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Rockford-Area Legends and Lore, Part 2

Nothing like some good ghost stories on these long winter nights. Here is part two of an old presentation on the legends and lore of Rockford, Illinois and surrounding areas at Tinker Swiss Cottage. Blood’s Point Road, Charles Guiteau, and the phantom lady of Kennedy Hill Road. I honestly don’t remember when this was recorded but it might have been in 2011.

Rockford-Area Legends and Lore, Part 1

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas! Nothing like some good ghost stories on these long winter nights. Here is part one of an old presentation on the legends and lore of Rockford, Illinois and surrounding areas at Tinker Swiss Cottage. The Emma Jones Home, Rockford College, the legend of Big Thunder, Nellie Dunton, and more. I honestly don’t remember when this was recorded but it might have been in 2011.

Dug Hill Road and the Ghost of Marshal Welch

It was dark, and Rusty had been hauling cargo from Missouri to Illinois all day. He decided to take a shortcut up Route 146 from Cape Girardeau to Interstate 57, passing through Jonesboro and Anna along the way. The terrain became rough and hilly as he turned east and began to pass through a narrow strip of the Shawnee National Forest near Hamburg Hill. As his blurry eyes scanned the horizon for any sign of the nearing town, he almost missed the black shape laying on the asphalt. He slammed on his brakes.

Someone must be playing a prank, Rusty thought as he got out of his truck. He noticed through the glare of his headlights that the shape in the road was the body of a man, who wore an outfit that looked like it had come out of a spaghetti western. It was no joke, however. As he got closer, he saw blood oozing from several wounds in the crumpled body. Just then, a motorcycle screeched to a stop in the oncoming lane.

“Is everything all right?” the biker shouted.

By the time Rusty looked up at the newcomer and back at the road, the body was gone.

For more than a century, a ghost has haunted this lonely stretch of Route 146, formerly known as “Dug Hill Road,” in rustic Union County. Although sightings have become less frequent in recent years, the ghost of Provost Marshal Welch has earned an iconic place in the folklore of Southern Illinois. Like many of its kind, this ghost story preserves the memory of a real event, an event that took place at a traumatic time in the history of our state and our country. But the details of this event have become murky and distorted.

While Provost Marshal Welch was actually killed in 1863, every recent retelling of the tale places his murder in 1865. Also, at some point during the reprinting of the story, authors changed Route 146 to “Highway 126,” which has created a very confusing state of affairs for anyone wanting to visit the location. There is no Highway 126 anywhere in Union County. Complicating matters further, a quaint country lane off Route 146 is now the only feature in the area named “Dug Hill.”

The truth is that Marshal Welch was killed in the early spring of 1863 along what we now know as Illinois Route 146, a few miles west of Jonesboro past the tiny village of Berryville. The legend, however, is a different matter entirely. Storytellers generally agree that Welch died in an ambush during the waning days of the Civil War, but the details vary depending on who is doing the telling.

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Camp Napowan Gypsy Curse: An Analysis

This week, I brought you the legend of “Boot Hill” in three parts. Read parts one, two, and three. The legend of “Boot Hill” comes from Napowan Scout Camp, located near Wild Rose in the pine forests of central Wisconsin, next to Hills Lake and Lake Napowan. In the early 1990s, when I was a member of Boy Scout Troop 22 based in Des Plaines (now defunct), I went to Camp Napowan for two, week-long excursions, where I heard the legend told around a campfire.

Your humble writer/transcriber as a Cub Scout at Camp Napowan

An audio version was available in the mid-1990s. I searched for years to find it, until I finally tracked someone down who owned a copy and sent it to me as a .wav file. While every summer camp has its founding legend, the tale of Camp Napowan’s Gypsy Curse is compellingly rich in detail and carefully interwoven with historical events.

Legends are known as folk history, or quasi-history. They are retold as a way of explaining strange occurrences and are passed on in order to warn or inform others about these unprovable events. While many legends conform to certain general themes and motifs, they acquire their credibility from localized details inserted by individual storytellers. The more details there are, the more truthful the legend appears to its audience.

The tale of Camp Napowan’s Gypsy Curse and “Boot Hill” is a nearly perfect legend. Not only is it asserted to be true, but great care is taken to establish its veracity by tying the tale to specific  people and events, making it part of oral folk history. The listener is invited to check the record and examine the physical environment to prove the story is true.

“Go to Boot Hill and look for yourself,” the narrator urges. “At the top of the hill is Split Rock, the rock that the Chieftain melted through during that fateful summer. This split is not natural. It has a 4 inch gap going through the middle that could not have been caused by erosion, frost action, lightning, or any other natural occurrence.”

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Interview with Kathi Kresol of Haunted Rockford, Pt. 2

An interview with Kathi Kresol, author of the new book Haunted Rockford, Illinois. To be released by The History Press on October 2, 2017. In this clip, Kathi talks about how she became interested in ghost stories and the origin of her literary efforts. http://www.hauntedrockford.com/

Interview with Kathi Kresol of Haunted Rockford, Pt. 1

An interview with Kathi Kresol, author of the new book Haunted Rockford, Illinois. To be released by The History Press on October 2, 2017. In this clip, Kathi talks about why she started the Haunted Rockford Tours and some of her favorite stories from the Forest City. http://www.hauntedrockford.com/

Cuba Road’s White Cemetery and Phantom Vehicles

Cuba Road sits nestled between the towns of Lake Zurich and Barrington, Illinois in Lake County, northwest of Chicago. The main portion of the road runs between Route 12 (Rand Road) and Route 14 (Northwest Highway) and is home to a veritable cornucopia of legends. The ghost stories that seem to literally pour out of the mouths of visitors led famed author Ursula Bielski to proclaim, “For Chicagoland ghosthunters, Cuba Road is the single most notorious haunted site north of southwest suburban Bachelors Grove Cemetery.”

Along Cuba Road, a few yards west of Route 59, sits the most frequently visited spot along Cuba Road: White Memorial Cemetery. There would, arguably, be no other legends along the road if it wasn’t for the alluring power of this cemetery, which was the first to attract the attention of curiosity seekers and paranormal enthusiasts alike. Dale Kaczmarek called White Cemetery, “the most haunted location on the north side.”

White Cemetery is one of the oldest burial grounds in Lake County. It dates back to 1820, when Barrington’s mighty mansions were nothing more than farmer’s fields or untamed wilderness. Like many other cemeteries in Illinois, this one developed a reputation during the 1960s as a place to get drunk, smoke pot, and “just be.” Not all the activity at the cemetery was harmless fun, however. According to Dale Kaczmarek, in 1968 vandals spray painted swastikas on many of the headstones and knocked down many more.

The vandalism led to the cemetery being locked up at night, but as it can be seen clearly from the road, that hasn’t prevented the curious from trying to catch a glimpse of the mysterious, white balls of light that are said to hover around the burial ground. In More Chicago Haunts, Ursula Bielski claimed that “luminescent figures” have occasionally accompanied these spook lights.

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Barrington’s Mysterious Cuba Road

I grew up in the northwest Chicago suburbs. Des Plaines to be exact. Home of the famous Choo Choo Restaurant, the first franchised McDonald’s, and the stomping grounds of John Wayne Gacy. When my friends and I wanted a scare, we usually trekked out to Cuba Road, a lonely avenue north of the Chicago suburbs, about a good half hour drive from my home. My sister, being four years older than I, was the first person I ever heard mention the road. She had just gotten her driver’s license, and like many teens, wanted to take her new found freedom somewhere thrilling. Cuba Road was such a place.

It was dark and remote, filled with mansions set far back from the road, and where one never knew what was lurking around the bend. There were rumors of abandoned insane asylums, phantom cars, haunted cemeteries, and a whole host of things that went bump in the night. For added danger, a few of the more fool hardy visitors turned off their headlights to see how long they could drive along the inky black avenue before common sense, and fear, got the better of them.

Cuba Road sits nestled between the towns of Lake Zurich and Barrington, both upper and upper-middle class retreats. The main portion of the road runs between Route 12 (Rand Road) and Route 14 (Northwest Highway) and is home to a veritable cornucopia of legends. White Cemetery, located along the western half of the road, has its spook lights. The avenue itself hosts a phantom car (or cars), a pair of spectral lovers, and a vanishing house. Rainbow Road, a side street off Cuba, had the distinction of being home to an abandoned mansion that some believed was either and old asylum or a getaway for gangsters. That building has since been torn down and the property is being redeveloped.

The ghost stories that seem to literally pour out of the mouths of visitors led famed author Ursula Bielski to proclaim, “For Chicagoland ghosthunters, Cuba Road is the single most notorious haunted site north of southwest suburban Bachelors Grove Cemetery.” Those familiar with the notoriety of Bachelor’s Grove understand the challenge of filling shoes of that size. Scott Markus, who has done impeccable research on the folklore of the road, dubbed it “the Archer Avenue of the North Side,” because of the variety of stories.

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