Originally published in The Rock River Times.
People who knew Clayton lngersoll, or Casey as his friends called him, would describe him as solid and dependable. They also said that Clayton was very patriotic and felt the need to defend his country when the time came.
Many more people knew of Clayton than actually knew him. His father was Winthrop Ingersoll, founder of Ingersoll Milling Machine Company and the family was well known in Rockford. Winthrop and his wife Harriet came to Rockford from Cleveland Ohio in 1891. Winthrop was a mechanical engineer who had already owned a milling machine company in Ohio. He saw an opportunity for growth for his company here in Rockford.
Clayton was born in Rockford on May 5, 1896. He was educated here until he left for Lake Forest Academy in his junior year of High School. He was enrolled in Cornell College when he decided to leave college to answer the call of duty. Clayton secured an appointment to the Fort Sheridan Camp for Officers. He later transferred into an aviation unit. He learned to fly in Toronto Canada before joining the British Royal Flying Squadron. Clayton sailed oversees to France in early 1918 after receiving his first lieutenant’s commission.
His family traveled to New York to see Clayton right before he left for France. They celebrated Clayton’s commission to lieutenant as well as his engagement to Katherine Nelson. She was the daughter of Frithiof F. Nelson, another well- known Rockford businessman. The families lived in the same neighbor of National Avenue and were said to be excited about the joining of their families.
The marriage would never take place, however. On April 26, 1918 Clayton was taking part in a pilot training session in France. He had accomplished the flight and was descending for his landing when tragedy struck. He was around 300 feet above the ground when his plane took a nosedive straight down. There wasn’t enough time to pull the plane from the spiral and it crashed nose first into the ground.
The Ingersoll’s learned of the death of their son in a telegram. Devastated by the news, the family asked that Clayton’s body be sent home to Rockford. They were denied that because of the war and he was buried in a special cemetery in Issoudon, France. Some of Clayton’s friends that were overseas with him were allowed to attend the service. They wrote to the Ingersoll’s and told of the “impressive, full military service” that was held in Clayton’s honor.
Clayton received a Gold Star in a special ceremony held at the Second Congregational Church on September 22, 1918. Many spoke of Clayton’s good character and his willingness to serve his country even though he knew of the great risk involved.
Winthrop and Harriet decided to honor their son’s memory by donating a large sum to the Rockford Park District. The same day that the donations was announced, the Ingersoll’s learned that Clayton’s body had been returned to the United States.
Clayton Ingersoll was finally laid to rest in Greenwood Cemetery on November 20, 1918. It was a private ceremony for family and friends. The pall bearers were all former aviators. They met the train and along with a memorial firing squad unit from the Walter R. Craig American Legion escorted Clayton’s casket to his home and then to Greenwood Cemetery.
Clayton’s parents wanted to honor their son’s memory and because of his family’s position in our community, they chose a way that would benefit Rockford for years to come. His parents donated over $55,000 to Rockford to build a golf course and park on the west side of Rockford and named it after Clayton. It would become a lasting legacy. Though some may not know exactly who Ingersoll Golf Course was named after, one only has to step inside the club house and see Clayton’s picture hanging on the wall to know.
Clayton has been gone for over one hundred years now but the legacy built for our city by those who loved him still continues.
Copyright © 2018 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events