The Story Of Freddie Griffin And Rockford Memorial Hospital

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The display at Rockford Memorial Hospital

This is the story of little Freddie Griffin. Freddie was a very energetic 6-year-old who lived in downtown Rockford. Freddie’s family was poor, and they lived in a small house by the river. Mrs. Griffin supported herself and the six children by working as a washer woman for the Spafford family. She was at work the day this story took place.

It was around 3 p.m., Oct. 2, 1883. Freddie was playing not far from his front door with his little friend, George Pitney. That day, they were doing something both of their mothers had warned them never to do: they were playing around the railroad cars. George saw Freddie grab onto the door handle of one of the cars and swing his legs back and forth.

George shouted a warning, but it was too late. George saw Freddie’s hand slip. He said it happened so fast, but at the same time, it seemed to be in slow motion. Freddie fell onto the tracks right in front of a moving car.

George was horrified to see the wheels of the car pass over Freddie’s body, and soon, his own screams joined those of Freddie.

The paper went on to say the “bones of his leg were crushed by the heavy weight of the cars as if they were straws.” The boys’ screams drew the attention of a man who came to see what the source of the disturbance was. He swooped in and picked Freddie up and dashed off with him to Freddie’s house, where he found the door locked. He set the boy on the ground, and ran to summon a doctor.

The story goes on to describe Freddie’s injuries, the details of which are too sickening to repeat here. Suffice to say there was little left of the young boy’s legs and his left arm.

Doctors were finally found, the door was kicked in, and the doctors worked their horrific craft by the light of a small window. They used chloroform to help the young boy tolerate as they probed the mangled flesh. The decision was made that the only way they might be able to save young Freddie’s life would be to amputate. Several doctors “commenced their almost hopeless labors.” They amputated the limbs, leaving stubs about 6 inches long. The surgery was complete in just under an hour. The doctors were impressed with little Freddie’s bravery.

Mrs. Griffin was able to see her boy soon after the surgery was completed. The doctors warned her that the chances of Freddie making it through the evening were very slim. In fact, they were correct. Freddie passed away around 7 p.m. that evening.

The engineer of the train, Delos Mitchell, was questioned at the inquest the following morning and stated he didn’t know he hit a boy. The jury agreed, and found the death of Freddie Griffin accidental.

Freddie’s death was truly horrible, and one does not even want to try to imagine what his family went through, but something good did come from this tragedy. Physicians in the area decided to apply for a charter to open a hospital. They didn’t think it really would have changed the outcome for Freddie, but at least his mother wouldn’t have had to clean the little boy’s blood from the surgery from the floors and table of her home. Because of the doctor’s dedication, the hospital opened in October 1885.

Freddie is remembered with a very nice display at Rockford Memorial Hospital, and his story is also shared by the guides at the Midway Village Museum.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

One Of Rockford’s First Written Accounts Of A Ghostly Presence

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

People have always been fascinated by what happens after we die. Thousands of stories have been shared about personal encounters with the “other side.” Rockford newspapers have reported these experiences since the early 1890s.

One of the first written accounts of a personal encounter with a ghostly presence in Rockford occurred in 1891. It seems that rumors were spread about a mysterious, ghostly light that appeared in a downtown church on the corner of South Church and Chestnut streets.

Apparently, people would see this ghostly light making its way through the darkened church. They reported this to the police, thinking that someone had broken in to steal something. Police would check the place thoroughly, only to find no one inside.

This happened so frequently that one officer decided he would solve the mystery. Officer Cavanaugh was a seasoned policeman whose regular patrol area included this particular church. June 3, 1891, he decided the time had come to finally put these rumors to rest. Cavanaugh theorized that someone was playing tricks on the folks of Rockford, and he was going to prove it.

The officer patrolled the church every 15 minutes. Hours passed with no results. Officer Cavanaugh was just about to give up when he looked at the church from his vantage point and saw a small flickering light.

As Cavanaugh rushed to the front door of the church, he also heard the distinct sound of organ music playing. He let himself inside with the key he had obtained. He was able to see his way clearly by the glow of the strange light, but just as he reached the room where it was located, it went out. Suddenly, Cavanaugh was left in complete darkness. He used matches until he found the switch for the lights. Determined to prove his theory, the officer searched every nook and cranny in the entire building and found no trace of anyone.

Cavanaugh decided he needed some assistance and went to find the night policeman, Officer Sullivan. The men returned to the church, and once again, waited for the light to appear. Officer Cavanaugh took the front door and Officer Sullivan went to the back. Cavanaugh entered the church, and just like before, as soon as he gained access to the room where the light was shining, it went out. Better prepared, this time he carried a flashlight.

The music continued as Cavanaugh shone the flashlight beam around the room. When he directed the light toward the pulpit , Cavanaugh saw something “that almost made his blood freeze!”

In the dim light of the now shaking flashlight, Cavanaugh saw a young lady, dressed in what he described as mourning clothes, playing the organ. The brave officer stopped in his tracks. The young lady continued to play as she turned to look at him. As their eyes met, the music stopped, and the woman disappeared.

Cavanaugh, startled, called out to Sullivan to ask if he saw anyone. Sullivan answered that he had not. Cavanaugh turned toward the organ and again saw the young lady sitting on the stool. The sight chilled and saddened him at the same time.

Cavanaugh rushed to the front door to let Sullivan in, and as they entered the room, the music stopped. The young lady had disappeared.

The two officers searched the entire building and found no one inside and no clue of how the woman entered or left the building. They lingered to see if she would repeat her performance, but the woman did not return. Satisfied that they would learn no more, they left the building.

Officers Cavanaugh and Sullivan both claimed that although neither of them believed in spirits, they could find no other explanation for what they heard or saw.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Alfred Countryman: The First Public Execution In Rockford

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Rockford was a pretty wild place in 1856. The city was making advances in what would become the foundation for the manufacturing boom that was to put Rockford on the map. But in the early days, crime was very common. Robbery and cattle rustling were especially prevalent.

John F. Taylor was the sheriff in those days. He was from all accounts a very fair man. When he left for work on Nov. 11, 1856, he kissed his wife and 1-1/2-year-old son goodbye as usual, neither could know it would for the last time.

Sheriff Taylor was alerted to possible cattle thieves in the town when two brothers, Alfred and John Countryman, rode into town with a deal that seemed too good to be true. They were trying to sell a herd of cattle for a sum much lower than market value. The prospective buyers grew suspicious and alerted the sheriff.

At around 9 that morning, Sheriff Taylor arrested the brothers for the suspicion of theft. He carried through with the usual routine of searching the suspects and found pistol balls in Alfred’s pockets, but when he questioned the suspect, Alfred denied having a gun. The sheriff and one of the deputies started to walk toward the jail. Just as they reached the steps, Alfred broke away from the sheriff, leaped over a fence on Elm Street, and ran down the street with Sheriff Taylor in pursuit.

The sheriff caught up with Countryman and was about to grab him when Alfred pulled a gun and fired at the sheriff. Taylor staggered a few steps, gasped out, “I’m shot, catch him.” He then fell, mortally wounded.

Alfred Countryman continued to run and made it all the way to Kent Creek, before he was brought down by one of the many citizens who took up the chase when Taylor fell. Witnesses from that day would claim the pursuers numbered more than 100 men. There were rumors that a lynch mob had been calmed by the Sheriff Elect Samuel Church. He promised that justice would be swift.

Sheriff Taylor was respected in Rockford, and his funeral definitely reflected that. It was held on the public square under the charge of the Masonic Fraternity, of which Taylor was a member.

Alfred Countryman’s trial was held in February 1857. The jury found him guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to hang. His execution took place on March 27, 1857, at the farm of the new Sheriff Samuel Church.

Countryman was the first man to be publicly executed (officially) in Winnebago County. Eight thousand people came to witness the event. Ironically, extra precautions were taken to make sure that he arrived safely to the execution. There was a procession from the jail including two fire companies, armed with sabers and rifles, surrounding the carriage in which Countryman rode. Countryman’s father, brother and sister were there to witness the hanging. Alfred addressed the crowd to beg their forgiveness. His body fell through the trap, and witnesses remarked that even though the crowd was huge, the only sound that could be heard was the sobbing of Countryman’s family.

Sheriff Church addressed the crowd before the body was taken down. “These painful proceedings being now concluded, and the sword of justice about to be returned to its sheath, I hope never again to be drawn with so much severity, I would thank you all for the good order you have maintained — your conduct does credit to the city, and I hope you will observe the same decorum in retiring.”

Unfortunately, Sheriff Church’s wish didn’t come true and the need for the “sword of justice” would arise several more times in the Forest City.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events