Tuesday, September 13, 2005

resurrection mary

Nearly every region in the US has its own version of the vanishing hitch-hiker legend: the mysterious woman who when picked up by a hapless driver vanishes from the car continually at the same geographic spot. Or the figure which steps suddenly in front of the car, is hit, and then disappears immediately (or at least before the police arrive). Chicago, in particular, has Resurrection Mary-- rumors of a fair-haired apparition in a white dress who appears along a stretch of Archer Road on the Southwest side of the city. Sightings go all the way back to the 1930's, when people reported a young woman along that stretch of road who would attempt to jump onto the running boards of their automobiles. The sightings supposedly peaked in the 1970's (some blamed the renovation of Resurrection Cemetery) and have tapered off since. Like any urban legend, many sightings have probably been hoaxes, though there are a number of well-documented accounts of eerily similar experiences over the last eighty years. Archer Road itself which runs through a wooded stretch and past a number of cemeteries is now largely populated by condos and occasional strip malls. But certain stretches are still wooded and darker than many urban dwellers are accustomed to. And thus, just ripe for a ghost story.

As someone who used to drive creepy dark rural roads without streetlights, this was a story which as a teenager set me ill at ease. Supposedly there was a similar story of a girl on the twisty riverfront road from Rockford to Byron, IL (though this one was always naked and only seen by men--wishful thinking perhaps). Since I'm both a ghost story and urban legend fanatic, I've done a lot of reading on various Chicago hauntings over the years, but this is a story that has especially interested me. Whatever the story’s validity, I’m intrigued by the legend's possibility as a subject for art. Questions of the story's origins, varying accounts of the haunting, the idea of ghost stories and urban legends themselves--how they represent the concerns and focus of the communities from which they evolve.

There's also this idea of the spectre herself, always described a young, vulnerable to the elements, and beautiful--- and the overwhelming number of sightings by men in particular (though not exclusively). The story's origins in the young girl who fought with her boyfriend, took off walking from the Willowbrook ballroom, and was struck by a car. Or a young girl killed in a drunken accident. Of certain dangers in transgression.

I’m not sure just yet what form the project will take—whether a single long poem, or perhaps a series of pieces, or perhaps a hybrid piece of some sort.

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