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Montrose Point Haunts: Into the Magic Hedge

An excerpt from "More Chicago Haunts: Scenes From Myth and Memory," by Ursula Bielski

Like the rest of Lincoln Park, the section of public lakefront area sprawling between Waveland and Montrose Avenues has become a popular recreational area, both for residents of the adjacent Lakeview and Buena Park neighborhoods and for those that come there on nice days by foot, car, bike, or rollerblade, many for tennis or golf or for softball games at the Waveland Avenue facilities, fewer to catch sight of the strays that wander from the city's bird sanctuary in the woods beyond the ball field.

With its sparsely used beach, a rarity along the lakefront's endless miles, Montrose Point serves its own free spirits, many of them Hispanic-Americans from nearby Uptown who transform the wide lawns of the Montrose Harbor area into soccer fields, and retirees who fish off the pier from early morning to nighttime.

But all has not always been fun and games here.

Shortly after World War II, the Chicago Park District leased Montrose Point to the United States Army for one dollar a year, so the latter might develop a military post to watch for Russian invasions. The Army first established a gunsite, then replaced it with a Nike missile site. Nearly 300 men were stationed here, with barracks, a mess hall, a radar station, officers' quarters, and other facilities.

As with any military base, the staff of Montrose Point came from all over the country. As with any such situation, most of the servicemen got along. At times, however, tempers flared. And sometimes, they stayed that way, arguments leading to clashes, fists, and worse. James Landing, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, tells a story of these Cold War times at Montrose and the lake:

According to eyewitness accounts, of which there are only a few left, one Halloween evening two soldiers got into a heated argument. One was a young European immigrant from Massachusetts named Pique Nerjee, and the other was a southern cotton farm worker born in Puerto Rico named Hernando Cortez Rodrickkez. The argument became so heated that Rodrickkez threatened to kill Pique. Pique remained in the barracks afterward, since he was on duty that night, but Hernando left the barracks at about 9 p.m., since he had been invited to a masked ball and Halloween party at the national office of the W.C.T.U. in Evanston. Based on later Army reports, a strange noise was heard in the barracks around 12 a.m., enough to cause the men to get up and look around. It was only later that they noticed that Pique did not rise, and when they checked, he appeared dead.

When the coroner arrived to investigate, suddenly Hernando rushed into the barracks shouting, Pique, Pique, please Pique. It seemed that Hernando had heard the same noise at the party and, like a man obsessed, told everyone that he had to return to his post immediately. After they took Pique's body away, Hernando ran out of the barracks, moaning and wailing, Pique, Pique, please Pique.

The soldiers followed, but the night had become misty and fogged and, had it not been for a full moon, they would have seen nothing. Although they heard the moaning and wailing all night, they could not find Hernando, and he was, in fact, never seen again. The Army pronounced him dead (he was believed to have jumped into the freezing autumn waters of Lake Michigan) and reported Pique dead of a sudden heart attack.

The incident was soon forgotten but, the following Halloween night, soldiers in the barracks saw strange figures walking through the shrubs along the barracks (the area known today as "The Magic Hedge"), grabbed their rifles and tried to intercept the intruders.

Nothing!

Each time they returned to the barracks, the strange figures began moving through the shrubs. One time they listened carefully and heard a low moan and wail that sounded something like, Pique, Pique, please Pique, and that is what was reported to their commanding officer.

By the next Halloween the Nike missile site had been removed, but two homeless men sleeping in the park told police that all night "vampire bats" had kept attacking them, whispering that they wanted to suck their blood. Birders dismissed these stories, concluding that the so-called vampire bats were probably owls, and that the wails and moans were the shrieking of the prey they caught, like rabbits and rats.

And so the explanation went -- until about five years ago, when some construction workers at Montrose, doing emergency night sewer work, were distracted by a strange light running through the Magic Hedge. They checked but found nothing more, although they did report a low moaning and wailing of words that they described to their superiors as Pique, Pique, please Pique.

James Landing provided the story of Montrose Point in a written account to the author in the spring of 1999.

© Reprinted from "More Chicago Haunts: Scenes From Myth and Memory," by Ursula Bielski, courtesy of Lake Claremont Press.

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