Drivers in Chicago have long reported encounters with a mysterious ghost near Resurrection Cemetery*. Sometimes the woman is encountered at the O Henry Ballroom, where she may accept a ride home from a dance partner only to vanish from the car when it passes the cemetery. Other times she is found hitchhiking along the road with the same results. The earliest reports, from the mid-1930s, tell of a young woman attempting to jump onto the running boards of passing vehicles.
Sometimes the encounters are more disturbing. Numerous people have reported hitting a young woman, complete with the thud and push that one would expect from such a collision, only to get out of their cars and find nobody lying on the road. Other drivers report hitting Mary, only to have her pass through the car and either vanish or run into the cemetery.
Most sightings are reported in the winter months, and at least one source claims that they are most likely to occur around 1:30 AM, the closing time of the O Henry Ballroom in 1934. She is a blond woman, always seen in a white dress, wearing dance shoes, and carrying a clutch-style purse.
On one occasion, in 1976, a cab driver reportedly saw a woman locked in the cemetery at night and reported this to the police, figuring that they could help her get out. When police officers arrived to help, they discovered the bars bent, and scorch marks that bore a resemblance to hand prints covering the bent bars. The cemetery explained that these were due to a work truck having hit the bars, and the truck's driver having used a blow torch to soften the bars in an attempt to bend them back into place. Regardless, the story became a media sensation.
Over time, a story explaining Mary's origins has developed. According to the story, she and her boyfriend were out dancing one winter's night in the early 1930s. They had a fight, and Mary decided to walk home. Along the way, she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver, and subsequently buried in Resurrection Cemetery. Ever since then, she has reportedly wandered the roads and ballrooms, looking for both a dance partner and a ride home.
*Really, what the hell kind of name for a cemetery is "Resurrection"? That's like naming a dry desert "China Lake"...oh, wait, that's been done, too.**
**Yes, I know that it's a dried pluvial lake bed.
Commentary: The guys at Hometown Tales are fond of pointing out that every urban legend occurs in multiple locations. While this is certainly true, Chicago's version of The Vanishing Hitchhiker is probably the world's best known version.
Stories of ghostly hitchhikers date back to antiquity, where they are picked up by a wagon or chariot rather than a car. Chicago appears to have a tradition of vanishing hitchhikers dating back at least to the 19th century. However, in the 1930s, tales of a ghostly woman associated with Resurrection Cemetery began to surface. Initially, the ghostly woman simply tried to jump onto the running boards of passing cars, but the tale of the vanishing hitchhiker named Mary soon developed.
The origin story appears to have appended to explain the ghost story, rather than being an original part. The identity of Mary, and whether or not her name really is Mary, is never clear. It is often suggested that Resurrection Mary may be the ghost of Mary Bregovy. Bregovy apparently would fit the bill in many regards, but while she was killed in a car accident, it occurred when she was thrown through the window during a collision in downtown Chicago. Likely, the stories of the ghostly hitchhiker began to surface, and they were later linked with the story of Bregovy's death.
Regardless of the story's origin, Mary has become one of the most-sighted ghosts around, and people routinely tell tales of encountering her. Sometimes the stories are as simple as seeing a mysterious woman vanish near the cemetery, and sometimes as complex as an evening of dancing and conversation followed by a ride home during which Mary vanishes or jumps out of the moving car and walks through the closed cemetery gates.
As a bit of a bonus, here's a video clip on the Vanishing Hitchhiker urban legend:
Sources: Prairie Ghosts,Internet, Internet, Internet