Earlier in the day we had been informed by Lisa at Chet’s Melody Lounge that the owners of Rico D’s were in the process of renovating the restaurant in an attempt to restore the buildings early 20s décor and ambiance. Upon first inspection of the buildings interior, there were obvious signs that the foretold renovations were underway. It was also obvious that they still had a long way to go. The long, tunnel-like chamber that housed the barroom revealed the most signs of effort towards this goal. The bar itself looked old and authentic; the turn of the century tin ceiling felt natural and inviting. The barroom was, however, chock-full of happy hour devotees, so we quickly made our way toward the hostess station near the back of the bar and the promise of food and drink that awaited us beyond the hostesses wooden watchtower. After giving the hostess the secret passwords: “We’re hungry and we’d like something to eat,” we were led through a short corridor and Rico D’s dining room was at long last revealed to us. The dining room was plain and simply tiny with little or no signs of early twentieth-century remodeling. After making a quick scan of the room, the hostess assured us that there were currently no tables available in the main dining room, and that we could either wait in the bar until seating became available or that we could immediately be seated at a table on the outdoor patio. We all knew that it was still very warm outside, and after a few sighs and disapproving glances, we reluctantly agreed to the available outdoor seating. I reassured my teammates that it would be getting dark out soon, and that with darkness came the promise of at least somewhat-cooler temperatures. Boy was I wrong! Twilight had come, but the suffocating heat remained, perhaps even worse with the last dying-breaths of the late-afternoon breeze.
After being seated by the hostess at one of the available patio tables, a shy looking young man approached us and sheepishly stated that he was going to be our server. It was obvious that this was a new job for him and that he was very nervous. After we directed a few smiles and lighthearted remarks his way, he began to relax a bit and asked us if we would like something to drink. Unlike Chet’s Melody Lounge, I was delighted to discover that Rico D’s offered a decent variety of beers and ales, although not the selection of area microbrews that I had hoped. Amber and I both decided on a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and Sampsun and Becca each ordered an iced-tea. We were all starving, so we placed an order for an extra-large thin crust pizza on the spot. Our drinks arrived promptly, but we were told that the kitchen was backed-up and that it was going to be a little while before our pizza would be ready. We were all hungry and unappreciative of the delay, but we weren’t about to leave, so we told the server to just keep the drinks coming and to keep us updated on the whereabouts of our pizza. We passed the time discussing the day’s events and on deciding on what to do next. I suggested that even though we weren’t going to be able to get inside the Willowbrook Ballroom that we go ahead and retrace Mary’s steps from the front doors of the Willowbrook to the gates of Resurrection Cemetery anyway. It was agreed that this was a good course of action, but it was also suggested that we needed to provide the ghost of Mary with some enticement to relive her last night on earth along with us. This sounded like a good idea, but how? Just as we began discussing different processes on how this could be achieved, our wayward pizza arrived at long last. Our conversation was abandoned for mouthfuls of pizza, which was every bit as delicious as had been promised. After we had finished our meal, Amber excused herself and went off in search of the Ladies room and I decided to take a walk around the patio grounds. After several minutes of random walking, I approached a wooden privacy fence that borders the property line at the front of Rico D’s. Peering over the top of the fence, I was amazed by what I was seeing.
The entire area surrounding the Willowbrook Ballroom and Archer Avenue glowed with an aura unlike anything I had ever seen before. This aura, an energy field that surrounds all living and supernatural things could be felt during the day, but with the fall of night it was revealed in all its spectral glory. I stood at the fence line for what seemed like an eternity; entranced by what I was seeing and feeling. After a time however, I felt something earthly tugging at my shirtsleeve. And it felt urgent. Upon returning to reality from my trancelike state, I saw that Amber was standing next to me holding onto my arm. She had a very strange look on her face. Amber led me back to our table and asked me to sit down. Amber proceeded to tell us that while she was in the restroom she had experienced a very strange sensation. A sensation of not being alone in the room; a feeling of being watched by an unseen presence. It was obvious to all of us that she was pretty excited by her experience, so I decided to go to the Men’s room to see if I could experience anything similar. Keeping an open mind and trying my best not to be influenced by what had happened to Amber; I located the Men’s room, stepped inside and locked the door. A strong sensation of not being alone in the room washed over me almost instantly. There was something in the Men’s room with me. Something not of this world. In as even a voice and tone as I could muster, I asked the unseen presence why it was here, and if it there was anything it wished to say to me. There was no response. Although the presence never left the room, there were no signs that it wished to communicate with me, so I abandoned my “haunted restroom” investigation and rejoined my teammates. By the time I got back to the table the bill had been paid, and team WISP was standing-by, ready and willing to continue the search for Resurrection Mary. I grabbed my keys off the table and started walking towards the door, but as I did, I got the feeling that I had left something behind. Something important. I asked my teammates to hang on for a second and I returned to the table to see if I had left anything lying about. I did a quick search among the dirty plates, napkins and silverware, but could find nothing of importance. I did, however, notice a bright-shiny penny laying on the ground at my feet, and for some inexplicable reason I felt that it was very important for me to pick it up and put it in my pocket. I have come to trust my gut instinct and intuition in such instances, so I retrieved the penny from its resting place under the table and stuck it in my pocket. I rejoined my teammates, and we made our way back inside Rico D’s and towards the front door. As we approached the hostess station, a rather friendly looking older gentleman greeted us, and without hesitation asked us if our dining experience at Rico D’s had been a good one. Becca and Amber took the lead and offered their opinions, explaining to the gentleman that although it had taken quite a while to get our food, the pizza was exceptional and well worth the wait. Remembering what Lisa at Chet’s Melody Lounge had told us about Rico D’s supposedly being haunted, I stepped up behind the ladies and asked the gentleman if he was the owner and if he knew anything about the ghosts that are supposed to haunt the place. With a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, the gentleman introduced himself as Don, stated that he was in-fact the owner, and more importantly to our mission, said quite matter-of-factly that Rico D’s was indeed haunted and that he would be glad to talk with us about it.
It quickly became apparent that Don was not only happy to talk with us about the hauntings, he was excited about it. Don exuberantly told us about the history of the building. A history of organized crime, murder, and bootlegging, all of which were supposedly controlled and supervised by infamous gangster Al Capone. Don told us that there were tunnels under the building that historians believe were once used to hide liquor during prohibition, and possibly even used for assassinations. He then told us that he believed that one of the ghosts that haunted the building was none other than Al Capone’s Aunt, an Italian immigrant named Isabel who came to the United States in the 1930s. Don said that many of his female customers had reported having strange experiences in the Ladies room, experiences that mirrored the experience that Amber had this very evening. There was apparently even one woman who stated that she had heard a woman’s voice speaking to her in the Ladies room that told her to “Put Isabel’s picture back up on the wall.” Don said that a few days before the incident occurred he had taken down several framed photographs so that he could paint the walls, and that at the time the woman reported hearing the voice, the photographs were stored in an upstairs room for safekeeping. Don then stated that the photographs were very old, and that he had found them in the basement after he bought the building. He confirmed that one of the photographs was indeed of an Italian woman, and that he believed it to be Capone’s Aunt Isabel. Don then related to us that there were no less than two more ghosts that haunted the building; the spirit of a young boy named Adam that followed him around all the time, and one who he nicknamed Junior that haunted the basement. I asked Don how he knew that the ghost of the little boy was named Adam. Don told us that at one time he had psychics come into the building to do an investigation, and that they had told him about the little boy and what his name was. Don went on to tell us about a few other minor incidents that had occurred in the kitchen and the basement. He then reached under the hostess stand and reveled a small vial of liquid that he told us was Holy Water that had been given to him by a local priest. Don said that when the ghosts start to get out of hand that he just sprinkles some of the water around inside the building and everything settles down. This statement elicited raised eyebrows and skeptical looks from Sampsun and myself. Not because we thought that Don was lying to us, but simply because there were obvious theatrics going on. It was also obvious that Don wanted the building to be haunted, probably because it was good for business and gave him something interesting to talk to his customers about. We thanked Don for his time and headed for the door.
Once outside, the rest of the team noticed the aura surrounding the area that I had seen earlier. We walked to a grassy spot in front of Rico D’s that was directly across the street from the Willowbrook Ballroom, and sat down to discuss how we were going to lure Mary out of hiding. I suggested that if we were going to retrace Mary’s footsteps from the Willowbrook to Resurrection, that we should leave some sort of metaphysical trail for her to follow. It was at that moment that I got an idea: the penny. Metals in general are a wonderful conductor of energy, both natural and supernatural, and besides the one in my pocket, I had an entire roll of pennies in the van left over from the book signing I had done in Chicago earlier in the day. I suggested to my teammates that we magickally charge the roll of pennies with energy and intent (the intent being to make contact with Mary), and leave a trail of them along the way as “metaphysical breadcrumbs” for Mary to follow. The team agreed that this was as good an idea as any, so I went to the van and retrieved the roll of pennies. Holding the roll of pennies in my hand, as well as the single penny from my pocket, I asked the team to wrap their hands around my own, close their eyes, and concentrate on our intent. I could feel the energy beginning to build almost immediately, and I began moving our hands around in front of us in a circle while repeating the name Mary over and over again, both aloud and in my mind. We built the energy stronger and stronger — higher and higher, filling the pennies with our magick and intent. Once our magickal work was done, I stuck the roll of pennies in my pocket and walked to the edge of the road directly across from the Willowbrook. Holding the single penny in my hand, I gazed at the Willobrook and traveled back in time in my mind. I envisioned what the Willowbrook might have looked like in the early twentieth century. I envisioned a sad and lonely Mary running from the front door of the Willowbrook into a cold and snowy winters night and to her terrible fate. I opened my eyes, whispered her name, and hurled the penny across the street and onto the sidewalk near the front door of the Willowbrook. Our work was done here. We walked to the van and began our trek from the Willowbrook to the gates of Resurrection Cemetery.
As we pulled out of Rico D’s parking lot and drove past the Willowbrook, I noticed something quite interesting. A middle-aged gentleman in a tuxedo was standing on the sidewalk in front of the Willowbrook smoking a cigarette in approximately the same place where the penny had landed. What was interesting about the gentleman was that he had a very confused look on his face, and his body language suggested that he was sensing something unusual happening around him but was unsure of what that something might be. The gentleman then looked straight down at the sidewalk, bent over, and reached for something at his feet. It had to be the penny! I was just about to stop the van and yell at him to leave it alone, when all of the sudden he jerked his hand back like he had touched a live electrical wire and had received a healthy shock. He then stood up, threw his cigarette into the street, and headed for the front door of the Willowbrook. If the dead didn’t pick up on the energy we put into the penny the living sure did! As we slowly drove along Archer Avenue toward Resurrection Cemetery, Sampsun and I kept a sharp lookout along the roadside for any signs of Mary as Becca left a trail of charged pennies and Amber tried her hand at automatic writing. We made it to the gates of Resurrection without anything unusual happening, and I pulled the van into a small parking lot across the street from the cemetery and brought it to rest. Resurrection Cemetery was of course closed for the day, and we knew that we weren’t going to get back inside without breaking the law and risk being arrested for trespassing, so we decided to chance walking up the short road that led to the cemetery gates to see if we could summon the ghost of Mary there. We knew that even that much was risky, but most likely not illegal, and that if we were going to make contact with Mary that this was probably our best shot. We once again gathered together in a circle and took each other’s hands. We closed our eyes, cleared our minds, and focused on our goal: To make contact with Resurrection Mary. We built our power, our will, our intent, and our magick. We focused our energy and our minds. We opened ourselves completely to contact. We called out to Mary… nothing. Nothing at all. Not so much as a tingle. We snapped a few photos, turned off the digital recorder and headed for the van. Filled with both satisfaction and disappointment, we made a long and silent trip home.
Evidence: No physical evidence was collected on video or audio.
The Conclusion: Archer Avenue and Resurrection Cemetery glow with a mystical aura. An aura that covers the entire area with its power and its light. Everywhere we went, we were told tales of ghosts and hauntings, of strange goings-on and things that go bump in the night. Of a hitchhiking ghost in a white party dress who replays her last night on earth over-and-over again, trying to make things right. Is Archer Avenue haunted? Absolutely. But probably more by the stories, the legends, and those who have come in search of her than by Mary herself.