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Paranormal tales on the South Side scare up legitimate interest

Resurrection Mary isn’t the only ghost around here, according to paranormal historian and investigator Bob Trzeciak.

While ÒMary” may have the name recognition, there are plenty of other incidents of paranormal activity in the Chicago area, says Trzeciak, who has had a life-long interest in all things that go bump in the night.

Trzeciak’s presentation on ÒSouth Side Hauntings,” hosted by the Clear-Ridge Historical Society, drew nearly 100 people to the Clearing Library on Aug. 17. Along with his insight into the well-known tale of Resurrection Mary, Trzeciak touched on some lesser-known lore.

These included the case of Showmen’s Rest, a 750-plot section of Woodlawn Cemetery in Forest Park bought by Showmen’s League of America for the burial of circus performers. It holds a mass grave for 61 employees of the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. They were killed in the Hammond Circus train wreck on June 22, 1918 in Ivanhoe, Ind., when the driver of an empty Michigan Central Railroad troop train from Detroit to Chicago fell asleep and hit the circus train.{{more}}

Trzeciak said it is strange to have paranormal activity such as ghost sightings occurring at the cemetery rather than the crash site, but that is the case here.

ÒMercifully, the faces of the ghosts are never seen because they were disfigured by the fire Ñ I wouldn’t want to see their faces,” said Trzeciak.

He said many people have reported experiencing sounds and smells of the crash, including the smell of burning fuel. Most crash victims were not identified, either because they were burned beyond recognition or their real names were unknown. Therefore, most markers note Òunidentified male (or female),” or nicknames such as ÒSmiley” and ÒBaldy.”

Statues of five elephants surround the Showmen’s Rest section, but Trzeciak said rumors of elephants and other animals being buried there are not true. ÒNo animals were on the train,” he explained.

He said reports of hearing elephants and other animals can be explained by the cemetery’s proximity to Brookfield Zoo.

ÒAs a paranormal investigator, the first thing I do is try to find a natural explanation for these events,” he said.

The ghost of mobster Frank Nitti, said to frequent the North Riverside railroad tracks where he committed suicide in 1943, was another topic of discussion. Nitti, who lived nearby, shot himself in the head the day before he was to testify before a grand jury.

The North Riverside Mall is now beside the site on Cermak Road. Trzeciak said that while there are credible reports of people seeing a man with a fedora walking along the tracks, Trzeciak himself worked for many years at the Toys R Us beside the tracks, and was there at all hours but never saw Nitti’s ghost.

Reports of The Country House, a restaurant in Clarendon Hills, being haunted by the ghost of a blonde woman and her child were also discussed. Tales of crying babies, noises in empty rooms, and a woman beckoning from upstairs windows are attributed to a woman who drove her car into a tree nearby after being turned away from the restaurant in the 1950s.

ÒI came to listen and learn,” said one man who told of hearing a loud crash coming from upstairs while he and his wife were at The Country House in the 1970s. He read of the haunting years later, and wonders if he experienced it himself.

Trzeciak delved into the stories of Resurrection Mary Ñ associated with Resurrection Cemetery in Justice, and Bachelors Grove near Midlothian, probably the most well-known paranormal stories from the area.

He described Resurrection Mary as Òthe grandmother of local ghosts” because the ghostly woman said to be seen along Archer Road in Willow Springs, Justice and Bridgeview is so well-known. One version of the story says she was hitchhiking home from what is now the Willowbrook Ballroom in Willow Springs when she was hit by a car.

ÒI’ve talked to people from age 12 to 87 who have reported seeing her along the road. Sometimes her dress is white and sometimes it is blue,” he said.

He noted a couple of women who died tragically have been associated with the Resurrection Mary story, including Mary Bregovy, who died in a car accident in 1934. Another is Anna Norkus, who died in a car accident in 1927 on her way home from the Oh Henry (now Willowbrook) Ball Room.

ÒThere is a local connection, because Anna Norkus was living in Garfield Ridge,” noted librarian Rob Bitujnac, president of the Clear-Ridge Historical Society.

In Bachelor’s Grove, besides Satan worship and dead animals found on graves, Trzeciak said there are reports of floating orbs, and ghostly figures of dogs, a man in a yellow suit, and a woman and child, among others. He showed a photo, which he maintains is real, of a seated, faceless ghostly female.

ÒEverything happens there. You never really know what you are going to find,” said Trzeciak, who does not have much time for ghosthunting shows on TV.

ÒThey’re mainly for entertainment,” he said.

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