Ramblings and Ruminations: The story of 6-year-old Freddie Griffin

By Kathi Kresol
Organizer of Haunted Rockford Tours and Paranormal events through Rockford Public Library

In poring over the history of Rockford, I have come across stories that have amused me, some that have made me sad, but this story … well, this story horrified me. This is the story of little Freddie Griffin. Freddie was a very energetic 6-year-old who used to live in downtown Rockford.

Freddie’s family was poor, and they lived in a small place described in the newspaper as “a small, dilapidated but hardly larger than a fair-sized dog kennel surrounded by poverty and want.” His mother was a poor woman who had six children — two older boys, described as careless boys who did little more than hang out on the street; two girls who were enrolled in school; and two younger boys, with Freddie being the youngest.

Mrs. Griffin worked for Carrie Spafford as a washer woman. That is where Mrs. Griffin was when our story takes 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, but the adventure was too much to resist: they were playing around the railroad cars.

George saw Freddie grab onto one of the cars. Freddie was holding onto the door handle and swinging his legs under the car. George shouted a warning, but it was too late.

George described how Freddie’s hand slipped. He said it happened so fast, but at the same time it seemed to be in slow motion.

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

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, 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.

The doctors 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. A “Doctor Catlin was assisted by Doctors Kimball, McDowell, Osborne, and Vincent 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 start a hospital. They didn’t think it really would have changed the outcome for Freddie, but at least his mother wouldn’t have to clean the little boy’s blood from the surgery from the floors and table of her home.

As a result of the doctors’ dedication, the hospital opened in October 1885.

Kathi Kresol is the organizer of the Haunted Rockford Tours and Paranormal events through the Rockford Public Library. E-mail her at kkresol@rockfordpubliclibrary.org.

From the Nov. 7-13, 2012, issue

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