There’s something about Mary
Recounting a childhood ghost story
By Patricia Baer
Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, one of the most popular local ghost stories was the one about Resurrection Mary. Since the 1930s, she has appeared late at night wandering along the roadside in a white party dress and carrying dancing shoes. Sympathetic drivers would stop and offer her a ride. Sometimes men would encounter her dancing at a ballroom, and she would hitch a trip home with them. As the tale goes, the drivers would swear that their heartbroken passenger would mysteriously disappear as the car drove past Resurrection Cemetery.
The folklore says Mary was at a dance with her beau at the Oh Henry Ballroom, now the Willowbrook Ballroom, on the night of her death. They fought, and Mary left alone rather than spend another minute with her disrespectful sweetie. She was struck by a car as she attempted to hitchhike home and died when the driver did not stop to help her. Mary’s family laid her to rest in Resurrection Cemetery.
I did not know all of these details as a 9-year-old. As often happens in the world of urban legends, the story transformed as the kids on the playground retold it through the years. Maybe because the local cemetery was named St. Mary’s or maybe because it was just big and creepy, Resurrection Mary was relocated to my neighborhood. And not only did she get into cars that stopped for her, she sometimes materialized uninvited in moving cars.
To make matters worse, I had somehow confused this tale with the sleepover game Bloody Mary. I was convinced that if I caught a glimpse of the sorrowful hitchhiker, she would follow me home and appear in my bathroom mirror, free to haunt me at will.
All of this made evening car rides a terrifying experience since there were only two ways into our subdivision. The first was farther away, near the high school and brightly-lit commercial areas. The second was quicker, along a dark winding road of scattered houses and old, gnarly trees with branches that cast eerie shadows over the pavement, and, of course, it ran alongside St. Mary’s Cemetery, which I recall seemed like an endless field of tombstones that spread out over countless acres. I would dread the nights we turned on this road.
“Please,” I remember thinking each time we pulled up to the intersection, “I know it’ll take longer and I’ll miss the beginning of ‘The Dukes of Hazzard,’ but please let us need to stop for milk and go to the next intersection.”
It almost never happened. I would spend the last five minutes of the drive with my eyes shut tightly in an attempt to avoid a spirit encounter. It was a good thing because although I was mistaken about Mary, years later in the ‘90s someone claimed to photograph what appears to be a ghost wandering that graveyard.