No one can remember how far back the following ghost story goes. Research shows that the story goes back at least until 1926.
The ghost story was about the Administration Offices of Rockford School District 205 located on South Madison Street. It was originally the Rockford High School (also known as the Rockford Central High School). It was definitely not where one would imagine ghosts would linger.
It was built and opened in 1885 as the first school built by the newly founded Rockford School District #205. It served as the Rockford High School from 1885 until 1940 when it was developed into the administrative offices.
The number of students grew beyond its capacity in 1935 so it was once again decided to build two new high schools. There would once again be an East High School and a West High School. East still continues as a high school while West is now a middle school.
The Rockford Central High consisted of two buildings which were connected by a tunnel. There were lockers located in these tunnels and a maintenance office (according to witness stories).
And a shop area where “the male students would use the machines to make certain projects.” The students would use the tunnels to pass between the buildings and attend shop class.
Through the years the tunnels got a reputation for being dark and rat infested. It soon earned the nickname “Rat Alley.” The maintenance men started to talk about the strange happenings along this tunnel and in the lower area.
Lights would flicker and then go off completely, plunging the whole area into darkness. There were also unexplainable sounds. There would be the sounds of doors slamming when no doors were being opened or shut. There was also moaning and the sounds of someone choking.
And perhaps the scariest of all, shadows would be seen here. One story claimed that a maintenance worker was in the tunnel late. Everyone else had left the school, or so the man thought. But he heard sounds coming from the end of the tunnel. He shone his light into the darkness and saw a shadow form of a man. He called out to ask who was there but got no answer.
He thought that the shadow might be something playing tricks with his eyes so he walked closer. He could see the shadow quite clearly then and realized there was nothing in that location that would make the human-like shadow on the wall.
He was walking closer when suddenly the shadow suddenly moved and darted around the corner into the darkness. This time the man didn’t follow it. It really startled him and he decided to go back towards the lighted area. As he turned his back to that part of the tunnel, he heard a young man’s voice call out something to him from the darkness. He couldn’t make out the words. “ I just felt the need to get out of there.”
The legend part of the story stated that someone had drowned in the pool area in the past and people felt that either the boy didn’t know he was dead or he was angry that no one helped him.
There are many times when the specifics to a legend can’t stand up under the research. This story was different.
Gosta and his twin brother Folke Anderson, immigrated to America from Sweden in 1924. It seemed like an omen to the two boys that they arrived on July 4. They traveled to Rockford from New York. The two boys were sent to live with their uncle, Carl Anderson and their aunt Anna.
Gosta was enrolled at the Rockford High School in February transferring from Brown School. On March 3, 1925 during his gym class, Gosta would be killed in a tragic accident. Though there were at least 10 other boys in the pool, no one saw Gosta jump into the pool and strike his head. No one saw as his body sank to the bottom of the pool. It would be 43 minutes before a student that was on the swim team, T. Horral noticed Gosta’s body on the bottom of the pool. Horral shouted to his Coach Tom Poole and then dove in and brought Gosta’s body to the surface.
Police were immediately called and they worked on the boy for almost two hours as the boys from the gym class helplessly watched. At first, they didn’t know the identity of the boy who they tried to revive. They found his identification in the locker room and his twin brother, Folke was the first to identify the Gosta’s body. Two coaches Beyer and Poole joined Officers Addington and Conklin as they worked on the boy.
But their efforts were in vain. Gosta was pronounced dead by Coroner Fred C. Olson. The police and School Administrators questioned the boys that had come into the pool area during the time that Gosta’s body must have been in the pool. Some of the boys remembered seeing Gosta on the diving board and watched as he went off the diving board backward.
There were no signs that Gosta was in any trouble after his dive. The students and coaches all stated that they didn’t see any thrashing or signs that anyone was in trouble. In the end, there were no clear answers to Gosta’s death.
This case caused a huge controversary about whether there was any negligence by the coaches or the other students. Mayor J. Henry Hallstrom called for an inquest and swore that if there was any sign of negligence that coach would be fired. The autopsy showed that Gosta had a bruise on his forehead and no water in his lungs. At the end of the inquest, there was no proof that the coaches showed any negligence in Gosta’s death.
Gosta’s body was released to his aunt and uncle. They took him to the Scandinavian Cemetery for burial and that should have been the end of the story.
But shortly after Gosta’s death the stories begin to circulate that students and maintenance workers were seeing and hearing things in the tunnels below the Rockford High School. Some theories about paranormal activity include the belief that if a person dies suddenly and unexpectedly, that they might not realize that they are dead. There is also the belief that maybe if some part of Gosta was aware of what was happening, that he might have thought someone would help him. And then as no one came to help, Gosta might have grown confused and then angry that no one came to save him.
The Rockford High School was torn down and a parking lot now exists where the building once stood. Only more investigation will tell if Gosta still continues to haunt the area where he died.
Copyright © 2023 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events