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

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

Carrie Spafford – A Life Of Sorrow

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Carrie SpaffordCarrie Spafford’s family was well known in Rockford during the early days; in fact, they are often considered one of the founding families. Carrie was the oldest child of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Spafford. She was born Dec. 2, 1843. When she was a teenager, the Spafford home at 220 S. Madison was the “center of the social life of Rockford.” The Spaffords hosted lavish parties, and Carrie was considered a leader for her social set. It was at one of these gatherings that Carrie met the dashing Elmer Ellsworth. Ellsworth was a “professional soldier” who was quite taken with the 16-year-old Carrie. Her father demanded that Ellsworth find a more suitable profession if he wanted to pursue Carrie’s hand, and since Ellsworth wanted to be worthy of Carrie’s family, he went off to Springfield to become a lawyer.

While he was pursuing his new career, he met the young Abraham Lincoln. They became close friends, and when Lincoln won the election in 1861, Ellsworth followed him to Washington. Ellsworth became devoted to the entire Lincoln family.

Ellsworth was trained as an officer, and when the Civil War began, he raised the 11th New York Infantry Regiment. While he was away, he often wrote Carrie. One of Ellsworth’s letters to Carrie stated, “my own darling Kitty, the highest happiness I looked for on earth was a union with you. Your letters are the only stars in my night of loneliness and trouble.”

May 24, 1861, Ellsworth offered to assist Lincoln by removing a Confederate flag that was hanging in a tavern across the Potomac River. Ellsworth gathered up a few men and marched over and entered the tavern. They marched up the stairs, removed the flag, and were coming back down when the tavern owner, James Jackson, met them and shot Ellsworth dead. One of Ellsworth’s companions then shot Jackson dead. Ellsworth would be the first officer to die in the Civil War.

The news of Ellsworth’s death hit all of Rockford very hard, and Carrie was devastated. Newspaper headlines from the day mentioned that all of Rockford mourned the loss of Elmer Ellsworth. There was a special memorial service held to honor the fallen soldier at the Second Congregational Church.

Carrie mourned the loss of her beloved Ellsworth for years. She eventually met and married Frederick Brett. Their wedding in 1866 was a major event in that year’s social season. They moved to Boston for 10 years, and then to Chicago. They had a son, Charles (named after Carrie’s father). He graduated from Beloit College in 1892 and found a position as a teacher in St. Louis.

Carrie probably thought her life of sorrow was over, but she would suffer even greater losses than before. Within a six-month period, Carrie lost her father, her husband and her beloved son. He was only 22 and had contracted typhoid.

Carrie spent the rest of her life serving her community, taking a particular interest in the YWCA and in women’s issues. She devoted her life to making the lives of women better. The Spafford mansion on Madison Street would eventually be given to the YWCA by Carrie’s sister, Eugenia, who was the last Spafford to live in it.

Carrie’s work with the community couldn’t fill the void in her life completely. Frequently, she would dress in her mourning garb and visit the cemetery where all of her family was laid to rest. Carrie would be seen at the cemetery at all hours of the day and night, dressed in her black mourning dress with her face covered by a veil. Her sobs could be heard all throughout the area of the family plot.

Even after Carrie’s death on Oct. 10, 1911, people would still report seeing a woman, all dressed in black, in the area of the Brett family stone. These sightings continue even today. They also say that on certain nights, the sounds of a woman sobbing still echo there.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

John Cooper, Civil War Veteran

John Cooper would be the first to say that he had been blessed by life.  Born in Exeter, New York on May 6, 1844, John came of age just as the Civil War began and he proudly wore the colors of the Union Army during the conflict.  He felt very fortunate to survive the war when so many men had not.

After the war, John traveled west and settled in Rockford in 1869.  He decided to become a barber and opened his own shop.  Business was good and John was soon seen as a successful business man.

John’s personal life also flourished and he was married to a young lady who had the reputation of being one of the prettiest girls in town.  The couple’s happiness was complete when they welcomed a son they named Gale.

John’s father was elderly and when he became unable to care for himself, the couple opened their home to him and John’s wife cared for him while John was at work.  John became involved in many social groups of the day including the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), the Masons, and the Rockford Rifles.  The Rifles were a military group that traveled to different parts of the country to perform for parades and conventions.

In December of 1880, John was returning from a trip with the Rifles to attend a soldiers reunion convention in Atlanta, Georgia.  John had been away from his family for a while and he was quite anxious to get home and see them.

There was a terrible accident when the train John was traveling on collided with another train.  Several men were hurt including John.  He was injured when he struck his head on the side of the train car he was riding in.  John had to leave the train when he began to vomit uncontrollably.  His friends from the Rifles helped him secure lodging in Evansville, Illinois.

They were relieved when John felt better the next morning and they were able to continue the trip home. John’s wife and father were startled to hear of the train wreck but John brushed aside their concerns.  He explained he was just tired and would be fine after a nap.

No one could know that would be the last time they would see John alive.

John was only thirty six years old at the time of his death.  He was so respected that the different organizations he was involved in led a grand procession to Greenwood Cemetery where he was buried. Men representing the GAR, the Masons, and at least twenty barbers from all over the area attended the funeral and procession down East State Street to the cemetery.

The family struggled with the loss of this honorable man.  This tragedy was compounded when less than a week after she stood over the grave of her beloved husband, Mrs. Cooper was back at Greenwood for the burial of her eight-year-old son.  Gale Cooper died of diphtheria shortly after his father’s funeral.  He was buried next to his father close to the Chapel at Greenwood Cemetery.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Lorenzo Gillogly: The First Rockford Police Office Slain In The Line Of Duty

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

This is the story of the very first Rockford police officer slain in the line of duty. His name is listed as Lorenzo Gillogly in the modern papers, but people back in 1917 knew him as “Jack.”

Jack had been a very dedicated officer for four years. He was a patrolman for the South Main beat. He was described as “pleasant, courteous, and obliging at all times.” He always had a big smile on his face, and was very popular with the men and women who worked in the stores and shops on his “beat.” His superiors were so impressed with him that they offered him a promotion to the plain-clothes division.

Jack was divorced and had two daughters — Nelma, 16 years old, and Lucille, 12 years old. They lived with their mother, Edna, and their grandmother in Freeport, Ill.

Jack’s life was going very well in the fall of 1917. He had just celebrated his 39th birthday, and he had fallen in love again. He and his fiancée, the daughter of D.W. Rogers, the engineer of the steam boat Illinois, had set the date for their wedding; it was to be in the spring of 1918.

Saturday, Oct. 13, 1917, Gillogly had finished his shift and, still in uniform, was walking on South Main Street toward the cottage where he was staying. It was 6:15 p.m. Jack was completely oblivious to the scenario that was playing out just a few streets away.

Earlier on that Saturday, Charles E. Jackson had arrived in Beloit, Wis., on the train from Moline, Ill. He had high hopes that his wife, Florence, would be there to greet him at the train station. He had sent a telegram to her mother’s house in Beloit, telling her of his plans to arrive that afternoon. Jackson stepped down from the train and looked for his wife. As time passed, Jackson realized Florence was not coming and there would be no reconciliation. In that one terrible moment, Jackson made his fateful decision.

Having learned that his wife was working and staying with her sister, Marion, whom Jackson blamed for all of the problems between himself and Florence, he the made his way to Rockford.

He went to the Kraft five-and-dime store, where Florence was working about 3 p.m. Florence refused his pleas to reconcile. Jackson left, but returned around the time Florence left work. He watched as she and her sister left the back entrance of the five-and-dime and hurried up the street. Jackson caught up with them and told Marion to leave them alone. She left as they turned the corner onto South Main Street.

Florence must have been relieved to see South Main Street was so busy. She saw her chance to get away from Jackson when she noticed Patrolman Jack Gillogly coming toward her, and she stepped in front of the officer. She was just about to tell him that she was with her estranged husband and that he had just threatened to kill her.

Florence never had the chance to speak. As soon as she stepped toward the officer, her husband pulled a weapon from his overcoat and fired. The shot missed Florence, but was so close that it went through her hat. Jackson fired two more shots in quick succession, both of them striking Gillogly in the upper chest. He fell to the ground. Florence fell over him and cradled his head, turning her back toward her husband. Jackson must have thought he had struck both the officer and his wife. He raised the gun to his own temple, and pulled the trigger.

When Florence saw him fall, she got up and walked away. Gillogly was transported to Rockford Hospital, where he later died.

The police had no clue about what had happened on that busy street until around 10 p.m. that night when they finally found Florence in the rooming house where she lived.

Gillogly didn’t know the man who shot him, nor did he know the reason why. But those who knew him back in 1917 said it wouldn’t have mattered; Jack would have still tried to help Florence — he always did what needed to be done.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Dr. Josiah C. Goodhue And The Curse Of Big Thunder

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Northern Illinois was once inhabited by the Native American tribe known as the Potawatomi. The major chief for this area was Chief Big Thunder, supposedly named this for the sound of his thundering voice. Before he passed away, he requested to be placed facing the West. Big Thunder foretold of a great battle between his tribe and another. He told his people that when the time came for this battle, he would come back and lead them to victory. Big Thunder died sometime around 1800, and his people placed him on a bench on the highest spot around and surrounded his body with a fence. Though the battle he foresaw never happened, and Big Thunder never rose from the dead, his people continued to honor him by placing tobacco in his lap as an offering.

During the early 1800s, Big Thunder’s burial place was on the main stagecoach trail between Chicago and Galena, and his grave and body soon fell victim to relic hunters. These white men took the chief’s bones and placed them on display in their homes or businesses. The people of the area considered Big Thunder a tourist attraction of sorts, and when actual relics became scarce, started using pig bones instead of Big Thunder’s bones in their displays. Big Thunder’s skull was supposedly taken by Dr. Josiah Goodhue, and is rumored to have ended up in the Rush Medical College and then lost during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Dr. Goodhue was well known in Rockford. Josiah was born in Putney, Vt., in 1803, and moved his family here from Chicago in 1838. He graduated from the Yale School of Medicine and then started a practice in St. Thomas in upper Canada. It was here that he met his wife Catherine Dunn. They had 13 children, five of whom died before reaching the age of 5 years old.

Dr. Josiah Goodhue had many achievements to his name by the time he reached Rockford; he was instrumental in organizing the Rush Medical College and served on the first board of trustees. He also designed the first city seal for Chicago.

The townspeople of Rockford claimed that Dr. Josiah Goodhue was “one of the most eccentric people that this town had ever known.” He is still remembered today for his work as a doctor and for changing the name of the city to “Rockford” from “Midway,” as it was previously known.

Unfortunately, Josiah is best known for his demise, which was said to be the result of a curse by Big Thunder’s tribe. The Potawatomis heard of the desecration of their beloved chief’s final resting place and swore revenge against anyone who had taken his bones, especially the man who had stolen his skull.

Dec. 31, 1847, Josiah, then just 44 years old, was attending to a patient at the house of Richard Styles about 4 miles west of the city on “State Road.” When he was finished treating his patient, he decided to walk a neighbor woman, Mrs. Stoughton, to her house. It was dark, and though he was warned by Mrs. Stoughton about the danger, Josiah fell head-first into a freshly dug well. He died shortly after his rescue.

The stories of the curse of Big Thunder escalated after Josiah’s death. Many insisted that Big Thunder had finally received his revenge. The City of Belvidere honored Chief Big Thunder by placing a rock with a plaque at his final resting place, in front of the courthouse.

One other thing that Josiah left the city of Rockford was the cemetery that he fondly named “Cedar Bend,” which later became “Cedar Bluff Cemetery.” He was buried there on the top of a small hill.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

December 1965 Holiday Skydiving Promotion Ends In Tragedy

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The holiday season is always filled with excitement and anticipation. Stores of all types feature sales and gimmicks, always competing for the most eye-catching, dramatic way to entice shoppers inside. But sometimes these promotions do not work out as planned.

In December 1965, North Towne Shopping Center was hosting what they hoped would be a memorable holiday program. As families gathered to await Santa’s arrival, Santa and his “helper” would parachute down into the parking lot to the delight of those waiting.

The parachutists for that day were Bill Fleming, 29, starring in the role of Santa, and his “helper,” 40-year-old Cornelius “Connie” O’Rourke. They would jump from the plane at about 3,000 feet. To help make it easier for the watchers to spot the pair as they descended, O’Rourke had been equipped with smoke bombs on his legs. The pilot was 23-year-old Rick Friend.

O’Rourke was an experienced parachutist with a history of almost 1,000 jumps. He also was a parachute instructor and an operator of a parachute loft licensed by the Milwaukee FAA District. “Connie,” as his friends called him, had met the federal qualifications to repair and pack parachutes.

The festivities were supposed to start with O’Rourke, dressed as an elf, jumping first with the bombs smoking, and then Fleming, dressed as Santa, to follow.

According to his statement later, Fleming said that Connie jumped and deployed his parachute. It became tangled in the apparatus for the smoke bombs attached to his leg. Connie struggled to free the cord as he fell about 1,000 feet.

After he couldn’t free the first parachute, Connie deployed his emergency chute. Unfortunately, the emergency parachute became entangled in the cord from the first chute, and both of the chutes streamed uselessly above Connie as he fell.

Most of the people in the crowd were not aware of what was actually taking place right before their eyes. The announcer that day told them the first parachutist was actually a dummy. But there were some who knew the truth. Bill Fleming knew that Connie was in trouble, and he bravely jumped from the plane. Both Bill and Connie’s wives were in the crowd, no doubt horrified by the events unfolding.

O’Rourke fell at the speed of 100 miles per hour. Though nothing good can be said about these events, at least O’Rourke did not come down where it was originally intended, the middle of the parking lot. He landed in the back yard of Dr. C.B. McIntosh. Thankfully, the McIntosh family was not home that day.

Connie’s body hit an oak tree first, but that did little to slow his descent. His body left a 1-foot crater in the yard. Witnesses saw O’Rourke hit the ground and knew there was no hope for survival. Police came and took Connie’s body to Rockford Memorial Hospital to await the arrival of his wife and friends.

Bill Fleming’s jump was completed without injury, and he was rushed to the hospital to be with Connie’s wife.

Federal inspectors went over the parachute in an attempt to find the cause of the horrible accident. It was likely that O’Rourke had packed his own chute, and the inspectors found nothing to indicate there was any malfunction — a fact that no doubt brought little comfort to his family and friends. Connie was survived by his wife and two little girls.

A fictional version of this story authored by local historian and teacher Ernie Fuhr is included in the bookSecret Rockford, released earlier this year. Secret Rockford contains stories about Rockford written by a variety of authors and edited by Michael Kleen.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

 

 

Alexander Folz

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Alexander Folz was not from Rockford. In fact, he was not even from the United States. He was born Nov. 10, 1886, in a very oppressed part of Russia. He arrived in Rockford in 1914, and found employment with the Rockford Tool Company. Alexander was well liked and made a large number of friends among his co-workers.

Alexander married his wife, Anna, Aug. 13, 1917, and the couple settled in a little house at 1019 Rural St., Rockford.

Folz enlisted in the Army Feb. 9, 1918, and was sent to Camp Funston in Kansas. He sailed to France on the U.S.S. Berima in June 1918 with the 354 Infantry — 89thDivision. His wife expected him home in time for Christmas. Instead, she received one of those dreaded telegrams that so many wives and mothers received during World War I and World War II.

The first telegram just contained the sad news that Alexander was dead. A month later, the full details were released, and Mrs. Folz realized exactly how her husband died. He received his fatal wounds in a “daring and courageous act that saved many lives.”

Alexander’s unit was ordered to attack a “machine gun nest” near Remonville, France. During the attempt, they were pinned down under the fire from the machine gun. When Corporal Alexander saw that the automatic rifleman had been wounded, he bravely grabbed the weapon and began firing as he moved toward the location of the machine gun. He single-handedly took out the machine gunner. This saved the men in his unit, and allowed them to advance. They took the German survivors prisoner and also confiscated the gun. Unfortunately, it was during the advance that Alexander was mortally wounded. He would die just a few minutes after his successful attack.

The United States Army cited Alexander for bravery. This made him the third man to be recognized for bravery from Winnebago County during World War I. The newspapers of the day told of Alexander’s heroic act. They said that “he may have been born in Russia but he was American in spirit.” The United States issued Alexander the Distinguished Service Cross. A lot of men died during the advance, and there are many stories of courageous acts by the men of the 89th. President Woodrow Wilson commended them after this battle, saying: “Everybody at home is proud of you. You knew what was expected and you did it.”

Alexander Folz , like many women and men, both native born and immigrant, fought for the freedom of this country. Even though he was not born here, he did not hesitate to pick up that gun and run toward the entrenched enemy line in what he must have known was a suicidal advance.

In a very tragic twist of fate, Alexander’s mother and four siblings, who remained in Volga, Russia, when he left, were supposed to get his back pay and war risk insurance. Gov. James B. Goodrich of Indiana was visiting the area in Russia on a famine relief mission. A woman clutching papers came up to his party. She explained through an interpreter that she had received the papers but could not read them. The interpreter read them to the lady, who turned out to be Alexander Folz’s mother, and Goodrich. The papers told the mother of Alexander’s death and his request that his family receive the $12,000 for the insurance and back pay. The governor promised to help the family get the money and worked on the arrangements when he got back to the United States. He feared that the Russian government would confiscate the money. So, Goodrich was arranging for the family to move to Nebraska to be with Mrs. Folz’s sister. Unfortunately, when he returned to Volga, he learned that the entire family had died of starvation. The last newspaper article mentioned that Goodrich was attempting to bring the remaining grandchildren to America. Goodrich succeeded in bringing corn to the starving area, and helped saved many lives. There is no further mention of Goodrich’s endeavor to bring the Folz family to America.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

A Haunted House In Rockford Center

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

In an article from the Morning Star of Oct. 30, 1898, the paper mentions that true ghost stories are a novelty, and most ghostly claims can be explained by “natural causes.”

The article then goes on to tell of two stories that cannot be so easily explained away. The first story describes a haunting in one of the first houses “to be erected in the city.” Unfortunately, the story does not give the address, stating only that it is located in a “lonely corner by the fairgrounds.” An 1880s map places the fairgrounds at the end of Peach Street (modern-day Jefferson Street), a block west of Horsman Street on Kilburn Avenue. The house was “remote from the street and is surrounded by trees.”

There are no indications that anyone in the 1890s knew of any stories from the history of that house that would suggest that it was haunted. No one knew of any violent deaths or other reasons that it would be “inhabited by ghostly beings.”

But then, a new family moved into the house, and the mother was a sensible woman who was practical and not given over to flights of fancy. But when she moved into this house, everything changed. The woman found herself constantly anxious and would often stand at the window or the door as if she were expecting someone, but she didn’t know who. She had trouble eating and sleeping, and eventually wasted away to a mere “shadow of her former self.”

One moonlit night, she was waiting for her husband to come home when she heard his footsteps on the walk outside of the house. The footsteps continued up to the door, which she heard open and close, and then more footsteps as her husband came up the hall. The woman rose to meet him in the hallway, but when she stepped through the doorway, no one was visible. The wife shared her story with her husband when he finally did return. Fearing for his wife’s sanity, he moved his family from the house.

Not long afterward, another family moved in, and shortly afterward, moved right back out. This continued to happen until the stories spread and no one dared move in to the house in the woods. It was abandoned and fell into ruin.

The Morning Star article then told of another house on “one of the principal roads leading from the city” that is visited by spirits. This house had a cellar, and the writer of the article suggests it was in the cellar that the troubles started. The cellar was small, with only one entrance and two small vents in the stonework. The people who lived in the house would tell stories of an alarming, loud pounding on the cellar side of the door. But when they opened the door, there would be no one on the other side.

The spirit was not limited to that cellar, however. The phantom knocker also appeared to them in their upstairs bedrooms. Sometimes he would be just a faint outline, other times his features would be clear, and they would find him grinning at them from the side of their beds when they awoke. He caused no harm beyond scaring the family, and they actually became quite fond of the “practical joker” who shared their home. In fact, they stated they would miss him if he were to leave.

The author put this down to the fact they were “hard headed tillers of the soil.”

He also declared that there was no doubt a natural reason for these experiences, though no one had yet “solved the question of what makes the ghost walk.”

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events