Ionis And Milford Ihlenfield

20160624_110001The people that lived on Pershing Avenue all knew each other. This was pretty typical in Rockford in 1961.  It was a different city back then.  People knew and looked out for their neighbors.  So it wasn’t surprising that it was the neighbors who notified the police that they hadn’t seen their neighbors in a few days.

Milford and Ionis Ihlenfield worked from their home breeding dogs.  Milford previously worked for a construction business but the couple hit a rough spot in the summer of 1961. Milford lost his job and the financial strain caused the couple to fight almost constantly.

Then in early August of 1961, there was an explosion at the house.  Ionis was cooking up some food for the seventeen dogs that they had at the house when the pressure cooker she was using exploded.  The fire caused $1500.00 worth of damage to the home.  This certainly did not help the couple’s financial situation.

On Monday, August 13 in the evening a neighbor saw Milford outside the home.  They chatted for a while about the Ihlenfield’s situation.  The neighbor would tell authorities later that Milford seemed to be very upset about losing his driver’s license. He had gotten pulled over and the police officer kept his license because, as Milford told it, he didn’t have car insurance.  The men said goodnight and the neighbor was startled when Milford began walking away and suddenly stopped.  Milford turned back and said, “There really isn’t any point to go on any longer.”

A short time later the quiet neighborhood was shaken by the sound of a loud argument.  They breathed a sigh of relief when the noise finally stopped.

Everything seemed back to normal over the next few days. But then the neighbors noticed that it had been awhile since anyone had since Milford or Ionis.  They all knew that the couple owned seventeen dogs.  No one had seen them for a few days either. One neighbor questioned another until the whole neighborhood was talking about the couple. Finally, on Friday, August 19 one neighbor realized they had not seen the couple since Monday night.

The authorities were called.  They arrived and had to kick in the door to gain access to the home.  The first officers that entered were horrified at the sight before them.   There was a body lying face down on the floor.   There was another, this one a female, lying on the sofa.

The investigation was hampered at first by the dogs that were wandering all over the house.    When the house was searched, the officers found one dog dead and the others near death.

The officers received assistance from the Rockford Animal Hospital who sent food for the animals.  The dogs were transported to Winnebago County Human Society.

The police questioned neighbors and were able to put together a timeline for the couple.  The last time anyone had seen the couple was Monday evening.  Coroner Sundberg determined that Milford has shot his wife while she slept on the couch at around 11:00p.m.  Then Milford put the shotgun to his own head.

Coroner Sundberg, the police officers, and the North Park Fire Department worked for hours to get the animals delivered to safe lodgings.  They also cleaned the house and had the blood spattered furniture removed.

Ionis was laid to rest at Cedar Bluff Cemetery and her grave marked by a nice stone.  Milford was also buried there according to the burial records, right next to Ionis.  There is, however, no marker for his grave.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Frank Cichella, Rockford’s First Italian-American Police Officer

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Frank-Cichella - CopyFrank Cichella’s life in Rockford was pretty typical for the early 1900s. He wasn’t from Rockford originally. In fact, he wasn’t from the United States. Frank came here when he was 16 years old, leaving his home of Ferentino, Italy. He traveled on the S.S. Re D’Italia from Naples to Philadelphia to live with his brother in 1907. It is not known when and why he came to Illinois, but he was here by 1912. Frank married Mary Fromo in 1912 in Rockford when he was 21.

In 1917, he is registered as an alien working as a “moulder” at the Eclipse Gas Stove Company. By this time, he and Mary had three children, and they were very active in St. Anthony’s Church. Frank finally became a naturalized citizen Oct. 3, 1922.

By 1927, Mary and Frank had seven children, between six months and 13 years of age, and the six little girls and one boy kept Mary very busy. Frank worked a variety of jobs until settling in as a police officer. Frank was the very first Italian-American police officer in Rockford and had been on the force for just more than a year in 1927. He was very popular with the other officers.

Frank borrowed a cousin’s car on Thursday, Feb. 24, 1927. He took it back to his cousin’s house and started for home. He was walking dressed in plain street clothes, not in his uniform. All that is known for certain is that he was passing 822 Corbin St. in the evening when he saw a car and noticed the car was without headlights. Frank walked to the car to speak to the man working under the hood. Chester Bailey had just gotten home from work and was working on the engine of the car when Frank approached him.

Frank announced to Bailey that he was a police officer and displayed his badge. He explained that Bailey was going to be fined for driving without headlights. This is as far as the facts are clear. What happened next depends on who is telling the story. Chester Bailey claimed that Frank began to yell at him and “abuse” him.

The men were yelling at one another and began to fight. Chester broke loose and ran for his house. Frank was still standing in the street when Bailey returned carrying his gun. Bailey opened fire on Frank, hitting him five times in the abdomen. Frank returned fire and struck Bailey in the neck, chest and stomach.

Both men were rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery in attempts to save their lives. Tragically, both men died from their wounds. They were both conscious long enough to make statements, but they contradict one another and offer no real clarity to what actually happened.

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Chester Bailey was an African-American, and the newspapers of the day wrote about the city’s concern for the danger of a race riot. Some of Cichella’s friends, and even other police officers, were threatening to retaliate against other African-Americans. Meantime, friends of Bailey’s were threatening to do the same. City officials asked for cool heads and calm hearts. Both men left small children, and the newspapers begged for people of both races to remember the families of the men.

Frank Cichella was honored as a police officer who fell in the line of duty. His funeral procession was one of the biggest in the history of the City of Rockford. Thousands of people accompanied the coffin and family from St. Anthony’s Church to St. Mary’s Cemetery.

Rockford’s Italian immigrants worked hard to take care of Cichella’s family by soliciting donations to help pay off the mortgage of their little house and funds to help support them. The police officers gave many donations as well, and Mary was able to keep her home for her children. Mary died in the house on Montague Street in 1971. Frank and Mary’s children grew up to be adults their father would have been proud of, despite the hardships they had to face without him.

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Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

The Mysterious Deaths Of Stan Skridla And Mary Jane Reed

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Mary-Jane-Reed-Stan-Skridla“Time heals all wounds” is a familiar saying, and while it may work that way for some things, even time can’t heal the wounds that the families of Stan Skridla and Mary Jane Reed have suffered. It has been 66 years since the two young people were found murdered, and while there has been much speculation and many accusations, no one has ever been arrested for the crimes. The only thing the people involved in the investigation can agree on is that on the evening of Thursday, June 24, 1948, these two people were attacked.

Stanley Skridla was 28 years old in 1948. He was born May 8, 1920, and attended school in Rockford, graduating from Rockford High School. Stan served in the U.S. Navy from October 1943 until December 1945. He had been stationed in the Pacific and had seen action on the island of Guam during World War II. He was honorably discharged Dec. 20, 1945.

In February 1946, Stan was employed by the Illinois Bell Telephone Company as a lineman. He was working in the Oregon, Illinois, area in 1948 and living with his widowed mother, Amelia, in a house on Loomis Street in Rockford.

Mary Jane Reed grew up in Oregon, Illinois. Her parents were Mr. and Mrs. Clifford Reed, and her father worked at the silica plant in Oregon. Mary Jane was reported to be popular, especially with the opposite sex. That is easy to understand when one sees her picture. She had a very captivating smile, blondish-red hair and beautiful blue eyes.

Stanley and Mary Jane met through their jobs with the telephone company. She was a telephone operator with DeKalb-Ogle Telephone Company, and Stanley was working in the area. They arranged for a date on Thursday, June 24, 1948, when Mary Jane finished her shift at 10 p.m.

They visited several taverns, and the details of their evening get murky rather quickly. The last time they were seen was around 11:30 p.m. when they left a local tavern. The next time either of them was spotted was at 6 a.m. when Stanley’s body was found by a local man, Jack Eckerd. Eckerd was headed down a country road known for being a “lover’s lane” when he saw Stanley’s body in a ditch. Police discovered that Stan had been shot four times, once in the chest and three times in the lower abdomen. His car was found later in the day, abandoned on White Pines Road, just off Highway 2. His keys and wallet were missing. Mary Jane was nowhere to be found.

Police started a search, but felt right from the very beginning that it would be a body recovery instead of a rescue operation. Unfortunately, those fears were realized June 29 when a truck driver taking a load from the silica plant stopped to let another truck pass him. He said he smelled a strange odor, and when he looked around, he found Mary Jane Reed’s body lying face down in a ditch. Weeds obscured her body, but it was evident that she was dead. Mary Jane was found dressed only in panties and a bra, though later Coroner Horner said there were no signs of a sexual attack. The cause of death was a gunshot wound. Details differ here, as some state she was shot in the head, some in the back.

Mary Jane’s body was taken to the Farrell Funeral Home. Her family dressed her in the beautiful gown they had purchased for Mary Jane to wear in her brother Donald’s wedding the weekend she was killed.

Police have interviewed hundreds of people to try to get a clear picture of what actually happened on that lover’s lane so long ago. The details were never clear. Theories were offered, but never proven, and the families never received the justice they so longed for.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Spirits Linger At Camp Grant Museum

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Camp-Grant-MuseumThe Camp Grant Museum and Command Post Restaurant is a treasure trove of interesting history told through actual artifacts of the men and women who served at Camp Grant. It is owned by Stanley and Yolanda Weisensel. They have spent many years scouring the area on a quest to build a memorial to the people who traveled through this area on the way to serve our country in World Wars I and II.

The place is fascinating enough on its own, but the Weisensels are gems themselves. Yolanda is quite a storyteller and has spent many hours researching the whole area that once was Camp Grant.

The building for Camp Grant began in July 1917, and by November of that year, 1,100 buildings had been constructed. It was designed to be a training site for infantry, engineers, machine gunners and artillery, and both enlisted men and officers were trained there.

It was virtually a small city, and even had its own fire department and police force. It also included a base hospital, a photography studio, a movie theater, and a parade ground. It totaled more than 5,000 acres. In its peak time, July of 1918, Camp Grant supported a total of 50,543 officers and enlisted men.

In the fall of 1918, the devastating Spanish flu hit the Rockford area. This was a worldwide epidemic that killed millions. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the United States, and Camp Grant was hit very hard. The first case was reported on Sept. 23, 1918. Three days later, there were more than 700 cases reported, and by the end of the month, more than 4,000 cases were reported.

Not much could be done to help the patients who came down with this dreaded disease. It swept quickly through the camp, and there were some 24-hour periods where more than 100 men died. Within nine days, 1,000 men perished, and within two weeks, the number would swell to more than 2,000 dead. The colonel who was in charge of Camp Grant at the time was so overwhelmed with the loss of his men that he committed suicide.

The camp was re-opened for World War II, and in August 1943, started to house German POWs, most of whom were members of the German Afrika corps or U-Boat sailors. These men were paid to work in the fields and canneries to help ease the shortage of men in the local area. Later, many of these prisoners would claim they were treated very well at the camp. Some of them would actually return to the area to live after the war.

Besides being filled with interesting artifacts, the museum also has many spirits who linger within its walls. The owners and wait staff have had many experiences they cannot explain. They have had items moved around, seen moving balls of light, felt someone touch them, and seen full-bodied apparitions.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Veterans Memorial Hall, A Place Where The Walls Talk

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Memorial-Hall-Rockford-KKresolIn 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

Tinker Cottage – One Of Rockford’s Most Haunted Places

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Tinker-Swiss-Cottage-USENow known as Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens, this beautiful mansion and its grounds are tucked away on Rockford’s west side. Quite a few Rockfordians know it is there, and some of them even know its history. What some of you might not know is that it has the reputation of being haunted!

The house is a very unique place for several reasons. It is on a limestone bluff overlooking the Kent Creek, and there are signs of a definite Native American presence. Water, limestone and Native American influence are all said to be great conductors of paranormal activity.

The house is filled with Tinker family possessions. This is not a house that has been decorated with pieces brought in from sales or donations. This house is definitely a “time capsule of the Victorian Era.” The Tinker family not only gave the Rockford Park District their house, they also included all of their possessions. They left clothes, dishes, diaries and furniture. This could be another reason why there is so much paranormal activity here.

Haunted Rockford has visited this unique place for several years now and has enjoyed working with Steve Litteral, the executive director. Right from the very first tour, people had experiences they could not explain.

The first time we ever visited the cottage on one of the Haunted Rockford bus tours, we were joined by a paranormal investigation team. We split the guests up into small groups, and different guides led them through the cottage. As we were loading the bus to head to the next stop, one of the ladies approached me. She told me she had really enjoyed the tour. She loved that we used psychics, that we shared the history of the house, that we had the team along, and that we had the lady dressed in clothes from the time period of the Tinkers. This last piece caught my attention, and I asked her what she meant. She explained that when her group was going out on the suspension bridge, they passed a woman with her dark hair in a bun and all dressed in white.

By now, we had been joined by others on the tour, and there was a surprised gasp from several of the members when I explained that we had no one dressed up in a white dress. I wasn’t sure who the lady saw, but this mystery woman was not part of the tour. I can’t adequately describe the look on the woman’s face, but I can tell you that it was priceless!

That first encounter was a definite omen of things to come. Almost every time we have organized an event there, people have experienced something. One other time when we were there with a group, we were upstairs in the “red room” telling about Josephus Dorr, when all of a sudden we heard a woman’s voice from downstairs calling “Hello?” I turned to Steve and asked if he had locked the doors behind us and he stated that he had. I told him he better go make sure because we were all upstairs and someone must have come in.

Steve had a very funny look on his face when he joined us a few minutes later. He had checked the doors and they were locked. He had also checked the entire downstairs, and there was no one else in the building with us. Everyone who was there that night confirmed that they heard the voice.

There have been many incidents reported since by guests. They have spoken of hearing children playing, being touched, hearing whistling and humming, and seeing many full-bodied apparitions. In fact, the cottage has so much activity, it was featured on the Ghost Hunters show a couple of years ago.

When people ask me what is the most haunted place in Rockford, I always answer that Rockford has many places that have paranormal activity. Tinker Swiss Cottage is definitely one of them.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

The Regulators And The Driscolls – Justice In The Early Days

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Driscoll-Rock-WEB-500This story could be a screenplay from the golden days of Hollywood, when men like John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart rode the wild frontier and saved their town from the clutches of the lawless bandits.

In the 1830s, when this area was being settled, Illinois was the frontier, and bandits roamed the plains of the Rock River Valley. They were counterfeiting, horse thieving, robbing and even murdering their fellow settlers long before Rockford even had a jail to put them in.

Daniel S. Haight was elected as the first sheriff in 1836, and he had a force of seven constables who served with him. The crime continued almost as if there were no police force, and in 1841, local citizens had finally had enough. Representatives from Winnebago, Ogle and Lee counties took their concerns before Ogle County Circuit Judge Thomas Ford, and he advised them to form an “organization” that would assist the sheriff and his constables in keeping order in the counties. He also suggested their punishments be so strict it would deter the bandits from committing crimes. Lashes from a horse whip were his suggestion — 36 for the first offense, and 60 lashes for a second offense.

Ford’s suggestions were followed to the letter, and the word was spread that men would be needed for these “posses.” Numbers vary, but at least 500 men showed up to volunteer throughout the three-county area. The men came from all walks of life and were doctors, lawyers and bankers. The name given these groups of men were the Regulators, and Rockford had its very own chapter.

One of the Banditti’s leaders was John Driscoll. John Driscoll brought his family to northern Illinois in 1835 and settled his family on Killbuck Creek in Ogle County. He had four grown sons: William, David, Pierce and Taylor. All of the Driscoll boys were involved with the Bandittis and were considered some of the worst criminals of their day.

These two groups clashed in many small skirmishes, and many lines were crossed until the local citizens feared the Regulators almost as much as the Bandittis. The fighting came to a head in the summer of 1841.

June 27, 1841, two of the Driscoll boys (stories vary as to which two actual boys it was, but most claim David was the main offender) rode onto John Campbell’s property. It was Sunday evening, and the Campbell family had just arrived home from a church meeting. John Campbell was walking from his barn to his house when shots rang out. He was struck in the chest. He walked about 40 feet toward the house when he fell dead. His wife ran to his side as his 13-year-old son, William, picked up his father’s shotgun to return fire.

Word spread like a wild fire, and soon, there were 200 men who gathered to hunt down the Driscoll family. John, William and Pierce Driscoll were found and brought to a wooded area. More than 500 people gathered in the wooded area for the proceedings. Lawyers were appointed from the crowd, and a trial began. The jury was made up of the 111 Regulators who were part of the crowd. They found there was not enough evidence to prove that Pierce had done any crime, but William and John were found guilty and sentenced to hang for their crimes. They accepted their fate without emotion, but did ask to be shot rather than hanged.

The 111 men were assigned into two different groups for firing squads. When asked if they had any last words, William confessed to killing five men, but John Driscoll remained silent. John met his fate first, and his hands were tied, he was blindfolded and made to kneel. Fifty-five bullets found their mark, and John Driscoll fell forward onto his face. William was brought before the 56 armed men from his group, and the process carried out again.

The Regulators offered to assist Pierce in getting his father and brother home, but he refused and rode away. The two Driscoll men were buried where they fell. This dark time in the Rock River Valley’s history is remembered with a memorial marker and a stone where the lynching of the Driscolls took place.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The lingering spirits of Cpl. Grant Damon and his mother

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Grant-Damon-Rockford-2014Mr. and Mrs. Damon must have felt a great relief when the armistice was completed and World War I finally seemed to be over. They had two sons serving in the war, Sgt. Clinton Damon, who was a member of Company C 1st Battalion, and Cpl. Grant Damon, who was in Company K 129th Infantry Division. Clinton was in the replacement and training camp in Texas, and Grant was overseas in France fighting on the Western Front.

Grant, who was 26 in 1918, was expected home very soon, and Mrs. Damon stopped in to Veterans Memorial Hall on Dec. 5, 1918, to see if there was any news about his return. The Damons had not had any news from Grant for several weeks, but assumed he was busy making the arrangements.

Mrs. Damon probably didn’t comprehend the words that were on the slip of paper she was handed that day. Instead of greetings from her son, the letter contained the official notice that Grant was dead. He had died a month before on Nov. 5.

Grant had suffered horribly from the wounds he received in October during a gas attack. Mustard gas caused blistering — both externally and internally — and often blinded the men who came in contact with it. It was very effective initially, and it was even more deadly than other gases used earlier in the war. And mustard gas was absorbed into the soil, making it potent for weeks after the initial attack. This made the capturing of trenches even more dangerous.

The effects of the gases were horrible, but not usually fatal, at least not right away. Those victims who received fatal doses lingered for weeks, suffering from the blistering that would eventually strip away the mucus linings of their lungs. It was a brutally painful way to die.

One does not even want to imagine Mrs. Damon’s suffering when she received the devastating news that Grant would not be coming home. There is still something of that emotion in Veterans Memorial Hall of when Mrs. Damon received the news of her son’s death. Different psychics have sensed her there, still caught in that moment.

Grant’s body was shipped home to his family, and he was buried with honors in Cedar Bluff Cemetery. Psychics Paul Smith and Sara Bowker visited there for a tour with Haunted Rockford. They both sensed Grant there, and were able to add more to his story. Grant had been injured, but went back to aid a friend who had been wounded when he became overwhelmed with the gas. Paul Smith had sensed Grant’s mother at Memorial Hall, but had not been able to identify her. It was only while communicating with Grant that Smith was able to finally put a name to the woman.

The Grant family received a letter from the American Red Cross shortly after they were told of his death. It was printed in the Dec. 31, 1918, Rockford Register Gazette, and read: “Hard as it is to receive such news, we want you always to remember that this life was given in a wonderful cause, for if it had not been for such men as Corporal Damon, the victory which has come could never been won. The American Red Cross send you the deepest sympathy.”

Rockford’s cemeteries are filled with young men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for their country. They continue to be honored at Veterans Memorial Hall and through articles such as these. One hopes this knowledge brings comfort to the families of those lost.

Veterans Memorial Hall is at 211 N. Main St., downtown Rockford, and can be reached at (815) 969-1999.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

Honk and William Garrett – breaking barriers with humility and grace

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

WEB_Bill-Garrett-GS-600In the 1920s, if you were to ask anyone who the best coach in Rockford was, chances are they would say “Honk Garrett.” Honk was born in Pennsylvania in May 1881. Prior to moving to Rockford, Honk was a coach at Hyde Park High School in Chicago. Garrett was hired by the Rockford High School Association to coach all of the athletes in football, basketball, baseball and track. Some of the best athletes in the Midwest were fortunate enough to be coached by this very talented African-American man. He would lead his football team to the state championship in 1909 and 1910.

After he retired from coaching at the high school level, he opened up a gymnasium for amateur boxers in the 300 block of East State Street. He also managed the Olympic Athletic Club (O.A.R.), one of the first of its kind. The newspapers from the 1920s talk about the events he arranged; one mentioned that there was a crowd of 400 spectators at the Pioneer Hall for a boxing competition.

Honk was a man of many talents who was known all over the Midwest for the athletes he helped train and mold into exceptional young men. The achievement he was most proud of, however, was his own son, William. William was born to Honk and his wife, Annabelle, on Feb. 5, 1903, while they still lived in Chicago.

William went to Rockford schools, enrolling at Highland School, where he attracted attention for his skills on the football field. He attended Rockford High School and was as skilled on both the track and the basketball court as he had been on the football field. Everyone who watched this extraordinary young man was in awe of his speed and great athletic ability, and he “won the respect of every man and boy who were his team-mates, companions, and every spectator who ever watched him play.”

But what made William even more unusual and why he really inspired so many people was the way he handled himself. As an African-American, Bill, as he was called by his teammates, was often the target of insults and foul tactics from players on the opposing team. In fact, there were times when the opposing team refused to play against him. Bill never let this break his determination to give his very best, and he always returned the sneers with his amazing smile.

William followed in his father’s footsteps when he became the new manager of the Olympic Athletic Club. He also joined the Illinois National Guard. Captain Fairley was the head of the unit, which was originally formed to be machine gunners. The 61 men who enlisted in the 8th Infantry Unit had such impressive credentials that the decision was made to form them into an administration team instead.

Both Garrett men were talented athletes and respected leaders in the community during the 1920s and 1930s. It must be realized how unusual it was for African-Americans to gain such acceptance in those times, and just what exceptional people Honk and William were to earn that.

When Bill died of a sudden illness in 1924, he was only 20 years old. His untimely death shocked and saddened many. His funeral was attended by an astonishing 1,200 people. The newspapers stated that the crowd was made up of people of all races and walks of life. People who knew or were trained by Honk, those who loved to watch William play sports, young men who had been motivated by him or his father, friends, and complete strangers all gathered to pay their respects for the humble, gifted young man.

It was said that watching William play was so thrilling that everyone who saw him admired and respected him. Maybe that was his real talent, to play sports so well and with such humility and dignity that it made all who watched him focus on his talent and not his color.

 

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Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

 

Clinton St. Clair And The Haunting Of The Winnebago County Jail

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Clinton-St-Clair-Rockford-Winn-Co-2014The name of Clinton St. Clair has now been forgotten by most people in Rockford.  But that wasn’t always the case. For the better part of 1910, everyone in town knew the name.

Jan. 20, 1910, Mary E. McIntosh, an elderly lady who lived at 1239 W. State St., on the city’s west side, was found brutally murdered in her home. Her body was discovered by the milkman in the morning when he brought her milk. Police soon arrived at the home and were shaken by what they found.

Mary was one of those elderly women whom people shake their head over when her name was mentioned. The McIntoshes were well known in the city as hard working. Mr. and Mrs. McIntosh were always well dressed and their property well kept.

But after Mr. McIntosh passed away, things changed. Mary McIntosh became certain that people were trying to cheat her, and she began to hoard things in her home until the house was filled with junk.

Mary was a very old lady, and though she was considered to be eccentric by all of her neighbors, they could not fathom why anyone would want to horribly attack her with what looked like a dull-edged knife.

Police found a blood trail leading out of Mary’s house and down the block. At about the same time as this discovery, Frank Cronk, a local mailman, reported that he found an envelope with Mary’s name on it, containing two $10 coins.

The evidence all pointed to a man named Clinton St. Clair, and he was charged with the murder. Clinton confessed to the crime, telling the police that he had gotten drunk at a party and was walking home to School Street feeling very “low” because he was unemployed and had no money for his family.  He heard the stories about Old Lady McIntosh keeping a considerable sum of money at her house and decided to rob her.

Mary McIntosh fought him, and St. Clair knocked her over the head. He said he searched the house, but he only found $72. St. Clair had no answer for the police when they asked why he had mutilated Mary.

During the trial, St. Clair’s attorneys used his epilepsy as a defense, but St. Clair was found guilty and sentenced to death. He seemed reconciled to his fate, though men incarcerated at the Winnebago County Jail at the time would tell of Clinton’s pacing back and forth in his cell. He would talk to himself, sometimes breaking out in bursts of laughter or tears.

Clinton was hanged April 15, 1910, and buried quickly after his service at St. Mary’s. Only his brother and brother-in-law went to the funeral.

The police were probably satisfied with the whole process and were, no doubt, glad they were finished with the horrible case. That was not the end of the story, however.

Before long, police started to hear stories from the prisoners in the jail. All of a sudden, no one wanted to be alone in their cells. They reported hearing footsteps, as though someone were pacing in their cell. A man’s voice was heard, sometimes mumbling or laughing. Newspapers stated that the number of men in the jail was actually dwindling. While the police reported the execution was the reason crime was declining, the men in jail told a different story. They said it was because word had gotten out that the men incarcerated were afraid to be there. These prisoners had spread the story that Clinton St. Clair was still there in his cell, tortured by the crime he had committed, reliving his last few days on this earth.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events