Originally published in The Rock River Times.

The display at Rockford Memorial Hospital
The display at Rockford Memorial Hospital

This is the story of little Freddie Griffin. Freddie was a very energetic 6-year-old who lived in downtown Rockford. Freddie’s family was poor, and they lived in a small house by the river. Mrs. Griffin supported herself and the six children by working as a washer woman for the Spafford family. She was at work the day this story took place.

It was around 3 p.m., Oct. 2, 1883. Freddie was playing not far from his front door with his little friend, George Pitney. That day, they were doing something both of their mothers had warned them never to do: they were playing around the railroad cars. George saw Freddie grab onto the door handle of one of the cars and swing his legs back and forth.

George shouted a warning, but it was too late. George saw Freddie’s hand slip. He said it happened so fast, but at the same time, it seemed to be in slow motion. Freddie fell onto the tracks right in front of a moving car.

George was horrified to see the wheels of the car pass over Freddie’s body, and soon, his own screams joined those of Freddie.

The paper went on to say the “bones of his leg were crushed by the heavy weight of the cars as if they were straws.” The boys’ screams drew the attention of a man who came to see what the source of the disturbance was. He swooped in and picked Freddie up and dashed off with him to Freddie’s house, where he found the door locked. He set the boy on the ground, and ran to summon a doctor.

The story goes on to describe Freddie’s injuries, the details of which are too sickening to repeat here. Suffice to say there was little left of the young boy’s legs and his left arm.

Doctors were finally found, the door was kicked in, and the doctors worked their horrific craft by the light of a small window. They used chloroform to help the young boy tolerate as they probed the mangled flesh. The decision was made that the only way they might be able to save young Freddie’s life would be to amputate. Several doctors “commenced their almost hopeless labors.” They amputated the limbs, leaving stubs about 6 inches long. The surgery was complete in just under an hour. The doctors were impressed with little Freddie’s bravery.

Mrs. Griffin was able to see her boy soon after the surgery was completed. The doctors warned her that the chances of Freddie making it through the evening were very slim. In fact, they were correct. Freddie passed away around 7 p.m. that evening.

The engineer of the train, Delos Mitchell, was questioned at the inquest the following morning and stated he didn’t know he hit a boy. The jury agreed, and found the death of Freddie Griffin accidental.

Freddie’s death was truly horrible, and one does not even want to try to imagine what his family went through, but something good did come from this tragedy. Physicians in the area decided to apply for a charter to open a hospital. They didn’t think it really would have changed the outcome for Freddie, but at least his mother wouldn’t have had to clean the little boy’s blood from the surgery from the floors and table of her home. Because of the doctor’s dedication, the hospital opened in October 1885.

Freddie is remembered with a very nice display at Rockford Memorial Hospital, and his story is also shared by the guides at the Midway Village Museum.


Copyright © 2014 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events