Haunted Rockford, Illinois, Kathi Kresol’s latest offering from The History Press, is a spine-tingling look at the history and folklore of the Forest City. Kathi also wrote Murder & Mayhem in Rockford, Illinois, and originally those were going to be a single book. Though related subjects (many traumatic events are believed to spawn hauntings), splitting them up was ultimately a good decision thematically.
Like Murder & Mayhem in Rockford, Haunted Rockford delves into the history and personalities behind the stories. Kathi created the popular Haunted Rockford Tours, but this is no recitation of a tour script. These stories are painstakingly researched and documented, relying primarily on interviews and newspaper articles. The chapters are divided into two parts: Ghostly Encounters and Legends, Curses and Other Curiosities.
The two most interesting chapters are “The Terrible Tragedy of Geraldine Bourbon” and “The Witch of McGregor Road.” In the first, Kathi tells a personal story of how she came to live in a haunted house in Rockford, and the horrible events that precipitated it. Imagine finding out your home was the scene of a double murder after a number of bizarre experiences. Kathi told me about her experience several times over the years and it doesn’t lose its impact in print.
In “The Witch of McGregor Road,” Kathi uncovered a possible origin for Rockford’s infamous “Witch Beulah” legend. The legend involves a school teacher who was blamed for a fire at her schoolhouse out on Meridian or McGregor Road. Or, perhaps, Beulah was a witch who cursed Arthur Blood’s family and caused the mysterious events along Blood’s Point Road.
Interestingly, Kathi uncovered news stories of a 1913 incident involving a young woman named Beulah, whose family accused of being a witch. Over time, the story morphed into the “Witch Beulah” legend. It’s rare to pinpoint the actual origin of a folk tale. Ghost Whispers: Tales from Haunted Midway by William Gorman fleshed out the legend in graphic detail, but here is the actual story behind the story. Kathi even found a newspaper article about vandalism at the poor woman’s house who teenagers accused of being Witch Beulah in the 1970s.
The other stories in Haunted Rockford are no less compelling. Although not every popular Rockford haunt is included (Faust Hotel, Twin Sister’s Woods, Rockford University, etc.), Kathi chose to focus on events with a documented history or background. She even uncovers some ghostly tales from the past, like a 1902 incident at Haskell Park.
Rockford is a city familiar with tragedy and crime, but it’s also a city that takes pride in its local history and culture. This collection of ghostly tales will thrill and delight any current or former resident of the Forest City and its environs. At 140 pages, the print version retails for $19.99 and the digital for $12.99.