One Of many, The Boomer Family, A History Of Military Service

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Edward Boomer was only 13 years old when the Civil War started.  He tried to convince his parents, John and Margaret, that he was old enough to go fight in this war, but they asked him to wait.  Edward did as they asked until 1863 when he finally was able to convince them to let him enlist.  Edward Boomer was hired as a mule team driver but soon picked up a rifle to help defend his country.  During the winter months of 1863-64 he was a guard stationed in Nashville.

By the spring of 1864, Edward had fought in his first skirmishes.  War matures a man quickly they say and though a mere boy when he joined by January of 1865, Edward was a seasoned soldier.  During that month while fighting with the Wisconsin 13th  Infantry, Edward was captured at Paint Rock, Alabama.  He was escorted to one of the prison camp at Cahabe, Alabama.  Luckily for Edward, it had the lowest mortality rate of all the Confederate Prisons.  It still contained disease, little food and inadequate shelter. In fact, the old cotton warehouse had been converted to house 500 prisoners. By the time Edward arrived at the camp, the prison population was around 3,000 men.

Edward would spend the rest of the war in the horrible conditions at the prison.  He was captured in with 35 men from his regiment. Only 8 of the men survived their imprisonment.

On his way back to Rockford, Edward was spared from death again when he was chosen to ride with other men on the steam ship “Henry Ames”.  It was traveling up the Mississippi River with another ship, the Sultana. The Sultana sank from a mysterious explosion, killing 1,950 soldiers on board.

Edward always felt himself blessed for making it through the war when so many of his fellow soldiers did not.  He slowly regained his health and returned to the family’s farm business.  In 1870, he met a beautiful young lady Celinda Weatherhead whose family lived in the nearby town of Harrison.  They were married for 52 years when Celinda passed away April 1922 and Edward buried his beloved wife in the little North Burritt Cemetery.

Edward suffered with a weak heart and his health declined after Celinda’s death.  But he did not let that slow him down.  In December, one of his favorite musicians came to Rockford and Edward decided he would join his family to hear the Scottish singer, Sir Harry Lauder at the Shrine Temple.  His daughter and son in law attended the concert as well as Edward’s son Jay.  Edward was singing along with Sir Lauder and had just finished a lively tune when he closed his eyes and bent his head.  His daughter thought he had tired himself out and needed a rest.  But in reality, Edward passed away just as his favorite song came to an end.  Edward’s funeral was held at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Rockford and he joined Celinda in the little cemetery near their home.

Edward and Celinda passed on many things to their large family.  Both were considered to be hard-working, very generous and extremely proud of their community.  They also were very patriotic and dedicated to their community. Their son, Stanley would serve in the World War I and their grandson, John L. Boomer would fight in World War II.

John L. (referred to as Lynn by his friends and family) was born in 1919 and had very few memories of his grandparents.  He was one of five children born to Stanley and Bessie.  Lynn worked as a truck driver and traveled all over the country for his job.  No one who knew Lynn was surprised when the call went out for men to fight in World War II and Lynn decided to enlist right away.

He joined the 91st Bombardment Squadron and was sent to Mississippi to train to be a waste gunner inside a B-17.  The 91st Bomb Group was made famous by the movie “Memphis Belle”.  It suffered the greatest number of casualties of any bomber group that fought in the war.

Stanley and Bessie were very proud of their son for doing his duty but they also must have been frightened when Lynn was sent to Europe.   The 8th Air Force was based at RAF Bassingbourn and would fly an amazing 340 bombing missions during the war.  In October 1942, the unit was scheduled for a very important mission.  The ten plane formation was assigned to bomb the German U-boat base in St. Nazaire, France.

The mission began well but soon was under fire by German Focke-Wulf 190 aircraft.  These single engine aircraft were considered the best fighters in the air during the entire war.  They were also considered lethal by our forces. A s Lynn’s squadron struggled to reach their target, they took heavy fire from the German planes.  The fighting grew more intense as they neared the targets.

Lynn’s plane was hit several times and the pilot made the difficult decision to turn back toward the sea.  Three other planes made the same decision and flew in formation with Lynn’s plane.  The plane had sustained too much damage and soon lost an engine.  The plane could no longer keep up with the others, and the pilot signaled for them to continue without them.  The men in the other planes signaled back and continued on, knowing that they would never see the men again.

Though no sign of Lynn’s plane was ever found, it was theorized that the crew would have been forced to land at sea around thirty miles northwest of St. Nazaire.  None of the crew survived the crash.

Stanley and Bessie received word of Lynn’s death on November 28, 1942.  The government told them that Sergeant Lynn Boomer had been killed in action over France on October 23, 1942.  Lynn Boomer was the first casualty of World War II to come from Durand.  Unfortunately, he would not be the last.

The Boomer Family is just one of the many families in our community who has answered the call during war time.  It is also only one of many families to lose a loved one during battle.  These men and women who were laid to rest in small cemeteries scattered all through our county must not be forgotten.  Take the time this week to thank a veteran who has served in our armed forces by attending a service or visiting a cemetery to honor the legacy of families like the Boomers.


Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

The Hauntings Of The Wagon Wheel Resort

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

In its heyday, the Wagon Wheel Resort was considered the premiere place to visit in this area.  The creator of this legendary place was Walt Williamson.   Walt started his quest in 1936 with a small loan and a desire to open a truck stop and root beer stand.  After that business burned in 1941, he moved his operations to Rockford.  He stayed there until 1946, when he shifted his sights once again to the Rockton area.  Walt used recycled products to build.  He used telephone poles, hardware left overs, and what he lovingly called “junk” to rebuild.  He kept improving the property into a one-of-a-kind showplace.  It boasted of its own bowling alley, two ice skating rinks, swimming pool, candy shop and air strip.  The resort stretched over 300 acres at its peak.

The clientele included movie stars, performers and sports stars. Bob Hope and Ronald Reagan were guests.   Local girl turned actress, Barbara Hale held her wedding at the Old Stone Church in 1946 and a brunch reception at the lodge. 

Walt continued working on his place until the day he died in 1975.  But long before his death, folks started speaking of strange things happening in the area of the resort.  There were stories told of the rooms at the lodge having cold spots, lights flickering and shadows seen wandering its halls and grounds.  After Walt passed away and the former grandeur started to fade, the stories and rumors grew.

Websites mention that there was a bell hop who committed suicide in the building but as often is the case with these legends, research failed to find the bell hop mentioned.  However, the stories that were found prove to be stranger than any fictional one.

One story told of a horrible car accident which occurred on the curve around the resort.  In fact, this curve was so deadly it earned the name “Death Curve.”  The worst accident happened on March 20, 1950 when a car filled with eight people slammed into a petroleum truck.  All eight victims died.  Robert Rinehart, 37 years old, his wife, Patricia, 20 and their 16-month old daughter, Mary Mae died instantly.  There were five other passengers in the car including Robert’s brother, Raymond.   Twenty-one-year-old Betty Miller also had her 19-month old baby David along.  They lived through the initial impact but died on the way to the hospital.  The group was on the way to dinner in Beloit when they accident happened.

Willis Irvin Spring, twenty seven, was the driver of the petroleum truck.  He stated that the car the Rinehart group was riding in swerved over into his lane and he had no time to avoid striking them.   According to the article written about the accident, this was one of several at that location.  The coroner was quoted saying that over 25 people had been killed there in the twenty years prior to this accident.  Some people believe that might be one of the reasons that this particular area is so haunted. 

There are certain conditions that seem to amplify paranormal activity in a particular area.  One is running water.  Two rivers, the Pecatonica and the Rock converge a short distance away from the location where the Wagon Wheel once stood.  There is also evidence of Native Americans that once settled there.  That too, increases the chance for activity.  All of these plus an event that causes tragic deaths seems to leave an imprint of the location.

Another story from the Wagon Wheel happened on March 1 of 1979. Twenty three year old Jesus Lopez worked as a maintenance man at the resort on the overnight shift.   He was due to get off around 5:00 a.m.  When his replacement arrived, he could not locate Jesus.  When the man began to search for Jesus, he had no idea the horrible scene that awaited him.  He finally found Jesus on the kitchen floor, surrounded by blood.  It was initially called a suicide but after an intensive investigation it was classified as a freak accident.  Though it was almost impossible to imagine how such a thing could happen, Jesus had somehow stumbled and fell.  According to the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department, Jesus had fallen into the band saw that was used to cut meat.  He died from loss of blood from the injury to his neck.

Of course, no one can say with any certainty that these incidents mentioned have anything to do with the ghostly encounters people have experienced in this area.  Some have shared their stories of hearing music coming from the area where the lodge once stood.  Music, they say, that is a reminder of the grand parties that used to be held there.  Others claim to hear the sounds of drumming left over from the days that Native Americans lived on the property.  And some say that shadows wander the grounds where movie stars once stayed.  Whether you believe in ghosts or not, most people that visit the old grounds share a sense of sadness at the loss of such a grand place.


Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events