The silence of the hot June summer afternoon was broken by the sound of a train whistle. This was not unusual for that part of the city and hardly anyone seemed to take notice. It was 1884 and the train was a usual method of transportation. The whistle blew again and then again. People must have noticed the multiple blasts and the ringing of the fire bell. Some of the men even mentioned the whistle and the bell later, after the horrible tragedy happened.
The train, of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul Line came rolling toward town near Kishwaukee Road. The engineer, Mr. Tilden stated later that he saw the wagon. He felt sure that the driver of the wagon would stop. He blew the whistle and had the fireman ring the bell. He must have been horrified as the metal monster he was in charge of hurtled straight for the wagon and the man driving the team.
They met with a tremendous, terrible crash. The cow catcher caught the wagon where the horses and wagon were attached, ripping them apart. The wagon was “capsized” and tumbled and smashed, pieces of wood and meat from the wagon’s cargo scattered in a line between the train and the wreckage that was once the wagon. There was a brief awful moment of silence; everyone was too stunned to move or to speak.
Some of the passengers from the train broke the silence by jumping from the train, eager to help. They ran forward; some of them towards the horses and some toward the wagon. The horses had been carried along for quite a distance, and were all dead. Others passengers, including Supervisor William Knapp of Burritt, rushed to the driver. Lifting debris from the wagon, they gently moved the driver into a car on the train and rushed toward the depot.
The young man’s wounds were truly terrifying. The top of his head was horribly cut and his brains were exposed with small pieces of his skull driven into his brain. His right leg was broken above the knee, his right thigh and hip joint were both fractured.
Identification of the wagon driver was difficult due to the wounds he received, but he was finally somehow recognized as George Bishop and they moved him as gently as they could toward his father’s house on Bishop’s Hill near the Resort House. Along the way they were met by Dr. Richings. Once home they laid him on a bed and the doctor did what he could to help the injured man. He had to trepan the wound to remove the pieces of skull from the brain. The doctor was not very hopeful of the young man’s survival.
Interviews with the engineer and another witness (a farmer who was in his field working at the time of the accident) established that it was all an unfortunate accident. They all believed that George had been asleep, so deeply asleep that not even the shrill whistle of the train could wake him. Officer Monroe Clark, who worked the downtown beat, stated that he would go to the Schmauss Brothers business where George worked and wake him up every morning at 3:00 A. M.. George had been assigned this new route about seven weeks prior to the accident. George had complained to Officer Clark that he might have to quit the route because he was so tired that he had to struggle to stay awake, especially on the way back into town.
George lingered until 9:30p.m., when he finally succumbed to his horrible injuries, having never regained consciousness. The doctors that attended him felt that it was merciful that George probably never knew what hit him.
I often tell of how serendipitous my life is and my visit to the Irish Legend Pub is a definite example of that. A few years ago, my boyfriend, John decided to surprise me for our first Valentine’s Day with a paranormal evening. (Nothing says I love you like an evening with the DEAD!) The night turned out to be very interesting and I was fascinated by the history of the location.
The Irish Legend Pub is located at 8933 South Archer in Willow Springs, which is just west of Chicago. When we visited it, the restaurant was called The Stag’s Head Inn.
Archer Avenue is famous for the many claims of paranormal experiences. The Irish Legend Restaurant is located right across from the infamous Willow Brook Ballroom where many claim the ever-popular Resurrection Mary story originated.
The history of this road itself is fascinating. Archer Avenue was originally a portage between the Des Plaines and Chicago Rivers. Prior to the 1830’s, it was a plank covered road that followed an old Native American trail. It was originally called the “Road to Willow Brown’s”. When the Illinois and Michigan canal was built the road saw an explosion of traffic. Since the road parallels the Illinois and Michigan Canal, it was named after the first commissioner of the canal, Colonel William Beatty Archer.
Construction on the canal in the 1840’s brought an influx of Irish and German immigrants. They worked on the canal and on the construction of stockyards. In the 1880’s and 1890’s more construction followed as little villages were settled along this stretch of Archer Avenue. It was during this construction that many Native American burial mounds were destroyed to make room for the new construction. Paranormal enthusiasts speculate that this was one of the reasons the area became so haunted.
Though I couldn’t find an exact date for the construction of the particular building that is now the Irish Legend, people say that it has existed in one form or another since at least the beginning of the 1900’s. It seems that when the men came to work on the canal and railroads, they needed places to drink. This and the lure of the “company of certain types of women” explain the number of pubs and taverns that sprang up all along Archer Avenue. The larger population brought bigger problems and soon gambling, alcohol, and prostitutes made their way to the once peaceful village.
Prohibition came to the United States and that brought a whole new breed of outlaw to the Willow Springs area. The village’s close proximity to Chicago made it appealing to the mobs and speakeasies popped up all over the area.
The Irish Legend claims to have been a speakeasy in its day. The basement and attic areas were used for illegal gambling and the second floor was designed with many small rooms where the ladies of the evening would entertain men. Many men breathed their last in here, easy marks for robbery and murder in their drunken state. The woman themselves led a tortured and desperate life. Many women fell victim to addiction themselves as they tried to escape their painful circumstances.
One of the many stories of the building tells of a forbidden love between one of the girls and a barkeep. The manager of the building found out about the two lovers and lured the unsuspecting bartender to the basement stairs where he crushed his skull in.
Another story, which may or may not be the same woman, tells of the horrible death of one of the girls. She was supposedly beaten and wrapped in a carpet. This carpet was put in the “dining area” for a few hours until it was dark enough to remove her body. Supposedly, her blood seeped out onto the wooden floor and the stain is still visible even today.
The kitchen area holds its own horrors. It was common practice in some houses of ill repute to perform abortions on any girl unfortunate enough to conceive, and at the Irish Legend Pub, the kitchen area is reportedly where these operations took place. There is an ominous, heavy feeling in this area and also in the small closet adjoining the kitchen. Some people who have worked in the restaurant and lived in the small apartment on the second floor tell of hearing babies crying.
There are also reports of the sounds of men fighting, especially in the back stairs area. These steps led directly from the parking lot, and made it easier for prominent men to slip in to the building unseen and so avoid any possibility of a scandal . These same stairs also made it easy for bodies to be carried right out to a waiting car. Many men and women disappeared from the building only to be found later dumped in the canal or alongside the road.
The violence, sadness, depression, and desperation all still linger at this location. It is not hard to imagine the line between the present and the past fading away, allowing us a glimpse into that time. Places like the Irish Legend Pub make it easy to remember that these ghost stories are not only entertainment. Many of the stories tell of actual people who, in many ways, were a lot like us. They had hopes and dreams and those dreams were shattered by addiction or bad choices or by simply trusting the wrong person.
This may be why so many of them still linger here, waiting for justice that will never come.
I’m often asked how I find stories. Sometimes I get them from something I read in the old newspapers and sometimes I hear stories from other people and research them. This story is unique because it comes from an unusual source. I was hosting a tour at Cedar Bluff Cemetery and happened to be walking in an area I hadn’t researched yet. Paul Smith, one of the psychics I work with was with me and he picked up a man who kept asking him the same questions. “Why are we forgotten? “ Paul went on to explain that there was a man with us and he was trying to get my attention because he felt that he and his fellow soldiers who fought in the Spanish American War had been completely overlooked.
Well, that took me by surprise, so as my friend “talked” to the gentleman, I looked around until I found a tombstone that had the name George Whitmore on it. The tombstone also mentioned that George had fought in the Spanish American War.
So at George’s request, I researched his story.
George Whitmore was born in Rockford, Illinois on September 14, 1874 to Charles and Mary E. Whitmore. He had a pretty typical childhood for that time. When he was 25, he joined the 3rd Illinois Infantry Unit Company K. George earned his hero status when he was involved in the Spanish American War.
The Spanish American was an important war because it really began the emergence of the United States as a great power in international affairs.
The war started shortly after the U.S.S. Maine was sent on a supposedly friendly mission in April of 1898. Tensions were rising in Cuba and President McKinley decided to send this warship down there just in case things started to escalate. It was officially called a friendly, fact finding mission. The ship was sailing around the harbor in Havana when it mysteriously blew up. Tragically, 260 of the 350 men on board were killed when the ship split in two and sank in the harbor. Spain blamed the ship and the United States claimed there were mines planted in the harbor (by Spain, of course).
The United States newspapers of the time whipped the U.S. citizens into a frenzy and called for war. It was a major case of what was to be known as “yellow journalism” and the saying ”Remember the Maine!” was born. McKinley declared war even though there was really no evidence that it was an intention sinking. In fact, the true nature of the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine was never discovered and remains a mystery to this day.
President McKinley didn’t really want war and the Spanish certainly didn’t but the pressures from the press and Assistant Secretary of the Navy at that time (a man by the name of Theodore Roosevelt), were impossible to ignore. Roosevelt actually stated that he thought McKinley was afraid of Spain.
In order to prove that the United States was not just trying to wrestle Cuba away from Spain, Congress passed the Teller Amendment; promised to liberate Cuba if the United States won the War.
So then America went off almost cheerfully to war with Spain.
Around 4,200 men died in the fighting of the Spanish American War before it ended 1902. That number is low when compared to other wars. But imagine your father, husband, son, or brother was one of the men who did not return home to their families. Then the number seems very high, indeed.
George did not die in the battles of the Spanish American War. He had the chance to return to his family and build a life for himself. George left Rockford to work on the railroads, working his way up to engineer after almost 25 years. George married Miss Florence Froelick on July 24, 1919 in Chicago and they settled there.
On June 8, 1921, 47 year old George was just finishing his run for the day. He was far away from the sights and the sounds and dangers of battle. He was walking on a flatbed rail car. All of a sudden, the car jerked and George fell under the car and was crushed.
George’s body was returned home to Rockford on a special coach on the North Western Railroad accompanied by his wife and brother. Since George was a veteran and a Mason, he was laid to rest with full military and Masonic honors in Cedar Bluff Cemetery.
George is mentioned on the memorial plaque for the Veterans of the Spanish American War at the Veterans Memorial Hall in downtown Rockford.
The quaint little town of Manitou Springs, Colorado offers scenic views of Pike’s Peak, cute little shops, healing waters from springs located all over the village, and ghosts!
Briarhurst Manor (located at 404 Manitou Avenue) is nestled in Manitou Springs, west of Colorado Springs. Manitou Springs is best known for the Garden of the Gods. These beautiful, red rock formations inspire climbers, hikers, and artists alike. Briarhurst Manor also attracts people from all walks of life. It is a beautiful Victorian mansion that appeals to architectural types, it has a rich history for those who crave that and for the paranormal enthusiast — the mansion offers some great experiences.
Briarhurst Manor was built in 1874 by the industrious founder of Manitou Springs, Dr. William Bell. Dr. Bell was born in Ireland. His family was English and his father was a physician to the elite families. William followed in his father’s footsteps and came to the United States in 1867 to attend a seminar on homeopathic medicine. This particular branch of medicine would later include immunizations. It was at this seminar, held in St. Louis, that William became enamored with stories of the West. St. Louis was at this time a bustling city. Bell became intrigued as he saw people swarming in to St. Louis to start their quests to the west.
William decided to join them and he secured a position as a photographer for a survey and mapping expedition with the Kansas and Pacific Railroad. This would prove very advantageous for young Bell. It was during this trip that he met the man who would later become his business partner, General William Palmer. They were very much alike and shared the vision of a “corporate empire”. Together, they founded the Denver to Rio Grande Railroad.
Now, our young Dr. bell was not all business, he left a sweetheart back in England and in 1872, he returned there for their wedding. Cara Scovell and William were childhood sweethearts and their wedding was reported to be quite a grand affair.
William wanted to share his love of the newly settled (at least by “civilized men”) West. Manitou Springs was thought to be a sacred place according to the Ute, Cheyenne and other Native Americans that called this area home. The springs that bubbled up from the ground were thought to have medicinal qualities. This is where William and Cara would build their dream house.
Not that the mansion that they would eventually build could ever be called a “house”. It was a beautiful place decked out in fine Victorian furnishings. Cara would manage the decorating and under her careful management the manor house became the “social center” of the little community that spring up around it.
They invited people from all over the world to come and be their guests in this lovely place, once described as a “place like in a fairytale”. What a scene it must have presented when these travel weary guests came through the rough and rocky area to descend from their carriages and look upon this beautiful mansion. They would bring their entire families and stay for months at a time.
By the time Colorado became a state, Bell and Palmer had 30 (or more) lucrative companies under them. Bell had five children with Cara, and with all of his business dealings, he considered Briarhurst and his family, his sanctuary.
Disaster struck in the winter of 1886 when the house was completely destroyed by fire. Everyone escaped safely but their beautiful home was gone. The family returned to England, heartbroken. They must have missed Colorado because in the spring of 1887, they came back and were determined to build an even grander home.
In 1890, Bell, nearing 55, decided it was time to retire. He liquidated his assets, left Briarhurst in the capable hands of two of his dedicated employees Ferdinand Schneider and his wife, Amalia.
In 1920, Cara and William paid what would prove to be their last visit to America and Briarhurst. He died on June 6, 1921 from a heart condition. He was 85 years old.
That would not be the last time the family was seen there, however.
The Briarhurst Manor has been lovingly restored and now has a couple of claims to fame. One is for their wonderful cuisine that is served there. The other is for being the runner up in the Ghost Hunters “Great American Ghost Hunt”.
Staff has been telling stories of weird experiences in the Manor for years. There have been apparitions seen, one of a skeletal lady in white that floats about the garden. Another story tells of a couple enjoying their dinner in front of one of the beautiful rounded windows. As they sat eating, they noticed a red haired little girl outside on the lawn playing with a ball. The girl was wearing a bonnet and dressed in clothes from over a century ago.
Once during a presentation with over 100 guests attending, a very expensive vase flew from one of the tables and was broken. Many in the room were witnesses to this startling event.
Other claims speak of children’s footsteps that are heard running back in forth in the attic. Apparently, the children had a playroom up there and would spend rainy days running and playing ball. During an investigation by Taps on their Ghost Hunters Show, they featured the Briarhurst Mansion and experienced the phenomena themselves. While they were there they also picked up a child’s voice on tape.
Another interesting story from the Manor tells of an incident in the master bedroom. Shortly after completely remodeling the second floor – local authorities reacted when the motion detector alarm was triggered. They showed up to investigate to find the house empty but definite “evidence of someone traveling room to room through the secured upstairs of the residence”.
Erik and Tammila Wright have been researching the family and the Manor for years. They even hold tours (historical and paranormal) in the Briarhurst. They believe that the family loved their home and loved to share this wonderful place with visitors so much that they are still continuing to do so even today.
“These apparitions are just the spirits of the family revisiting the joys of a life they once had.” states Tammila Wright.
I had the opportunity to visit Briarhurst Manor one September on a visit to Colorado. It was truly a magnificent place that definitely had the atmosphere of a haunted house. It was a beautiful place with gorgeous woodwork and stained glass windows. While I didn’t see a skeleton lady in white, a little girl playing on the front lawn or even a vase flying across the room, I would definitely suggest adding this wonderful, historic, haunted place to your trip.
Little Bohemia Lodge is located in Manitowish Waters in Northern Wisconsin.It is a nice little supper club that claims “fine dining with a Northwoods touch!”That is not its only claim to fame, however.Little Bohemia’s main claim to fame is that it was the location of the Dillinger gang’s shootout with the F.B.I.
The lodge was built by Emil Wanatka in 1929. The Northwoods area of Wisconsin has always been known as a recreation vacation spot and with the abundant natural beauty of this area, it is easy to see why.A little more surprising to learn is that it was also popular with the mobsters and gangsters of the 1930’s.They liked its isolation. It was far enough away from Chicago that nobody recognized them there.
It was 1934 and the heyday of the gangster was in full swing.Prohibition had ended in December 1933 and the mobs were very much into running the liquor, girls and gambling.Bank robbery was in and business was booming.One of the most notorious of these gangs was the John Dillinger gang.
John Dillinger began his career of crime at a young age when he robbed a store with an accomplice, Ed Singleton.Singleton was sentenced to two years for this crime but Dillinger was sentenced to 20 years.Dillinger always claimed that the courts had used him as an example when they gave him such a harsh sentence.He stated that this act made him bitter toward the government and it was what drove him into a life of crime.One thing is certain John Dillinger made a lot of friends in prison.These men would later become his gang members.
Dillinger’s gang was fairly successful and Dillinger, as their leader, had quite a reputation.He was looked at favorably in the public’s eyes and almost seemed to be a hero to some people.This was the Great Depression era when banks foreclosed on people’s homes and property.Most people were glad to see the banks get what they felt they had coming to them.
One of Dillinger’s most notorious moves was in March 1934 when he broke out of the Crown Point Indiana jail.He was being held there for the murder of a police officer.Dillinger broke out of the “escape proof jail” using a gun carved out of a piece of wood and stained black with shoe polish.Just to rub salt in the wound, he stole the lady sheriiff’s car.This was a decision that would lead to his undoing.The FBI (and especially J. Edgar Hoover) wanted John Dillinger and his gang very badly.They had passed numerous laws in order to “put the heat” on Dillinger and anyone who might think of assisting him.One of these was the National Motor Vehicle Theft Act.This basically made it a federal offense to move a stolen car over state lines.When Dillinger broke out of the jail in Indiana, he headed back into Illinois. This allowed Hoover to put Dillinger on the Public Enemy list and Melvin Purvis was hired to head up the Chicago office.
We flash forward to April 1934 now, and John Dillinger who had always figured a way to outsmart the police must have felt at least a little low.Several of his best men had been killed, his favorite girl, Evelyn (Billie) Frechette, had been arrested, he himself had been wounded.He must have been desperate for him to hook up with the psychopath, Baby Face Nelson.In April,the gang was on the run.
They traveled up to Northern Wisconsin.Some versions say that his lawyer Louis Piquette sent him up there to stay in a lodge run by one of his other clients, Emil Wanatka. Others imply that Dillinger was just heading across the state to Minnesota and stumbled on the lodge.Whichever way it happened, Dillinger and his gang arrived at Little BohemiaLodge on April 20, 1934.Those present were Homer Van Meter, Marie Comforti (Homer’s girlfriend), Pat Reilly, Pat Cherrington, John Hamilton, Tommy Carroll and his wife Jean Delaney, and Baby Face Nelson and his wife, Helen Gillis and John Dillinger.
After a fine steak dinner, the guests settled in for a card game.It was during this card game that Wannatka started to suspect his games of being more than a group of friends on vacation.He noticed that most of the men were carrying guns.He went into the kitchen to find the latest newspapers and that is when he had his fears confirmed.Needless to say, Wannatka and his wife spent a sleepless night as they tried to decide what to do about their situation.On one hand, the gang had paid him a princely sum to use his establishment.On the other hand, they knew that the FBI was cracking down on anyone who harbored this gang.
They came up with a plan to send Emil’s wife and son to a birthday party at a relative’s house where she would try to contact the FBI.Mrs. Wanatka was able to discuss the situation with her brother –in laws at t he party and they agreed to call the FBI office in MIlwaukee.Mrs. Wanatka bravely returned to the lodge with her son.
Sunday passed with the visitors enjoying more cards games and even playing catch with the Wanatka’s young son.No one even suspected that the FBI had been alerted and Melvin Purvis and his men were moving in at that very moment.There are many versions of what actually happened that even but it seems that even the FBI suffers from Murphy’s Law.Agents flew into Rhinelander, Wisconsin but had difficulty findinga place to rent cars from.On the trip from Rhinelander to Manitowish Waters (A distance of 50 miles or so) two of the cars broke down and some of the agents had to finish the trip standing on the running boards.
The agents split up to cover what they thought were all the avenues of escape.They hadn’t been waiting very long when some men left the restaurant portion of the inn.The FBI ordered them to stop but (and versions vary here as well) either they were too inebriated or their radio in the car was up too loud but they ignored the FBI orders and when they continued driving, the FBI agents opened fire.The men inside the car were not part of Dillinger’s gang. They were three men who happened to dine at the lodge that evening. Two were Civilian Conservation Corporation workers named John and Eugene Boisneau and the other was a salesman named John Hoffman.They were, however, carrying rifles when they climbed into the car causing the agents to believe they were part of the gang.Morris and Hoffman were wounded and Boisneau was killed.
Meanwhile, inside the lodge some of the gang had been playing cards when they heard the gunfire. According to some witnesses the gang inside never fired ANY bullets while others stated that some gang members covered the others while they ran upstairs to retrieve the money and more guns.The men in the gang all escaped out the back windows.The agents apparently thought the lodge was set back closer to the lake than it actually was.They slipped out of the back while the agents released a volley of gunfire on the front.The Wanatka family and employees hid in the basement with the three women who had accompanied the gang members.They were lucky to be left alive.
Dillinger, Hamilton and Van Meter headed north up the shore of the Little Star Lake. They stopped at a place about a mile up the road called Mitchell’s Lodge.They commandeered a car and had the owner drive them out of the area.In a typical Dillinger style, the family at the lodge described Dillinger as being very polite.
Baby Face Nelson had gone south along the lake shore and then he grabbed a car with hostages but was stopped by agents. During this gun battle one of the agents, W. Carter Baum was killed by Nelson in his typical ruthless manner.Carter left a wife and two small children when he was killed.Nelson escaped that night and in some versions walked 17 miles to Lac du Flambeau where he hid out in Cabin Number 5 of Dillman’s Bay holding an old indian man hostage for days until things had calmed down enough for him to leave the area.
Unlike the portrayal in the movie ”Public Enemies” , Baby Face Nelson didn’t die in the gunfight at Little Bohemia.It seems almost a miracle that more people weren’t killed when you see the damage that was done from the FBI agent’s bullets.
The lodge is still open today and due to Wanatka’s quick thinking, it has been preserved exactly as it was on the night after the gunfight.There are holes in the walls, and the windows have also been preserved behind panes of glass.In fact, Dillinger’s own father worked there for a time before he and Billy Frechette went on their “Crime doesn’t Pay Tour.”
This little obscure place set in the back woods of Wisconsin has insured its place in history.
There are some websites that I used when I planned my trip to this unique place.One is the Little Bohemia website at www.littlebohemialodge.com. They have a nice history page filled with pictures and descriptions of the night.The lodge is a fine restaurant and bar on the first floor and the second floor is a little museum of Dillinger- it even has the seat from the Biograph Theater that he supposedly sat in the night he died.Its walls are filled with articles of his exploits and even love letters from his grilfriends. It also has some of the clothes left behind by the gang.The present owners have added their own memorabilia from the making of “Public Enemies”.Yes, Johnny Depp was there!It is a fascinating place to visit and is definitely worth the trip.Even those people who don’t believe in ghosts admit they feel a “presence” in this place.
I would also recommend the books by G. Russell Girardin:“Dillinger:The Untold Story.” and Elliot J. Gorn’s“Dillinger’s Wild Ride: The Year that Made America’s Public Enemy Number One” .
The Dillinger story has fascinated me (as well as many others) for years.He charmed men and women alike and even those hired to hunt him down admired him.He was a loyal friend and fell hard for the women he loved. He was close to his family and continued to visit them and send them money even after he made the most wanted list.Whether you consider him a cold-blooded killer or a small town hero he is definitely one of history’s most interesting men.
When one thinks of the library, they often call to mind long stacks of colorful bindings where tall, thin, darkly dressed women glide through putting away books and shushing patrons.That has not been my experience over the last 15 years of library work.(For those of you who have met me in person, you know I am neither tall nor thin and I am usually the one being shushed!)
I am very fortunate to wear many hats at the library and one reputation that I have inadvertently earned is the collector of the odd and unusual.The goddesses that work the Local History room come across some of these stories while researching things for people and always share them with me.I have tucked them away in a file but have decided that this would be a good place to share these tales of the weird and peculiar.
This story came from a Register Gazette article that appeared on August 22, 1908.The headline reads:Mystery at Winnebago.It seems that on this Tuesday morning, Sexton Joseph Dunkley and his assistant James Bouton were hard at work preparing a place to lay the newly departed Mrs. Bradshaw. They were both surprised and a little startled when they stuck the shovel in the dirt and heard a metallic clunking sound.They were only about a foot down so they continued to dig and unearthed the remains of what proved to be a corroded cracker tin such as the one pictured below:
One can only imagine the thoughts that were running through their minds as they pulled the tarnished box from the dirt.The article described the box “badly decayed only one side being in any state of preservation.”
Their greatest fears were realized when they opened the box and there looking back at them were the empty eye sockets of not one but three skulls!
The box also contained the “major portions of the larger bones of the human body, all of which were the bones of adult persons.”As if that wasn’t enough, there was also a black string necktie which it mentions is the “only clothing found”.
There was no more mentioned in this article- nothing to tell us what was done with the bones, where it was thought they might be from, or who they might have been.The last line only yielded another mystery.It mentioned “The Reflector suggests it is not likely to prove another Gunness affair.”
There was stated in such a manner that it implied that this was a name that the reader should know.This intrigued me enough that I again turned to my Local History sages where they declared that the name Gunness refers to a woman of the time period who is suspected of being a female serial killer!
Apparently, this Belle Gunness (who was later found to really be Brynhild Paulsdatter Størseth), was believed to have killed over 40 men, women and children (including her own!) for money.Belle was at first believed to have been killed herself by a handy man that worked for her.The bodies of her two children and a decapitated woman’s corpse were found in the ashes of their LaPorte, Indiana home in February 1908.The handy man was found guilty of the arson but not the murder since he claimed that the body was not Belle Guinness but a woman that she had poisoned and put there as a “body double”, even though the woman was shorter and much thinner.
I will definitely be writing an article in the future to fill you in on all the sordid details!This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I find history so fascinating!
On the morning of August 22, 1908, Ross Foster started his day like he had ended the day before, fishing.He put out the line around 10p.m on August 21 and went back to check it at daybreak on the 22.He could not have known that this day would take such an appalling turn.
Mr. Foster was in the Corey’s Bluff area of the Rock Rivera place that he fished often.He got an early start that morning, it was just around 6:00a.m.He started to bring the line in and when the line reached about mid- point between the shore and an island there, it snagged something heavy.
Foster pulled the line slowly toward him and to the surface.One can only imagine his horror as the object came to the surface and he realized it was the body of a child.
Mr. Foster knew immediately who the child was.The story had been all over Rockford.He carefully rowed his boat within a few feet of the body and called for assistance.The men were able to lift the body into the boat and take it to shore.
It seems that the hook had caught the back of the coat as the “body was being rolled slowly downstream by the current.”Mr. Foster helped deliver the young boy’s body to the coroner’s office where a verdict of “death by drowning” was decided.
The beginning of this tragic story started two days earlier.A little 5 year old boy, Earle Morris and his his eleven year old brother, Orley were walking in downtown Rockford, Orley told the jurors at the inquest.The article gave this description, “Orly appeared to be a manly little fellow or his age and fully capable of taking care of his younger brother under any circumstances except such trying ones as that which resulted in the drowning on Thursday.”
Orley went on to say that the boys crossed over the Nelson Bridge and started to return on the Illinois Central Bridge.He explained that though this was their first trip together on that bridge, he himself had used it several times to cross.
They met a man just as they were starting to cross and he told them to hustle across because there was a train due soon.Orley said that this flustered the younger boy.The boys both became frightened as they reached the middle of the bridge and saw the train approaching.At Orley’s instruction, they took seats on a “heavy plank nailed on the outer edge of the bridge ties” to wait out the train.The boys were facing the track about three feet apart.Orley was horrified when he saw his little brother fall over backward into the river.The article mentioned that Orley watched as his brother came up to the surface three times and he was still straining to see him when the trainmen finally reached him.
A follow up article said that an autopsy of little Earle showed a bruise on his forehead that at first was thought to have come from his body hitting a stone in the river.After conducting several interviews of the eye witnesses, a more plausible scenario presented itself.These people mentioned that several cars behind the engine was a tool car that had steps that jutted out several inches farther than the other cars.The engine passed without dislodging the young boy but when the tool car passed it struck Earle in the forehead causing him to fall into the river.
This article was found in the Rockford Morning Star edition for August 25, 1908.Even though this took place such a long time ago, it doesn’t take much imagination to put oneself in this family’s place as they had to bury one young son and help the other recover from this unbelievable tragedy.
Have you ever taken a trip (drive or other forms of travel) where you set off for one kind of adventure and end up having a completely DIFFERENT kind?
Well, this is one of those stories. I set off for Central Illinois with my regular ghost adventure buddy, John Hoblit. We were returning from something (neither of us remembers exactly what) and decided to stop at Lincoln, Illinois where John’s father’s family hails from.
John had mentioned this road that leads to an abandoned bridge called “The Ghost Bridge”. Well, I, of course was up for that! John had done some research through a cousin of his named Leigh Henson and Troy Taylor’s website that talked about this bridge that was located between two old cemeteries.
We arrive and find the gate that leads down this old road. (The following picture is from John’s cousin, Leigh Henson). These are the kinds of places I LIVE for.
It is about a 10 minute walk (taking time to slap the mosquitoes!) The road winds through some pretty dense trees with a few clearings that show the field that surround the area.
So we come around the corner and there it is…the last remnants of this old bridge.
This is where I find out the great part. This used to be a part of the famous Route 66 road!
Salt Creek ( which was called Onaquispasippi by the Native Americans. I know what you are thinking and I completely agree! Salt Creek is SO much easier) is the largest stream in Logan County and has been important to this region.
Its history began with the Native Americans and even includes a land dispute settled on the banks of the creek by none other than Abraham Lincoln himself! The churches in the area used it for their baptism rituals which back in the 1850’s included total immersion in the creek.
So, where (most of you are probably thinking) does the Ghost from Ghost Bridge come in? I, too questioned this. I imagined a great story of a love between a Native American girl and a local white boy where both families refused to accept their love and the young lovers took their own lives rather than be separated. I even though that maybe the stories of Boone Hoblit making his moonshine to sell continued on after his death with him chasing visitors away from the road so no one would reveal his secret. But this is not the case.
In my research I found no such story. My buddy John even called the local library in Lincoln. He was assisted by a very helpful librarian who gave him a website that she assured him would prove interesting. Imagine his surprise when the website turned out to be of the ADULT kind! (seems that the Logan County tourism website had changed their address and did not inform their local library!)
That is what I meant in the beginning when I spoke of thinking I was in for one type of adventure and having a completely different one. The cemeteries on either side of the old road are very beautiful and peaceful and Troy Taylor talks of another in close proximity, the Old Union Cemetery on his website. But the reason that this particular bridge is called a Ghost bridge is because that is what the people who seek out such abandoned sites call them.
Even though there is no great story behind the name, I felt that this place deserved to be mentioned. As I stood there, with the light from the sun setting around me, it was easy to picture it as it once was. It has that sense that places of the past carry with them. The ability to, just for a second, transport us back. These places share their layers of history, from the days of Native American hunting and fishing, to the baptisms of the 1850’s, to the bootlegging of the 20’s and 30’s. I hope you take the time to visit if you are ever in this area.
Jehial Harmon was born in Suffield, Connecticut, Oct. 5, 1762. This made him only 12 years old in April of 1775 when the Battle of Lexington (and the beginning of the Revolutionary War) occurred. Jehial’s older brother served in the army but Jehial’s parents thought he was too young to go with his brother. The parents finally relented in 1779, when Jehial turned 16. His brother was ill and was forced to leave the service. Jehial joined up and from all accounts fought bravely.
Jehial survived the war and went on to have a family. Some of his children came to the “west” to settle and start families of their own here in Rockford. Jehial came to live with his children in 1844. He died here in Rockford on March 3, 1845. Jehial was buried at Greenwood Cemetery. His grave was marked June 14 1902. “Connecticut in the Revolution.”
Barbara Hamilton was only 14 years old when she died on June 6, 1909 in her home on North Second Street. She had been ill for a while, in fact, her parents had just brought her home from a hospital in Chicago where she had spent a couple of months struggling to get better.
Little Barbara took a turn for the worst and her father was called home from a business trip to Minneapolis. He was a successful attorney. He made the journey by from Minneapolis to Janesville by train and the rest of the journey by “automobile”. He got to her bedside just a few minutes before she passed away. Unfortunately, Barbara was unconscious and the father voiced doubt whether she knew he was there.
Before her illness Barbara spent time riding horses and was a member of the Children of the American Revolution.
Barbara was said to have been a very sweet young girl and that everyone who knew her loved her. She was the Mr. and Mrs. H. H. Hamilton’s only child and they were devastated when she
There is a legend surrounding this little girl. It seems she loved horses and when her beloved horse passed away, rumor has it that the family buried it here in this hillside so that it could be close to Barbara. Psychics visiting the area in Cedar Bluff have been confused and startled to see a horse running through the cemetery.