This urban legend hails from the windy city, Chicago, in the 1930′s and is said to be the city’s most famous ghost. Resurrection Mary is said to be of the “vanishing hitchhiker” variety which is an urban legend where a hitchhiker is picked up only to later vanish while the vehicle is still in motion.
As the story goes, Mary was at the Oh Henry Ballroom (now known as Willowbrook) dancing the night away with her boyfriend. At some point, the two got into an argument and Mary stormed out of the place, and despite being a cold night, she headed down Archer Avenue and made her way home. Moments later, on that very road, Mary was struck and killed by a a vehicle. It was a hit-and-run. She was left for dead on Archer Avenue where she was eventually found by her devastated parents. She was buried in Resurrection Cemetery wearing a beautiful white dress and matching shoes. Sad to say that the driver was never found.
Young men were said to have met Mary at the ballroom, dance with her and offer her a ride home. She would accept the ride and offer very vague directions that would lead them down Archer Avenue where she would disappear when driving pass the Resurrection Cemetery gates.
The more common stories involve drivers seeing a lonely woman walking down Archer Avenue. They would stop, seeing a damsel in distress, and offer her a ride. They would eventually see her disappear in front of them.
Still, there are other stories that tell of a woman in white running across a motorist and struck dead. Unsuspecting drivers would tell about the horrific “thud” made when they “hit” the woman. They would quickly exit the vehicle to search for the woman but, of course, there was no one there.
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Like every story or urban legend, the burning question is: Is it real?
There are a couple of suggestions that point towards a real-life Mary such as Mary Bregovy, who is also buried in Resurrection Cemetery. Even though Mary Bregovy was also killed in a car accident, the accident took place in Wacker Drive which is in downtown Chicago, the opposite side of town from where Archer Avenue is located. Also, the car she was riding in collided with an elevated train support that sent her crashing through the windshield. Certainly, nowhere near the original story of a hit-and-run! Bregovy’s description also does not match the description of the phantom, which was typically described as having bright blue eyes and blond hair. Bregovy had short dark hair as well as dark eyes according to eyewitness reports as well as photos. Bregovy was also buried with an orchid-colored dress, not white as Resurrection Mary was said to be buried in. (see newspaper article on left)
So if Mary Bregovy is not Resurrection Mary, then who is? Surely, there must be some truth or origins to her legend… right?
According to Ursula Bielski, Anna Norkus is the real Resurrection Mary. Here is Ursula Beilski in her own words:
… I credit my dad with introducing me to the Chicago I grew to adore, as well as to the city’s most famous phantom, Resurrection Mary. Most researchers, most ghost hunters, most documenters of her life and afterlife have met the elusive Mary in magazine articles, newspaper clippings, or – classically — around a campfire in hushed tones. I met her on a barstool at the tender age of five, drinking a Shirley Temple at Chet’s Melody Lounge at 11 AM on a Wednesday morning, when I was supposed to have been in school.I think this is why, twenty-five years later, I became enchanted by one particular incarnation of our most precious Rez Mary: a 12-year-old South side girl named Anna Norkus. Like me, Anna was also a second-generation Eastern European American Chicagoan. Like me, she loved life and music and dancing. And, from a very young age, Anna was (like me) her father’s best friend.
The connection of Anna Norkus to Resurrection Mary was solidified through the rigorous research of Frank Andrejasich of Summit, Illinois. Frank wrote me a lovely letter after publication of my first book, Chicago Haunts, in the Fall of 1997, and told me the story of his obsession, one that would soon become my own and lasting. I met with Frank and his wife one Winter morning, in their bungalow in the town of Summit, at the edge of the great sprawling Southwest side of Chicago, one of the most haunted regions on earth, and he told me the story of how he came to know the true identity of Chicago’s most beloved ghost.
In August of 1994, Andrejasich’s brother had sent Frank a newspaper clipping telling the tale of Resurrection Mary, and, asking around at coffee after Mass one Sunday, Frank found that there were many local versions of the famous tale — and many “candidates” for the role — especially at his own St. Joseph parish, in the heart of Resurrection Mary country. Andrejasich was startled by the prevalence of the story in local memory — and by the opinionated responses to his often-asked question: who was she?
As it turned out, one of Frank’s church buddies was a man named Jake Palus, who turned out to be the younger brother of the now-infamous Jerry Palus. Jerry is believed by many hard-core Mary researchers to have been the phantom’s first encounter; till the day he died, Jerry claimed to have danced with her “all night” in 1936 at the old Liberty Grove and Hall ballroom on 47th street, in the storied Brighton Park neighborhood.
Claire and Mark Rudnicki — friends, neighbors, and former St. Joseph parishioners — told Andrejasich that Resurrection Mary could be traced to the 1940s, when a young Polish girl crashed near Resurrection Cemetery at around 1:20 a.m. after she took the family car to visit her boyfriend in Willow Springs. According to this version of the story, the girl was buried in a term grave at Resurrection. Appropriately, Andrejasich wonders why a couple that owned a car in the 1940s would need to bury their daughter in a term grave.
Adding to the explanations was another parishioner, Ray VanOrt, who tells how he and his bride-to-be were the first witnesses at the scene of an accident on Archer in 1936, when a black Model A sedan collided with a wide-bed farm truck at 1:30 in the morning, while both witnesses and victims were traveling home from the old Oh Henry Ballroom, now the Willowbrook. According to VanOrt, of the two couples in the car, only one person survived, a girl who was badly hurt. Both men and another girl perished. Today, VanOrt is convinced that this was the accident that killed our would-be Resurrection Mary.
Still another parishioner told Frank that the wayward wraith was, in life, Mary Miskowski of the South side Chicago neighborhood of Bridgeport. In this narrative, Miskowski was killed crossing the street in late October in the 1930s, on her way to a Halloween party.
After pondering the variety of accounts, combing early editions of the local papers, and checking with funeral directors and cemetery managers, Andrejasich came to believe that the ghost known as Resurrection Mary is the spiritual counterpart of the youngest of all the candidates: a 12-year-old girl named, surprisingly, Anna Norkus.
Born in Cicero, Illinois in 1914, Norkus was given the name of Ona, Lithuanian for Anna. In that era, it was not the custom to christen infants with two names. But after 1918, children were baptized with a Christian name and an historic name to further pride on their main country. As a young girl, Anna’s devotion to the Blessed Mother led her to begin using the name Marija, Mary, as her middle name. By the time she neared her teenage years, Anna had grown into a vivacious girl. Blonde and slim, she loved to dance, and it was her relentless begging that convinced her father, August, Sr., to take her to a dancehall for her 13th birthday. On the evening of July 20, 1927, father and daughter set out from their Chicago home at 5421 S. Neva for the famous O Henry Ballroom, accompanied by August’s friend, William Weisner, and Weisner’s date. On their drive home, at approximately 1:30 a.m., the travelers passed Resurrection Cemetery via Archer Avenue, turning east on 71st Street and then north on Harlem to 67th Street. There, the car careened and dropped into an unseen, 25-foot-deep railroad cut. Anna was killed instantly.
After the accident, her father, August Norkus was subject to devastating verbal abuse, even being told that Anna’s death had been God’s punishment for allowing the girl to go dancing at such a young age. In reality, the blame rested with the Chicago Streets Department, who had failed to post warning signs at the site of the cut. In fact, another death, that of Adam Levinsky, occurred at the same site the night after Anna’s demise.
Between July 28th and September 29th, an inquest was held at Sobiesk’s mortuary in adjacent Argo. Heading up the five sessions was Deputy Coroner Dedrich, the case reviewed by six jurors. The DesPlaines Valley News carried the story of the inquest.
Mary Nagode described to cousin Frank Andrejasich the sad procession that left the Norkus home on a certain Friday morning: First in line was Anna’s older sister Sophie, followed by her older brother August, Jr. The pastor, altar boys, and a four-piece brass band preceded the casket, borne on a flatbed wagon with pallbearers on each side. Relatives and friends followed the grim parade for three blocks to the doors of St. Joseph’s in Summit, where Anna had made her first communion only a year before. Between the band and the priest walked Frank Andrejasich’s cousin, a terrified Mary Nagode. Mary was a friend of Anna’s who had been pressed into service as a wreath-bearer. On summer vacation, Nagode was weeding on an asparagus farm in Willow Springs when Anna’s father paid a visit to Mrs. Nagode, requesting that Mary march in his daughter’s funeral procession. At home that evening, her mother informed Mary that she had accepted the request on her behalf. The girl was deeply dismayed at the proposition. Mrs. Nagode reminded her daughter that refusal of such a request would be a sin against Roman Catholic moral living, which dictates that one must attend to the burial of the dead.
Anna was scheduled for burial in one of three newly-purchased family lots at St. Casimir Cemetery, and it is here where Andrejasich found the “if” that may have led to an infamous afterlife for Anna : as the world-famous Resurrection Mary, or as Anna called herself, Marija.
Andrejasich discovered that, at the time of Anna’s death, a man named Al Churas Jr., brother-in-law to Mary Nagode, lived across the road from the gates of Resurrection Cemetery, in a large brick bungalow that was recently torn down as part of a subdivision development. Al’s father was in charge of the gravediggers and was given the house to live in as part of his pay. In the mid-1920s, gravedigging was hard, manual labor, rewarded with low pay. Strikes were common. As Resurrection was one of the main Chicago cemeteries, the elder Churas was often sent to the cemeteries of striking gravediggers to secure the bodies of the unburied. Returning to Resurrection with a corpse in a wooden box, Churas’ duty was to bury it temporarily until the strike ended and the body could be permanently interred in the proper lot. Because of poor coffin construction and the lack of refrigeration, a body could not be kept long, except in the ground. If the strike dragged on, identification at the time of relocation could be gruesomely difficult. Thus, reasons Andrejasich, if the workers at St. Casimir were striking on that July morning in 1927, it is quite possible that young Anna Norkus was silently whisked to a temporary interment at Resurrection, and that a rapid decomposition rendered her unidentifiable at the time of exhumation. The result? A mislaid corpse and a most restless eternity, if only one is willing to believe.
Like all things in the near-impossible realm, some believe that Resurrection Mary never existed and that she is merely an urban legend that only exists through words passed down from generation to generation. You decide.
I recently came across a movie by the name of, well, Resurrection Mary. Needless to say, I was really curious about it and having read about this legend years ago, I had no idea that there was a movie readily available and I was destined to watch it!
The movie wasn’t that bad, considering it was very low budget, but there were a few things that were tweaked in the story. BEWARE OF SPOILERS!!!
First of all, as the story goes, we learn that the person who ran her down was her boyfriend with whom she had just finished getting into an argument with. At the same time she is struck, lightning strikes and for some reason or another, they are both doomed to walk the earth until…. well, until she finds true love! Hilarious! I couldn’t believe it! There is nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that is scary about this film. I do have to give it up for the actors in the movie who I think, for the most part, did a pretty good job acting, but that’s about it. If the filmmakers were aiming for something in the horror genre as opposed to the sad, romantic genre, it may have worked. Sadly, it did not.
Still, the movie was somewhat enjoyable, just disappointing as I expected so much more form this movie and I was hoping it would be more of a mystery of who the real Resurrection Mary was.
Check it out if you’d like, but, don’t say I didn’t warn you!