Rambling Along The Mississippi – Dubuque, Iowa

Traveling the backroads in any state is one of my favorite past times and the last trip was no different. I had a long weekend so my partner and I threw a couple of things in a bag and ran out the door. It has long been a dream of mine to travel the entire Mississippi River. Last fall we ventured north through Wisconsin, so last month, we decided to head south on the Iowa side of the river.

We started the journey in Dubuque. We have been to Dubuque several times and visited many of the historic sites. It is a pretty city with a lot of interesting (and haunted!) history. It is a very old town with its origins set in the 1690’s when the French Trader, Nicholas Perrot started to trade with the Native Americans. Dubuque is named for Julian Dubuque, another French Trader, who was granted access to the lead mines by the Mesquakie Indians in the 1780’s. Julian got along well with the Indians and eventually became a great friend of the chief for the Mesquakies tribe, Peosta. A monument to both of these men sits on a cliff above the city. There are tales that Julian eventually married Peosta’s daughter, Potosa. Unfortunately, because of the time period, there is no real way to prove or disprove this claim. Many French traders took Native American women as wives but they usually did not record their union in any way.

 

I have visited many Native American sites all over the United States and I am always struck by the strong feelings I get while there. In the places where they performed their ceremonies and any they use for burials the land carries a certain presence. It is one of those things that I find hard to describe but instantly know when I feel it.

In the city of Dubuque itself, we visited a couple of historic (and yes, supposedly haunted) places. The first was the Hotel Julian. This very recognizable building was built in 1843 by a wealthy business man, Peter Waples, though the hotel website claims there has been some form of hotel on this same corner since 1839. Because of its height back in the day, this hotel was one of the first business people saw as they entered the city. It still is very easy to spot because of its red Hotel Julian sign.

 

The hotel was , and still is, known for its great food and luxurious atmosphere right from the start. It housed many famous travelers in its long rich history. Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and Buffalo Bill Cody all are reported to have slept here. But there are just as many unsavory characters that have walked through the old doors of the hotel. Al Capone is rumored to have stayed here quite frequently during times when Chicago got a little too hot for his comfort. There were underground garages that made it easier to conceal his arrival and departures.
Capone also liked the fact that he could see people coming over the bridge into the city from Illinois. He would eventually take over the entire eighth floor. Eventually, Capone moved his headquarters into the Lexington Hotel down the street. The Lexington was rumored to have many more secret passageways and a vault that Capone used. The Lexington Hotel has now been demolished.

Supposedly, Capone liked his visits here so much that he still makes his presence known from time to time. Staff and guests have reported seeing a man dressed in clothes from the 1920’s and 30’s walking through the halls on the upper floors. Their descriptions are very similar. They all saw a man dressed in a very nice suit and hat. When they pass him they notice he has a prominent scar running down the side of his face. One man commented to his wife as they passed him that the man was really dedicated to looking like AL Capone. When she turned to catch a glimpse of the man, there was no one there.

Other brushes with Al are a little creepier. One young lady that was staying in the hotel had just stepped from the shower. The bathroom was filled with steam so she opened the door to let a little out; as she looked into the bedroom she was frightened by the sight of a man in her room. Her scream must have frightened the spirit because he disappeared right in front of her.

Whether Al Capone still walks the halls of the very luxurious Hotel Julian, it is definitely worth a visit if you ever get the chance.

The Mathias Ham Historical Site is another place to visit whether you are interested in history OR hauntings. The property is amazing. There are other buildings on the property that have been brought to this location. One of them is the oldest building in Iowa, a little log cabin.

Mathias Ham earned his money through the lead mines during the early days of Dubuque’s settling.

Vintage photo of Mathias Ham

Eventually, he would expand into lumber, and shipping. He built what would become his home on a hilltop in 1856 and filled it with luxurious items from that time period. The first part he built was a smaller two story house that barely fit his wife, Zerelda and their five children. In 1856, Mathias’ wife died and he enlarged their home into the beautiful building that is left today.

Photo by author - Mathias Ham Historic Site

Mathias built a cupola on top to highlight the breathtaking view of the Mississippi River. That view allowed Mathias to keep an eye on his shipping business. Mathias married again and had two more children with his second wife.

Photo by author - Mathias Ham Home front hallway

It was during the late 1880’s and the Mississippi River was a busy place. The Port in Dubuque had a huge shipping business. Unfortunately, the city also had some problems with river pirates that would commandeer the ships and steal the cargo. One day Mathias spotted something suspicious taking place on the river and was able to warn the authorities. The pirates were captured in a very public way with the authorities making it known that Mathias was the hero of the hour. The pirates knew exactly who had turned them in and they swore they would take their revenge.

One of Mathias’ daughters, Sarah inherited the home after Mathias and his wife passed away. She had never married and lived in the huge house all alone. Sarah started to hear someone trying to get into her house late and night. This obviously frightened her and she set up a signal with her neighbors. Sarah told them she would as a signal if she needed help.

That was not the only precaution Sarah made. She armed herself as well. One night, she heard someone moving around on the first floor of the home. Sarah placed her lamp in the window and held her weapon in her hands as she waited for help. She grew terrified when she heard heavy footsteps cross the hallway and begin to climb the stairs. The footsteps then came toward her bedroom where Sarah waited, trembling behind the door. She fired twice through the heavy door and the footsteps retreated. Sarah’s neighbors came quickly to her aid. They were horrified to see a blood trail leading up the stairs. Frightened, they called Sarah’s name and rushed up the stairs. After checking to see that she was alright, they followed the blood trail to the river where they found the body of a man. This man was later identified as the same pirate captain that her father had locked up years ago. The captain had just been released from prison and had returned to the Ham house to follow through with his promise to get revenge. The house was turned into museum in 1964.

Though I have researched this story, I have not found any articles about the pirate or a shooting. But the claims of the ghosts continue. There have been balls of light seen going up and down the staircase. Once, the police were called because someone saw a light going up and down the staircase. They thought someone had broken into the museum. The police phoned the head curator who rushed over to the house. When the police entered, they found no one in the home.

Photo by author - Mathias Ham Home main entrance

This has happened numerous times. Some people claim that it is the old pirate still clinging to his hatred of Mathias Ham and still bent on exacting his revenge.
The third floor is especially uncomfortable. People have said that they feel as though someone is watching them while they are on that floor. As soon as they descend the stairs, the feeling fades.

Electrical issues were a constant problem and there were many nights when the staff would turn out the lights and leave the house. When they would glance back, all of the lights would be on. The staff grew so weary of the lights going back on, they began to unscrew some of the lights. One night an assistant curator was doing that job and suddenly, the pump organ in the parlor began to play. When she screwed the bulb back in, the organ stopped. The amazing thing about this claim is that the pump organ had been broken for years.
People have also heard odd sounds especially close to the staircase to the cupola. Many attribute these sounds to the story that a young man hung himself from those very stairs. Other claims include footsteps, shuffling noises, and a dragging sound in the hallway. The people who believe the shooting story state that it is the sounds of the mortally wounded pirate dragging himself through the house in his attempt to reach safety.

Others claim that old Mathias himself is still there watching over the house and the river that he loved.

Photo by author - Photo by author - large tree on Mathias Ham property

 

Copyright © 2017 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Burson House

Originally Published in The Rock River Times

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There is a unique house located at 1401 Clifton Avenue in Rockford.  Built in 1866, it was the home of one of Rockford’s industrial pioneers, William Worth Burson.  It is said that he designed several of his inventions in this house,  automated knitting machine that he and John Nelson partnered to create.

William Worth Burson’s personal motto was: Integirty, Industry, and Perseverance.  These words meant so much to him that they are part of his burial marker at Greenwood Cemetery.  William was born in Venago County, Pennsylvania to parents Samuel and Mary Burson.  The family moved to Illinois in 1839 settling eventually in Fulton, where Samuel bought some land and became a farmer.

William attended college at Lombard College located in Galesburg, Illinois.  William would later boast that not only was he a member of the first class to graduate from the college, he (because his name came towards the beginning of the alphabet), was the first person ever to graduate from Lombard.  William also met his future wife there.

William’s background in farming would later be the springboard for his inventing machinery.  In the 1850s William worked on improving the designs for rakes and reaping machines securing patents for his ideas in 1856.  It was his designs for a binder that would eventually bring William to Rockford.  He obtained a patent for a twine binder in 1861 and improved on the design changing it to a wire binder in 1862.  William attended reapers trials with this invention in 1862 and received quite a bit of attention.  The Chicago Tribune mentioned William saying, “The great feature of the day which never failed to draw a crowd was the grain-binder of W. W. Burson.  He had an ovation that must have been gratifying to him.”  Ralph Emerson from Rockford met William at these trials and signed a contract with him.  William moved to Rockford fulfill the contract.

Emerson supposedly introduced William to John Nelson and they became involved in a partnership to develop an automatic knitting machine.  According to Charles A. Church in his Past and Present of Rockford and Winnebago County, Illinois, “and after much tedious labor on the part of both gentlemen a power machine was perfected.”

The men received patents for their designs in the next several years eventually turning their sights toward the issue of creating a machine would knit the socks automatically.  They hoped to improve on this design to make it available for the home.  In 1871, their machine they designed could knit 80 pairs of socks in one day.  Their greatest breakthrough came in 1873 when the parallel row machine was developed. This machine was the real start to Rockford’s knitting industry.

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Burson left the partnership in 1878 and once again turned his attention toward harvesting inventions for a while before returning to the knitting industry.  William opened his own knitting company, the Burson Knitting Company in 1892 on Cedar Street.  William continued to invent machines and was granted an impressive 50 patents by the time of his death in 1913.

Though William Burson and John Nelson were in partnership for the major inventions that helped Rockford’s knitting industry begin, Nelson’s name is more readily remembered.  Perhaps it was because the Nelson Knitting Company pursued the famed “Sock Monkey” after creating the Red Heel Sock in 1932 to “help their socks stand out.”  According to Laura Furman at the Midway Village and Museum Center, the Nelson Knitting Company learned of the monkey dolls that were being made from the socks in the 1950s and after a long process secured the patent in 1955.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Spirits Of Haskell Park

Originally published in The Rock River Times

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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.

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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

Sinnissippi Golf Course

Originally published in The Rock River Times

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Sometimes history appears in the strangest places.  Most people know that Sinnissippi Golf Course is a historic place.  It is the Rockford Park District’s oldest golf course.  The nine hole course was designed after the Scottish courses with small hills and opened on September 22, 1912.  In October, members from the Country Club graciously gave complete golf club sets to Sinnissippi for the players to use since many of the players could not afford clubs.  This helped changed the sport in Rockford from a “rich man’s game” by making it available for everyone.

Many of the current day users of the course may not realize the history that is literally beneath their feet.  Besides being the oldest public course in Rockford, the Sinnissippi Golf Course also contains a little hidden part of Rockford’s history.

In December of 1934 an article appeared in the Morning Star explaining the decision between the Illinois Emergency Relief Commission and Earl F. Eliot who was the Rockford Park Board Superintendent at the time.  The IERC was supplying the funds for a special project and the Park District was donating a portion of the Sinnissippi Golf Course for the location.

The project, the article states, was to create an “airway marker” that would be seen from overhead by the airplanes passing over Rockford.  This marker would spell out Rockford and would be visible from “thousands of feet in the air.”  There was also a letter N and an arrow to point toward north.

The marker was located on a fairway of the golf course by Parkview Avenue between the 8th and 9th holes.  Each letter was 26 feet high and the whole marker measured over 160 feet long.  The letters were created by digging holes four inches deep and filling them about halfway with cinders.  The next layer was made from crushed limestone until the letters were flush to prevent any obstacles for the golfers. Plans were made to cover the letters with white cement in the spring of 1935.

The purpose for these letters was directional though it is no longer clear on what the letters once were directing the pilots to.  In another article dated July of 1995, several ideas were presented.  One idea suggested that the destination might be the “Rockford Airport” located at the intersection of North Second Street and Harlem Road.  Another possibility would be the first commercial airport in the city established by Fred Machesney and located at the present day Machesney Park Mall.

The article continued with one more suggestion for the purpose of these letters.  It states that Sinnissippi once had a landing strip located along the flatter area along Parkview.  In the early days of aviation the planes only needed about 150 feet to take off and would have ample space there.

The purpose of the letters may be lost but that is what keeps Rockford’s history so intriguing.  The letters are more noticeable in dry years and it can be quite an adventure to see them during open play hours at the course.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Courthouse Lawn Ghost

Originally published in The Rock River Times

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Rockford has reported ghost stories for many years now including a news article that was featured in the Rockford Morning Star June 30, 1935 edition.  This particular report originated from rumors of a “ghost” on the courthouse lawn.

A little background must be given to understand these rumors fully.  It seems that in February 1935 the Rockford Better Housing Program came up with a wonderful idea to motivate Rockford homeowners to remodel and “modernize” their homes, no matter the condition or age of the dwelling.  The idea called for the house to be displayed where all could see the progress of the work.  It was decided to move a 64 year old house that was in very sad condition to the courthouse lawn.  All of the materials needed would be donated by local supply dealers and the work would be completed by Rockford workers.

The house was moved, scaffolding was created and the work began.  The roof was the first part of the project and everyone was impressed when the roof was partially completed within a short time.  Then, as sometimes happens with remodeling projects, the work hit a snag.  The work dwindled and then completely stopped.

Finally, in June, the Winnebago County Board of Supervisors deemed the house an “eyesore” and ordered the project removed from the courthouse lawn.  This motivated the project team again and for a week work continued at a steady pace.  Then everything halted yet again.

It was then the rumors began.  An enterprising reporter from the Morning Star was on the trail of the story and attempted to find someone working on the house to interview.  This is when he heard of the midnight visitor to the construction site.   The reporter heard tales of a misty white figure carrying a saw in one hand and a hammer in another.  Sounds of work drifted across the courthouse lawn until the early morning hours.

The fearless news reporter decided to see this spirit for himself.  He invited a photographer on the rare chance that something might appear during their stakeout.  Now, remember this was long before the television shows of today where we have grown accustomed to the thought of “ghost hunting”.

The young reporter found a saw horse as a seat and positioned himself on the inside of the window leading to the porch of the home.  The photographer hid behind a tree that allowed him a clear line of sight.  They waited.  And they waited.  And they waited some more until the reporter was sure that he had been the object of someone’s idea of a joke.  He was just about ready to head back to the office when suddenly he saw something moving beside the house.  He caught his breath and leaned forward toward the window to get a better view.  He was startled to see a white figure floating through the air and heading directly toward the window where he sat.  The figure continued to head toward the reporter’s location until the photographer stepped out from his hiding place and snapped a picture.  This blinded the reporter for a minute and by the time he could see again, the ghost had disappeared.

The reporter and the photographer were very excited about the possibility that they had actually verified the story and captured a spirit on film.  They raced back to the newspaper’s offices to develop the film.  When they finally held the print in their hands they realized they had evidence to support their claim of a ghostly worker.

The reporter returned several more times during the hours when ghosts are said to walk but every trip was in vain.  The ghost must have known of the reporter’s stakeout for it is said that nightly construction ceased and no further work was completed on the house.

The house was eventually ordered moved to Calvin Park Boulevard where the reports on the progress of repairs along with the sightings of the ghostly construction worker faded into obscurity.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

‘A Generous Nature’ – The Life Of John Germano

Originally published in The Rock River Times

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Many people in Rockford wondered if John Germano had some premonition on the night of April 17, 1938.  John Germano, a Winnebago County Special Deputy Sheriff, was scheduled to be on a desk that evening.  John learned that Deputy Sheriff Clarence Wollan was assigned to issue an arrest warrant for Albert Laws for disorderly conduct.  This was usually a routine assignment, but for some reason, John felt that this particular call was anything but routine and he offered to accompany Wollan.

The decision to arrest Albert Laws originated from a report filed by a Roscoe farmer, E. Barber, who came into the office with an unbelievable tale.  Barber told police that several months prior to April, Albert Laws had rented a room from Barber and his wife.  Laws then took over the house and held the family hostage for the past several months by using threats and violence.  Laws would allow Barber and his wife to attend to business and run errands but with the threat that their other family members would be hurt or worse if they told anyone or failed to return home.  Barber finally decided to attempt an escape and reach the police when his young wife threatened suicide.  Barber said that his wife and little girl were at the house with Laws, a man who Barber claimed could be very violent.

Barber accompanied the two officers to his farm in Roscoe at around 9:00 p.m. on April 17.  Deputy Sheriff Wollan would later state though they were aware there could be danger, neither of the men were prepared for what followed.

As they stepped onto the porch, Germano told Wollan that they shouldn’t stand close together and he stepped forward to knock on the door as Wollan retreated to offer cover.  There was a light on inside the home and they heard the bolt slide on the lock for the door.  Germano started to ask if Laws was home when suddenly gunfire erupted from the doorway.  Germano grabbed the shooter’s wrist and held on while two more shots were fired.  He returned fire and Wollan also fired his weapon but Laws fled back into the house uninjured.  Germano was hit by a bullet during the exchange.  The fatal bullet entered the left side of John Germano’s chest just below his heart and traveled all the way through his body and exited the right side.  Wollan helped Germano back into the car and rushed back into Rockford to St. Anthony’s Hospital.  Germano died shortly after he arrived.

Mrs. Barber narrowly missed being hit by the gunfire during the shootout.  She was with her little one year old daughter in a bedroom directly behind the room where the shootout took place.  One bullet came through the wall and struck a mirror.  Mrs. Barber felt the bullet graze through her hair as she was attempting to climb out the window.  She was terrified when Laws came charging into the room to grab a shotgun he had there.  Mrs. Barber thought that he would shoot her and her daughter but Laws told her to climb out the window and see if the cops were still there.  She grabbed her baby and crawled out the window but instead of doing as Laws requested, she ran to a neighbor’s house to take shelter.

Wollan returned to the Sheriff’s office to call in reinforcements.  Sheriff Paul Johnson and Chief Deputy Roy Julian accompanied Wollan back to the farm in Roscoe. They were joined by several other men and using flares to light the way, began the manhunt.  The group of men was heavily armed and they searched the countryside surrounding the Barber home.  Two hours later, one of the men stumbled on Law’s body.  He was lying on his back in the middle of a field.  Coroner Warren C. Ives would later determine that Laws had committed suicide with the shotgun he retrieved from the house.

John Germano was born on August 8, 1905 in Italy and his family moved to Rockford when he was 5 years old.  He married Ida Gatti and they eventually settled into a house at 1116 Kent Street.  They had a little 3 year old boy, John Anthony at the time of his death.  John had been involved with the Sheriff’s department for over four years and was also a truck driver/deliverer for the Register Republic and Morning Star newspapers.

John Germano was well loved for his loyalty and generous nature.  The newspapers had articles for days written by friends, businessmen, and fellow officers that told of Germano’s dedication to his family, fellow officers and co-workers.  The papers also stated “Germano held the confidence and good wishes from people from all walks of life.”  His funeral was attended by hundreds of people and over 300 floral dedications were received.  The community held several dinners and dances and donated the proceeds to Germano’s wife and another officer’s family who was killed in the line of duty.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Witch Of McGregor Road

Originally Published in The Rock River Times

Amberwood

This story has been around for years, some people say it started circulating in the 1980s while others put the origin even further back.  Over the years the story changed until there were several different versions.

One story claimed that there was an old witch named Beulah that lived in a house in some secluded woods on McGregor Road.  She was allegedly responsible for abducting children to use in her satanic practices.  Instead of deterring teenagers from going to the woman’s house, this story had the opposite effect.

Another version claimed that this woman had been a teacher in a one room schoolhouse located on McGregor Road.  While Beulah was teaching one day, the building caught fire and two of her students died.  Beulah was so devastated by the fire she purchased the school and turned it into her home.  The parents of the children she taught held her responsible for the deaths and ostracized Beulah.  The guilt she felt and the treatment by the locals pushed her over the edge into insanity.  She was seen wandering the woods around her house, calling to the children that were lost in the fire.  Beulah was sometimes accompanied by her two large German Shepherds, one white and one black.

No matter the version heard, the stories always caused the same reaction and gave locals a reason to drive by Beulah’s house at all hours of the night and day.  These visitors would throw items into her yard and beep their horns in an attempt to get a glimpse of the witch.

Researching stories like these for anything factual is always challenging and this story is no different.  There are no newspaper articles for the time period (Beulah was supposedly alive into the 1980s) claiming that anyone named Beulah was a witch.

There was an article, however, about two men who were arrested for harassing a retired school teacher who lived on McGregor and Weldon Roads.  The 1973 article listed the elderly woman’s name as Marie Buskie and further research confirmed this as the identity of the woman who lived on McGregor road.

Marie Buskie was born on May 7, 1907 to parents Richard and Augusta Buskie.  There would be two boys and three girls born into the family.  Marie was active in several clubs in high school and participated on the swim team.  She showed interest in working with children as a teacher very early.  The family was very involved in the Calvary Lutheran Church and Marie, like her sisters, would teach Sunday school there.

Marie and her sisters also appeared to be quite daring.  In a newspaper article dated 1925, Marie and her sister, Lulu were attending college courses in DeKalb when the girls and their roommates decided to walk home to Rockford.  The roommates gave up after only a few miles but the girls made it all the way to Rockford.  They accepted a few rides from “kind motorists” but the girls estimated they walked over 22 miles.  It took them five and a half hours to get home. The sisters decided to take the train back down to school, claiming that they had already obtained a good deal of their gym credits for the year.

Marie taught in several Rockford schools after obtaining her degree, including Highland and Kishwaukee schools.  She also continued her work with children through her church and during summers at supervised playgrounds.

Unlike her siblings, who all married, Marie lived with her parents on Prairie Road until their deaths.  Her mother died in 1949 and her father in 1958.  Sometime in the early 1960s, she moved into the house on McGregor Road.  Though Marie dedicated her life to children, she never had any of her own.

Marie was 78 years old when she died on March 31, 1986 in Amberwood Care Center on Rockton Avenue.

The legend of “Beulah the Witch” will, no doubt continue.  The real mystery might just be why this elderly woman, who spent her life caring for children, would become the target of such maliciousness in the first place and why this story would continue for decades.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

POW Camps Final Stop For Many

Originally published in The Rock River Times

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The Camp Sumter Military Prison at Andersonville, Georgia was of one of the biggest Confederate prisoners of war camps during the Civil War.  It operated for 14 months and 45,000 Union prisoners passed through the gates even though the camp was designed for 10,000 men.  Lack of food and clean water, no shelter from the elements and no medical care for the wounded left the men susceptible to disease.  13,000 of the men would die in the camp.  151 years have passed since the closing of the camp and today we know the horror stories of the survivors.

Horatio Foote’s family moved to Rockford the first time in 1838 and his father, Hiram, a Congregational Minister preached the first official sermon in town.  The family moved to Wisconsin and it was in Racine in 1843 that Horatio was born.  In 1862, Horatio enlisted in the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment Company B and went to Missouri for training.

The regiment would be involved in fierce fighting including the Battle of Chickamauga in September of 1863.  In May of 1864, the men of the 1st Wisconsin were involved with the Battle of Varnell’s Station in Georgia.  General Joseph Wheeler’s 900 Confederates fought against Brigadier General Edward McCook’s 5,000 Federals.  Only 10 Confederate men lost their lives while 150 Federals were killed.  Wheeler’s men also captured 100 Union soldiers that day and Horatio Foote was one of them.

Horatio and the other men were sent first to Andersonville and in September of 1864 they were moved to The Florence Stockade in Florence, South Carolina.  During 1864, General Sherman was leaving a trail of devastation during the Atlanta Campaign and Camp Sumter (Andersonville) was right in the path.  The decision was made to close the camp and scatter the prisoners to other existing camps.  The Confederates also decided to build a new camp and chose Florence, South Carolina for the location because of the three railroads that traveled through the city.

Men were being moved into the Florence Stockade before it was even completed.  The ones who were too ill to be moved from Andersonville were left behind.  The men who were transferred were kept under control by the Confederates telling them that they had been paroled and would be allowed to return to their homes.  One can only imagine the heartbreaking moment when these soldiers who had suffered so much at Andersonville discovered the truth about their destination.

The Florence Stockade was designed like Andersonville with a creek running through the middle and a trench all around the outside to prevent the men captured from digging escape tunnels. Confederate Major Frederick Warley supervised the 1,000 prisoners of war were used to construct the camp.  The 1,400 foot long rectangle was enclosed with a timber fence.  There was a “deadline” 10 feet from the fence that the guards were told to shoot anyone who passed that line.

The prison opened in September of 1864 and within a month 12,000 men were imprisoned there.  Supplies were so scarce that even the Confederate guards didn’t have enough to eat.  Disease was widespread.  The death rate was 20-30 men per day.  One Union soldier who survived both, John McElroy, wrote, “I think also that all who experienced confinement in the two places are united in pronouncing Florence to be, on the whole, much the worse place and more fatal to life.”  Part of the reason that Florence proved so deadly was the weakened state that the prisoners arrived in from their time in Andersonville.

The camp closed in February of 1865.  Horatio did not survive the camp and his body, like many others, was buried in a mass grave with no real identification possible.  The area is now a national cemetery.  Horatio’s family wanted him to be remembered and listed his information on a memorial marker with his other family members at Cedar Bluff Cemetery.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Cedar Bluff Cemetery Holds Much Rockford history

Originally published in The Rock River Times

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Cedar Bluff Cemetery is located on the city’s east side at the intersection of Longwood and Rural Streets. It is one of Rockford’s oldest cemeteries, established in February of 1847.

Formerly known as the East Side Cemetery, it was renamed Cedar Bluff at the suggestion of Dr. Josiah Goodhue. This is the same Dr. Goodhue plays a part in the story of Big Thunder’s curse.

Cedar Bluff is tree lined and while the tombstones are not as ornate as those found in Greenwood Cemetery, the people here have just as rich histories.  Some of Rockford’s founding families were laid to rest here.  Isaac Wilson, one of Rockford’s first African-American businessmen, is buried there.  The Spafford family is interred there, including Carrie Spafford Brett who was engaged to Elmer Ellsworth, the first Union Officer killed in the Civil War.  Some claim that she can still be seen here, dressed in her black mourning clothing, sobbing over the graves of her family.

Emma Jones and her husband Frank have their graves here.  Frank owned a transportation company and Emma kept house in their very unique home on First Street.  The story of Emma and her sad decline is one of Rockford’s most enduring ghost stories.

There are soldiers here including George Whitmore, a veteran from the Spanish-American War and Azor Goodwin who lived through the Civil War and returned to Rockford to serve the community as a doctor.  Grant Damon and Alexander Folz, two young soldiers killed in World War I are also here along with countless others.

There are also more infamous people buried in Cedar Bluff.  For instance, Jacob Maher, who lured his estranged girlfriend, 16 year old Mary, out in the middle of a snowstorm, only to shoot her before turning the gun on himself.  Leon Carlson, who also killed the woman he loved as she fixed her hair, was buried here in an unmarked grave.

Others less well known people but still important part of Rockford’s history also were laid to rest here.  14 year old Barbara Hamilton lies in a tomb built by her grieving father, H.H. Hamilton.  There is a legend surrounding this little girl.  It seems she loved horses and when her beloved horse passed away, rumor has it that the family buried it here in this hillside so that it could be close to Barbara.  Psychics visiting the area in Cedar Bluff have been confused and startled to see a horse running through the cemetery.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Samuel Rotolo: Killed In The Line Of duty

Originally published in The Rock River Times

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Sam Rotolo probably never knew what hit him.  Sam was standing on the road with a flash light to warn people about an accident just as he had countless times before.  Sam worked as a Deputy Sheriff for two years and was assigned to the traffic division.  The newspapers are filled with the cases he investigated from 1935 and 1936.

Sam was a busy guy.  He had been married for five years and had a small daughter.  Sam also served as the Democratic Senatorial Committeeman for the tenth senatorial district.  He was popular with the people of Rockford.  Many remembered him from when he played football for the E-Rabs in 1926 and 1927.  He earned respect from people from all different walks of life and was known for treating people fairly and courteously.

September 27, 1936 was a special day for Sam and his family.  He and his wife celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary.  Sam was only 26 years old and must have felt that the future looked pretty good.  He couldn’t know as he headed into work that evening that he only had a few hours to live.

Sam and his fellow Deputy Lee Conley were called to the scene of an accident at North Second Street and Highway 173.  They were working to direct traffic around the wreck and assisting the wrecker driver to remove the car.  Owen Bassett was the tow truck driver and had just hooked the damaged car to the wrecker while Lee and Sam were waving large red flashlights to warn oncoming drivers.  They were assisted by Elmer Wilkins who also held a large warning lantern and was waving it back and forth about 200 feet from the crash.  Later, Bassett would testify that they were trying to hurry because it was close to midnight and the roads were slick from the rain.  The rain had stopped but there was a fine mist falling as they worked.

Bassett was standing next to Sam at the back of the car when he heard Wilkins shout.  Bassett would state that he was lifted up in air and thrown into the nearby ditch.  He got up quickly and looked for Sam.  Bassett found him fifty feet away  from where he last saw him.  Sam was lying on his back, bleeding from his mouth, eyes open and staring.  He still grasped the flashlight in his hand.

Bassett and Wilkins gently lifted Sam into the back of the Sheriff’s car and Conley rushed Sam to the nearest hospital.  The autopsy would show that Sam died of a skull fracture.

Sam’s service was held at the home of his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Rotolo on Loomis Street.  Another service was held at St. Anthony’s Church where several thousand people showed to pay their respects to this young man.  There were so many floral tributes sent that only half could be displayed.

The man who drove the car that hit Sam would later be tried for manslaughter.  Kenneth Turrell was traveling from Rockford toward his home in Beloit with his wife and daughter.  Turrell stated that he was only going forty five miles per hour and when he saw the warning light he slowed his speed to twenty five miles per hour.  As Turrell approached the accident, he saw that the car being removed was still in the road and he slammed on his brakes, but the car swerved due to the wet pavement and he couldn’t stop in time.  Wilkins testified that he thought that Turrell’s car was traveling at over fifty miles per hour and he didn’t slow down until the last moment.  Turrell was acquitted of all charges.

The admiration for Sam didn’t stop after his death.  On the first anniversary of his death, Sheriff Paul Johnson, Chief Deputy Carl Palmgren and State Representative Edward Hunter placed a wreath on his grave in recognition of the dedication Sam showed to his department and to this community.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events