Latest Event Updates

The Mother of Thanksgiving

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 —

Tinker’s Root Wood Furniture

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When Robert Tinker began building his Swiss Cottage in Rockford, IL in 1865, he proclaimed, “I only wanted to build a home that would give Rockford a name.” Over 150 years later, we can all agree that Robert had certainly attained his goal. From the chalet-style architecture to the parquet floors, Tinker Swiss Cottage boasts awe-inspiring architecture. However, the contents of the Tinkers’ home are impressive in their own right and can give us a deeper insight to the lives of the Tinker family. Over the next few weeks we’ll take a look at the pieces the Tinkers surrounded themselves with, starting with the root wood furniture.

What is root wood furniture, you ask? The name really says it all – it is furniture that was crafted out of the roots of trees. Construction of root wood furniture dates back to early seventeenth-century China, emerging in the western hemisphere around the eighteen century. Appearing as a piece of furniture constructed out of a single tree root, this illusion is created by joining separate pieces of wood together through the use of small pegs. Here we can see Mr. Tinker in the gardens enjoying a large root-wood bench.


At Tinker Swiss Cottage we are extremely fortunate that Robert Tinker took his last name seriously – truly a tinkerer through and through! Not only do we have his sketches, drawings, and hand-crafted architecture throughout the home, but we also have many root wood furniture pieces that he crafted himself. Here are some of the many examples you will find of Robert’s work throughout the Cottage:

While the pictures are great, root wood furniture is something everyone should see in person, and we can’t wait for your next visit to the Cottage!



¤ Samantha

Tinker’s Shadow

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Looking for a fun way to take Tinker Swiss Cottage home with you? Filmmaker Michael Kleen has put together a wonderful new documentary on Tinker Swiss Cottage, titled Tinker’s Shadow: The Hidden History of Tinker Swiss Cottage.


Photo Copyright of Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum & Gardens

The documentary focuses on both the history of the Cottage and also on the paranormal aspect of the museum. Staff members, volunteers, and paranormal experts join together to share our history and stories with you. All proceeds go directly to maintaining the Cottage.

You can now purchase the documentary through Amazon Instant Video, with DVDs coming to our gift shop later this year! Click HERE for a direct link to our new documentary!


#Didyouknow that when you shop at Amazon you can select a non-profit organization to receive a donation through your regular everyday purchases? Just go to and type in “Tinker Swiss Cottage”, and Amazon will donate part of their proceeds from your purchase to our museum!

History of the Ice Cream Social

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Warmer weather is on its way, and you know what that means – ice cream shops will be opening soon! Believe it or not, ice cream has been enjoyed for centuries. While there is debate on who exactly created the delicious dessert, we do know that it was occasionally served in England’s courts by the 1600s.

The first definitive case of people serving ice cream in the American colonies occurred in 1744 in Maryland. Since that initial distribution, ice cream appeared on many occasions throughout the following decades. For example, in 1784 George and Martha Washington purchased a “cream machine for ice” for their home at Mount Vernon. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson was the first U.S. President to serve ice cream at the White House.

No surprise, early Americans enjoyed many of the same flavors we do today, including strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, and pistachio. However, there were many other flavors served by the 1800s that aren’t as common today, like tea, parmesan, and even oyster flavored ice cream!

Over time, Ice Cream Socials began appearing as fundraisers for various organizations like schools and churches. By the time the Tinker family began fundraising for the McFarland W.C.T.U Home for Children, Ice Cream Socials were one of the most popular options. Below you will find an image of the first Ice Cream Social held at the Cottage.


Ice Cream Social

While we may no longer host Ice Cream Socials at the Cottage, we do have many fun events throughout the year we would love for you to attend. For more information, check out our website. We’ll see you soon!



¤ Samantha

Some more fun reading:

2017 in Review

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It’s been another exciting year here at Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum, and now that the end of 2017 approaches, we’d like to take a look back at all that we’ve accomplished together.

We started the year off on the right foot – with a lecture from Mark Twain and Olivia Clemens! Re-enactors Stuart Corsa and Mary Ann Constable Guttman portrayed Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) and his wife, Olivia Clemens. They delivered invaluable advice and laughs, providing us with quite an entertaining evening!


Murder Mystery Nights popped up throughout 2017, allowing visitors to step back in time and partake in an evening of intrigue, scandal, and murder in either a 1920’s Speakeasy or Victorian Home party.

We also hosted a handful of private tea parties at the Cottage, including our annual Fairy Tale Tea! Families were served a tasty 3-course lunch, sang with princesses from Once Upon A Dream Performances, and toured the Tinker Cottage in a fun afternoon over the summer.

By far, the most frequently asked question from our visitors is “Is the Cottage haunted?” Besides recommending watching the Ghost Hunter’s episode (season 8, episode 20, “Fear Factory” btw), we invite you to come check it out for yourself! In 2017 we had numerous paranormal tours, investigations, and we even teamed up with Haunted Rockford to host our annual Illinois Paranormal Conference held at Veteran’s Memorial Hall. If you missed them this year, don’t worry! We’ll be hosting plenty of paranormal events throughout 2018.

Tinker Shirt
Get your own Tinker Paranormal T-Shirt in our Gift Shop!!  ©TinkerSwissCottageMuseum&Gardens

Every year the Cottage is decorated in October for a Victorian funeral, where visitors will learn about mourning customs of the Victorian Era. Likewise, from the end of November through the beginning of January, the Cottage is decorated for Christmas. Visitors will hear about Victorian Christmas traditions, along with viewing original Christmas ornaments and cards from the Tinker family. Throughout the year, we also set up exhibits in the red and yellow rooms of the Cottage. Currently, we have a lovely postcard exhibit set up – showcasing Victorian postcards the Tinkers either picked up on their travels or received from their family and friends.

This year we have partnered with the Erlander House Museum and the Graham-Ginestra House Museum in a Historic House Alliance in hopes of gaining new collaborative activities between Rockford’s house museums. This year we hosted our Holiday Happenings where visitors could visit all three museums in one fun-filled afternoon to learn about Swedish Christmas traditions, English Christmas traditions, and Christmas in the Victorian era. We hope to have new and exciting events in the upcoming years.

Speaking of exciting events, if you didn’t know already, our Executive Director Steve Litteral appeared on Channel 39 Eyewitness News with Christie Nicks in an edition of “Stateline Strong” this fall! If you missed the interview, check it out HERE!

2017 was another great year full of various rentals at the Cottage. We hosted weddings, birthday parties, baby showers, bridal showers, and a great number of school groups and scout groups! If you’d like to check out our rental space and packages, please email us at!

We owe a great deal of gratitude to our dedicated volunteers – we couldn’t do all of this without them! This year we’ve been fortunate to add another handful of wonderful volunteers to our family, including one that became our 2017 Volunteer of the Year.

megan pic

Megan is one of our most recent volunteers, joining our team in June after moving to Rockford in March. Megan wanted to make a difference in her new community, so she signed up to be a cashier in our Museum Gift Shop. She quickly jumped into volunteering as both a cashier and a docent, giving tours of the Cottage two to three days a week. In the short six months she has been with us, Megan has accumulated 128 volunteer hours! We are very thankful to have her join our fantastic group of volunteers.

If you are interested in joining our team, please email us at or visit our website at

We’re looking forward to another exciting year full of Murder Mystery Nights, Lectures, Tea Parties, Paranormal Tours, and everything in between! Have a safe and happy New Year – we’ll see you in 2018!!




Native American Tribes of the Rockford Area

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November is Native American Heritage Month, and we’d like to take some time to acknowledge the woodland tribes that once lived where our bustling city sits today.

Before the 1700s, Northern Illinois was primarily populated by the Illinois and Miami tribes. As Europeans pushed further inland, many tribes were forced to relocate. What we now refer to as Northern Illinois became home to a variety of tribes, including the Winnebago (Ho-Chunk), Sauk, Shawnee, Potawatomi, Fox, Kickapoo, and Dakota Sioux.

While each tribe had its own subset of languages, religion, and customs, we know that the tribes of this region flourished due to the climate, natural resources, and land in which they were located. Northern Illinois provided them with plenty of opportunity for both farming and hunting, due to the prairies and woodland areas. These areas also provided them with various plants, trees, and animals which they used for clothing, food, shelter, medicine, and ceremonies. Northern Illinois is also host to numerous rivers, creeks, and lakes – opening the opportunity for fresh water, fishing, and transportation.

Western Expansion forced these tribes to relocate to federal reservations; however, traces of their presence can still be found in the names of counties, towns, and sports teams. There are also many conical and effigy mounds remaining throughout Illinois, including places like Cahokia, Galena, and Rockford.
Tinkers 250 year old Oak and Indian Burial Mound
On your next trip to Tinker Swiss Cottage, you’ll be able to visit a conical burial mound, which has remained virtually undisturbed since approximately 1100 AD (other than one archeological core sample test). After your visit, be sure to stop by Beattie Park near the Rock River to visit three effigy mounds dating from the 7th to the 12th centuries.