Tinker Swiss Cottage

The Tinker family’s spirits might still haunt their Swiss-inspired chalet

Tinker Swiss Cottage’s
Terrifying Ghost Stories

  • Sounds of children playing have been heard without explanation
  • Apparitions in flowing dresses have been seen multiple times
  • Visitors report being touched or grabbed by unseen forces
  • Disembodied voices and whistles are often heard
  • Past investigations have turned up potential EVP recordings

Tinker Swiss Cottage: A Historic Gem

Travel down Rockford’s South Main Street, and you’ll catch the smallest glimpse of one of the city’s most unique landmarks. Perched on a rocky bluff above Kent Creek and separated from the city’s urban sprawl by acres of well-manicured grass, the Tinker Swiss Cottage is truly like no other home in Rockford, if not all of Illinois.

Tinker Swiss Cottage, straight from Alps to Rockford, Illinois

With Swiss-inspired designs throughout, elegant hardwood adorning almost every room, and original furniture and décor, the Tinker Swiss Cottage perfectly exemplifies the luxuries of upper-class life in 19th century Rockford. And, along with all its well-kept artifacts and historical records, stories suggest the Tinker family’s spirits remain in the cottage, maintaining their happy home long after their deaths.

Timeline of Tinker Swiss Cottage's History

Swipe or use timeline points to see Tinker Swiss Cottage through the years


In 1836, Robert Hall Tinker was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, to a family of missionaries. He lived on the islands for 13 years before his family moved to Westfield, New York. When he was 19, Robert met someone who would change his life. William Knowlton, an Illinois businessman, was in Westfield when he met Robert Tinker.

Impressed with the young man’s work as a banking clerk, Knowlton wrote to Robert upon returning to Illinois, offering him a job in Rockford for the Manny Reaper Company. Robert arrived in Rockford on August 12, 1856.


As a team in Rockford, William Knowlton and Robert Tinker developed a prosperous business selling Manny Reapers. In just a few years, Robert’s level of success provided him with enough wealth to take an extended tour of Europe in 1862.

So, while the Civil War raged through America and undoubtedly slowed the reaper-selling business as farmers and farm-hands were increasingly conscripted to war service, Robert was an ocean away, absorbing the culture and history of Europe.


The beauty of the architecture in Switzerland in particular enraptured Robert. When he returned from his European tour, Robert started working on his own version of a Swiss cottage in Rockford. After purchasing parcels of land from the widow of Manny Reaper Company’s founder, Robert started to build. In no time, Rockford’s own slice of Swiss architecture took shape.

In April of 1870, Robert married Mary Manny, of the same family as the reaper company he now ran, and the two moved into Robert’s developing Swiss cottage.


Over the next few years, the Tinkers established themselves as pillars of the Rockford community, with Robert serving as mayor from 1875-1876. Along with his service to the public, Robert expanded his stature as a business leader in Rockford throughout the rest of the 19th century.

Over the years, he became the president of numerous local industries and railroads. In this era, the property around the cottage grew to 27 acres and came to include expansive gardens and a barn capable of housing pigs, chickens, and horses.


In 1901, Mary Tinker died in the cottage, and Robert remarried to her niece, Jessie, in 1904. He went on to become a father at age 71 when Jessie adopted a child, Theodore, in 1908. For the remaining years of his life, Robert lived a relatively quiet life of old age as he watched his young son grow up and enjoyed the one-of-a-kind chalet he had built for himself and his family.

Robert Tinker died on his eighty-eighth birthday, December 31, 1924, in the cottage he loved so much.


After Robert’s death, his widow, Jessie, developed an arrangement with the Rockford Park District allowing her to continue living there with the stipulation that the property go to the park district when she died or moved out. In the early 1940s, Jessie passed away and the arrangement was honored, with the cottage going to the Rockford Park District after that.

The home was opened for public tours in 1943, and has remained open as a museum house ever since then.

Is Tinker Swiss Cottage Haunted?

Over the eight decades the Tinker Swiss Cottage has been open to the public, thousands have toured the home and learned about the lives of these important Rockford citizens. Along with the historical stories that have been shared, many tourists have left the cottage with haunting tales, too.

Paranormal encounters at the Tinker Swiss Cottage have been common for many years, and have been actively investigated in recent years. Between stories and research, visitors and cottage staff alike have formed an overarching theory about all the activity: The Tinker family never truly left their beloved Swiss chalet.

Tinker Swiss Cottage’s Shifting Shadows

Apparitions and shadow figures are some of the most commonly reported paranormal happenings at the cottage, many times said to be the figures of women.

One Tinker ghost sighting involves the main kitchen, where a worker spotted a woman in a flowing blue dress drift by their vision. The only problem was that no one working there wore such period attire.

Well-Dressed Phantoms of Tinker Swiss Cottage

Similar encounters have been reported multiple times since, with tourists often saying they enjoyed the authenticity of the women in period dress only to learn after the tour that no one working the museum wore period clothes.

While no one has positively identified these shadow figures with their flowing dresses, it is often believed to be the spirits of either Mary Tinker or Jessie Tinker still wandering the halls of their old home.

Sounds of Spirits in Tinker Swiss Cottage

Along with numerous encounters with shadow figures, disembodied voices and strange sounds are frequently heard by workers and visitors. In certain areas of the home, the sounds of children playing are sometimes heard only for the rooms in question to be found completely empty.

Others have heard strange whistling throughout the house, while others still have heard crystal clear voices that don’t seem to come from any source.

Some of these voices are said to be so loud and so clear that they can be heard all the way across the cottage or over multiple floors of the house. But, each time, the source of the voice remains curiously unexplained.

Other visitors have reported being touched or grabbed by unseen forces, though they rarely describe the sensation as mean or violent, rather more like someone leading them or a lost child grabbing their hand.

Tinker Swiss Cottage’s
Legendary Hauntings

The haunting legends around the Tinker Swiss Cottage have developed a reputation all their own in recent years. The museum has offered regular ghost tours, paranormal presentations, and even private ghost hunts to investigation groups throughout the Midwest. And through all these investigations and events, even more stories of ghostly encounters have come out. Paranormal investigation teams who have investigated the cottage often come away with potential EVPs and other reports of mysterious phenomena.

The Tinker Swiss Cottage was also investigated by Syfy’s Ghost Hunters for their eighth season. So, while the Tinker Swiss Cottage has a lot of historical knowledge and stories to share, you might get an extra detailed tour if you happen to find a guide in period clothes. Just don’t be surprised if they try to lead you through a wall or fade into thin air before your tour is over.