ROSEMONT - Donald Stephens spent more than half a century at the helm of this Chicago suburb. Now less than two months after his death, some say an eerie likeness of his face has appeared in the peeling bark of a 50-foot sycamore.
The image is fueling speculation in the village of 4,200 residents, while others are simply scratching their heads.
"He told me, you screw things up, I'm gonna haunt you," said Bradley Stephens, the mayor's 44-year-old son who was appointed to complete his father's term. "When it starts talking, we're all in trouble."
The tree, located outside a health club, was twice slated to be torn down. Each time it was saved because Stephens intervened.
Now, it's guarded by a barricade. A single candle that well-wishers set up also stands next to the tree.
Not everyone is convinced the pattern resembles Stephens, the community's only mayor who was credited with leading the village's development from a tiny enclave of just a few dozen people to a bustling community with one of the nation's largest convention centers.
He died of stomach cancer April 18 at age 79.
"I see Jesus," said Cathy Sansone, the membership director at the health club who says any resemblance to the late mayor is simply the "power of suggestion."
Others disagree, pointing to a resemblance between the tree trunk and a portrait of the mayor that hangs inside the health club.
"It's the way he used to cock his left eyebrow a lot. That's the thing that made me think it's him," said village spokesman Gary Mack.