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The World's Creepiest Places
By Bob Curran, Gina Talucci, Ian Daniels
Career PressCopyright © 2012 Dr. Bob Curran
All rights reserved.
Bachelor's Grove (Chicago, Illinois)
"The glow-worm o'er grave and stone,
Shall light thee steady,
The owl from the steeple sing,
'Welcome proud lady'."
—Sir Walter Scott, "Proud Maisie" from Heart of Midlothian
The old burial ground at Bachelor's Grove Cemetery, set out in Chicago's Rubio Woods between the Midlothian Turnpike and the Oak Forest is certainly one of America's spookiest graveyards. Badly overgrown, filled with fallen trees and tangled vegetation, the old place exudes an air of mystery and decay that can often unsettle even the most stout-hearted visitor.
Even the name of the ancient cemetery and when it was initially opened is something of a mystery. Some people confidently state that the name "Bachelor's Grove" derives from the number of unmarried men who lie buried within its precincts. Others state that it comes from a local family named Bachelor who owned the land before the cemetery opened its gates.
Nor can anybody agree as to when the place first became a graveyard, although many suggest that it was around the 1840s. They point out that the earliest stones within the place seem to date from around 1844. Recently, however, a local paper noted a tombstone erected to a William Nobles, which was dated 1838, and it is possible that there are even older ones on site. The first formally recorded burial in the site was that of Eliza Scott (wife of Leonard H. Scott) in November 1844, but local newspapers suggest that there may have been others that were slightly older.
The settlement of Bachelor's Grove seems to date from around the 1820s with an influx of English, Irish, and Scottish settlers often referred to as "the First Wave," most of whom came from New York, Vermont, and Connecticut. These people seem to have formed a small but thriving settlement about 18 miles southwest of Chicago. The "Second Wave," which was mainly Germanic, arrived sometime about the late 1840s and quickly became the predominant nationality in the area. Among these German immigrants there appears to have been a family named Bechelder who took lands in Cook County and helped enlarge the settlement. So is Bachelor's Grove really Bechelder's Grove as A Gazetteer of Illinois (published in 1832) would seem to indicate? This would perhaps also explain the differences in the spelling of the name of the cemetery—sometimes "Bachelor's" (conventional English) and at other times "Batchelor's" (which may lend itself more to the German original).
Although there are clearly tombstones in the old graveyard dating from around 1840, the first formal record of the cemetery occurs in 1864 when Edward M. Everden sold a parcel of land to Frederick Schmidt with the proviso that a portion of it—approximately one acre—be set aside for a graveyard. Schmidt did so, and, at some point, allegedly added a further area to the original plot, although records in a local newspaper give no evidence for this, but suggest that there may have been a cemetery there beforehand. What Schmidt may have acquired was a small lake that was a pool from a small quarry nearby, which still lies within the cemetery grounds. The cemetery was run by a board of trustees, made up of local families, among which were the Fulton family, who seem to have arrived in the area around 1844.
The way down to the burial ground from the Midlothian Turnpike was quiet and secluded and it became a favored area for lovers and courting couples, but, if rumours are to be believed, for other things as well. Among some of the German immigrants there were tales of devil worship, brought from areas such as the Brocken and the Hartz Mountain country. Some of the Germans had brought pagan beliefs from the Old World, some of which involved dead bodies, and these were still practiced in secluded, out-of-the-way places, such as the Bachelor's Grove cemetery. Of course, many of these rumors and tales may have had their origins in personal disputes and feuds amongst the various waves of settlers, but they served to give the place a rather sinister reputation. The isolation of the cemetery too must have also had an impact upon the imaginations of local people, for as long as there have been records concerning it, the place was believed to be haunted, perhaps by spirits that have been summoned up in secret.
The trail that led down to the cemetery was a spooky place. It was part of the Midlothian Turnpike, which was closed to traffic in the early 1960s to make way for a new street (143rd Street), with the road being formally closed in 1977; this has isolated the cemetery even more. It is alleged that the road work stirred up the ghosts in the old graveyard even more. Ghostly stories concerning the site grew and spread through Chicago and beyond, as did the stories of Satanism and devil worship within its precincts. There was no doubt that both sightseers, followers of the macabre, and vandals visited the place, each leaving their mark as they came and went. Even chaining off the road didn't help and the vandals often found ways around, leaving all sorts of litter across the old graveyard and desecrating many of the graves that were there (perhaps for ritualistic purposes). In order to maintain some measure of control, the Civic Authorities appointed a watchman, Charlie Fulton (a descendant of one of the old settler families who had graves there—his Christian name is also given as Clarence) to oversee the place. Charlie, who retired in the mid-1970s, seems to have been quite a character who wrote several pieces for various local newspapers about the cemetery. In the early days of the 20th century, he said, the graveyard was a place for picnicking families who would come to enjoy the tranquillity of the place and occasionally to swim in the nearby pond. By contrast, however, many of his tales were ghost stories and concerned the specters which he claimed to see on his rounds as a watchman after dark. He (and a number of others since) claimed to hear strange voices calling in the twilight and saw strange figures moving among the funeral markers, even in broad daylight. One of the most famous phantoms, as recounted by Charlie, is that of the White Lady, also known as "the Madonna of Bachelor's Grove" or more affectionately as "Mrs. Rodgers" who wandered the cemetery each night, sometimes with an infant in her arms, peering at many of the other headstones. One old story says that she is the restless spirit of a mother who died and was buried alongside her infant during one of the great epidemics that hit the Chicago area in the late 19th century. She returned each night to restlessly wander through the cemetery, perhaps looking for the child's father who may have died at a later date and was buried separately. She seems lost in a forlorn world of her own and is totally unaware of the people whom she might pass.
Although the White Lady is a phantom, a curious photo, taken of the Madonna of Bachelor's Grove does exist. Intrigued by reports of balls of light (many mentioned by Charlie Fulton) and of glowing ectoplasmic strands adhered to trees and bushes within the parameters of the graveyard, the Ghost Research Society decided to investigate the site. One of the researchers, Mari Huff, took a photo of what she claimed was an empty space between several tombstones using highspeed infra-red equipment. When the photo was developed, however, it showed the figure of a woman sitting on a tombstone, seemingly in a reflective mood. Parts of her body appeared to be transparent and her dress seemed to be that of a former time. The photo remains one of the most celebrated and most mysterious images of a ghost available.
During the Gangster Era in Chicago, the isolation of Bachelor's Grove allegedly played its part in the city's turbulent history. It is reputed that several Chicago gang bosses had victims taken out to this lonely spot in order to have them executed. Their bodies were then dumped in the lake. One of the most notorious of the gang leaders was the famous Al Capone. It is said that several of Capone's victims lie buried in unmarked graves somewhere around the very edge of the pond, which is now covered in algae. No one will go hunting for their resting places today! Along the narrow track that leads down to the cemetery, the headlights of phantom cars have often been seen, suggestive of this era and the mobsters who brought their hapless prisoners down to Bachelor's Grove in order to meet their end.
Of course, the large pond has something of a spectral history. The most common story it tells is of a man who was ploughing with his horse at the end of the 19th century. Something startled the animal and it bolted into the water. The farmer's foot got caught in the fastenings of the plough and he was dragged along with it, unable to free himself in time. Both the man and animal drowned. However, both their ghosts are supposed to haunt the immediate area of the pond. In the 1970s, two rangers of the Cook County Forest Preserve were a patrolling the area close to the pond when suddenly out of the water a great horse rose up. The animal seemed to be pulling a plough, which was steered by an old man who also emerged from the pond. These apparitions made their way across in front of the rangers' vehicle and vanished into the surrounding woodlands. The two men sat dumbfounded, unsure of what they had seen, but knowing that it was certainly not of this world. Did it prove the legend of the drowned farmer? The area in which the vision was seen is strongly associated with "light orbs," small globes of light that seem to signal the presence of spirits, which appear to drift along the edges of the pond.
The final apparition involves an entire ghostly house that has been appearing and disappearing for several decades. There is no formal record of a house, although local traditions state that Frederick Schmidt may have built a timber-frame house there just before he originally extended the land that enclosed the graveyard. Most of the reports concerning this phantom come from people who believe that they have seen an actual house and descriptions of it seldom vary. It is an old two-story timber-frame house with a front porch and a light shining in the window as if to welcome the stranger in. Sometimes the door appears to be slightly ajar, but the story is that if you enter the building, you will never come out again—at least not in this world. The house appears at all times—day or night—and in all weathers. As ever, all along the narrow pathway, eerie globes of light flicker as if to show the passing of otherworldly things.
And the rumours of Satanic festivals and actual grave desecrations haven't gone away. In fact, the situation is so bad that the Cook County Sheriff's Office had now imposed a curfew, arresting those who are found around the location at night. Special patrols now operate in the area around Halloween and those arrested are charged with trespass and possible intent to commit an offense. This is clearly an attempt to keep youths away from the site, but it still does not deter some members of the public from venturing close. As late as the 1990s, people have described what appear to be figures in monkish habits coming and going around the entrance of the old burial ground, and somewhere near the gates, a couple of visitors claim to have seen a large black dog that disappeared as soon as they approached it. In 2007, a television crew for the popular show Cringe visited the cemetery along with the well-known ghost hunter Troy Taylor. According to Taylor, from the moment they began to set up their equipment, things went wrong. In the course of the filming, digital footage was inexplicably distorted and destroyed, which was something that no member of the crew had ever encountered before. There was also an attempt to record a podcast that had to be abandoned because of unexplained distortions in the sound combined with odd noises and equipment failures. It was something that shook the whole crew.
The final stretch of road leading past the cemetery was closed in 1994 and the lane that leads to it has been cordoned off. Few appear to travel there now as according to local reports instances of vandalism have died down. The dead now rest easy in Bachelor's Grove. Or do they?CHAPTER 2
Cabell's Tomb (Buckfastleigh, England)
"Mr Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!" —Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
Even on the most pleasant day, Dartmoor can be an eerie place. Miles of rolling bog and moorland dotted with the tombs of prehistoric men, with small villages tucked away in misty hollows, all serve to stimulate either romance—or fear—in most of us. And the eerie character of the place manifests itself in many of the histories, traditions, and folktales of the area, taking the seeker of the strange and unusual to remote and out-of-the-way places.
Such a place might be Beetor Cross, where a spectral highwayman with skeletal features and hollow eyes, wrapped in a dark cloak, awaits any traveler who passes that way once darkness has fallen. It could be Bradford Pool, where a soft and alluring voice calls to passers by, drawing them into the water and to their deaths. Or it could be Cadover Bridge, where the sounds of a phantom battle echo continually during both day and night. One of the most common specters to prowl the lonely moor is that of a great black hound or Devil Dog. Indeed, such ghostly creatures are a feature of English folklore and are to be found in many places from the barghast of Yorkshire through Black Shuck of Norfolk and Essex to the Doom Dogs of Cornwall. There is also the Church Grim, the hideous hound-like guardian of churches and graveyards that may be familiar because it serves as the template for the Grim who appears in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Some of these canines are said to be the physical embodiment of Satan.
In Devon, these Devil Dogs are known as "Yeth Hounds" or "Yell Hounds" and are said to be the souls of children who have died unbaptised. Some are said to have no head, while some have great large skulls with massive jaws, and many have red and burning eyes, or drip fire from their mouths. References to the Yeth Hound appear in the Denham Tracts—a collection of pamphlets and writings collected by Michael Denham, a local tradesman between 1846 and 1859, which give an insight into the folklore of the county.
Perhaps the most famous of all the Devil Dogs appears in a Gothic work of detective fiction. In August 1901, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle began the latest serialized adventure of his celebrated consulting detective Sherlock Holmes in The Strand Magazine. The series, which would run until April 1902, was set against the wild landscape of Dartmoor and concerned the investigation of a curse that haunted an ancient family there. The curse centered on a great black hound, which was supposed to hunt and kill members of this family because of an ancient wrong that had been done. The series was so popular that late in 1902, the serialized sections were brought together in a book, which became an immediate best-seller. The adventure was The Hound of the Baskervilles. The book has never been out of print and the tale has formed the basis of many films and television adaptations. It is probably the best-known of all Conan Doyle's stories, and is by far the most popular of all the Sherlock Holmes adventures.
The origin of the Baskerville curse originated with Sir Hugo Baskerville—a wild and dissolute man in an earlier time. He held fearsome and blasphemous revelries at Baskerville Hall, and it was during one of these that his wife, a young village maid, managed to escape from the Hall and run out onto the moors. Finding her gone, Sir Hugo set out after her and caught up with her on the moors (in the 1959 film of the book this was in a ruined abbey). Before he could either kill or ravish her, he was attacked and killed by a great hound which appeared out of the mist and was reputedly the spirit of the moorlands. This monstrous animal was supposed to haunt the Baskerville family, and threatened and killed several of its members throughout the years. Sir Henry Baskerville, the new heir to the Hall, was in danger from this ancient legend and Holmes was called in to protect him. Through his detecting skills, the great sleuth determined that a member of a distant branch of the Baskerville family was using the ghostly legend to his own ends and was trying to grasp the Baskerville inheritance by murdering Sir Henry. The spectral hound was exposed as a fraud.
Excerpted from The World's Creepiest Places by Bob Curran, Gina Talucci, Ian Daniels. Copyright © 2012 Dr. Bob Curran. Excerpted by permission of Career Press.
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