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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Kennedy Hill Crash

I grew up in a small town on the yellow plains of Illinois, north and west of Chicago, south of the breweries of Wisconsin, and like all small towns, we had our stories.

Yes, I know I've previously said I grew up in Minnesota, and that's also a fact. The Truth is in between...I began life in one place, and finished growing up in another. Who didn't?

There are a couple "local" tales that captured my imagination and still take up my memory, both surrounding an area near our town that seemed to be a center for bad things, and an area we had to pass by frequently for most of us had to go to nearby Rockford for various services not available in our town of pop. 2,000.

The first tale involved a ghost. It was one of those "hitchhiker" type stories, and there are variations. The story I heard said that a young woman had been out jogging and was killed by a hit-and-run driver. From that day on, it happened that a young woman with flowing blonde hair would be seen walking or running on the shoulder of Kennedy Hill Road. But once someone passed her, she would disappear. Some drivers became alarmed and stopped, thinking maybe they had hit her, but there was never anyone there.

After this story arose, so did many others, and I've seen/heard several variations. One of my friends in elementary school told of seeing a disembodied hand one night around the time of Halloween. We all believed her and properly screamed in horror at the very idea of what she must have suffered.

Eventually the Kennedy Hill Ghost was debunked and revealed to be a hoax, but somehow, it remained a part of the staunch local folklore. And I don't remember ever driving along Kennedy Hill Road without looking for the ghost, always disappointed that she wasn't there.

Anyway...back at the Riverfront...

Believe it or not, this post DOES have a point, and maybe that point is folklore, too. I recently told this story to someone, but have to admit I'm now questioning it myself. Without names and dates, I can't be sure what I'm about to say is anything more than a story, although it's one told by my mother when she was still in her right mind.

She's lost a lot of her memory these days, and so I can't go back and really verify this story. So I'm telling it from childhood memory, and from that, I've learned a lesson I hope to share with you. A lesson that doesn't depend on the facts, but on the moral of the story. (Yes, classic Adoro. And I'll admit I'm writing this post under the influence of Flannery O'Connnor but without the character development).

As I said, it was a small town. Our region had a lot of small towns, and I grew up in a little neighborhood referred to locally as "The Terrace". We were in limboland between the farm and the town, a little unmapped country neighborhood between Byron and Oregon. When we got beyond the hill, we could see the towers that made up the Nuclear Plant (think "The Simpsons"), just past Lover's Lane (named for the urban legend). We also frequently went in the other direction, where Mom and Dad told us horror stories about people and boats being sucked under the Dam in Oregon. One summer day we were at Lowden State Park, admiring the statue of Chief Blackhawk, and saw an empty boat pass by. Later, we arrived at the Dam in time to see the boat approach it. I don't recall what happened. I think it was stuck in the current, but they snagged it before it gave up and was sucked under and broken into toothpicks under the dam.

I grew up with a horror for river currents. I love the beauty and nostalgia of the river, but I can't ever see one without thinking of the dirty, murky, deadly currents that made up the Rock River, nor can I ever forget about the story that happened at the juncture of the northern River Road (Rural Route 2)where it meets Kennedy Hill Road somewhere northeast of Byron.

Mom told us of a Pastor and his Wife (There!...does that sound like an Urban Legend or what?) who had to go to a conference in Rockford. They drove past our neighborhood from the Methodist parsonage in Oregon, on the 20 minute drive to Rockford where the Conference was being held. It was a Friday night. When they got to the dangerous intersection of River Road and Kennedy Hill Road, they were involved in a serious car accident. Their car was totalled, and they were taken by ambulance to the ER at the nearest hospital, which was in Rockford.

Some friends came to pick them up and take them home. (I always questioned this part as a child...if they were OK to be released, why didn't their friend just bring them to the Conference?).

Well, they decided that they HAD to get to this conference for some reason. It was ABSOLUTELY Necessary. Maybe the good Pastor was a presenter. Who knows?

They were so insistent that a friend finally lent them their own car, and the next day, the holy couple headed into Rockford.

When they reached the intersection of River Road and Kennedy Hill Road, they were hit head-on by another vehicle and killed instantly.

I still remember my mother's horrified expression when she told that story. She always interpreted it, and so have I, that, on that evening, they were meant to die. God had called them Home.

But now, I have a different understanding. Now, I see it as a type of warning. The first accident was discipline. The Pastor and his wife THOUGHT they were supposed to go to the conference, but a fairly serious accident prevented them. They must have been injured seriously enough to deter them.

But then, they reconsidered in spite of their aches and pains, and decided they STILL had to get there. And so they found the means and they went. And that was the end of it. It was clear that they were NOT meant to go. In fact...they died.

Maybe that story happened, or maybe it didn't. But it still has a moral. I know that I've experienced "warnings" and when I failed to heed those warnings, I paid the price. Those warnings can be small, or they can be a deadly car crash.

God's warnings are ALWAYS educational. They make a point; this is found throughout scripture, in both the Old Testament and the New. The prophets are all about warnings bent on education.

Sometimes we just have to open our eyes to see...and heed...the warnings we are given.

I can't tell you if the story of the Pastor and his wife is true. I think it is...Mom was horrified enough, and I recall going with neighbors to that very church, and meeting the Pastor and his wife on an evening not too long before the incident occurred. They knew we were Catholic, and respected that fact. They welcomed us and didn't make a big deal that we were there.

And not long after, they died.

It made an impact on me. I think the story is real.

Maybe I'm just a gullible small town girl now living in a big city...but sometimes even urban legends carry lessons that take us far beyond childhood.


Anonymous said...

I used to live in Byron, and I was just wondering - when and how was this proven to be a hoax?

Adoro said...

Hi, Sam.

It's been many years, but as I recall, someone came forward and admitted they made it up and the incident never happened. I think if you do a little web research, you may STILL be able to find the news articles or references to it. We were all terribly disappointed that it was a hoax! :-)

Thomas L. Vaultonburg said...

I'm not sure anyone came forward to claim it was a hoax. There was something out there, as far as what it might be I haven't an idea.

Adoro said...

Zombie Logic ~ As I said to the poster above, if you do the internet research, you should find the info.

As I recall, at that time, someone DID admit that it was all a hoax, it was all over all the newspapers, and it was all the buzz in our schools.

In fact, it was how I learned the word "hoax" from one of my precocious friends!

Anonymous said...

I've lived in Rockford for over 48 years and that story has been around since the mid 70's and to this day nobody has come forward and admitted it was a hoax.

The newspaper published a few articles on the "ghost" claiming that it had to be a "hoax" but that was never proven either.

It sort of died off during the 90's and 2,000's and only recently have people started talking about it again.

Jason Rote said...

I was wondering if anybody knows anything about Deerfield Estate on Kennedy Hill Rd?

Adoro said...

Nothing I've ever heard.