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At twilight, or around Halloween, hikers and dog walkers often spot groups of people dressed in black, carrying carved staffs and candles and wearing robes and tall hats, marching into secluded areas. Like the homeless who sometimes set up makeshift shacks in the woods, these people are usually harmless. During the height of the Blair Witch phenomenon, it was not uncommon to spot fire pits with burnt wax, plastic skulls, octagons drawn into the dirt, and other signs of what could usually be ascribed to adventurous teenagers or slightly demented adults recreating their favorite horror-movie images.
"I remember there was an area in Arlington Heights about 200 yards from the entrance of the woods," Thompson says. "Someone or a group of people had built a series of small, manmade hills, big enough to ride a bike over, surrounded by teepees. All of them were organized in odd, concentric shapes."
But occasional remains of chickens, cats and other sacrificed animals indicate that with the right mix of imagery and alcohol, the practice of cult-like rituals in the Forest Preserves can become serious. "Every few years you run into something that indicates people were practicing this type of activity," Anchor says.
The center for these rituals is undoubtedly the Bachelors Grove Cemetery, located just off 147th Street near Central Avenue, in the Rubio Woods Forest Preserve. Exiting the parking lot on the north side of 147th Street, the now-abandoned cemetery can only be accessed by walking down a remote, thickly wooded path, a half-mile or so away from the parking lot. Coming to a rise you see an opened chain-link and barbed-wire fence that surrounds the burial ground. Inside, the tombstones and grave markers have been desecrated, vandalized and knocked over like dominos. Originally called Everdons Cemetery, the area gained the nickname of Bachelors Grove due to the large number of unmarried male immigrants who were placed in what amounted to a pauper's grave while digging the Illinois-Michigan Sanitary Canal. Other local legends tell of people seeing ghosts of farmers pulling plows, disappearing farmhouses, monks dressed in robes and apparitions of gangsters who were said to be dumped in the nearby lagoon. There is even an infrared picture of what is supposedly a female ghost seated on a tombstone. The legend of "one of the most haunted places in the world" draws hundreds of visitors a week. Some are curiosity seekers who come to take pictures, hoping to find the negative image of a ghost. Yet the desecrated tombs, dozens of empty alcohol bottles, used condoms and condom wrappers discarded amongst the graves indicate that, whether true or not, the mere lore of the ghosts and apparitions brings out the worst after dark. Although heavily patrolled by Forest Preserve and local police, one local teen warned, "You better not go in there at night. That is where the meth heads hang out. They'll do whatever. They don't give a #."