ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — It’s that spooky time of year again, and Rockford ghost stories are already starting to circulate around autumn campfires and office water coolers. 

Well, maybe not water coolers, but it’s almost Halloween, which means Rockfordians are excited to retell stories about the city’s creepiest places. 

Old factories, theaters, parks, and of course, some old mansions are said to be the sites of unexplained happenings. From dark, shadowy figures to strange, unexplained screams, these places are said to have it all. But, are these things the workings of the long-departed or just a bunch of bunk?

In other words, are Rockford’s spookiest places occupied by ghosts and ghouls or are people just imagining the whole thing?

According to some paranormal investigators, the answer to the first part of the question is a resounding “yes.” Ghosts are real. These ghost hunters believe without a doubt that the spirits of the dead are to blame for odd occurrences at the Coronado Theatre and Rockford University, two of the city’s reported paranormal hotbeds.

To those not yet sold on the existence of ghosts, a strange sound could be just that. An unusual shadow could be just a shadow, or it could be chalked up to the paranormal. They’re not convinced either way.

Travis Dahlhauser, of the Greater Rockford Apparition & Ghost Group (GRAGG), conducts local paranormal investigations all over the city and finds himself somewhere between a true believer and an outright skeptic.

“At this point, we remain skeptical but have definitely experienced things we cannot explain,” Dahlhauser said. “We investigate to prove to others, especially ourselves, that ghosts are real.”

Co-producer of the YouTube series “Mission Terror,” Dahlhauser says he has experienced plenty of eery things, including at the Coronado and Rockford’s most famous spooky spot, Tinker Swiss Cottage. 

He says regardless of what’s behind the things he’s witnessed while investigating in Rockford, he’s seen enough to use the word “haunted” confidently.

“We’ve investigated and filmed at over 50 locations in probably over 10 states, and we can say that Illinois is definitely one of the most haunted states,” he said. “Rockford is one of the most haunted cities in one of the most haunted states.”

David Pedersen, owner of Maze Books in downtown Rockford, says as a writer and lover of prose, he appreciates the stories but is far from ready to attribute strange happenings to ghosts. 

“The simple fact of the matter is that we all ‘want to believe’ in paranormal experiences because they are more interesting than reality,” Pedersen said. “And they provide some with an illusion of certainty about what may come after death. Nobody stops for a minute and thinks, ‘Why would I be wrangling chains and walking up and down my old stairs for all eternity? Do we just live to die to haunt the living?’”

Maze Books does carry some works about the paranormal though.

Pederson says he currently has a few copies of “Spooky Rockford,” a collection of tales by Gary Hill, along with fellow authors and folklorists Heath D. Alberts, Ernie Fuhr, Diane Hill, and Kathi Kresol. 

“I (also) have some copies of Skeptical Inquirer in the shop,” Pederson said. “In my personal collection, I have ‘Flim-Flam! Psychics, ESP, Unicorns, and Other Delusions’ by James Randi, founder of JREF, who offered a $1 million prize to any person who could demonstrate supernatural abilities under scientific observation. Not one person has been able to claim this prize.”

Hill, along with Pedersen and author Dan Klefstad, will be reading ghost stories on Oct. 28 at Maze Books, 117. S. Third St., Rockford.

More ‘haunted’ Rockford locations

Briggs Mansion

Built in 1863, the restored Briggs Mansion is a former Rockford home near East State and Ninth streets. Most recently used as an event venue, it is said to be haunted by a little boy, who can be heard playing, and whose shadow runs from room to room. The property is currently vacant.

Bloods Point Road

This road in CherryValley is purportedly one of the area’s most haunted locations. Legend has it that many years ago, a busload of school children were driven over the Bloods Point Road Bridge, killing them all. Today, the kids and some sort of demonized dog, are said to haunt the area near the crash site.

As chilling as the story sounds, it’s simply not true. Local journalists have tried to verify it several times but found no record of a bus crash ever occurring on Bloods Point Road. 

Twin Sister Hills Park

There are numerous ghost stories associated with Twin Sister Hills Park. For decades, people have reported hearing screams and the voices of children when no children are present. Coincidently though, these reports are most common around Halloween.

Attempts to verify reports of hangings that occurred in the woods near the sledding hills have been unsuccessful. The park is on 27th Street, near Keith Creek.

What do you think? What is the spookiest place in Rockford? Let us know.