Location: Archer Avenue begins near Chinatown at S. State Street in Chicago and travels steadily west until merging with Rout 171 in suburban Summit. There the road turns sharply southwest at an obtuse angle, then runs parallel with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. It passes through Justice and Willow Springs before ultimately entering scenic Lemont.
Starting with Resurrection Cemetery and ending at St. James-Sag Church, this section of Archer Avenue forms the northern border of a triangle of forest preserves, lakes, trails, and burial grounds that could easily be described as the most haunted area in Chicagoland. Encompassing most of the Cook County Forest Preserve District’s Palos Division, this triangle is defined by the Calumet Sag Channel to the south, Archer Avenue and the Des Plaines River to the north, and S. Kean Avenue to the west. It is a hilly, wooded area filled with over a dozen small lakes and sloughs—shallow depressions that often fill with water during the spring and summer.
At the hinterlands of civilization, this area has a well deserved reputation built upon generations of strange encounters and creative storytelling. It is home to no less than ten mystery sites involving everything from hauntings, to unsolved murders, to healing springs, to the site of America’s second nuclear reactor. These locations dot the area on either side of Archer Avenue, with the majority falling inside the boundaries of the triangle.
The unusual qualities of this southwest suburban wilderness make it a favorite for ghost tours, paranormal researchers, and curiosity seekers alike, not to mention hikers, horseback riders, fishermen, and the many thousands who come there to escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city, if only for an afternoon. The roads there are long and dark, the lakes and parks remote, and the landmarks emerge from the shadows to capture the imagination of visitors.
There are five locations in and around this area that are well known to locals and obligatory inclusions in the annals of ghostlore: Resurrection Cemetery and the famous hitchhiking specter of Resurrection Mary, Archer Woods Cemetery, Maple Lake, St. James-Sag Church and Cemetery, and German Church Road—the road along which motorists discovered the bodies of the Grimes sisters in 1957. In addition to these heavyweights, there are at least seven lesser known locations in the vicinity with equally strange and fascinating stories: Bethania Cemetery, the Why Not drive-in, the Justice Public Library, Healing Waters Park, Fairmount Hills Cemetery, the intersection of 95th and Kean, and Sacred Heart Cemetery.
There are many theories as to why this area attracts such a variety of unusual phenomena. In Ursula Bielski’s book Chicago Haunts, she explored the possibility that this section of Archer Avenue runs alongside a ley line, metaphysical lines in the earth that intersect at “nodal points.” These points were said to attract and concentrate paranormal energy. As Bielski explained, the concept of ley lines originated in England in the early 1900s with a man named Alfred Watkins. Watkins was not a geologist and his theories were never accepted by the scientific community.
Never the less, that did not stop people enamored with the concept from roaming the English countryside, mapping the lines. One of these men, a dowser named Guy Underwood, speculated that springs lay under many of the “nodal points.” Is it a coincidence that in southwestern Cook County the underground springs that inspired the name “Willow Springs” also feed many of the lakes and sloughs in the Archer Avenue “triangle”? Could they be connected to these mysterious lines? The evidence in favor of that theory is tenuous at best.
Since this portion of Rout 171 was built over an old Indian trial, some individuals interested in the paranormal have speculated that Native Americans instinctively knew a ley line existed there. For example, in Scott Markus’ book Voices from the Chicago Grave, he wrote, “Archer Avenue was most likely a ley line used by Native Americans so it may be considered sacred ground.” The land on which Archer Avenue sits, however, is an ideal place for a road. It is at the base of a ridge that follows the Des Plaines River, which would have been a major conduit for trade—a reason why the Illinois Central Rail and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal were also built there. The tip of the ridge, above the modern day intersection of Rout 171 and 107th Street, made an excellent observation point. The first French explorers recognized these attributes when they arrived in the 1700s. It is no wonder that first the Native Americans and then European Americans chose this location for a thoroughfare.
It is more likely that these stories cropped up along this stretch of Archer Avenue because, like Cuba Road north of Chicago, the area developed a reputation for the mysterious among urban residents who came to the lakes, trails, and forest preserves to “get away” from the big city. It is a place where visitors encounter cemeteries tucked inside the woods, lakes that seem to glow in the moonlight, and an old limestone church that looms above the surrounding landscape. In the darkness of night, one could easily imagine hearing the frantic hooves of a phantom black carriage barreling toward Archer Woods Cemetery.
There are haunted locations scattered throughout the City of Chicago, but no one place that is sufficiently remote enough to become a breeding ground for those tales. The Archer Avenue “triangle,” at the periphery of the collective consciousness of Chicagoland’s 9.5 million residents, is such a place. In subsequent posts, we will explore the history and folklore of the area’s most legendary locations.
Ursula Bielski, Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City (Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, 1998), 80-81.
Scott Markus, Voices from the Chicago Grave: They’re Calling. Will You Answer? (Holt: Thunder Bay Press, 2008), 282.