Mackey-Bertog Family History: Merger of German & Irish Roots in Rockford

Anna Bertog’s parents, Heinrich and Julia, were proprietors of an inn in Germany. Fearful of the growing militarism as the 19th century gave way to the 20th, they wanted to get their children away from the volatile atmosphere spreading across Europe. Anna was ten-years-old when they left for America in 1902, and so frightened that she had to be blindfolded just to walk up the gangplank of the ship.  After disembarking in Baltimore, the Bertogs eventually settled in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

 

When Anna turned eighteen, she attended the Snow College of Dressmaking in Rockford, Illinois, living first with her sister Edita (Edith) and then staying at the YWCA.

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Anna Bertog

Quite some time earlier and many miles away, James Mackey, Sr. was born in Ireland in 1820. Reaching adulthood, he married his sweetheart, Lucy, and they immigrated to America where James Jr. was born. The Mackeys came to Rockford from Plymouth, Wisconsin in 1878. Nine years later, James Jr. married seventeen-year-old Emilie Krueger, whose parents hailed from Niden, Germany. Into James Jr. and Emilie’s growing family was born Willard Mackey. With the deaths of both James’s, senior and junior, in 1904, young Willard became the man of the house.

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Willard “Mac” Mackey

The Mackeys had a farmhouse in Rockford, circa 1890, complete with a hickory nut grove. The family’s famed hickory nut cake recipe survives. The Mackeys helped sponsor the building of a one-room school on Prairie Road in Rockford called the Oak Grove School. This former schoolhouse was later renovated into a private home.

Growing up, Willard was described as “bookish,” always to be found in the orchard sitting under a tree reading a book. As a young man, he became an active member of the Blackhawk Canoe Club. Canoeing was not only a popular form of exercise but was also an enjoyable way to take a date for a leisurely, serene excursion on the beautiful, winding Rock River.

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Willard Mackey canoeing on the Rock River

Willard often canoed as far as Oregon, Illinois, past the imposing Blackhawk statue on the banks of the river. This 48-foot “Eternal Indian” sculpture, dedicated in 1911, was erected in honor of the Native American chief whose name was also appropriated by the canoe club. Willard met Anna during this period and many times the young and spirited Anna Bertog was by Willard’s side on these excursions, a somewhat dangerous endeavor for her because she had never learned how to swim!

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Willard Mackey and Anna Bertog, wedding photos, 1914

Willard and Anna married on September 16, 1914. During the prosperity of post-war 1920s Rockford, five factories (Free Sewing Machine Company, Haddorff Piano, Landstrom Furniture Company, Rockford Varnish, and National Lock) formed an alliance called Consolidated Industries. Willard, known as “Mac” to his friends and colleagues, had worked at the sewing machine company; he now became the purchasing agent for this conglomeration.

The young couple lived on Albert Avenue across from Sunset Park in Rockford’s west side. In addition to being a homemaker, Anna was also on staff at Snow’s College.

Around 1920, the Mackeys moved to 2040 Oxford Street in northwest Rockford. This move was short-lived when the family rented a bungalow on Mulberry Street in 1921 near the P.R. Walker School so the Mackey children could easily walk there. Up to this point, the Mackeys had never owned an automobile, but Willard purchased his first car in 1922.

In the spring of 1923, the family moved yet again, this time settling in for a much longer stay. The Mackey clan filled a four-bedroom home at 315 Sheridan Street on Rockford’s northwest side.

Owing to her training and college background as well as her husband’s connection to the Free Sewing Machine Company, Anna always had an electric sewing machine in the house. This was quite a luxury to many young families of these early modern times. As a purchasing agent, Willard would receive gifts from salesmen and clients. One such gift was a children’s slide, which the Mackey youngsters greatly enjoyed in their Sheridan Street backyard.

Willard taught his children canoeing and rented a boathouse with access to the Rock River from a family on National Avenue. The Mackeys loved to ice skate on the frozen river in the long and lingering winter months.

Anna and Willard moved to a home on Hilton Avenue in 1943. In 1960, Willard retired, and he and Anna moved to N. Fort Meyers, Florida to escape the often harsh Midwestern winters. Here they spent their golden years enjoying sunshine, boating, fishing, and each other. The longtime couple, having successfully joined and multiplied their combined German-Irish roots, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1964.

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Willard and Anna (Bertog) Mackey, 50th anniversary, 1964

~Written by Doug Janicke, intern in Collections Department at Midway Village Museum & MLIS Graduate Student

                                                   

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Celebrating Dr. Maurice P. Rogers: Local Physician & Pioneer Brain Surgeon

Maurice P. Rogers (1892-1983) was a physician in Rockford with a distinguished 67-year career. Dr. Rogers became highly regarded as a renowned pioneer in the fledgling field of brain surgery. Professionally, Rogers practiced at one time from offices in downtown’s William Brown Building on S. Main Street. In their personal life, he and his wife, Jeanette (1890-1976), eventually resided on Spring Creek Road in a home designed by architect Jesse A. Barloga in the late 1920s. In its February 27, 1949 edition, the Rockford Morning Star published an article about the Rogers and their English-style home, complete with photographs, titled “Manor-Type Architecture Represented in Spring Creek Road Home.” The newspaper ran another article with pictures about the home’s English heritage and its subsequent owners on May 22, 1966. The Rogers later lived on land where Rock Valley College currently stands.

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Dr. Maurice P. Rogers

In the materials at Midway Village Museum (MVM) that houses Rogers’ collection are two small loose-leaf, three-ring binders with cracked black leather covers. Each contains an alphabetical listing of medical procedures and protocol, carefully and meticulously detailed and neatly handwritten by Dr. Rogers himself. The instructions contained in the binders run the gamut from office policy to directions dictating exactly when and how to properly administer appropriate medication. These books, acting at the time as quick and handy reference guides, now serve as historical reminders of the state of early 20th century medical, health, and hygiene practices.

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A page from Dr. Rogers’ medical journal

A Morning Star article from November 30, 1952 noted Dr. Rogers’ rise to the position of President of the Winnebago County Medical Society.

Other notable items in the Rogers’ collection at MVM include a commemorative carafe inscribed “Medical Society Stag, Rockford ILL, 1934,” an ornate guestbook with wooden covers containing penciled entries and signatures from guests at dinner parties, holiday gatherings, and other special occasions spanning several decades, and receipts and blueprints pertaining to the Rogers’ Spring Creek home and its rather elaborate accoutrements and elegant fixtures.

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Guestbook, commemorative carafe, and medical journals

On October 18, 1983, the Register Star reported that Dr. Rogers had died at age 90 on September 7th in River Bluff Nursing Home.

~Written by Doug Janicke, intern in Collections Department at Midway Village Museum & MLIS Graduate Student

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Identity Revealed: Civil War Soldier

While scanning Civil War photographs for a researcher, investigations were made to gain more information on a soldier who was later identified as Henry Martyn Thomas. Born Dec. 21, 1841, Thomas served during the Civil War in the 45th Regiment, Illinois Infantry, rising from Private to Commissary Sergeant in Company G.

Henry was one of seven children born to Dr. Alden Thomas (1791-1856). After practicing medicine for a few years, Dr. Thomas moved to a farm two miles south of Rockford on Kishwaukee Road where he lived for two years. After this, he relocated to Rockford where he operated a drug store until shortly before his death. Dr. Thomas was buried in Cedar Bluff Cemetery in Rockford.

On Sept. 28, 1863, Henry Thomas was involved in rescuing passengers from a burning steamer on the Mississippi River. An article in the Rock River Democrat (Rockford IL) stated that Thomas acted “with true heroic gallantry . . . assisted in launching a gang-plank,” and saw to the safety of others on board. He was later lost attempting to swim to shore. The newspaper proclaimed that “he died like a true soldier.” Thomas was twenty-one-years-old.

The photo below was taken seven months before his untimely death.

 

Another Rock River Democrat article, dated Nov. 25, 1863, reported that the remains of Henry M. Thomas were recovered from the Mississippi and returned to Rockford. He was also buried in Cedar Bluff Cemetery.

~Written by Doug Janicke, intern in Collections Department at Midway Village Museum & MLIS Graduate Student

 

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Arisaka Type 99 Rifle: A Japanese WWII Relic

Midway Village Museum has a permanent collection of nearly 150,000 artifacts. Within the walls of the museum are untold stories of amazing relics. In honor of our upcoming WWII Days event, we’d like to share a piece of history with our readers. In our weaponry collection, we have a Japanese Arisaka Type 99 bolt action infantry rifle from WWII, brought back by Everett Charles Sarver. Before continuing with this story, let’s get some more background on Mr. Sarver and why this particular weapon is one of the best bolt action rifles to have been produced.

Everett Charles “Son” Sarver was born on April 24, 1916 to Everett Alexander and Lauretta Sarver.  He and his father, Everett Alexander, began a livestock hauling business that evolved from Everett Alexander’s garbage hauling job from Camp Grant. E.A. Sarver & Son began circa 1934, and by 1941, E.C. had taken over the business; it became E.C. Sarver Livestock Trucking. E.C. Sarver owned and operated this trucking company before he entered the Navy.

He was drafted into the Navy in 1944 during WWII and served until 1946 in the Pacific on the U.S.S. Minotaur.  Everett was the U.S.S. Minotaur’s mailman and the Captain’s Talker (he relayed orders via an intercom system to stations beyond the bridge).  As mailman, he would go in a small boat from ship to shore to pick up mail and “other illicit things.”  It is believed that this is how he acquired an Arisaka Type 99 bolt action rifle and bayonet.

The Type 99 rifle was created as a result of Imperial Japan’s fast track to modernization, called the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). During that time, Japan was quickly assimilating Western technologies and improving upon them in order to become a colonial power. Before WWII, Japan had already started taking over territories in China and had defeated Russia to claim land in Manchuria and Korea.  As Japan’s power grew, their military spread into other parts of Asia, leading to the Second Japanese-Russo War and later, WWII.

The Type 99 rifle and its predecessors, the Type 30 and Type 38, were created by Nariakira Arisaka during these conflicts. The type 99 came in four versions: the Type 99 short rifle (a standard infantry rifle), the Type 99 long rifle (limited production), a Takedown Type 2 Paratrooper rifle, and the Type 99 sniper rifle. The standard infantry rifle had a monopod as well as an anti-aircraft rear sight meant to take down low flying lightly armored bombers.

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Arisaka rifle evolution (from top to bottom): 1. Type 30 2. Type 38 3. Type 38 carbine 4. Type 44 carbine 5. Type “I” model 6. Type 99 (earlier model) 7. Type 99 (later model)

The Type 99 rifle was basically an improved version of Type 38, but with the increased firepower of a 7.7mm cartridge (the 38 used a 6.5mm cartridge). The 99 could chamber a 5 round stripper clip. It had a quick-release bolt and a safety measure built in so that the spent cartridges would fly away from the soldier. It also had a chrome lined bore for easier cleaning. Although it had the heavier firepower, it also had a strong kickback due to its lighter stock. The Type 99 came with its own bayonet in the form of a long slender blade, often grooved to reduce weight. The Type 99 was a strong and solid weapon and one of the best bolt action rifles of its time.

The Type 99 was produced by 8 factories over the course of its service. These included Nagoya and Kokura in Japan, the Jinsen Arsenal in Korea, and Hoten (Mukden) in Manchuria. There were also subcontractors throughout mainland Japan producing these rifles. The rifles were produced in series of 100,000 with its numbering being 0 to 99,000 before the count would start over. The Type 99 rifle was only manufactured from 1939 to 1945. As the war progressed and pressure increased for Japan to manufacture more weaponry, the quality of these weapons decreased. At the end of WWII a batch of “last ditch” rifles were produced and they are known for their crude and simple design.

Most of the weaponry collected from Japan after WWII had any significant symbols/insignia removed or defaced by the Japanese before they were handed over. The Type 99 rifle in particular had its Imperial Chrysanthemum blossom ‘mon’ (a Japanese emblem used to identify an individual or family) removed before being turned over. One theory behind this act is that it would have been disrespectful to the Emperor if his ‘mon’ was allowed to remain upon a weapon handed over the enemy. Any rifles with the ‘mon’ still intact indicate that they were taken before the surrender by Chinese, British, or American soldiers.

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Arisaka Type 99 Bolt Action Rifle from Midway Village Museum’s permanent collection 

Above is an image of the Type 99 bolt action infantry rifle in our collection. Its arsenal mark and serial number, 3976, indicate that it was part of the 31st series of rifles manufactured by Toyo Kogyo under contract to Kokura Arsenal. It was most likely manufactured during 1942-1943. The story of Mr. Sarver bringing this rifle back with him during WWII is supported by the Chrysanthemum ‘mon’ still being intact on this rifle. If the rifle had been handed over after the war, the ‘mon’ would no longer be present or fully intact. The writing below the ‘mon’ is ‘kyu-kyu-shiku’ which roughly translates to Type 99, meaning that the rifle is a Type 99. Our rifle has a flip up anti-aircraft rear sight, monopod, and is made from better quality materials than the ‘last ditch’ rifles at the end of the war.

 

The bayonet that came with our rifle has a hook guard and a serial number of 2271908, which suggests it was made in the 1910s and would have been issued originally with an Arisaka Type 38 rifle. Our rifle measures 44in in length from the butt to the barrel and is roughly eight pounds.

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Type 30 bayonet & scabbard from WWI that came with the Arisaka Type 99 rifle

 

Once Everett Charles Sarver returned home, he ran his trucking business until 1969. He had married Ruth Irene Wickens in 1941 and together they had three children: Suzanne Mary, Charles “Chuck” “Charlie” Sarver, Jr., and Linda Kay.  Everett Charles Sarver passed away on October 24, 1991.

-Post written by Tiffany Arnold, Assistant Curator at Midway Village Museum

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Pancakes, Prejudice and Publicity

A picture is worth a thousand words, yet it is not uncommon to find a photograph in our collections for which one thousand words would be sorely lacking. Take this, for example:

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This is Aunt Jemima, portrayed by the actress Edith Wilson, receiving the Key to the City of Rockford, Illinois. The Mayor was scheduled to attend, but on the day of the ceremony it was Chief of Police Tom Beaustead who handed Wilson the key to the city. It might be better to say that this picture raises a thousand questions! What was happening on January 28, 1954 to produce this strange event?

Perhaps it is best to begin by explaining the ritual itself. The gifting of a key to the city is a ritual which stems back to the medieval ages, when walled cities would lock their gates most of the time for security reasons. Only people who were true friends of the city would be honored in this way. In recent years, however, the civic ritual has become more of a publicity stunt and less of a sincere gesture. This only raises more questions: was this a sincere gesture or just a photo opportunity? If it was sincere, what did Edith Wilson do to deserve the honor?

Edith Wilson was flown in by helicopter from Chicago (the helicopter landed on the courthouse lawn, the first time a helicopter had ever landed in downtown Rockford) to help raise support for the first annual Rockford Kiwanis Club Pancake Day on January 30, 1954. Wilson was constantly busy during her four day stay in Rockford. She met with the Kiwanis Club for their final planning meetings and made visits to schools, hospitals and children’s centers. She also provided the evening’s entertainment at the YMCA on Thursday night. For the big day itself, Wilson assisted with preparation and service, but the newspapers focused on her celebrity status and remarked that she was busy most of the day meeting with families and signing autographs. Pancake Day was a huge success right from the start, and Wilson’s efforts guaranteed that the event would be successful. The event raised over $8,000, and the proceeds went towards the renovation of the Lincoln Park Boy’s Club. Nevertheless, Wilson was here as a paid spokesperson of Quaker Oats to promote the Aunt Jemima brand, so it seems that the gifting of the key to the city was part publicity stunt, part sincere honor.

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Lapel pin from the Museum’s collection. It is unknown whether this was something used during Edith Wilson’s visit.

The photograph of Miss Wilson’s visit also sheds light on changes in race relations. The Aunt Jemima character has long been criticized for being an example of the “mammy” stereotype. The “mammy” stereotype depicted cheerful African Americans as servants.

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“Mammy” Syrup Pitcher in the Museum’s collection.

All public appearances over the four days featured “Aunt Jemima”; the newspapers never even mention Wilson by her actual name. While she attended the final planning meeting, there is no evidence to suggest that her appearance was anything more than a photo opportunity. Wilson was an incredibly successful jazz and blues singer who shared the stage with greats such as Louis Armstrong, yet when she served as the night’s entertainment at the YMCA, the newspapers continued to bill her as Aunt Jemima. That said, the Rockford Register-Republic briefly mentioned that “the program includes dancing”, so it may have been that visitors got to hear some world-class music after all.

This photo is a revealing example of shifts taking place in our community in the 1950’s. The key gifting ritual was mostly done for the photo opportunity, yet it still required a measure of community service to deserve the honor. African-American portrayals were still racist, but a portrayal such as Wilson’s served to drum up support for local charities and organizations while also rousing the community towards positive ends. That, at least, is something worth commemorating with a hearty plate of flapjacks accompanied by the jazzy tunes of Edith Wilson herself.

–Post contributed by Ryan Zieglebauer, Midway Village Museum Interpeter and Volunteer

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A 1953 Valentine Party

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we offer you this glimpse of Valentine’s Day 1953.

The photos, of Betty Peters’ 4th grade class at Henrietta School in Rockford, is part of Midway Village Museum’s photo collection and captures the students ready for their class Valentine’s Day party. Most students have homemade Valentines and boxes on their desks.

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Henrietta School was built in 1952 at 200 N. Johnston Ave. In more recent years the building was used for Head Start programming. Since 2012, the building, which has been owned by the City of Rockford, has been used for community meetings. In 2015 the City was in negotiations to sell the building to Carl E. Ponds Funeral Home.

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“We Saved Baseball” — Betty Yahr and the Rockford Peaches

A guest post by Intern Alicia Meyer

With baseball season coming to an end, we are reminded of one of Rockford’s greatest legacies: the Rockford Peaches. The Peaches were one of fifteen teams in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League that existed from 1943-1954. The Peaches won three league championships and were portrayed in the 1992 film A League of Their Own. Though the team was based in Rockford, members of the team were selected by talent scouts throughout the United States who would choose the best women baseball players for the league. One of those chosen women was Betty Yahr.

Betty Yahr playing ball before joining the Rockford Peaches in 1946.

Betty Yahr playing ball before joining the Rockford Peaches in 1946.

Betty Ruth Yahr was born on April 22, 1923 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She began her athletic career in high school where she was a member of the Girls Athletic Club. She was involved in multiple sports such as hockey, baseball, volleyball, and basketball. When she graduated in 1941, Ann Arbor High School recognized her as the “Most Athletic” in the yearbook and they were right to do so. Yahr continued playing sports after graduating, focusing primarily on her favorite one: baseball. She played on the semi-professional Michigan team “Dad’s Root Beer” winning the Michigan state championship. While playing a game in Ft. Wayne, MI, Yahr caught the eye of a talent scout for the newly formed All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. She was then invited to play on the Rockford Peaches.

Betty Yahr while with the Rockford Peaches. She used this photo for her official baseball card.

Betty Yahr while with the Rockford Peaches. She used this photo for her official baseball card.

Yahr joined the Rockford Peaches in 1946 as a right fielder. She contributed in 22 games, had 76 at bats, 11 runs, and a batting average of .171. The Peaches achieved third place and were 60-52 for the ‘46 season. The league champions were the Racine Bells that year, though the Peaches had dominated the season in ‘45. Yahr became homesick at the end of the season and decided to head back to Ann Arbor. She later attempted to rejoin the AAGPBL but was denied due to the hundreds of applicants who were ahead of her. She continued playing recreational baseball in Michigan and had a 41 year-long career at Edwards Brothers Inc., a printing company, before retiring in 1988.

The Voss Girls' Baseball Team in Flint, MI.

The Voss Girls’ Baseball Team in Flint, MI. Yahr is in the back row, the last woman on the right.

Sadly, Betty Yahr passed away on December 30, 2010 after battling Alzheimer’s disease.  She left behind quite the legacy. She is featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame located in Cooperstown, New York as a part of their AAGPBL exhibit. Her glove, contract, uniform hat, and other memorabilia were donated to the Hall of Fame by her nephew Ronald Yahr. Ronald kindly donated some of Betty’s possessions to Midway Village Museum in July of 2014. In the collection, we received a replica Rockford Peaches baseball hat, original photos of Betty (including the one used for her AAGPBL baseball card), copies of her contract and correspondence with the league, and an actual baseball used in her time with the Peaches.

On November 8, 2015 learn more about the Rockford Peaches at a Rockford Premiere Showing of the movie A Team of their Own, a documentary produced by Grand Valley State University students. Showings of the film will be at Midway Village Museum, 6799 Guilfird Rd., Rockford at 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 general public, $8 for Museum members. For more information or to purchase tickets online visit www.midwayvillage.com.

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