In 1899, the well-known local soldier, Thomas G. Lawler, who was the Commander of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic), Garret L. Nevius Post No. 1, submitted a petition to the Winnebago County Board. The petition, signed by 200 men, was a request for a building specifically for veterans. This building, named the Veterans Memorial Hall, was finished in 1903. It was the first ever of its kind built in Illinois, and according to some sources, the entire United States. Its purpose was “to serve as a constant reminder to all of the sacrifices given by the brave men and women from Winnebago County and a way for following generations to remember and learn about their lives.”
It has gone through many challenges over the last 111 years, but its purpose has always remained the same: to serve Winnebago County’s veterans and their families.
This is definitely a building where the walls actually do “talk.” The walls bear the names of 5,000 veterans who served in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.
Many dramatic events have taken place inside the stone walls of the hall. Thomas G. Lawler, the man who fought so hard for the building, was laid in state there before his funeral. Several thousand people came through in the four hours his body was on display. Most people left with tears in their eyes at the loss of this amazing man.
Another memorial was held there for another remarkable Rockford hero. Mary J. Brainard was a Civil War nurse who followed her husband when he left to serve his country. She wrote poetry that told of the devastation she witnessed.
Other stories echo in the building, harder to decipher, but just as deeply imprinted upon the hall. Many people see a woman walking on different floors. This author has even seen her, though I did not realize she was an apparition at the time. I was waiting outside the door that opens onto Main Street. I had been waiting a few minutes and was starting to wonder if I should knock again, when I saw a woman dressed in a long gown descending the stairs. I thought maybe she was there assisting the manager, so I knocked on the glass. The woman never turned to look at me as she walked down the stairs to the first floor and turned the corner to continue down to the basement. I was really annoyed by this time, and when the manager let me in a few minutes later, I shared the story and told him the young lady was very rude to completely ignore my knockings. The manager had a strange expression on his face as he told me he was alone in the building.
Paul Smith, one of Haunted Rockford’s psychic mediums, thinks he knows the woman’s identity. The Damon family had a son serving in France during World War I. Grant Damon was due for a visit in 1918, and his mother went to the Veterans Memorial Hall to receive the details of her son’s return home. When she got to the hall, however, she received the unimaginable news that her son, Grant, had died a month before from injuries suffered when he was caught in a mustard gas attack. The impression of her agony still continues in this historic building.
Other paranormal claims are of children who were kept in the balcony area during meetings and a band that plays on as though still celebrating happier times.
Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events