A big thank you is in order to Ann Winkler Hinrichs, David Kent Coy, and the other organizers of the 150th Anniversary of the Charleston Riot event last weekend! For what might be the final time, I was asked to give my presentation on home front dissent in Illinois during the Civil War, as part of a larger series of speakers at the Coles County Courthouse on Saturday, March 29th. The presentation was well attended, and there were a lot of great questions from the audience. Afterwards, I had a book signing at Pensees Bookshop on the square (502 6th St). Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer spoke at the banquet that night, but unfortunately I had to leave before he spoke. I met some very interesting folks that day! Thanks to my friend Becky Guymon for taking these photos of my presentation:
On Saturday, March 1, we had our Secret Rockford book release party at Tinker Swiss Cottage here in Rockford. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and it snowed off and on throughout the day! Never-the-less, we had a good turnout and everyone enjoyed themselves. Several contributors to the book spoke about their articles and short stories, including Kathi Kresol, Stanley Campbell, Scott Farrell, Heath Alberts, Ernie Fuhr, Jim Phelps, and Doug Janicke. I thought all the speakers did a wonderful job and I was very impressed with their passion and ability to speak off the cuff. Hopefully we will have another event like this in the future.
On February 27 at 10:20am, I had the pleasure of doing a short, in-studio interview with Riley & Scot at WROK 1440 AM in Rockford. After the unfortunate and untimely demise of 100.5 FM, this is now one of the only local talk radio shows left in the Rockford area. The other is The Michael Koolidge Show, which is also on WROK. I appeared briefly on Koolidge’s show as well to promote the Secret Rockford book release party at Tinker Swiss Cottage. The studio was comfortable despite the subzero temperatures outside. Thanks, guys!
I recently had the opportunity to go on several local news and radio programs to talk about Black Oak Media’s new anthology, Secret Rockford, including Paul Youngblood and Ken DeCoster’s radio shows on WNTA 100.5 FM. These appearances have done wonders to boost the book’s sales, and I anticipate going on a few more shows in the near future. I have to give a big thank you to these hosts for having me on!
On Wednesday, February 12, I had the distinction of being the featured speaker at Lake Land College’s “Tacos & Tales” event. The event was a huge success, attracting over 40 students hungry for both knowledge of local folklore and tacos. I was told it was one of the best turnouts yet for that particular program. Better yet–for the first time, my name appeared on a marquee! Lucas Thomas, Student Activity Board Chairman, was a wonderful host–even delivering the 12 green M&M’s I jokingly requested. Lake Land College is located in Mattoon, Illinois. You can check out some photos from the presentation below.
In 1978, the Simon Peter Nelson murders shocked Rockford, Illinois, then a thriving city of around 140,000 people. In the early morning hours of Saturday, January 7, while his wife was in a room with another man at the Downtown Ramada Inn in Milwaukee, Nelson brutally murdered his six sleeping children in their home on Camp Avenue. This crime is still whispered about today, but until now, no one has ever written a detailed account of the events on that fateful night and the days leading up to it.
I chronicle these tragic events, which took place between January 3 and Nelson’s arrest on January 7, 1978, in “A Long, Dark Night.” I wrote this article exclusively for Secret Rockford, an anthology of articles and short stories written by Rockfordians from all walks of life. “A Long, Dark Night” ended up being a touch over 11,100 words, with 82 footnotes.
While I was writing this, I couldn’t help but be struck by the senselessness of the crime. There are plenty of couples who have been cheated on and get divorced. Some of those divorces are pretty nasty, with one party or another losing everything. What would compel a man, in this circumstance, to murder his own children? What kind of a person would do such a thing, and why did it happen here in Rockford?
Maybe the answers to those questions will never be fully understood, but I did my best to write down every last detail I could find regarding this horrible crime. Maybe it will help us understand how something like this could happen.