Frank Baehr was the kind of young man that would make any parent proud. As a young boy, he decided that he would go to college, even though this was a time when many boys didn’t even finish high school. In order to make that dream happen, he started delivering papers for the Morning Star. This meant he had to wake up at 3:30 in the morning in order to get his route finished before school. Frank was scheduled to graduate from Rockford High School on June 17, 1913, and he had already secured a spot at the University Of Illinois College Of Engineering. He had always shown an exceptional ability in anything that involved mathematics. But Frank was not only very smart, he had a personality that drew people to him, and even at a young age, he realized that popularity brought with it a certain kind of responsibility. He took this to heart and joined the Temperance Guard and reaching the rank of Major in 1913. Frank traveled around giving presentations to young men about athletic themes and emphasized the “necessity of abstaining from liquor, tobacco, and cigarettes in order to do the best work, mental and physical.”
Frank was born in Mt. Morris and moved to Rockford with his family when he was four years old. They lived in a house on Greenwood Avenue. Everyone who knew him talked of the loving devotion he showed his family, especially his grandmother.
May 31, 1913 was hot and sunny, without a cloud in the sky; a great day to be on the river. Frank was with a group of his friends canoeing down the river. They were in two canoes, Frank and his best friend Stanley in one and the other young men in the second. They had spent the whole day cruising up and down the river. They reached a point on the river down from the dam and the other boys paddled their canoe to the east side. As they maneuvered it out of the water one of the boy was watching Frank and Stanley as they tried to land their craft. He saw Frank and Stanley attempt to come in from the same angle as the previous canoe and then in horror, watched as suddenly the canoe tipped and flung the two young men into the river.
Frank and Stanley managed to hold onto the sides of the canoe and floated about 150 feet. Frank saw a nearby stone wall and thought he could wade to it so he let go of the boat and started towards it. The water came to about his shoulders and was running very swiftly but it appeared that Frank would make it. He was half way across when he stopped and turned back toward Stanley. The boys on the bank were yelling encouraging things to Frank and they were not sure what he was thinking but they speculated that he remembered that his best friend could not swim. Frank had just started to wade back toward the boat when, without any warning, he slipped under the water and didn’t return to the surface.
Everyone who witnessed this event must have been terrified but none more than Stanley Storey, Frank’s best friend. One could only imagine his feelings as he clung to the side of the canoe and watched helplessly as his friend disappeared beneath the water.
Stanley probably believed he was about to share the same fate as Frank, but he was pulled to safety by the friends in the first canoe. Another friend plunged into the river, hysterically screaming Frank’s name until some passerby grabbed him and restrained him.
Frank’s parents received the tragic news in the worst way imaginable, with a telephone call. Authorities searched for days to find Frank’s body and had just called off the search when a pearl buyer, E.J. Peacock recovered Frank on an island about 4 miles south of Rockford.
This poor family must have felt cursed when Frank’s beloved grandmother, weakened by her grief at the loss of her grandson, collapsed at his funeral and succumbed to pneumonia within days. The family buried her beside Frank in Cedar Bluff Cemetery.
C.P. Briggs was the principal of Rockford High School at the time of Frank’s death. He was asked by the family to speak at Frank’s funeral. He spoke these moving words:
“His young life was well lived and although his going has bowed all in grief, there is some consolation in the thought that what he done, he done well and the memory of his splendid young manhood and accomplishments will leave an impression on school life and this community that years will not efface.”
Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events