By Michael Kleen
Author and Publisher
Things lurk in the dark recesses of the places we frequent each day, and the Rock River Valley has no shortage of spots that are reported to be haunted. There are roads where ghosts roam, houses occupied by the dead who refuse to leave, and theaters accentuated with phantom perfume, but which one of these places will prove to be the creepiest of them all?
5. Kennedy Hill Road in Byron — Between mid-December 1980 and early January 1981, dozens of people reported seeing a young woman in various stages of dress walking down Kennedy Hill Road outside of Byron. By Jan. 20, 1981, the sightings had reached a fevered pitch. Motorists parked their cars in the frigid temperatures along the narrow rural road to catch a glimpse of what became known as “The Phantom Lady of Kennedy Hill Road.” Newspaper reports reached as far away as Chicago, and the Rockford Register Star ran five consecutive articles about the sightings.
Explanations for the phantom varied from the ghost of a woman who had been buried in a nearby cemetery, to a mentally-disabled girl who ran away from home, to even a transvestite who wore his girlfriend’s clothes after she died in an accident. The phantom disappeared after the snow thawed that spring and was never seen again, but she is not the only ghost that calls this road home. An old white farmhouse near Kennedy Hill Road is also said to be haunted.
4. Nellie Dunton Home in Belvidere — A broken-hearted woman is said to haunt this home overlooking the Kishwaukee River just east of Rockford. Nellie grew up in the small town of Belvidere prior to the Civil War and fell in love with an older man, who promised to marry her after the war. When he failed to return, Nellie refused to fall in love again. She spent the rest of her life in this house. Eventually, she wandered into the river and drowned, some say while wearing her old wedding dress. Her ghost has been seen by residents of this home, as well as by its neighbors.
3. 23rd Avenue in Moline — This otherwise nondescript road is haunted by a very unusual specter. Seen less frequently in recent years, the “Pointing Ghost” is an anonymous phantom woman who appears in Victorian garb along 23rd Avenue in Moline. She has alternatively been accused of inaccurately predicting deaths and criminal convictions, and of even misdirecting an inebriated man to the balcony rather than the restroom. She is called the “Pointing Ghost” because she is always seen with her arm outstretched, pointing at someone or in some direction.
2. Guiteau Home in Freeport — Locally known as the “Saltbox Place,” this unassuming stone house about 17 miles west of Rockford is rumored to have been the boyhood home of President James Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau. Guiteau possessed delusions of grandeur and believed he had been personally responsible for Garfield’s nomination at the 1880 Republican Convention. After President Garfield denied his application for an ambassadorship to France, Guiteau decided that God had told him to assassinate the president. July 2, 1881, he shot Garfield twice in the back. For 11 weeks, the president lay in agony, until he finally died of an infection in September. Guiteau was hanged June 30, 1882.
Charles Guiteau’s remains were never found, and some locals believe his bones were secreted back to Freeport, where they were buried in the basement of the “Saltbox Place.” In fact, neither Charles nor his parents ever owned this house. According to the Freeport Journal-Standard, that distinction belonged to Guiteau’s aunt and uncle. Nevertheless, tenants living in the home after Guiteau’s execution reported an oppressive, dark presence and the smell of sulfur. The house is being renovated after sitting abandoned for a number of years.
1. Twin Sisters Woods in Rockford — Twin Sisters Woods is behind Charles Street in Rockford and is part of Twin Sister Hills Park — 22.44 acres of recreational land complete with two baseball fields and three sled hills. It is a popular winter destination, but some locals claim this park is home to more sinister guests. The woods, they say, has been the scene of several murders, hangings and even a drowning. Feelings of dread, disembodied voices and mysterious figures are just some of the phenomena experienced by visitors.
A large willow tree looms near the entrance to the woods. According to the Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places for Illinois: “If you walk by the willow tree, it is said that you have a strange desire to go into the woods. There is an old hanging tree with some odd carvings on it. A little girl is said to be seen walking around.” The little girl is the ghost of a child who allegedly drowned in nearby Keith Creek.
Are you ready to encounter the unusual? Check out these places and more in Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State. Haunting Illinois contains 200 mystery sites from all over the state, accompanied by 85 individual photos. Divided among eight distinct regions and listed by county, each location features a description, directions and sources drawn from a diverse variety of books and articles. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful state of Illinois.
Michael Kleen of Rockford is author of Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State (2011); Home of the Brave, Part 1: A Rope of Sand (2011); Tales of Coles County, Illinois (2010); Paranormal Illinois (2010); One Voice (2009); Legends and Lore of Illinois: Case Files Volume 1 (2009); and Six Tales of Terror: Short Stories for Dark and Stormy Nights (2005, re-released as a digital book in 2011). Visit http://michaelkleen.com/ for more details.
From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2011, issue