Vickroy: Bachelors Grove myths don’t stand ghost of a chance
BY DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy October 18, 2013 5:36PM
A-haunting you will go ...
If it’s ghosts and hauntings you’re after, Edward Shanahan, creator of Chicago Paranormal Nights, and Melissa De Santis, of the Southland Paranormal Society, continue to visit and investigate paranormal events at Bachelors Grove.
For more information on Shanahan’s work, visit chicagoparanormalnights.com.
For more information on De Santis’ work, visit the Southland Paranormal Society page on Facebook.
Updated: November 21, 2013 6:35AM
A man with a hook. A lady in white searching for her baby. A runaway horse dumping a farmer into the creek.
These are just some of the ghosts that people have professed to seeing, feeling or experiencing at Bachelors Grove Cemetery near Midlothian.
And it’s all hogwash, says Brad Bettenhausen, Tinley Park village treasurer and president of the Tinley Park Historical Society.
“Some of those stories — the man with the hook, the fingernails scraping across the roof of the car, the disappearing house — those were all campfire stories told in various versions across the country,” Bettenhausen said. “That’s where urban legends come from.”
Over the years, Bettenhausen has patched together a history of the area. His work is ongoing.
People still should come to visit the site, particularly if they’re interested in local history, just don’t expect to spy any paranormal happenings, he said.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, we did just that. We parked in the Rubio Woods lot across the Midlothian Turnpike and walked over to the cemetery.
The footpath leading in used to be a road. Flanked by tall oaks and pines, it now is a bucolic entryway to a trapezoidal-shaped cemetery, no larger than an acre, that has seen more than its share of turmoil.
But on this bright afternoon, it was quite peaceful. Recent restoration efforts have paid off. The grass and weeds have been mowed, the trash that once littered the area has been hauled away. And the pond that separates the hallowed ground from the busy turnpike was placid, algae-covered and still as, well, a cemetery.
“The headstones are still disheveled,” Bettenhausen said. But that comes with age.
Bachelors Grove was one of the earliest settlements in Cook County, he said. Back in the 1830s, people settled near timber shelters, many of which were given names that ended in “grove.” Skunk Grove. Goodings Grove.
Not only did the trees provide building materials, they made it easier for settlers to break the soil.
There’s no evidence that Bachelors Grove was so named because it was a haven or draw for single men, Bettenhausen said.
“Stephen Rexford, one of the citizens on the committee for establishing township government in Cook County in 1849 to 1850, popularized the story of bachelors settling in the area,” Bettenhausen said. “But my research shows the name was already in use.”
The first settlers were mostly English, Irish and Scottish immigrants, most of them second-generation Americans, he said. Next came the Germans.
In 1833, the area began to experience rapid growth. The federal government had worked out a treaty with Chief Blackhawk, and as the Native American population moved out of the area, concern about Indian attacks and other related issues went away, Bettenhausen said.
Some people came specifically to work on the Illinois & Michigan Canal. Some were drawn to the area by cheap land prices. At the time, he said, the government was issuing land warrants to veterans of the War of 1812.
“Most of this area was a designated military tract back then,” he said.
The land warrant issuance also opened up a secondary market for brokers who would buy the certificates from vets and resell them at a profit.
At the same time, the government was allowing squatters who had settled in an area and made improvements to it to buy the land they were living on once it became available for sale. Back then, land cost about $1.25 an acre, Bettenhausen said.
“There were people who made a lot of money by investing in land warrants,” he said.
In keeping with the custom of the day, he said, the cemetery probably was earmarked as a local church site. It was common then to have burials on church ground.
Trinity Lutheran Church in Tinley Park, Immanuel Lutheran in Richton Park and St. James at Sag Bridge Church in Lemont all have cemeteries on site dating back to the mid-1800s. However, he has not been able to find any record or remnants of a church on the site.
Before perpetual care, family members were responsible for maintaining the gravesite. The Fulton family eventually became the primary trustee for cemetery preservation. Today, the largest stone and just about the only one that has remained undisturbed belongs to John Fulton Jr.; his infant daughter’s grave is there, too.
Bettenhausen said he has been able to document 150 of the estimated 200 people buried there, although only about 15 markers remain.
The first burial was that of Eliza Scott. Over time, some of the coffins were moved to other cemeteries as families moved to other locations.
In the 1920s, the county started buying up land for forest preserve areas. The road leading into Bachelors Grove was closed to vehicle traffic, rendering the cemetery even more isolated. And creating an inviting setting for ghost hunters.
Stories about ghost sightings and a house that appeared and then disappeared became popular locally and eventually across the nation. The place became a popular hangout for kids who liked to party, as well, Bettenhausen said.
In the 1970s, authorities began finding evidence of satanic rituals in the woods surrounding the graveyard.
“It became horribly vandalized, with graffiti everywhere, on the trees and headstones,” Bettenhausen said. “That only seemed to add to the mystique and give credence that it was haunted.”
Bettenhausen said the ghost stories overshadow the real history of the cemetery “and the fact that it is a cemetery and deserving of respect and dignity.”
For more information on the history of Bachelors Grove, visit bachelorsgrove.com.