Jewish Waldheim Cemetery

Jewish Waldheim Cemetery

1800 S. Harlem Avenue

Forest Park, IL.  60130



Cemeteries are usually calm, peaceful places to bury your friends and loved ones.  Most are, however, some are not.  Jewish Waldheim Cemetery located just north of Cermak Road along Harlem Avenue in south suburban Forest Park has had its share of exciting, traumatic and scary days.  The first Jewish internment was in 1875.

On June 26, 1977 the grave of Michael Todd, whose birth name was Avrom Hirsch Goldbogen and Elizabeth Taylor’s third husband was broken into by vandals looking for a 10-carat diamond ring that was allegedly buried with him.  None was ever buried with him.  Two of the vandals were convicted crime syndicate figures, Peter Basile and Glen DeVos and a third, Ernest Lehning was convicted on October 7th of conspiring to transport stolen property across state lines.  DeVos and Basile were identified as the grave robbers by Salvatore Romano, an admitted organized crime figure who had become a member of the federal witness protection program.

Michael Todd was killed in a 1958 plane crash in New Mexico at the age of 48.  According to a federal document, Romano had a conversation with Basile in 1977 during which he told Romano that he had taken the body of Todd from its grave with the intent to steal a ring that he had allegedly been wearing at the time of his death.  Romano said that they had been discussing attempts to steal the bodies of well-known people.

The two grave robbers could not find the grave at night during the first attempt and had to draw a map so they could find it at night.  One night Basile found DeVos drunk and they went to the grave and dug until they uncovered the casket.  They then broke through a body bag containing Todd’s body but were unable to find the ring.  Thereafter, Basile dragged the body bag out of the casket and threw it in the bushes.  Authorities found the body two days later after finding the grave desecration.

Also buried within the cemetery is St. Valentine’s Day murder victim, Albert Weinshank (1893-1929).

In 1986 a giant 500-pound monument crushed a 4-year-old boy to death.  He died of massive injuries to his head and chest.  The granite monument, which measured 38 inches by 20 inches by 9 inches apparently, had loosened over time and came crashing off its stone base when the family’s passage jarred the ground, police said.  In his panic, the boy’s father easily lifted the heavy tombstone off his son’s body even though it later took four police officers to move it.

Then a series of complaints arose against the cemetery’s plans to sell a large portion of the frontage bordering along Harlem Avenue to several businesses to develop.  There were those that charged that their friends and relatives were buried there and that the land was sanctified.  However in a statement by the Northbrook Congregation Ezra-Habonim, Rabbi Daniel Sherbill said, “There was no violation of Jewish law.”

Larry Hochberg, president of Sportmart, Inc. and developer of the shopping center said he proceeded with the project when Sherbill assured him the land was not consecrated.  Secular and religious laws appear to have been followed, said North Riverside village officials.  The project continued and today there are several small businesses on the former cemetery property.  Property the cemetery said it wasn’t using or planned to use in the future.

You would think that all of past trials and tribulations would stir up a ghost or two.  Amazingly only one has been reported throughout the years dating back to around the Century of Progress Exhibition of 1933/34.  She has been called “The Flapper Ghost” and is described as a beautiful young girl dressed in the style of the Prohibition Era in a short-skirted Roaring Twenties flapper dress.  The hitchhiking ghost has been a staple of American folklore for many generations.  Usually the hitchhiker is female and quite beautiful and her destination is invariably the cemetery.

Here a nameless young Jewish girl has been seen since the latter 1930's.  It is said that she attended dances at the Melody Mill Ballroom formerly on Des Plaines Avenue in North Riverside, Illinois.

The flapper’s first appearance dates back to before the time of Resurrection Mary, her better-known south suburban counterpart.  Lately the visitations of the flapper have been few and far between.  However during her hay day the flapper was seen quite regularly in 1933 and 1934 during the Century of Progress Exhibition.  The years prior to World War II saw the flapper meeting many young men at the Melody Mill Ballroom where she would dance, converse and later, ask for a ride home.

Home the girl said was the caretaker’s house, demolished long ago, on Harlem Avenue just north of Cermak Road.  As the girl would part with her date near the cemetery, she would run across the road toward the caretaker’s house but then around the side and into the tombstones beyond the view of her date.  Since no lights were turned on in the darkened house, some of the young men would check at the door only to find that no such girl lived there.

On occasions some would run after the girl and watch her as she disappeared farther back into the tombstones.  There have been times that the flapper ghost was seen during the daylight hours!

On a Spring day in 1973 a Jewish family, father, mother and daughter were visiting a grave of a deceased loved one when they were suddenly startled to see a girl dressed like a flapper walking towards a crypt where she then disappeared.  The family ran toward the spot thinking that she might have fallen into an open grave only to find no girl at all and nowhere for one to vanish so quickly and completely.

In 1979 a North Riverside patrol officer saw a beautiful young girl walking near the ballroom on a rainy evening around midnight.  He asked her where she was going and she answered home.  He asked her where home was and she replied that she lived on Harlem so the police officer offered her a lift.

He was well aware of the ghost stories and how the ghost was dressed.  This girl wasn’t attired in old-fashioned clothing but they weren’t modern either and ghosts were the farthest things on his mind at the time.  On the drive home she commented on how she enjoyed ballroom dancing and frequently walked home from the Melody Mill.

They turned north on Harlem Avenue from Cermak and she directed him to the second apartment building away from the cemetery’s entrance.  It was only then that thoughts of the flapper ghost squeezed its way into the policeman’s mind.  He waited for her to exit the vehicle quite sure that she could vanish at anytime.  Suddenly a semi-truck backfired and momentarily diverted his attention away from the girl.  When he turned back to her, she was gone!

Sure that she couldn’t have gotten into the building that fast; he went to check the doors.  They were locked.  Although the ground was wet with drizzle, there were no footprints on the dry cement shielded by the apartment building’s awning.

A local historian remembers a story a local cabdriver had told her that one of the cabbies had picked her up once and followed her directions, ending up near the cemetery’s entrance.  Not believing her when she said she lived there, he started back to the ballroom.  By the time he got there, so the story goes, she had disappeared from the back seat.  Other cab drivers memorized her description so to be sure to avoid any future confrontations.

A man who wishes to be known only as Jacob S. said that he had visited Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in the late afternoon many years ago with his parents.  As the shadows lengthened, he prepared to leave.  On the way back to his car he was shocked to see “something like smoke” rising from the ground.  He had the vague impression of certain “humanness” in the “smoke” he saw.  It was only later that he figured he had seen a ghost.

One of the last reported sightings to date was in the fall of 1984 when a couple passing by the cemetery experienced with they believed was a ghost-like figure standing by the main gates. It did not look quite human but was definitely the figure of a young woman.

Ghosts often go through long periods of dormancy where sightings seem to trail off or completely stop.  This is actually quite normal for spirits as it does take a tremendous amount of energy to manifest in a physical form.  Sometimes ghosts simply need time to recharge their own internal batteries.  I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of “The Flapper Ghost”.

One other strange recent story concerns The Commons site of the modern-day North Riverside Police Department and former site of the old Melody Mill Ballroom.  It seems that people passing by still report the sounds of the big-band era and Glen Miller floating in the psychic ether.

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