Ghost stories

October 31, 2012

Rick Kogan

We are all haunted.

It might be by a person or a place or a thing, but each of us has something that shadows our days and nights. Norman Maclean, the late University of Chicago professor, let us know what it was for him when he concluded his majestic A River Runs Through It with these sentences: "Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters." 

Ursula Bielski has devoted her life to ghosts. She has written books about ghosts and cemeteries, all richly detailed and embellished with history and a sure sense of place, which is Chicago. Along with her husband, writer David Cowan, she operates Chicago Hauntings Tours. 

The ghost that most haunts Bielski is that of Mary Bregovy, who was a young woman when she died in 1934 and who is known as Resurrection Mary, for the southwest suburban cemetery in which she was buried. 

There is debate about whether this woman is the real deal; some ghost-folk believe Mary is the spirit of one or another dead girl. But, for Bielski, Bregovy is it. It is her ghost that is "seen" wandering near the cemetery, sometimes trying to get into the cars of those driving on Archer Avenue. 

Bielski says: "I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder how I will ever bring Mary Bregovy's story to the audience she deserves. She is pure Chicago, and tells our whole tale lushly and elegantly at once. If you can't find Chicago in Mary's story, then Chicago is surely lost." 

The latest chapter of the story came when Bielski drove past the Satala funeral home on S. Damen Avenue; and noticed a "For Sale" sign. 

Bielski says: "This was where Mary's body was prepared. And the whole back of the yards neighborhood represents everything that I do. I drive around it and think about the fact that Mary, the daughter of Polish immigrants, walked through it each morning to Packingtown to go to work, and that today it is home to an entirely different generation of immigrants that is, as was Mary, trying to get out.”
Perhaps one day Bielski will tell that story in a book. That will have to wait—this is the busy season for those in the ghost business. 

But as Halloween has become just another happy holiday--a trip to Fantasy Headquarters, the amazing Milwaukee Avenue store provides vibrant proof--the meaning of ghosts has been trivialized.

Still, this seems a fine time to ask what, or who, is haunting you?