The Terrifying True Story Behind The Madonna Of Bachelor's Grove Cemetery

Bachelor's Grove Cemetery in Midlothian, Illinois, about 25 miles south of Chicago, is –- at least according to local legend -– probably the most haunted place in Illinois and one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. As Windy City Ghosts explains, the settlement known as Bachelor's Grove dates back to the 1820s and was possibly named either after a group of young unmarried men who lived there or a family named Batchelder. 

The area started being used as a cemetery by 1834 but fell into disuse by the 1980s. The plot of land was subsequently abandoned and the overgrowth and disrepair likely contribute to its spooky reputation. By the 1970s, the desolate cemetery had become a popular spot for drunken parties and vandalism. These days, however, the burial ground is better known as a hotspot for ghost hunters due to its reputation for being massively haunted.

Some of the sightings recorded by Windy City Ghosts include a spectral farmhouse that teleports around the grounds, a ghostly farmer and his horse, a two-headed monster that lurks in the cemetery's pond, phantom vehicles, ghostly dogs, and of course your standard orbs and balls of light. However, due to numerous sightings and legends –- as well as being the subject of one of the most famous and controversial ghost photos of all time -– the most notorious ghostly inhabitant of Bachelor's Grove Cemetery is almost certainly the so-called Madonna of Bachelor's Grove, also known as "the Woman in White," or even "Mrs. Rogers" to locals.

Capturing the Madonna

According to Bachelor's Grove Forever, sightings of the Madonna of the Grove began in the late 1970s when a caller to a radio show reported having taken a picture of a "shrouded figure ... carrying a baby" while dressed in what resembled a nun's habit. Reports of apparitions of the White Lady typically follow a similar description: she is a woman with dark hair dressed in a long, old-fashioned dress or dressing gown, usually described as white, either carrying an infant, laying flowers on gravestones, or wandering around aimlessly, which is often interpreted by witnesses as looking for her baby. The image of a ghost that has been subsequently identified with the Madonna of the Grove gained international attention after a photo taken by Ghost Research Society member Judy Huff-Felz in 1991 was published in both the Chicago Sun-Time and the National Examiner.

In Huff-Felz's own account, she took the photo while out with the GRS to practice her psychic gifts, taking infrared photos wherever she felt a spectral presence. She says when she took the photo, there was not a person visible to the eye, but she felt the presence of something near the now-famous "quilted stone," and so took a picture, and when it developed, she saw the now-iconic image of a young woman in old-fashioned garb sitting on the quilted stone. While the photo might not have been immediately identified as the Madonna, the account recorded by the Bachelor's Grove Cemetery and Settlement Research Center suggests that the two have been tied since at least the late 1990s.

Which sister is the Lady in White?

So just who is the notorious Woman in White of Bachelor's Grove Cemetery? No one knows for sure, but there are a number of popular theories. Bachelor's Grove Forever says that the two main suspects are a pair of sisters-in-law, Kathryn Vogt Fulton and Luella Fulton Rogers. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, one of the most-visited gravestones at Bachelor's Grove is one that reads merely "infant daughter," which receives numerous offerings from visitors in the forms of flowers, toys, and crosses. In many versions of the Madonna legend, this is understood to be the marker of the baby the Madonna is seen either carrying or searching for. This marker belongs to Marcia May, the daughter of Kathryn Vogt Fulton. Apparently, at the time of the baby's death, there was bad blood between her mother's family, the Vogts, and her father's family, the Fultons. As such, a Fulton baby was not allowed to be buried on Vogt land, and so was interred in the Fulton family plot at Bachelor's Grove. Kathryn, buried far away, is said to be the ghost searching for her child at this distant cemetery.

Others, however, think the Madonna is Kathryn's sister-in-law, Luella Fulton Rogers, the "Mrs. Rogers" associated with the Madonna. Luella was killed by a hit-and-run driver near Bachelor's Grove just following her 60th birthday in 1937. She is buried in the Grove next to her infant sister Emma Fulton, who in this interpretation is the baby the ghost is searching for, upset that her sister's headstone had been moved.

Other possible Madonnas

While Kathryn and Luella are the two most popular identifications of the Madonna of the Grove, they are not the only ones. The Chicago Tribune says that another possibility is Amelia Patrick Humphrey, who was the wife of John Humphrey, an Illinois state representative, and senator. The two had a daughter who, like Marcia May and Emma, tragically died in infancy. The baby's name was Libby May Humphrey. Bachelor's Grove Forever adds that, in a situation similar to that of Kathryn Vogt Fulton, Libby May was buried at Bachelor's Grove, but Amelia was buried elsewhere. As a result, perhaps Amelia's ghost is seeking out her poor lonely child at another cemetery?

One final candidate -– or rather, pair of candidates -– comes in the form of two different women named Mary Rick. The two Marys are both from the same family, and they're both buried in the Rick family plot at Bachelor's Grove. Very little else is known about either of the Marys, so what is it that makes them ghosts of interest in the case of identifying the Madonna of the Grove? Well, the famous photo by Judy Huff-Felz shows the White Lady sitting in the moonlight on the now-famous "quilted stone." That stone is the base stone for the marker for the Rick family. Some people then reason that if you're going to star in one of the most famous ghost photos of all time, you should at least be sitting on your own tombstone, right?