By Michael Kleen
Rockford is a city rich in history, a history that has left behind its share of ghostly tales. While there are many places where visitors whisper about unexplained sounds or disembodied footsteps that echo down the corridor, there are some that are featured prominently in local lore.
If you are interested in checking out some of these places this Halloween, here is a simple tour you can conduct on your own. Be aware, many of the places on this tour are privately owned, so please be respectful and do not trespass. For public places, make sure to observe posted hours.
CherryVale Mall — We begin our tour at the northwest corner of State and Perryville, home of the CherryVale Mall. Opened in 1973, this modern shopping mall seems like an unusual place for ghosts to reside. After shoppers have gone home for the night, however, some employees have felt like they were followed by something unseen. Others reported that retail displays were mysteriously moved around during the night.
Rockford College — Continuing west down State Street, between Mulford and Alpine we find Rockford College. This private college was founded in 1847 as Rockford Female Seminary and changed its name in 1892, but remained a predominately female academy until 1958. In 1964, the campus was moved from its home along the river to its present location along State Street.
Many campus buildings are said to be haunted. The laughter of past students has been heard in the vicinity of Adams Arch, which was constructed using a doorway from the original campus. The ghost of either a student or professor reportedly haunts a former radio station in the Burpee Building. The Clark Arts Center’s two theaters are also visited by their own phantoms, one of whom is supposed to be the ghost of the building’s architect.
Twin Sister’s Woods — Take Alpine south and turn west on Center Terrace to Charles Street. Continue west until you reach 27th Street. Turn right. Follow 27th until you reach Harney Court, then turn left into the parking lot. This is 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. There is a large willow tree near the entrance to the woods. According to some locals, there is an old “hanging tree” with some odd carvings on it deep in the woods, and the ghost of a young girl who allegedly drowned in nearby Keith Creek has been seen ducking around the trees.
East High School — Directly across Charles Street from Twin Sister’s Woods sits Rockford’s oldest high school. The school auditorium is supposedly haunted by the ghost of a former employee named Addy or
Haddy. Addy has been seen on the balcony and has been heard singing when the room is dark and quiet.
Faust Hotel — Take Charles Street all the way to State Street and head west. Just past Fourth Street, you will find the former Faust Hotel. Now an affordable senior housing apartment community, this was once one of Rockford’s most luxurious hotels. Visitors have reported feeling uneasy on the 11th floor, which used to be the ballroom. In the basement, among a darkened and unused bar and bowling alley, janitorial staff report being watched by unseen eyes.
Emma Jones Home — Continue west on State until you reach First Street and turn right. At the southwest corner of First and Prairie sits the Emma Jones Home. Emma Pauline Jones was a Norwegian immigrant who lived at this home (built in 1856) from the 1920s into the 1950s. Her husband Frank was often away on business, and she spent much of her time with her two beloved Dalmatians, Moxie and Channing. After her husband died in 1941, Emma — who was 66 years old — continued to live with her faithful dogs, but after they passed on, she began to descend into loneliness and dementia. She spent her twilight years sitting in a rocking chair, waiting for loved ones who would never return.
Emma finally sold her home and moved in with a relative, where she died in 1964. According to local legend, she returned to her house on North First Street in her afterlife. Owners of the home have reported strange noises, moving furniture
and even seeing the ghost of an elderly woman in the attic windows. One newlywed couple reported that an old woman appeared in their living room and asked what they were doing in her home, then vanished.
Coronado Theatre — Turn around on First and head south to Jefferson Street, then turn right on Jefferson and continue over the bridge across the Rock River. Turn north on Main Street. On your left will be the Coronado Theatre. The Coronado is a historic, 2,400-seat theater. It cost $1.5 million to build and opened Oct. 9, 1927. Some have speculated that the theater was built on an American Indian burial ground because of its proximity to Beattie Park, which contains small Indian mounds from the Upper Mississippian period. The theater was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
According to a local psychic named Mark Dorsett, three ghosts haunt the theater: Willard Van Matre, the Coronado’s original owner (who died in 1953); Miss Kileen, the theater’s first office manager; and Louis St. Pierre, a Bridge enthusiast and the first theater manager. While Van Matre likes to greet visitors at the theater entrance, the scent of lilac perfume is associated with Miss Kileen. Other people have reported feeling “uneasy” on the catwalks, allegedly because they are occupied by the ghosts of men who died during construction of the building.
Tinker Swiss Cottage — Continue on Main Street past the Coronado and turn left on Park Avenue. Take Park west to Winnebago Avenue and turn left. Follow Winnebago south for several miles, cross the railroad tracks, then turn east on Blake Street. Parking for the cottage is available here. Built in 1865 on a bluff just south of downtown Rockford, the Tinker Swiss Cottage took its name from its unique architecture, which was inspired by Robert Hall Tinker’s visit to Europe in 1862. The Tinker family lived at the home until around 1940, when Mrs. Tinker willed it to the Rockford Park District and it became a museum.
In recent years, several paranormal teams investigated the cottage after visitors repeatedly asked the museum curators if it was haunted. During one investigation, a woman’s voice appeared on an audio recorder saying, “I don’t like trains … trains bring death” as a train passed by on the railroad tracks outside. At other times, doors closed with no apparent explanation. Tinker Cottage was recently featured on an episode of the television show Ghost Hunters.
For more information about the haunted places, events and people of Illinois, visit www.trueillinoishaunts.com.
Michael Kleen of Rockford is author of several books, including Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State (2011); Tales of Coles County, Illinois (2010); and Paranormal Illinois (2010). He has spoken about local history and folklore at conventions, libraries, cafés, schools and colleges; and he has presented research papers at the 2007, 2010 and 2011 Conference on Illinois History in Springfield.
From the Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2012, issue