Resurrection Mary: Anna Norkus?

Posts about Resurrection Mary always generate bizarre, poorly-spelled emails, but the ones related to this post have gotten WAY out of hand. Many comments are not being published, and some have been deleted. 


The facts are these: Anna Norkus died in a car wreck on July 20, 1927, about six weeks shy of her 13th birthday. She was not far from Resurrection Cemetery at the time, but would not have actually gone past it (the roads were different then). Recently-uncovered funeral records indicate that she is buried at St. Casimir Cemetery; though some believe there may have been a gravedigging strike forcing her to be buried elsewhere in a temporary, unmarked grave. She is sometimes mentioned as a candidate for the “real” Resurrection Mary, and her story generates some rather frightening emails.

Particular confusion (and heated debate, oddly enough) centers around the exact identity of the other victim of the crash, a man in his 50s whose name is variously given in newspapers as Adam Lepinski, Adam Lepeicki, and Adam Levinsky. I have received MANY emails demanding in no uncertain terms that I state that the person in question was one Adam Litewski, who died July 27 and was buried at Resurrection on July 28. My own research indicates that the Adam Litewski who died that day was not in his 50s in would certainly not have been in the car with Anna Norkus; indeed, he was not even born yet at the time of the accident. He was stillborn a week later.

In fact, according to the Illinois death index, the man was named Adam Lewieki. A 54 year old man who was born in Lithuania (like Anna Norkus’s family) now working as a real estate agent in Chicago, residing at 3456 Auburb Avenue, Lewieki is listed as having died in Summit on July 21, 1927, the day after the accident (at the time the newspaper articles on Norkus were written, he was still alive, but in critical condition). He was buried at Resurrection the next day, July 22nd.

His actual identity, of course, has little to do with the Resurrection Mary story, so the fact that it generates so much heated controversy at all confuses me somewhat.

On the surface, Anna seems like a poor candidate for the identity of the ghost. Her recently-discovered funeral record (credit there goes to Ray Johnson, the Haunt Detective), she was about six weeks shy of her thirteenth birthday, and was definitely buried at St. Casimir, not Resurrection. If there was a gravediggers strike at St. Casimir which forced her to be buried in a temporary grave at Resurrection, no evidence has been uncovered, and it wasn’t mentioned in her burial records. Witnesses have always described Mary as older than that.

However, there are also stories about a younger girl being hit by a car on Archer – people say that they’ve crashed into her, then get out to help to find no one there.

Inez Clarke: The Ghost a Girl That’s Never Been

It’s one of the most famous ghost stories in Chicago: Inez Clarke, the poor little girl who was locked out of her house in an electrical storm (or something like that) is, to this day, haunting Graceland Cemetery, around the spot where she is immortalized by a statue in a glass case. The statue, it is said, disappears now and then, and the ghost of poor Inez is seen playing around the graveyard, especially during storms.

There’s one big problem, though: there was never any such person as Inez Clarke.

Cemetery officials at the time this blog post was originally written stated that the person buried there was one Amos Briggs, and that the statue was jsut an advertisement for a sculptor. 

This is not a new issue in the ghost hunting world – there are plenty of ghosts of people who never existed (or who aren’t actually dead yet) being hunted out there. Similiarly, plenty of people have spent time investigating the vacant lot where a haunted building once stood, not realizing that the real building is still standing across the street. Quite a few people spend a LOT of time getting the ghosts of kids killed in long ago train accidents to push their cars over railroad tracks – but some research would generally tell them that there was never any such crash on the site.

I always feel like a real grinch when I have to write this sort of “debunking” stuff, but there’s no point in looking for ghosts that we know aren’t real – there are a lot of sites out there that aren’t haunted, but were said to be so that ghost tours would have an excuse to go there. Believe me.

But the good news is that, despite a big outcry about Inez being fake, it turns out that there really WAS an Inez. Her last name simply wasn’t Clarke.

In 2007, the Sun Times ran a big story about it pretty conclusively proving that Clarke never existed (it involved some pretty hardcore proof – signed affidavits and everything!) The piece alleged that Ursula Bielski had invented the story (or at least spread it around without doing her homework), but this was sort of unfair. The story had been going around for years, and it’s far from the only story going around where the available info is pretty scant. That’s ghost stories for ya.

And the cemeter’s story never quite rang true for some: after all, if there was no Inez, why did the name “Inez” appear on the statue, and why did the plaque beneath say “daughter of M.C. Clarke?” John J. Binder, a local author, was able to establish that they were partially right – the girl was Inez Briggs (the name “Amos” probably came from a hasty transcription of the name “Inez” – write them both down in sloppy cursive and you’ll see how the mistake could be made at once). “Clarke” was her mother’s married name. The death certificate for Inez Briggs says that she died of diphtheria, and that she lived in what is now Uptown.

The Terrible Gennas 2: The De Cola Funeral Home

On Grand, near Racine, about a block and a half from the site where Tony Genna was killed (see previous post) stands the Bar Casablanca, a Mexican restaurant and bar. Here’s the front of it:

You wouldn’t know it now, but this was the site of the De Cola funeral home which was, according to one local resident, the site of a veritable who’s who of mafia funerals. Certainly it was the funeral home of choice for the Terrible Gennas. At the time, mob funerals tended to be insanely lavish displays – the equivalent of millions would be spent on flowers.

But Tony’s wasn’t like that – his body laid on the slab in the morgue at the place for a while before a very simple service was held, attended only by family. He was, however, given a $5000 coffin. About 30 or so people attended the burial at Mt. Carmel, the suburban cemetery where Capone himself ended up buried. Only one person – apparently Tony’s sweetheart – was seen to sob.

Capone was said to have been the one who ordered Tony’s death, but the police had no leads, and didn’t really seem to care. The papers said there was a lack of interest down at the police station, where the police were perfectly happy just to know that he had been buried without any further gang warfare flare-ups.

Much more information on gangsters can be found in our book, of course!

I’m going to endeavor to put something up here daily between now and Halloween – several posts are being prepared in advance, since we’re AWFULLY busy in October. If you have any subjects you’d like covered on here, let me know!

Tornado at Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery?

As I type this, a severe storm with some tornado sightings is ripping through the Chicago area, including downtown. The worst of it seems to have passed me (about half a mile West of the loop) a few minutes ago, but a few tornadoes were reported, including as close to me as Logan Square. Not sure about damage yet, but it looks like downtown is out of the danger zone.

However, the news just mentioned something about a funnel/tornado sighted near 147th and Cicero – right near Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, the abandoned cemetery that is reputed to be among the most haunted locations in the world.

I can’t imagine the storm could damage it too much more than the vandals already have, but we’ll keep you posted if we hear anything. Could some underground energy or ley line or somesuch business have attracted the tornado to the area? I’m no expert on that side of things, but something tells me they might be talking about this storm in paranormal circles for some time.

We’ll keep you posted if there are any updates on damage in the area.

Who’s Buried in Ira Couch’s Tomb?

The old City Cemetery (now Lincoln Park) is a regular stop on our tours, and there will be a big section on it in the book.

Pamela Bannos at Northwestern has put together a terrific webpage that compiles historical documents, contemporary articles, and other neat stuff about – including some really groundbreaking research!

Check it out at http://hiddentruths.northwestern.edu/.

One thing we don’t mind doing here at Chicago Unbelievable is admitting we were wrong. For some time, when we passed the Couch Tomb, we’d tell people that Couch himself apparently wasn’t in it – a story that’s gone around quite a bit. We’re not sure where that story came from; our research for the book indicated (as does Bannos) that Couch is certainly in there – the mystery is who’s in there WITH him! The last time they tried to bury someone in there was when James Couch, Ira’s brother died. The door was rusted shut by then, and they decided to bury him in Rose Hill rather than trying to blast their way in with dynamite.

Thanks to Bea for the tip!


Chicago’s Most Famous Ghost: Resurrection Mary

I remember seeing this episode of Unsolved Mysteries when I was a teenager and being really, really freaked out by it. Some little thing about it just got into my head and scared the crap out of me. Thanks to the magic of youtube, I can see it again now. I really don’t see what I found so scary about it now, though sometimes I wonder how I managed to go from having a terrible fear of cemeteries barely a decade ago to being a professional ghost buster today.

And for a whole lot more information, check out our Resurrection Mary Roundtable podcast episode!  My GHOSTS OF CHICAGO book also has a full database of known sightings and theories.

I’ve always been on the fence about Mary; there are more documented sightings of her than many local ghosts (some of which have only ever been seen by one particular tour guide), but it seems more like an urban legend to me. Variations of the vanishing hitchhiker story are seen all over the world, going back in recorded history over 2000 years. Oddly, while I’ve had eyewitnesses to many Chicago ghosts on my tours, I’ve never met anyone who had a good Mary encounter to share. The story has gone around so much by now that it’s difficult to know who to believe. But, one way or the other, it’s a great story that has captured the imaginations of generations of Chicagoans.

NOTE: Jane Addams of Hull House once made a speech about Archer Avenue in the Florentine Room of the Congress Hotel – a regular tic-tac-toe of Chicago ghost stories!

Belle Gunness Update!

Rich Vitton of the Forest Park Historical Society has sent us an update on Belle Gunness, the murderess about whom we blogged earlier in the week. Belle, if you’ll recall, was exhumed from her resting place at a cemetery in Forest Park to see if the headless corpse was actually hers.

According to Andrea Simmons, who is handling the DNA testin in Indiana, there’s about a 50-50 chance that the tests will work out. DNA samples have been sent to five different labs, but they feel that there may not be enough DNA left for conclusive results.

But fear not – there’s a backup plan! Permission has been obtained from Gunness’ descendants to exhume Belle’s sister, who is buried in California, so that more DNA can be extracted.

Also buried in California is another target for exhumation – the body of Elizabeth Carlson, who was awaiting trial for poisoning at the time of her death. Many believed at the time that she wasn’t Elizabeth Carlson at all, but Belle Gunness herself!

Here is a rare picture of Belle’s sister sent to us by Rich. It may give us some idea as to what Belle would have looked like as an old woman:

The results of the test should be known in May or June!

My thoughts be bloody or nothing-worth!

Across the street from Couch Place (alias Death Alley), a regular tour stop, is The Goodman Theatre. It’s an unlikely place to find a body, but tucked away in some guy’s desk is the skull of comedian Del Close, who left his skull to the theatre in his will so that next time they do Hamlet he can play Yorick.

Some employees have told us that they don’t think it’s his skull (in fact, it’s pretty well established that it was just a skull Close’s girlfriend got from a medical supply shop when the coroner wouldn’t give her the real one), but, regardless, next time they do Hamlet, it’ll surely be one of the more noteworthy productions of that show in the city. But most historic version of Hamlet in Chicago may have been the one presented in 1862. Here’s an ad for it – check out the star:

John Wilkes Booth was Chicago’s theatrical sensation of 1862, playing a three week stint at the (now demolished) McVicker’s in January followed by a two week stand in June. During these stands, he played at least half a dozen of the greatest Shakespeare characters, including Hamlet, Richard III, Romeo and Othello. Most people think that the real talent in the family was Booth’s brother, Edwin (who had a career that lasted for decades), but the Tribune called John Wilkes a genius. History books today rarely mention just how popular an actor he was. I can only imagine how weird it must have been for people who saw him plotting to kill the king as Hamlet, or plotting to kill half of England as Richard III, to remember those scenes in 1865!

While in Chicago, Booth stayed at the Tremont House, a (now demolished) hotel on Dearborn and Lake that had been owned by Ira Couch, whose tomb still stands in Lincoln Park, the last remaining crypt of the old City Cemetery (and, yes, he’s thought to be in there – the mystery is who’s in there WITH him). Abraham Lincoln also stayed at the Tremont House whenever he was in Chicago; he gave a version of his “House Divided” speech from the balcony in 1858, and held a reception in the lobby after his election in 1860.

After the Lincoln assassination, there were reports of Booth being sighted, alive, in McVicker’s theatre – one of many reports that the person killed in the barn was not really him. Twenty years later, his daughter, under the name Rita Booth, was said to be working as a dancer in a burlesque comedy in Chicago.