Here’s another interview I forgot to post last year, but for those of you who missed it, I talk about my book Witchcraft in Illinois with Michael Koolidge, recorded October 6, 2017. The Michael Koolidge Show is the only statewide-syndicated radio show in Illinois and is one of the few independently syndicated shows of its kind in the nation.
Not sure how I neglected to post this interview last year, but for those of you who missed it, I talk about my book Witchcraft in Illinois on the Bobbie Ashley Morning Show, WIKK 103.5 The Eagle in Newton, Illinois. Recorded October 5, 2017. The audio is a little soft, so you might want to turn up your volume!
Part two of my presentation on the legends and lore of Rockford, Illinois and surrounding areas at Tinker Swiss Cottage, including 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.
Part one of my 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.
The “Mad Gasser of Mattoon” was a series of strange events in Mattoon, Illinois during World War 2 involving “gas attacks” on unassuming homeowners in this small Midwestern town. It’s generally written off as a case of mass hysteria, but physical symptoms exhibited by the victims seem to suggest otherwise. To this day, no one really knows who or what caused the attacks.
On October 24, 2013, I explored the facts and the fiction behind this tale at a presentation Coles County legends and lore at MLK Student Union. So many people showed up we actually had to move to a larger room. After many years writing about these stories, giving this presentation at my alma mater was a wonderful opportunity.
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.
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.”
Join me for the conclusion of our retelling of the story of Camp Napowan’s Boot Hill. Owned and operated by the Northwest Suburban Council of the Boy Scouts of America in central Wisconsin, Camp Napowan is home to an interesting legend passed down one summer to the next. To my knowledge, this is the only retelling of the tale available on the Internet. It is an edited transcription of an audio recording made available in the early-to-mid 1990s. Click here to read Part 1 and here to read Part 2.
The summers went by without incident, until 1959. During the fifth week of summer camp, a couple of Scouts went up to Boot Hill even though they were not supposed to. They saw a strange black cat with a white paw. It look at them with intense eyes, and ran away into the forest. The two Scouts suddenly fell ill, and went to the health office. After they told the health officer what happened, he too became sick. Before the end of the day, everyone in camp was sick with diarrhea, cold sweats, and dizziness. The Health Department was asked to come in and determine what was causing the illness, but despite their experience, it was a mystery to them. After two weeks of quarantine, everyone at camp suddenly got better.
In the early 1960s, the Northwest Suburban Council decided to open Boot Hill, because too many people were asking questions about why it was closed. Nothing out of the ordinary happened until 1969, exactly ten years after the previous incident. Two Scouts were wandering around the hill with slingshots when a black cat with a single white paw crossed their path. One Scout kicked at it while the other prepare his sling and began firing.
The cat screamed and hissed and ran up a nearby tree, where it looked at the two boys with a piercing gaze. Suddenly, the boy with the slingshot grabbed his arm in pain, while the boy who was kicking the cat felt pain in his leg. The boy with the injured arm was able to run down the hill and grab the health officer. The health officer later determined that one boy suffered from a broken arm and the other had a broken leg.
The camp administration realized there was a problem. Something needed to be done about Boot Hill. At first, they wanted to relocated Staff City, where all the staff members lived, to the base of Boot Hill, but the staff members refused to live there. Eventually, it was located near Boot Hill, with a line of trees separating the buildings from the hill. The idea was for the staff to be nearby in case anything else happened.
The next summer, the camp staff became very interested in Boot Hill, and set out to determine what happened there. At first, they only knew about the bizarre incidents that occurred on the hill. Some investigation filled in the rest. They began knocking on neighbor’s doors, but the people refused to talk about the history of that land. Except, however, for one old man. He told the staff about everything that happened in the summer of 1934. When he was done, he said, “I want you to know how I know all this. I was one of the farmers that killed those gypsies. It’s all true, I saw it with my own eyes. I’ve never told anyone, but I’m glad I was able to get it off my chest before I died.” Thee days later, he died.