By Kathi Kresol
Sometimes while digging through old newspapers stories I come across strange little tidbits of history that surprise even me. This is one such story.
It takes place in the small village of Cherry Valley. Cherry Valley was first settled in 1835 and named Grigg’s Mill after settler Joseph Grigg built a mill on the Kishwaukee River. Even today the streets of the little village offer the charm of a quaint, small town.
During the years of 1835 to 1841 bandits ran rampant in northern Illinois causing all sorts of chaos by robbing homes, stealing livestock, highway robberies and murder. The newspapers from the time are filled with terrible stories of innocent people that became victims of this heartless band of outlaws.
At this time a small pond was located inside Cherry Valley Village limits named Robinson’s Pond. The pond existed as long as anyone could remember. No one knew how deep it was though many attempts were made to find the bottom. Plummets were sent down at increasing depths all the way to 80 feet without any evidence of hitting the floor. It was also a mystery how the pond held its depth without any clear outlet or inlet to feed into the water. These mysteries became the foundation for many rumors during the early days of the settlement of the village. It was declared that during the wild days of the Banditti of the Prairie the bodies of the victims of the band of thugs were dropped into the bottomless pit that would later become Robinson’s Pond. Whether it was rumors such as this or just the bottomless depths of the dark water, the pond became the subject of many conversations among the townsfolk.
In the fall of 1885, rumors of another kind also concerning Robinson’s Pond began to circulate. A strange creature had been sighted by several dozen witnesses. This monster was described as being between 10 to 100 feet long, which one supposes gives a clue to how big the pond actually was. Its body was dark green in color that lightened to a yellow hue on the belly and neck area. A long fin ran down the back of the supposed sea serpent. The head was described as being shaped similar to a dog and the mouth was large and contained a double row of sharp teeth. The bellows of the animal were said to be quite chilling and compared to that of a hippopotamus. Many of the reputable townsfolk had proclaimed to either seeing or hearing the terrifying creature.
This ‘Marvelous Monster’ as it was dubbed in the newspapers was seen over a course of several years and the notifications of sightings came in clusters leading witnesses to speculate that the pond’s depths led to some outlet that the beast could access. The sightings seemed to reach a critical point in August of 1885 when it was decided that the creature must be caught and put on display before being sent to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
Bands of armed men along with many of the townspeople began to patrol the area of the pond awaiting the next sighting. There was even talk between Constable Reed and a Dr. Bean mentioned. For some reason, Dr. Bean had access to many sticks of dynamite and wanted to use these to blow up the sea serpent. Luckily, some other men with cooler heads theorized the ‘Winnebago Wonder’ (another nickname given to the beast), could just use the endless depths of the pool to avoid the blast.
The possible end to the myth was conveyed in another article when witnesses watched as a large head reared from the water. The creature began to snack on some plants before it headed toward shore. The crowd drew back in fear as the beast neared the bank. Some of those present even covered their eyes when the creature’s horrid body was finally revealed as it climbed from the water. Those men that were armed opened fire on the large creature. The beast flailed and contorted on the bank for several minutes until it finally died. The crowd must have been very excited to witness the end of this creature that had terrorized this little village for years. The ‘Winnebago Wonder’ was placed on display for all to see.
One of the articles stated that when the animal shot that August day was examined it was declared to be a very large muskrat. This led to the rumor that maybe the poor animal shot that day was not beast everyone was seeking and that maybe that creature still lurked under the dark water of Robinson’s Pond.
Local historian and author, Kathi Kresol, will be sharing other stories like this and telling of ghostly encounters in several presentations scheduled between now and Halloween. For a full schedule of presentations and other events offered through Haunted Rockford Paranormal Events, please visit the website at hauntedrockford.com.