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Vickroy: In search of the Madonna of Bachelors Grove

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Updated: December 2, 2013 12:08PM



Halloween is a day for tales.

So gather ’round, all you mere mortals, for things are about to get weird.

Let me begin by pointing out that no one knows why the Southland is a hotbed of ghostly activity. But it’s fair to say nary a soul exists who hasn’t heard at least a snippet of one or three.

Haunted graveyards, hitchhiking spirits and, our special guest today, the Madonna of Bachelors Grove Cemetery.

You may recall that just a few weeks ago, I told you what historian Brad Bettenhausen thinks about supposed sightings of a disappearing house, a mysterious blue light and a ghostly female figure at the tiny one-acre cemetery in Bremen Township near Midlothian.

“Hogwash,” he said.

But on this day, I give equal time to an opposing view — a beyond-the-grave perspective from paranormal investigator Ed Shanahan, who takes us for a walk on the dark side.

Shanahan — a spiritual observer, psychic reader and south suburbanite — uses an echovox, a recording device that apparently picks up electronic voice phenomenon, to communicate with the spirit world. He believes that he has made contact with the Madonna.

First, though, settle back, get comfy, grab a blanket and remember, you’re safe. No one can get you here. Well, I hope anyway.

Our story begins in the mid-1860s. Near the end of the Civil War, John Humphrey, a British-born expatriate and unsuccessful California gold digger, moved to what is now Orland Park. He married Amelia Patrick, the daughter of Walter and Hannah Patrick of Bremen, now Tinley Park.

The couple had a child, Libby May Humphrey, in 1864. She died at 11 months. There are no records explaining why she passed in infancy, but it’s interesting to note that an early death awaited three of her future siblings as well.

The Patrick family had a plot in Bachelors Grove, and Libby was laid to rest there. Her grave marker no longer exists, but at one time it was located near the large Patrick family headstone.

She is not buried beneath the marker that reads “Infant Daughter,” as many people apparently believe. That headstone belongs to Emma Fulton.

In 1881, the Humphreys build their second home, a two-story frame house in Orland Park near the Wabash, St. Louis and Pacific Railroad stop, considered the center of town. That house was eventually willed to the Orland Park Historical Society, which maintains it today.

John Humphrey was the first mayor of Orland Park and is credited with having the village incorporated in 1892. He was elected to the Illinois House in 1870 and to the state Senate in 1886, serving until 1910. Humphrey, a Republican, also served as Orland Township supervisor from 1867 until his death in 1914.

Bob Elli, president of the historical society, said Humphrey was an influential man who was instrumental in keeping Chicago from expanding and scooping up land in Orland Township. He also was known as a quiet man who carried a very large stick.

“He was a forceful debater who got what he wanted,” Elli said.

One time, the story goes, Humphrey asked the local sheriff to get him patronage workers for some jobs he wanted done. When the sheriff refused, Humphrey, who had previously learned that the sheriff was skimming from the prisoners’ food fund, introduced a bill in the Legislature that moved payment for their food from the sheriff’s office to the county treasurer.

Humphrey either got his way, or he got his point across, Elli said.

Another time, in a fateful move, Humphrey, a Methodist, didn’t like that the Lutherans were teaching children in German. He decided that all schools in Illinois should teach English as the primary language and got a law passed making English the state’s official language.

That move was costly. Soon after, Lutheran support helped John Altgeld become the first Democratic governor of Illinois in 1893.

Meanwhile, back home, both Elli and Shanahan believe, Humphrey continued to rule with an iron fist.

“I believe he was a strict disciplinarian,” Shanahan told a group of people during a recent tour of the Humphrey house.

The Humphreys would go on to have six more children, three of whom died very young. Like Libby, Mabel and Thomas died in infancy. Lillian died when she was 5.

Neither Elli nor Shanahan know how the children died, but they speculate that life must have been pretty rough on Amelia as a result.

Orland Park Memorial Cemetery opened after Libby’s death, and all of the other Humphrey children as well as Amelia and John and John’s second wife, Ida, are buried there. Libby is the only Humphrey child at Bachelors Grove, Shanahan said.

And that’s why so many believe that visions and apparitions, both witnessed and caught on film, of a woman in white hanging around Bachelors Grove Cemetery is Amelia Humphrey.

They say she has come looking for her first-born child. Shanahan said a woman once brought him a photograph of a woman in white apparently resting on a squarish headstone, not far from where Libby is believed to be buried.

Shanahan said he has conducted investigations, using his echovox inside the Humphrey home to make contact with Amelia and with Libby.

On a recent day, he laid the recorder on the Humphrey bed at the home and asked if Amelia was there and if she is indeed the Madonna. The response was sketchy, crackly, staticky, but some members of the tour group believed they heard the spirits reply, “yes,” “wait” and “Ed.”

One woman on the tour, Theresa Ewald, of Justice, believes she caught a glimpse of a ghost on her digital camera.

“I had a creepy feeling in that room,” Ewald said, pointing to Amelia’s bedroom.

A photo taken in the room clearly showed a shadow on the wall, even though Ewald insisted there was nothing in the room to cast such a shading.

So, is the ghost of Amelia Patrick-Humphrey still searching for her long-lost Libby? What do you think? Do stories like this frighten or unnerve you? Do they give credence to the supernatural?

I think we all can agree that this is, at the very least, a sad story, an indication of how difficult life must have been for Amelia Humphrey.

No one knows for certain whether she is the Madonna of Bachelors Grove. That’s the thing about ghost stories — much of their sustainability depends on you.

Happy pondering.



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