Last Saturday night, I had the chance to tell ghost stories with Kathi Kresol of Haunted Rockford. This time it was at Camp Grant – which is now a museum/restaurant near the Rockford airport. The Camp Grant Museum is housed in the building that was one of three fire stations and later the Induction and Muster Out Center for Camp Grant during the two World Wars. The camp was designated Camp Grant in honor of President Ulysses S. Grant on July 15, 1917.
When it first opened, there were 500 cooks and bakers feeding more than 18,000 men and women. In 1918, it housed 50,000 officers and enlisted men and encompassed 5,460 acres. The firing range covered 312 of those acres. The Camp remained an active army site until 1924 when it was turned over to the Illinois National Guard. In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps stationed approximately 1100 men put out of work by the Great Depression. In 1940, the property reverted back to regular Army use for World War II as an induction center, a training center, a prisoner of war camp, and a medical training unit.
I also learned that in September of 1918, Spanish influenza hit the troops at Camp Grant with virulent force. This information is from the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health website: “So sudden and appalling was the visitation that it required the greatest energy and cooperation of every officer, every man, and every nurse to meet the emergency,” wrote one observer. Hospital admissions rose to 194, then 370, then 492, to a high of 788 admissions on September 29. Hospital officials summoned all officers on leave, converted barracks to hospital wards, and by “extreme effort” expanded the hospital capacity from “10 occupied beds to a capacity of 4,102 beds in six days.” Influenza still overwhelmed every department. The hospital laboratory resorted to local civilian facilities to perform specimen tests. Camp ophthalmologists saw patients with conjunctivitis, an influenza complication, and ear, nose, and throat specialists saw those with other dangerous secondary infections. As individuals became seriously ill, camp officials sent out “danger” or “death” telegrams to families and loved ones, but soon they received so many return calls, telegrams, and visitors, they had to set up a separate hospital tent as an information bureau. Medical personnel were not immune. Eleven of the 81 medical officers fell ill, and three civilian and three Army nurses died. The epidemic even caused the Medical Department to drop its prohibition on black nurses so that Camp Grant called African American nurses to care for patients. The women had to wait, however, until separate, segregated accommodations could be constructed.”
“Ten days after the epidemic struck, hospital admissions began to fall but pneumonia took hold, and Camp Grant’s daily death toll began to climb. It reached double digits on October 1 with 14 deaths, then 30 the next day, 46 the next, and 76 on October 4. The mortuary was designed to handle only four deaths a day. On Friday, October 4, with more than 100 bodies in the mortuary camp, officials negotiated with local undertakers to take the bodies at $50 each, but when someone produced a flatbed truck to remove the dead, the Army quickly provided more dignified closed trucks. The number of dead broke 100 on October 5 and reached a horrifying high of 117 deaths on October 6. The last day the Camp Grant death toll exceeded 100 was October 9, but the decline was too late for its commander. Col. Charles B. Hagadorn, a West Point graduate and career officer who had served in Russia and the Panama Canal Zone, was acting camp commander when influenza struck. Although Camp Grant’s sickness and death rates were no worse than other camps and better than some, fellow officers later told reporters that Hagadorn had been showing the strain of the epidemic. Troubled as more than 500 soldiers died of pneumonia under his command, on October 7, he committed suicide with a pistol shot to his head. In the end, Camp Grant suffered 10,713 influenza victims, including 1,060 deaths in a population of 40,000.”
The current owners of Camp Grant feel that Col. Hagadorn is just one of the many spectral visitors they have at the building. Kathi reported on her website that “besides being filled with interesting artifacts, the museum also has many spirits who linger within its walls. The owners and wait staff have had many experiences they cannot explain. They have had items moved around, seen moving balls of light, felt someone touch them, and seen full-bodied apparitions.”
When I entered the building, I could feel that there were lingering shadows from a bygone era. Whether it was due to all of the memorabilia on the walls or in the displays, or because spirits of those who took their last breath within the confines of the walls of the building still lingered, it was a place filled with paranormal energy.
Two of the stories from that night stood out, and I’d love to share them with you.
The Camp Grant Museum is east of the Rockford Airport and there are a lot of warehouses in the same area. One of the most haunted warehouses is right across the street from Camp Grant. One of the warehouse stories revolves around the ghost of a little girl. For decades, the ghost of a little girl has been seen skipping down the street in this area at night. One time, when she was seen, people noted that the street lights next to her would go off and as soon as she moved on, they would go back on. Kathi related that there was a big Samoan man who worked at one of the warehouses. The main company was down the street and they used this particular warehouse for storage. So, he was at the warehouse late at night picking up pipe fittings and putting them into the back of his truck. He could see his reflection in the window as he picked up the pipes and tossed them into the pickup bed. But once, when he glanced at his reflection, he also saw the reflection of a little girl standing next to him on the dock. As he watched himself in the window, he saw her reach over and touched his hand. His arm went completely cold.
He told Kathi that he immediately dropped the pipe onto the loading dock, jumped off the dock, ran to his truck and drove away. When Kathi asked him why a big (this guy is huge) man would be afraid of a little girl – even if she was a ghost – he explained that in his culture ghosts of children are considered to be dangerous because they can actually be evil spirits trying to get you to trust them. So, from that point on he would only go to the warehouse during the day.
After interviewing him, Kathi asked permission to include the warehouse in her ghost tours. The owner was fine with it. So, she would call this big Samoan man when she arrived with the tour and he would come down the street from their main building and unlock the door for her. (He wouldn’t go in – just open the door.) One night, Kathi and her busload of people arrived at the warehouse. They got off the bus and Kathi texted the worker.
They all walked to the front entrance and Kathi saw that there was a light on in the building. Then she noticed a man walking down the hallway. She figured it was the warehouse man coming to open the door. A few minutes later, he walked up from behind her.
Shaking her head, she asked, “So, you’ve already been here?”
He shook his head. “No, I was delayed, sorry.”
“But, I just saw a man inside the building,” she explained.
He shrugged. “Oh, well, that’s the other ghost. He used to be a maintenance man and he died here.”
“Oh.” (Two ghosts in one building – such a deal!!!)
The other story happened in the restaurant itself. One of the owners was working late at night with the man who takes care of all of their computers. They were in the office, but the computer guy had to go to the bathroom. So, he had to leave the office, walk down a hall, cross over the large room that holds the restaurant and then down another hallway to the bathroom. Only the emergency lights were on in the rest of the building, but the guy had been there a bunch of times, so he wasn’t worried.
He went to the bathroom and, a few minutes later, walked back to the office. When he got there, he said to the owner. “I thought you said we were the only ones in the building.”
She said, “We are.”
He shook his head. “When I walked across the restaurant, at the far end, I saw a man dressed in a baker’s uniform walk through the restaurant and into the back room. He even waved at me.”
She stared at him and her voice was slightly shaky when she responded. “Back in World War I, the bakery was back in that area. But there’s no one else in the building but us.”
(No one living, that is!)
They immediately closed things down and left for the night.
If you want to visit Camp Grant – and you really should – check out their website. Ghosts and good food – how can you pass that up?