By Kathi Kresol
Local historian, paranormal investigator and operator of Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events
In an article from the Morning Star of Oct. 30, 1898, the paper mentions that true ghost stories are a novelty, and most ghostly claims can be explained by “natural causes.”
The article then goes on to tell of two stories that cannot be so easily explained away. The first story describes a haunting in one of the first houses “to be erected in the city.” Unfortunately, the story does not give the address, stating only that it is located in a “lonely corner by the fairgrounds.” An 1880s map places the fairgrounds at the end of Peach Street (modern-day Jefferson Street), a block west of Horsman Street on Kilburn Avenue. The house was “remote from the street and is surrounded by trees.”
There are no indications that anyone in the 1890s knew of any stories from the history of that house that would suggest that it was haunted. No one knew of any violent deaths or other reasons that it would be “inhabited by ghostly beings.”
But then, a new family moved into the house, and the mother was a sensible woman who was practical and not given over to flights of fancy. But when she moved into this house, everything changed. The woman found herself constantly anxious and would often stand at the window or the door as if she were expecting someone, but she didn’t know who. She had trouble eating and sleeping, and eventually wasted away to a mere “shadow of her former self.”
One moonlit night, she was waiting for her husband to come home when she heard his footsteps on the walk outside of the house. The footsteps continued up to the door, which she heard open and close, and then more footsteps as her husband came up the hall. The woman rose to meet him in the hallway, but when she stepped through the doorway, no one was visible. The wife shared her story with her husband when he finally did return. Fearing for his wife’s sanity, he moved his family from the house.
Not long afterward, another family moved in, and shortly afterward, moved right back out. This continued to happen until the stories spread and no one dared move in to the house in the woods. It was abandoned and fell into ruin.
The Morning Star article then told of another house on “one of the principal roads leading from the city” that is visited by spirits. This house had a cellar, and the writer of the article suggests it was in the cellar that the troubles started. The cellar was small, with only one entrance and two small vents in the stonework. The people who lived in the house would tell stories of an alarming, loud pounding on the cellar side of the door. But when they opened the door, there would be no one on the other side.
The spirit was not limited to that cellar, however. The phantom knocker also appeared to them in their upstairs bedrooms. Sometimes he would be just a faint outline, other times his features would be clear, and they would find him grinning at them from the side of their beds when they awoke. He caused no harm beyond scaring the family, and they actually became quite fond of the “practical joker” who shared their home. In fact, they stated they would miss him if he were to leave.
The author put this down to the fact they were “hard headed tillers of the soil.”
He also declared that there was no doubt a natural reason for these experiences, though no one had yet “solved the question of what makes the ghost walk.”
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 June 18-24, 2014, issue