Legends speak of a ghostly woman who wanders the railroad tracks beyond the Seventh Avenue dead end, searching for her missing children.
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Around the dinner table after a hard day’s work, the residents of Sterling, Illinois have been known to whisper about deaths along the nearby railroad tracks and banks of the Rock River. These deaths have occasionally left behind ghosts, the most famous of which is a weeping woman who wanders the tracks just beyond the Seventh Avenue dead end, searching for her missing children.
The City of Sterling was incorporated in February 1857 and is located across the Rock River from the town of Rock Falls. These twin cities are connected by the First Avenue Bridge. Sterling has long been a center of industry in the area, ever since the Union Pacific Railroad, the oldest railroad network in the United States, came through in 1856. Businesses like Northwestern Steel & Wire, Franz Manufacturing, and National Manufacturing followed at the turn of the century. Consequently, the city was once called the hardware capital of the world.
Over the years, the twin life-sources of Sterling—the railroad and the Rock River—have occasionally become a curse rather than a blessing. Some do not respect the silent power of the river and succumb to its undertow. Others, mainly children, have innocently wandered to their doom while playing on the bluffs along the river.
According to the Shadowlands Index of Haunted Places for Illinois, there is a “blind corner” near the Dillon Home Museum between Tenth and Eleventh avenues, where the railroad tracks turn slightly north. Anyone walking on the tracks in that area would not be seen by the train conductor, and several people have been struck and killed.
It is difficult to imagine that such circumstances would not produce a ghost story or two, but over the years, one phantom has captured the imaginations of locals. She is a young woman who has been seen wandering the railroad tracks and the riverbank past Seventh Avenue.
Her story is like the legend of La Llorona, in which a beautiful woman drowns her children and is condemned to spend eternity searching for them. As she searches, she weeps and wails, earning the name “The Crying woman.” It is unclear, however, why the Seventh Avenue ghost appears. It is said that her children are missing, but not why they are missing.
According to Trent Brandon’s Book of Ghosts, the weeping woman is a type of ghost he calls “The Broken Heart.” Having lost one dear to them, they are alone and desperately search for the soul of a dead child or lover. The ghost is overwhelmed with guilt and believes she must wander the earth endlessly until reunited, or until she has endured enough punishment to assuage her guilt.
Whatever the reason, the ghost story of the Seventh Avenue dead end stands as a reminder to residents who live near the river and the railroad, especially children, that they must always remain vigilant or suffer a similar fate.