The Vanishing Hitchhiker motif is an old, old one, going back to the folklore of many nations. It’s been the basis for many a literary, TV and movie plot, and many a song; “Bringing Mary Home”, written by Joe Kingston, Chaw Mank and John Duffey, said to have been inspired by an episode of The Twilight Zone, and recorded in 1966 by The Country Gentlemen, is my favorite such.
Arguably the most famous Vanishing Hitchhiker is Chicago’s Resurrection Mary, who’s been picked up by cabbies along South Side Chicago’s Archer Avenue and carried to Resurrection Cemetery in Justice–where she vanishes–for nearly eighty years.
It comes as a bit of a surprise, then, to learn that she may be a Mary-come-lately. There’s another story of a Vanishing Hitchhiker in Chicago: a girl in 1920s flapper garb who made her first appearance outside the old Melody Mill ballroom on the South Side around 1933-34–earlier than her more famous counterpart.
The Melody Mill ballroom was a favorite spot for dancing couples from the 1920s right up until the mid 1980s, when it closed down.
In those early days of the 1920s, one of the most enthusiastic dancers was a beautiful young Jewish girl, whose name has been lost to time. She was said to have borne a strong resemblance to the silent movie era “flapper” star Colleen Moore.
Legend has it that the girl died young, in the late 1920s, of a ruptured appendix, and was buried in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery.
She made her first appearance at the Melody Mill ballroom in late 1933 or early 1934–before a young Polish girl named Mary Bregavy–the putative Resurrection Mary–was killed in an auto accident and buried in Resurrection Cemetery.
At first, her appearances were confined to the dance floor at the Melody Mill; within a very short time, though, several young men reported that they had offered the lovely brunette in flapper clothes a ride home–
rides she always accepted, and during the course of, vanished.
She always told the drivers to drive first east on Cermak Road, then north on Harlem. When they reached Jewish Waldheim Cemetery (now called, simply, Waldheim Cemetery), she would ask the driver to stop. She would walk into the cemetery and then vanish among the graves.
One young man claimed that she told him that she lived in the cemetery’s caretaker’s cottage. He watched her walk toward the building, then, rather than entering, she ran around the side of the house. Surprised, he followed her, only to see her disappear.
Another young man, upon being told the story about the caretaker’s cottage, visited the caretaker–during daylight hours–and was told that no such young girl lived there.
There were a spate of sightings of the Hitchhiking Flapper throughout 1933-34, years coinciding with Chicago’s Century of Progress. Then sightings became few and far between, although several were reported during the 1970s and early 1980s.
John O’Rourke, a policeman with the North Riverside PD, had an encounter with her in 1979. He was working the midnight to eight AM shift, and happened to pass the Melody Mill ballroom around closing time. There was rain that night, he recalled. He saw a woman walking by herself along the street, so he pulled up and asked where she was going.
“Home,” she said simply.
“Want a ride?” he asked. “Looks like this rain’s not quitting anytime soon.”
She got into the car with him, and directed him to drive east on Cermak Road.
He tried to make conversation, asking her the usual questions–what’s your name, where do you live?–but she chattered on about how she loved dancing at the Melody Mill, never giving him a straight answer.
He didn’t drive her all the way to the cemetery, though. They were passing a Ford dealership when she suddenly shouted, “Stop!”
As she was getting out, a passing semi backfired, and O’Rourke looked around to make sure it was only a backfire and not a gunshot.
When he looked back around,the girl was gone.
Strangely, he could never give a clear description of the woman with whom he rode that night; but, given that there have been no reports of any woman other than the beauty in flapper clothes haunting the area, chances are it was her.
She was sighted again in 1980, by a group of five friends sitting on a front porch not far from Waldheim Cemetery. There are actually two cemeteries, adjacent to each other, in the area: Woodlawn, and next over, Waldheim. The friends on the porch saw a woman wearing a strapless, knee-length dress with fringes and something on her head resembling a 1920s headband cutting through Woodlawn Cemetery.
The flapper must not have found a ride that night, and was taking a shortcut.
She was last reported in the autumn of 1984 by a couple who saw her by the main gates of Waldheim Cemetery. Coincidentally, this was just about the time the Melody Mill closed its doors for good.
Richard T. Crowe and Carol Mercado, Chicago’s Street Guide to the Supernatural (2000)
Dale Kaczmarek, Windy City Ghosts: The Haunted History of Chicago (2000)