I’m often asked how I find stories. Sometimes I get them from something I read in the old newspapers and sometimes I hear stories from other people and research them. This story is unique because it comes from an unusual source. I was hosting a tour at Cedar Bluff Cemetery and happened to be walking in an area I hadn’t researched yet. Paul Smith, one of the psychics I work with was with me and he picked up a man who kept asking him the same questions. “Why are we forgotten? “ Paul went on to explain that there was a man with us and he was trying to get my attention because he felt that he and his fellow soldiers who fought in the Spanish American War had been completely overlooked.
Well, that took me by surprise, so as my friend “talked” to the gentleman, I looked around until I found a tombstone that had the name George Whitmore on it. The tombstone also mentioned that George had fought in the Spanish American War.
So at George’s request, I researched his story.
George Whitmore was born in Rockford, Illinois on September 14, 1874 to Charles and Mary E. Whitmore. He had a pretty typical childhood for that time. When he was 25, he joined the 3rd Illinois Infantry Unit Company K. George earned his hero status when he was involved in the Spanish American War.
The Spanish American was an important war because it really began the emergence of the United States as a great power in international affairs.
The war started shortly after the U.S.S. Maine was sent on a supposedly friendly mission in April of 1898. Tensions were rising in Cuba and President McKinley decided to send this warship down there just in case things started to escalate. It was officially called a friendly, fact finding mission. The ship was sailing around the harbor in Havana when it mysteriously blew up. Tragically, 260 of the 350 men on board were killed when the ship split in two and sank in the harbor. Spain blamed the ship and the United States claimed there were mines planted in the harbor (by Spain, of course).
The United States newspapers of the time whipped the U.S. citizens into a frenzy and called for war. It was a major case of what was to be known as “yellow journalism” and the saying ”Remember the Maine!” was born. McKinley declared war even though there was really no evidence that it was an intention sinking. In fact, the true nature of the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine was never discovered and remains a mystery to this day.
President McKinley didn’t really want war and the Spanish certainly didn’t but the pressures from the press and Assistant Secretary of the Navy at that time (a man by the name of Theodore Roosevelt), were impossible to ignore. Roosevelt actually stated that he thought McKinley was afraid of Spain.
In order to prove that the United States was not just trying to wrestle Cuba away from Spain, Congress passed the Teller Amendment; promised to liberate Cuba if the United States won the War.
So then America went off almost cheerfully to war with Spain.
Around 4,200 men died in the fighting of the Spanish American War before it ended 1902. That number is low when compared to other wars. But imagine your father, husband, son, or brother was one of the men who did not return home to their families. Then the number seems very high, indeed.
George did not die in the battles of the Spanish American War. He had the chance to return to his family and build a life for himself. George left Rockford to work on the railroads, working his way up to engineer after almost 25 years. George married Miss Florence Froelick on July 24, 1919 in Chicago and they settled there.
On June 8, 1921, 47 year old George was just finishing his run for the day. He was far away from the sights and the sounds and dangers of battle. He was walking on a flatbed rail car. All of a sudden, the car jerked and George fell under the car and was crushed.
George’s body was returned home to Rockford on a special coach on the North Western Railroad accompanied by his wife and brother. Since George was a veteran and a Mason, he was laid to rest with full military and Masonic honors in Cedar Bluff Cemetery.
George is mentioned on the memorial plaque for the Veterans of the Spanish American War at the Veterans Memorial Hall in downtown Rockford.
Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events