Graveyards of Chicago: Bachelors Grove Cemetery
Rubio Woods Forest Preserve, 143rd Street & the Midlothian Turnpike, Bremen Township, near Oak Forest, Midlothian, and Crestwood
An excerpt from "Graveyards of Chicago: The People, History, Art, and Lore of Cook County Cemeteries" by Matt Hucke and Ursula Bielski
This enigmatic site has been a thorn in the side of southwest suburban officials
since the closing of the old Midlothian Turnpike in the 1960s, which barred the
one-acre cemetery from vehicle traffic and simultaneously created the most legendary
lovers lane in the metropolitan area.
Part of the Rubio Woods Forest Preserve, Bachelors Grove (also known as
Batchelor Grove, Old Bachelor's Grove, Bachelder's Grove, Batchelor's Grove,
English Bachelor's Grove, and others) was founded in the mid-nineteenth century as
Everdon's Cemetery, hosting its first burial when Eliza Scott was interred in
November 1844. For many years a placid place where families picnicked on
Sundays and fished in the site's quarry pond, the burial ground began its aesthetic
decline in the 1950s and '60s, when teenagers enjoying the surrounding woods
initiated reports of mysterious flashing lights and a "magic house" that would appear
and disappear from a clearing in the forest.
Since these earliest reports of a haunted Bachelors Grove, myriad tales have
taken root in the area's fertile soil, which is credited as the place of origin of a
number of popular modern American folktales; for example, these woods are
supposed to have been the site where the original "Hooked Maniac" of urban
legend preyed on lovelorn victims after escaping from a mental institution. In
addition, numerous other phantoms have joined the magic house in haunting the
grove, including a two-headed man, a woman in white called "The Madonna of
Bachelors Grove," ominous, darkly-hooded figures, and a man in a yellow suit who
is reputed to appear and disappear in a shower of sparks.
Fueling the imaginative fire here are the ongoing reports of Satanic worship
alleged to have occurred at Bachelors Grove since the 1960s. Far from unfounded,
such reports were authenticated with some frequency during the '70s, when
hooligans in search of kicks routinely dug up graves and rearranged tombstones,
some leaving animal remains and other grisly tokens as calling cards.
Though Bachelors Grove is a heart-wrenching mess of a place these days, there
is hope that local frustration at the continued ransacking of the site will inspire a
renewed effort to restore to the cemetery some its former dignity.
Originally settled in the early 1830s by British migrants from New England, a
second influx of German settlers traveled to the Bachelors Grove area during the
1840s. Though local popular history traces the site's name to four single men who
migrated to these woods during the first phase of settlement, resulting in the
designation as "Bachelors" Grove, local researchers now believe that the true
spelling of the place name was Batchelder, and that the Grove was named for the
family that had settled in the area in 1845. Still, the popular name of Bachelors
Grove persists, despite the more common historical use of the hybrid "Batchelor"
Grove name, among others.
Though anywhere from 150 to 200 persons are estimated to have been buried in
this tiny enclosure, fewer than 20 headstones remain. Fortunately, largely owing to
the efforts of historian Brad L. Bettenhausen, a plot map was compiled in the
mid-1990s, which was published along with background notes in the Fall 1995 issue of
the South Suburban Genealogical and Historical Society's journal, Where the Trails
Cross. Gathering research from area maps, students of Bremen High School, and
members of local historical societies, Bettenhausen matched up burial records and
plot locations to create a picture of the true Bachelors Grove, despite the vandalism,
missing stones, and waist-high foliage of recent years. The result is an intriguing
tale of settlement and growth and, sadly, of decline.
The last known burial of a body at Bachelors Grove took place in 1965; the last
burial of ashes was recorded in 1989. Burials after 1950 are rare, and many
remains have been disinterred and moved from Bachelors Grove throughout the
century as a result of the migration of families, the need for larger plots, and, later,
the horror of families at the desecration of the grounds. Still, a search for the origins
of Blue Island should begin by walking the few hundred feet down the weed-choked
road to the grove, where many of the area's earliest and most influential settlers
have, in recent decades, endured a less than peaceful sleep.
© Reprinted from "Graveyards of Chicago: The People, History, Art, and Lore of Cook County Cemeteries," by Matt Hucke and Ursula Bielski, courtesy of Lake Claremont Press.