Beware the Beauty of Bachelor’s Grove

A Firsthand Account of One of the Most Haunted Cemeteries in the United States

Beware the beauty of Bachelor's Grove

Arriving at Bachelor’s Grove, I got the distinct impression of having made a mistake. This couldn’t be the place. It felt too peaceful to be a paranormal hotspot. However, as I lingered, the setting dissuaded such notions. The charm of the cemetery easily gave way to a prevailing eeriness, combining the dread of a haunted forest with the apprehension of a paranormally plagued place. There is, in other words, two for one terror in Bachelor’s Grove.

Though I knew a few urban legends thanks to growing up in and around Chicago, a place like Bachelor’s Grove offers every possibility of running into Satanists, ghosts, and other paranormal adventurers. Visiting it brims with potential, especially going there for the first time. Driving along 143rd Street, I expected the graveyard to be visible from the road but that’s far from the case. Although GPS provided an accurate map, I easily missed the location.

The forest hides the spot from the unfamiliar. It’s necessary to park in a nearby lot for Rubio Woods then walk about a quarter-mile to the actual cemetery site. Along the way, I passed a group of folks whose apparel suggested goth, heavy metal, and other marvelously macabre inclinations. Seeing where they emerged, my guess about the route seemed right. So, I crossed the busy road and entered the snowy woods.

The red sign for Illinois Forest preserve's Rubio Woods.
It starts in Rubio Woods.

Located in southernmost Cook County, the cemetery can be found in what is now Bremen Township. Near the Rubio Woods, it lies along an abandoned section of the Midlothian Turnpike shrouded from view by the forest. According to the Tinley Park Historical Society, the earliest record of Bachelor’s Grove appears in a periodical circa 1832, “Bachelder’s Grove,” in Cook County, eighteen miles southwest of Chicago, contains about two sections of timber, and a large settlement.” The cemetery located thereabouts is one of, if not the oldest graveyard in south Cook County.

The names of locations can change over time, and Bachelor’s Grove is no stranger to such alterations. Historically, it’s been referred to as Bachelor, Batchelder, Bachelder, Bachlor, and Petzel. Yet, the most recognized spelling is the contemporary version of Bachelor’s Grove. Like its name, though, the area has changed over the centuries and not always for the best.

The tree lined lane that leads through the woods to Bachelor's Grove cemetery.
Follow this straight lane to the cemetery.

According to a 2021 article, “Remembering When Americans Picnicked in Cemeteries,” on Atlas Obscura, going back as far as the 1800s, cemetery picnics became something of a fad in the United States. This owed to them being safe refuge during times of epidemic such as influenza and cholera. However, they also allowed family members to spend a pleasant afternoon with loved ones living and dead. In addition, a burgeoning rural cemetery movement sought to romanticize such sites. In an article, “Landscape Architecture and the ‘Rural’ Cemetery Movement,” on Center for Research Libraries, graveyards gave a chance to escape increasingly industrialized cities for more natural spots where people could “take long walks in the peaceful setting, thinking about the past and the future, and keeping a little bit of history alive for themselves.”

For many, Bachelor’s Grove served that purpose for years. Not unlike a modern park, the cemetery offered a quiet place to chat with family and friends. The nearby pond provided a fishing spot as well as a swimming hole. And that charm remains apparent even today. Unfortunately, the scene warped over time into something more sinister.

Walking the lane to the cemetery, I noted the place’s creepy potential. Tree branches shrouded the way like skeleton limbs. Silence saturated the air making every sound clear. Animals in the deep woods off could be heard distinctly. Yet, the forest seemed empty with nothing in sight save bare trees. This conjured an unsettling familiarity—too many horror stories start this way. It’s easy to imagine someone or something lurking in the surrounding wilderness. Nevertheless, crunching along the frozen ground, I kept on until I arrived at a stretch of rusted chain-link fence.

Rusty, overgrown chain-linked fence surrounding Bachelor's Grove.
Fencing around Bachelor’s Grove cemetery.

There is no sign to designate Bachelor’s Grove. The same way barbed wire rusted into useless dangling, jagged remnants, it probably decayed out of existence. However, there’s no denying when one has arrived. Even with snow blanketing everything, large tombstones still rise like small monoliths, a place once forgotten that refused to be forgettable.

When graveyard picnicking died off, people largely left the location alone. Then, towards the 1960s, the Midlothian Turnpike was aligned with nearby 143rd Street. This essentially cut off Bachelor’s Grove from regular traffic isolating it further. As such, over time it turned into a lover’s lane.

In a 2020 article for the Chicago Tribune, Landmarks: Ghosts haunt the remains of abandoned Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, but they’re not the kind you’d suspect,” Brad Bettenhausen, president emeritus of the Tinley Park Historical Society, observed, “The cemetery starts becoming something of an attractive nuisance. Kids start going there to drink and party… scary stories told around the campfire… this is where the legends start.”

An opening in the fence revealing tombstones and trees in Bachelor's Grove
Nothing blocks an opening in the fence.

It’s around then that reports of paranormal activity begin, eventually reaching their height in the 1970s and 80s. Vandalism also became a rampant problem. Tombstones covered in graffiti, smashed, or stolen, and graves dug up, desecrated by delinquents. What used to be a lovely, albeit macabre, setting for a family picnic soon became an overgrown nightmare factory populated by the kind of people any slasher would love to sink an ax in.

Proponents of paranormal explanations might incline to reason this facilitated the rise of unexplained phenomena. The improper treatment of gravesites roused irate ghosts attempting to ward off rowdy teens. Regardless of validity, that explanation sounds like a great plot for a horror film. On the skeptical side of things, there’s the fact that caretakers took steps to chase off miscreant teens.

In the Chicago Tribune article, Brad Bettenhausen recalls a caretaker who, along with “some of his buddies would go out and lay in the woods waiting for kids to come in and then scare the (stuffing) out of them and chase them out.”

Large tombstone in Bachelor's Grove with the name Fulton inscribed.
Towering tombstones surrounded by trees.

It’s easy to see how that could seed certain urban legends. If nothing else, it’s a guaranteed source of fright should any spooks not provide a midnight show. Overall, though, there’s a sense of such events blending into one beast.

Consider, as the cemetery picnic trend dies down, Bachelor’s Grove slowly becomes a tad overgrown. When the turnpike is rerouted, the disused graveyard becomes even more isolated. This attracts teens looking for a location to party. Over beers and bongs, campfire stories gain a more palpable quality than usual. It doesn’t hurt being in a setting straight out of a Hammer horror flick. The occasional shocking appearance of a figure in the woods, the caretaker attempting to scare off potential vandals—it makes sense that stories of the supernatural saturate the cemetery. Though, that said, some will counter such reasoning can’t explain everything.

Entering the grounds, the eeriness and charm coalesce into a paradoxically appealing setting. It’s a place that feels alive though it’s filled with ghosts and death. Bachelor’s Grove calls to mind lines like William Wadsworth Longfellow writing,

The spirit-world around this world of sense
Floats like an atmosphere, and everywhere
Wafts through these earthly mists and vapors dense
A vital breath of more ethereal air.

Unlike other haunted graveyards, such as White Cemetery along Cuba Road, there’s no sense of surrounding suburbs. Even the Midlothian Turnpike, visible across the frozen slough, almost emphasizes the remoteness of Bachelor’s Grove. Close enough to be a part of the world, yet distant enough to seem separate, this cemetery is wonderfully welcoming while simultaneously ominous in its isolation.

Green coniferous trees dot the cemetery full of gravestones in snow Bachelor's Grove
Trees and graves in snowy Bachelor’s Grove.

A 2019 article, “Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery,” on Medium reports that ghosts in the grove follow some typical trends but witnesses also provide outright astonishing accounts. The usual strange lights, apparitions, and orbs are seen in the cemetery pale in comparison to the reports of robed figures marching through at night. Black dogs, vanishing houses, and spectral horses complete a portrait of somewhere the supernatural is at odds with the ordinary. It’s no wonder Bachelor’s Grove enjoys a reputation as one of the most haunted cemeteries in the United States.

Part of that comes from even the ordinary ghost stories having an extra bit of spice—that soupçon makes the supernatural even more unusual. For instance, The Ghost Attic’s Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery page includes the account of a young lady in 1971 who claimed to have touched a ghostly glowing orb. She said it gave no impression of heat, no sensational at all, and likened it to touching a void. Her encounter is unusual, to say the least, though even more so considering, reports on Ghost Search of others who have tried to catch orbs in Bachelor’s Grove only to find the ghost lights run off as if evading pursuit.

Orbs are common enough in ghost hunting circles, but Bachelor’s Grove is home to a unique paranormal phenomenon. According to the Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery Settlement & Research Center, witnesses have reported seeing a red streak like a skyrocket. Typically, it bolts along the trail leading to and from the cemetery. Sometimes it stops then changes course, streaking back the way it came before vanishing in the woods. Skeptics speculate fireworks are the explanation, but if anyone found a way for bottle rockets and Roman candles to change direction mid-flight, they’re wasting it on a hoax.

Snow covered cemetery with a scattering of gravestones all over.
Scattered graves dot the snow-shrouded cemetery.

On occasion, this red streak is seen in conjunction with a phantom Yellow Man. The Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery & Settlement Research Center contains details of witnesses to this paranormal presence, and though accounts vary, each amount to a spectral entity that glows yellow. While not the most common encounter, witnessing the Yellow Man is certainly a tantalizing prospect. One can’t help conjuring visions of the many malevolent incarnations of the horrific King in Yellow.

That said, the yellow entity being ethereal may make it oddly less unsettling to encounter than the monks seen around Bachelor’s Grove. Theresa Cheung’s The Element Encyclopedia of the Psychic World recounts how since 1984 witnesses claim to have observed robed figures moving through the forest and cemetery. [1] Typically spotted at night, the intentions of such individuals are open to speculation, though Windy City Ghosts reports signs of Satanic rituals have been reported. Oddly enough, the grave desecrations of the 1970s add a certain plausibility to such claims.

However, the skeptics might consider the Satanic Panic prevalent at the time. This amounted to a prolonged period of mass hysteria driven by unscrupulous media stories. Terrified audiences tuned in regularly to hear about claims of occultists infiltrating every aspect of society.

Gravestone inscribed with the name Moss in Bachelor's Grove
Small monoliths dot Bachelor’s Grove.

This all culminated in mass paranoia and the mistreatment as well as wrongful imprisonment of individuals such as the West Memphis Three, who fit the false profile of bloodthirsty Satanists concocted by media outlets. So, it’s not hard to imagine, at a time when Satanic Panic was on the rise, Bachelor’s Grove, which experienced legitimate instances of grave desecration, fostered urban legends of occult activity in the dead of night. Still, that isn’t to say such rumors don’t stir a certain cautious paranoia while there. Graffiti on gravestones don’t prove much but it does spark the imagination. For that matter, so do animal sounds.

Alone in the woods, I heard some creature’s cry that was soon answered by another similar howl. Though hesitant to name a specific species—I lack the expertise—I’m reasonably certain it was canine. Coyote or coywolf, the sound made me apprehensive. Besides zero wish to encounter wild animals, a black dog is often seen in and around Bachelor’s Grove.

Depending on the teller the black dog of Bachelor’s Grove is either a red-eyed fiend that chases off visitors or simply vanishes when approached. Whatever the case, encountering it rattles the nerves. Unfortunately, what I heard amounted to nothing concrete, but I can easily see how such sounds lend credence to the skeptically inclined as well as supernatural enthusiasts. After all, I heard something yawling in the woods. The interpretation is up to the individual, and I certainly wasn’t thinking with absolute rationality as it seemed to follow me out of the forest.

Sunset streaming through the trees in Bachelor's Grove
Easily eerie.

Glancing around I half expected to see any of the other more extraordinary phenomena. The two-story farmhouse that shrinks as the curious approach until it vanishes entirely. The spectral horse emerging from the nearby pond, pulling a plow driven by a drowned farmer. Eyes on the frozen pond, maybe the rumored two-headed monster might crawl out of the slough, evaporating as it lumbered through the graveyard just in time for the White Lady to appear.

She is, perhaps, one of the most famous specters in the cemetery. Also known as the Madonna of Bachelor’s Grove, she wanders the grounds dressed in flowing white. Ethereal in the classic sense of a spectral entity, transparent and elusive, the White Lady is, in some respect, the best-recorded ghost there. As Charles Wetzel writes in Haunted U.S.A., “on August 10th, 1991, Judy Huff-Felz’s camera captured a remarkable image…instead of the usual blurs and mists, the high-speed infrared film showed a woman dressed in a long gown seated…on a tombstone.” To this day, Huff-Felz insists there was no one in that space when she snapped the photo. Only after developing it did she discover the White Lady imprinted on film.

Broken tombstones in Bachelor's Grove cemetery
Broken gravestones.

Before departing entirely, I found myself following tracks in the snow, human and animal, wondering about visitors over the years. Something or someone is always in the cemetery, that’s for certain. Even now I find my mind wandering back to what people claim to have seen, tempted by the prospect, perhaps next time, I’ll see something there. Though, if not, it’s still an alluring place to visit. Regardless of the source, urban legend, or natural splendor, there’s a tangible quality to the atmosphere there. Perhaps that’s the thing to fear—the beauty of Bachelor’s Grove tempting a return to the graveyard, and every revisit raising the risk of something nightmarish occurring.

Works Cited

[1] “Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery”. The Element Encyclopedia of the Psychic World. Harper Element. 2006. pp. 57–58.

One Comment

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  1. Hi Jay! I lived in the south suburbs from age 18 until l retired and moved away. I visited Bachelor’s Grove, after having had some strange experiences on the Midlothian turnpike. My daughter photographed a large, invisible orb at BG that l could actually feel pressing down on me! This orb looked like the one Glenda arrives in from the wizard of oz. I didn’t know about the Satanic rituals, but l recorded chanting in the woods behind BG itself. My daughter and l saw a large deer(?) caught in a shaft of light in the woods near the highway, it had a startlingly huge chest and rack. I have concluded it was a “super buck”, but l could be wrong . I think this may account for some tales of a disappearing vehicle breaking branches in it’s wake. I also saw a car years ago, with an old man driving, that disappeared into thin air when l first moved there! I was traveling between Riverdale and Crestwood. l researched online 30 years later, and found out many have seen similar cars. I am not a medium or psychic, but l have had experience with paranormal since l was a child and still have questions. It is good seeing that people are still exploring and open to the possibilities of paranormal. Feel free to contact me. Take Care, Valene

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Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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