Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sneak Peak Tonight! A Look Inside the New Exhibit

Come out--and peek in--to the new Bachelors Grove exhibit....

I've been hard at work assembling a totally revamped, streamlined, beautiful new exhibit to promote the history of Bachelors Grove Cemetery and Settlement--and to encourage still more locals, fans and family members to come forward with their stories, memories, photos and documents for inclusion in the forthcoming book, "Lost in the Woods: The Real--and Unreal--Story of Bachelors Grove."  Tonight I'll be sharing a very small portion of the new exhibit at a lecture on the "Graveyards of Chicago" at the Worth Historical Museum in Worth, Illinois--just a few minutes away from Bachelors Grove.

The full exhibit will be shown this summer at a big event coming to the south suburbs. I'll have more news on this in the weeks to come, but for tonight you can get a look at some family photos of those interred at Bachelors Grove cemetery, early maps of the area, rare and exclusive photos of the cemetery through the years, and photos of some of the old home sites.

Abandoned graves in the woods--but it's not Bachelors Grove. 
I'm delighted to have been invited to share Matt Hucke and my new book at this wonderful venue for history research, and I'm anxious to share with you some of my photos from a number of my very favorite Chicago-area cemeteries, including some you probably didn't know existed.

The event begins at 7pm.  I'll be speaking until 8, and then I'll have copies of the new book for sale and signing while guests have a chance to look at the images and maps from the new exhibit.  Books are $15 and the lecture is completely free!  Hope to see you tonight.

The Worth Historical Museum is located at the Worth Park District, 11500 South Beloit, Worth, Illinois.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sharing the Hard Work of History at Bachelors Grove

One of the most talked about phenomena surrounding Bachelors Grove has to be the strange way it has of overcoming people with obsession.  Over the years, there have been numerous people who have been charged with "wanting to possess" the cemetery and the knowledge of it, to be "in charge" of it, to be the be all, end all fountainhead of information on it.  Sometimes this charge has been well-placed; most times not.  But I have found that it is a common charge made whenever someone takes a marked interest in the place. 

After observing first hand, however, this phenomenon--and more than once--and being charged with it myself, I want to go on record with how I really feel about Bachelors Grove history.

I was trained in Cultural and Intellectual United States History. I attained a Masters Degree in this pretty specific area of study, and I wrote a lot of papers on the subject matter having to do with tiny nuances of how people lived and thought in the United States a hundred years ago or more.

I've been blessed--though financially cursed (that's a little joke)--with being able to practice history as my job.  But I'm not a professor of Intellectual History, and I don't write academic papers anymore or survey people in that social science way that we always studied.  I write books that draw people into an interest in local history, and I create lectures, tours and events that keep people wanting to know more.  My joy comes from bringing people together in enjoying history, and my delight comes from finding bits of history that haven't been known since the players actually created the history.  I love to sort of bring people and events back around that have been forgotten about for whatever reason. I like to help people be known again.

This kind of history is called public history, and so I'm really a public historian.  I don't protect or hide my research like academics do, to avoid being scooped by rivals.  The whole point is to share information as much as possible.

Nonetheless, history is hard work no matter what you do with it.  And so I have a lot of fans who marvel at the work I do--and that's really nice to be appreciated--I've also gotten riled sometimes, even recently, when other researchers haven't commonly acknowledged the work that goes into what I do.  True, and as I've just said, the information I find is for everyone. But that it IS "public information" does not mean that it WAS "public information" before I dug it out, fleshed it out, or put the pieces together from dusty, old ones that no one has looked at in a long time.  It's like a pile of car parts that you inherited from your dead uncle.  If you don't know how to put it together, or even what garage it's sitting in, what use is it to anyone?

My point is a simple one.  I don't own Bachelors Grove history or the people interred there.  You can go back to my first post and see that I do Bachelors Grove research for the same reason I do research at a hundred other sites.  Bachelors Grove is no different, really.  I want to tell its story as best as I can.

In the spirit of what writers and artists call "copy left"--a  humorous twist of the obvious "copyright"--I say: this information I've put together is public information, gleaned from public archives that other really great researchers have taken the time to create and keep for many years.  You won't find watermarks on any of these photos or documents, and please do not watermark them when you use them.  If I've thanked a historical society or archive or library for them, please do so as well.  Many archives charge for a one-time use of photos or document images, so it's really nice that they have these for our free use.  On the other hand, I've actually paid a lot of fees for many, many years for membership in archives and databases, and so there is not only a lot of work but a lot of money that goes into this.  If I've actually gone out of the way to say, "I worked really hard to find this piece of information or to make this connection," then you know it was an especially lot of work and a big deal to me that I did, so if you want to mention that, that would be great, but  I'm not going to sue you if you don't. You get the idea.

Again, I've been personally and professionally disappointed when colleagues or other professionals haven't acknowledged my work when they've used it.  All of us researchers have this happen at one time or another, or even often.  But in the end, as a public historian I want the information and my ideas about it and the connections I make to be shared.  So please share the information on this site.  It's very important to the legacy of Bachelors Grove and a thousand other forgotten communities to be known again by us.  In particular, in the case of early cemeteries, the work that goes into actually attempting to document burials is sometimes tedious to the point of painful.  But it is totally worth it if it helps families and, sometimes, restorationists who want to make sure these cemeteries are not lost forever. 


-Ursula Bielski


Friday, February 14, 2014

Who's that Lady?

  
In 1998, after the publication of my first book, Chicago Haunts, I received in the mail a handwritten letter that turned out to be one of the most precious I've ever received. It was written on loose leaf notebook paper by a woman and concerned a photograph she had taken during a research trip to Bachelors Grove Cemetery with Dale Kaczmarek's Ghost Research Society. As I read, I realized that she was the photographer who had captured an image which had rocked the then-small world of hobby ghost hunters: the photo of a lithe figure, robed in a 1930s-style gown, perched on the edge of a monument base with a quilted-look to the stone. This image has since appeared without fail on every list of the Greatest Ghost Photos of All Time (and other titles) and continues to garner passionate support and opposition from those who believe it is authentic and those who label it as fraud. People often ask me about this photo, and my comment is always the same: "I know the photographer, and the photo is real. . . "
 
On August 10, 1991, Judy Huff-Felz was visiting Bachelors Grove Cemetery with the Ghost Research Society, one of the oldest local ghost hunting groups in the nation.  During that visit, she took one of the most controversial and infamous “ghost” photos of all time, first published in the Chicago Sun-Times and the National Examiner: the incredible capture of the so-called “Madonna of Bachelors Grove.”

The image of the “White Lady” or the “Woman on the Stone” has been circulated in all corners of the globe, and regularly appears on lists of the top paranormal photographs of all time.  It is a ritual for visitors to Bachelors Grove to re-enact that renowned scene, as you can see me doing at right. 
Below, Judy Huff-Felz tells about the day she took the photo, and of the fame that erupted around it—and continues to this day.

"Clairvoyance, clairaudience, mediumship and the ability to heal run in my family for many, many generations. It is traceable to my European ancestors. My great grandmother was a faith healer, my great step grandmother was a medium, my grandma, aunt and mother were all readers. My sister and I are both clairvoyant and clairaudient.

In the late 80's my sister and I convinced our mom to start a group which gave lessons on how to teach people how to find, enhance and safely use their abilities. After all of the sessions were over with each group my sister (Mari Abba) and I organized and ran an interactive ghost tour. This was for our mom's students to experiment and practice their abilities at several known haunted locations throughout Chicago and the suburbs.

My sister and I met Dale Kaczmarek, founder of the Ghost Research Society. He invited us to his meetings and we then became members of his group.

In 1991 GRS had planned an investigation for Bachelor's Grove Cemetery. The team members brought their equipment, my mom, sister and I were coming only with our gifts. Someone from the group suggested I bring some infrared film and take pictures of where I sensed activity.
The investigation was done where each member was given a clipboard, a pen and a map of the cemetery. Then everyone except for one person would wait outside of the fenced area.
Then one person at a time we would walk through Bachelor's with our clipboard and whatever equipment they brought with them.


As they walked around, they would note where and what the saw, heard and/or felt. Then would use their equipment to see if they could detect something.

So as I walked through, I'd take pictures where I felt something. My camera was an Olympus automatic 35mm telephoto. As soon as you would take a picture the camera would automatically wind the film to the next frame. The design of this camera made it impossible to double expose film.

After developing my pictures I found a woman or girl sitting on a broken piece of headstone. I did not see her with my naked eye the day of the investigation. Although I believe I may have come across her on a few other occasions later.

The rest is history. There is no way I would ever guess that my photograph from Bachelor's Grove on that fateful day in September of 1991 would have been published in so many books and newspapers throughout the world or have been on so many television programs. Now it's part of a travelling exhibit that I wish I could see or be a part of. Thank you Ursula Bielski and Dale Kaczmarek for keeping up the interest and for everything else.


Yours in spirit,
Judy A. Huff Felz"


Who is the Madonna of Bachelors Grove?  There are many theories surrounding the identity of this mysterious woman in white.

The photograph here shows two possibilities, side by side: sisters-in-law Kathryn Vogt and Luella
Fulton Rogers.  Kathryn, who married Luella’s brother, Burt Fulton, was heartbroken by the loss of her child, little Marcia May—who died in infancy.  The young couple’s baby was buried at the Fulton family lot in Bachelors Grove—under the famous Fulton Stone, identified with the “Infant Daughter” marker.  Years later, the child’s parents were laid to rest in town, at Zion Cemetery, with Kathryn Vogt’s kin. Could an otherworldly Kathryn be searching for her baby, buried so far away?

Luella (or Lulu) Fulton Rogers was buried at the Fulton Stone after her death from a hit and run driver.  Could she be restless due to her violent death?  Some believe that a resemblance seems to exist between Luella and the the “ghost” in Judy Huff-Felz’s famous photo.  Moreover, Luella’s baby sister—Emma—is also buried with her at the Fulton stone, but her marker was stolen long ago.  When it was recovered, it was not returned to the
Grove but, rather, placed into the care of the Tinley Park Historical Society, shown above left.  Could Luella be upset that her sister’s stone is missing? Is that was the ghost is looking for?  Curiously, old references refer to the Madonna as “Mrs. Rogers,” surely pointing to some connection to Luella.   


Luella (or Lulu) Fulton Rogers was buried at the Fulton Stone after her death from a hit and run driver.  Could she be restless due to her violent death?  Some believe that a resemblance seems to exist between Luella and the the “ghost” in Judy Huff-Felz’s famous photo.  Moreover, Luella’s baby sister—Emma—is also buried with her at the Fulton stone, but her marker was stolen long ago.  When it was recovered, it was not returned to the Grove but, rather, placed into the care of the Tinley Park Historical Society, shown above left.  Could Luella be upset that her sister’s stone is missing? Is that was the ghost is looking for?  Curiously, old references refer to the Madonna as “Mrs. Rogers,” surely pointing to some connection to Luella. 

A final candidate for the Madonna is Amelia Patrick—the first wife of Senator John Humphrey.  Another sad infant death, little Llibby May was laid to rest with Amelia’s family at Bachelors Grove, though her mother was interred elsewhere.  Could Amelia, like Kathryn, be making nightly visits to the Grove in search of her baby girl?

Whoever the "Madonna of Bachelors Grove" may be--be she phantom or figment of our amazing psychic creation--there is no doubt that Ms. Huff's photo of her will go down in history as one of the most magical "ghost" photos of all time.  Thank you for sharing it with us, Judy, and for sharing your wonderful photograph... and your story.

Ursula Bielski
ursulabielski@sbcglobal.net

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Songs for the Mal-Interred

The secret to the pull of Bachelors Grove is that is a truly paranormal location; that is, it can only be looked at, studied, researched, beheld from one angle at a time.  Like all paranormal phenomeona, focusing on Bachelors Grove with the tools of Science will always fall short--until Science itself changes its toolbox, as it always does--eventually. 

It may be many generations before Science adjusts its tools to look at Bachelors Grove with the goggles required to see it head-on, but in the meantime, we can look at the Grove through history, literature, poetry, religion, statistics, psychology, art and music--one angle at a time . ..  or a few, if the conditions are just right.

I've been delighted lately to work on a multitude of projects with Michael Esposito, an experimental musician known around the world for his research into the Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) or the "Voices of Unknown Origin."  With him, I've found I can look at the paranormal from more angles at once.  Naturally, it's wonderful in the true sense of the word.

When he realized how much I loved Bachelors Grove, he asked how he could help.  And so we are creating together a record for the dead there. 

This couldn't be just any record, because it's for those with neither voice boxes nor hands to touch nor ears to hear.  It couldn't be for anyone alive, because the dead there have had to share everything. This would have to be only for them, only for their "ears."

And so Michael came up with the idea of producing an "anti record"--something I hadn't known about before but which is apparently a staple of experimental music.  An anti record is a record that can't be played.  Either because it simply can't be because of the way it is built.  Or can't be because it would destroy your phonograph--or maybe even you--if you did. One of Michael's colleagues recorded the frequencies of deadly illnesses, along with notes on the theory that disease may be carried in these frequencies. 

Play at your own risk, indeed.

The Bachelors Grove record will be reconfigured to carry a message from the Grove, but this message, as usual, won't be heard by us.  Just as the true sentiments of the dead there hardly come through on "spirit boxes" or on film, neither will they here.  You won't be able to play this record, but that's fine, because it isn't for us.  I daresay, though, that you will be astonished by the piece of poetry that accompanies it. 

Right now, it's mundane work for me: sanding off record labels and grooves.  Which is really hard if you haven't tried it, as you probably haven't!  But it's little work with great love. 

We are very excited about this portion of the Lost in the Woods project and will share more information with you as it progresses.  In the meantime, you can see more of the work of Michael Esposito at PhantomAirwaves.com.  As always, thank you for your interest in Bachelors Grove.

Ursula Bielski

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Welcome to Bachelors Grove


"Step inside."  


I first wrote that invitation in 1996 in my very first book, Chicago Haunts, in a chapter entitled, "In a Bad Place: The Puzzle of Bachelors Grove."   A lot of people remember reading those words and, even then, through a page in a book a hundred miles away, feeling the pull of the enigmatic site, through space and through time, pulling, pulling . . .

I haven't been surprised at this response from so many.  I'd felt it, too, many years before, and I still feel it every day.

I first visited Bachelors Grove cemetery in 1988, as a research assistant to a parapsychologist Jim Houran (then a mere undergrad in psychology) performing field work in "spontaneous phenomena"--the world of experiences including ghosts, hauntings and other prevalent though inexplicable happenings.  Over the course of about a decade, we conducted a series of photography experiments at "The Grove," and it was here that I began the "proper" study of the paranormal--and its often complex relationships with human history.

It was a sublime place to start.

As a native Chicagoan and devout fan of "true ghost stories," I well knew the tales of "The Most Haunted Cemetery in the World," for the tiny, one-acre enclosure had become world famous generations before, and with good reason.  Since at least the 1950s, whisperings had abounded of what went on at this worn old ossuary, which lay down a broken path through the woods of a south side preserve, in present day Bremen Township, just outside the city limits.  Legends of a phantom farmhouse, seen glimmering through the trees; and of ghost lights flashing blue, yellow and white, which would sometimes chase visitors through the woods.  Stories of a Woman in White--the mysterious "Mrs. Rogers"--whose image (a diaphanous form perched on a tombstone in the afternoon sun)  was famously and controversially captured on film in 1989.

I knew, too, the shadowy, half-history of the place: the abandonment by its settlers: a first wave of English-born; a second the German stock who farmed here well into the twentieth century; the eventual desecration and destruction;  the theft of the crumbling stones; rumors of ritual and sacrifice by those drawn to the stories. 

As I grew in my studies, history and psychical research meshed ever further, and at some point I became a professional paranormal researcher and historian. The way that I wrote history--interpreted through accounts of the wondrous--gained its own name: "ghostlore."  

Twenty-six years after I first visited Bachelors Grove, I've written nine books of ghostlore, founded a company which takes visitors to some of the region's most infamously haunted sites, and continued to explore new avenues by which I might teach the dramatic history of ordinary--and extraordinary-- people through tales of their brushes with the supernatural. 

Along the way, inexplicable things happen to me, too.  Of course, I've seen, heard, felt and even smelled countless phantoms as I've pursued my work, and I've heard thousands of stories of the encounters of others.  But it is something deeper than these thrilling (but, in the end, limited) experiences that has proven to me, suddenly and without question, that this is all real.

That something deeper came out of the woods at Bachelors Grove again two years ago and gave me a mission: to find and tell the stories of those buried there, and to find out what true secrets the land really held: in essence: to drag the history of Bachelors Grove "out of the woods," where it has been lost for so long.

Bachelors Grove is known among "ghost hunters" to have a strange relationship with its fans.  Like a best friend or lover, it can welcome one with warm sunshine and comraderie, with new friends met on a long Sunday among the broken stones, talking about the supernatural, about the fragments of history to be found there, or about nothing at all.  It can make you think you've found something some sort of home there.  And then turn on you in an instant, rendering everything as reflections in a funhouse mirror.

People change at Bachelors Grove; or perhaps their masks come off there.  Whichever it is, the ones close to the Grove know that it is not a place where one should stay long, or come often.  To do so is to risk losing oneself to its infamous "pull." 

In June of 2012, after more than two decades of occasionally returning to research Bachelors Grove, I found myself there one muggy night with a steward of the forest preserve, gazing across the quarry pond just before midnight, the unbroken surface lit up with the flashes of thousands of fireflies.  It was perfectly still and we were totally alone, but I felt the unmistakable presence of others with us. It was one of "those" moments in life: those instants when you realize there is some wonderful universe just beyond an invisible curtain, and that one day--if we believe it--we'll step through and not just feel it but know it, too.

After a brief stay there, after the moment had left us, we left to return through the woods to our cars, but we became disoriented and, at last, quite lost.

Bachelors Grove is known, too, for disorienting visitors.  Even my companion, a steward of the woods for some ten or more years, could not find the way out, though we searched for hours for the trails he himself had marked.  We had no light, and even the compass and GPS readings on our mobile phones failed.  It was late--or early--the 'wee hours' had come.  I was wearing a cotton dress and as we trudged on and on toward nowhere in particular that hot night, the thorny vines that covered the ground seemed to reach around my ankles and calves, trying to keep me there.  It was after some time of this blind searching that we began to see the lights of houses in the distance, and to hear the whoosh of cars passing on the road.

Grateful, we routed our path toward these, only to have the lights and sounds swallowed up in a second, as if by a huge vacuum.  We were dumbfounded.  Somewhere between our cars and this place, we had fallen through some unseen doorway.  We were living in a world we couldn't fathom. Seeing things that weren't there.  The air was close, and time was still going by.  But none of it was real.

It was then that we realized we were standing in the heart of Bachelors Grove: a place without direction or landmarks, a place made of visions and of memories.  A place that is sometimes on the map, but sometimes--and quite suddenly-- un-findable and un-leaveable. 

Bachelors Grove has put me through a lot since I returned there that June night.  I've had the most sublime and the most harrowing moments of my life in its clutches--and they are clutches, there is no other word--, and have met both the kindest people I've known as well as the only people I have ever honestly described as "evil":  people who turn the truth on its head, without conscience and with impressive will.

It could be said that Bachelors Grove brings out the best and the worst in people.  I have heard it said by more than one--and have come to say myself--that Bachelors Grove eats people.

A lot of people stay away from the Grove because of its strange pull.  A few people give into it, with really bad results.

As a surveyor of the supernatural and a servant of history, I have determined that what I could do would be to take some of its power away--and put something better in its place. 

It was in this way that the idea for an exhibit--and a later book--about Bachelors Grove came to be.  If I could document the lives of those buried there and bring honor to the dead whose physical space had fallen to desecration; if I could, too, finally find the real stories behind the looming horror stories that had long been told there: maybe in this way I could wrest some of the power from the darkness and give it back to those who deserved it: the strong, brave men and women who lived "ordinary" lives of great drama in this beautiful place.

I do not spend a lot of time in the physical space of Bachelors Grove anymore.  For a time, I did. For a time, I felt perhaps more at home there than anywhere else.  At some time, however, you realize that you are living in a place meant for the dead.  It shows in the living you do.

I spend my "Bachelors Grove" time now telling its stories, through the website BatchelorsGrove.com (spelled with a "t"" and otherwise known as BachelorsGroveForever.net or BachelorsGroveInfo.com), and delving ever deeper into the rich history of this storied site.  You can find all of my work at www.batchelorsgrove.com, and on facebook at www.facebook.com/bachelorsgroveforever.   You can follow my lecture and events trail at these sites also, and come out to see the traveling exhibit, "Lost in the Woods: the Real-and Unreal-History of Bachelors Grove" at area libraries and historical societies, as well as my lectures on Bachelors Grove and the "Graveyards of Chicago" documented in Matt Hucke and my new book, as well as my earlier writings about the Grove in "Chicago Haunts."


I thought it would be standard for such things as this to end with the same invitation I extended eighteen years ago, but in good conscience and after all I've learned, I cannot.  Instead, I'll offer this revision:

Welcome to Bachelors Grove.


Watch your Step.