rockford illinois entertainment guide
Date: 10/11/2004
Haunted Rockford
by Gary Hill
With Halloween upon us, many people turn to watching monster movies, and others tell ghost stories. Often times these stories are passed on from generation to generation. Whether there is truth to them is really not for us to guess, but rather we should enjoy the story. When looking at the haunted tradition of Northern Illinois, Chicago's "Resurrection Mary" is probably the first name that comes to mind. That supposed ghost who frequents the neighborhoods near Resurrection Cemetery is truly the stuff of legends. Closer to home there is the Kennedy Hill Road ghost near Byron, whose story in many ways is remarkably similar to that of Resurrection Mary. What many don't realize, though, is that although not nearly so well publicized, Rockford and its surrounding communities have their share of ghostly tales. A little research is all it takes to dig up the old bones of these stories, and some of the graves are still rather fresh. One point to make clear in this story is the following - although in many cases these stories relate people who have gone out looking for ghostly happenings, we in no way recommend such activity. In most cases the areas in question are private property and trespassers could be subject to arrest or worse. So, sit back and read the stories, but please don't try to become an honorary Ghost Buster yourself.

The first place on which we turn our attention is one whose history has recently been completed. The Wagon Wheel Lodge in Rockton, Illinois was built by Walt Williamson of Kelley Williamson fame. What started in the 1930's as a small restaurant alongside his gas station eventually became a resort that was known throughout the Midwest and entire United States. After years of abandonment and multiple fires, the last of the buildings was recently torn down. Although, looking back at many of the stories of the place, one has to wonder if that will be the end. The story has it that the resort was haunted by at least two different ghosts. The first was a bellhop at the resort who disappeared, and the second a guest who was reported to have hung himself in his room. Over the years there were numerous reports of strange sounds, lights and a face in the window. Remarkably, the reports of the face and the light continued far after the building had been closed, when there was no electricity. With that in mind, can just tearing down the buildings stop this haunting? Only time remains to tell.

Before we looking at places inside Rockford, there is one more prevalent ghost tales in the Rockford area that seems to be relived over and over. That one involves an old Cemetery near Belvidere and Cherry Valley known as Bloods Point Cemetery. The cemetery is located in Flora township, 4 1/2 miles south of Belvidere off of Pearl St. Rd. There are many tales of weird happenings at this cemetery and the surrounding area, and some of them bear quite a bit of similarity to one another. One of the more commonly told tales is of a phantom vehicle, either a semi or a car, that will pursue your vehicle if you stop at the cemetery. According to the varied reports it will chase you, at first with no lights, then turn them on. As you speed up, it will match your speed, and then, eventually, simply vanish. Inside the cemetery itself there have been reports of floating balls of light, manifestations of human forms, screams, cries and whispers. The laughing of children have been reported frequently around a shed inside the cemetery. Others have said that children have stood and thrown objects at them, then just disappeared when approached.

The area outside the cemetery is reported to produce a wide range of electrical disturbances from causing cars not to start, shutting off cameras and flashlights, and interfering with virtually any electrical item of which you can think. A couple of other areas near there where mysterious occurrences have been reported are a bridge over a train track on Bloods Point Rd. itself and a stone wall on Sweeney Road, just off of Bloods Point. The story says that there were a group of people who died on the bridge (there are differing reports as to the circumstances) and that if you stop your car there it will not restart. The area by the stone wall supposedly has a lot of trails leading off into the woods and orbs of light are frequently seen down these trails. Looking over these stories it is uncanny how many different people have independently reported very similar occurrences. Does that mean anything as to the validity of the claims, who knows?

Now, looking at Rockford itself, there is one area of the town which seems to have a plethora of reports of ghostly incidents. That area is Rockford College itself. For instance, Adams Arch, the only surviving remnant of the original campus has been plagued with reports of women's laughter late at night. It seems that many of the ghosts at the college are of the theatric variety, though. In fact, there are stories told that the Clark Arts Center is haunted by the ghost of the theater arts professor who designed the building. There are stories of piano music that comes from nowhere, flickering lights and echoing footsteps on the catwalks. In the Maddux Theater some of this becomes even more intense, or so it is said. Apparently screams are sometimes heard, a face has been seen in a mirror and a bell in a prop room sometimes rings on its own. Still, some of the more intriguing hauntings on the campus are elsewhere.

It seems that the manifestation in the Burpee Building may have been identified. Over the years, students and faculty working late at night reported doors slamming shut or shaking violently, footsteps in the hallway and a man's voice. In November of 2003 a man working in the basement of the building saw a reflection of a person in a window. When he turned to see who it was, there was no one there. However, upon turning around all the papers on his desk were blown away, except for one. That was an archival story of a man who had committed suicide in the building.

Another area where the occurrences have been reported very recently is McGaw Hall. Apparently there have been sounds and other manifestations reported on the 5th floor of the building for years, but this August a cheerleading team spent four days at the college, and the 6th and 7th floors. They reported hearing a girl singing while they were taking their showers. Also, although there were no men in the building the entire time they were there (even the maintenance staff was female), they heard a man's voice. They could not find where the voice was coming from or discern what he was saying, but they definitely heard it. Also, the girls staying in room 603 reported that although the room above them, 703 was locked and vacant, they could hear the sound of a chair moving across the floor.

There are other stories throughout the Rockford area, but those are perhaps better for another time. Are these stories truth, total fiction, misinterpretation of events or some combination of the above? This time of year does it really matter? What counts is if they stir those little hairs on the back of the neck. Most of the year that isn't a response we crave, but sometimes, especially around Halloween, it just seems right.
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