim Cemetery Forest Park, Il
Her real name is unknown so we’ll call her Melody Millie. She operated between North Riverside’s Melody Mill Ballroom and a mile or so north at Waldheim cemetery. Was she the Flapper Girl? Nobody seems to know.
Phantom Hitchhiker- Evergreen Cemetery – Evergreen Park, Il
For more than two decades, an attractive teenager claim to have spotted her who always asked them for a ride to a location in Evergreen Park and then mysteriously vanished from the vehicle at the cemetery.
.HATTIE THE HITCHIKER – Graceland Cemetery-Albany New York
a great blog, http://gardenalley.net/thehitchhiker.html Paula S. Lemire tells the story of Hattie, who was picked up on Lark Street and disappeared into Graceland Cemetery in Albany NY, on Delaware Avenue just before the Normanskill Bridge. But alas, Hattie is not an Albany ghost after all, but an urban legend repeated over and over again across the country.
And in the same great blog we read of the story of two young men who picked up a hitchhiker one night. The passenger was a young woman who gave them an address near a cemetery. It was chilly so one of the lads let her borrow his varsity sweater. When they neared her home, she asked to be let out by the cemetery gate. The next morning, the young man remembered his sweater and the boys went to the address she’d given them. When they asked for her at the house, they were told by her parents that she was long since dead and buried in the nearby cemetery. Of course, the young man found his sweater lying on her grave.
You can just about pick any one of a number of ghostly hitchhikers, from Los Angeles to Chicago, to St Louis, to Cleveland and Toronto, to New York and most any cemetery in between. Where do these stories come from? Almost always they are passed down. We often learn of them from a person who knew someone ,usually a friend of a friend, a releative or whoever.
A study was made of the legend by a pair of folklore scholars in the early 1940s, publishing their research in the California Folklore Quarterly. There are many variations on “The Vanishing Hitchhiker.” It’s been the subject of several books, most notably The Vanishing Hitch-hiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand.
So my message to you is simple: don’t pick up strangers.