Indiana's Haunting Tale of La Llorona
Many of you were so excited when we announced the debut of our new La Llorona fragrance. And we were thrilled to introduce it. Truly, the story of La Llorona is one of the most haunting in American folklore--and one of the saddest of all. But her story--and her lonely night walks--reach far beyond Mexico City.
Several years ago I was invited by History Press to write a book about the ghosts and hauntings of Gary, Indiana, which is just a short drive from my home in Chicago. It was a real adventure to research the stories for the book, especially since--as you know from last week's blog--I was working on the book when the "Demon House" story broke.
But the Demon House story was not, in my opinion, the most compelling of the stories of the old "Steel City" on Lake Michigan. Rather, it was--and is--the story of Gary's "vanishing hitchhiker, known as the "Cline Avenue Ghost."
This is the story of Indiana's very own "La Llorona."
Gary, Indiana, is connected to the south side of Chicago not only by the snaking Calumet River, but by an industrial culture built by generation after generation of hardworking families. It is not surprising that this gritty town should have come to share folklore with its Illinois neighbors, just west over the Indiana border. In fact, Gary folklore includes its own distinct version of Chicago's Resurrection Mary: A Woman in White said to haunt the intersection of Cline and Fifth Avenues near the Calumet River. The Woman in White was part of the folklore of the once thriving Gary community of Cudahy, and, like her Chicago counterpart, she is known for hitchhiking.
Incidents involving a Cline Avenue ghost follow the phantom hitchhiker’s typical unfolding: a motorist—usually a man traveling alone in the wee hours—comes upon a woman walking by the side of the road. She is usually wearing a white dress of another era. The driver offers her a ride, and as they drive on he finds that his passengers is beautiful but despondent, sullen. After a few minutes of wordless travel, she abruptly asks the driver to pull over, usually near the banks of the Little Calumet River, in the neighborhood of Black Oak. Once the car stops, she leaves without a sound and disappears into the dark water. Numerous witnesses have called police to report what seems to be a suicide attempt, only to be told that there’s “nothing to worry about” or that an officer would be sent “later, to check it out.”
To understand these encounters, one must recognize that they typically occurred years ago, before the Cline Avenue highway was built. In the days, the old road passed right over the Little Calumet River, and not high above it.
“Butchie” was living in a neighboring town in the 1980s when he found himself traveling alone on Cline after midnight:
I had left the airport after dropping off a pilot friend and was driving back to Griffith, where I lived, and I was taking Cline Avenue. It was a little before 1am and it was drizzling. I remember because my friend didn’t know if he would be able to fly out in a few hours to pick up his client in Indy. I had just passed 5th Avenue when I saw this lady in a long dress, like a prom dress or wedding dress, all dressed up, walking in the rain the same direction I was going. I thought right away she must have been going home from a wedding reception or something—it was Saturday night late—and maybe broke down or got into a fight with her boyfriend. It was almost winter—very early November and pretty cold—and she had no coat or even long sleeves on, and she was already pretty soaked. These were days when people wouldn’t accuse you of stuff, so as most people would have, I pulled over and rolled down the window and asked her if she needed a ride. She turned and looked at me and she was very, very sad. Just very sad. She got in the car and sat in the passenger seat. As I pulled away, I let her sit for a few seconds, then asked where she lived or if she was going somewhere else. She didn’t look at me. She said, “Just drive.” I said, “To where?” and laughed. It was raining harder and the wipers were going and she was soaking wet. She still didn’t look at me or answer, so I figured I’d keep going towards my house and wait for her to speak up. Which she did after maybe a mile and a half or so. Right after we passed 80, right before the (Little Calumet) River, she yelled, “Stop here!” and I almost jumped it was so loud. I slammed on the breaks, thinking I was about to hit something, and she opened the door and got out and ran towards the river. I got the car out of the road and parked and got out to see where she went, but she wasn’t there. Nothing, nobody around. I tell you, I stood there for a long time, just dumbfounded, just in shock with my mouth open. When I went back to the car even crazier was that the vinyl car seat where she was sitting, soaking wet, was dry as a bone. Not one drop of water. This was before cell phones and I don’t know if I even would have called the police right then if I had one, because really I didn’t know what had happened. It was just too weird. But when I got home, my conscience got the better of me and I called to make a report. It was the desk number I got for whatever station was in that area, and the desk sergeant or whoever said, “Ok, thanks for calling!” after I told him this woman jumped out of my car and ran into the river. Like it was totally normal. Like “Ok! Have a great day!”
The Little Calumet River actually plays an important part in several popular versions of Gary’s vanishing hitchhiker story. Another version finds our young woman hailing taxis from the Cline Avenue overpass, requesting rides to Calumet Harbor, but disappearing from these vehicles within a half-mile. Though her similarity to other Women in White is obvious, there is an added flavor to this Hoosier haunt, owing to the influence of Mexican settlers of the Indiana harbor area. For when those settlers came north to Indiana, they brought a whole culture with them, including a particularly vivid piece of folklore: old tale known as “La Llorona” or the “Weeping Woman.”
For half a millennium, a phantom known as La Llorona has chilled the blood of Mexico City residents with her cries of “Mis hijos, mis hijos! (My children, my children!)” According to prolific tales, she has been seen for centuries, wringing her spectral hands, her blood –soaked gown gown trailing behind her. The faithful say she is one of the damned—a murderess condemned by God forever for the killing of her illegitimate children. Like many such wandering phantom “women in white,” La Llorona is attached to a real-life counterpart.
Her name was Dona Luisa de Loveros, an Indian princess who fell in love with a Mexican nobleman, Don Nuno de Montesclaros, in 1550. Although Dona Luisa loved Montesclaros deeply and bore two children with him, he refused to honor her with marriage, due to her lower social station. When her lover deserted her and wed another, Dona Luisa went insane and stabbed their children to death. Gazing upon her mutilated babies, she immediately realized her deed and took to the streets of the city, crying, “Mis hijos! Mis hijos!” until she was arrested and hanged for infanticide.
According to the accounts of many Mexican Americans living in Gary, Indiana, the Cline Avenue ghost was a young Mexican immigrant woman who worked in a factory in the largely Mexican Cudahy neighborhood—and fell in love with a married Anglo foreman at the local steel mills. When the girl became pregnant with the man's child, she begged him to leave his wife so they could marry and raise the child.
But the man had other plans. When the young woman showed up at his fine house to tell his wife about their love affair, he denied knowing her. Though he had been supporting her, paying the rent on a small apartment and giving her money for food, he abruptly cut her off, abandoning her and the unborn child completely.
For months, as she became heavier with child, the girl wandered the streets of Gary, until finally she gave birth to a beautiful son. Thinking that her former beloved would surely return to her when he saw the baby, she traveled to the mill to find him. He refused to meet with her, and instead called the authorities to remove her from the premises.
Desolate, the girl walked the streets until the wee hours of the morning, the baby in her arms, weeping and moaning. Just before dawn, in total despair, she drowned the baby in the Little Calumet River before stepping in front of a bus and dying herself.
You can read more about the ghosts of Gary, Indiana in my book, Haunted Gary, from History Press, available on Amazon and at other booksellers.
Try out our La Llorona fragrance today . . . and let me know how you love it!
Thanks for coming on this legend trip,