Voices from the Grave: The Phantom of the Third Ward

By Kathi Kresol

The third ward of Rockford was a bustling place in 1885. People came and went at all hours of the night and day. Things changed for the folks of the ward during the fall of 1885. Incidents began to occur which had people so frightened they were reluctant to leave their homes after dark.

The reports all were the same. People that worked outside of the ward traveled back late in the evenings to their homes. Almost every night as the time approached midnight, anyone who might wander the streets of the downtown area was met by a horrific sight. These people all described the incidents the same way. First, they had the feeling of being watched then the hairs on the back of their neck would rise. Suddenly, a swirling mist would appear before them. This mist would slowly solidify until it turned into a skeleton which began to glow.

As sometimes happens in cases like this, word about the nightly visitor spread. While adults were too frightened to be on the streets after dark, the children of the city had the opposite reaction. They flocked to the area, hoping for a glimpse of the glowing midnight wanderer.

One night in early November, a band of small children were playing a game of hide and seek in the territory where the luminous spirit traveled. The children were flitting about, squealing and laughing while they searched for the perfect hiding spot.

One little boy determined to locate the most secluded spot, wandered into a back yard. He squeezed down beside a small barrel that he found. This barrel provided an excellent hiding spot for the little boy, especially since it was covered by a large cheese box.

The boy hid so well in fact that the other children soon tired of looking for him. They all thought that the little boy had left for home. The darkness grew in the time the boy huddled there waiting for his friends. The lad, once so excited about his wonderful hiding place now grew frightened.

The boy began to imagine all sorts of horrible creatures and finally grew so frightened that he decided leave his hiding spot and race for home. When he stood up, he accidentally knocked the cheese box off the barrel. He picked up the box to replace it and glanced into the barrel. The little boy was horrified to see a decayed skull staring back at him. He covered his eyes with both hands, blocking the ghastly vision from his sight and began to scream. His screams brought neighbors running.

Authorities would later theorize that someone had decided to dig up a previously buried body and placed it in the barrel. Newspaper articles about the event did not elaborate how they came to that decision, however. The articles stated that police had questioned the people in the neighborhood, relentlessly searching for answers. The people who lived in the house reported that the barrel had just appeared in their yard one day. According to their statement, they had never bothered to remove the cover and look inside.

The authorities never identified the body or found the cemetery that it was taken from. The recovery of the body did have a positive effect, however. The glowing spirit that once terrified the people of the third ward was never seen again after the reburial of the bones.

You can hear more stories like these at Kathi Kresol’s Haunted Rockford Tours. Haunted Rockford is offering special bus tours hosted by Kathi during the Halloween season. Find out about these and other events at the website: hauntedrockford.com.

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