As I was investigating the history of Chicago's most beloved Ghost, "Resurrection Mary" I had an opportunity to speak with, local author and historian, Ursula Bielski, about Anna Norkus. Anna is one of the contenders for the title of real-life counterpart of the young, hitchhiking spirit of Archer Avenue known as "Resurection Mary". Ursula had posted a great article about Anna on Ghostvillage.com and you can read it here.
The brief version of Anna's story is that her father, August had taken 12 year-old Anna dancing at the Oh Henry ballroom (Now the Willowbrook Ballroom) on Archer Avenue in Willow Springs as a birthday present on July 20, 1927. On the way back home there was a terrible car crash that killed Anna instantly and she now haunts the area of Archer Avenue still wearing her dancing dress.
But why would Anna be hitching rides from unsuspecting drivers or scaring the pants off of drivers by crossing the street along Archer Ave near Resurrection Cemetery in front of on-coming traffic? One theory is that when she was being laid to rest at St. Casimir Cemetery there was the possibility of a strike among the grave-diggers and the young Lithuanian girl had to be temporarily interred at Resurrection Cemetery and possibly forgotten about or misplaced.
The theory sounds plausible. Of course my interest in digging deeper and not leaving well enough alone (a nasty by-product of my former career in law enforcement) led me to attempt to dig up Anna's funeral record.
The Des Plaines Valley News covered the coroner's inquest into her death and it was held at the Sobiesk Mortuary at 6101 Archer Avenue in Argo, IL. George Sobiesk was the undertaker who attended to Anna. According to the newspaper accounts of the inquest, there were 5 people in the car; Anna, her father August, a family friend William Wasnor, 32, Anna's sister Sophie, 16 and another friend, Loretta Gwozdz, 14. They were heading to Clearing in Wasnor's car in order to bail someone out of jail (no mention of being at or coming from a dance) The direction that they were traveling, initially coming away from the area of the Oh Henry and the fact that it was a Wednesday night (The balllroom did have dances on Wednesday evenings in 1927) would still support the dance theory.
After taking a contruction detour and heading south on Harlem Ave, they missed a turn and ended up plunging into an old 25 foot deep railroad cut just south of 66th Street. The vehicle also hit a way wire for a telephone pole which caused the vehicle to flip over and land on top of Anna which crushed her skull and probably killed her instantly. The others survived with minor injuries.
Anna's death certificate states that George Sobiesk was in charge of the funeral and that she was buried at St. Casimir's in Chicago. I thought that it would be helpful to locate her funeral record and so I tried to tract down the Sobiesk Funeral Home. Sobiesk had at least two locations and there was still a funeral home at one location although it was no longer owned or operated by the Sobiesk Family. The current proprietors stated that they would not have the old funeral records and were probably discarded after the business was sold. I had more or less considered that a done deal until about 6 months ago.
I conduct historic research for a living (when I'm not investigating Chicago legends) and deal with U.S. Census documents quite a bit. I thought it would be interesting and educational to be involved in this past year's Decennial Census so I took a temporary position with the U.S. Census Bureau in March of 2010. I had been working at the local census office in Lemont for about 2 months and was chatting with a co-worker about Resurrection Mary and a book that I was working on and he said that his grandfather used to tell him that he was the funeral director for Resurrection Mary! Now his last name was not Sobiesk so I asked him what his grandfather's name was and he replied to my astonishment, "George Sobiesk"!
I just about fell over when he told me this. I asked him if his grandfather was still alive and he said that he had passed some time ago and doesn't have the business anymore but he remembers his mother telling him stories about growing up in a funeral home. He said that he and his mother were just looking over the old records the other day. I stopped him right there and said, "You wouldn't happen to have the records as far back as 1927 would you?" He said, "Oh yeah, we have 'em all!" He agreed to bring in one and then a couple of the ledger books and sure enough I was looking at the original funeral record for Anna Norkus!
I tend not to put much weight in coincidences and I don't get creeped out easily but this time I was a little creeped out! It was especially weird when he let me borrow the ledger book and actually take it home with me. It was weird because we worked until 1 a.m. and I had to drive past, you guessed it, Resurrection Cemetery. I thought to myself as I was passing the cemetery that the last time that this book had been in this area was when Anna had died over 83 years ago! I thought to myself that if I say a young girl wearing a dancing dress trying to flag me down I would just pass out, but alas Mary stood me up!
I was hoping that maybe the funeral record would indicate whether or not there was a temporary interment at Resurrection Cemetery but it, along with Anna's death certificate, state nothing but St. Casimir's as a final resting place. In fact Anna's marker is at St. Casimir's that includes both her father, August's picture and her mother, Anna's picture but young Anna's photo is missing. One would hope that the missing photo is due to environmental factors and not vandals but Ursula Bielski had told me that she remembers the photo disappearing shortly after the mention of Anna Norkus as a possible Resurrection Mary candidate.
So is she buried in the family plot at St. Casimir's or is she lost somewhere between there and Resurrection Cemetery? At this point my vote would have to be St. Casimir's but stranger things have happened.