An urban legend retelling inspired by “Resurrection Mary.“
CHICAGO— It was a rainy night when Matthew Fisher, 32, saw a woman walking alone on the side of the road. “It was like three in the morning,” Fisher stated. He is a quiet, unassuming man with a military style haircut, dressed simply in jeans and a plain gray t-shirt. “She looked so miserable and it was pretty cold out, so I pulled over.”
He had been on his way home after when he saw the woman and invited her inside. “I thought it would take some convincing because, you know, a lot of times ladies get scared of men when they ask them to get in the car. But she hopped right in the back seat.”
Sightings of a young woman walking alone on the side of the road are reported to local police regularly. According to Justice Police Department Sheriff George Hammond, it happens at least once a month.
“Oh yeah, it’s common. We get those calls all the time,” Sheriff Hammond said. “It’s just a part of living in Justice.”
Locals call her Resurrection Mary, a ghostly hitchhiker who frequents Archer Avenue, wandering up and down a section of the street in search of a ride to Resurrection Cemetery. According to local legend, she’s assumed to have been traced back to Anna Marija Norkus, a woman who died in a car accident on her way home from a night of dancing.
Local historian and professor at University of Chicago, Dr. Lindsay DuMond, claims the legend has been consistently documented. “Anna Marija Norkus died in 1927, and we know that there have been sightings since the mid-1930s. Some men claim they’ve even kissed and danced with her.” DuMond references an extensive research file she keeps of local news reports and articles. “There’s also the rumor that her hands have burned a spot on the cemetery gates.”
The most mysterious part of the tale comes when the hitchhike ends. “It was the weirdest thing,” Fisher said. “She told me to pull up in front of this huge cemetery. I was about to ask her why she wanted to stop there when it was raining so hard, but when I turned around, she was gone.”
Fisher claims the woman disappeared. “I didn’t hear the car door slam or anything. She was just poof. Gone.”
Chicago is no stranger to ghosts. From the infamous H.H. Holms to the haunted Congress Hotel, the story of Resurrection Mary is the most popular of the local urban legends. With sightings so regular and so common, this reporter decided to try it herself.
After checking the police call in records for patterns, I determined that the end of the month seemed to be the most popular time for passersby to see Mary. When the time came, my photographer, Jennifer Naismith, and I took a drive along south Archer Avenue.
Resurrection Cemetery is large, located across from a few shops and industrial buildings on a somewhat busy road. We started to drive around midnight, so the road was practically empty. As we cruised in a loop, Naismith kept our cameras pointed at the sidewalk that runs the length of the cemetery in hopes of seeing a young, blonde woman walking.
We drove for hours and saw nothing. Then, just as I was about to give up, I saw someone. She was wearing a white party dress with a leather jacket draped around her shoulders. Her blonde hair was pulled up in a ponytail. She trudged along the sidewalk about nine miles from the cemetery in front of Willow Springs Woods. “There!” Naismith exclaimed. “That has to be her. Look at her face.”
The wanderer looked desperate, lost, and confused. Even if this wasn’t the famous Mary, we had to offer our assistance. It was nearly three in the morning and I couldn’t leave someone who looked so forlorn alone.
We pulled up alongside her and rolled down Naismith ’s window. “Hey,” Naismith called. “Do you need a ride?”
The woman looked at us and an eerie, wide grin broke across her face. “That would be lovely. Thank you.”
Naismith and I exchanged looks as I surreptitiously angled my dashcam to point to the back seat. I intended to catch everything. The hitchhiker climbed in. “I’m Marie and this is my colleague Jennifer,” I said as I turned around. “Where are you going?”
The girl smiled again, less eerie this time, and nodded to us. It was hard to see in the low light of the car, but I could swear she was almost translucent. “Just straight on for a bit, thank you.”
We drove, and I was aware from my hours of driving that we were heading in the direction of Resurrection Cemetery. “What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t,” the woman said. Her voice was soft, almost a whisper, and her face seemed to shine in the rearview mirror. “It’s Anna.”
Naismith’s gasp was audible at the match in first names, but having quickly recovered, she followed up. “What are you doing out here so late by yourself?”
There was a moment where we didn’t think we’d get an answer and the car’s silence thickened. I had to wonder if I made a mistake, but so far the coincidences were too compelling. “I like walking in the woods at night sometimes.”
“Aren’t you afraid to walk alone?” Naismith asked.
I glanced in the rearview in time to see interest flicked in Anna’s luminous eyes. “The worst thing that could happen to me has already happened.”
At that, Naismith and I locked eyes. We were sure we had the real Resurrection Mary. However, there was only one way to be sure.
Anna was mostly silent until we came upon the edge of the cemetery’s property. “Slow down a bit. I want to be let off in about half a mile,” she said.
We passed Bethania Cemetery and the Holy Greek Orthodox Church. A knot formed in my throat as I knew we would be upon the gates of Resurrection Cemetery in moments. I slowed my car and Naismith readied a camera she had in her hand.
“Stop here, please,” Anna said, pointing to the entrance to Resurrection Cemetery. Shaking with anticipation, I did as she asked and tried not to take my eyes off of the rearview mirror.
When I asked if she was sure she wanted to exit here, Anna smiled and pointed not to the cemetery gates, but to a flower shop across the street. There was a yellow glow in the front window. “My father is working late and needs my help on some wedding arrangements, and my phone died.” She held up an iPhone with a black screen. “Thanks for the ride. I don’t have my wallet, but if you want to wait a second, I can bring you some gas money.”
Naismith and I looked at each other, confused and crestfallen simultaneously. “No thanks. It was our pleasure,” I said.
Anna smiled again and left the car. She waved to us as she crossed the street, and we watched in silent disappointment as she unlocked the door to the flower shop and disappeared inside.
Even though she wasn’t Resurrection Mary, it felt good to help Anna. Too often we forget that there are people in our communities that need us. After all, the urban legend details the experiences of those kind enough to assist Resurrection Mary. This reporter urges you to look around. There might be someone close by that could use your help, even if they aren’t in the realm of the living anymore.