Voices from the Grave: One of Rockford’s first written accounts of a ghostly presence
By Kathi Kresol
Local historian, paranormal investigator and operator of Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events
People have always been fascinated by what happens after we die. Thousands of stories have been shared about personal encounters with the “other side.” Rockford newspapers have reported these experiences since the early 1890s.
One of the first written accounts of a personal encounter with a ghostly presence in Rockford occurred in 1891. It seems that rumors were spread about a mysterious, ghostly light that appeared in a downtown church on the corner of South Church and Chestnut streets.
Apparently, people would see this ghostly light making its way through the darkened church. They reported this to the police, thinking that someone had broken in to steal something. Police would check the place thoroughly, only to find no one inside.
This happened so frequently that one officer decided he would solve the mystery. Officer Cavanaugh was a seasoned policeman whose regular patrol area included this particular church. June 3, 1891, he decided the time had come to finally put these rumors to rest. Cavanaugh theorized that someone was playing tricks on the folks of Rockford, and he was going to prove it.
The officer patrolled the church every 15 minutes. Hours passed with no results. Officer Cavanaugh was just about to give up when he looked at the church from his vantage point and saw a small flickering light.
As Cavanaugh rushed to the front door of the church, he also heard the distinct sound of organ music playing. He let himself inside with the key he had obtained. He was able to see his way clearly by the glow of the strange light, but just as he reached the room where it was located, it went out. Suddenly, Cavanaugh was left in complete darkness. He used matches until he found the switch for the lights. Determined to prove his theory, the officer searched every nook and cranny in the entire building and found no trace of anyone.
Cavanaugh decided he needed some assistance and went to find the night policeman, Officer Sullivan. The men returned to the church, and once again, waited for the light to appear. Officer Cavanaugh took the front door and Officer Sullivan went to the back. Cavanaugh entered the church, and just like before, as soon as he gained access to the room where the light was shining, it went out. Better prepared, this time he carried a flashlight.
The music continued as Cavanaugh shone the flashlight beam around the room. When he directed the light toward the pulpit , Cavanaugh saw something “that almost made his blood freeze!”
In the dim light of the now shaking flashlight, Cavanaugh saw a young lady, dressed in what he described as mourning clothes, playing the organ. The brave officer stopped in his tracks. The young lady continued to play as she turned to look at him. As their eyes met, the music stopped, and the woman disappeared.
Cavanaugh, startled, called out to Sullivan to ask if he saw anyone. Sullivan answered that he had not. Cavanaugh turned toward the organ and again saw the young lady sitting on the stool. The sight chilled and saddened him at the same time.
Cavanaugh rushed to the front door to let Sullivan in, and as they entered the room, the music stopped. The young lady had disappeared.
The two officers searched the entire building and found no one inside and no clue of how the woman entered or left the building. They lingered to see if she would repeat her performance, but the woman did not return. Satisfied that they would learn no more, they left the building.
Officers Cavanaugh and Sullivan both claimed that although neither of them believed in spirits, they could find no other explanation for what they heard or saw.
Kathi Kresol is a local historian, paranormal investigator and operator of Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events. Through Haunted Rockford, Kathi gives paranormal and haunted history tours and sponsors other paranormal events in and around Rockford throughout the year. For more of Kathi’s history articles, and for information about upcoming paranormal events, visit www.hauntedrockford.com.
From the April 16-22, 2014, issue