143rd & Midlothian Turnpike – Bremen Township, IL
GPS Coordinates: +41° 37′ 50.80″, -87° 46′ 14.51″
A two-headed monster. Floating orbs of light. A mysterious woman in white. An Outfit goon. A glowing monk. A phantom horse and carriage. Unearthly growls. Satanists. Decapitated bodies. Demon dogs and a disappearing house. Sound like an unbelievable nightmare? That’s exactly what hundreds, thousands, of people from all walks of life claim to experience at one of Illinois’ – and quite possibly the world’s – most haunted locations; Batchelor Grove Cemetery.
Investigated for decades by paranormal enthusiasts and curiosity seekers, Batchelor Grove Cemetery, or just the Grove, (or Old Bachelor’s Grove, or English Bachelor’s Grove, or Batchelder’s Grove, or Petzel Grove…take your pick) refuses to allow camera-toting paranormal aficionados to leave its confines with a blank roll of film or without a harrowing story to tell. Located southwest of the intersection of 143rd Street & Midlothian Turnpike and east of Ridgeland avenue in Bremen Township, near Oak Forest, Midlothian and Crestwood, Illinois, the Grove consistently produces intriguing evidence of ghostly activity and other supernatural phenomenon.
Legend has it people have been decapitated here. Others swear they’ve seen a two-headed “monster” skulk its way out of the adjacent pond, only to disappear once it reaches the cemetery proper. A woman in white, known as the Madonna of Batchelor Grove, has been seen and photographed. Blue, red and white orbs of light, or spirit orbs, chase cemetery-goers. Some have seen a menacing Outfit-type figure, complete with a trench coat and fedora hat, standing defiantly on the cemetery’s footpaths. Others have been chased from the Grove by unearthly growls and groans, sounds that seem to come from everywhere and nowhere. Large “demon dogs” are said to be the source of the terrifying growls, quadrupedal beasts with red eyes that prowl the woods, the graveyard itself and the cemetery’s abandoned access road. There are numerous reports of a black phantom sedan and an old fashioned horse and buggy haunting both the access road and Midlothian Turnpike. Still others have encountered a glowing, hooded “monk”, and probably the Grove’s most famous mystery, a disappearing farmhouse.
The phantom farmhouse is frequently seen sitting a short distance into the forest, to the left if walking the access road towards the cemetery, to the right if running from the cemetery. At first glance, the ghostly abode appears to be a simple turn-of-the-century farmhouse, and many have probably seen it without knowing what they were really seeing. Eyewitness reports are eerily similar: the house is a white two-story with a large front porch, a porch swing, a picket fence and a glowing light in the front window. Legend has it, when someone tries to approach the home, the home itself slips further and further away into the surrounding woods until it disappears completely. To date, no one has ever reached the phantom farmhouse, or if they have, never made it back to tell about it.
Historically, there was a settlement at Batchelor Grove where a farm house like the one described above could have existed. Groups of pioneers, namely “Yankees” of English, Irish and Scottish-American descent and later large Germanic groups, settled the Batchelor Grove area as early as the 1820’s. (Bettenhausen, 1995) Why someone’s home would stick around to haunt present day cemetery-goers is a mystery. Common practice held that parcels of land were named after the families that settled them. For example, records indicate that plots of land near Batchelor Grove bore names like Walker’s Grove, Gooding’s Grove and Blackstone’s Grove. Accordingly, Batchelor Grove was aptly settled as Batchelder’s Grove, likely named after the Batchelder family who had been living in the area as of 1845 or earlier. (Bettenhausen, 1995) The BATCHELOR spelling is used in this story because that is the spelling most commonly found in period documents and is the spelling used on the original plat for the Village of Bremen for 1853. (Bettenhausen, 1995)
Surely the Grove’s location and physical condition fuels its supernatural rumors, as Batchelor Grove could be described as nothing less than the cliché horror movie graveyard. The cemetery is completely isolated, set a quarter-mile into forest preserves, abandoned and forlorn. On three sides, dense forest envelope the Grove, while a stagnant, green-slime covered pond flanks it on the fourth. Holes and gullies left by macabre grave robbers and the occasional collapsing coffin trip up the careless wanderer, while remaining tombstones rise at awkward angles, jutting from the earth like rotting teeth. Spring, summer and fall finds Batchelor Grove overrun with weeds, grass and fallings, potential hideaways for any number of ghoulish cemetery treats, while winter blankets the cemetery in a muting cover of snow. During warm months, bats fly overhead, and owls hoot and coyotes howl. Add a lightning storm, and suddenly Batchelor Grove transmogrifies into a B-Movie necropolis where the dead walk and innocent coeds meet their fate.
According to an article in Where the Trails Cross entitled Batchelor Grove Cemetery.by Brad L. Bettenhausen of the South Suburban Genealogical & Historical Society, this 264’ X 286’ plot of land (roughly one acre) accepted its first internment in approximately 1838, a man named William B. Nobles at lot 56 or 60 (see map). According to Bettenhausen, the last burials at Batchelor Grove are believed to have taken place in 1965, when a woman by the name of Laura M. McGhee was laid to rest in lot 42, 43, 44 or 59 (see map), and in 1989, when the cremated remains of Robert E. Shields were laid to rest at his family’s plot 17 (see map).
In between its first and last entombments, the Grove has seen somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred fifty to two hundred burials. Sadly, no one knows exactly how many bodies remain. Early records are sketchy at best. Ghoulish grave robbers have exhumed and desecrated bodies. Relatives removed loved ones and had them reinterred elsewhere. Tombstones have been moved, smashed, heaved into the adjoining pond and even stolen. Ironically, a few of the pilfered tombstones were later returned to the Grove because thieves believed them cursed.
As time passed, so did the living relatives of those still entombed at the Grove. The cemetery quickly slipped from a peaceful place of reverence to something more sinister. With no one regularly caring for family plots, Batchelor Grove quickly fell into ruin. Weeds and patches of day lilies took over, suffocating the once beautiful landscape. Broken glass and graffiti quickly replaced ornate tombstones and carefully manicured plots. Real trouble began in the 1960s, when a section of the Midlothian Turnpike, which is now the abandoned access road, was closed to vehicle traffic, permanently isolating the cemetery from the rest of the world.
Because of its secluded, out-of-the-way location, Batchelor Grove became a popular destination for enamored teens and young lovers looking for dappled privacy. With the onslaught of teens came the inevitable drinking parties. To gain entrance, vandals destroyed the chain link fence surrounding the cemetery, ripping its gate wide open and off its hinges. When caretakers repaired the gate, delinquents cut several holes in the fencing to gain entrance, which ghost hunters still use today.
Things have gotten so out of hand at Batchelor Grove, that Forest Preserve Police regularly patrol areas surrounding the cemetery in efforts to curb violence and vandalism, as rumors of satanic activity, rapes, murders and even decapitations have plagued the cemetery at one time or another in its troubled history. Every year, in a one month time frame, from approximately October 15th to mid-November, Cook County Forest Preserve officers increase their presence around Batchelor Grove and will issue anywhere from one hundred to over four hundred ordinance violation tickets. Especially during the Halloween season, nearly all violations are handed out to curiosity seekers who flock to Batchelor Grove in droves to try and catch a glimpse of the hauntings or to conduct some other type of macabre business.
The Grove draws all types of crowds. On a daytime visit to Batchelor Grove, a few days before Halloween 2009, this author found the Grove alive with action. Some thirty people milled about. A man with long greasy hair, wearing a tiger striped shirt and leather pants, provided to cemetery-goers tortilla wrap hors d’oeuvres off a gleaming silver platter. Two different documentary film crews conducted interviews, while a number of amateur ghost hunters tweaked their equipment and loaded cameras in preparation for sundown. Black-clad teenagers, with moons and stars stenciled on their foreheads, flitted among the two most famous tombstones, Fulton and Infant Daughter (see map). Often times, these same cemetery revelers leave totemic offerings like toys,trinkets, candles and candy at the base of Infant Daughter’s tomb (see map).
Officer Dave Griffin of the Cook County Forest Preserve believes it is the legends that herd people to the Grove. “I don’t know if there are ghosts, but of course there are things beyond our comprehension,” Griffin said. Even though local police are an effective deterrent, the law cannot stop the spoken and written word. Officer Griffin chuckles. “People go to the Grove to be scared because of all the stories. The boys try to impress their girlfriends. But when the police get there, the boys are the first to run!” Griffin confirmed that the cemetery has a history of being haunted but he insists that “there are no ghosts and the disappearing house everyone describes never existed.
Even though the disappearing house’s existence is in question, a history of satanic activity certainly is not. According to Griffin, “someone dug up a skull to use for evil purposes and several disemboweled rabbits and dead chickens were discovered on the Grove’s grounds, proving the existence of satanic activity.” And who can forget the dug up, desecrated bodies? One can only imagine the nefarious purposes for such activity.
Though Officer Griffin if fairly certain that the Grove’s ghostly lore is unfounded, he was able to shed some light on the infamous decapitation stories. As it turns out, they are not just tall tales, they actually happened. Back in the cemetery’s heyday, when the access road leading to Batchelor Grove was still a functioning section of the Midlothian Turnpike, a careless man stuck his head out of his sunroof or convertible while driving too fast. Unbeknownst to the driver, his head was about to wage war with a large, low-lying tree branch. The branch won and the driver’s head was purportedly ripped from his shoulders. Silly and careless as this story might seem, another is much more sinister. One night, a depraved individual strung piano wire across the cemetery’s access road, attaching it to a tree on either side. The perpetrator proceeded to scare a small group of people out of the cemetery, forcing them to run down the access road toward what they believed was safety. The runner-in-lead caught the piano wire across the neck, cleanly separating the poor victim’s head from body.
Even neighbors living near the cemetery have fallen victim to its dark side. William O’Shea and his wife Teresa, along with their two daughters, have lived next to the infamous cemetery for almost twenty years. Some know this house as The Last House on the Left, named after a 1972 film by Wes Craven. When this author approached Mr. O’Shea’s home to speak to him as research for this story, Mr. O’Shea reacted violently. He cursed me and approached as if wanting to strike me. Mr. O’Shea is big, well over six feet, and dressed like a blue-collar worker: heavy button-up shirt, blue jeans and dirty work boots. His eyes and hair a little wild.
My first instinct was to take to heels, but I am glad I held my ground. Mr. O’Shea and his wife proved quite valuable in writing this story. Before he would talk to me, I had to plead my case, and finally after understanding that I wanted to interview him, not merely park in his driveway to access the cemetery, he surrendered. “I’m on the defensive,” O’Shea said almost apologetically. “Four carloads of people came here yesterday asking to park here.”
Cemetery visitors, or what O’Shea calls the Scooby-dooers, have not been nice to his family. People, mostly teenagers, have broken his car windows after being told not to park in his driveway. His tires have been slashed on more than one occasion. His chickens have been stolen and later found mutilated in the cemetery. O’Shea stopped raising chickens. In the wee hours of the morning, people knock on his door asking to use his bathroom. O’Shea looked at the ground and shook his head. “One time around midnight, a young man asked to use my phone to call his mom because he was afraid of breaking curfew.
Although not a believer in the supernatural, Mr. O’Shea understands why people flock to the cemetery. “If you write about Batchelor Grove and someone else writes about it, and people read that stuff, they’ll come because they want to experience the strange.
O’Shea’s wife, Teresa, is a believer. A short, round woman with long black hair and a huge smile, Teresa told me that the walls of her one-hundred-sixty-year-old 5-bedroom home bleed on occasion. She says her daughter’s room fills with the stench of pipe smoke when no one is smoking, and that she hears sounds like “poker chips being stacked” when obviously no one is playing poker. Teresa mentioned that the previous caretaker of Bachelor Grove (possibly Mr. Clarence Fulton) used to own her house and hinted that maybe his connection to the cemetery explains her house’s haunted happenings.
After interviewing the O’Sheas for about an hour, Teresa agreed to accompany myself and my photographer to Batchelor Grove. By now it was near dark. I became agitated while walking Batchelor’s Grove access road. After all, it was dusk and just before Halloween. My photographer went into the Grove and snapped some fifty pictures on his Nikon digital camera while Teresa and I talked outside the cemetery. All at once, Teresa and I were overwhelmed with the feeling that something was wrong. At the same time, we turned and saw someone, or something, walking up the trail about thirty feet in front of us, then, just as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone. Simultaneously, my photographer walked out of the cemetery and said that he felt something strange. We hadn’t told him about what we just experienced, yet he felt it too. Suddenly, all three of us got the chills and goose bumps. It felt like someone dumped buckets of ice water over us. We looked at each other frantically. No one else was around. It was just us and the advancing darkness and the awful silence.
Teresa suggested we leave immediately. The Grove had done it again.
On our way out, Teresa nonchalantly said, “That was a girl. She went that way,” and pointed into the immeasurably dark woods surrounding us, undoubtedly trying to explain away our fright.
It didn’t work.