Originally published in The Rock River Times
Haskell Park has been a part of Rockford almost from the beginning. It was originally platted as the West Side Public Square in the 1830s. The land was given to the city by Dr. George Haskell and his brother-in-law, John Edwards. George Haskell and his family settled in Rockford in 1838. He remained here for 28 years, helping the new city grow. He found a passion in growing fruit trees and was successful for many years.
Haskell Park still remains though it has seen many changes over the years. Postcards from the late 1800s and early 1900s show a beautiful place with an elaborate fountain located toward the center. Children used the park as a playground and couples would use the benches as a courting place.
The fountain itself became quite newsworthy in June of 1902. The newspapers from June 13 tell the story of a man who was passing through the park late one evening. Just as he was passing the fountain a strange noise caused him to look at the water. There in the moonlight he saw a sight that nearly paralyzed him with fright. A shadowy, shimmering form seemed to rise from the water. At first it was a dark mist but then the man was horrified to see it take on a human shape. Though it had no distinguishing features, he saw what he imagined to be a skeletal hand as the specter reached its arms toward him.
This broke the man’s paralysis and he bellowed in fear while he began to run through the park as if the very devil himself was chasing him. He stated in the interview that he didn’t slow down until he reached his house.
The man’s friends all teased him viciously about the story until others started to experience the same ghostly shape that emerged from the fountain always reaching out for whoever braved the park late in the evening. Later stories claimed that the spirit eventually freed itself from the fountain and would follow them to the boundaries of the park.
Though no one could identify the spirit there are several possibilities for the haunting. One is the tragic tale of James and Kate French. They were a couple who lived in Rockford in 1896. It was in this park that James waited for his estranged wife to return from assisting a family friend who was ill. Witnesses later testified that he waited there for hours, pacing and watching. Though at first no one knew the reason why he appeared so agitated, his motive soon became all too clear. James chased his wife down and shot her inside a house that she ran into for safety. James was later hung for his crime. Maybe it was his spirit that wandered the place where he waited for wife to appear.
Another possibility comes from the suggestion that Haskell Park lies over a Native American burial ground and the spirits of those buried there can find no rest. Sara Bowker and Paul Smith, psychics who are a part of the Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events first came in contact with these lost souls on a recent bus tour. They both sensed the spirits who wander the area looking desperately for the place where their bodies once rested.
Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events