Rockford, Illinois’ first college, established before the city was even chartered, was Rockford Female Seminary. Jane Addams, who would go on to fame as a social reformer and co-founder of Chicago’s Hull House, was a graduate of the seminary in 1881. In 1892 RFS became known as Rockford College, which remained a predominately female academy until 1958.
In 1964 the campus was moved from its home along the river to its present location along State Street. It changed its name to Rockford University in 2014.
While rich in history, Rockford University is also rich in ghostlore and the origin of a wide variety of alleged haunts. No less than three buildings are said to be home to restless spirits, along with one memorial arch, which was built using materials from the original Rock River campus.
Blanche Walker Burpee Center, Adams Arch, and the Clark Arts Center run the gambit of ghostly phenomenon, from disembodied voices, to moving objects, to phantom reflections, and a whole host of other unexplained things.
Out of all of the buildings at Rockford University, the Clark Arts Center, which contains both Cheek and Maddox theaters, is thought to be the most haunted. Ancient frescos depicting figures in various stages of celebration, often playing instruments, line the hall outside Maddox Theatre. Their cherubic faces, it has been said, change expressions and even watch the audience as the guests filter in for a performance.
Aboriginal artifacts from Africa, as well as a collection of Hopi Indian kachina dolls, are also on display in the hallways that lead to the class and practice rooms. For many years, these fragile bowls, masks, and dolls were locked in a storage room. Reports of heavy, ominous feelings made sure no one ever entered there alone.
Cheek Theatre, named after Mary Ashby Cheek, is a much smaller theater located on the ground floor opposite of Maddox. The walls are painted black, giving it a gloomy appearance that compliments its resident ghost. Before some performances, theater students say they have seen a shadowy figure, which they assert is the ghost of a former music teacher who died in a car accident.
A few yards south of the Clark Arts Center rests a scenic memorial known as Adams Arch. On certain evenings, when the air is very still, visitors have reported hearing the laughter of young women in its vicinity.
Blanche Walker Burpee Center, another allegedly haunted building, serves as the college’s welcome center as well as the bookstore and the offices for administrative services. Some students and storytellers maintain that the basement formerly held a radio station that was the scene of a man’s suicide.
No one is quite clear about who this man was, whether a student or employee, but individuals who find themselves in the building after hours report hearing doors slamming shut, footsteps, and a man’s disembodied voice in the basement.
Despite not being as well-known as other haunted colleges, Rockford certainly is in the running for one of the most haunted in Illinois.