On the morning of August 22, 1908, Ross Foster started his day like he had ended the day before, fishing.  He put out the line around 10p.m on August 21 and went back to check it at daybreak on the 22.  He could not have known that this day would take such an appalling turn.

Mr. Foster was in the Corey’s Bluff area of the Rock Rivera place that he fished often.  He got an early start that morning, it was just around 6:00a.m.  He started to bring the line in and when the line reached about mid- point between the shore and an island there, it snagged something heavy.

Foster pulled the line slowly toward him and to the surface.  One can only imagine his horror as the object came to the surface and he realized it was the body of a child.

Mr. Foster knew immediately who the child was.  The story had been all over Rockford.  He carefully rowed his boat within a few feet of the body and called for assistance.  The men were able to lift the body into the boat and take it to shore.  

It seems that the hook had caught the back of the coat as the “body was being rolled slowly downstream by the current.”  Mr. Foster helped deliver the young boy’s body to the coroner’s office where a verdict of “death by drowning” was decided.

The beginning of this tragic story started two days earlier.  A little 5 year old boy, Earle Morris and his his eleven year old brother, Orley were walking in downtown Rockford, Orley told the jurors at the inquest.   The article gave this description, “Orly appeared to be a manly little fellow or his age and fully capable of taking care of his younger brother under any circumstances except such trying ones as that which resulted in the drowning on Thursday.”

Orley went on to say that the boys crossed over the Nelson Bridge and started to return on the Illinois Central Bridge.  He explained that though this was their first trip together on that bridge, he himself had used it several times to cross. 

They met a man just as they were starting to cross and he told them to hustle across because there was a train due soon.  Orley said that this flustered the younger boy.  The boys both became frightened as they reached the middle of the bridge and saw the train approaching.  At Orley’s instruction, they took seats on a “heavy plank nailed on the outer edge of the bridge ties” to wait out the train.  The boys were facing the track about three feet apart.  Orley was horrified when he saw his little brother fall over backward into the river.  The article mentioned that Orley watched as his brother came up to the surface three times and he was still straining to see him when the trainmen finally reached him.

A follow up article said that an autopsy of little Earle showed a bruise on his forehead that at first was thought to have come from his body hitting a stone in the river.  After conducting several interviews of the eye witnesses, a more plausible scenario presented itself.  These people mentioned that several cars behind the engine was a tool car that had steps that jutted out several inches farther than the other cars.  The engine passed without dislodging the young boy but when the tool car passed it struck Earle in the forehead causing him to fall into the river.

This article was found in the Rockford Morning Star edition for August 25, 1908.  Even though this took place such a long time ago, it doesn’t take much imagination to put oneself in this family’s place as they had to bury one young son and help the other recover from this unbelievable tragedy.

Copyright © 2013 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events