By Michael Kleen
Bachelor’s Grove in the southwest Chicago suburb of Midlothian has been an enigma for over three decades, but like most such locations, it started out with a mundane existence. Over one hundred years ago, picnickers dressed in their Sunday best lounged under oak trees in the park-like atmosphere of the cemetery. Two of the grove’s neighbors heated their small homes with coal burning stoves and drew water out of their brick wells, while horse drawn buggies trotted down the dirt road. It was a much different scene from today.
Much of the origins of Bachelor’s Grove have been obscured by the passage of time. Even its name is a mystery. Some say it was named after a group of single men who settled in the area around the 1830s, but a family named Batchelder already owned the land. According to Ursula Bielski, author of Chicago Haunts, the cemetery itself was originally named Everdon’s. Its first burial was in 1844, and the cemetery eventually contained eighty-two plots.
In the early half of the twentieth century, the Midlothian Turnpike ran past the cemetery, over the stream, and beyond. Today, the broken road appears to end at the cemetery gates, but closer inspection of a long ridge across from the stream reveals a roadbed that has been nearly reclaimed by the forest. The road was closed in the 1960s. Locals say that was when the trouble started.
According to the Chicago Tribune’s Jason George, the body of a teenage girl was found in the woods in 1966, and in 1988 a man, who had been murdered by a former girlfriend, was found in the cemetery. Aside from those gruesome incidents, grave desecration regularly occurred. Bodies were dug up, animals were sacrificed, and headstones were moved or stolen.
Then the ghosts came.
One of the most controversial sightings involved a phantom house. In the 1970s, Richard T. Crowe, a local ghost enthusiast, collected stories from dozens of eyewit-nesses who claimed to have seen a white farmhouse complete with a glowing light in the window at various places in the woods alongside the trail. However, “there is no house on the property, nor anywhere near the site,” Ursula Bielski wrote. “No property records exist to suggest that there ever was.” (Haunts, pg. 59) She does mention that “most anyone familiar with the area will offer to show you the foundations of a house that they claim did exist.” (Haunts, pg. 61)
“Claim” is an interesting choice of words, since there are in fact two separate foundations, one east of the cemetery and one west of it. Although the two are hidden in plain sight, both of them are very real. As www.bachelors grove.com has well documented, there also exists two wells near these foundations. Hundreds of visitors have probably seen these and later reported them as “houses.” Time and imagination took care of the rest.
Another popular ghost is the White Lady, or Madonna, of Bachelor’s Grove. Cemeteries in the Chicagoland area are overpopulated with these women, who are almost always searching for their lost infants. Bachelor’s Grove contains a monument to an unnamed ‘infant daughter,’ which has become a shrine for visitors and adds fuel to the story. This ghost, or one very much like it, was supposedly captured on a now famous photograph taken using infrared film. Unfortunately, the “ghost” in the picture casts a shadow on the headstone she sits upon, suggesting that she is not very transparent; at least not in the way ghosts tend to be.
Visitors also commonly report seeing orbs or ghost lights, a staple of haunted locations everywhere. These bright will o’ the wisps are patriotic, appearing in red, white, and blue colors. Although I have been to the cemetery nearly a dozen times, I have yet to see one.
The pond adjacent to the cemetery has its own share of legends. Stories say it was one of the hundreds of places scattered around Illinois where mobsters dumped their victims during the roaring ‘20s. One of these victims apparently grew a second head and has been known to crawl out of the water. Lastly, a number of years ago a policeman reportedly saw the apparition of a horse, followed by a man and a plow, walk out of the pond and cross 143rd Street. The ghost is said to belong to a farmer who drowned in the pond when his horse decided to take a swim one day.
Disappearing cars, sometimes sleek, black 1920s and 30s style, or the sounds of car doors slamming, have been reported along that stretch of 143rd Street. Richard T. Crowe has written that he personally witnessed two of these phantom automobiles.
Although the number of visitors to Bachelor’s Grove has declined, and vandalism has trickled off (there isn’t much left to vandalize), the curious still routinely travel to Midlothian to snap pictures, leave cryptic notes, or place offerings at the stone of the infant daughter.
If you are in the area, check it out. Parking is available at the Forest Preserve across the street, but it is closed after dark – no exceptions. For more information on Bachelor’s Grove, and other haunted locations around Illinois, visit The Legends and Lore of Illinois.