Location: Archer Woods Memorial Park Cemetery is located off South Kean Avenue, across from Buffalo Woods, in Hickory Hills, Illinois.
[MysteriousHeartland.com] Archer Woods Cemetery is located at 8301 Kean Avenue next to Lithuanian Cemetery, across the street from Buffalo Woods. Separated from Archer Avenue by the Tri State Tollway and US Rout 45 exit and entrance ramps, it is nestled at the end of Kean Avenue between the forest preserve and a series of isolated businesses and horse stables. There the traffic disappears and the graveyard takes on the feeling of having been forgotten by the outside world. This tranquility is deceptive, however, and authors like Ursula Bielski warn their readers that local residents “consider this cemetery the most foreboding of Archer Avenue’s four burial grounds.” The folklore of Archer Woods concerns both a sobbing woman in white and the specter of a black hearse, which may be two of the earliest stories in the area.
There is no recorded explanation for either of those tales, at least not that this author has found, but the history of the cemetery might offer clues as to why it has attracted such a negative reputation. Established in 1920 just nine years after the neighboring village of Justice, Archer Woods contains the remains of many of the area’s German residents. In addition to the mourned and cared for, the unknown and the unwanted were also interred there beneath the white oaks.
In the summer of 1950 a scandal broke at Archer Woods that involved two morticians, John Regan and Adolph Cohn, who accepted money from the county to bury six old age pensioners—men who died without families or savings—in the cemetery. State and county law required that all bodies be properly embalmed, dressed, and buried in coffins. Acting on a court order obtained by Judge John Lupe, the Assistant State’s Attorney exhumed the bodies of the men. A doctor representing the County Coroner in the case determined that five of the six had been buried without clothing and without being embalmed. All of the men had been placed in small, pine boxes.
The Assistant State’s Attorney “indicated he may seek warrants… against the two undertakers who buried the bodies and received fees from the state and county,” the Daily Tribune reported. In April 1951, Regan and Cohn appeared in court and were charged with conspiracy to defraud the state of $100 to $120 for each burial. It was a ghoulish crime worthy of the pages of Tales from the Crypt. In its coverage of the trial, the local newspaper did not reveal whether the bodies of the men in question had ever been given a proper burial. It seemed as though the six pensioners had been forgotten in the drama of the moment.
During the 1970s, Archer Woods Cemetery served as the county’s potter’s field, where the bodies of the anonymous dead, or those too poor to afford a plot or a funeral, were interred. “We hold ‘em until we get enough to make a run, about 30 or 32, and then we bury them in what I’d call a ditch type thing,” the administrator for the Cook County medical examiner told Chicago Tribune reporter Sam Smith. Each coffin was given a number before being lowered into an unmarked grave. “Such is the fate of society’s forgotten, the lonely and deserted, the alcoholics, the drifters, the destitute,” Smith wrote. “They find their final resting places in suburban fields, in long ditches marked by posts and the absence of flowers or headstones.” Such was the fate of an unidentified man who intervened in a fight outside of the Wilson Club hotel in 1974. His actions saved the lives of three teenagers, but not his own. An enraged man, who had been threatening the teens with a knife, ran him down and stabbed him to death. His body lay unidentified for 90 days, and was thus given a nondescript burial somewhere on the grounds of Archer Woods Cemetery. Perhaps it is the spirits of these unknown souls that give the graveyard its forlorn atmosphere?
In addition to the grieving relatives of the deceased, there are those who come to Archer Woods in search of its otherworldly residents and many report feelings of unease. On one visit, Scott Marcus, the owner of Slim Pictures and former co-host of the “Mothership Connection” on WLIP AM-1050, related, “Upon entering the front gate, one becomes immediately cautious of the rough grounds and deteriorating roads. Many of the trees are dead… There is a basic feeling that all is not right here.” His feelings were confirmed when his companions and he discovered a large tree that had been adorned with various objects. A stuffed animal and a maple syrup bottle hung from the branches, and a teddy bear had been nailed to the trunk approximately five yards from the ground. “As far as we were concerned, this was evidence of cultists practicing their craft or at the very least some people with bad intentions who visit the cemetery,” Markus wrote.
The story most frequently associated with the cemetery is that of a weeping woman in white. There are many similar stories at other cemeteries in the Chicagoland area, most notably at Bachelor’s Grove in Midlothian. Just like at Bachelor’s Grove, the weeping woman of Archer Woods wanders through the trees, wailing and pulling her hair, but unlike the ghost who searches Bachelor’s Grove for her missing child, the motivation of Archer Woods’ phantom is less clear. According to Trent Brandon’s Book of Ghosts, the weeping woman is a type of ghost he calls “The Broken Heart.” Having lost one dear to them, “they are waiting alone and desperately searching for the soul of a dead child or waiting the return of their true love,” he explained. “They can be heard weeping sadly and singing gloomy songs.” The ghost, most often a woman, is overwhelmed with guilt for her dead child or lover and believes she must wander the earth endlessly until reunited, or until she has endured enough punishment to assuage her guilt.
Could the weeping woman of Archer Woods be searching for the grave of a child or a man who was buried in one the many anonymous plots? Chroniclers of the area’s folklore are mute on that point. Ursula Bielski, who wrote extensively on Archer Avenue, failed to provide any motivation for or accounts of the haunting. Scott Markus, on the other hand, related in his work a secondhand encounter with the weeping woman given to him by two Hickory Hills police officers. The two claimed to have known a fellow patrolman who went out to Archer Woods Cemetery one evening to investigate a disturbance. “As the officer was looking around the cemetery grounds, a semi-transparent woman dressed in white ran past him screaming,” Markus wrote. “That officer then retired or transferred.”
The weeping/sobbing woman, otherwise known as a “woman in white,” is a common folklore motif. In Germany, they tell the tale of the Weisse Frauen (“white women”), a holdover from pre-Christian times. Although many of the area residents are of German extraction, Weisse Frauen are associated with elves and other mythical beings. The ghost of the woman who haunts Archer Woods more closely approximates the Spanish legend of La Llorona (“the weeping woman”). In the United States, La Llorona is most frequently encountered in the southwest. According to New Mexico lore, a poor woman named Maria fell in love with a wealthy ranchero who believed her to be the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. The two wed and Maria bore him three children. As time went on, the man grew tired of his wife and his eyes began to wander.
In a jealous rage, Maria took her children to the Rio Grande and drowned them. Learning of her crime, her husband cast her out of his house. Maria spent the rest of her life—as well as her afterlife—roaming the river, wailing and searching for her children. She had become La Llorona. It was said that La Llorona would abduct any children who were unlucky enough to be caught near the river after dark. Until very recently, however, the residents of Chicago’s southwest suburbs have been of Polish, Irish, and German decent, not Hispanic. It is unlikely that the legend of La Llorona was the inspiration for the weeping woman of Archer Woods, despite the similarity. The true origin of this phantom was likely lost long ago in the murky depths of the folk history of Archer Avenue.
Even more fantastic than the woman in white is the tale of the phantom black hearse that is alleged to rocket past the cemetery. No description other than that given by Kenan Heise in his novel Resurrection Mary: A Ghost Story could do it justice: “The sepulchral apparition’s shiny wooden frame is of the blackest oak. Its glass sides shimmer in what little moonlight there is, exposing in outline the white coffin of a child. There is no driver… The terror of the hearse rips a hole in the soul of everyone who has encountered it.” In addition, two gas lamps are said to hang from the terrifying carriage.
The hearse appears at various points along Archer Avenue, transporting its frail cargo to parts unknown. According to Ursula Bielski, some eyewitnesses have linked the phantom hearse to the legend of Resurrection Mary. Mary’s parents, the storytellers claimed, swore off modern modes of transportation and chose an old fashioned, horse-drawn carriage for their daughter’s body. But if Mary’s body was taken to her final resting place in a hearse, why does she still hitchhike to Resurrection Cemetery all these years later? Also, the coffin in the phantom hearse is said to contain the body of a young child. Perhaps it is the body of the son or daughter of the sobbing woman of Archer Woods? The origin of this legend is as elusive as the last, but there is an older story, predating the existence of Archer Woods Cemetery, that will be discussed in our chapter on St. James-Sag that may hold the answer.
There is one more story associated with Archer Woods, much younger than the sobbing woman or the phantom hearse. The story concerns an unusual monument on the west side of the cemetery entitled “Garden of Hymns.” The monument consists of several metal pipes jutting from a base made of stones and vaguely resembles a pipe organ. Recently, some visitors have reported hearing the faint sound of organ music emanating from the area. “It was eerie, like a low hum,” Jen, who asked to remain anonymous because she was in the cemetery after dark, wrote in an e-mail to me in 2007. “We couldn’t figure out where it was coming from until we saw that organ.” Archer Woods Cemetery is not as remote as it seems, however, and there are many places where such a sound could originate. That hasn’t stopped the rumors from spreading, and the Internet has made it much easier for these stories to take on a life of their own.
There must be a reason why, despite their proximity and their nearly identical landscape, Archer Woods has attracted these legends and not its neighbor, Lithuanian Cemetery. The existence of the potter’s field might be one explanation. Perhaps it is the local memory of the many unseemly things that have transpired in the cemetery in the past, or simply because the cemetery shares a name with the infamous road. Whatever the reason, Archer Woods has cemented its association with the lore of Archer Avenue—for better or for worse.
Ursula Bielski, Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 1998), 24, 73.
Daily Tribune (Chicago) 14 June 1950.
Daily Tribune (Chicago) 17 June 1950.
Daily Tribune (Chicago) 17 April 1951.
Chicago Tribune (Chicago) 1 February 1981.
Chicago Tribune (Chicago) 4 November 1974; Chicago Tribune (Chicago) 21 November 1974.
Scott Markus, Voices from the Chicago Grave: They’re Calling. Will You Answer? (Holt: Thunder Bay Press, 2008), 283-285.
Trent Brandon, The Book of Ghosts (Galloway: Zerotime Publishing, 2003), 87.
El Defensor Chieftain (Socorro) 1 December 2007.
Rachel Brooks, Chicago Ghosts (Atglen: Schiffer Books, 2008), 138-142.
Kenan Heise, Resurrection Mary: A Ghost Story (Evanston: Chicago Historical Bookworks, 1990), 25.
Anonymous, “Archer cem music?,” personal email (15 November 2007).
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