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.
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.
We hope to have you in soon to check out our fantastic, and somewhat eerie works of art this fall!
Hollander , Stacy C. “Reads.” Ammi Phillips – Self-Taught Genius, selftaughtgenius.org/reads/ammi-phillips.
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!
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.
Some extra reading:
Victorian Funeral Customs and Superstitions
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
The Tinkers’ dining room also dons a Waterford crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling, which features a painting of Mary’s favorite table cloth.
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.
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 —
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!
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.
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 smile.amazon.com and type in “Tinker Swiss Cottage”, and Amazon will donate part of their proceeds from your purchase to our museum!
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.
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!
Some more fun reading:
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.
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.
Have you heard? Tinker Swiss Cottage has opened its latest exhibit in the Cottage: From Rockford with Love: Postcards of the Victorians. Between the Red and Yellow rooms, you will find a fun collection of various postcards sent to the Tinkers from around the world and ones of our own Rockford area as well! Before you come to take a look at the beautiful Tinker postcards, here’s some more information on the history of the postcard for you.
The History of Postcards
Postcards were first introduced in Britain in 1870. To begin with, the Post Office issued pre-stamped, plain cards. Because there were no images on the card, one side was used to address it, while the other side was used to write out a message to the receiver. It is believed that the first picture postcards were sent out in 1894. These cards required the sender to add a halfpenny adhesive stamp before mailing. In 1902 the British Post Office officially allowed divided back postcards on which senders could include both the address and message on the back of the postcard, while the face of the card contained an image.
Before postcards became widely available in the United States, during the early- to mid-19th century many envelopes would depict small images on their exteriors. While many displayed holiday images, thousands of patriotic pictures were printed on envelope exteriors during the Civil War. It is believed that these images on the envelopes in some part led to the creation of the postcard.
Records indicate that a copyright on a private postcard was issued as early as 1861. However, these were privately sold, non-pictorial cards. The first governmental postcards issued in the world came in October of 1869 in Austria; whereas, the United States issued the government postal card four years later in 1873. It wasn’t until 1907 that the U.S. Government permitted the use of divided back postcards. This development ushered in what is known as the “Golden Age” of the postcard. This era reigned from 1907-1915 where millions of postcards were printed and sold throughout the United States and Europe. The first “high-speed” photo printers were invented in 1910 and allowed real-photo postcards to be mass produced throughout the world. This invention shifted the emphasis of handmade postcards to large scale commercial printing.
What Purpose Does a Postcard Serve?
Postcards served a variety of purposes in the Victorian era. One of many reasons postcards became popular is due to the fact that it was a cheaper way to send messages; whereas, letters would take more postage to send, especially when they were a few pages long.
The first postcard printed with the intention to be sold as a souvenir debuted in 1893 at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. During the following years, the private printing of pictorial postcards boomed throughout the United States and Europe. Before 1893, many postcards contained advertisements for various businesses. However, after the Columbian Exposition, many saw the potential for producing other types of souvenir cards for tourists. By 1895, many postcards were printed with images depicting larger cities or famous tourist attractions of both natural and historic interest.
Advertisements on postcards were widely distributed, imploring one to buy this product or another. However, postcards could be used as propaganda as well. During times of war, the government issued postcards depicting images and advertisements convincing civilians to join the military and serve their country. Politically, postcards were used as a means to show who was running for office and who people should vote for.
The surge in souvenir postcards opened a new hobby for many people. Collecting postcards from one’s travels allowed one to revisit locations and bring back memories of their trips. It also allowed many people to see parts of the country, and even the world, that they would not have been able to visit for one reason or another. Collecting postcards also assisted in learning about new locations or the history of various places, such as our very own Tinker Swiss Cottage.
Postcards were used to not only write to family or friends from one’s vacation, but also as a means of showing off various tourist points of interest. By this means, postcard senders became a means of advertisement and propaganda for various industries and cities. These postcards became a means to draw in new and repeat visitors to locations across the world.
Themed postcards became widely popular as well, especially around the holidays. One of the most popular themes was Christmas. These Christmas postcards would be colorful and captured the Christmas spirit. As such, postcards would be used as decorations during the holidays – such as Christmas greeting cards are today. Throughout the year, in order to add colorful decorations throughout their homes, many would place the postcards they received from family and friends on tables, mantels, and shelves.
In the early 1900’s, cameras with the ability to print photographs directly onto the backs of postcards were invented. This development allowed people to photograph and share their images of their families, homes, and surroundings.
Our postcard exhibit will run through mid-January, so hopefully everyone will get a chance to stop by the Cottage to see these exciting pieces on display! After your tour, don’t forget to grab a few postcards from our gift shop as souvenirs of your visit to Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and Gardens!
Whenever you meet new people, everyone tends to ask you where you work. For us, when we tell people we work at Tinker the majority of the time we get people telling us they’ve either never been through the museum, or they went as a child on a school trip. When you live in a town as large as Rockford there is always something to do, and museums often tend to get put on the backburner. Many people think: “Oh it’ll always be around, so we can go another time.” Will it though? In the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s home museums were extremely prevalent throughout the nation. Over the years, many have closed down for one reason or another – an opportunity to visit is no longer an option.
What real purpose do museums serve anyways? When people visit museums, they become immersed in local, state, national, and even international history. You find that history is more than just a list of names and dates. These were actual humans who made some sort of difference in the world – whether on a large governmental scale or a member of a small scale community. Museums remind us of the importance of our heritage and human advancements. In a post-digital world where information is only a few key strokes away, museums provide a plethora of artifacts and documents which constantly open new doors of research. Perhaps Colleen Ritzau Lath, a specialist in museum management and the history of collecting, put it best when she said:
“Museums are not graveyards of dead art or storehouses of the past: they are active records of ‘us’ in the broadest most universal, global, and cosmopolitan sense of the word. To wander and wonder is to activate a special kind of enlightened curiosity about the world, in which we see ourselves in the creations of someone else and come to know ourselves as part of a continuum of shared human identity. “*
So, how are Rockford’s home museums bringing history to life?
At Tinker Swiss Cottage we have tours Tuesday through Sunday twice a day at 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. Visitors learn the history of Rockford’s early years through the eyes of the Tinker family. Stories of the family, architecture, and artifacts are all discussed in a narrative style, bringing you into the Victorian era. We host lectures, workshops, and interactive school tours to help immerse our visitors into life as a Tinker.
The Erlander Home Museum is run through Rockford’s Swedish Historical Society, and tours are currently by appointment only. They are hoping to establish set tour times for the upcoming year. Visitors to the museum will get the chance to view John Erlander’s home through the eyes of the Swedish population in Rockford during the Victorian and early twentieth centuries. Their newly-opened Cultural Center provides visitors with an opportunity for communal events and hosts visitors from Rockford’s sister-city in Sweden.
The Graham-Ginestra Home Museum has recently opened as Rockford’s newest house museum. As partnered with the Ethnic Heritage Museum, tours are on Sundays from 2:00-4:00 pm. Visitors will get an English and Italian view of Rockford from the 1800s-1900s. The museum is currently planning many events over the upcoming year to bring history to life.
Being part of the Rockford community, in part, means knowing and appreciating our heritage and upbringing. Over the next few months, we challenge you to take a step back in time and visit one of the many historic homes in Rockford to really experience our history. We look forward to seeing you soon!
Many homes today are situated with an open floor plan. One of the main draws to this layout is the ability to see and interact with friends and family as you prepare meals in the kitchen. While we see the benefits of an open kitchen, the Victorians kept their kitchens hidden from visitors’ sights.
Kitchens in the Victorian era were located either in the back of the house or in the basement, generally consisting of a large workroom with a pantry. Some homes also connected the kitchen to the servant quarters, allowing easy access to firing the stoves or starting on the morning’s first cup of coffee. Cast iron stoves emerged as the most convenient way to prepare food. These stoves allowed cooks to adjust flues and metal plates, which in turn aided in the control of temperature. And what about that first cup of coffee? With Starbucks and Keurigs everywhere today, it doesn’t seem too hard to get that quick wake-me-up. However, the Victorians physically ground their own cup of coffee using the aptly named coffee grinders.
This guy here can grind one whole cup of coffee!
Throughout the era, new kitchen gadgets mass produced paved a way for new modes of cooking. Created to reduce both time and labor, these innovative gadgets included pastry cutters, cheese graters, potato peelers, and can openers – all of which are still common in our kitchens today. While home refrigerators didn’t surface until 1913, various preservation techniques were used in the kitchens. Victorians salted, pickled, smoked, and canned many of their meats and vegetables. These would then be stored in either the pantry or the root cellar. *Fun Fact*: Robert Tinker made sure his Cottage had both a pantry and root cellar!
Part of the Tinkers’ larger pantry. Stop by to see the rest of the neat items the Victorians used! ©TinkerSwissCottageMuseum&Gardens
During the latter half of the Victorian era both indoor plumbing and electricity allowed for even more kitchen innovations. Full sinks were installed, along with early electric stoves. Although refrigerators didn’t come into homes until the early years of the twentieth century, ice boxes cropped up in kitchens throughout the Victorian era. The Tinkers’ stove was removed from the property a number of years ago, but when you come to visit you’ll still see their original sink, pantry, and a large number of items the Tinkers and their servants used on a daily basis. We look forward to seeing you soon!
*Cherry pie not guaranteed 😉
Wedding season is in full swing here in Rockford. I don’t know about you, but I’ve already attended the first of five weddings for the year. Crazy, right? Everyone seems to have something Pinterest-inspired, opinions on the food being served, and that beautiful white wedding dress. Some friends have very little to no flowers, while others are having floral everything. All the little details really do seem to make your special day stand out as unique and reflective of your life together. As a historian, I can’t help but compare our modern day wedding traditions with those that the Victorians held.
We don’t have a ton of information about either wedding ceremony Robert Tinker participated in: his first to Mary and his second to Jessie (trust me, I’m dying for details!), but here’s a quick summary for you: Robert Tinker married Mary Dorr Manny on April 24, 1870 in her limestone brick mansion. Their marriage lasted until Mary’s death in 1901. Three years later, after the death of Jessie’s sister Marcia, Robert and Jessie became the only two family members left in the house. Technically, since Jessie was Mary’s niece, the two were not related. In Victorian society, people couldn’t live together unless they were related, so the two decided to wed as a means of complying with societal norms. (Once again, crazy, right?) Anyways…Robert and Jessie were married on March 14, 1904 in a very small, quiet ceremony in the Cottage’s parlor. Robert’s second marriage lasted until the end of 1924, when he passed away. In the Victorian era, many people were wed in either their homes or in the bride’s home church.
The Manny Mansion ©TinkerSwissCottageMuseum&Gardens
By now you’re probably asking yourselves questions similar to: What did Mary and Jessie wear? Did they have bouquets? What flavor cake did they choose? Did they do the “Chicken Dance” at the reception? Really, I can’t be the only one curious about the origins of the Chicken Dance.
While today we have weddings in every month of the year, June tends to still be known as the traditional wedding month. The Victorians had a popular saying, “Marry in May, rue the day!” (I guess I missed that memo!) June was a popular month for Victorian weddings for a number of reasons. First, the name June originated from the Roman goddess Juno, commonly known as the goddess of marriage. Also, June provided warmer weather and wasn’t during harvest season. Finally, June fell at the end of Lent, allowing for fewer restrictions on the celebrations.
Having the bride wear white was a new concept in the Victorian era. It resulted as a fashion trend after Queen Victoria brought about the idea of being wed in a beautiful white dress. Generally, women would wear their best dresses for the occasion, regardless of the color. Like the ladies, men would wear their best suit to the wedding.
A cabinet card received from Elsie Weatherup, sent to Marcia Dorr with the inscription handwritten on the back: “For Marcia with Christmas / greetings from Elsie – / Taken in Oct. 1896 in / my wedding gown five years’ / after the event”. “Hall Buffalo” printed at bottom of image. ©TinkerSwissCottageMuseum&Gardens
Today, many women choose to use the traditional “Bridal March” when walking down the aisle – although we’ve all got that one friend who totally danced the whole way down to the altar to “Forever.” (No? Just me again?) While we think of the “Bridal March” as a traditional song, it wasn’t until 1858 that it actually became popular, thanks to Queen Victoria’s daughter. Of course there were bridesmaids and groomsmen in the Victorian era, but the bridesmaids would often wear white as well – a big “no-no” for today’s weddings! Often times, the best man would be the one in charge of paying the minister. Bouquets and boutonnieres made of real flowers, silk, and ribbons adorned the members of the wedding party, similar to the ones we use today.
While I love watching the ceremony, my favorite part of every wedding is the reception. (Who doesn’t like a fun party?) Most of our weddings today take place in the early to late afternoon with a reception following suite – sometimes into the early hours of the next day! The Victorians, on the other hand, preferred morning ceremonies with brunch following. Two separate cakes would be prepared for the couple. The Bride’s cake consisted of either a light fruit cake or pound cake; whereas, the Groom’s cake consisted of a darker colored fruit cake. The Bride’s cake was always larger than the Groom’s, and eventually overtime the Groom’s cake died out. Today, there seems to be a slight increase in Groom’s cakes again, using super heroes, zombies, or video games as decorations. (Thanks Pinterest!)
Finally, to answer the question you’ve all been thinking about: Did the Tinker’s do the “Chicken Dance” at their reception? Long story short, the “Chicken Dance” was created in Switzerland in the 1950s. Although the song appeared roughly 80 years after Robert and Mary’s wedding, I like to think that Robert would have joined in, flapping his arms and shaking his hips. (He did model his Cottage after a Swiss Chalet and was a jokester, after all!)
Spring is finally here, and that means that the gardens at the Tinker Swiss Cottage are in full bloom! If you take a stroll through our gardens today you’ll see various types of flower beds, including Mary’s beloved roses and Jessie’s prize-winning irises. The Tinkers, along with other Victorian families, embellished their homes with sprawling gardens. New inventions allowed more exotic plants to be cultivated, grasses to be trimmed, and rooms dedicated to gardening were added on to homes.
In the early 1800s, Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward invented the Wardian Case by accident. He discovered that ferns, and other flowers, could grow very well inside glass bottles. This allowed Europeans to import more exotic plants, because encasing them in these Wardian Cases allowed them to remain in a constant climate without the damage that the change of air and temperature could bring. Another invention sprouting from the early years of the nineteenth century, the lawnmower transitioned from a large, difficult piece of machinery to a smaller, hand-driven tool. Around 1840, Victorians began incorporating trimmed lawns in their garden designs.
Many Victorians embellished their homes with their gardens. Vines hung from porches, urns and containers were filled with flowers and greenery to be set throughout the property, and vines grew up walls and trellises. Cast iron fences wrapped around many Victorian properties, both in the city and country. Rustic fences could be used, but were generally hidden by bushes and shrubbery.
While Victorians planted bushes, trees, and shrubs throughout their gardens, colorful flowers made up a large portion of the gardens. Symmetrical gardens, flower boxes, and ornate arrangements decorated Victorian homes. Throughout the era, exotic plants could be found in both private and public conservatories. While there are far too many to list, some of the more popular plants of the Victorian era includes: Azaleas, Holly, Hydrangeas, Roses, Lilacs, Peonies, ivy, Wisteria, Honeysuckle, Morning Glories, Tulips, Violets, Lavenders, and Ferns.
Robert Tinker purchased approximately 27 acres of land, where he planted flower gardens, vegetable gardens, and had pastures for his horses and cows. Throughout his home and property, Robert crafted rootwood furniture pieces, which you can see on your next trip out to the Cottage! On the opposite side of Kent Creek, Mary Dorr Manny Tinker owned a two-story, limestone brick mansion. She had her workers surround it with orchards, vegetable gardens, and the fashionable flower gardens of the Victorian era.
While Mary’s mansion and its surrounding gardens may no longer be stationed across the creek, she did bring over her love of pink heirloom-roses to Robert’s Cottage. Besides the circular rose garden located in front of the Cottage, a conservatory was added on to the house in 1882 to assist in caring for the gardens during the winter months. Using flower in interior designs also allowed the Tinkers to show off their favorite flowers. Not only were fresh bouquets located throughout the home, but on your next trip to the Cottage you’ll notice the beautiful pink flowers painted on the boarder in the Parlor. Perhaps you’ll also notice the hand painted bouquets of flowers on the dining room dishware.
We hope you enjoy the Tinkers’ gardens on your next visit as much as we do!
*Remember: We’re always looking for new friends to help us work our gardens as well! You can find more information about how to Volunteer at Tinker Swiss Cottage under our “Volunteering” tab!*
Many are familiar with the stricter ways children in the Victorian era were raised. Children from poorer families worked hard with their families, while wealthier children focused more on their education. While Victorian children’s upbringings varied greatly based on their social status, toys were a staple form of entertainment for all.
Certain toys and games were reserved for separate social statuses. For example, Automata toys were moving pieces of wood powered by a hand crank. When operated, the wooden people moved at different intervals depending on the movement of the gears underneath the “floor” of the toy. While a father of a poor family could make it if he was good with wood, this was generally a toy for the wealthier children. Likewise, Rocking Horses were reserved for wealthier children, since they were expensive pieces. Also, girls from wealthier families may have had miniature tea sets. As with today’s children, many Victorian children enjoyed copying the activities of their parents. Therefore, young girls could gather their friends together to have a miniature tea party similar to their mothers’ gatherings.
However, the majority of Victorian toys were enjoyed among all social classes. Skipping rope, or Jump Rope as we call it today, was a very popular toy for both poor and rich children alike. This specific toy found its popularity with the girls more than the boys, but it was enjoyed by all outside. While skipping rope was more popular with the girls, wooden toy soldiers were more popular with the boys. Marbles were also very popular with Victorian children, because many games could be played with them. Marbles were made out of various materials ranging from clay to real marble.
Many Victorian toys were made using very simple materials. Hoop and Stick became a very popular outdoor game for Victorian children of all classes. Children would play it either on their own or compete against other children to see who could use the stick to roll the wooden hoop the farthest. Likewise, Graces was also played with a wooden hoop and two sticks, albeit smaller than the hoop for Hoop and Stick. This multi-player game was another outdoor activity where two or more kids would use the two sticks to toss and catch the hoop in the air. An early version of a spinning top, the Whip and Top could be played either indoors or outside. The top would be wound about with a string attached to a stick, also known as the whip. Once the string was wrapped around the top, the child would then give the string a pull. This set the top spinning, which they kept in motion by whipping it on the side with the string.
Victorian girls in all social classes owned at least one doll. China Dolls became popular during the Victorian era, but they were too expensive for most families. Generally, only the wealthy families could purchase such a gift; whereas, many poorer families made dolls for their daughters out of scrap material or corn husks.
A less well-known game for Victorian children was Skittles. Quite different from the popular candy today, Skittles was a form of bowling. Most of the time the game would be played outside, but indoor variations were available as well. Several Skittles (wooden pins) would be set up a short distance away. The person to knock down the most Skittles won. This was another game that both wealthy and poor children could play, since these could be either purchased or handmade.
Regardless of social class and gender, children of all ages in the Victorian era enjoyed a variety of games and toys on their own and with their peers. You can purchase some of these toys, like the spinning tops and Graces, from the gift shop at the Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum so you too can enjoy the fun of the Victorian era!