Resurrection Mary

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About twenty minutes southwest of Chicago, in Cook County, there's a village called Justice. Back in 1920, the village had a population of 183, and in 1930 it had a population of 377. It was a very, very small place back then. Today, Justice, Illinois, is home to around 13,000 people—all of which have heard...

The Legend of Resurrection Mary

Old photo of a woman in a white gown on a road at night.
Resurrection Mary (not a real photo of a ghost)

Now, I've never been to Justice, IL, but I learned all about Resurrection Mary when I was a kid, thanks to this man:

Robert Stack, host of Unsolved Mysteries
Robert Stack, host of Unsolved Mysteries. I was glued to the TV every time this show came on.

If you have the theme song playing in your head right now, hop over to YouTube for a high-quality version of the original song. You can listen to it as you continue reading. Or, if you're like me and love to have spooky music or horror movies on in the background all day long, you'll want to both open and save this link: Unsolved Mysteries 5-Hour Theme Song | Netflix.

Read this with me in Robert Stack's voice as we continue...

"Tonight, the mysteries of love lost and love found, sometimes when you least expect it. Around Chicago, she's known as Resurrection Mary. A pale, mysterious young woman who has teased and beguiled the city for more than half a century. Some say she is nothing more than the product of overactive imagination. Others are certain there is more to this ghostly beauty than meets the eye."

— The Robert Stack Voice We All Have Permanently Embedded Into Our Brains
Resurrection Cemetery main gate.
Resurrection Cemetery. Justice, Illinois, courtesy of MrHarman at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Encounters With Resurrection Mary

The stories of encounters with Resurrection Mary essentially end the same way (her vanishing), though the beginnings vary.

Back in 1939, a cab driver named Jerry Palus was out at his favorite dance hall and came across a young blonde woman wearing a white gown. Jerry and the woman named Mary hit it off and spent the night dancing, but something struck Jerry as odd about Mary—her hands were freezing. As the night ended and the two shared a kiss, Jerry offered Mary a ride home. Mary told Jerry where she lived but asked to be dropped off at a cemetery on Archer Avenue instead of her home. When they arrived at Resurrection Cemetery, Mary got out of the car and vanished before Jerry's eyes. The next day, a confused Jerry went to the house Mary said she lived in and knocked on the door. Mary's mother answered the door and told Jerry that her daughter had been dead for five years.

Forty years later, in 1979, a cab driver claimed to have picked up a young woman in a white gown and drove her down Archer Avenue. She told him to stop the car by Resurrection Cemetery, and as soon as he stopped, she vanished.

A year later, in 1980, Clare Rudnicki and her husband Mark were driving down Archer Avenue and saw a woman in a white gown slowly walking on the side of the road. The woman appeared translucent and had a glowing white aura around her. Clare and Mark turned around and found the woman had disappeared.

In 1989, Janet Kalal and a friend were driving near Resurrection Cemetery in the evening. A woman in a white gown jumped in front of Janet's car. Janet didn't have time to react and hit the woman—only there was no impact and no sound. The woman had vanished.

Who Was Resurrection Mary?

The answer to this is a hotly debated topic in the right circles. After all, most of the time, you can't just ask a ghost for their name. Thankfully, we have dedicated researchers who tirelessly dig for information exactly like this. Richard Crowe, a local folklorist and historian around Chicago, believed the ghost in the white gown to be a woman named Marie Bregovy, who was killed in a traffic accident in 1934.

Newspaper article about Marie Bregovy.

Another theory on Mary's identity is that she's a woman named Anna "Marija" Norkus, who died in a 1927 car accident while on her way home from the Oh Henry Ballroom (on Archer Avenue), later known as the Willowbrook Ballroom. Unfortunately, the building was gutted in a fire in 2016.

Old newspaper article about Anna Norkus dying in a car crash.
Newspaper article about Anna Norkus.

Check out the well-researched theory by author Ursula Bielski: Marija: The half-life of Resurrection Mary.

Resurrection Cemetery's Front Gate Bars

Did you know ghosts can bend and leave fingerprints on wrought iron bars? See it for yourself. In 1976, a couple reportedly saw a young woman locked inside the cemetery at night. Police searched for her but found nothing. Instead, they found the bars on the front gate had been twisted and burned with something like handprints. A representative for the cemetery said it was a truck that backed into the gate, damaging them. After a flood of people went to see the bars, they were cut off to stop the crowds.

Why Haven't We Captured More Video Evidence of Ghosts?

This question comes up a lot when discussing ghosts or cryptids or strange phenomena: Why don't we have more videos of these things?

The answer is simple. Let me tell you about my cat's ninja kick.

My cat, Cap'n Hammy Pants, does this absolutely bonkers flying ninja kick. My wife Tae and I call it that because it reminds us of those old Japanese films where you can see a martial arts master defying gravity (probably with wires) shooting across a room with their leg out after hopping a bit from a standing position.

I've never been able to capture this on film, though I see it regularly. It's an awe-inspiring feat for any animal or human, even more so because Cap'n Hammy Pants has three legs.

My cat, Cap'n Hammy Pants, sitting on a plastic container and looking down toward the camera.
Imagine, from this exact position, this cat zips five feet across the room with her back leg in a kick straight out of Mortal Kombat.

The problem is that she doesn't do it on demand, and I never have my phone out recording when she does it. An indoor camera that's constantly recording? Tried it. It's like she senses a camera nearby and refuses to do it anywhere near the field of vision. You might try to think of clever ideas to trick her into doing it in front of a camera, like an indoor motion-sensitive camera that isn't recording until she flies across the room. Nope. Her flying ninja kick is too fast and by the time to motion triggers the camera to record, she's already landed five feet away, looking rather smug.

This is the same problem with ghosts, cryptids, and generally strange phenomena. We aren't recording all the time, and when something unexpected happens, it's usually over by the time we can fumble out a camera and start recording. It was even worse a few decades ago because we weren't walking around with computers in our pockets that could record video.

Maybe I'll catch Cap'n Hammy Pants doing her flying ninja kick someday, and perhaps someone will eventually capture Resurrection Mary on a dashcam.

The Vanishing Hitchhiker Types

By now, you've likely heard a tale of a vanishing hitchhiker. To me, the story runs deep in Americana—because I grew up here. When I began researching this, I didn't know that they're actually all over the world and go much further back than I suspected. Korea, Russia, England, and other parts of the world, going back as far as the 1870s. You can read more about this ghost type in The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand.

Nostalgic Bonus!

Go check out the Resurrection Mary Episode of Unsolved Mysteries (Season 6, Episode 15) on YouTube via FilmRise (fully legit and legal distribution.) They also have a vast catalog of other Unsolved Mysteries episodes for free so that you can get your Robert Stack fix.

You can also read more about Resurrection Mary by Ursula Bielski on Chicago Hauntings: Resurrection Mary: the Queen of Chicago's Haunted Archer Avenue. While you're at it, don't miss out on Ursula's books about haunts.