Chicago's favorite ghost: Resurrection Mary

October 31, 2011

I first heard the story at one of the Duke's Halloween parties. That would make it when I was in college, in the late 'sixties.

The way the Duke told it, this guy he knew had been driving north on Milwaukee Avenue near Lawrence, by the Holiday Ballroom. Suddenly a young woman in a white dress jumped in front of the car. The guy screeched to a halt, the woman got in the car, and asked for a ride.

Now the driver figured he was getting lucky, so he agreed. The woman told him to head up Milwaukee toward Niles. Other than that, she didn't say much.

Getting into Niles, they passed the main entrance to St. Adalbert's Cemetery. "Stop the car!" the woman shouted. The driver stopped the car. When he turned to look at the woman, she had vanished.

Sound familiar? Substitute Archer Avenue, the Willow Brook Ballroom, and Resurrection Cemetery. Now you have Chicago's most famous ghost story, the tale of Resurrection Mary.

At the time I hadn't heard anything about Resurrection Mary. Neither had any of my friends. We only knew that this was a great story.

As the years went by, I became better acquainted with Chicago folklore. Then I realized that the Duke had picked up the Resurrection Mary story somewhere, and simply adapted it to his own purposes. That was a habit of his. Last I heard of him, he was a long-term guest of the federal government. Something about counterfeiting.

The first sighting of Resurrection Mary occurred in 1939. Since then there have been dozens. The story has been related in newspapers and magazine articles, in books, in songs, and in a movie. In 2011, Mary is all over the internet.

Who was the real Resurrection Mary? Researchers have nominated a number of candidates. My vote goes to Anna Norkus.

Anna was born in Cicero in 1914, and later lived in Chicago near Archer and Harlem. On her 13th birthday--July 20, 1927--she rode along with her father and some friends to the Oh Henry Ballroom (today's Willow Brook). After an evening of partying, they drove home.

Along the way they passed Resurrection Cemetery. On Harlem near 67th Street, the driver lost control of the car and plunged into a deep ditch at the side of the road. Anna was killed in the crash.

The dead girl was supposed to be buried at St. Casimir's Cemetery. But because of a grave-diggers' strike there, Anna was temporarily interred at Resurrection Cemetery. Later, when the strike ended, her remains could not be identified.

That account fits the main elements of the Resurrection Mary story. As noted, there's plenty of information available, and you're welcome to come up with your own theory.

As for me, I've driven past St. Adalbert's Cemetery hundreds of times, and never had anything unusual happen. But I've never driven by Resurrection Cemetery at night. And I don't intend to.