I have always loved history, but there is not one single moment I can pinpoint it to. Maybe it was watching Indiana Jones movies on repeat, or perhaps it was the numerous museum visits my parents took us to. Or maybe it was one of the first field trips I can remember – when I lived in Florida my second-grade class took a field trip to a nearby forest preserve that had an 1800s home. We couldn’t go inside but were allowed to look through the windows at all the strange old-fashioned items on display. I spent years of my childhood thinking about that house and wondering who lived there and what had happened to them.  

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Growing up, I always wanted to be a teacher – except for one year in fifth grade where I wanted to be an archaeologist. There was no question in my mind that I wanted to teach history when I started college, so I decided to pursue a career teaching at a community college. In December of 2015, I graduated from Northern Illinois University with a Masters in History, but I was not sure I wanted to teach college anymore. I wanted to be able to touch history and interact with it in different ways, while still educating and sharing my love for history.  

Three months later, I interviewed at Tinker Swiss Cottage Museum and was offered a position that same day. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I believe that working at Tinker Swiss Cottage has allowed me to fully embrace all aspects of history. Not only do I have the opportunity to still be an educator, but I also have the opportunity to help set up exhibits, connect with other institutions in Rockford, and meet people from all around the world.  

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One of the reasons I love working at Tinker Swiss Cottage is that no two days are ever the same. The museum offers daily General History Tours, a Victorian Ball, Field Trips, Summer Camps, Boy Scout & Girl Scout programming, Summer Lecture Series, Murder Mystery games, Tipsy History programs, various fundraisers, and of course, Paranormal Nights. Some days I teach children how to play Victorian games, whereas other days I am in costume leading neighborhood walking tours. Sometimes I have the chance to network and learn from other museum professionals, and then the next day I may be working on historic preservation and repairs. And then there are the days where I am explaining to the ghosts why certain projects need updating and trying to convince the repairmen that the ghosts aren’t mean – they’re just playing pranks when they misplace a tool or two.  

I am fortunate that my career is very rewarding on a weekly basis, but one of the moments I am most proud of and thankful for was the opportunity to showcase Rockford on national television. The museum had already been featured on SyFy’s Ghost Hunters in 2012, but in 2022 the producers of Jack Osbourne’s Night of Terror wanted to visit the museum. I had turned down a handful of other shows over the years because the last thing we want is for the museum to be perceived as a scary location when it is not. We moved forward with this show because they were interested in the history and the peaceful haunting of the Tinker family. Since the show aired in October of 2023, we have seen a huge wave of visitors to our city specifically to visit the museum. They come for the ghosts, but they leave knowing the incredible history of early Rockford and how the Victorians still impact our lives today.  

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No job comes without challenges, though. I have learned a lot from each obstacle that has come along over these past eight years. Many people I speak with say they would be interested in visiting the museum, but they are worried about visiting our neighborhood. To me, the perception that our Southwest Rockford community is not safe is one of the most heartbreaking reasons for people to not visit. Our neighborhood is full of incredible people, family businesses, and a vibrant and rich history. Tons of people come down to fish along the creek, and many people will take photos or have picnics in the gardens. The neighborhood kids ride their bikes and catch bugs throughout the gardens every summer.  

Recently, redevelopment of South Main Street has brought in beautiful murals, an amazing Mercado event in the summer, and now the restoration of the Barber-Coleman grounds. Our neighborhood is witnessing incredible changes all while maintaining the wonderful institutions already established. I encourage you to challenge your own preconceptions and visit one of the family restaurants, attend a neighborhood celebration, or stop by Tinker Swiss Cottage to see how our neighborhood is for yourself.  

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Of course, I could list numerous famous women who have inspired me over the years, but one of my personal inspirations is Rockford’s own Kathi Kresol. I first heard about Kathi’s Haunted Rockford tours while in high school, and during college I read whatever I could about her research. It was amazing to see a woman not only start up a new business (one that was a little controversial at first) but also to see how she brought forgotten history to light in a new way.  

Once I graduated from NIU and was hired at Tinker Swiss Cottage, I had the chance to meet Kathi as she hosted events at the museum regularly. Watching her enthusiasm for history, museums, and researching all while continuously publishing articles in the newspaper or full-length books inspires me to grow my own researching skills and historical knowledge. Perhaps the most inspiring thing about her, though, is she gives every person she meets her full attention and sincerity, never judging them for their paranormal experiences but instead tries to offer her own insights to help them. This is who I hope to be – someone who is known for not only historical contributions but also for helping to educate people with kindness and sincerity.  

Tinker Swiss Cottage is open year-round with daily tours six days a week: Tuesday through Sunday at 1pm and 3pm. There are multiple upcoming exhibits and events, including Walking Tours, Summer Camps, a Speakeasy Murder Mystery Night, Paranormal Tours and Investigations, Tipsy History, a Summer Lecture Series, and a Fairy Tale Tea. For more information, please visit www.tinkercottage.com or call the office at 815-964-2424. You can also reach Samantha directly at samantha@tinkercottage.com

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