Rockford University’s Whispers of the Past

[] Rockford, Illinois’ first college, established before the city was even chartered, was Rockford Female Seminary.  Jane Addams, who would go on to fame as a social reformer and co-founder of Chicago’s Hull House, was a graduate of the seminary in 1881. In 1892 RFS became known as Rockford College, which remained a predominately female academy until 1958. In 1964 the campus was moved from its home along the river to its present location along State Street. It changed its name to Rockford University in 2014.

While rich in history, Rockford University is also rich in ghostlore and the origin of a wide variety of alleged haunts. No less than three buildings are said to be home to restless spirits, along with one memorial arch, which was built using materials from the original Rock River campus. Blanche Walker Burpee Center, Adams Arch, and the Clark Arts Center run the gambit of ghostly phenomenon, from disembodied voices, to moving objects, to phantom reflections, and a whole host of other unexplained things.

Out of all of the buildings at Rockford University, the Clark Arts Center, which contains both Cheek and Maddox theaters, is thought to be the most haunted. Ancient frescos depicting figures in various stages of celebration, often playing instruments, line the hall outside Maddox Theatre. Their cherubic faces, it has been said, change expressions and even watch the audience as the guests filter in for a performance. Aboriginal artifacts from Africa, as well as a collection of Hopi Indian kachina dolls, are also on display in the hallways that lead to the class and practice rooms. For many years, these fragile bowls, masks, and dolls were locked in a storage room. Reports of heavy, ominous feelings made sure no one ever entered there alone.

Cheek Theatre, named after Mary Ashby Cheek, is a much smaller theater located on the ground floor opposite of Maddox. The walls are painted black, giving it a gloomy appearance that compliments its resident ghost. Before some performances, theater students say they have seen a shadowy figure, which they assert is the ghost of a former music teacher who died in a car accident.

A few yards south of the Clark Arts Center rests a scenic memorial known as Adams Arch. On certain evenings, when the air is very still, visitors have reported hearing the laughter of young women in its vicinity.

Blanche Walker Burpee Center, another allegedly haunted building, serves as the college’s welcome center as well as the bookstore and the offices for administrative services. Some students and storytellers maintain that the basement formerly held a radio station that was the scene of a man’s suicide. No one is quite clear about who this man was, whether a student or employee, but individuals who find themselves in the building after hours report hearing doors slamming shut, footsteps, and a man’s disembodied voice in the basement.

Despite not being as well-known as other haunted colleges, Rockford certainly is in the running for one of the most haunted in Illinois.


Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & UniversitiesRead more about college ghost stories in Michael Kleen’s new book, Ghostlore of Illinois Colleges & Universities! At schools across Illinois, students tell ghostly tales, from beloved librarians who refuse to go home, to sad specters suffering from a broken heart. Join Michael Kleen as he explores the history and mystery behind haunted college dorms, libraries, classrooms, theaters, and more. In this one-of-a-kind book, current and former students and faculty tell their tales of mysterious encounters at their beloved alma maters. Kleen scours every source to bring these stories to light in the first book exclusively devoted to Illinois college lore. Why do ghost stories continue to have such an appeal on college campuses? What are the scariest stories from universities in Illinois? Is there any truth to the tales? These questions and more will be answered. Go here to order!

Sorry guys, this page is copyright, 2015. You do not have permission to copy this for any reason. Please learn how to cite your work.


  1. […] Rockford University (known as Rockford College until 2013) is steeped in history. It was founded in 1847 as Rockford Female Seminary and changed its name in 1892, but remained a predominately female academy until 1958. Jane Addams graduated from the school in 1881. In 1964 the campus was moved from its home along the river to its present location along State Street. […]


  2. […] graduated from Rockford Female Seminary in 1881. Rockford Female Seminary evolved into present-day Rockford University, which is home to numerous ghost stories. The laughter of past students has been heard in the […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: