Latest Event Updates

Current Exhibit: Victorian Women’s Fashion

Posted on

From September 30, 2020 to July 18, 2021, the Red and Yellow Rooms in the Cottage have been set up with an exciting exhibit: Victorian Women’s Fashion! Want to know more about how Victorian ladies dressed before you visit the Cottage? We’ve highlighted some of the best pieces from our exhibit to discuss below.

Welcome to the Wonderful World of Victorian Women’s Fashion

The Victorian Era is possibly best well known for the elegance and grandeur that made its way into all aspects of daily life, from one’s attire to one’s bedpan– it was high class or no class for the wealthy Victorians. 

However, the Victorian Era lasted from 1837-1901 (the 60-year reign of Queen Victoria), so it is difficult to narrow down a singular fashion style. Our current exhibit showcases beautiful pieces of Victorian era fashion that span throughout the various trends. Displayed on the mannequins are the wedding dress of Robert’s sister, Abigail Marina Tinker (left), a brown “walking dress” made of corduroy and velveteen (center), and a late Victorian Era green satin dress (right). When looking at these beautiful pieces you can see how starkly different they are, showcasing the range of style during the era.

While exploring this exhibit you will also see the plethora of accessories Victorian women wore.  From hats to purses, umbrellas to shoes, the Victorians were known for their fanciful style. The second half of this exhibit showcases the lesser known aspects of fashion: undergarments, getting dressed, and how pieces were made.

Accessories of the Victorian Woman

Accessories were wildly popular for both men and women during the Victorian era. From hats to spats, there was always something to add to an outfit!

Victorian women dawned magnificent hats for both fashion and functionality, as the hats created shade from the sun. These hats would be secured to their hair via decorative hat pins. When they weren’t wearing hats, women often wore elegant hairpins to style their hair.

Jewelry was also incredibly popular at the time. Wealthy women were adorned with necklaces, bracelets, rings, and broaches. Queen Victoria set trends with her jewelry tastes, but she also wore necklaces that were of sentimental value to her, such as a heart-shaped locket around her neck, containing a lock of her husband’s hair.

Gloves were not merely accessories; they were status symbols. Wealthy women often wore gloves too small for them to ensure their hands looked petit and clean, distancing them from the hand of a working woman.

Behind the Scenes

Underneath the beautiful garments were layers of clothes in place to give those dresses their desired forms. Those cinched waistlines that go hand in hand with Victorian fashion were a result of tightly laced corsets.

Bustles, crinolines, and hoopskirts all aided in filling out the hips and lower back areas of the dresses, giving them the robust silhouettes.  

In the yellow room, you see an unfinished blue corduroy dress that one of the Tinker/Dorr women started. Women would often get their dress patterns or inspiration from magazines, such as the one you see on the wall dated 1886 from The Young Ladies Journal.

For most of human history clothing was handmade and fit specifically to whomever was going to wear it. It was not until the development of the sewing machine in the 1850s that clothing could be quickly and mass produced, thus changing the fashion industry forever.

The Language of the Fan

Hand fans have been a staple of societies across the globe throughout history, serving the obvious purpose of cooling oneself, but also often holding deeper significance. The language of the Victorian fan has been studied and translated, exposing a wealth of knowledge. The Victorian era is synonymous with restrictive societal etiquette; therefore, women needed a way to communicate that allowed them to express their feelings in delicate ways.

Hidden meanings of specific gestures conveyed everything from “I love you” to “I despise you.” For instance, the way this woman has her fan positioned (open in her right hand) suggests she is telling a potential suitor “he is too willing”.


Interested in visiting the exhibit? We have scheduled tours at 1pm and 3pm Tuesday through Sunday! Be sure to call our office at 815-964-2424 or email us at in order to book your tour today!

~ Samantha

What’s Up? April 2021

Posted on

The staff at Tinker Swiss Cottage are excited to dive into spring! So, what’s up in April?

Join us for a Tour!

Starting in April, tours will now be back to our usual schedule of Tuesdays through Sundays at 1pm and 3pm. We do still require face masks and reservations for tours. Also, during the month of April, all Wednesdays are Donation Days!

We would also like to take the time to remind our visitors of our usual museum guidelines. 

  • Food and beverages are not allowed in the Museum. 
  • Feel free to take photos while on tour, but please keep the flash off. 
  • Please do not sit on any of the furniture. Folding chairs are available and are sanitized after every tour. 
  • Please do not touch the artifacts – even if you have super cool mittens. 

To reserve your tour date and time, you can either call our office at 815-964-2424 or send an email to

Paranormal Investigation with Haunted Rockford & Ghost Head Soup!

Did you ever want to see what a real paranormal investigation is all about? This is your chance to find out! These exciting events will let you be the paranormal investigator! Guests will be in small groups as you join the staff in the most active locations in the Cottage. You are welcome and encouraged to bring your own equipment.

April 24: Paranormal Investigation w/ Haunted Rockford & Ghost Head Soup 7-11 PM

Tickets are $40 and must be paid in advance. You can purchase tickets HERE!

Get Involved

2020 Volunteer of the Year: Jackie Abels

Jackie has been a volunteer at Tinker since May of 2018. A retired Rockford native, Jackie wanted to make a difference in her community, so she signed up to be a gardener in our historic Tinker Gardens.

During the summer months of 2020, Jackie accumulated 260 volunteer hours! We are very thankful to have her as part of our fantastic group of volunteers.

Jackie stated, “The house is fantastic, and it has been a great privilege and honor to help with the gardens. I look forward to spring and doing what I can to make the grounds of this grand house shine!”

Volunteer at Tinker Cottage

Interested in giving tours? Want to share your gardening skills? 
We’d love to have you join our volunteer team! If you are interested in becoming a Docent (tour guide), we are currently accepting Docent volunteer positions.

Our garden volunteers are starting back to work in the gardens! We have multiple areas we need your help in. Our Victorian Rose Garden, Historic Iris Garden, and Railroad Gardens are all in need of some TLC. If you or anyone you know would be interested in joining our garden team, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

For more information or to sign up, please email our Executive Director at

Join Our Membership

Have you renewed your Tinkermembership for 2021? All membership renewals will be extended due to the museum’s closure for the past two months.  Family Memberships are $50/year and Individual Memberships are $25/year. Both membership tiers come with the following benefits: 

  •  Free General Admission
  •  Membership Recognition in the Annual Report
  •  Discount on Special Event Tickets
  •  Constant Contact updates and news from the museum
  •  10% Museum Store Discount
  •  Tinker Newsletter
  •  Membership to the Time Traveler Program with free and discounted admission into over 300 museums
  • across the country!

Be sure to renew your membership today by calling 815-964-2424 or visit our WEBSITE!

Thanks for checking in this month. We hope to see you soon!

Celebrating Women’s History Month

Posted on

While march has only been recognized as Women’s History Month since the late 1980’s, it celebrates the plethora of contributions American women have made throughout the country’s history. In his proclamation declaring March 7th– March 14th (1982) Women’s History Week President Ronald Regan said:

American women of every race, creed and ethnic background helped found and build our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways … As leaders in public affairs, American women not only worked to secure their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity but also were principal advocates in the abolitionist, temperance, mental health reform, industrial labor and social reform movements, as well as the modern civil rights movement.

The acknowledgment and celebration of women’s contributions has thusly been in the forefront of people’s minds every March since.

The Tinker and Dorr women who resided in the Cottage were progressive thinkers who made many notable contributions to the Rockford community. Mary Dorr Manny Tinker was legally unable to run her first husband’s company, The Manny Reaper Works, after his passing in 1856, but that did not stop her from playing an integral role in the future of the company. In fact, it was Mary’s decision to hire a young gentleman from New York to serve as the company accountant, that gentleman of course being Robert Tinker. Mary was a member of the Second Congregational Church, Women’s Christian Temperance Union, Rockford’s Seminary Visiting Committee, and was a founding member of the Ladies Union Aid Society that has evolved into today’s Family Counseling Services of Northern Illinois. She also served as both Secretary and Treasurer of the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Second Congregational Church. Mary’s sister Hannah Dorr was also a member of Second Congregation Church and helped minister others with their problems

Mary’s nieces that lived in the Cottage, Marcia Dorr and Jessie Dorr Hurd Tinker, both attended the Rockford Female Seminary with the incredibly influential Jane Addams. Marcia was even asked to help run Hull House, but respectively declined as she had obligations to help with bookkeeping here at the Cottage. Marcia also taught Sunday School at Second Congregational Church, helped run the trolley downtown, participated in the Daughters of the American Revolution, and played an active role in the Ladies Union Aid Society and Women’s Aid Society. Jessie was also a member of the Second Congregational Church, a Member of the Temperance Society, and a proponent of Women’s Suffrage. She served on the Board of Directors for the McFarlane Children’s Home in Rockford and hosted many fundraisers on the Tinker Grounds.

These women made a difference in their community and serve as inspiration for all disenfranchised individuals. Despite the rigid societal roles they had to adhere to during the Victorian Era, they fought for what they believed in and worked hard to advocate for positive change. As time passes it is wonderful to see the nation make strides in a positive direction, and the roles women are playing in making these changes. We hope you enjoy the rest of Women’s History Month and stop by the museum soon to learn more about the Tinker and Dorr ladies.

To learn more about presidential proclamations regarding Women’s History Month, visit


What’s Up? March 2021

Posted on

Starting in 2021, Tinker Swiss Cottage will share posts at the beginning of each month to share what is going on during the month. So, what’s up in March?

Join us for a Tour!

We were excited to reopen the museum to the public in February during the week, and in March we are extending those hours to include Saturdays! Tours are still at 1pm and 3pm, and we do currently require a reservation.

In accordance with Winnebago County Health Department guidelines, we have some new restrictions for our tours at this time. 

  • Both our staff and our visitors are currently required to wear face masks. 
  • Staff will sanitize our buildings periodically throughout the day. 
  • Tours will be limited to Tuesday through Saturday at 1pm and 3pm. RESERVATIONS ARE REQUIRED.  
  • Tours will be limited to a maximum of 10 guests per tour. 
  • Hand washing and hand sanitizer stations are available.

We would also like to take the time to remind our visitors of our usual museum guidelines. 

  • Food and beverages are not allowed in the Museum. 
  • Feel free to take photos while on tour, but please keep the flash off. 
  • Please do not sit on any of the furniture. Folding chairs are available and are sanitized after every tour. 
  • Please do not touch the artifacts – even if you have super cool mittens. 

To reserve your tour date and time, you can either call our office at 815-964-2424 or send an email to

March 20: Paranormal Tour with The Haunting Table

Tinker Swiss Cottage is excited to dive into the fun of 2021! We are excited for our friends from The Haunting Table podcast to share the evidence they’ve captured in the Cottage and in their paranormal explorations. 
Join us for scintillating tales from paranormal experts, listen to audio clips found in the Tinker Cottage, and enjoy a tour with the chance to have your own paranormal encounter. You are welcome and encouraged to bring your own equipment (cameras, camcorders, audio recorders, emf). Each event begins in the Barn. 
Tickets are limited to only 20 guests, and all participants are required to wear face masks and practice social distancing. 
Purchase your tickets HERE!

Get Involved

Volunteer at Tinker Cottage

Interested in giving tours? Want to share your gardening skills? 
We’d love to have you join our volunteer team! If you are interested in becoming a Docent (tour guide), we are currently accepting Docent volunteer positions.
Our garden volunteers are currently on pause during the winter months, but we will soon need your help to keep the gardens in pristine condition!
For more information or to sign up, please email our Executive Director at

Join Our Membership

Have you renewed your Tinkermembership for 2021? All membership renewals will be extended due to the museum’s closure for the past two months.  Family Memberships are $50/year and Individual Memberships are $25/year. Both membership tiers come with the following benefits: 

  •  Free General Admission
  •  Membership Recognition in the Annual Report
  •  Discount on Special Event Tickets
  •  Constant Contact updates and news from the museum
  •  10% Museum Store Discount
  •  Tinker Newsletter
  •  Membership to the Time Traveler Program with free and discounted admission into over 300 museums
  • across the country!

Be sure to renew your membership today by calling 815-964-2424 or visit our WEBSITE!

Thanks for checking in this month. We hope to see you soon!

Lessons from the Past for the Future

Posted on

The Black Plague, Spanish Influenza, and H1N1, these are all historic disease outbreaks that many parallels are currently being drawn to and perhaps offer some insight into how to handle the devastating one we are currently facing, Covid-19. While we are hearing the phrase “unprecedented times” a lot in the news lately, it’s not very accurate, as history proves the world has faced horrific outbreaks multiple times, some in the not so distant past.   

Nevertheless, for chronological reasons it’s best to start with the oldest outbreak many people are drawing similarities to, The Black Plague. This global epidemic struck in the mid-1300’s and decimated Europe, killing off between 30-60% of the population, and again in the 1600’s hitting Italy particularly hard. People tried numerous different ways to combat the spread of the disease, with unfruitful results being more common than not. However, a few innovative ideas were extremely helpful and are still in (modified) use today, for instance the term “quarantine” which comes from the Venetian word “quarantena”, meaning forty days, which was how long men had to stay on their ship after porting. Of course, we all quarantined for various amounts of time in 2020 and understand how much it helps stop the spread of diseases. It is also hard to think of the Black Plague without thinking of the iconic plague doctor mask – thankfully a bit different than the masks we all are wearing today. 

While there were many other outbreaks since the Black Plague, the Spanish Influenza pandemic of 1918 comes to the mind of many people as it was relatively recent and directly affected Rockford. The end of the Great War was nigh, yet many communities were far from safe. On September 21st Camp Grant reported its first case of Spanish Influenza. Just two days later 400 cases were reported, and the camp was in need of 800 masks immediately. By September 30th, 18 men had perished and nearly 3,000 had been infected. Col. Charles B. Hagadorn, acting commander of the camp (who fellow soldiers said was distraught by the mounting death toll and his inability to slow the spread of a disease he couldn’t possibly understand) shot himself in the head with a .44-caliber Colt revolver. He had been at the camp just one month. When the epidemic ended a few weeks later, as suddenly as it had started, fatalities numbered 323 in Rockford, and more than 1,400 at Camp Grant. The global grand total from the three different waves of the outbreak is a staggering 50 million lives. 

Newspaper clippings courtesy of the Rockford Public Library

The only way to combat the spread was through non-pharmaceutical intervention; isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, and limitations of public gatherings. Sounds familiar, right? 

Even more recently than the Spanish Influenza was the H1N1 pandemic, which happened only 11 years ago. This was the first global flu pandemic that had hit in 40 years, and took everyone by surprise. From April 12, 2009 to April 10, 2010, the CDC estimated there were 60.8 million cases, 274,304 hospitalizations, and 12,469 deaths in the United States alone due to the virus. The first person known to be infected was reported on April 15th and by April 21st the CDC began working on a vaccine. On April 29th the World Health Organization raised the level of influenza pandemic alert from phase 4 to phase 5, signaling that a pandemic was imminent, and requested all countries to immediately activate their pandemic preparedness plans and be on high alert for unusual outbreaks of influenza-like illness and severe pneumonia. Then, on June 11th, the WHO raised the pandemic level again from phase 5 to phase 6, signaling that the virus was spreading to parts of the world previously unaffected. It wasn’t until September 15th that the FDA announced its approval of four 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccines, with the first doses being administered October 5th. However, it was not until August 11th 2010 that the WHO announced the end of the H1N1 influenza pandemic.   

It is imperative to study the past so that we may learn from it and avoid making dire mistakes when possible. This virus has put the world in a unique position: to either risk repeating history and face multiple devastating waves of viral outbreaks, or to learn from the past and err on the side of caution. While social distancing is difficult and albeit sometimes depressing it is necessary to save lives while the CDC works on a vaccine.

We know the Tinker family limited their outings and had to wear face masks for a period of time during the Spanish Influenza outbreak in 1918. The Victorians stayed around the house reading, writing letters, and enjoying time with their households. Again, sounds similar, doesn’t it? We are fortunate enough to live in a time full of innovative technological opportunities that allow us to not only video chat with friends and family, but also go on virtual tours of countless breathtaking places, take online classes about nearly anything, and continue to communicate with our communities. 

Our institution would like to take this opportunity to thank the many brave men and women risking their lives every day to help combat the spread of COVID-19. While the museum has been closed for multiple months in 2020, we are now reopening to the public again with new safety guidelines. Please be sure to check out our website for the new guidelines and for information on making reservations:


The Mother of Thanksgiving

Posted on

Have you ever stopped to wonder how our modern Thanksgiving traditions came to be? From early in life, we were told the story of the Native Americans helping the Pilgrims to survive after arriving in Pre-Colonial America.

But have you heard of the “Mother of Thanksgiving”? If you haven’t, buckle up for the exciting tale of a woman with revolutionary ideas by the name of Sarah Josepha Hale!

Sarah Hale

Sarah Hale was a prolific 19th century writer, best known for her poem “Mary’s Lamb” in 1830, which you may be familiar with as it is now a beloved nursery rhyme. Sarah’s literary talents did not stop there – she served as editor of Godey’s Lady Book, an unrivaled female focused publication, for roughly forty years. While editor, Sarah advocated for women’s education and the admission of women into the medical field.

In 1827, Sarah Hale wrote a novel titled, Northwood, a tale of New England. It is in this novel that she made the argument that, “Thanksgiving, like the fourth of July should be a national festival observed by all people.” While that may seem like an innocent proclamation, she then followed it with letter writing campaigns to members of Congress, Governors, and Presidents asking for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday.

Before Hale’s publication, Americans held Thanksgiving harvest festivals throughout most states, but each celebration was based on each community’s harvest schedule.

In 1849 President Zachary Taylor put it to a vote, but America was not ready to declare it a national holiday yet. According to Ryan Jordan in his book Church, State, and Race: the discourse of American Religious Liberty 1750-1900, many politicians took issue with the purposed verbiage, “A day of public thanksgiving and prayer”, as it seemingly violated the separation of church and state. Moreover, many southern states viewed the holiday as “Another manifestation of intrusive, New England moralism.”

Nevertheless, something changed in the 1860’s. Many newspapers began arguing in favor of the national holiday, as the media seemingly realized that in the midst of a Civil War with unparalleled magnitude and severity, the nation needed to make time for gratitude. In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated annually on the last Thursday of November. It took 36 years after Hale’s novel, but her mission was accomplished – and only two years before Tinker Swiss Cottage was built!

Tinker Swiss Cottage will be closed Monday November 25th through Friday November 29th. We will Resume our normal 1:00 and 3:00 O’clock tours on Saturday November 23rd, with the Cottage fully decorated for a Victorian Christmas. We hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving, and we hope you enjoy this special time with your families!



Victorian Crazy Quilts

Posted on

The Victorian period marked the invention of many new art forms and ways of personal expression. With more leisure time on their hands Victorian women began refining their personal artistic talents, including creating elaborate quilts. “Crazy Quilting” became all the rage among the Victorians. This art form involves taking scraps of various fabrics and forming an amalgamated quilt design. The name, however, is a bit of a misnomer – while the design may seem crazy it had to be carefully planned out in order for the pieces to fit together perfectly.

The style originated after women were introduced to the “crazed” asymmetrical style of ceramics at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Women then mimicked the style in their quilt work. Crazy Quilts allowed women to be as creative as they pleased with a variety of uniquely cut fabrics, including: velvet, silk, wool, satin, and brocade. Women also illustrated their creativity in their needlework and stitching styles; many quilts featured numerous intricate patterns.

Here at Tinker Swiss Cottage we are fortunate enough to have three of these quilts, and one of them is even a people’s choice award winner! This quilt features 56 blocks, roughly 8 ½ inch squares. Many of the fabric pieces directly revolve around Rockford and the current events of the period, offering interesting windows to the past. For example, religious bookmarks and event invitations can be seen sewn into this particular quilt.

quilt scraps

This quilt was primarily made by Jessie Dorr Hurd Tinker and was given to Mary Eiler, a woman who took care of Jessie and was in charge of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) project that cleaned the Cottage c. 1936. Then around 1998 Mary’s daughters returned the quilt to the Cottage where it is now proudly on display in the newly renovated upstairs bedroom that belonged to Mary Dorr Manny Tinker.


We cannot wait for you to come check out this beautiful quilt for yourself, along with the countless other unique artifacts the Cottage houses. Don’t forget – we have guided tours at 1:00 and 3:00, Tuesday-Sunday year round!

For further readings about the WPA Project visit:

For further readings on Victorian Crazy Quilts visit:




Summer at Tinker

Posted on

If you haven’t noticed yet, 2019 has proven to be quite the exciting year around Tinker Swiss Cottage! In the first half of the year we have wrapped up projects, hosted many events, and have had a change in staffing.

Cottage Changes

At the end of March 2019, the final phase of the Wallpaper Restoration project in Mary Tinker’s South Bedroom Suite was completed. After seven years of work, the entire South Bedroom and adjacent Dressing Room received a plasterwork treatment before the installation of a protective liner & decorative wallpaper. The wallpaper project was funded in part by the Jon Lundin Historic Preservation Grant of the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois awarded in 2012 & 2014.

Graphic Conservation of Chicago, IL worked to retrieve samples of the original 1890’s historic wallpaper in 2012. Reproduction paper was later created from those samples by Wolffhouse Wallpapers LLC in January 2015. The non-historic wallpaper was removed by the staff in February 2015 using best practices and noninvasive techniques. Two additional revisions were necessary and the final draft of the wallpaper proof was approved by the Collections Committee in December of 2015. The paper was ordered after Board approval by the end of January 2016. Additional private funds were received in 2018 to be able to move forward with the installation of the paper.
We are thrilled that this project has come to completion and invite you to come visit on a tour to see the rooms restored to their original 1890s glory!

On June 5th the large White Oak tree in front of the Cottage was removed. This was a necessary project after many years of dead rot eating up the trunk and roots of the tree. As sad as we are to see it go, we believe it was best to take it down before it fell onto the Cottage. We have saved the trunk and will be turning it into an educational tool for our school field trips. We will also be selling portions of the tree in our gift shop in various forms. We are hoping for the first pieces to hit our shelves around the end of November!


Our annual Tinker Visions Fundraising Breakfast was a huge success! We love getting to share our year in review and upcoming events with our community and are very thankful for the community’s support in return! We would like to send a special thanks to Hoffman House and Patty Oliveri’s RPS 205 Culinary Arts Students for providing the banquet hall and breakfast. If you were unable to attend but would like to still donate, you can do so HERE!

We have continued hosting our monthly Murder Mystery Nights and Paranormal Tours & Investigations during the first half of this year and will continue to do so during the remainder of the year. History truly is alive inside Tinker’s Cottage!

In June we kicked off our Summer Lecture Series with award-winning filmmaker and author John Borowski. His lecture of “H.H.Holmes: Beyond Devil in the White City” centered on America’s first serial killer who had built his “Murder Castle” in Chicago, IL. This lecture was a huge success, and we are excited to announce that John Borowski will be returning in November due to popular demand!

Last, but surely not least, Tinker Swiss Cottage was fortunate to receive a Kjellstrom Family Foundation Grant in January, which allowed us to bring the entire 4th grade from the Harlem School District down for a field trip. For many students, this was the first time they had heard of our museum, and we are very thankful that we were able to share our collection and Rockford’s history with just over 500 students and teachers!

Tinker Staff

Please help us congratulate Samantha Hochmann for her promotion to Executive Director of Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens! This promotion took place at the beginning of March 2019. Samantha replaces Steve Litteral who relocated to Tennessee last August. She is responsible for all operations, management, and activities of Tinker Swiss Cottage as prescribed by the Board of Trustees. Since August of 2018 Samantha has been the Interim Executive Director and has proven her ability to fulfill the requirements of the position. Prior to this, Samantha held the position of Director of Education at Tinker Swiss Cottage where she would give tours, host events, and manage the gift shop among many other things. Samantha holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in History from Northern Illinois University. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Samantha at 815-964-2424 or via email at

Please join us in welcoming our new Director of Education and Collections, Stephanie Hartman. Stephanie has recently received her Bachelor’s Degree from Northern Illinois University and accepted this full-time position in May of 2019. She volunteered with Tinker Swiss Cottage as a summer intern in 2018, and began working part time in the fall of 2018. We are excited to have her join our team full-time! If you would like to contact Stephanie, you can reach her at

Coming Up

But we’re not through yet! Over the second half of this year, Tinker Swiss Cottage will continue to offer exciting events.


We are excited to partner with Once Upon A Dream Performances for the third year in a row to bring you our annual Fairy Tale Tea Party! The fun begins at 10:00am on Saturday July 13th and winds down at 12:00pm. Tinker’s Fairy Tale Tea is an adventure for everyone! We encourage all of those attending to join in the fun and dress as their favorite

Enjoy three delectable courses of kid approved favorites including, scones, sandwiches, and dessert to compliment your endless amount of tea. Special princess appearances and music will be provided by Once Upon A Dream Performances and Young at Heart! Join our special guests in songs, stories and lots of tea party goodies! A first floor tour of the Tinker Cottage is included in the cost of the tea. Tickets to this event can be purchased HERE!


On July 19th, Tinker Swiss Cottage is thrilled to partner with Haunted Rockford to bring the renowned Ghost Investigator Dale Kaczmarek and his Ghost Research Society (GHS) to investigate this exciting location. Guests will meet up for the investigation at the barn and will travel through four “hot spots” in an actual paranormal investigation. The price of this event is $40.00 and must be paid in advance at To make other arrangements, please call Kathi at 815-871-4239.

Haunted Rockford Tinker
Our next Speakeasy Murder Mystery Night occurs on July 27th at 6:00pm! Dust off your flapper dress, zoot suits, and Tommy guns and get ready for your Roaring Twenties Murder Mystery Party! At the height of prohibition, morale was high, morals were at an all-time low, and most of the country was controlled by the Mafia. Enjoy your night but keep your guard up, we’d hate to lose any of our clientele! You can purchase your tickets for this event HERE!



Our Summer Lecture Series continues with author Kathi Kresol’s “Unsolved Crimes of Winnebago County” on August 10th at 2:00pm!


Our Summer Lecture Series concludes with historian and author Amanda Becker’s “Rockford’s Forgotten Driving Park” on September 7th at 2:00pm!

To purchase tickets for either of these lectures, feel free to call the office at 815-964-2424, stop into the Barn, or just click HERE!

Remember – on top of all of these wonderful events we also offer general history tours of the Tinker Swiss Cottage year-round, Tuesdays through Sundays beginning at 1:00pm and 3:00pm. We look forward to seeing you soon!



Antiquarianism During the Victorian Period

Posted on

Antiquarianism goes hand and hand with both History and Anthropology and was a favorite pastime for many wealthy Victorians, Robert Tinker included. What exactly is antiquarianism, you ask? Antiquarianism is the technical term for the study of antiquities or things of the past.

An Antiquarian scholar is one who studies antiquities, specifically what certain artifacts, archeological/historical sites, and literature can teach about any given region. Antiquarians tend to search for empirical evidence as their motto suggests “We speak from facts, not theory.” – Sir Richard Colt Hoare.

In the Tinker Cottage you will notice a cabinet filled with somewhat odd artifacts on the second floor of the library. The cabinet is fittingly called the Curio Cabinet or the Cabinet of Curiosities. It is filled with objects that Robert found curious, including geodes, coral pieces, seashells, and even a hornet’s nest!

Cabinet 1- full view
The Tinker Family’s Cabinet of Curiosities ©TinkerSwissCottageMuseum

Although the term is often used in the pejorative sense, antiquarians laid the groundwork for many museum collections in Europe and North American. However, the term has earned negative connotations due to the manner in which Antiquarians collected their artifacts, digging where they pleased and taking whatever pleased them. With little to no archaeological training or laws protecting antiquities at the time, the thin line between looters and antiquarians could be drawn between looters desire to sell artifacts and antiquarians desire to study and collect them. In fact, many antiquarians would buy artifacts from looters to fill their collections. Although the Tinker family did not fall under this type of collector, many antiquarians of the Victorian Era did. This created huge problems because without archeological context artifacts become merely unique or pretty objects, the context is needed to fully understand an artifacts’ importance temporally, spatially and culturally.

Fortunately, now there are a plethora of laws and guidelines that archaeologists must follow before ever breaking ground, this attempts to ensure the safety and preservation of artifacts and sites. While it is easy to look back and harshly critique antiquarian scholars it must be remembered that through their, albeit ethnocentric, point of view they were doing necessary work to preserve artifacts of interest.

Although visitors are not allowed on the second floor of the library due to safety precautions, a decent view of the Cabinet of Curiosity can be seen from the doorway connecting the library to Robert’s bedroom. We cannot wait to hear what you find curious in the Tinker Cottage!

Tinker Cottage Winter Updates 2018

Posted on

Now that cooler weather is upon us, we’d like to give you a quick overview of what will be coming your way from here until the end of the year.

Our Victorian Mourning Customs exhibit has been taken down as of November 1st. Missed your chance to see the exhibit? No worries, we have another exhibit coming your way! Starting the weekend after Thanksgiving and running through January, you will be able to visit our Victorian Christmas exhibit. Join us as we discuss Victorian Christmas traditions, parties, and how the Victorians still relate to us today.

You’re also going to want to stop by to see the Victorian Childhood Exhibit before it is taken down in the new year!

Looking for something to get you in the holiday spirit? Join us on December 1st for our final paranormal tour of the year: Ghosts of Christmas Past! You can get your tickets HERE!

Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens

Tinker Swiss Cottage will be closed November 21-23 in observation of Thanksgiving, but we will reopen for our usual tour times on Saturday, November 24.

Please also note that Tinker Swiss Cottage will also be closed from December 22 through January 1st in observation of the holidays. Our regular business hours will resume on January 2nd, 2019.

We can’t wait to see you soon!


~ Samantha

Trinkets of Memento Mori: Postmortem Photography

Posted on Updated on

Trinkets of memento mori, such as postmortem photography, literally means “remember, you must die”. Pictures and paintings serve as wonderful windows to the past that allow us to get a glimpse of what life was like over a hundred years ago, reminiscent of the way Tinker Swiss Cottage allows its visitors to.
Although by modern standards taking photographs or painting portraits of the deceased is somewhat peculiar, in the nineteenth century it was a common practice. Often post-mortem photographs were the only images families would have of their loved ones. This was due to the unfortunate fact that it was much more difficult and expensive to have your photograph taken during the Victorian era.

A stark contrast to the incredibly effortless way we take photographs today, prior to the invention of the daguerreotype, the only way to capture any family pictures was through painted portraits. Fortunately, here at Tinker Swiss Cottage we boast two fantastic portraits of Mary’s grandmother Amy Chase Bull and uncle Milton Dorr. These were done by one of the most prolific and important portraitists in nineteenth-century America, Ammi Phillips. Phillips created these paintings in 1815. Interestingly enough, Ammi passed away in 1865- the very same year Robert Tinker began construction on the cottage.


While there are plenty of gruesome post mortem looking photos on the internet, many are inaccurate and feature staged actors and modern visual effects. However, we do have an authentic postmortem photograph currently on display in the Cottage. The photograph is of Mrs. Mary Johns, from Rockford Illinois in 1866.

Postmortem Photograph

There is also a postmortem painting on constant display in the upper level of the library in the museum. This painting is of John Manny, Mary Dorr Manny Tinker’s first husband and inventor of the Manny reaper. We know this was a post mortem piece because of the blue grey hue the artist gave to the skin, a common feature of postmortem portraits.

John Manny ©TinkerSwissCottageMuseum&Gardens


We hope to have you in soon to check out our fantastic, and somewhat eerie works of art this fall!



*Further Readings:

Hollander , Stacy C. “Reads.” Ammi Phillips – Self-Taught Genius,

Mourning in the Tinker Swiss Cottage

Posted on

With October nearing a close, everyone is heading out to the local apple orchards, pumpkin patches, and haunted houses. While you’re carving pumpkins, drinking apple cider, and telling ghost stories, don’t forget to check out Tinker Swiss Cottage for a historical twist to the fall season!

What’s new (and maybe a little creepy) at Tinker Swiss Cottage for the month of October?

On September 4, 1901, Mary Tinker passed away in her home at the age of 72. The Tinker family stopped the clocks at the time of her death, and her portrait in the parlor was adorned with flowers. In the Victorian era whenever a death occurred in the family the clocks would be stopped at the time of death, as if time itself stopped with the passing of the loved one. If a portrait existed of the departed, it would be strewn with beautiful flowers. When you visit us this month you will notice that the clock in the parlor has been set to the time of Mary’s death, and her portrait is once again decorated with flowers and crape.


The most obvious difference you will find in the parlor is the authentic Victorian coffin. Don’t worry, nothing is going to pop out at you, but it does bring a creepy feel to the room. Along with the coffin, you will notice that the full-length mirror is covered in black. The Victorians covered mirrors for two purposes. First, it allowed the family to mourn without having to watch themselves cry. However, the second purpose is far more interesting – a spiritual movement in the Victorian era. During this movement, not only were Victorian families going to church every Sunday and reading their Bibles, but they also believed heavily in the spirit world. Some tried to make contact with their departed through séances and Ouija Boards, while others simply did not want their loved one’s spirits to be trapped in the home. The Victorians believed covering the mirrors stopped the departed souls from getting trapped inside of it, thereby allowing them to find their way out of the home more easily.



In the library you will find a Witch’s Ball sitting on the fireplace mantle. Legend has it that a homeowner with children would place string inside of the Witch’s Ball in order to protect their little ones from the witches who would sneak in through the windows at night. The Victorians believed that the witches would be attracted to the ball with the string inside of it. They would waste away their nights trying to pull the string out one little piece at a time until morning came and they had to flee. The children’s souls would be safe from the witches, and enough string would be left in the ball to protect the children the next night as well.

What other aspects of death were the Victorians interested in?

The Victorians had many other mourning traditions. For example, the family of the deceased would wear specific mourning garb. The style, fabric, and color varied depending on one’s relationship with the departed. Wives wore mourning clothes longer than any other member of a family. The women wore black veils covering their faces for 3 months after their husband’s death, and then the veil was moved to the back of their bonnet. Widows wore veils for approximately one year and the rest of their mourning attire for a total of two years. After two years they did not need to wear the deep black dresses, but they had to slowly transition from dark colors to lighter ones. Many widows never returned to the brightly colored dresses, choosing to remain the muted colors for the rest of their lives. Men would wear their black suits, gloves, and neck ties for a year after their wives passed. Parents would mourn the loss of their children for a year, and children would mourn their parents’ deaths for approximately a year as well. Siblings mourned for approximately six months. Be sure to stop in to see Mary Dorr Manny Tinker’s Mourning gown on display in our sitting room for yourself!

Marry Dorr Manny Tinker ©TinkerSwissCottageMuseum


In an era before Facebook and Instagram, the Victorians did not have many images to remind them of their loved ones who had passed. Post-mortem photography became very popular, since it was possibly one of the only times a person could have their portraits taken (generally due to the high cost). During these sessions the body of the deceased would be propped up in an effort to make them seem more lifelike. It was also very common for other family members to gather around the dead in order for their picture to be taken at the same time. In the Tinker Dining Room you will get a chance to see one of these images.

Along with post-mortem photographs, the Victorians would also take pieces of their loved one’s hair to fashion into a keepsake. Some fastened locks of hair into jewelry, while others were arranged into floral shapes and framed. Many Victorian families even collected hair from every family member who passed and fashioned the strands into pieces of art. In Jessie’s bedroom, you will find a lock of Jessie’s first husband Gye Hurd’s hair next to his photo on her dresser.

Remember, these pieces are only out on display for the month of October! Hurry in to learn about mourning customs in the Victorian Era before October’s over!

It’s also not too late to join us for one of our unique Paranormal Tours! Our final tour for the season will be this Friday, October 26 at 7pm.
¤ Samantha
Some extra reading:
Victorian Funeral Customs and Superstitions

Rockford Female Seminary and the Tinker Family

Posted on

Did you know that Rockford is home to one of the oldest colleges in the state of Illinois? Rockford University (Renamed in 2013), formerly Rockford College (Renamed in 1892), has a surprisingly long and rich history that dates all the way back to 1847. The school was originally a seminary school for women but later became the co-educational college it is today.

Rockford Female Seminary 1887, Illinois Digital Archives


Rockford Female Seminary is the alma mater of the first American female Nobel Peace Prize winner, Jane Addams, who was a member of the class of 1881. However, Addams did not receive her bachelor’s degree until the following year when the school became accredited as Rockford College for Women. Addams is best known for her revolutionary social work and early fighting for women’s rights. After seeing poor living conditions in a settlement house in London’s East End, Addams decided to make a change closer to home. This change was brought to fruition by opening Hull House in an industrial district of Chicago. Hull House provided schooling for children, medical help for those who could otherwise not afford it, and eventually night classes for adults. The night classes were particularly helpful for immigrants residing in the near west end of Chicago, offering courses in English, American Government, cooking, and sewing.
Today Hull House functions as a museum and more importantly a reminder of the power of one woman’s dedication and revolutionary vision.

Jane Addams while attending Rockford Female Seminary 1881, Illinois Digital Archives

During her time in Rockford Addams made many friends, including our very own Marcia Dorr. The two became close friends during their studies at Rockford Female Seminary and kept in touch years after their time at the Seminary together. On June 13, 1897, Robert Tinker made a note in his journal that they received a visit from “Jane Addams in pm.” Addams even asked Marcia to be the manager of the Holland House Restaurant. However, Marcia Declined so she could focus on her own aspirations, which were plentiful.

Marcia Dorr was the niece of Robert Tinker and his first wife Mary Dorr Manny Tinker. In 1873 at the age of 17 Marcia and her younger sister Jessie decided to move into the Tinker Swiss Cottage with their aunt and uncle after their father married a 19-year-old woman. Marcia and Jessie both attended Rockford Female Seminary school despite the fact that their aunt Mary did not believe in a liberal education for girls and informed their teachers of courses which were not appropriate for young ladies to study.

Marcia Dorr ©TinkerSwissCottageMuseum&Gardens

Marcia graduated from school and hastily began her career. She was involved with the Second Congregational Church, teaching Sunday school to children and a member of the Decoration Committee. She was also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), the Ladies Union Aid Society (helped families who needed food and heating fuel) where she worked as an editor of an edition of the Rockford Morning Star, and ran the Trolley on Trolley Day, where a percentage of the fares collected went to the Women’s Aid Society. Marcia became a leader of the Young People’s Society, a Christian youth society to encourage “youth fellowship.” On top of all that she was also Robert’s bookkeeper and accountant during the later years of his life.

While Marcia Dorr’s work is certainly not as recognized as the revolutionary Jane Addams’ she did make her mark on Rockford and aided in Robert Tinker’s continued success later in life, and we are immensely grateful for that.


James Henry Breasted, Rockford’s Own Indiana Jones

Posted on

Pic 1
Image via

James Henry Breasted was an American archeologist, Egyptologist, and historian who was born in Rockford in August of 1865. Breasted lived in Rockford until 1873 when he and his family moved to Downers Grove, IL. While he never moved back to Rockford, he was buried here in Greenwood cemetery, not far from our very own Tinker family!


Breasted was the first American to receive a Ph.D. in Egyptology from Yale in 1894 and was appointed by the University of Chicago’s President William Rainey Harper to fill the first teaching position in Egyptian studies in the United States, at the University of Chicago. Breasted received support and encouragement from John D. Rockefeller Jr. who, in 1919, funded The Oriental Institute as a laboratory for the study of the rise and development of ancient civilization at The University of Chicago.

Breasted was a renowned author with multiple works on early civilizations in the ancient near east. His interests included morality and religion in ancient times and translating hieroglyphics into the English language. Breasted’s training in Egyptian, Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic at Yale allowed him to work with local diplomats and make the arrangements needed to conduct his research. Breasted tapped into people’s innate interest in Egyptian studies and culture to fundraise and in turn make his trips to Egypt and Mesopotamia possible. He was fortunate enough to go on many excursions and even conducted an epigraphic survey of Egyptian tombs and temples along the banks of the Nile.

While there is no evidence Robert Tinker and James Breasted ever crossed paths, we do know that they were both amazingly talented men who not only did great work on a local level but on an international level as well.

Similar to Robert Tinker, Breasted’s honeymoon was not quite how we picture them today. While Robert’s honeymoon was more of a family vacation to Hawaii, with his bride, her sister, and his mother, Breasted’s was more like a business trip. Fortunately, it was paid for by the University of Chicago. The university sent Breasted and his wife to Egypt with 500 dollars to purchase antiquities they could bring back to the Oriental Institute.

Although he was not classically trained, Robert was certainly a historian who always found and cherished interesting things from distant lands. Roberts’ focus tended to be on European artifacts and architecture; Breasted focused on the middle East, even coining the phrase “The Fertile Crescent”. That being said, we do know Robert visited Egypt in 1862 and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the Bay of Alexandria, as can be seen in the mural of said bay that Robert had painted out of his sketchbook onto his kitchen wall.

Pic 6

So Here’s Where Indiana Jones Comes In

The fictional character of Indiana Jones attended the University of Chicago and studied under Professor Ravenwood. Abner Ravenwood is an unseen character, but we are told he was Indiana’s mentor at the University of Chicago. In fact, on December 12, 2012, the University of Chicago Admissions Office received a mysterious package addressed to “Henry Walton Jones, Jr.” Yet they could find no faculty or staff by that name. A student worker then realized that the package was meant for Dr. “Indiana” Jones, the famous fictional archaeologist. Inside the package was the journal of Abner Ravenwood, the fictional University of Chicago professor who trained Indiana Jones.

Interestingly enough a Robert Braidwood was James Henry Breasted’s colleague and mentor at the University of Chicago. Both James Henry Breasted and Henry Walton Jones Jr. (aka Indiana jones, after the family dog) were professors of archeology and thoroughly enjoyed field work just as much, if not more than teaching. These men also seemed to embody the idea of a virtuous treasure hunter, always searching for the next great discovery to gain knowledge and a better understanding of it, often bringing their discoveries to museums.

Although directors George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have never credited their idea for Jones to Breasted, the similarities are certainly present and enough to make any Rockfordian proud.


¤ Stephanie


Charles Breasted. Pioneer to the Past: The Story of James Henry Breasted, Archaeologist. Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago: Chicago, 1943, p.12.

Emily Teeter. Pioneer to the Past: James Henry Breasted and the Birth of American Egyptology. Lecture: 2014.


Victorian Table Setting

Posted on

A somewhat foreign concept to Americans today, with our paper plates and tendency to opt for disposable table settings whenever possible, setting a proper dinner table was of the upmost importance during the Victorian era. Contrary to the fast-paced dinner rush most Americans experience, Victorian dinners had an air of pageantry. Dinner time would grant families and close friends time to get together and discuss current events and happenings in their daily lives.

Today there are so many new modes of communication that it often seems as though we neglect one of the simplest ones – talking to each other. The Victorian table settings represent so much more than utensils used to eat; they remind us of a time before modern technology when the dinning room was where meaningful conversations were had.

The importance of the dinning experience was significant during the Victorian Era, and while not all families could afford to create elaborate table settings, many could. As historians we are very fortunate to have ample evidence of just what a Victorian table setting looked like. Many had pieces made from beautiful materials such as: silver, ivory, porcelain, and pearl. Both water and wine glasses could be glass or crystal, some even boasted beautiful frosted etchings. Many families owned china sets that featured over one hundred pieces.


Along with the beautiful utensils and plates there were numerous ways to add extra decorations to one’s dinner table. For example, place cards or fancy tablecloths may adorn the table during a special gathering. It was also common for table napkins to be folded. The Victorians even had instruction manuals with intricate diagrams illustrating up to 25 different ways to fold one!

Table setting 1
Photo Credit: Cakeland Designs

When you visit the Tinker Swiss Cottage, you will find the dining room set for a traditional Victorian dinner party. The Tinkers’ silver flatware sets had handles made of both ivory and mother of pearl. Victorian flatware was set up so the utensils used first were the furthest from the plate, and then one would work inwards during the different courses. There would be at least 5 pieces of flatware surrounding each plate. Once the table was set, they would place name cards on the guest’s plates along with menus so that guest’s may choose which courses they would eat and which they would pass on; after all, with multiple courses it was not uncommon for Victorians to pass on one or two.

Table setting 2

The Tinkers’ dining room also dons a Waterford crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling, which features a painting of Mary’s favorite table cloth.

Table setting 4

In the dining room the Tinkers also had portraits of Benjamin Franklin, Peter Paul Ruben, and William Gladstone painted on the wall. These were placed there to encourage conversations of philosophy, art, and politics – things all well-to-do Victorians were particularly invested in. During the Victorian Era men would start the conversations and women could only join in afterwards.

Table setting 3

Victorian dining became somewhat of a pageant, with beautiful pieces on display followed by multiple courses of extravagant food, ending with the gentlemen retiring to the smoking room and the ladies to the parlor for music and socializing. Every aspect of a dinner party was meticulously planned and served as a way to assert wealth, status, and power.


Next time you’re visiting the Cottage, be sure to stop and check out the beautiful details adorning the Tinker’s dining room. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll find!

— Stephanie —