History for Halloween – The Ghosts of Sag Bridge

Photo courtesy Richard Hoyt Lee

Photo courtesy Richard Hoyt Lee

The late 1890s seems to be when ghost activity peaked in the area of Sag Bridge, Illinois, now the northeast corner of Lemont. Many ghostly tales, some well documented, began here.

In late December, 1897, a rash of new sightings and hauntings was stirred up. Some said it was due to the discovery of the skeletons of nine Indians, well documented by scientists from Chicago. Professor Dosey determined the skeletons were several hundred years old, one being over seven feet tall. This was not the first time: skeletons had been turning up in and near Sag Bridge for years. But now villagers began reporting phantom Indians on horseback riding through the town at night, and other visions of roaming spirits. Some felt this was due to the fact that the skeletons had been disturbed, and demanded they be reburied. Some were reburied, but some were sent to the Field Museum in Chicago.

Not only Indians haunted the area. There were tales of a horse-drawn hearse traveling along Archer Avenue, pulling an infant’s casket, which was seen to glow through the viewing window. A county policeman reported chasing several figures in monk-like robes until they vanished before his eyes. A priest is rumored to have seen the ground rise and fall as if it were breathing.

Much of this activity seems to have been near St. James at Sag Bridge, a church in the middle of the forest, surrounded by a cemetery dating back to the early 1800s, years before the church was built. It is said that the site was originally an Indian village and an ancient Indian burial ground. Even in daytime, the property gives off an eerie atmosphere.

A story told about St. James at Sag Bridge also happened in 1897. Two musicians, Professor William Looney and John Kelly, had provided entertainment for a parish event, which went on until 1 a.m. Not wanting to travel back to their homes at this late hour, they opted to sleep overnight in a small building on the property. Looney was awakened during the night by the sound of galloping hoofs on the gravel road and looked out the window. He could see nothing to account for the sound, and gradually it faded.

Looney woke Kelly to tell him what had happened, and as they spoke, the sound returned. Both men looked out, and as the sounds again faded the form of a young woman appeared in the road. The sounds again approached, and this time horses and a carriage were seen coming part way up the drive. The woman danced in the road until she entered shadow, and the horses and carriage disappeared, only to start again a short time later. Each time they appeared, something new was added to the scene, and the woman began to call, “Come on!” as she disappeared.

The men reported the incident to local police the next morning, and it was verified that NO drinking had taken place to account for the tale. Since that time, similar sightings have continued to be reported by respectable residents. It is said the ghosts were the spirits of a young parish helper and housekeeper from the church, who fell in love and decided to elope. The man told his young lover to wait part way down the hill while he hitched the horses, but as he was coming for her, they startled, bolted, the wagon was overturned, and both were killed.

Today St. James at Sag Bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, and still operates as a Catholic Parish. If you attend Mass there on a Sunday morning, you will park on this very hill, and walk through the cemetery, and you will see ushers pull ropes to ring the church bells, and you will think you have been transported back in time.

Is it any wonder that I set my novel, The Mystery at Sag Bridge, in this very special place?

About Pat Camalliere

Pat is a writer of historical mysteries. She lives in Lemont, Illinois.
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