Ghosts of the Quarries

Icebox Quarry, Lemont, Illinois. The Illinois and Michigan Canal was dug through limestone, and after the canal opened in 1848 business owners in Lemont turned to quarrying stone. This stone was so popular at one time that the Sears catalogue sold a paint color called Lemont Stone. In the early 1900s the stone’s popularity started to wane and eventually quarries were abandoned, in some cases leaving the pumps that had kept them dry in place. The quarries eventually filled, and during the forties and fifties became popular swimming holes. Due to a number of drownings, swimming is no longer allowed, but the quarries are open today for fishing and scenic hiking. Photo compliments of the Lemont Area Historical Society.

Many ghost hunters describe something called the “limestone theory,” holding that paranormal activity is more frequent in areas where there are large amounts of limestone. One possible explanation is that the chemical makeup of limestone is similar to that of magnetic recording tape, and therefore is prone to being imprinted, thus capturing and storing activity. Another theory is that the chemical make-up of limestone is prone to drawing, storing and releasing electromagnetic fields (EMF) on which “hauntings” depend, thus enhancing any activity that happens to be in the area.

I’m probably using a lot of incorrect language here, as I am neither a geologist nor a paranormal investigator. The point is that regardless of whether one believes in the ability of such stone to capture impressions or be used as an energy source for paranormal activity, regardless of the science, in other words, areas where large amounts of limestone exist do apparently have more reported paranormal incidents.

The stone that exists in the Lemont-Joliet region is dolomite limestone with a high percentage of crystalline structure. This adds credence to the electromagnetic field theory, should you choose to believe that.

Here are some of the experiences that have happened near Lemont quarries:

Archer Avenue, said to be one of the most haunted roads in America, is the site of many tales of Resurrection Mary, the haunted Willowbrook Ballroom, and ghosts at St. James at Sag Bridge: monks, glowing caskets, the woman in white, the disappearing carriage, etc. I’ve described these in a previous post so I won’t repeat them here, except to mention that these areas are adjacent to quarries.

Aside from the stone itself, it is known that many Irish-American canal workers died from disease, poor living and working conditions, and violence in the 1840s when the I and M Canal was being built; later quarry workers shared the same conditions and fate. Many were buried at St. James at Sag Bridge, but it is said that, due to poverty, some of the deceased were cremated and their ashes scattered over the quarries. Most people who believe in the supernatural will say that people who died violently or untimely are more likely to remain as spirits.

American Indians lived in the area since before Columbus; remnants of their villages have been found in the Des Plaines and Sag valleys. One could surmise that such burials, combined with the underlying beds of local limestone so close to the surface, could account for some of the tales of Indians on horseback being seen in the area long after the tribes had moved to western states.

In 1897, the skeletons of nine Indians were dug up near the quarries, followed by a rash of reported hauntings: phantom Indians on horseback riding through the town at night and other visions of roaming spirits. Fearing the hauntings were due to disturbing the skeletons, residents demanded they be reburied. Some were reinterred, but some ended up at the Field Museum in Chicago.

Bachelors Grove Cemetery in Midlothian, Illinois continues to mystify visitors with an astounding variety of paranormal experiences: ghosts, lights, mystery houses, disorientation, electronic and automotive malfunctions, among others. It is one of the most haunted spots in the Chicago area and located beside a quarry.

Not all stone in the area remained here. Chicago’s Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue is constructed of stone quarried in Lemont. Stories are told of the ghost of the “Hanging Man,” seen in one of the tower windows, and thought to be that of the “Lone Pumpman,”—the only worker who stayed behind during the Great Fire of 1871.

Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago is another building made from Lemont stone. In 1924, Chicago Gang boss Dion O’Banion was shot and killed in the flower shop he owned directly across the street from Holy Name, reportedly on the orders of Johnny Torrio and Al Capone. Bullets from the ambush lodged in the cornerstone of Holy Name and it is reported that despite numerous attempts to patch the holes they continue to reappear.

I’m not going to ask you to believe that Lemont stone caused all of this—that’s up to you. After all, the area has also been the home of many Irish, who have been known to tell a tale or two….

Photo of Consumers Quarry, Lemont, about 1890. Photo courtesy of the Lemont Area Historical Society.

About Pat Camalliere

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

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2 Responses to Ghosts of the Quarries

  1. Carl M. Cole says:

    Your comments about the local ghosts and the quarries is very interesting, thanks!
    I love both the history and the mysteries (both real and fictional) as do you.

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