The evening of April 28, 1909 was initially discussed because of the storm that swept over the area. Folks in the village of Winnebago would remember exactly where they were that evening because of the fierce thunderstorm that brought almost continuous lightning and torrential rains.
That storm would also play a part in the worst crime in the history of the little community though no one would realize it for almost 24 hours.
Margaret Grippen was a widow who lived in a farm house on Bluff Street near the northeast edge of town. Both Margaret and her husband, Demas were considered pioneers of the village and well loved. Their property contained an 80-acre farm and a two-story house. “Uncle Demas” as the townspeople referred to him, was known to be a helpful and very generous neighbor.
The couple had three children, two girls who died too early and their son, Demas Junior who lived in Iowa with his wife, Blanche. When Demas died in 1895, Margaret was left all alone in the house they had built on Bluff Street.
On that night in April, Margaret was visiting the old farmer McDougall. She visited the farmer to order a chicken and some milk. McDougall offered to deliver the items the next day and loaned Margaret a coat to wear home because the storm was sweeping into town.
Another neighbor would report that she spotted Margaret walking home when she looked through the window at the storm. The time was 6:30 p.m. The neighbor could not know that she would be the last person to see Margaret alive.
The next day McDougall stopped by Margaret’s house several times to deliver her order before he knocked on a neighbor’s door to ask if she had seen Margaret. Mrs George Ades was surprised that Margaret did not answer and offered a skeleton key that she knew would open the front door of the Grippen home. Margaret had borrowed it several times since she noticed her house key was missing.
McDougall and Mrs. Ades opened the front door and later they both would state that they noticed reddish brown stains smeared all over the walls and then they noticed the body on the floor. At first, they thought Margaret had fallen and they rushed toward her. As they neared the body, Mrs. Ades started to scream.
When Sheriff Collier arrived from Rockford, the whole horrible truth was disclosed. The 68-year-old woman entered the home and went to the second floor to shut a window that she had left open. When she returned downstairs there was someone waiting in the darkness of her living room.
The intruder rushed her and hit her several times with a large conch shell that sat on a shelf. Margaret fought hard for her life and battled the intruder up and down the hallway. The attacker grabbed a pair of scissors and caused tremendous damage to the poor woman’s hands as she defended herself.
Finally, Margaret fell onto the floor where the savage attack continued. She was stabbed 38 times in the face and chest before the maniac went into the kitchen for another weapon. This time he carried a flat iron that he used to beat Margaret’s head so badly that no one would be able to identify her.
The attacker tried to cover up his crime by placing a kerosene lamp next to Margaret’s body and a shawl over the chimney. He probably thought that setting a fire would destroy the perfect fingerprints that he left on the glass of the lantern along with any other evidence. Thankfully, the shawl never caught fire.
After cleaning up in the kitchen, the killer walked past the body in the hall and out the front door. He used a key to lock the door behind him. He dropped the key in the front yard on his way through the yard. The storm covered all the noise of the attack and kept any would be witness in their homes.
The man who slaughtered the beloved widow slipped away, most likely on the railroad that ran close to the home. The only real evidence found were those fingerprints left on the lamp.
Experts came from all over to try to solve this heinous crime and to match the fingerprints. Though over 400 different fingerprints were collected and compared, no match was ever made. The murder of Margaret Grippen remains unsolved.
Margaret was buried in the Winnebago Cemetery next to her beloved daughters and her grandson.
George Jacob Schweinfurth was born in 1853 in Marion, Ohio. He had a typical childhood though his mother would later claim that she knew from the day he was born that God had a special plan for her son.
That special plan would eventually involve hundreds of followers, numerous scandals, and a 600 acre farm named Mount Zion.
George would become involved with a religious movement started by a woman named Dorinda Beekman, a wife of a preacher. The Church Triumphant was originally based in Byron, Illinois but Dorinda’s claims soon had her followers ostracized from that community. George met Dorinda in December of 1877 and they soon became kindred spirits.
George was a gifted speaker. He was very handsome, some would even claim that he looked just like Jesus Christ, and he was very persuasive. Young women were especially drawn to George and he was very quickly ordained a Bishop to the church.
Dorinda became sick and died and though she claimed she would rise after death, her body was ordered to be buried by officials after a week. That might have been the end of the Beekmanites and the Church Triumphant if George hadn’t stepped forward to accept the role of leader.
George began to claim that he was the risen Messiah and that as such, he had unlimited powers. He could perform many miracles including curing those afflicted with disease and even, just like Christ himself, raise people from the dead. When asked by a reporter if he really believed himself to be Christ, Schweinfurth replied, “I am more than that. I am the perfect man. I am God.”
George drew more people into the faith and began to search for a place for the center of what was quickly becoming a religious movement.
It was at this time that a loyal follower, Spencer Weldon offered his lovely 600 acre farm and home to George. In 1880, the Weldon family consisted of Spencer and his wife Agnes Kelley and their six children.
George gladly accepted the generous offer and mortgaged the farm to expand the buildings and house to better fit the expanding congregation. The men worked the land and handled the livestock while the women worked in the house and tended the gardens. The farm grew very prosperous and George eventually expanded into horse breeding. He proved to be a keen businessman and was soon raking in the profits.
Inevitably, the word began to spread about this “Mount Zion” as the congregation called it and new followers came from all over the country. In order to live in “Heaven”, a person needed to surrender all of their worldly possessions to the church, which in turn took care of all their needs. Most of the men lived in dormitories in the barn and the women stayed in the house with the prophet. Marriages were no longer acknowledged and this caused many conflicts.
The Church Triumphant numbers soon grew to several hundred. The social status of the majority of these people was surprising. These were not country bumpkins but highly educated, high society that included the wives of business men, lawyers, and doctors who brought their husbands into the fold.
Certain young women who were all very beautiful soon became the favorites of the self-proclaimed Messiah. One of these “Angels” was the oldest daughter of the Weldon’s, Mary Louise. She was around 25-years-old when the family home became Heaven. She was very beautiful and one of George’s most devout followers.
One of the fundamental beliefs of the Church Triumphant was the immaculate conception of Mary with the child of the Holy Spirit. It was such a vital part of their belief that when certain “Angels” became pregnant all believed that they, like the Virgin Mary carried the “Children of God”. Though the exact number of these children has been lost, at least four were born in Heaven. Two children were born to the head angel, Aurora Tuttle, one to Mary Teft, and one to Mary Weldon.
Needless to say, this caused quite a controversy and the newspaper reporters soon flocked to the farm. The stories spread until they were nationwide. When one of the reporters asked Spencer Weldon what he thought about his daughter becoming pregnant, he replied that he was overjoyed that she carried the child of God.
The controversy continued and charges were brought against the three Angels and George for immoral behavior. In order to quiet some of the rumors, George married Aurora in the late 1890s though this proved to be a case of too little, too late. Finally, in 1900 George left Heaven behind and brought Aurora and their two children to Rockford before changing his name to Furth and moving to Chicago to become a realtor. He died there in 1915 still shrouded in scandal and controversy.
The Weldon Farm in Winnebago still belongs to members of the family and has been returned to the red color that it wore in the most prosperous days of the Church Triumphant. Angel and daughter, Mary Weldon stayed on the farm after the prophet left. She raised her daughter with the assistance of her family.
The Illinois Cottage was opened in August of 1918. The old Lindsey Home, located on Kent Street was acquired through the Illinois Federation of Women’s Club with assistance of the Spafford family. Its purpose was to aid single women who came from other communities while they searched for employment or girls who were found after curfew. One such young girl came to Rockford with her new husband. The couple had only been married a few days when they arrived and she had no idea that her husband was wanted for forgery. She stayed at the Illinois Cottage after her husband was arrested until arrangements could be made for her to return to her parent’s home.
One article describing the home mentioned that during the time of the opening there were many young girls that followed the young men to Rockford when they were stationed at Camp Grant. Some of these girls could not find employment and had no way to support themselves.
Later the purpose of the home was expanded to include caring for handicapped children. The Visiting Nurses Association would refer the children to the Cottage. Most of the children came from very poor circumstances and were handicapped due to to malnutrition or disease. These children would receive medical care, proper nutrition, and an education while living in the home. For some of the children this care was life changing; without it their handicaps would have made them incapable of becoming independent and able to support themselves.
The children who were able attended nearby public schools while those who were bedridden were taught at the cottage. Clubs allowed the children to earn money for shoes or other clothing. The Fairy Club allowed the young girls to embroider bibs, rompers, and towels that would be sold in the gift shop.
In order to continue the funding of the Illinois Cottage many events and tours were held in the home. Several famous visitors to Rockford were brought for a tour of the home. Jackie Coogan, a child star, and Tom Mix, an actor who was best known for playing in early westerns, were both visitors.
One of the most touching stories in the history of the home involves a little boy who stayed there in 1931. He came to the home weighing 23 pounds and horribly crippled from a severe case of rickets that had bent his little legs.
The little boy was sent to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Chicago for surgery to straighten his legs. He was returned to the Illinois Cottage where his care was continued. Within a few months the little boy’s weight increased and he was walking normally.
There were numerous organizations in Rockford that worked very hard to ensure that the children had all they needed. But it was during the Christmas holiday that the true generosity of the Rockford community was revealed. Gifts of clothing, furniture, toys and fruit were delivered from all parts of the city. Whole classrooms of children would visit to perform concerts and programs for the children.
Christmas Eve was started with a special luncheon cooked and served by local Kiwanis groups, who were major contributors to the cottage. In the evening, the cottage sponsored a large party and opened its doors for all the neighborhood children.
In the late afternoon of Christmas Eve, a truck arrived and picked up around 70 children who then made the rounds in South Rockford. The children and their escorts sang Christmas songs as the neighbors came outside to join them. The newspaper stated that “the familiar music served as a beautiful reminder of the significance of the holiday”.
The truck returned the children back to the cottage for a very special meal. Santa Claus would arrive afterward with a sack filled with gifts, the first ever for many of the children. The gifts were donated from families, businesses, and local churches and were given to all the children including the neighborhood visitors. Then the children were tucked into their beds with stomachs filled with food and clutching their new toys.
These stories of the Illinois Cottage prove that the Rockford Community was built with the generous, caring spirit that continues still today. As the quote from the movie Scrooged starring Bill Murray reminds us, “It’s Christmas Eve! It’s the one night of the year when we all act a little nicer, we smile a little easier, we cheer a little more. For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be!”
Everyone who knew Svea Olson said she had chosen the right career. Svea was in her second year at St. Anthony’s School of Nursing. Her roommate and patients all stated that Svea’s natural cheerfulness brightened up whatever room she entered. Many of the bedridden patients at the hospital claimed that Svea had a special gift of bringing hope to those patients that had none.
Svea was busy with school but she always made time for her friends and family. On Tuesday, September 18, 1923, Svea left St. Anthony for one of her regular visits to the family’s home on 9th Street. Her parents, John and Maria Olson were well known in the Rockford Community. They moved to Rockford in 1896 from Sweden. John first obtained employment in the furniture factories before he and Maria opened the Olson Restaurant on 14th Avenue.
The visits with Svea’s family always passed too quickly and she seemed reluctant to leave that night. Her sister offered to walk with her to the 7th Street car line and the girls chatted on the way. Svea caught the 7th Street car and turned around to smile and wave goodbye to her sister, neither of them knowing it would be the last time they would see each other.
Later that evening at around 10 p.m., the staff at St. Anthony was startled by a man walking into the emergency department carrying a woman in his arms. They questioned him about his name and the identity of the girl but he had no answers for them. They grabbed the girl to transfer her onto a gurney and the man fled.
The girl was beyond all help and she was pronounced dead immediately. The staff recognized her as one of the student nurses and an investigation into her last hours began. Svea roomed at the nurse’s quarters and her fellow students were questioned. They all stated that Svea had no enemies or boyfriends. She was a dedicated daughter and student that spent her time with family or on her studies.
Coroner Fred C. Olson worked hard to determine the cause of Svea’s death. There was no trace of drugs, poison, or liquor in her stomach or blood. Her family reported that she had some issues with heart palpitations but nothing that was of any concern. The 24-year-old girl had no marks or other signs to indicate violence. The doctors and investigators were completely baffled by her death.
Police pleaded with the public for some information into the identity of the man in the car. Several witnesses stepped forward to say they saw a car matching the description the St. Anthony staff had given. They stated they saw the car stop alongside women that were walking in the area of 7th Street. They couldn’t hear the conversation but saw the women shaking their head as if declining an offer for a ride.
Family members and friends all were certain that Svea would never accept a ride from a stranger. The investigation into the death ground to a complete halt very quickly. The police and coroner worked on the theory that Svea had been picked up in the car and some struggle had occurred that resulted in her death. The family was left with only questions and no relief for their loss.
Svea’s funeral was on September 22, 1923 in her family’s home on 9th Street. Over 2,000 people came through the house to pay their respects. Over 1,000 traveled to the Scandinavian Cemetery for the graveside service.
Finally, in late November of 1923 police got a break. Robert Wells came forward to testify that he was walking in the neighborhood on that night in September when he spotted a man in a car matching the description given. The unidentified man pulled his car to the curb on East State Street just past the intersection of 7th Street. He then jumped out and ran to the sidewalk where a figure was on the ground. Wells approached the man to see if he could offer assistance. The man asked Wells to help him get the girl to the car. The rescuer stated that he saw the young lady collapse. He offered to drive the unconscious girl to St. Anthony Hospital where she would receive medical assistance. Wells helped the man place the girl into the car and watched him drive away.
The police and coroner decided that Wells was telling the truth and filed Svea’s death as natural though they never found the exact cause of her death or the man who brought her to the hospital. They stated that she probably suffered issues with her heart even though they found no damage during the autopsy. The family would never know what happened to this beautiful, young girl who gave so much to everyone she knew.
“Please be assured that a continuing search by land, sea, and air is being made to discover the whereabouts of our missing personnel. As our armies advance over enemy occupied territory, special troops are assigned to this task, and all agencies of the government in every country are constantly sending in details which aid us in bringing additional information to you.”
The letter came just a day after the telegram. Both had been signed by Major General J.A. Ulio the Adjutant General and were addressed to Mrs. Ann Ulander. Ann and her husband Carl Sr., had two sons, Carl Junior who was 22 years old and Robert who was just 19.
Both boys had enlisted in the service, Carl, the oldest, worked as a navigator on a B-17 “Flying Fortress” while his brother, Robert was in training to be a Flight Engineer.
Carl Junior had been born in Rockford on July 28, 1922. He graduated from Winnebago Community High School and had been employed at Swan Peterson and Sons Florist. Carl had entered the service on June 1, 1943. His parents were very proud of him when he received his commission and navigators wings on April 22, 1944. He was now addressed as Lieutenant Carl G. Ulander Jr. Robert, the younger son of Carl and Anna was stationed at Lowry Field in Denver, Colorado. He would later serve on Saipan and Guam as a flight engineer on a B-29.
Carl Sr. and Ann heard from Carl Jr. shortly after his arrival overseas with the 8th Air Force. He had only been there for two months and had not yet been sent on any missions.
It was on one of his first missions that Carl was part of a four-pronged Allied attack on Germany. More than 1,100 American bombers were sent on the attack on German war factories in Magdeburg, Kassel, and Mersberg. This attack would prove very costly for the 8th.
The 8th Air Force lost 42 heavy bombers and 16 escorting fighters during the attack. Carl’s parents would not learn the details of his mission for many months. His Flying Fortress participated in the air raid over Magdeburg, Germany on September 28–it was around 11:35 a.m. and the planes were close to reaching their target when they were attacked by enemy aircraft.
Carl’s plane was hit by enemy fire and left the formation. The plane dropped its bombs and then suddenly it went into a dive. No one saw what happened to the plane after it began its descent.
Carl Ulander Jr. was declared missing for a year. His parents received a letter from the Commanding General of the Army Air Forces H.H. Arnold in October 1945 finally declaring Carl as killed in action, expressing his sympathy and also spoke of Carl Junior’s excellent military reputation.
Lt. Carl Ulander was awarded the Purple Heart in November 1945 for his sacrifice. His brother, Robert would leave the service shortly after the notification came. Robert had also been awarded an air medal and the Asiatic Pacific Theater ribbon with two battle stars for participating in “Aerial Missions over Japan.”
The letter announcing Carl Junior’s award of the Purple Heart has the Secretary of War seal and very eloquently states, “Little that we can do or say will console you for the death of your loved one. We profoundly appreciate the greatness of your loss, for in a very real sense the loss suffered by any of us in the battle for our country, is a loss shared by all of us. When the medal, which you will shortly receive, reaches you, I want you to know that with it goes my sincerest sympathy, and the hope that time and the victory of our cause will finally lighten the burden of your grief.”
I received a packet of papers from Robert Ulander’s wife, Ruth. She requested that I tell of Robert’s service and of the sacrifice of his brother, Carl. The letters that were so carefully preserved: first by Carl and Robert’s mother, Ann and then by Robert himself, spoke so clearly of a family’s pride and grief. Their loss, now over 70 years ago, was obviously felt and carried by each member of their family.
The news that awaited Maude M. Stuart when she arrived in Rockford from Chicago was devastating. The doctors that were treating her fiancé Harry Wellman were not optimistic about his survival. Maude and Harry were supposed to be married on Christmas Eve in 1901 but doctors now feared that family members would be attending Harry’s funeral instead of his wedding. Maude was only 19 years old and lived close to Harry in Chicago. The newspapers all described Maude as very pretty and extremely stoic throughout the ordeal.
Harry Wellman was only 24 years old in 1901. He worked for the Illinois Central Railroad as a tank inspector for the water division and lived in Western Springs, Illinois. Harry was in Waterloo, Iowa to repair a water tank when he secured a seat on the Omaha Special passenger train on December 14, 1901 to hurry home to his fiancée and his upcoming wedding. Harry had been away from home for over three weeks, leaving Maude to work with the families to finish the last-minute wedding preparations.
Maude was with Wellman’s family when the news of a horrendous train wreck was delivered in a telegram. They hurried to Rockford to be with Harry still unaware of what had actually happened. Harry’s arm had been horribly mangled in a train wreck that occurred on December 14, 1901.
The newspapers called this accident the worst in Winnebago history during that time and stated that it should have never happened. A freight train that was traveling west had a head on collision with a passenger train that was approaching from the east. The accident happened two miles east of the city and the details of this horrific crash proved that it was astonishing that anyone survived. The trains both caught on fire immediately after the crash and people who survived the initial impact were once again in danger. They fled the train with clothing in tatters and terribly injured. That December night was frigid with temperatures falling well below the zero mark adding another type of threat for the passengers.
Nine men were killed in the initial wreck and more perished from the fire. Though the men that died that night were not from Rockford, the community joined together to care for the living and the dead.
Harry was in such excruciating pain after the accident that he begged his rescuers to throw him into the snow so he could freeze to death. They worked to keep him alive until help arrived. Harry was brought to Rockford with several other train wreck victims and treated in the City Hospital. He was the most severely injured of all the survivors and doctors decided that amputation was the only way to save Harry’s life. They amputated Harry’s arm right below the elbow.
Maude stayed by Harry’s side through his long, painful recovery, never giving up on the dream that one day they would walk down the aisle in the wedding that she had worked so hard to plan.
It took two long years for Harry to regain his health during which he fought the Illinois Central Railroad for a reasonable settlement for the loss of his arm. They finally compromised on $12,000 which at that time was the largest sum ever paid for a claim of any kind.
The couple was finally married in 1903 and though it wasn’t quite the wedding she had originally planned, the day was a dream come true for this young couple.
Fairgrounds Park was formed on land purchased around 1858 and was used for a variety of activities including a place to host the annual fair.
During the summer of 1896, the Fairgrounds Park made the newspapers for something other than agriculture. The newspapers mentioned that the fairgrounds had become known for its ghostly encounters. At first the reports just trickled in, mostly told by the closest neighbors to the park. These included stories of mysterious lights, a high pitched scream that resembled “the screeching of a stabbed pig”, and loud cracks that sounded like revolver shots.
The stories soon expanded to include reports of wispy figures darting in and out of the cattle shed and the halls of the buildings on the grounds. As the stories started to spread through the city, the numbers of the nightly visitors grew. They were all anxious for a glimpse of the apparition.
Eventually a group of young boys banded together to investigate the claims of the supernatural sightings. The first night, just a handful of boys showed but soon the number had swelled to over 50. They were from neighborhoods from all over the city and differed in age, ethnicity and financial backgrounds.
These “ghost hunters” had little equipment except for lanterns. The local papers later stated that the boys did arm themselves with “everything from toothpicks to telegraph poles”. They hoped to use these items to protect themselves from whatever was lurking behind the high fence of the park.
Almost immediately the boys were startled by a sound much like a shot of a revolver and then the screeching that was described as an unearthly, inhuman sound. This excited the group and bolstered their courage enough to enter the shadowy recesses of the park itself.
Their search of the grounds was in vain, however, and the group quickly grew bored with the hunt. It was about this time that a trolley passed by the entrance and attracted the attention of the group.
The band of boys started to hoot and holler, sounding very much like the reported banshee from the park. This startled the trolley “occupants nearly half to death.” The noise from the group also roused the neighbors who then came to see what the hullabaloo was all about. Someone finally alerted the police to all this commotion and they arrived in short order. The police had no real idea what was happening but very quickly got the neighbors and the would be ghost hunters under control. They eventually arrested 28 boys from the group and marched them double file to the police station.
When they told their story to the judge, he and the spectators in the very crowded room weren’t sure what to think. It was the first time Judge Morrison had to make a decision on a case like this. He addressed the crowd of boys that aged from 12 to 30 years old. Judge Morrison decided to fine the older of the boys $5 and gave the younger boys a penance of delivering bouquets to the hospital two times a week.
The police took the ghost claim seriously and spent several nights in the fairgrounds to discover for themselves the cause of the reports. They experienced some of the same things as the claims. They eventually decided that these were the work of a real living being and rousted a semi-professional hobo by the unfortunate name of “Parrot Face” Tompkins. Apparently, the police made sure he would never repeat his performance because “Parrot Face” was heard to say that he had enough of ghosts (and the police) to last the rest of his days.
That wasn’t the end of the claims from the area though. People spoke of strange things happening well into the fall. One man, John Hunt, described as having a “smile like a basket of chips”, was quoted as knowing for a fact that the ghost was real. Hunt saw and smelled the phantom for himself and proclaimed that he wouldn’t go anywhere near the area after the sunset.
When Sarah Burr and Marie Dobbins couldn’t reach their friend Cordelia Gummersheimer on Sunday afternoon, they weren’t really all that concerned. The three were teachers at Rockford High School and had made plans for dinner on Sunday, December 8, 1929. They knew Cordelia was always busy. Besides her teaching position in the language department of the high school, Cordelia also tutored students and worked as an interpreter for local business men who dealt with foreign countries. She was fluent in several languages.
Cordelia was not originally from Rockford but had been teaching at the high school for eight years by 1929. She had grown up in Belleville, Illinois before attending Knox College in Galesburg. In 1916, Cordelia, who her family described as always ready for adventure, traveled to Puerto Rico to teach languages there. During the summer months, Cordelia attended the University of Wisconsin where she was working on her master’s degree. She took her studies and her teaching position very seriously and was well liked by her students and co-workers. Cordelia was also known to be a free spirit. She had put her studies on hold during the summer of 1928 when she traveled with a tour group to Cuba to act as an interpreter.
Cordelia had a very optimistic outlook and seemed fearless to the other single female teachers at Rockford High School. She shrugged off their concerns about living alone in the Grantway Apartments at 516 West State Street. She liked her little home with the bed that folded down in the combination living room and bedroom. Cordelia slept with the window open even after her friends stressed for her to use more caution. The window was easily accessed from the back porch with stairs that led to the street.
So it was not until the late afternoon on that Sunday, December 8, that her two friends really began to worry. They finally grew concerned enough when they couldn’t reach her by 7:30 p.m. They decided to contact another co-worker in the building, Miss Alice Walker. Walker let them in the building and all three women knocked on Cordelia’s door. When they got no answer, they went out the back door that led to the back porch where they noticed that the window to Cordelia’s apartment was wide open. As they peered into the dim lit room, they were horrified to see that their worst fears had been realized. Cordelia was stretched across the bed, dressed in a pink silk nightgown, with her head in a pool of blood.
Police officers, members of the Sheriff’s Department, the coroner Walter Julian and even the State’s Attorney William D. Knight all arrived at the scene. It was the beginning of what would become one of the most intense and baffling investigations ever conducted in Winnebago County.
There was no easy motive determined at the scene. Cordelia was not sexually attacked and she still wore her engagement ring and had other valuables in the apartment that were not taken thus eliminating robbery as a motive.
The murder weapon was a three-foot piece of pipe that was found on the foot of Cordelia’s bed. The pipe that was used in the attack was determined to have come from a box of pipes kept outside a plumbing shop located at the rear of the apartment building. The killer grabbed the pipe, climbed two flights of stairs, raised the window that was left slightly open, and slipped in the apartment where Cordelia was sleeping on her left side. Cordelia had apparently fallen asleep reading a book by the light of the bedside lamp that was still on.
The coroner’s autopsy would show Cordelia had been struck three times with the pipe. One blow above her right eye, the other two blows fell back further by her ear. The autopsy also showed that Cordelia had been killed at least 12 to 13 hours before her body was found. There was no sign that anything else in the apartment had been disturbed. The neighbors were interviewed but stated they heard no noises or saw anything suspicious.
The police worked this case tirelessly. Undaunted by the list of Cordelia’s many friends and associates which led them to not only other states but other countries, they pushed for answers for Cordelia’s family. Her brother came from Belleville to take Cordelia home where she was laid to rest in the Walnut Hill Cemetery.
Police followed many scenarios, including relationships both current and past, and possible stalkers. They even thought for a time that the killer could have been a woman who lost a man to Cordelia. Unfortunately, though they worked several angles and looked into many suspects, Cordelia’s murder was never solved. This murder was revisited by the press and police for decades always with regret that no justice could be found for this young woman who had given so much to her students and her community.
Traveling the backroads in any state is one of my favorite past times and the last trip was no different. I had a long weekend so my partner and I threw a couple of things in a bag and ran out the door. It has long been a dream of mine to travel the entire Mississippi River. Last fall we ventured north through Wisconsin, so last month, we decided to head south on the Iowa side of the river.
We started the journey in Dubuque. We have been to Dubuque several times and visited many of the historic sites. It is a pretty city with a lot of interesting (and haunted!) history. It is a very old town with its origins set in the 1690’s when the French Trader, Nicholas Perrot started to trade with the Native Americans. Dubuque is named for Julian Dubuque, another French Trader, who was granted access to the lead mines by the Mesquakie Indians in the 1780’s. Julian got along well with the Indians and eventually became a great friend of the chief for the Mesquakies tribe, Peosta. A monument to both of these men sits on a cliff above the city. There are tales that Julian eventually married Peosta’s daughter, Potosa. Unfortunately, because of the time period, there is no real way to prove or disprove this claim. Many French traders took Native American women as wives but they usually did not record their union in any way.
I have visited many Native American sites all over the United States and I am always struck by the strong feelings I get while there. In the places where they performed their ceremonies and any they use for burials the land carries a certain presence. It is one of those things that I find hard to describe but instantly know when I feel it.
In the city of Dubuque itself, we visited a couple of historic (and yes, supposedly haunted) places. The first was the Hotel Julian. This very recognizable building was built in 1843 by a wealthy business man, Peter Waples, though the hotel website claims there has been some form of hotel on this same corner since 1839. Because of its height back in the day, this hotel was one of the first business people saw as they entered the city. It still is very easy to spot because of its red Hotel Julian sign.
The hotel was , and still is, known for its great food and luxurious atmosphere right from the start. It housed many famous travelers in its long rich history. Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain and Buffalo Bill Cody all are reported to have slept here. But there are just as many unsavory characters that have walked through the old doors of the hotel. Al Capone is rumored to have stayed here quite frequently during times when Chicago got a little too hot for his comfort. There were underground garages that made it easier to conceal his arrival and departures.
Capone also liked the fact that he could see people coming over the bridge into the city from Illinois. He would eventually take over the entire eighth floor. Eventually, Capone moved his headquarters into the Lexington Hotel down the street. The Lexington was rumored to have many more secret passageways and a vault that Capone used. The Lexington Hotel has now been demolished.
Supposedly, Capone liked his visits here so much that he still makes his presence known from time to time. Staff and guests have reported seeing a man dressed in clothes from the 1920’s and 30’s walking through the halls on the upper floors. Their descriptions are very similar. They all saw a man dressed in a very nice suit and hat. When they pass him they notice he has a prominent scar running down the side of his face. One man commented to his wife as they passed him that the man was really dedicated to looking like AL Capone. When she turned to catch a glimpse of the man, there was no one there.
Other brushes with Al are a little creepier. One young lady that was staying in the hotel had just stepped from the shower. The bathroom was filled with steam so she opened the door to let a little out; as she looked into the bedroom she was frightened by the sight of a man in her room. Her scream must have frightened the spirit because he disappeared right in front of her.
Whether Al Capone still walks the halls of the very luxurious Hotel Julian, it is definitely worth a visit if you ever get the chance.
The Mathias Ham Historical Site is another place to visit whether you are interested in history OR hauntings. The property is amazing. There are other buildings on the property that have been brought to this location. One of them is the oldest building in Iowa, a little log cabin.
Mathias Ham earned his money through the lead mines during the early days of Dubuque’s settling.
Eventually, he would expand into lumber, and shipping. He built what would become his home on a hilltop in 1856 and filled it with luxurious items from that time period. The first part he built was a smaller two story house that barely fit his wife, Zerelda and their five children. In 1856, Mathias’ wife died and he enlarged their home into the beautiful building that is left today.
Mathias built a cupola on top to highlight the breathtaking view of the Mississippi River. That view allowed Mathias to keep an eye on his shipping business. Mathias married again and had two more children with his second wife.
It was during the late 1880’s and the Mississippi River was a busy place. The Port in Dubuque had a huge shipping business. Unfortunately, the city also had some problems with river pirates that would commandeer the ships and steal the cargo. One day Mathias spotted something suspicious taking place on the river and was able to warn the authorities. The pirates were captured in a very public way with the authorities making it known that Mathias was the hero of the hour. The pirates knew exactly who had turned them in and they swore they would take their revenge.
One of Mathias’ daughters, Sarah inherited the home after Mathias and his wife passed away. She had never married and lived in the huge house all alone. Sarah started to hear someone trying to get into her house late and night. This obviously frightened her and she set up a signal with her neighbors. Sarah told them she would as a signal if she needed help.
That was not the only precaution Sarah made. She armed herself as well. One night, she heard someone moving around on the first floor of the home. Sarah placed her lamp in the window and held her weapon in her hands as she waited for help. She grew terrified when she heard heavy footsteps cross the hallway and begin to climb the stairs. The footsteps then came toward her bedroom where Sarah waited, trembling behind the door. She fired twice through the heavy door and the footsteps retreated. Sarah’s neighbors came quickly to her aid. They were horrified to see a blood trail leading up the stairs. Frightened, they called Sarah’s name and rushed up the stairs. After checking to see that she was alright, they followed the blood trail to the river where they found the body of a man. This man was later identified as the same pirate captain that her father had locked up years ago. The captain had just been released from prison and had returned to the Ham house to follow through with his promise to get revenge. The house was turned into museum in 1964.
Though I have researched this story, I have not found any articles about the pirate or a shooting. But the claims of the ghosts continue. There have been balls of light seen going up and down the staircase. Once, the police were called because someone saw a light going up and down the staircase. They thought someone had broken into the museum. The police phoned the head curator who rushed over to the house. When the police entered, they found no one in the home.
This has happened numerous times. Some people claim that it is the old pirate still clinging to his hatred of Mathias Ham and still bent on exacting his revenge.
The third floor is especially uncomfortable. People have said that they feel as though someone is watching them while they are on that floor. As soon as they descend the stairs, the feeling fades.
Electrical issues were a constant problem and there were many nights when the staff would turn out the lights and leave the house. When they would glance back, all of the lights would be on. The staff grew so weary of the lights going back on, they began to unscrew some of the lights. One night an assistant curator was doing that job and suddenly, the pump organ in the parlor began to play. When she screwed the bulb back in, the organ stopped. The amazing thing about this claim is that the pump organ had been broken for years.
People have also heard odd sounds especially close to the staircase to the cupola. Many attribute these sounds to the story that a young man hung himself from those very stairs. Other claims include footsteps, shuffling noises, and a dragging sound in the hallway. The people who believe the shooting story state that it is the sounds of the mortally wounded pirate dragging himself through the house in his attempt to reach safety.
Others claim that old Mathias himself is still there watching over the house and the river that he loved.
There is a unique house located at 1401 Clifton Avenue in Rockford. Built in 1866, it was the home of one of Rockford’s industrial pioneers, William Worth Burson. It is said that he designed several of his inventions in this house, automated knitting machine that he and John Nelson partnered to create.
William Worth Burson’s personal motto was: Integirty, Industry, and Perseverance. These words meant so much to him that they are part of his burial marker at Greenwood Cemetery. William was born in Venago County, Pennsylvania to parents Samuel and Mary Burson. The family moved to Illinois in 1839 settling eventually in Fulton, where Samuel bought some land and became a farmer.
William attended college at Lombard College located in Galesburg, Illinois. William would later boast that not only was he a member of the first class to graduate from the college, he (because his name came towards the beginning of the alphabet), was the first person ever to graduate from Lombard. William also met his future wife there.
William’s background in farming would later be the springboard for his inventing machinery. In the 1850s William worked on improving the designs for rakes and reaping machines securing patents for his ideas in 1856. It was his designs for a binder that would eventually bring William to Rockford. He obtained a patent for a twine binder in 1861 and improved on the design changing it to a wire binder in 1862. William attended reapers trials with this invention in 1862 and received quite a bit of attention. The Chicago Tribune mentioned William saying, “The great feature of the day which never failed to draw a crowd was the grain-binder of W. W. Burson. He had an ovation that must have been gratifying to him.” Ralph Emerson from Rockford met William at these trials and signed a contract with him. William moved to Rockford fulfill the contract.
Emerson supposedly introduced William to John Nelson and they became involved in a partnership to develop an automatic knitting machine. According to Charles A. Church in his Past and Present of Rockford and Winnebago County, Illinois, “and after much tedious labor on the part of both gentlemen a power machine was perfected.”
The men received patents for their designs in the next several years eventually turning their sights toward the issue of creating a machine would knit the socks automatically. They hoped to improve on this design to make it available for the home. In 1871, their machine they designed could knit 80 pairs of socks in one day. Their greatest breakthrough came in 1873 when the parallel row machine was developed. This machine was the real start to Rockford’s knitting industry.
Burson left the partnership in 1878 and once again turned his attention toward harvesting inventions for a while before returning to the knitting industry. William opened his own knitting company, the Burson Knitting Company in 1892 on Cedar Street. William continued to invent machines and was granted an impressive 50 patents by the time of his death in 1913.
Though William Burson and John Nelson were in partnership for the major inventions that helped Rockford’s knitting industry begin, Nelson’s name is more readily remembered. Perhaps it was because the Nelson Knitting Company pursued the famed “Sock Monkey” after creating the Red Heel Sock in 1932 to “help their socks stand out.” According to Laura Furman at the Midway Village and Museum Center, the Nelson Knitting Company learned of the monkey dolls that were being made from the socks in the 1950s and after a long process secured the patent in 1955.