The Tragedy Of The Knight Family

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.

The Knight Family

The Knight family was like a lot of people in Rockford in 1927. They moved here to get a fresh start.  Rockford had a great reputation for job opportunities across the country and drew many people here. 

Isaac Knight was 43 years old in 1927 and desperately needed a new beginning.  His family had lived in the Red Boiling Springs Tennessee area for years. Isaac had run into some trouble and spent some time in prison. After he finished serving his sentence Isaac wanted to leave the past and Tennessee far behind them.

Isaac came to Rockford in December of 1926 and secured a job as a salesman at the L.B. Price Mercantile store.  Isaac’s wife Myrtie and their five children joined him in the beginning of January. Everyone was settling nicely into their home on Elm Street.  On January 23, 1927 Isaac decided to take the family on a Sunday drive to visit some of the sights of their new city. They just finished touring Black Hawk Park along 15th Avenue and Black Hawk Park Road.

Black Hawk Park of 1927 was very different than it is today.  It had a beautiful pavilion that overlooked the Rock River and a zoo was there for a time.  

Mattison Machine

The family left the park and was driving east on Blackhawk Park Avenue.  The car was approaching the Mattison Machine works factory and the train crossing there. The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul passenger train was traveling through Rockford due at the station at 5:00 p.m.  It consisted of an engine, a tender and two passenger coaches. Sam Boldock who worked at the Mattison Machine Company was a witness to what happened that day. 

Sam was leaving the factory and saw one car rush over the tracks. The next vehicle was not so fortunate. According to Boldock’s statement, he believed that Isaac Knight had no idea that the train was so close.

The train hit Isaac’s vehicle right in the center.  The automobile was thrown to the right toward the factory. Boldock heard the sounds of the metal crushing metal and the screams of the victims as the car was pushed 60 feet down the tracks.  He also heard the eerie silence when the train and the wreckage finally came to a stop.

Boldock joined the men from the train as they rushed forward to search for the victims.

They found six of the family members and quickly loaded them into two ambulances.  One of the little girls, Nellie was only four years old. A policeman, John Anderson cradled her in his arms during the trip to Swedish American.  He was devastated as he witnessed her take her last breath.

Physicians and nurses were put on alert at the hospital and had prepared for the large number of casualties.  Unfortunately, there was not a lot that could be done for some of the family members. Myrtie, listed as 32 years old, five year old Zola and Nellie were all pronounced dead when they arrived at the hospital.  

When the crew members returned to the train they were horrified to see a young girl laying on the cattle guard in the front of the engine.  Thirteen year old Zella Knight was carefully lifted from the engine. She fainted when the men lifted her. She was placed on the train and taken to the nearest depot.  She was rushed to Rockford Hospital away from the other members of her family.

Back at Swedish American the rest of the Knight family was slowing losing their fight to survive.  Elease, 11 years old died a few hours after her arrival. Isaac and 8 year old Clinton were unconscious and barely clinging to life.  

Zella appeared to be the least injured of her family.  She suffered from a broken hip and pelvic bone and numerous cuts to her body and face.  Somehow she was thrown from the car and up onto the train keeping her from the most of the damage during the crushing of the car. 

Isaac and Clinton died early the next morning just hours apart.  All of the family members except Zella had suffered skull fractures and other broken bones. Coroner Fred C. Olson had the deceased family members taken to his undertaking rooms.


Olson would conduct an inquest into the accident.  Several of the men who had helped gather the victims immediately after the crash testified for the proceedings.  Many of them broke down on the stand and could only answer the questions by nodding or shaking their head. They indicated that the train had blown the whistle but that the line of sight was blocked by the Mattison factory.  They mentioned close calls with other vehicles in that same spot. 

Zella was able to tell authorities about where her extended family could be found.  Isaac had a brother Cecil who lived in Decatur, Michigan. Cecil had followed in his father’s footsteps and was a minister of a church in Michigan.  He and his wife traveled to Rockford to attend the inquest. Fred C. Olson worked as a liaison between the family and representatives of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul line.  

The local newspapers continued to tell the Knight’s family story over several weeks.  They told of Zella’s recovery and of her fears of being left an orphan. The papers also told of the support from the folks of Rockford.  The offers came from all over the city and included assisting with medical bills, funeral expenses and even offers of adoption for Zella. Her hospital room soon became full of flowers, fruit baskets, home-made cards from local school children and donations. The offerings of all kinds of support touched Cecil and his wife greatly.  They were stunned by the generosity and care offered by these townspeople who didn’t even know Isaac and Myrtie. 

Fred C. Olson helped arrange the funeral and burial of the Knight family at Willwood Burial Park.  He also arranged for the payment of all of the funeral expenses through the railroad company.


The funeral was attended by hundreds though the family had only been in the area a short while.  The sight of the four small caskets of the children next to the larger ones of the parents touched the hearts of all who attended the proceedings.  The family was laid to rest in one large grave in the quiet little cemetery.  

Reverend Cecil also filed a claim against the railroad company for damages for each victim.  The case would be settled later that same year for $6,000 to be used in the support of Zella. 

The Rockford community helped in other ways, too.  When Zella healed enough to leave the hospital the family of Reverend and Mrs. B. E. Allen offered to let her stay with them until she was well enough to make the journey to her new home in Michigan. Her Uncle Cecil and his wife had no children of their own and promised to care for the girl as their own.   

Before they left Rockford for the last time, they expressed their appreciation for all of the caring support that folks here had given them.  They stated that they would never forget the people here who offered all they could to assist Zella and them through the monumental loss they had suffered.  

It was a proud moment in Rockford’s history that would become a tradition of caring for those who need it the most.


Copyright © 2020 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events


Loss Of Lillie

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Lillie Olson2

Grief affects all of us differently.  It can rob some of us of the very spark to live while others use it to propel themselves to reach out and comfort others.  Some, like the family in this story turn it into a family commitment.

Lillian Olson Anderson was born in Rockford and seemed to live a charmed life.  Her father, Nels had come from Sweden and settled in the New Milford area to begin his life as a farmer.  But fate intervened when another Swedish immigrant known as Ugarf invited Nels into the funeral home business.  Nels expanded the business to form the Rockford Furniture and Undertaking Company on Seventh Street in 1888. It was the beginning of five generations (so far) of his family serving the Rockford Community.

The Olson family grew to include seven successful children.  One daughter, Lillian or Lillie as her family called her,was born in 1890.  She would later be described as a beautiful, intelligent girl with brown hair and big blue eyes.  Lillie was described as being a favorite among her friends known for a kind heart and a positive attitude.  Lillie, along with her parents and siblings, felt it was their duty to help those less fortunate than themselves.  She even volunteered to help care for those who became ill with the Spanish Influenza during 1918.  

No one was surprised when the delightful young woman married the successful Bert Anderson in 1918.  The couple rented an apartment on Charles Street. Bert sold suits to business men and Lillie continued her work in the community. The future looked very bright for the hard working couple. But that all would change in December of 1921.  

No one was sure what happened but they soon noticed that Lillie’s whole personality changed. She became easily frightened and confused.  Lillie would wander the streets for hours before finally making her way back to the apartment on Charles Street. By the end of the year, she had suffered what was then called a nervous breakdown.  She would cry uncontrollably and suffered from horrible dizzy spells. Her family was devastated but as was their custom, they rallied behind the young woman. They took turns caring for her and hired women to sit with her when they could not be there..  

But, unfortunately, Lillie used her charm and her intelligence to sway those women to allow her to step outside unaccompanied for “just a breath of fresh air”.  She would use these unattended moments to steal away from the house on Charles Street and would be gone for hours. The family would search for her for hours at a time.  Many times, the family found her sitting on the bank by the river watching it flow past. 

Neighbors and friends knew of Lillie’s condition and would call if they spotted her and her older brother Fred would race to the location to bring her back to the house. The family’s fears grew as the winter months turned to spring and Lillie’s wanderings increased.

Fred had followed his father into the funeral business in 1910.  He went a step further when he decided to serve as the Winnebago County Coroner from 1920-1928, one of the most turbulent times in Rockford due to gang activity during Prohibition.  Fred had gained a reputation for really caring for the dead and reaching out to the families.

On April 14, Lillie’s mother, Selma called the house and suggested that she and Lillie take a walk in the spring air.  Lillie was excited and told the young woman sitting with her that day that she wanted to meet her mother and not to worry if they returned later than her husband.  “Just remind Bert that I have that errand we discussed.” Lillie stated as she grabbed her coat and rushed out the door. 

The girl thought all was well until Selma Olson showed up at the door a few minutes later asking for her daughter.  The search started almost immediately. Mrs. Olson alerted the family and they spread to look for her. Friends joined the search and then others showed up at the door. Strangers, friends and former clients came to help.  They spread throughout Rockford first and then outward to the county. Eventually the search would spread nation-wide. Two of the Olson girls had moved to California when they married. There was hope that Lillie might go to visit them.

Nels and Selma were devastated by their daughter’s disappearance.  Fred and his siblings followed every reported sighting. Henry Baldwin was the Winnebago County Sheriff at the time.  He suggested the family contact a local psychic in the Dekalb area that had assisted in other missing person cases. The family sent a representative for a meeting with the woman.  She told them she could see brown hair floating in the water. The search was expanded down the Rock River south to Grand Detour.

One week after Lilli’s disappearance her mother entered her daughter’s bedroom and noticed the girl’s Bible on the stand next to the bed.  Hoping to find some words of comfort, Selma opened the book. There on the inside cover Lillie had written a line from John 14: “I go to prepare a place for you” and addressed it “Father and Mother”.  Selma stated later that she knew that she would never see her daughter again.

On May 4, 1922, a local farmer, John Moore was approaching his field west of Roscoe by a big bend in the river.  He saw something swirling in the water about twenty feet from the shore. He said it took him a few minutes to realize that it was a body floating there.  He and another man brought the body to the shore.

One doesn’t even want to imagine what it must have been like for Fred Olson as he and the sheriff made their way to Rockton.  Unfortunately, they had made similar trips in the weeks prior to this sighting. Previously it always had been someone else’s sister that was pulled from the water.

But not this particular time.  Fred recognized his sister’s clothing right away.  He also identified the wedding band that she still wore.  The initials carved on the inside of the gold band confirmed that this time they had found Lillie.

Fred C.Olson handled death on a daily basis for years by this point.  He had comforted many family members through their loss of loved ones.  This time it was his grief that overwhelmed him and he sank to his knees.  The men who had accompanied Fred to that field stepped forward to do for Fred what he had done for countless others.  They brought Lillie’s body home for him. They also stayed by his side as he told his distraught parents the news that would break their hearts.

Lillie’s body was badly decomposed and the medical examiner declared that he believed that the young woman died the day she went missing. Later her pocket book was found on a bridge that crossed the river. Lillie’s doctor testified that she had likely suffered a dizzy spell as she attempted to cross the bridge.  Her death was ruled an accident.  

The family gathered together to say goodbye to the beautiful young woman.  She was laid to rest at Scandinavian Cemetery.

The Olson family continues their legacy of serving the Rockford Community even today.  They have helped many families through the grief process in their five generations of service.  Perhaps it brings comfort to the families they serve to know that the Olson’s family has known the heartbreak of burying family members taken much too soon.


Copyright © 2020 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events


Originally published on Rockford Buzz.


Alice and Clemen Schneider were at first confused by the phone call from their daughter, Terry. Terry called to tell them that her sister Rae Ann, called Birdie by everyone, hadn’t shown up to Terry’s house for the Christmas holiday.

The couple had left their home in what was then known as North Park (now the Machesney Park area) to spend the 1972 Christmas holiday with Clemen’s father in North Dakota. Two of their daughters, Terry and Birdie lived in the Bloomington, Illinois area.

Birdie joined Terry and her husband in Bloomington in August of 1972. She was excited to have a fresh start in a new place. She graduated from Harlem High School in 1971. Birdie was painfully shy and hadn’t made a lot of friends in school. She was diagnosed with epilepsy and that kept her from being outgoing and approachable. Though she hadn’t had a seizure in a while, it was always in the back of her mind. It kept her from doing so many things that other young people her age took for granted. She had never had a job before and couldn’t get a driver’s license. It also kept her from being open to relationships, especially with men. It felt like everyone in North Park and possibly all of Rockford knew about her seizures. Bloomington-Normal was an exciting college town where no one knew anything about her or her seizures.

At first, Birdie stayed with her sister’s family but by September she had found an apartment and two room- mates. Birdie also got a job. She worked as a waitress at a Steak and Shake restaurant. Her room-mates and co-workers would later say they didn’t know very much about Birdie, just that she was very quiet and a home body.

Her maternal grandmother Beryl came to visit toward the middle of December 1972. Terry, Birdie and Beryl went Christmas shopping, cooked together, and laughed as they wrapped the presents they bought. Beryl tried to convince Birdie to return to Rockford with her for the holiday. But Birdie was adamant that she was the new girl at work and had to cover the holiday hours. Terry assured Beryl that Birdie would be with her family for the holiday. Beryl couldn’t know that this would be the last time she would ever see Birdie alive.

One of the things Birdie liked about her apartment was that it was really close to work. It was about a mile away and most days she could walk it in less than 20 minutes. When she got the job at the end of the summer it was still light out at 5:00 p.m. when her shift ended. But by winter, it was dark by the time Birdie left the restaurant. Her co-workers watched her push open the door and step out into the dark on December 22, 1972. It would be the last time anyone would see Rae Ann Schneider alive.

Her room-mates started to worry about her when she hadn’t returned that night. They knew that she didn’t know many people. She had met a couple of young men but neither of them could be considered a boyfriend. They also knew that Birdie would not leave for a long period without her seizure medicine. The room-mates decided to call her sister.

Police during this time period usually waited 48 to 72 hours before even taking a missing person report, especially in a college town like Bloomington. But the fact that Birdie was on medicine put them on alert. Lt. Kenneth Morgan was put in charge of her case. When Birdie hadn’t contacted anyone by Christmas day, Morgan said he grew fearful. Another girl, Marie Burchie, had gone missing from the area back in April and was found buried in a shallow grave. Birdie’s family tried to hold onto hope. Her grandma Beryl offered a $1,000.00 reward for her safe return or information leading to the arrest of the person who took her.

They would have no answers for nine long months. When another girl went missing in the area in May 1973, Birdie’s parents were resigned to the fact that their daughter would not return home to them. They wouldn’t know the truth until the beginning of August 1973.

The case blew wide open when Jesse Donald Sumner was arrested in July 1973. He had beaten his third wife when she confronted him about molesting his step-daughter. After Sumner’s arrest, the wife had some information for the police. The wife told of Sumner’s involvement in the cases of the missing girls. When the police confronted Sumner with his wife’s allegations, he decided to confess. He led the authorities to two more graves. One was a shallow grave on the road south of Stanford on Old Danvers Road. It was where he took Dawn Huwe when he kidnapped her in May 1973. She had been hit on the head and buried alongside the road.

The other grave held Birdie’s body. She was buried in Sumner’s garage under the dirt floor. She had been beaten on the front of her head by a blunt object. On her finger the authorities found her class ring with the Harlem Huskies 1971 insignia on the side. Police theorized that Sumner buried Birdie in the garage because the ground was too frozen in December when she was kidnapped.

Jesse Donald Sumner was tried first for the April 1972 murder of 20 year old Marie Burchie. She, like Dawn Huwe was a student at Illinois State University. Sumner was found guilty and sentenced to 50 to 100 years for the murder of Marie.

Sumner was put on trial for Dawn and Birdie’s murders in October of 1974. Before handing down the sentence Circuit Judge Calvin Stone read a statement, “Cruel, bizarre, unmerciful, despicable are all understatements for this man.” He also stated that he didn’t believe that Sumner could ever be rehabilitated and sentenced Sumner to 100 to 200 years in prison. Judge Stone said he hoped that Sumner would never walk free again.

Judge Stone would get his wish. Sumner died in Joliet Prison in 2005 at the age of 68. He is buried in his family’s plot in Stanford, Illinois.

Birdie was brought back home and buried in Sunset Memorial Gardens. Her parents were laid to rest near her when they died a few months apart in 2011.



Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

A Haunting On School Street

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.

Some people say that they don’t sense ghosts. But there are some who claim to know just by walking into a house that there are spirits lingering there. The family that moved into a house on the corner of School Street and Central Avenue knew almost immediately that they had some unseen presence in their new home.

The house was around one hundred years old when the couple moved in with their six children. It was moving day and the young wife was cleaning the house with her sister. The previous tenants had left some old furniture in several rooms. The front room had an old arm chair that had seen better days. The women moved the chair into a hall way so they could wash the floors. They moved on to another room to start the next cleaning project. Later when they returned to the front room, the chair was back in the original spot.

The women said they knew from that moment on that something was not quite right about the house. In an article written for the Register Star from 1987, the family claimed that though they were startled at times, they were never really scared by their spirit. It was rather unsettling though when they were home all alone and the stereo would turn on and off. They were also frustrated several times when something that they had just set down would be moved to a completely new location. One time the young wife had arrived home and set her keys on the counter. When she went to leave a little while later, the keys were no longer on the counter. She found them several hours later in the basement, a room she hadn’t gone into since she arrived home.

The young family claimed that they thought the ghost was a man who must have had children. He seemed to like to spend time in their youngest child’s room. They had a rocking chair in the room and sometimes it would begin to rock by itself. It made a distinctive sound as the runners moved back and forth on the carpeting. They would often hear their daughter talking to someone though no one happened to be in her room at the time.

The young couple did a little digging into the history of the house and found out that the haunting had started years earlier. They questioned several of the previous owners about their experiences in the home. It was soon clear that these strange encounters had gone on for decades.

Most of the stories were similar, footsteps coming down the stairs, things moved from place to place including heavy pieces of furniture. One family that had lived in the home during the early 1970’s had trouble with their attic light going on by itself. Apparently, the father thought his sons were trying to play tricks on him. He decided to end their fun by removing the light bulbs from the sockets. No one laughed when they came home late one night to see the light shining in the attic. The dad marched the boys right up those stairs all the way to the attic. They ran down quickly when they realized the light sockets were still empty.

One elderly lady that lived in the house in the late 1960’s claimed that she too was visited by the spirit. She would often hear the heavy footsteps walking on the second floor. They always seemed to stop by the front bedroom. One day she was alone in the house and heard the footsteps walking across the hallway to the front bedroom. She went up to find the room completely empty. She sat down on the bed for a while. She had decided that she imagined the whole thing and was just about to get up when she felt a presence sit down on the bed next to her. She said she saw the bed move like a large adult had sat down.

The older lady had questions of her after that incident. She found out from the neighbors that a family built the house in the 1890’s and generations of the same family lived in the house. The elderly woman always felt that the ghost was the head of one of those generations. She felt he looked after the families that stayed there.

The young couple that purchased the house in the 1980’s felt the same protective spirit. They soon got used to items moving around and sound of footsteps walking through the fourteen room house. The young wife even named him Henry. She decided to leave the armchair in the front room just where Henry liked it.

Research into the house on School Street proved that some of the history was true. The house was built around 1893 by Julia Ginders. Julia and her husband Joseph had arrived in Rockford around 1878. Joseph passed away and Julia built the large house on School Street for her daughters. Mary S. and Fannie lived in the house on School Street with their mother until her death in 1904. Mary would marry Harry B. Andrews in 1892 in the home on School Street. The newspaper articles describe a very fancy wedding for the young couple.


The couple stayed in the home after the wedding and eventually would raise their two children there. Harry would become a prominent lawyer in Rockford and open his own firm in the Brown Building downtown. Later his son Charles would join him in the firm. The Andrews family was well known on the West Side of Rockford and Harry donated a large parcel of land to build a park in his father’s name. Andrews Park still exists a few blocks up from the house on School Street.

Harry Andrews died in the house on School Street on August 5, 1941. Mary lived in the home until the time of her death in 1961. She left her children an estate worth $170,000 when she passed away. Harry and Mary’s children built successful lives of their own and moved out of the house on School Street. Mae never married and Charles became a lawyer like his father. Harry would be proud to know that Charles’ daughter also became a lawyer.


Though there would be no way to prove that the spirit felt in the house located on School Street is Harry Andrews, the home owners certainly felt that they knew who they shared their house with. Harry was proud of his family’s legacy to Rockford. He also was proud of being a protector for his family and maybe he still watches over those who live in the big house he once called home.



Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Thomas And Judith Middleton

Originally published in The Rock River Times.

Anyone reading Ralph Middleton’s obituary printed in the Register Star on July 30, 1998 would have been impressed by his life. The article mentioned his 62 years of employment at Ingersoll and that he served in the National Guard. Ralph was also voted Rockford’s Father of the Year in 1950. By all accounts, Ralph led a successful life filled with many accomplishments.

But it is what wasn’t written in his obituary that makes Ralph Middleton truly astonishing. Ralph suffered a personal tragedy that would have crippled most people. The fact that he went through this dark period and continued his success is nothing less than inspirational.

In the mid 1950’s Ralph lived on the west side of Rockford with his wife Dorothy. Ralph worked as a field supervisor at Ingersoll Milling Machine. Dorothy, who had been a dedicated teacher to children with cognitive and mobility issues, stayed at home to care for their three children. The oldest, Richard was enrolled in Harvard University working on a degree in Biology. Thomas who was 18 in 1956, recently graduated from West High School. Their only daughter, Judith was 12 years old and enrolled at Roosevelt Junior High School. Neighbors would later speak of the close bond that was evident between the family members.

Thomas Middleton
Thomas Middleton

Ralph’s life wasn’t perfect, of course. There were some bumps in the marriage, typical things that all young couples face. But as the years passed, different troubles appeared. Dorothy would sometimes be overcome with depression. She became confused in her thoughts and on really bad days would speak of harming herself. Luckily, Dorothy’s parents and siblings were close and helped with the the children. Eventually, Ralph had no choice but to admit Dorothy into a mental health facility for a few weeks.

Dorothy suffered another spell several years later. Ralph must have felt helpless as he watched his wife fall into utter despair. When he returned home from work one day to find Dorothy with her head submerged in the bathtub, he once again committed her.

These incidences had taken place years before and the summer of 1956 promised wonderful things. Richard was a junior at Harvard and made high marks in all of his classes. Thomas had taken a competitive examination for the Air Force Academy and was accepted. Judith showed all the signs of being as brilliant as her brothers.

Judith Middleton
Judith Middleton

But by the beginning of September there were clouds forming on the horizon that threatened the Middleton family. Thomas had decided to take leave from the academy to think about his future. Ralph and Dorothy wanted Thomas to return to the academy but he held firm and made the decision to enroll in the University of Wisconsin at Madison instead. He was interested in becoming a dentist and Madison had an excellent program.

Ralph was obviously disappointed but wanted to show his support for his son. Dorothy on the other hand, began to think that there was something lacking in Thomas. Ralph pointed out all of Thomas’ successes during high school. Thomas was a star athlete, made the honor roll consistently, was inducted to the National Honor Society, and had passed the very tough exam required to be accepted into the Air Force Academy.

Dorothy spoke with Ralph and her sisters about the negative effect she was having on her children. They were quick to deny that claim and tried to reassure her that was not the case. Dorothy’s sisters grew very concerned. They pleaded with Ralph to return Dorothy to the mental facility that had helped in the past. They offered to take Judith until Dorothy recovered. But Ralph was certain that his wife would eventually support Thomas’ decision.

Ralph woke up on Saturday, October 13, 1956 feeling hopeful that Dorothy would change her mind. Dorothy seemed in good spirits that morning and got up early to make Ralph breakfast before he left for work. They drank coffee and discussed the plans for the day. Ralph mentioned that he was only working a half day and should be home by noon. Dorothy seemed happy as she kissed him goodbye. Ralph would later state that he had no warning of what was to come.
Ralph arrived home after noon to find a note addressed to him on the kitchen table. His hands were shaking as he tore open the letter. The letter started with the words, “I just couldn’t take it anymore.”

Ralph dropped the letter and raced to the master bedroom. He was stunned to see the rifle that he used for target practice placed on the bed. The gun had obviously been fired. Ralph raced to Thomas’s room where it took a moment to understand what lay before him. There was blood on the pillow and a hole in Thomas’ temple.

Terrified now, Ralph raced into Judith’s room. There was more blood and Ralph realized that Judith had also been shot. Ralph slowly returned to the kitchen. He picked up the phone and dialed the number for the police.
Detectives arrived quickly along with the Coroner Sundberg and States Attorney Canfield. When they questioned Ralph about Dorothy’s location, he stated that he did not know. They decided to check the house and went to the basement with Ralph following behind. They found Dorothy on the floor in the basement. She was curled into a fetal position and gasping for air. They later found evidence that Dorothy had ingested a solution of lye and carbolic acid after shooting the children.

Dorothy was rushed to the hospital as Ralph tried to answer the detectives many questions. Though Dorothy had extensive burns to her mouth, trachea and esophagus, she survived. She was placed under arrest for the murder of Thomas and Judith as soon as she regained consciousness.

Richard came home to assist his father in securing counsel for his mother. The defense attorney believed that they could get a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. The state was just as sure they could prove murder. The trial turned into a battle of the psychiatrists as the state worked to prove that Dorothy knew what she was doing was wrong because she waited until Ralph left for work before killing the children.

While Ralph and Richard dealt with Dorothy’s medical care and arrest, they also had to plan a funeral for Thomas and Judith. The children were laid to rest at Wildwood Burial Park on West State Street. The service was held at St. John’s Evangelical Church. Besides friends and family, the church was filled to capacity with many who were unknown to the family. These strangers came to show support for the family that had suffered so much.


The state decided to try Dorothy for the murder of Judith first. Dorothy, still weakened by the damage inflicted in her suicide attempt, attended the trial in a wheel chair. The jury deliberated for 2 hours and 25 minutes before returning with a guilty plea. The courtroom exploded with emotion as family members broke into tears. Dorothy became distraught and Ralph reached to comfort her. His stoic demeanor cracked a little as reporters rushed to snap photographs of Dorothy in her despair. In an act completely out of character, Ralph lunged for one of the cameramen.

There was no feeling of resolution in this case, even the thought of bringing the family justice gave no comfort. The judge called Ralph to the front of the courtroom after announcing the verdict. He expressed sympathy for Ralph for the tragedy and spoke of how this case had rocked the entire community. The judge explained that though he felt compassion for Ralph and his wife, his job was to speak for the victims. Dorothy was sentenced to 30 years at the Illinois Reformatory for Women in Dwight, Illinois. The family was devastated and filed an appeal immediately.

Dorothy was re-assessed in the prison and quickly transferred to the Kankakee State Mental Hospital on the recommendation of the prison psychiatrist. While incarcerated, Dorothy made several suicide attempts. During one attempt Dorothy damaged her hands which had to be wrapped in gauze. On April 7, 1957, she removed the gauze wrapping from her hands and used them to hang herself. The newspapers carried the news of Dorothy’s death and her funeral. The articles mentioned the pastor offered hope to the family that Dorothy could at last find peace. She was laid to rest near Judith and Thomas.

Ralph continued to fight to have Dorothy’s murder verdict overturned. In May 1957, he filed an appeal to the Supreme Court to grant a Writ of Error. Ralph spoke of the stigma the conviction brought upon his remaining son. The court denied the request.The same church that held all of the funerals for the family hosted a fund raiser to help Richard to continue his studies at Harvard. Richard eventually received a doctoral degree. He moved to New Jersey where he worked in Biology and raised his own family.

Ralph moved forward from this unbelievable tragedy. He remarried and worked at Ingersoll until his retirement in 1988. He continued to honor Dorothy’s memory whenever possible. When Richard got engaged the announcement mentioned both Ralph and Dorothy as parents. His long time commitment to the company he worked for and his service to this community brought Ralph great pride. But Ralph would probably take more pleasure in being remembered for his dedication to his family.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Dead Of Night

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.

Charles from newspaper 2 small

It had been a special night for Grace and Charles Kalb. December 22, 1937 was Charles’ 46th birthday and their wedding anniversary. The couple were married for 24 years by then. They had already celebrated with a fancy party for their friends at the Faust Hotel.

On this night they had taken Charles’ best friend and business partner, Harry Dunn to a night on the town to celebrate. They were almost back to their house where they were going to eat cake with the couple’s two sons, Charles Jr. who was 18 years old and John Robert who was 13. Both of the boys were home for Christmas break and excited to celebrate this special day with their parents. Charles Jr. attended Northwestern University while John went to St. John Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin.

The three adults had been to see a show and were driving down Oxford Street toward their house located on Clinton Avenue. Charles always turned onto Cottage Grove to take the alley in the middle of the block. Their house was on Clinton Avenue but the garage opened toward the alley in the back of the property.

Charles was proud of the things that he had been able to give Grace and the boys. He loved living in a nice, big house and Christmas was one of his favorite times of the year. The house was all decorated for Christmas and looked very festive. Later, the newspapers would emphasize the contrast with the beautifully decorated lights on the house and the dark scene that played out behind it.

Charles slowed down as he made the turn onto Cottage Grove Avenue and Grace mentioned that there was someone behind them. Charles pulled over to let the car pass on the left before he made the turn into the alley. As the car passed Charles’ vehicle the night exploded with gunfire.

Later, a 12 gauge clean bore shot gun shell would be found in the street making it very clear to the police that whoever had fired the gun meant to kill Charles Kalb. The slugs entered the left side of Charles’ face piercing his brain and causing instant death.

The glass from the shattered window flew through the car and caused cuts to Grace’s face and damaged her left eye. She began to scream.
The car with the shooter or shooters pulled slowly away from the scene. The witnesses would say later they heard the purr of its engine as it slowly made its way down the street. The driver didn’t increase his speed; there was no squealing of tires, just a calm drive down the block.

Once the car moved down the block, Harry Dunn jumped from the car, handed Grace the house keys, and sent her for help. He was concerned for his friend and held his head up to help ease his breathing. But Charles would never take another breath. He died there in his car as his wife ran down the alley screaming for help.

By the time the police arrived a huge crowd of people had gathered at the scene. One neighbor who lived behind the Kalb’s on Oxford was George Mulholland. He rushed to Grace’s aid as she approached her back door. He told her that his wife had already called the police and an ambulance. They walked back down the alley both knowing that the ambulance would arrive too late to save Charles.

Grace must have thought about how ironic it was that Charles would die on his birthday. She must have been thinking about how differently their wedding day had ended 24 years earlier when she began the day as Grace Sullivan and ended it as Mrs. Charles Kalb.

Grace mentioned to Mr. Mulholland that she didn’t want the boys to see their father like that. She grew frantic as the time neared for them to arrive home. Mr. Mulholland agreed to intercept the boys and keep them inside the house.

The police arrived quickly. In fact, since the victim was considered high profile, State’s Attorney Robert Nash, Assistant Chief of Police Sheriff Carl Palmgren and the Mayor at the time, Charles E. Brown showed up, as well.

Everyone knew who Charles was, especially law enforcement and politicians. Charles and Grace had lived in Rockford for over 20 years at the time. Charles ran his own business and was the head of the Rockford Dyers and Cleaners business.

But he had made his real money running a bookie business. His office was in the Stewart Square building in downtown Rockford. He held leases for all of the horse race track wires in Rockford and this allowed him to keep all of the other “bookies” away from the downtown area. Rumors have been floating around that some of Kalb’s competitors though he was getting “too big for his own good”. They were upset that he held all of the power to dictate not only where they could open up a shop but also who could run the business.

The former sheriff in town, Sheriff William C. Bell had made things rough for Kalb by raiding his business. But Kalb would cooperate with the authorities and then go right back to business as soon as they left. He was a smart businessman though and the raids were costly.

It was never made clear who approached who but whether Charles made the first move or the Assistant Police Chief Homer Read doesn’t matter. One of them approached the other with a proposition. Charles (along with others in his business) started paying Read an insurance fee. This worked well for all parties until 1934 when the Fire and Police Commissioners brought Read and Charles before a grand jury on charges of bribery. The grand jury indicted both of the men for the charges but the cases were both dropped before they came to trial. Homer Read resigned from the Police Department and Kalb was fined $500.00.
Police grew frustrated very quickly with the investigation into Charles’ murder. Newspapers stated that when they went to question some of his fellow businessmen that they met “an impenetrable wall of silence.” Most of the owners suddenly decided to take family vacations in other states.

City leaders were afraid that Charles’ men would retaliate against whoever had placed the hit on him. They were also afraid of what tactics the lesser men would use as they tried to scramble to the top to gain Charles’ share of the business. Authorities decided to shut down the gambling in Rockford. James Kieley who was president of the Rockford Operator’s Association at the time and represented the legitimate gambling establishments in town, agreed to their demands. All slot machines would be removed from business and clubs by January 1, 1938.

The legitimate gambling places in town had been hoping that the state would pass new licensing ordinances to help stop all of the illegal gambling. The men felt that the new law would also help to stop the illegal shake down by police officers who would take the bribes to look the other way.

In fact, officers discovered an article in Charles’ wallet describing the actions taken in Chicago to hurry the law along. But that decision wouldn’t help Charles or his family.
Grace continued to live in the house on Clinton Avenue. The boys, Charles and John Robert grew into fine men. Charles became an aeronautical engineer, married and moved to California. John Robert became a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force proudly serving his country. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Charles would have been proud of both of them.

Charles Kalb’s murder was never solved. It was a case that had too many suspects and not enough witnesses.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Rockford’s Amazing Sports Legacy

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.


Rockford has been very excited about sports lately. Native Fred Van Vleet has managed to bring Rockford together in a way that nothing has for decades. Though most people have forgotten, Rockford has celebrated a rich heritage of great athletes almost from the very beginning.

The city was a part of the first professional baseball league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players back in 1865. The man making Rockford buzz back then was Cap Anson. Some believe he was the best baseball player of the entire nineteenth century. Cap played  third baseman for Rockford’s Forest City Base Ball Club in 1871. Cap would later be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Another baseball star to play for the home town team was Albert G. Spalding. A.G., as he was called, was born in Byron in 1850. Spalding was a pitcher for the Rockford Forest City Nine, though the newspapers stated that he excelled at all aspects of the game. Spalding left Rockford and made his way to Chicago where he played for the Chicago White Stockings (the team would later become the Chicago Cubs). Legend has it that his pitching was the reason that Chicago won the first ever National League Pennant in 1876. Later Spalding would travel to bring the sport to the world.

In the 1920’s if you were to ask anyone who the best coach in Rockford was chances are they would say “Honk Garret. Prior to moving to Rockford, Honk was a coach at Hyde Park High School in Chicago. He was hired by the Rockford High School Association to coach all of the athletes in football, basketball, baseball, and track. Some of the best athletes in the Midwest were fortunate to be coached by this very talented African American man. He would lead his football team to the state championship in 1909 and 1910.

After he retired from coaching at the high school level, he opened up a gymnasium for amateur boxers in the 300 block of East State Street. He also managed the Olympic Athletic Club (O.A.R.), one of the first of its kind. The newspapers from the 1920’s talk about the events that he arranged, one mentioned that there was a crowd of 400 spectators at the Pioneer Hall for a boxing competition. 

Honk was proud of turning these talented boys into exceptional young men. But the achievement he was most proud of was his own son William.  

William attended Rockford High School and was skilled on the track and the basketball court as well as the football field. Everyone who watched this extraordinary young man was in awe of his speed and great athletic ability. William (according to one newspaper) “won the respect of every man and boy who were his team-mates, companions, and every spectator who ever watched him play.” 

But what made William even more unusual and why he really inspired so many people was the way he handled himself. As an African American, Bill, as he was called by his team-mates, was often the target of insults and foul tactics from players on the opposing team. In fact, there were times when the opposing team refused to even play against him. Bill never let this break his determination to give his very best and he always returned the sneers with his amazing smile. 

When William died of a sudden illness in 1924, he was only 20 years old. His untimely death shocked and saddened many. His funeral was attended by an astonishing 1200 people. The newspapers stated that the crowd was made up of people of all races and walks of life. People who knew or were trained by Honk, those who loved to watch William play sports, young men who had been motivated by him or his father, friends, and complete strangers all gathered to pay their respects for the humble, gifted young man. 

It was said that watching William play was so thrilling that everyone who saw him admired and respected him. Maybe that was his real talent, to play sports so well and with such humility and dignity that it made all who watched him focus on his talent and not his color.

One of Honk Garret’s athletes that became a super star in his own right was Sammy Mandell. During the 1920’s and 30’s Sammy became a household name in Rockford when he won the Lightweight Boxing Champion of the World. Sammy trained with Honk at his boxing ring in down town Rockford. After training, Sammy began his amateur fighting career at Camp Grant and was only 16 years old when he had his first professional fight.  

It was not long before Sammy’s lightning fast footwork and his devastating left hook earned him the nickname of Rockford Flash. Sammy also had something else going for him. Unlike most of the boxers of that time period, he was considered to be very handsome, which earned him the nickname of The Sheik. This name was chosen because of his resemblance to the very popular actor of the day, Rudolph Valentino. 

Another thing that made Sammy Mandell stand out was the fact that even though he reached a place of national recognition, he remained humble and proud of his beginnings. His family came from Sicily in 1906. His mother passed away shortly after the family arrived in Rockford and his oldest sister filled the void left by her mother’s death. After he won his title, Sammy would buy his sister and father their own homes.  

In 1923, before Sammy won the Lightweight Champion title, Rockford held a grand banquet to honor their hometown hero. The Knights of Columbus threw the grand bash at the luxurious Nelson Hotel. 10,000 people lined the streets along the route just to get a glimpse of this hometown boy. The crowd went wild when he flashed his famous grin. 

Sammy won the Lightweight Championship title in 1926 when he was twenty two years old in the first legal fight in Illinois at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. He fought Rocky Kansas. Sammy held the title until 1930 when he lost to Al Singer. 

His signature fight took place in 1924 when he faced Jack Bernstein. Sammy broke his hand in the second round. Bernstein realized that Sammy’s hand was broken and gave him such a horrible beating that most watching were surprised that the fight was not stopped. Those four rounds were agonizing to witness. Those spectators were never sure if Sammy found his bearings or he had been pushed to his limit. But when the bell rang to begin the seventh round, Sammy came out of the corner with one arm hanging uselessly at his side and gave Bernstein the beating of his life. The fight was a draw and Sammy’s reputation was born. 

Sammy would participate in 168 fights that included 28 knockouts and 8 losses. Sammy stayed in Rockford after losing the title and opened a gym with his brother where they trained new boxers. Sammy, Elizabeth and their son Richard moved to Chicago after World War II where he acquired a job as a collector for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. In October 1962, Sammy Mandell was inducted into the Illinois Sports Hall of Fame.   

These men are just a few of the many athletes who have been shining stars for Rockford. Though they have been mostly forgotten, they once stood in the limelight, admired by thousands as they claimed fame for the Forest City through their hard work and determination.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Rosemary Peterson – An Unsolved Murder

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.


The two young girls that lived at 3013 Edelweiss Road in Rockford were getting ready for bed around 11:30 on the night of December 4, 1979. They lived in a duplex that was a mirror image of their neighbor’s place and they heard strange noises coming from the bedroom of the adjoining apartment. The girls would later describe the sounds as “loud thumping” and “muffled screaming”. At first, they were curious but that quickly turned to fear and concern. The girls knew the young couple that lived next door. They noticed that 23-year old Rosemary’s car was parked in her usual place. Rosemary lived in the apartment with her 23 year old fiancé, Willard. The girls noticed that his car was missing from the parking area. They figured that Willard was working late and Rosemary was home by herself.

The two girls were concerned enough to go around to the front of Rosemary’s apartment and knock on the door. They called out to the girl and asked if everything was alright. A man’s voice answered saying,  “Rose and me just had a fight.” The girls assumed that Willard must be home after all and returned to their apartment.

They were even more startled a few minutes later when they heard Rosemary shouting for help and asking them to call the police. The girls didn’t phone the police but raced around to the front of the building. They found the front door unlocked and entered the apartment. What they saw in the bedroom was too horrible for them to comprehend.

Rosemary was on her bed with one arm tied to the bedpost with a neck tie. Part of her clothing had been removed and the girls could see that she had been stabbed numerous times. One hand was almost completely severed from the wrist. A machete and four steak knives were left on the floor. When they arrived, even the seasoned police officers were stunned by the brutality of the attack on Rosemary. The fact that many of them had sisters or daughters the same age as Rose made them even more determined to catch the man who had hurt her.

Rosemary was taken to St. Anthony Hospital where the doctors rushed her into surgery. Though they worked on her for hours and gave her 50 pints of blood, Rosemary died the next evening, without regaining consciousness. The injuries inflicted on the once pretty girl were horrible to see.  Her cause of death was a blow to the head and the massive blood loss she sustained from her injuries.

Everyone who knew Rosemary couldn’t believe that the beautiful and bubbly girl was gone. It was even harder for them to understand the motive for the vicious attack. Since the door showed no signs of forced entry, the police theorized that Rosemary knew her attacker and let them inside. Her friends and family were adamant that Rosemary would not have opened the door to a stranger. 

The police worked diligently to solve this case. The only clues they had were the murder weapons and a pair of blood soaked pair of gloves. Every detective on the force was assigned to work the homicide and by the end of the first week, more than 50 interviews had been conducted. They started the investigation by taking a closer look at her fiancé, Willard.  Willard’s co-workers stated that he had been at work the entire time. The police also spoke to dozens of Rosemary’s co-workers both at her current job and her former one at the Belvidere Chrysler Plant. No one they questioned to could give them any insight into the case. None knew of any motive for someone to hurt the popular young woman.

People in the neighborhood were frightened by the attack and many replaced locks and armed themselves. As police worked their way through the quiet streets in the surrounding area, they noticed other emotions, as well. Some of the neighbors felt guilty that they hadn’t heard the life and death struggle that was taking place mere feet away from where they lived. Other people living in the area were angry that someone had come into their safe neighborhood and attacked one of their own. They spoke of revenge and of bringing the man responsible to justice. 

But that justice would never come. This December will mark the 40th anniversary of the attack on Rosemary Peterson.  Police have spent years working through the theories and rumors. They have followed every lead and talked to hundreds of people. In the beginning, the authorities thought they would solve it quickly. They were sure that someone would talk, whether it was the perpetrator bragging or someone he had told about the vicious attack. 

There was new hope in 1981 when Police Chief Delbert Peterson brought Crime Stoppers to Rockford. Rosemary’s murder was featured along with several others. A reward was offered and a dramatization of the crime was shown on local television stations. No new leads surfaced.

Hope for a solution has all but faded now and as of this writing, no one has been held accountable for the brutal attack on Rosemary Peterson. The newspapers haven’t mention the case in a while but Rosemary’s case is remembered on the Illinois Cold Case Files on Facebook and through the Crimestoppers website at

Anyone with information of Rosemary’s murder is urged to call the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Police Detective Bureau at (815) 319-6400 or Crime Stoppers (815) 963-7867. 


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events


Simon T. Murphy & The Sinking Of The USS Jacob Jones

Originally published on Rockford Buzz.

Note: We’ve just published an update to this story. Click here to read it: Update: The wreck of the USS Jacob Jones has been found.

Simon T. Murphy was just an average guy living in Rockford. He had a good childhood living on the family farm with his four brother and two sisters. His mother, Mary died young and his father, Thomas moved the family to Rockford so they could attend school.

In 1917, Simon was twenty-six years old and working at the Standard Oil Company on Kilburn Avenue. He was popular with his co-workers. They had heated discussions about whether the United States should get involved in the “Great War” as they called it. They all knew what Simon thought about the whole thing, of course. He was very outspoken about joining the battle. No one was surprised when Simon was one of the first men to enlist after war was declared in April 1917.

They weren’t surprised when Simon was assigned to one of the large destroyers, either. Simon, like a lot of people in Rockford had heard about the danger from the German U boats. The stories of the civilians killed on the Lusitania had been told and retold many times since the sinking of the great ship.


Simon was thrilled to be assigned to the USS Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61) as a Fireman Third Class. It was a “submarine hunter”, built especially to chase them down and shoot them out of the water. It must have felt strange to Simon when the Jacob Jones was attached to the port of Queensland, Ireland. Though Simon’s father was born in Wisconsin, his grandfather and grandmother were both from Ireland.

The USS Jacob Jones was one of America’s newest and largest of the Destroyers. She was placed in the care of Commander David Bagley. He spent months patrolling the water, looking for the German submarines and training his men. They would soon earn a reputation as relentless submarine chasers. They also were able to save many lives of sailors whose boats were sunk by the deadly German torpedoes. On July 8, they rescued 44 men from the Valetta, a British steamship; 25 men were saved from the steamship Dafila around July 25 and on October 19, they pulled 305 men from water after the sinking of the auxiliary cruiser Orama.

In early December, the Jacob Jones was on its return trip after escorting a troop convoy to France. The weather was awful with stormy skies that caused choppy seas. It was approaching midnight when a watchman spotted a torpedo heading straight for the Jones. Lt. Stanton Kalk was the officer of the deck at the time and though he tried to alter the ship’s course, it was no use. The torpedo hit the starboard side aft and penetrated a fuel oil tank, causing a devastating explosion. Many of the men below deck were killed immediately by the explosion or drowned as the water rushed into the ship. The ship sank in just eight minutes.

Even more died when the ship’s depth charges spilled from below decks and fell toward the bottom. They had been triggered to go off at certain measurements and new explosions took even more lives as each charge reached their assigned depth.


The sinking happened so fast that no distress calls were sent out and there was no time to release the rescue boats. Several men were able to grab the rafts that set around the deck. Lt. Kalk was able to pull several men onto the rafts and stabilize them as other men grabbed hold. Kalk swam from raft to raft and pulled men aboard and kept the weight even to keep them from capsizing. He would do this until he was too exhausted to cling to a raft himself and his body slipped under the waves.

The German submarine that shot the deadly torpedo was the U-53. In what could only be described as a strange twist of fate, the Commander of the submarine was Kapitan Hans Rose. He had actually visited the United States in 1917 on his submarine and had met Commander Bagley. Kapitan Rose recognized Bagley in his binoculars right before the torpedo hit the ship. Though no one would know until months later, Kapitan Rose radioed Queensland to report the Jacob Jones sunk and give her last location to quicken the rescue ships arrival. He also picked up two men who had been severely wounded. These men heard the radio call and told of it later when they were released after the armistice in November 1918.

German WWI Submarine SM)U-53

Over 110 men served on the USS Jacob Jones before December 6, 1917. Rescue ships were able to save forty six men the next morning when they finally arrived. One does not want to even imagine what those men went through on that horribly cold, dark night. Those that survived were reluctant to talk about it. And those that interviewed them for information were horrified to have to make them relive it.

But as horrific as the stories were, they were also filled with pride. Many of the stories were filled with courageous, selfless acts. One such story told of the men who shared what little dry clothing they had with those who were washed over-board with little clothing to protect them. Others worked to lift the men’s spirit by telling jokes or singing songs. In truth, it was a miracle that any of them were alive when the British ships arrived the next morning.

The forty six men were hauled on board the British ships fed and given medical attention. Some had terrible burns and all of them suffered from hypothermia. The survivors were sent home for a time to heal. The majority of them returned to the sea and continued the fight when the war intensified in the spring of 1918.

Simon was killed over a hundred years ago and he was only one of dozens of men and women from Rockford who have served our country. Memorial Day was set aside as a day of remembrance to those who paid the ultimate sacrifices and their families who lost so much. My hope is that by sharing Simon’s story that you will take a moment to remember him and the others as you gather with your friends and families on Monday, May 27.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events

Preserving Winnebago County’s Early History

Originally published in The Rock River Times.


There has been a definite revival in the interest in this region’s history. There is a renewal of pride in our area, including clean ups of neighborhoods and abandoned places.

One of the abandoned places that received some much needed care is the Long Cemetery on Route 2. It is located not far from the intersection of South Main Street and Illinois Highway 2. It sits back behind houses now and access is limited.

A few years ago, there was not much left to see in the fenced off area. Grass and weeds had overtaken the entire place. Vandals had damaged most of the stones and there were only a couple of broken pieces of markers scattered around. In 1986, the fear of vandals damaging the remaining stones caused the township officials agree to remove them. The markers eventually found a new home at the church yard in Midway Village. It seemed that the little family plot had been forgotten along with any history of the people buried there.

But a recent visit to the little burial place showed that the entire plot has received improvements. A fenced-in area has been added and now contains the remaining grave markers of those who were buried there. The Township officials agreed to bring these back to the area. Research done by Find A Grave members Alva Van Houten and family member John J. Long helped reveal the stories of these long forgotten pioneers.


The cemetery received its name from Richard and Margaret Long who came to this area just a few months after Winnebago County was formed in 1836. Richard purchased 300 acres of federal land to build his farm near the Rock River. He would eventually donate 2 acres for the Long Cemetery.

Though records are scarce the first recorded burial was that of one year old Julia Ann Brentner who died on July 22, 1842. Julia Ann was the daughter of George and Julia Ann Brentner.

According to the book, ”The Pioneers of Winnebago and Boone Counties” George was born in Germany in 1802. At the young age of 13 years-old, George and his brother, John decided to stowaway on a boat headed for America. They landed in Baltimore in 1815. George would later end up in Virginia where he learned the skill of carpentry. While he was in Virginia, he met and married Julia Ann. The couple later moved to Rockford. George and Julia Ann built a house for the family on South Main Street.

Julia Ann was the only Brentner buried in Long Cemetery. According to one source, she had not even been listed with the rest of her family prior to the discovery of her broken tombstone in 2011. Her oldest brother, George, married one of Richard and Mary’s daughters, Phoebe. George and Phoebe left Rockford for Iowa.

George Brentner and one of Richard and Mary’s sons, John Barret Long, would settle in Iowa. They would be called the founders of Mason City, Iowa. The name was probably chosen because John Long was a Master Mason during this time. George’s father and mother would eventually join the families in Mason City.

Another person buried in Long Cemetery was the grand-daughter of Richard and Mary. She was born to their daughter, Margaret, who married Lonson Corey in December 1838. Lonson would also buy land along South Main Street and the area now known as “Corey’s Bluff” was named for him. Margaret’s obituary claimed she was the third white child born in Winnebago County in 1839. She married George Crawford who is also reported to be buried somewhere in Long. Margaret would be the last person buried in Long Cemetery when she passed away in 1907.

July 2019 5

Two more of Richard’s daughters were also buried there with their parents. Mary, whose small tombstone remains at Long, married Joseph Jewell. The couple had two children before Mary died at just 27 years of age in 1849. Joseph then married Mary’s sister, Sarah Barbary Long. Sarah and Joseph would have 4 children of their own before she passed away in 1862 at the age of 36.

As one can imagine, researching the resting place of people who died so long ago can lead to more questions than answers. The next record is a very good example of that. One set of records states that Conrad LaGrange lived in the Rockford area around 1860. In fact, according to the Census records of 1860, Conrad was Joseph and Sarah Jewell’s neighbor. Conrad enlisted in the army in the fall of 186. He was a private in Company G of the 45th Illinois Infantry Unit. He was killed during the battle at Shiloh in Tennessee on April 7, 1862. Some of the records list Conrad’s burial place as Long Cemetery but others state he was buried at the National Cemetery at Shiloh. His wife Ann is buried in Byron, Illinois where she moved after the war to be with her sons. The website Genealogy Trails lists Long Cemetery as also being called Bitner’s Wood Cemetery. It is this site that lists Conrad LaGrange as buried in Long. Genealogy Trails usually lists cemetery information gathered from the stones in the cemetery. Conrad’s actual burial place remains a mystery.

Some people might not be interested in stories such as these. They might not be saddened by the thought of this little abandoned cemetery slipping away and the history lost to time. But there are some of us who do understand the importance of saving and preserving these little pieces of our county’s history.


Copyright © 2019 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events