Say you believe in her three times in a mirror, and she'll appear. But watch out. She'll scratch your face. She's Bloody Mary Worth, and her origin is Wadsworth, according to local lore.
Bob Jensen, paranormal investigator and leader of Lake County's Ghostland Society, said, "Dilleys Road used to be called Old Wagon Road. Just north of St. Patrick's Cemetery, lived a woman named Mary Worth in the 1860s. Back then, many homes in Gurnee like the Mother Rudd house were part of the Underground Railroad.
Mary was part of the reverse underground railroad. She'd bring in slaves under false pretenses to send them back down south and make some money."
There were rumors among the townspeople that Mary also practiced the dark arts – torturing and killing slaves for her rituals. For a time, they turned a blind eye to her evildoings, but there came a time that they were fed up, Jensen said.
"They lynched her on her own property," Jensen said.
According to "Chicago Haunts: Ghostlore of the Windy City" by Ursula Bielski, in the 1960s a Lake County resident in her 90s claimed she watched Mary Worth burn at the stake.
Jensen said, "From there, the story goes in two directions. The first was that her body was buried on her property. The second was that she was buried in the cemetery."
Jensen said that in the 1800s, it was improper to bury a witch on sacred ground, so it's more likely she was buried on her property.
One hundred years later, a subdivision was built nearby, Jensen said.
"At the site of one house, construction workers found a stone and removed it," he said.
Legend says the stone may have been Worth's gravemarker. It was placed in the path to the house, and creepy things began to happen. For example, dishes would fly off shelves at the house.
Then, "the house there burned down – twice," Jensen said.
Darlene and Larry Neumann, a Beach Park couple known as Two Voices Storytellers, will host a Ghost Walk of Gurnee at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18 beginning at The Button Room, 4072 Old Grand Avenue. The tour will include details on Bloody Mary, along with many other Gurnee ghosts.
Darlene said Mary Worth really enjoyed torturing people, was a self-proclaimed witch and locals knew to steer clear of her.
"When children played the game in the mirror, I always thought it was some faraway queen," she said. "But I think Mary Worth existed. Most legends are based on people that really lived, remembered for one particular heinous deed or something wonderful they did."
Jensen said the tale of Bloody Mary's true origin is Mary I of England, who famously persecuted thousands of protestants and had 280 dissenters burned at the stake.
Larry said, "While it's debatable if the true Bloody Mary lived in Wadsworth or England, it's interesting to think that this story that is told all over the country may have started here in Lake County."
Larry said it's also interesting that Gurnee's ghost stories are mostly from the era of the underground railroad, including stories of the Mother Rudd House and Warren-Newport Public Library. "Maybe they are all tied together, trapped in that time," he said.
"The Mother Rudd house is a nice back-drop to tell these stories when you imagine what people went through, traveling the Des Plaines river to throw off slave hunters," Larry said.
Jensen said it's important to share stories like that of Bloody Mary Worth to avoid "sweeping history under the carpet."
"Chicago has thousands of ghost stories and it helps to build community and bring people together when we share them," he said. "The story of what Mary Worth did is absolutely wrong, yes, but it's a story. There's no reason we shouldn't have fun telling it."
For more information, visit www.ghostlandsociety.com and www.thebuttonroom.org.