Voices From the Grave: the tragic history of Barnes Mansion

By Kathi Kresol
Contributor

The sounds of long-forgotten music are heard in the halls of a home on Rockford’s west side. The house was built on the Rock River in 1893 by W.F. Barnes for his family.

The music has been heard by several employees of the Burpee Natural History Museum who now owns the building. The building was once used as the actual museum but now contains administrative offices.

A former employee whose office was on the first floor of the three-storied building shared an incident she experienced in the house during an interview. She stated that was in her office on the first floor late one evening when she heard music that seemed to be coming from a different floor. The second floor of the building also contains offices and the employee assumed one of her co-workers must still be in the building, listening to a radio. She finished her work and decided to check to see if her co-worker was ready to depart so they might leave together.

The music was definitely coming from the second floor and though there was no light on in the office the employee decided to check the room anyway. She lifted her foot to step into the room and the music stopped. As she stood there in the darkened doorway she felt a cold draft blow by her, chilling her. She turned to look back down the hallway and felt as though someone had stepped behind her. She decided that it was time to leave and rushed back down to her office to collect her things.

There is a theory in the paranormal world that certain materials work as better “conductors” for paranormal activity. Some of the stronger ones include Native American influence, water, and limestone. If there is any truth to these claims, then the Barnes House is a prime location, as well as the rest of downtown Rockford.

The Burpee Natural History Museum had its beginning in the Barnes building. The museum used the first and second floors when it opened in 1942. One of the more unusual displays was an entire skeleton of a Native American. According to psychics Paul Smith and Sara Bowker, this has left a bad “imprint” on the house.

In the basement of the home, staff and visitors have experienced the feeling of being watched all throughout this floor. They have also reported being overwhelmed by a sense of anxiety or sadness. There were several Barnes family deaths in the house and the theory is that the family member would be brought to the basement for preparation for their funeral.

The family’s golden lives were shattered through a string of tragedies. The favored son Joseph, who was as creative as his father and loved and respected by all that knew him, died suddenly 1906. Joseph’s only son, Fletcher, was struck down and killed by an automobile in 1910. Fletcher’s accident was called a strange twist of fate by some who knew the family –he was one of the first men in Rockford to own an automobile.

Julia, Fletcher’s wife, was accidentally shot by a hunter while camping in Wisconsin. Though she would survive the shooting, her wounds caused her severe pain for the rest of her life. She was no longer able to attend the lavish parties that she once hosted. Julia passed away in 1922 but according to psychics, she still stands looking out the second-floor windows of her beautiful home.

In 1928, Fletcher became ill and was bedridden before he died from a stroke on December 30, 1930. He was survived by his son, W.F. Barnes, and his daughter, Amy Barnes Lane. Amy would decide to sell the house to the Rockford Park District in 1937.

The beautiful building still showcases the craftsmanship of the builders, and the love of the owners shines through the entire house as much today as it did when the Barneses would proudly entertain there. Though no children play here anymore and some of the rooms are vacant of any furnishings, the Barnes Mansion still echoes with the sounds of the family that once roamed these halls.

Haunted Rockford is teaming up with renowned Paranormal Investigator, Dale Kaczmarek, and his crew to offer a Paranormal Investigation for the public at the Barnes and Manny Mansions on Saturday. For more information on tickets please visit the website at hauntedrockford.com.

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