“You mean,” said Marina, “you mean that we’re sitting here over Hell?”
“Over a hell, conceivably. There are many hells, and the same place may be Hell or Purgatory, depending upon the situation. Most of them are private.”
Those words echo in my thoughts as we approach the building. Turner School, built in 1898, is no Balgrummo Lodging, the Scottish manor house that is the setting of Russell Kirk’s Lord of the Hollow Dark, and not simply because the massive brick-and-stone structure sits right in the heart of Rockford, Illinois, about as far geographically and culturally as you can get from the suburbs of Edinburgh.
Still, as I draw near to the building for the first time, the words play over and over again in my mind. For in Turner School, as in Balgrummo Lodging, unspeakable horrors—indeed, ritual murders—have taken place, and the closer we come, the more strongly I feel the possibility of unavenged souls trapped in the place of their bodies’ destruction—and the souls of some of their destroyers as well, returned here, years later, to the site of their sin. If there is such a thing as a Hell on earth (and theologians as late as St. Alphonsus Ligouri have argued that Hell is, indeed, a physical place), Turner School, I can have no doubt, is one.
Over the past eight-and-a-half years, I have passed by here countless times, but always in a car. Driving down Broadway, headed to a bookstore or restaurant, you cannot help but shudder as you pass, if you know what Turner School has become. The moment, however, passes quickly, aided by the speed of Dr. Kirk’s “mechanical Jacobin.” Only approaching by foot, and with the intent of being here, does the full weight of this place come to bear.
For Turner School is no longer a school but a victim, like the children it used to house, of America’s 50-year-long failed “experiment” in school desegregation. Rockford suffered for 13 years (from 1989 to 2002) under a federal desegregation lawsuit whose educational and social effects will be felt for decades to come and which may, in fact, have destroyed this town. And Turner School was there at the beginning, closed by the Rockford School Board in 1978 after parents, led by the courageous David Strommer (later, in the 1990’s, a school-board member and one of the fiercest opponents of desegregation, school consolidation, and judicial taxation), rose up against a plan to bus students from Turner to other schools to satisfy state “integration” guidelines. In the end, the board decided it was simply easier to force the issue by shuttering the school and scattering the children to the wind.
In doing so, the board not only sacrificed the students then at Turner School to the gods of “progress” and “diversity” but offered up future generations to something even worse: The building now houses the Northern Illinois Women’s Clinic (N.I.W.C.), the euphemistic name attached to Rockford’s only abortuary.
Partisans of state-sanctioned murder, such as Planned Parenthood, like to portray the “procedure” as “safe” and “clinical,” performed as an “outpatient service” in “modern facilities.” Fort Turner (as its owner, Wayne Webster, refers to the decommissioned school) gives the lie to the glowing description.
In the pro-death mythology, thousands of women died every year in back alleys across America until an “enlightened” Supreme Court, in 1973, overturned the laws of all 50 states regulating the barbaric “procedure.” From the outside, however, Fort Turner has much in common with the alley to its east, where, as we walk down it, Aaron Wolf finds tattered porn magazines and empty liquor bottles. The horrifying thought crosses both of our minds: Are children being conceived out here, only to be butchered inside? At the very least, it seems likely that less “respectable” partisans of death—less respectable, that is, than politicians and doctors—may get a sick thrill from performing their own ritual acts so close to the gates of Hell, where even the mulberry trees in the fencerow refuse to bear fruit.
While the 50,000 or more children he has murdered over the past 30 years will never have names by which they can be remembered, the butcher of Fort Turner, “Dr.” Richard Ragsdale (I refuse to use his title without the inverted commas), will go down in history for his “contribution” to “a woman’s right to choose.” Showing exquisite care for his “patients,” Ragsdale filed suit in 1988 to overturn an Illinois law that required “clinics” like N.I.W.C. to have operating rooms that meet hospital standards. (Ragsdale was already operating out of Fort Turner by that point.) Turnock v. Ragsdale, scheduled to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court on December 5, 1989, was expected to provide the Court with an opportunity to revisit Roe v. Wade (or at least to clarify questions raised earlier that year in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services). On November 22, however, the case was settled out of court, when the state of Illinois agreed to create a new class of lightly regulated abortion “clinics” (that just happened to include Ragsdale’s chamber of horrors at Fort Turner) and guaranteed the “right” to an abortion with essentially no restraints through the 18th week of pregnancy.
“Dr.” Ragsdale has privileges at two of the hospitals in town, SwedishAmerican and Rockford Memorial. (St. Anthony’s does not let him in the door.) As we walk back up the alley to Broadway and the front of Fort Turner, I wonder: Do any members of the board of either hospital ever pass by here? If so, what do they think of the rubber chickens hanging in the gable windows, Wayne Webster’s sick slap at the pro-lifers who meet out on the sidewalk every week to pray? Or the signs in other windows: “What the Hell You Looking Up Here For?”; “PROTECTED BY MR. SMITH & MR. WESSON”; and, just to show his concern for his tenant’s “patients,” “BEWARE OF PICKPOCKETS AND WILD WOMEN”? (Previous signs were even worse: “Jesus loves these braindead a–holes,” “These Bible-thumpers suffer from lack-o-nookie,” “Free coat hangers to picketer’s wives and mothers,” “God bless these horny old sweat-hogs.”) Or the mocking little shrine Webster has created of items—a crucifix, a nun doll, a picture of Pope John Paul II—left behind by pro-lifers? Do they know that Webster’s own son went to Turner School, where now 25 to 70 children are slaughtered every week? Do they even care?
The answer is obvious. The “pro-life” Republican candidate for mayor in 2001, Denny Johnson, sits on the board of SwedishAmerican. When I questioned him on a radio talk show during the campaign, he gave the standard dodge—Ragsdale doesn’t perform abortions in our hospital—and dismissed my suggestion that he take a pledge that, as mayor, he would use zoning regulations to close down Fort Turner. (The idea, he admitted, had never even crossed his mind.)
Webster and Ragsdale are both living proof that abortion is not simply a “service” that someone can “provide” while being otherwise normal and well adjusted. Webster has confronted pro-lifers outside of Fort Turner wearing a devil costume; he once hired someone to pass out helium-filled condoms to pro-lifers’ children. On killing days, he broadcasts loud music and other sounds from loudspeakers mounted on the outside of the building, to drown out the voices of the faithful praying the rosary. Ragsdale and his wife, Debbie DeMars, were charged in September 1994 with four counts of producing and distributing child pornography, after they took film to a local developer that included pictures of their three-year-old foster daughter in suggestive poses, wearing a black-lace thong, with her genitals exposed. When Ragsdale and his lawyer claimed that the charges were politically motivated, Winnebago County’s Republican “pro-life” state’s attorney, Paul Logli, quickly cut a deal in which, in exchange for the charges being dropped, DeMars signed a statement admitting that the photos “were of an inappropriate nature and could constitute a violation of state law.” (If the photos “could constitute a violation of state law,” isn’t it the duty of the state’s attorney to prosecute?) State child-protection services apparently regarded the situation more seriously than Logli did: The girl was removed from the home and never returned to Ragsdale and DeMars.
Walking down the sidewalk on Broadway, I understand clearly for the first time the deepest dimensions of this battle. If they knew where the gates of Hell were, would the faithful not keep constant vigil outside, offering—as in a scene from a medieval fresco—rosaries as lifelines to those being dragged down into the pit by leering demons? And these doors—once the girls’ entrance to Turner School—are truly a gate to Hell.
Most pro-lifers speak reflexively of abortion as “the destruction of innocent human life.” Would that it were. Looking at the doors, I begin to understand the frustration and the horror that must have overwhelmed Fr. John Earl when, in September 2000, he smashed his car into Fort Turner and set about destroying the inside with an ax, before Webster, who lives in his house of horrors, convinced him to stop by firing two shotgun blasts into the wall. For Father Earl remembers the words of the Psalmist: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” The children sacrificed on Richard Ragsdale’s altar of progress bear no personal guilt, but they have inherited Adam’s sin. That is why abortion is perhaps the most perfect weapon Satan has ever devised: Deprived of Baptism, the souls of these children may never find true rest. That—more so than the death and destruction of the body—is the true horror of the act.
Father Earl, by his reception of Holy Orders, is an alter Christus, and perhaps he thought he was acting as such. Some acts in salvation history, however, are only to be performed once, and Christ Himself descended into Hell, throwing the gates wide. Our struggles are out in this world, not inside the doors of Fort Turner.
Some abortionists undoubtedly understand what they accomplish when they destroy an unborn child; does Richard Ragsdale understand as well? We can only pray that he does, because then there is the possibility that his victims are, in some sense, martyrs, and that their souls may thus find rest.
In Kirk’s novel, 12 disciples gather at Balgrummo Lodging, where their leader, Apollinax, promises to grant them a “Timeless Moment”—an experience to be gained through the murder of a mother and her fatherless child. In the midst of their act of depravity, Apollinax arranges for them, too, to die; and he knows that he will have created the only kind of Timeless Moment man can gain through his actions alone: the inverse of the Beatific Vision; an eternity in Hell.
Confused and beguiled by the lies of the god of progress, the prince of this world, the women who enter the gates of this hell, if they emerge again, may, in time and through the prayers of the faithful, come to recognize and—more importantly—repent of their sin. And, in time, Richard Ragsdale and Wayne Webster will pass on, and Fort Turner may once again lie vacant, except for those souls trapped in a Timeless Moment within its walls—and possibly those other souls who, having repented, are graciously granted the ability, after their death, to continue, in time, to work out their salvation with fear and trembling.
“You mean,” said Marina, “you mean that we’re sitting here over Hell?”
“Over a hell, conceivably. There are many hells, and the same place may be Hell or Purgatory, depending upon the situation.”