Originally published in The Rock River Times.
The Camp Grant Museum and Command Post Restaurant is a treasure trove of interesting history told through actual artifacts of the men and women who served at Camp Grant. It is owned by Stanley and Yolanda Weisensel. They have spent many years scouring the area on a quest to build a memorial to the people who traveled through this area on the way to serve our country in World Wars I and II.
The place is fascinating enough on its own, but the Weisensels are gems themselves. Yolanda is quite a storyteller and has spent many hours researching the whole area that once was Camp Grant.
The building for Camp Grant began in July 1917, and by November of that year, 1,100 buildings had been constructed. It was designed to be a training site for infantry, engineers, machine gunners and artillery, and both enlisted men and officers were trained there.
It was virtually a small city, and even had its own fire department and police force. It also included a base hospital, a photography studio, a movie theater, and a parade ground. It totaled more than 5,000 acres. In its peak time, July of 1918, Camp Grant supported a total of 50,543 officers and enlisted men.
In the fall of 1918, the devastating Spanish flu hit the Rockford area. This was a worldwide epidemic that killed millions. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the United States, and Camp Grant was hit very hard. The first case was reported on Sept. 23, 1918. Three days later, there were more than 700 cases reported, and by the end of the month, more than 4,000 cases were reported.
Not much could be done to help the patients who came down with this dreaded disease. It swept quickly through the camp, and there were some 24-hour periods where more than 100 men died. Within nine days, 1,000 men perished, and within two weeks, the number would swell to more than 2,000 dead. The colonel who was in charge of Camp Grant at the time was so overwhelmed with the loss of his men that he committed suicide.
The camp was re-opened for World War II, and in August 1943, started to house German POWs, most of whom were members of the German Afrika corps or U-Boat sailors. These men were paid to work in the fields and canneries to help ease the shortage of men in the local area. Later, many of these prisoners would claim they were treated very well at the camp. Some of them would actually return to the area to live after the war.
Besides being filled with interesting artifacts, the museum also has many spirits who linger within its walls. The owners and wait staff have had many experiences they cannot explain. They have had items moved around, seen moving balls of light, felt someone touch them, and seen full-bodied apparitions.
Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events