Monster of the Week: Resurrection Mary

A lone girl in a white dress walks along the street at night....

You’re driving home from an evening out dancing. Most of the night is behind you, now, and it’s too dark to see much of anything. You don’t mind. Not until your headlights flash over something white.

Your brakes screech. There’s a girl on the side of the road–white dress, dancing shoes, no older than her early twenties. She looks like she might have been crying.

It’s a cold night, and all she has is a thin shawl. You decide to give her a ride.

She doesn’t talk much, except to direct you. Maybe she tells you she was at the same dance you were. Maybe she says she had a fight with her boyfriend and didn’t want to ride home with him.

Maybe the only thing she tells you is where to stop.

You pull up at the gates of Resurrection Cemetery.

“This doesn’t look right,” you say. “What’s the address?”

But when you turn back to her, the passenger seat is empty. You’re sure the car door didn’t click. She’s not outside, either. There’s not a trace of white fabric in the night that surrounds your car.

You’ve just met one of Chicago’s most infamous ghosts.

The story goes like this:

Starting around the 1930s—the first recorded sighting was by a man named Jerry in 1939—Chicago-area residents reported sightings of a disappearing hitchhiker. Sometimes they saw her at a dance hall or nightclub, sometimes walking along the street outside the cemetery, sometimes she even hailed a taxi. Some men described vivid interactions, where they talked and danced and even kissed—and they claimed her skin was ice cold.

One detail stayed the same: she was always looking for a ride home.

Home, as some of these people learned only when they arrived, was Resurrection Cemetery.

Time and time again, these reports claimed she would vanish into the cemetery. Some startled drivers even said they drove right through her.

Like the best urban legends, the story of Resurrection Mary is based in real locations that still exist today. You can go to Resurrection Cemetery on Archer Avenue, just southwest of Chicago in a town called Justice.

That’s really true. There’s a ghost story set in a town called Justice.

For years, gawkers could come to the cemetery to look at a spot where the iron bars looked burned and bent. At this spot, it was said, Mary had stood gripping the bars and staring out of the cemetery. Whether by curse, or freezerburn, or even ghostly essence, they twisted beneath her hands. But the damaged bars were replaced years ago.

Resurrection Cemetery is real nice. Chicago’s Polish community started it, and in 1969 it gained architectural renown for its new mausoleum’s large glass walls. If the internet comments are any indication, though, today it suffers from an overabundance of deer. That actually sounds like a great visual to me, but I’m sure there are practical concerns.

I mean, these deer aren’t afraid of ghosts, so I guess cemetery staff is gonna have a bad time kicking them out.

The other real location most associated with Resurrection Mary is the New Willowbrook Ballroom, formerly the Oh Henry Ballroom. Though folks have reported sightings from a number of dance halls and nightclubs in the area, urban legend favors the Oh Henry as the last place Mary danced before she died. The strongest reason? It’s located on Archer Avenue, an eight minute drive down the street from the cemetery.

Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I like this ballroom for the story. Not just for proximity—it’s hosted an impressive roster of musicians, including the big band giant Count Basie himself. And, according to the Willowbrook’s website, the old building burned to the ground in 1930.

wooOOOoOOoo, sounds like a curse to me, wooOOooo spooOOOooky


Uh, sorry. That’s not actually part of the story. I just got… carried away.

Anyway, whether the Oh Henry/Willowbrook is the dance hall of legend or not, the story says that Mary spent her last night dancing with her boyfriend, then stormed off when they had a fight. On her walk home—on a cold, lonely night—she was struck by a car and left dead. No one ever found the hit and run driver.

Chicago ghost hunters have come up with several candidates for Mary’s identity. Most notable are Mary Bregovy and Anna Marija Norkus, both young women who died in car accidents before 1939.

Whether you believe in ghosts or not—I’m a skeptic, myself—you’ve gotta love a good ghost story. Especially when urban legend ties it to real places, when you can still go to the same ballroom Mary did and let yourself wonder about that girl in the white dress. Just what ifs, of course. Just for a little while.

Of course.

I mean, let’s be real. Who among us hasn’t danced with someone who wound up ghosting?




(No, seriously, for once please break the Golden Rule of the Internet and read these comments. You’ll thank me later.)

The historian in me has to wonder about the underlying themes in this ghost story, though. The 1920s were a time of social change in the US—namely, lots of partying and financial independence for young women who found industrial jobs in the post-war economy. When those two overlapped, you got flappers. Brash, flirty, and independent—all their parents’ worst nightmares. Men looking to snag an obedient wife weren’t too happy about it, either.

What does this have to do with Resurrection Mary?

It’s very easy to see this story as a cautionary tale. “See what happens if you go out dancing late with boys?” Or even, “It’s safer to get a ride home from a man, even if you had a fight—even if he’s making you uncomfortable.”

Maybe I’m reading too much into it. But to me, it makes the story even more chilling.

Haunt on, Mary. ✊

Prompt: Pick a location near where you live and come up with a ghost story for it. Bonus points if you can tie it into the history of the area: unsolved murders, unnatural deaths, disappearances—be creative!

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