Ghost Town: Marion Lambert haunts Sheridan Rd.

A group of people standing on top of a snow covered forest


During Halloween season in Lake Forest, Ghost, our investigative journalism team will chronicle a fabled ghost story or spooky tale from inside town. Please send along story ideas to [email protected]


We all have the privilege to live or work in the ‘”safety bubble” of Lake Forest, filled with charm, quaint stores, mansions, beautiful nature preserves, a gorgeous lake front, and an angry spirit. Yes that’s right, the ghost of the late Marion Lambert haunts a road not too far from the 8th prettiest high school in America.

Actually, Lambert predates LFHS by almost 20 years. She grew up in Lake Forest but the wealthy town at that point sent their children to neighboring towns for education as Lake Forest Senior High was mainly occupied by the children of the maids and butlers of Chicagoland’s elite. Enough background, though, let’s get down to telling this thrilling story about a girl not so far off in age from us. Sit down, relax (if you can) and let Ghost tell you a story.

Marion Lambert was a typical high school senior in the years of 1915-1916. She had it all: loving parents, friends, a lovely fashion sense of short bobs and long dresses, and an older ‘boyfriend’. Everything a girl could want, right? For now, I guess you could say her life was golden.

Will Orpet, Lambert’s male companion (three years her senior) was in college at the time studying journalism at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. Because of the lack of technology at the onset of the 20th century, the two love birds sent letters back and forth to make up for the long distance. His letters, well, we’ll just say they were rather advanced for that time. One might describe him as a ‘forward’ individual.

In one of his letters he wrote “I want to see you, dearest, and want you badly, if only I could get my arm around you now, and get up close to you and kiss the life out of you, I would be happy.”

Remember, this was during WWI so women didn’t even have the right to vote, and most attire came down to the ankles. Thus, these aggressive letters are basically the equivalent of sending some scandalous photos in today’s society to someone who doesn’t want to see that. Marion, needless to say, was not enthusiastic about their relationship moving so fast.

But he would not let up. When he came home from college to visit, he sat very close to her on the couch and persuaded her into holding his hand. We all know, now anyway, that he wanted a tad more than holding hands. That night Orpet took Marion for a drive and a walk in the forest, and with that, we’ll skip a little part of the story.

After Will went back to college, he tried to drop Marion fast. Marion, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more in love. Her feelings had changed dramatically once they became involved. She was already talking to her friends about how her and her new boyfriend were going to get married someday and grow old together. The tables had officially turned. Orpet’s letters were growing short and not as loving as they were before he visited Marion for the first time. Lambert just assumed that he was busy and cut him some slack. But in November of 1915, Marion’s attitude changed from excitement to desperation. Orpet received a troubling letter from her in Madison. Marion was worried that she was pregnant. She didn’t know what to do; she was still in high school and was pregnant out of wedlock. He refused to believe this information saying that “it was only one time’ and “there is no way that could have happened.” He even went as far as to call her a liar. But, taking no chances, Marion got a letter that wasn’t as cold as the others recently sent by Will. Inside were pills that he said ‘would help her condition’. In fact, he had his chemistry major friend from UW get some pills that would induce a miscarriage so that this problem would simply go away.

The pills worked. But why on earth would Marion want to tell Orpet that? She was madly in love with him and would do anything to cling to him for as long as possible. The problem was that her beloved was planning to marry another woman that he met in college. This obviously wouldn’t fly for Lambert, so she begged him to visit her. Just three days after she turned 18 in February of 1916, she got a call. Have you ever seen a movie where the main character gets a really sketchy call and tells nobody about it, not even the people that were with them when they got the call?

Her best friend had no idea who she was talking to but just decided to let it go. She was helping Marion through a tough time as she said that she would kill herself if Will married another girl. The next morning was the last time that Marion saw her best friend Josephine. She didn’t get on the train that they usually got on to go to school out of town.

After Marion didn’t come home that night, her father got worried. He loved his only child and the next morning got a friend and went looking for her. Because it was February in Chicago, the snow was heavy. Mr. Lambert and his friend found two sets of footprints in the snow just off Sheridan Rd. leading into the woods. After following them for a while, Lambert’s father let out a gasp of horror. As he ran closer to the heap in the snow, he found his little girl lying cold and dead on the icy ground.

But what happened?

The sheriff’s first steps all pointed to Orpet. They searched and searched and finally found him at school in Madison. He acted shocked at Marion’s death, like it was the first he had heard of it. After bringing him back to his hometown and putting him through rigorous prosecution, he admitted to being with Marion the night that she died. He stated that he hadn’t killed her, though. His story, which was constantly changing. He said that he had called Marion to take a walk with him because he was back in town and wanted to clear up this pregnancy scandal once and for all, before it could ruin his tycoon father.

A group of men sitting at a table

Will did not want to alert his family that he was in town because he wanted this to be a one-and-done kind of business. He took Lambert for a walk and drive again, back to near the same place they went 4 months prior. Marion was distraught because he was giving her the news that he was going to marry someone and it was not her. She screamed and threatened to kill herself right there. Refusing to acknowledge her, Orpet walked away. As he was strolling out, thinking he cleaned up his mess, he heard a thud. The college student turned around to find his companion lying on the ground.

Will ran. He didn’t want there to be any assumption of foul play so he thought it better to take the next train back north.

It turns out, however, that Lambert’s death was caused by cyanide poisoning.

But here’s the catch, Orpet’s father worked in a greenhouse where there were mass amounts of cyanide crystals enough to “kill a whole high school of girls” said one reporter.

To deduce simply from the most obvious facts in the story, he had to have killed her. Come on, though, have you ever seen a murder show? It is never this simple. Turns out that the school Marion attended had cyanide crystals in their chemistry lab as well, so the investigation went back to square one.

Skipping the trial, it was a bunch of boring lawyer stuff; Orpet was freed and immediately ran off to join the army and fight in WWI. Marion’s death was ruled a suicide.

Vengeful spirits will not pass on to the other side if they think they have unfinished business here on earth. Maybe they were wronged or need to clear something up. They all have one thing in common, though, the longer that they are here, the more evil they become. February 10th 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of Marion Lambert’s death.

Ever since then, she has been haunting Sheridan Rd. since her last encounter with the ‘love of her life’. The ghost of Marion Lambert makes a couple appearances every year, just to remind people that her story is not done and will never be finished. Her ghost appears on the side of Sheridan Rd., standing in silence and stillness in a long dress with rotting teeth from the acidic cyanide. She looks almost normal, until you get closer.

So be careful if you are driving down that winding road a night. When you get an odd feeling that you aren’t completely alone, just know, you’re not. You never are.