The Story Of Freddie Griffin And Rockford Memorial Hospital

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The display at Rockford Memorial Hospital

This is the story of little Freddie Griffin. Freddie was a very energetic 6-year-old who lived in downtown Rockford. Freddie’s family was poor, and they lived in a small house by the river. Mrs. Griffin supported herself and the six children by working as a washer woman for the Spafford family. She was at work the day this story took place.

It was around 3 p.m., Oct. 2, 1883. Freddie was playing not far from his front door with his little friend, George Pitney. That day, they were doing something both of their mothers had warned them never to do: they were playing around the railroad cars. George saw Freddie grab onto the door handle of one of the cars and swing his legs back and forth.

George shouted a warning, but it was too late. George saw Freddie’s hand slip. He said it happened so fast, but at the same time, it seemed to be in slow motion. Freddie fell onto the tracks right in front of a moving car.

George was horrified to see the wheels of the car pass over Freddie’s body, and soon, his own screams joined those of Freddie.

The paper went on to say the “bones of his leg were crushed by the heavy weight of the cars as if they were straws.” The boys’ screams drew the attention of a man who came to see what the source of the disturbance was. He swooped in and picked Freddie up and dashed off with him to Freddie’s house, where he found the door locked. He set the boy on the ground, and ran to summon a doctor.

The story goes on to describe Freddie’s injuries, the details of which are too sickening to repeat here. Suffice to say there was little left of the young boy’s legs and his left arm.

Doctors were finally found, the door was kicked in, and the doctors worked their horrific craft by the light of a small window. They used chloroform to help the young boy tolerate as they probed the mangled flesh. The decision was made that the only way they might be able to save young Freddie’s life would be to amputate. Several doctors “commenced their almost hopeless labors.” They amputated the limbs, leaving stubs about 6 inches long. The surgery was complete in just under an hour. The doctors were impressed with little Freddie’s bravery.

Mrs. Griffin was able to see her boy soon after the surgery was completed. The doctors warned her that the chances of Freddie making it through the evening were very slim. In fact, they were correct. Freddie passed away around 7 p.m. that evening.

The engineer of the train, Delos Mitchell, was questioned at the inquest the following morning and stated he didn’t know he hit a boy. The jury agreed, and found the death of Freddie Griffin accidental.

Freddie’s death was truly horrible, and one does not even want to try to imagine what his family went through, but something good did come from this tragedy. Physicians in the area decided to apply for a charter to open a hospital. They didn’t think it really would have changed the outcome for Freddie, but at least his mother wouldn’t have had to clean the little boy’s blood from the surgery from the floors and table of her home. Because of the doctor’s dedication, the hospital opened in October 1885.

Freddie is remembered with a very nice display at Rockford Memorial Hospital, and his story is also shared by the guides at the Midway Village Museum.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

One Of Rockford’s First Written Accounts Of A Ghostly Presence

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

People have always been fascinated by what happens after we die. Thousands of stories have been shared about personal encounters with the “other side.” Rockford newspapers have reported these experiences since the early 1890s.

One of the first written accounts of a personal encounter with a ghostly presence in Rockford occurred in 1891. It seems that rumors were spread about a mysterious, ghostly light that appeared in a downtown church on the corner of South Church and Chestnut streets.

Apparently, people would see this ghostly light making its way through the darkened church. They reported this to the police, thinking that someone had broken in to steal something. Police would check the place thoroughly, only to find no one inside.

This happened so frequently that one officer decided he would solve the mystery. Officer Cavanaugh was a seasoned policeman whose regular patrol area included this particular church. June 3, 1891, he decided the time had come to finally put these rumors to rest. Cavanaugh theorized that someone was playing tricks on the folks of Rockford, and he was going to prove it.

The officer patrolled the church every 15 minutes. Hours passed with no results. Officer Cavanaugh was just about to give up when he looked at the church from his vantage point and saw a small flickering light.

As Cavanaugh rushed to the front door of the church, he also heard the distinct sound of organ music playing. He let himself inside with the key he had obtained. He was able to see his way clearly by the glow of the strange light, but just as he reached the room where it was located, it went out. Suddenly, Cavanaugh was left in complete darkness. He used matches until he found the switch for the lights. Determined to prove his theory, the officer searched every nook and cranny in the entire building and found no trace of anyone.

Cavanaugh decided he needed some assistance and went to find the night policeman, Officer Sullivan. The men returned to the church, and once again, waited for the light to appear. Officer Cavanaugh took the front door and Officer Sullivan went to the back. Cavanaugh entered the church, and just like before, as soon as he gained access to the room where the light was shining, it went out. Better prepared, this time he carried a flashlight.

The music continued as Cavanaugh shone the flashlight beam around the room. When he directed the light toward the pulpit , Cavanaugh saw something “that almost made his blood freeze!”

In the dim light of the now shaking flashlight, Cavanaugh saw a young lady, dressed in what he described as mourning clothes, playing the organ. The brave officer stopped in his tracks. The young lady continued to play as she turned to look at him. As their eyes met, the music stopped, and the woman disappeared.

Cavanaugh, startled, called out to Sullivan to ask if he saw anyone. Sullivan answered that he had not. Cavanaugh turned toward the organ and again saw the young lady sitting on the stool. The sight chilled and saddened him at the same time.

Cavanaugh rushed to the front door to let Sullivan in, and as they entered the room, the music stopped. The young lady had disappeared.

The two officers searched the entire building and found no one inside and no clue of how the woman entered or left the building. They lingered to see if she would repeat her performance, but the woman did not return. Satisfied that they would learn no more, they left the building.

Officers Cavanaugh and Sullivan both claimed that although neither of them believed in spirits, they could find no other explanation for what they heard or saw.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Alfred Countryman: The First Public Execution In Rockford

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Rockford was a pretty wild place in 1856. The city was making advances in what would become the foundation for the manufacturing boom that was to put Rockford on the map. But in the early days, crime was very common. Robbery and cattle rustling were especially prevalent.

John F. Taylor was the sheriff in those days. He was from all accounts a very fair man. When he left for work on Nov. 11, 1856, he kissed his wife and 1-1/2-year-old son goodbye as usual, neither could know it would for the last time.

Sheriff Taylor was alerted to possible cattle thieves in the town when two brothers, Alfred and John Countryman, rode into town with a deal that seemed too good to be true. They were trying to sell a herd of cattle for a sum much lower than market value. The prospective buyers grew suspicious and alerted the sheriff.

At around 9 that morning, Sheriff Taylor arrested the brothers for the suspicion of theft. He carried through with the usual routine of searching the suspects and found pistol balls in Alfred’s pockets, but when he questioned the suspect, Alfred denied having a gun. The sheriff and one of the deputies started to walk toward the jail. Just as they reached the steps, Alfred broke away from the sheriff, leaped over a fence on Elm Street, and ran down the street with Sheriff Taylor in pursuit.

The sheriff caught up with Countryman and was about to grab him when Alfred pulled a gun and fired at the sheriff. Taylor staggered a few steps, gasped out, “I’m shot, catch him.” He then fell, mortally wounded.

Alfred Countryman continued to run and made it all the way to Kent Creek, before he was brought down by one of the many citizens who took up the chase when Taylor fell. Witnesses from that day would claim the pursuers numbered more than 100 men. There were rumors that a lynch mob had been calmed by the Sheriff Elect Samuel Church. He promised that justice would be swift.

Sheriff Taylor was respected in Rockford, and his funeral definitely reflected that. It was held on the public square under the charge of the Masonic Fraternity, of which Taylor was a member.

Alfred Countryman’s trial was held in February 1857. The jury found him guilty of murder, and he was sentenced to hang. His execution took place on March 27, 1857, at the farm of the new Sheriff Samuel Church.

Countryman was the first man to be publicly executed (officially) in Winnebago County. Eight thousand people came to witness the event. Ironically, extra precautions were taken to make sure that he arrived safely to the execution. There was a procession from the jail including two fire companies, armed with sabers and rifles, surrounding the carriage in which Countryman rode. Countryman’s father, brother and sister were there to witness the hanging. Alfred addressed the crowd to beg their forgiveness. His body fell through the trap, and witnesses remarked that even though the crowd was huge, the only sound that could be heard was the sobbing of Countryman’s family.

Sheriff Church addressed the crowd before the body was taken down. “These painful proceedings being now concluded, and the sword of justice about to be returned to its sheath, I hope never again to be drawn with so much severity, I would thank you all for the good order you have maintained — your conduct does credit to the city, and I hope you will observe the same decorum in retiring.”

Unfortunately, Sheriff Church’s wish didn’t come true and the need for the “sword of justice” would arise several more times in the Forest City.

 

Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Old Cemetery Reveals Some Of Its Secrets

Most people would think that spending time looking for an old abandoned cemetery rather strange.   But there are a few of us who think doing exactly that is more like a treasure hunt.  Those who know me know that every road trip will likely include at least one cemetery along the way.

People would probably think it even stranger that I am not related to anyone buried in these cemeteries but I am still compelled to find them and research the people.  “Looking for Dead Guys” has become my motto whether it is in my car or at the computer.

I will admit that this particular cemetery proved to be quite a challenge.  I almost began to believe that nothing was left to find.  But thanks to previous research done by family members and other historians, blind luck and following my gut,  my efforts finally paid off.

I found the cemetery in a location that many people probably drive by every day, never suspecting what lies in the midst of the wooded area on top of a little hill in the middle of a field.  As my daughter, Sarah and I climbed over the fallen logs and pushed our way through the bramble bushes, I was overwhelmed by a sense of sadness.  These people were the pioneers of this area and certainly deserved a better remembrance than this little abandoned hill.

There was an attempt made to clean away the brush and return the stones to their proper places in 2003.  The combined efforts of Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, Burritt Township Supervisor, Roger McDougall and Boy Scout Buddy Crabb and his fellow troop members cleaned years of brush away to reveal the few remaining head stones.   Buddy became an Eagle Scout and received an award from the Illinois Comptroller’s Office for his hard work organizing the clean- up.

 

 

 

 

But nature has once again reclaimed this woody hill and destroyed any progress that was made.  It is now completely covered by long grass, fallen branches, and thorny bushes.  But there are a few worn and broken stones with the names still etched on them.

 

Reverend William Stillwell started the first church in the Burritt Township and was buried on the western slope of the small hill.  His broken stone leans against a tree no longer marking the place where he was laid to rest after his death in May of 1850.

Catherine Brainard, wife of Aaron Day Brainard, was buried there by her loving family when she died in December of 1855.  The family had moved to Burritt area around 1847 from New York where Catherine and Aaron were born.

One of the earliest burials in the little cemetery was Catherine McIntosh who died on September 27, 1840 at just twenty one years old.  Her son, Henry would join her when he died on September 23, 1841 and her husband, John S. in 1866. They were one of the first families to settle in the area that would for a short time be named the Manchester Settlement.

John Manchester, the patriarch of the family moved to the area from New Brunswick in Canada with his wife, Elizabeth in 1835.  They would eventually have six children and be considering a leading family in the settlement.  They opened a blacksmith shop located where Cemetery Road meets Trask Bridge Road.  The settlement also had a wagon shop, an inn and a post office.  Most of the original families moved away from Manchester and nothing remains to show that the town existed.

John Manchester died in his son’s Joseph’s home in 1859, not far where he had “pitched his tent when he came as a pioneer.”  His broken tombstone is all that remains from the family that once was a founding family of the area.

The burial records of many children’s names bears witness to the harshness of survival in those early days of our county.  Family records state that eleven year old Samuel M. Russell, son of Isaac and Comfort, was killed by a colt in 1845.  Lydia, daughter of Isaac and Caroline Hance was only ten when she died in 1843. The family of Joseph and Mary Scott mourned their two month old little baby, Julius who was a twin to his sister, Julia Ann in 1844.  The Scott family came from Ohio in 1838 and Joseph and  his son, William would later serve in the Union Army during the Civil War.  Joseph and Mary Scott had ten children which included three sets of twins.  The family left the area after the war leaving their son at rest at the top of the hill to be found one hundred and seventy two years later.

I left the little cemetery no longer saddened that these people have been lost and forgotten.  They are part of the history of their little settlement and of Winnebago County.  They came from different states and some even from different countries to settle here much like many of us have.  Their tombstones stones may be broken and worn down but these people will never be forgotten.  There will always be someone like me who will feel compelled to discover and share their stories.

 

Copyright © 2016 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

On July 21, 1922 while tearing down two houses “to the south of Water Street between East State and Walnut Streets” a mystery was uncovered.  The owner of the property, Daniel Shoudy, was assisting with the tear-down of houses that were located next to the Rockford Steam Boiler works when he discovered what he described as a “grass covered cairn”.  Accompanying this cairn was a stone that had the following carved into it:

ST M 13 1883

That was not all that Shoudy found, though. In the basement of one of the houses very close to the cairn were two headstones.  One headstone was inscribed:

Lewis L.
Son of G.W. and M. Hodgson
Born May 2, 1850
Died September 20, 1851
Aged 1 year 4 mos.

 

The other tombstone read:

Clarinda
Wife of J. Marks
Died December 13, 1845
Aged 45 years

Different scenarios were offered in the original article announcing the macabre find.  Possibilities included a scenario of a husband that had buried his wife there, a family that buried a beloved child, or someone who couldn’t stand to think of their loved one placed in a cold dark cemetery away from their home and family and made the decision to bury them close.  As for the headstones, suggestions were made that the headstones may have no bearing on the grave. They might have just been left over when an early cemetery was abandoned.

None of the historians I know have been able to solve this mystery.  No searches into obituaries, city directories, nor even online sources have brought forth any information. It appears that the mystery of who these people were, where they were from, how they died, and the main question of why their tombstones were found in someone’s basement is no closer to being solved than when they were discovered over 90 years ago.

Burnside Baily

In March of 1945, the Allies were making great progress in the European Campaign. They began the largest serial assault in history during that March. Over 1,800 American and British airplanes in columns that stretched through the skies for over 500 miles were used to transport the parachutist troops into position for a massive strike.   The sky troopers would land, attack and hold the positions until the ground forces could relieve them.

One of the service men involved in the huge attack was twenty one year old Burnside Bailey, (everyone called him Burnie). Burnie was born in Rockford and had graduated with the Class of 1941 form West High School. He attended Connecticut Wesleyan College for a little over a year before being called up to attend flight school for the Air Force.

Burnie’s parents, Franklin and Helen lived on Harlem Boulevard in Rockford. Franklin was the President   and Treasurer of the Fred A. Smith Lumber Company. Both Franklin and Helen served with the American Red Cross; Franklin was the co-chairman of the Winnebago County disaster committee and Helen was the chairman of the volunteer special services corps. They had another son, Robert who was eighteen and was waiting to be inducted into the service in March of 1945.

The Bailey’s were very proud of Burnie especially when he received his wings on January, 1944 at the Blackland Airfield at Waco, Texas. Burnie had been a part of some serious aerial invasions. One, in September of 1944 was a sky invasion of the Netherlands at Arnhem and then in December, he had flown a mission to relieve the 82nd “Screaming Eagles” in Belgium. His descriptions of the expeditions showed how proud he was to be such a big part of these invasions.

Franklin and Helen heard from Burnie on March 23, 1945 when he wrote of another upcoming invasion. Though he could not give the details, Burnie hinted that this was to be the most massive expedition in history. Later, they would hear that an estimated 40,000 sky troopers took part in the invasion. Burnie was the pilot of a C-47 transport plane that would carry some of the troops from the British Sixth and the United States 17h Air Borne Division. The men would drop into the northwest corner of Germany’s industrial empire, around the city of Wesel. Ninety seven percent of the city would be destroyed in Operation Plunder. Wesel was a target because of its strategic position on the Rhine.

Unfortunately, it was an operation that Burnie would not survive. At first, he was just listed as missing but within a short time that status was changed. The family received the telegram on May 12, 1945 that changed the listing to Killed in Action.

Though his family erected a headstone as a memorial to Burnside Bailey in Greenwood Cemetery, his body is buried in the U.S. Military Cemetery (also known as the Netherlands American Cemetery) in Margraten, Holland. Photographs from the internet show a cemetery that is at once beautiful but also tragic in the number of small white crossed that cover the area.

In an article from May 29, 1945, the Rockford Morning Star listed 125 flags marked by Gold Stars that represented the alumni of the Rockford and West High School boys that had been killed during the war.

Though seventy years have passed since the article first appeared in the Morning Star, time has not lessened the sorrow felt at the number of young men that gave their lives during that and the other wars that our country has faced.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Howard H. Smith

It was around midnight on September 16, 1946 when the call came in to the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department.  Special Deputies Howard H. Smith, Robert Johnson, and Gust Lindstrom were sent to investigate the claims that someone was seen climbing through a window at the Pleasure Inn Tavern at 3201 11th Street.

According to the testimony of Ella Mae Bissman, she was walking to her home when she passed the darkened tavern.  She was startled by noises coming from the tavern and when she looked to see where the noise originated, she saw a darkened figure jump from the window and land near another figure already on the ground. Both shadows ran away into the night.

Deputy Smith decided to enter the building to determine if anyone was still inside.  He chose a window at the rear of the building and climbed through what he believed to be a window to the first floor.  Unfortunately, the window actually led to a staircase and when Deputy Smith dropped from the window, he fell fourteen feet to the ground below.  As he fell he struck a corner of the foundation.

The other two deputies heard the horrible sound that Smith’s body made when it hit the ground.  Their cries went unanswered and they made the decision to break into the tavern.  Johnson radioed for an ambulance as Lindstrom and some of the neighbors who had gathered at the scene, helped bring Smith from the tavern.

Smith was rushed to St. Anthony’s Hospital where the doctors were unable to do anything to save the thirty four year old officer. Smith held on for thirteen hours before he passed away. Coroner David L. Klontz discovered during the autopsy that Howard Smith had a basal skull fracture caused by the fall to the cement floor.

Howard H. Smith was born in Rockford on July 4, 1912 to parents, George and Constance.  He left behind his wife, Mary and a ten year old daughter, Mary Ann when he died.

During the investigation into Howard’s death and the burglary that led to the accident, authorities found that nothing had been stolen.  They theorized that the would-be robbers had been frightened off before they could steal anything.

Howard was described by all who knew him as dependable, loyal, and dedicated to his family and the people of Rockford.   Howard also worked for the state highway department as a supervisor and was a Republican precinct committeeman.

Many friends and fellow officers joined the family as Howard was laid to rest at Greenwood Cemetery.

Howard H. Smith is one of the officers that will be honored by the 911 First Responders Memorial at West State Street and Kilbourn Avenue.  This memorial will contain some of the steel girders provided by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey from the World Trade Center.  Other officers that will be honored include fallen officers from the Winnebago County Sheriff Department, Rockford Police Department, and Rockford Fire Department, and the lost members of the 2012 REACT Helicopter Crew.

Please visit the website at http://win911.org/memorial.asp.  Donations to this memorial can be made at: http://win911.org/support.asp.

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Albert Cashier

According to the Civil War trust website, there are over 400 documented cases of women disguising themselves as men in order to fight in the Civil War. The man known as Albert Cashier was really Jennie Irene Hodgers and became the most famous of these brave women.

Jennie Hodgers was born on Christmas Day in 1843 in Ireland (or England). Jennie didn’t share much about her early life but history tells us that in 1862 she lived in Belvidere, Illinois.  Information on her circumstances is vague but it has been stated in many places that Jennie already dressed as a man long before signing up to fight as a soldier during the Civil War. On August 6, 1862, Jennie changed her name to Albert Cashier and enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry in Rockford, Illinois.  Albert’s records stated that though he was slight of stature, he was a fit and good soldier. Fellow soldiers noticed that Albert didn’t like to bunk with anyone and always kept his shirt buttoned right up to the neck even in the hottest of weather.

Albert served with the he 95th Illinois regiment for the entire Civil War.  This regiment fought in several key battles including VIcksburg, the Battle of Nashville and the Red River Campaign. Though records again are vague about Albert’s actions during the war, two stories were later shared.  The first took place at Vicksburg when Albert was captured while on a reconnaissance mission.  Apparently, Albert overpowered his captor, taking his gun and escaped by outrunning him. There were no further details including if the captor ever heard that Albert was actually a female.

Another story portraying Albert’s bravery took place during another battle.  When the regiment’s flag was shot down by enemy fire, Albert grabbed the flag, and while enemy bullets buzzed all around him, climbed a tree and tied the flag a high branch.

Albert stayed with the regiment until they were all mustered out in August 1865.  The regiment had lost 289 men to fighting and disease during the war.

Unlike the other women who donned men’s clothes and fought in the Civil War, Jennie didn’t revert to life as a woman when she returned home after the fighting.  She continued to live as Albert Cashier, settling in Saunemin, Illinois.  Albert found and worked many jobs including farm hand, cemetery worker, and lamp lighter to name a few.  He collected a pension from the war and even voted in elections.

In November of 1910, disaster struck when Albert was hit by a car.  It was at this time that Jennie’s secret was finally revealed.  The treating doctor and the hospital agreed to keep Albert’s secret and he was sent to the Soldier and Sailor’s Home in Quincy, Illinois to recuperate. Again, the staff agreed not to divulge the truth.  It was not until Albert showed signs of dementia and was sent to the state hospital for the insane in the spring of 1914 that the whole story came to light.

In the state hospital Albert once again became Jennie and even though she put up a tough fight, for the first time in over 50 years, she was forced into a dress. Some stories say that Jennie was so unaccustomed to wearing the skirts that they would lead to her death.  She supposedly tripped over the skirts and broke her hip.  This and her advancing dementia caused the death of Jennie Irene Hodgers.

To say that the men in Abert’s former regiment were surprised by the information of Albert’s real identity would be an understatement.  But these men who had lived with Albert and fought next to him, rallied to once more stand by his side.  They protested the treatment of Albert in the state institution.

The men in the 95th Illinois made sure that when Jennie died on October 10, 1915 that she was laid to rest as Albert Cashier.  Buried with full military honors in his full dress uniform and under the name of Albert Cashier with his military ranking listed on his stone.  Eventually, in the 1970’s another tombstone bearing the name of Jennie Hodgers was placed next to the Albert Cashier one.

Though, as mentioned earlier, Jennie was not the only woman who would leave the usual trappings that belonged to the fairer sex to fight as men, she did become one of the most remembered.  Some of the others were wounded and their secrets revealed during the war, some later shared their secret when the war ended.  There were others who secret came out when their lifeless bodies were prepared for burial.  A few of these tragic cases were not found out until years after they died, when their bodies were dug up from the battlefield to be laid to rest either in their hometowns or national cemeteries.

Countless stories have been told of the bravery shown by both men and women during the tragic Civil War. But these women who were willing to hide their true identity to stand next to men and boys and face the hail of bullets and cannon fire all while worrying that their secret would be revealed, deserve to have their stories told as well.

It speaks volumes that Albert Cashier’s fellow soldiers respected him enough to fight for his right to be buried under the name he chose for himself in life.  It didn’t matter to them that Albert was really Jennie.  They knew that bravery doesn’t belong only to a certain sex and they all knew that whether he was Jennie or Albert, he was willing to sacrifice everything in the defense of his country.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Frank Baehr

Frank Baehr was the kind of young man that would make any parent proud. As a young boy, he decided that he would go to college, even though this was a time when many boys didn’t even finish high school. In order to make that dream happen, he started delivering papers for the Morning Star. This meant he had to wake up at 3:30 in the morning in order to get his route finished before school. Frank was scheduled to graduate from Rockford High School on June 17, 1913, and he had already secured a spot at the University Of Illinois College Of Engineering. He had always shown an exceptional ability in anything that involved mathematics. But Frank was not only very smart, he had a personality that drew people to him, and even at a young age, he realized that popularity brought with it a certain kind of responsibility. He took this to heart and joined the Temperance Guard and reaching the rank of Major in 1913. Frank traveled around giving presentations to young men about athletic themes and emphasized the “necessity of abstaining from liquor, tobacco, and cigarettes in order to do the best work, mental and physical.”

Frank was born in Mt. Morris and moved to Rockford with his family when he was four years old. They lived in a house on Greenwood Avenue. Everyone who knew him talked of the loving devotion he showed his family, especially his grandmother.

May 31, 1913 was hot and sunny, without a cloud in the sky; a great day to be on the river. Frank was with a group of his friends canoeing down the river. They were in two canoes, Frank and his best friend Stanley in one and the other young men in the second. They had spent the whole day cruising up and down the river. They reached a point on the river down from the dam and the other boys paddled their canoe to the east side. As they maneuvered it out of the water one of the boy was watching Frank and Stanley as they tried to land their craft. He saw Frank and Stanley attempt to come in from the same angle as the previous canoe and then in horror, watched as suddenly the canoe tipped and flung the two young men into the river.

Frank and Stanley managed to hold onto the sides of the canoe and floated about 150 feet. Frank saw a nearby stone wall and thought he could wade to it so he let go of the boat and started towards it. The water came to about his shoulders and was running very swiftly but it appeared that Frank would make it. He was half way across when he stopped and turned back toward Stanley. The boys on the bank were yelling encouraging things to Frank and they were not sure what he was thinking but they speculated that he remembered that his best friend could not swim. Frank had just started to wade back toward the boat when, without any warning, he slipped under the water and didn’t return to the surface.

Everyone who witnessed this event must have been terrified but none more than Stanley Storey, Frank’s best friend. One could only imagine his feelings as he clung to the side of the canoe and watched helplessly as his friend disappeared beneath the water.

Stanley probably believed he was about to share the same fate as Frank, but he was pulled to safety by the friends in the first canoe. Another friend plunged into the river, hysterically screaming Frank’s name until some passerby grabbed him and restrained him.

Frank’s parents received the tragic news in the worst way imaginable, with a telephone call. Authorities searched for days to find Frank’s body and had just called off the search when a pearl buyer, E.J. Peacock recovered Frank on an island about 4 miles south of Rockford.

This poor family must have felt cursed when Frank’s beloved grandmother, weakened by her grief at the loss of her grandson, collapsed at his funeral and succumbed to pneumonia within days. The family buried her beside Frank in Cedar Bluff Cemetery.

C.P. Briggs was the principal of Rockford High School at the time of Frank’s death. He was asked by the family to speak at Frank’s funeral. He spoke these moving words:

“His young life was well lived and although his going has bowed all in grief, there is some consolation in the thought that what he done, he done well and the memory of his splendid young manhood and accomplishments will leave an impression on school life and this community that years will not efface.”

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Marshall Pritchard

“Beware lest he take thee away with his stroke”.  These were the words spoken over the grave in the Cherry Valley Cemetery in 1879 during the funeral of Marshall Pritchard.

Marshall was born on February 18, 1844 In Chenango, New York to parents, Myron and Mary Pritchard.  He was 34 years, 11 months and 6 days old when he met his fate at the hands of a “brutal assassin.”

Marshall Pritchard was a man well thought of in his community.  He served in the Union infantry during the Civil War.  In fact, Marshall lost his only brother to disease when he too was called away to fight for the Union Army.

Marshall was a man of many talents.  One only needs to look at the variety of jobs he held to see that.  He was a carpenter by trade but also worked as a druggist.  He was elected by Cherry Valley to serve on the school board and also to work as a tax collector.  Marshall was married to Emma Hathaway in 1867 the couple had a little eight year old son when Marshall was killed.

The facts of Marshall’s death are still, to steal a quote from the newspaper of the time, “shrouded in mystery.”   We do know that he was killed on the streets of Rockford at around 11p.m. on that Friday night, January 24, 1879.

The village of Cherry Valley was so upset by the death of this popular man that the paper reported that the entire male population of the town went in masse to Rockford after his death was reported.  Witnesses to the killing reported that they had heard men talking, a shout and then a gunshot rang out at around 11p.m. on the night of January 24.  Unfortunately, in the Rockford of that day, much like the Rockford of today, a gunshot ringing out in the evening would not have been a cause for alarm.

Marshall’s body was found by a man who was leading his cow down to the watering tank in the area of downtown Rockford.  Marshall was found on the side of the road, already dead.  This man noticed the body was cold and there was a cut in the back of one ear; there was also a small hole on the left side of the head with a much bigger hole on the right side.  There were a few pennies by Marshall’s body that might have fallen out of his pocket.  A revolver was lying about three feet from his feet.  There was a tuft of the victim’s own hair on his chest.

A few friends of Marshall testified at the inquest that he was always cheerful and didn’t have an enemy in the world.  The only concern they expressed was that since Marshall had been elected as a tax collector, he would stop to have a few drinks every night when he went into Rockford to deposit the money collected that day.  Marshall’s friends were afraid for him because of the danger of robbery.  In fact, the evening before this tragedy took place one man had seen Marshall in Rockford, completely inebriated.

The local paper states that this crime was discussed at some length in the days following the murder.  In fact it states that so many rumors and stories were told that it t seemed “there were one hundred men killed in a hundred different ways.”

The jury found that there was enough evidence from the witnesses to state that Marshall was murdered.  The jury also stated that because of the sounds heard on that night that Marshall was probably lured away from Main Street, possibly toward the old cemetery where the ghastly deed would have been committed.  But apparently, Marshall became suspicious and refused to go further.  The murderers then shot him there probably for the money they assumed he would be carrying.   The paper describes the crime as follows: a struggle, a clutching of the victim’s hair and then the shooting.”

The paper also stated; “Such and other are the various theories in regard to this midnight scene of blood.  It seems impossible that the bold homicide can be lastingly shrouded in impenetrable mystery.  Enough is already known so that the bold and hideous fact must soon be unveiled.”

Sadly, the newspaper got it wrong and Marshall’s murder was never solved. No one was ever brought to justice for the taking of this man’s life.

 

 

Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events