Galesburg native and senior Zachary Gregory won’t return to the Railroad days (RR days) carnival after hearing gunshots and witnessing fights break out on June 23.
As Gregory was enjoying a piece of funnel cake, a group of teenagers walked past Gregory and his friends. One of the teenagers bragged that he was “packing that ice.”
“‘Packing ice’ as in he was carrying a gun. [My friends] joked about that because it sounds freaking stupid, but I didn’t think any kid would actually be dumb enough to bring a gun,” Gregory said.
While standing in line for an attraction, Gregory heard a commotion coming from the carnival’s crowd and saw a few fights break out. According to Gregory, RR days is known for becoming rowdy.
“I didn’t think much of it because it’s pretty common for fights to break out, especially near the Beer Garten. I’ve seen plenty of fights and people being belligerent in Galesburg – just acting like complete animals,” Gregory said.
Gregory used to look forward to RR days as a young child. However, he started to notice a darker side to the event while picking up trash for the carnival as a Boy Scout.
“I [was] staying there for a really long time and I realized that there were certain points during the night where the carnival was an unsafe place and attracted [unsavory] types,” Gregory said.
Things took a turn for the worse at approximately 9:30 p.m., as the Register-Mail reported, two bullets were shot into the air. Though no one was reportedly struck by the bullets, social media posts of the incident depict mass panic as fights broke out again between attendees.
“I heard the first shot. Then I saw people running towards us and I was like, ‘oh shit, what’s going on?’ We stuck around for five minutes, which probably wasn’t a good idea,” Gregory said. “Everyone was trying to run out. Kids were crying and some people were having panic attacks.”
For Gregory, the incident tarnishes his memories of the carnival. He believes the carnival is a symbol of tradition and heritage for Galesburg. As a child he enjoyed seeing all the lights the carnival brought.
“I don’t know what to say – it sets a bad impression for Galesburg and it sets a bad impression for the carnival,” he said. “I don’t see the carnival doing well next year because people will be thinking about this incident.”
Gregory believes having an increased police presence and fixing the times of operation of the carnival is a step in the right direction.
“The carnival used to stay open until around 12 a.m. or 1 a.m., but now the [latest] the carnival stays open is 11 p.m … I think that causes people to show up earlier and try to act more belligerent within that time frame,” Gregory said.
Gregory fears the shooting incident at RR days will cause people to turn a blind eye to the good parts of the town.
According to the Register-Mail, a week after the incident around 75 Galesburg residents rallied around the site of the incident. The goal of the rally was to discuss how to improve public safety and the reputation of the community.
“People don’t see the diversity that’s in Galesburg. There are good parts of Galesburg and there are bad parts. I think this [incident] was a reflection of those bad parts. Galesburg itself isn’t like that,” Gregory said.
As for RR days, Gregory will be leaving the Galesburg tradition behind.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever go back,” he said. “Generally it’s not that safe, but if people are going to bring guns into RR days, I’m not going to suggest it to any of my friends.”