Allan Pinkerton’s In Rockford

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Most people in this area have heard about the famous detective from Chicago, Allan Pinkerton. He is considered to be America’s first Private Detective. Pinkerton was born in 1819 in Scotland where his father, William worked as a policeman. Allan was only nine years when his father was killed by a prisoner. The death of his father forced Allan into work as a boy to help support his family.

Allan was very active in the political and social justices of the time and was asked to become a Cook County Deputy in the late 1840’s. He soon earned a reputation as an honest and tough lawman. Early in his career he became involved in a case that was resolved on the streets of Rockford.

In 1852, a man named Albert Blinn was living with his family in Jackson, Michigan. His wife, Huldah came from a respected family in the area. The couple married on January 1, 1846. By February of 1852, they had a son Edwin who was 3 years old and a daughter, Ellen who was 2.

Albert owned and operated a tavern for a living. Though Huldah helped as much as she could, raising a young family plus managing the business proved too much for the young couple. Albert hired a man named Swift to assist him. Later, people would speculate whether Swift led Albert astray or it was the other way around. But soon the men would become partners in crime.

Blinn had two young sisters working for him; one was 14 years old and the other 16 years old. They were invited to live with the family and helped out in the house as well as the tavern. Blinn soon became enamored by the girls and set out to seduce them. He filled their heads with stories of lavish dresses, travels to exciting cities, and promises of a better life. According to the newspapers of the day, the girls shared these details with their closest friends.

The girls were described as good girls with unsullied reputations prior to meeting Blinn. Later the sisters shared that they resisted Blinn but told no one of his advances. This would prove to be sad mistake on their part. Blinn eventually grew tired of waiting and forced the girls into a compromising situation. Blinn kept them quiet by threatening to tell their family that it was the girls who seduced him.

Blinn must have become concerned that his secret would be revealed because he decided to kidnap the girls and take them where no one knew them. He enlisted the help of Swift to carry out his plan. Blinn took Huldah and the children for an extended visit with her family. While Blinn was delivering his family, Swift took the girls and headed west. When they reunited, Blinn headed north with the older girl while Swift headed toward Chicago.

Meanwhile the girls’ family was desperately searching for them. They believed that Blinn treated their daughters like they were his own. They questioned the girls’ friends and were devastated to learn of Blinn’s real intentions. The girls’ older brother began his search for the girls in Chicago. He enlisted the help of the Cook County Sheriff Green Arnold and Allan Pinkerton who was a detective on the force by this time. Pinkerton had gained quite a reputation for his skill at tracking missing persons.

Blinn, using a different name rode into Rockford with the older of the sisters. In an act that showed the blackness of his soul (as the papers put it), he had decided to use the young girl to make some quick cash. He had started to look for clients and the news traveled quickly to Pinkerton and Sheriff Arnold. They set out for Rockford immediately. The newspapers made a big deal that usually the Rockford citizens handle these delicate matters on their own.

Apparently, Rockford’s townsfolk would give the less desired citizens “a new suit and a quick ride”. This was a nice way to say that they would tar and feather certain men and give them a ride (or drag them) out of town on a wagon.

Pinkerton arrived in Rockford and quickly found Blinn. He forced Blinn to send a message to Swift with instructions to make his way to Rockford. Before escorting Blinn to the jail, Pinkerton warned him that he was armed. Despite the warning, Blinn broke away from Pinkerton, punched him in the face and began to run. Pinkerton fired a warning shot into the air and Blinn turned to him and shouted, “Shoot and be d____d.”

Pinkerton fired again and the ball slammed into Blinn’s back between his shoulder blades before coming to rest inside one of his lungs. Blinn staggered on for a few yards before he fell. He begged Pinkerton not to fire again before passing out.

Swift arrived in Rockford and was quickly apprehended. Sheriff Arnold and Pinkerton left Blinn in the custody of the Winnebago County Sheriff P.B. Johnson before they returned to Chicago. The men joined the family in thanking Sheriff Johnson and his men for assisting in the quick arrest. Papers in several states carried the story along with sharing the gratitude toward Rockford for the authorities’ assistance.

This story doesn’t have a happy ending though. The oldest girl was quite ill by the time her brother got her home. Apparently, she was pregnant and Blinn forced her to take some medicine that would cause a miscarriage. She became ill from the medicine and died shortly after the reunion with her family. The newspapers showed a great amount of respect for the family by keeping the girl’s identities secret.

Blinn was severely injured by the bullet fired by Pinkerton. Doctors and authorities did not expect him to live and they must have been surprised when Blinn escaped a few days after his arrest. Authorities in the immediate area were put on high alert but the last sighting of Blinn occurred in April of 1852. He attempted to get treatment at the Charity Hospital in St. Louis. The doctors at the hospital grew suspicious of the man and reported him to the authorities. By the time they arrived, the man was long gone. Further research for Blinn in newspapers or other records has not revealed any other information.

Blinn’s wife, Huldah was only 21 when Blinn deserted her at her parent’s house. Huldah continued to live with her parents until she married Gilbert Parmeter sometime after 1870.

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

 

 

 

Ghost Of Oscar Olson

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.

When Oscar Olson died in December of 1910, many Swedish friends and family mourned the young man. Oscar was well known and liked by the Rockford’s close knit Swedish Community. He was a carpenter by trade and from all accounts quite a good one. 

Oscar went to Minnesota in the fall of 1910 to visit an uncle. He stayed six weeks or so before traveling to the Northern woods of Wisconsin. It was just before Christmas when the news reached Rockford that young Oscar had been struck and killed by a train in Minneapolis.

Though, as one can imagine, identification was made nearly impossible by the nature of the accident, someone identified Oscar and he was buried there in the local cemetery. The news of Oscar’s accident was reported in the paper and also wrote up in the Tribunen, a weekly Swedish paper. Many of the Swedes in Rockford had subscriptions to the Tribunen so the news made its way from Minneapolis quite quickly. The articles were quite lengthy about the accident so no one had any reason to doubt the stories.

So when rumors started to swirl that Oscar was seen walking around in Rockford, it made the good folks of Rockford very confused. Some even reported that the young man had returned from the grave. Though some of the most respectable Swedes would not listen to these stories they soon spread throughout the city. 

By April 21, 1911 the truth was finally revealed. Oscar though reported dead and buried in the little cemetery outside of Minneapolis was alive and well. It seemed that it was a simple case of mistaken identity. 

Oscar Olson’s relatives knew that he was in Wisconsin but couldn’t verify that fact immediately. Eventually Oscar was shown copies of the newspapers reporting his demise. It seemed that Oscar possessed a great sense of humor about the whole thing. He decided to return to Rockford and clear up the misunderstanding in person. He got quite a laugh about people’s reactions when he showed up on their doorstep!

Oscar later expressed surprise that some people took so much convincing before they would believe that he was really alive. It was much easier for his neighbors to believe that his ghost was wandering the streets of Rockford!

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Shattered Dreams – The David Benjamin Family

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

David Benjamin and his wife, Frances were much like everyone else that settled in the early town of Guilford, Illinois.  Their parents moved here to make a better life for their families. Both families made their living by farming. When David and Frances took their wedding vows on March 19, 1861, they must have believed that their lives would mirror their parents.  The birth of their son, Charlie in December of 1861 was celebrated by both of the families.

But 1861 was a turbulent time for our country and the Civil War, though fought many miles from Rockford, would invade on David and Frances’ dreams for their family.

On August 15, 1862 David was 23-years old and he enlisted in the 74th Illinois Infantry here in Rockford.  His enlistment papers describe him as 5’ 11” with brown hair and blue eyes.  One can only imagine what was going through David’s thoughts as he said goodbye to Frances and Charlie. 

After training, David’s regiment was sent to Nashville, Tennessee to serve under General Grant.  Grant chose William Stark Rosecrans to lead the regiment along with several others.

At the end of 1862, Rosecrans would be the commander of the Army of the Cumberland after Grant sent him to replace Don Carlos Buell.  They were sent in to halt Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee advance. The Battle of Stone’s River was fierce and the casualties were many.  The battle raged for five days with the most intense fighting from December 31, 1862 to January 2, 1863. 

The battle would later be second only to Gettysburg for its high casualty percentage. The National Park Service’s website about the battle claims that 24,000 men from the original 81,000 that fought that day were casualties.  The page also lists the rate of several other major battles. Gettysburg had a 31% casualty rate and Stones River was 29%. 

Rosecrans would be considered the victor of the battle but at a heavy cost.  David Benjamin was one of the casualties. The records only list that David died on February 10, 1863 from wounds he received in the battle.  David was buried in the cemetery at Stone’s River Cemetery.

Frances must have been devastated at the loss of her young husband.  She now faced raising her son on her own as she tried to hold on to the farm that she and David had built.  Frances was fortunate to have her family so close. Her father and brothers would help work the land while her mother and sisters pitched in with the house and the care of Charlie.  She would hold on to the dream that she and David had for their family.

But fate would step in once again.  Little Charlie had taken ill and though everyone around her was hopeful, Frances was filled with fear.  Those fears were realized on May 10, 1963 when Charlie died. 

Frances’ heart broke for the second time in 3 short months.  It was a blow from which Frances would not recover. She died on March 9, 1864 and was buried next to her son at Greenwood Cemetery.  Though David was buried many miles away on Tennessee, he is listed on the tombstone for Frances and Charlie.

All that is left of the hopes and dreams of this family is the obelisk shaped tombstone that Frances’ family had built for them.

 

 

Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events