Tag Archives: Food

The Life and Times of Old Tramp, Rockford’s Most Famous Dog

In the early 1900s, the city of Rockford was home to a dog known as Old Tramp. Tramp was a beloved hound and considered an honored citizen. Belonging to no one and everyone, Tramp wandered the streets of downtown Rockford and made friends everywhere he went.  It is clear from his photo that Tramp did not want for food. He was fed often by the friends he made, and he loved when children shared their candy with him. The newspapers Rockford Morning Star, Daily Register-Gazette, and Rockford Republic were especially fond of the roly-poly lab-mix, who was known as a “mountain of meat.” This story comes straight from their sincere, albeit exaggerated, publications. This is Tramp’s tale.

Old Tramp, c. 1907-1908

Old Tramp, c. 1907-1908

The newspapers reported that Tramp’s journey to Rockford had been one of romance and tragedy. Owned by a loving mistress, Tramp lived happily on a farm in Latham Park, located north of what is now Machesney Park. Unfortunately, Tramp’s dear mistress was sick with consumption, and when she succumbed to the illness and passed away in 1901, Old Tramp was so filled with grief that he left the house immediately after the funeral service and never returned. The Rockford Morning Star asserted that his eyes were still filled with sorrow and his heart heavy with grief. It instructed the reader to “watch him the next time a funeral procession passes through the streets and he is near. He will immediately lay down with his head buried in his paws and remain there until the cortege has passed.”

Upon leaving the house, it was said that Tramp found his way to East Rockford and met some nice police officers. They took him to the west side, where he looked around at the buildings, rubbed up against the officers, and decided to stay. Rockford had also accepted him, as the Rockford Republic reported in 1902 that “’Tramp,’ a well known [sic] dog about town which has been making its home here, there and everywhere but was always welcome, was shot by an officer this morning as the animal was under the suspicion of having rabies.” Thankfully, this was a case of mistaken identity, and the Register-Gazette corrected: “After being mourned for several hours, ‘Tramp’ turned up much alive, greatly to the delight of his friends, both old and young.”

Tramp’s daily schedule went something like this:

Every morning at 7 o’clock, Tramp headed off to one of the meat markets to find his breakfast – a big delicious bone.

Carl August Ahlstrand’s meat market, located at 102 7th Street. August came to Rockford from Sweden in 1885 and operated a meat market for over forty years.

Carl August Ahlstrand’s meat market, located at 102 7th Street. August came to Rockford from Sweden in 1885 and operated a meat market for over forty years.

 

Tramp took his breakfast to the court house lawn to enjoy.

Winnebago County Court House, c. 1880s-1890s

Winnebago County Court House, c. 1880s-1890s

 

If the fire alarm sounded, Tramp lumbered his way to meet the engine on the street and heartily barked his encouragement.

Rockford Fire Engine Co. No. 6, early 1900s

Rockford Fire Engine Co. No. 6, early 1900s

 

He frequented the Rockford & Interurban Railway waiting room and often took a ride on the streetcar.

East and West side streetcar waiting rooms, c. 1910

East and West side streetcar waiting rooms, c. 1910

 

From noon to 2 o’clock, Tramp made his rounds of the saloons and cafes and enjoyed their samples, which were freely given. When the steamship Illinois blew its whistle, off he went to meet it.

Steamship Illinois, c.1910s

Steamship Illinois, c.1910s

 

After enjoying an afternoon cruise, he might have followed an officer on his beat and kept him company.

Policemen in front of City Hall, c. 1908

Policemen in front of City Hall, c. 1908

 

At 10 o’clock, Tramp retired to the Morning Star office where he fell asleep on a pile of exchanges.

Early linotype machines used for setting type for newspaper printing, believed to be at Rockford Morning Star, c. 1910s

Early linotype machines used for setting type for newspaper printing, believed to be at Rockford Morning Star, c. 1910s

 

There was one steamboat trip Tramp did not enjoy. One lovely day in June 1902, Tramp boarded the Illinois with the other patrons, who were off to delight in their picnics. A group of men belonging to the Grand Army of the Republic also boarded. One of these old veterans picked him up and threw him overboard as the steamboat left its port. Tramp paddled to the shore unhurt and walked home. The next year, the Republic reported, Tramp boarded the ship as usual and recognized the same man who had tossed him off the deck the year before. Tramp performed an about-face and walked back down the gang-plank to avoid another unpleasant confrontation.

Steamboat Illinois, June 4, 1914

Steamboat Illinois, June 4, 1914

 

In 1905, Tramp had an adventure that caused quite a stir in Rockford. On February 24, the Register-Gazette announced that “Tramp Is Missing” and the Morning Star cried “Tramp Was Taken Away.” Tramp had boarded the streetcar, being a dog who enjoyed a good ride, and stood in the front vestibule with the conductor, Floyd Knodle. At the crossing near Ridott, a lineman got off the car, and Tramp, in all likelihood, hopped off and began walking alongside the track. Floyd was in a hurry, and so the car continued on. However, upon returning without Tramp, many people were outraged and accused Floyd of pushing the lab out of the car and abandoning him in the snow. It was known that the railway officials were annoyed by Tramp’s presence in their waiting room, and this, argued the newspapers, was the reason poor Tramp had been abandoned.

Rockford & Interurban streetcar, c. 1890s

Rockford & Interurban streetcar, c. 1890s

The Morning Star felt very protective of Tramp, who had made their office his bedroom. It defended him, saying that he was not a nuisance and in fact was liked by hundreds of people. If Tramp was not produced, they threatened, the Humane Society would arrest whoever was responsible; in fact, they claimed, all of the officials of the company should be arrested for cruelty to this poor dog. They got their scapegoat the next day when conductor Floyd Knodle was arrested for abuse and brought into the court house for questioning. Even the judge was ready to fine him; however, the case was dismissed two days later. It was ruled that because the incident had occurred in Stephenson County, the judge had no jurisdiction in the case.

Meanwhile, Morning Star employee John Adams found Tramp enjoying himself at a friendly farm in the country. Tying a rope around the dog’s neck, he led Tramp back to Rockford where he was welcomed with joyous fanfare. A broad, red ribbon was tied around his neck. The Register-Gazette printed “Some Verses on Tramp” including:

“Why Tramp Got Lost”

There was an old dog named Tramp,

In some of his manners a ‘scamp,’

He would go out and fill up on fat

And just what he’d do after that

Is hardly fit for publication.

 

Although Tramp was an irritation to the streetcar officials, he was clearly loved by a great many. Shortly after this incident, a Rockford citizen wrote a letter to the editor of the Republic. He proclaimed that he would give $10 to punish any abuser of the dog, and $100 to convict anyone who threatened Tramp’s life with poison.

Tramp became a model in 1906 when the Women’s Christian Temperance Union sold photographs of him as a fundraiser. The Register-Gazette reported that the photos showed him “in various characteristic attitudes, in repose, in action, and on dress parade.” His picture also was the ornament on top of a daily calendar.

Tramp enjoying a good scratch from Captain John T. Buker of the steamboat Illinois, c. 1901-1906

Tramp enjoying a good scratch from Captain John T. Buker of the steamboat Illinois, c. 1901-1906

 

When Tramp passed away in November 1908, he was honored by Rockford’s newspapers with large obituaries that were truly a labor of love. They reported that Tramp had been visiting the Reigert home at 255 North Court Street, one of his regular spots. The fire alarm whistle blew, and he attempted to get up and bark as usual, but his hind legs were paralyzed. A police officer was notified, and when he arrived he offered to shoot Old Tramp to put him out of his misery. Mrs. Reigert intervened, exclaiming “The old dog has been kind to everyone and everyone has been kind to him. I will not see him killed violently if I can help it. I will be glad to pay for the services of a veterinary to chloroform him and make his passing easy.” Dr. W.R. Finely was summoned, and Old Tramp left the world in peace.

The Republic published tributes from Tramp’s many canine friends who praised him for his respectability and gentlemanly ways.  Sheriff Collier’s dog Dooley, who was reportedly reached by telephone, was Tramp’s bosom friend, and told of how Tramp had taught him not to snap at people’s heels or swallow rubber bands when he was a pup. Sport, the “dean of the Fox terrier class,” admired Tramp for his soul of honor. Zip on Seventh Street spoke of Tramp’s great mind. Mack, a red Irish settler, shed a tear. And even Jerry the cat of West State Street praised Tramp for his respectful attitude towards felines and honored Tramp with a quote from Omar: “Tomorrow I shall be myself with yesterday’s seven thousand years.”

These grand speeches, however fictional, give evidence to the adoration and admiration the people of Rockford had for this lovable Labrador. His epitaphs took up more space and were generally more praiseworthy than most humans’ obituaries. He was called the “best known canine in the United States, an honored resident… beloved by practically every man, woman and child in this city.” One month after Tramp’s death, a letter to the editor appeared in the Republic that included a poem written in his honor.

“Only a Tramp”

He was only a tramp, yet loved by all.

The rich, the lowly, the great, the small.

But death came stalking by one day,

And took our mutual friend away.

 

There’s mourning today in Rockford town,

For the wonderful Tramp of great renown,

But if tramps have souls we know that he

Is clothed with immortality.

 

He was the simple life indeed –

He worshipped not God, he knew no creed,

Though he heard not a sermon in all his life,

He never got drunk, nor scolded his wife.

 

He never forgot a worthy friend

From the days of his youth to his fatal end.

But some there were who treated him mean,

And where Tramp has gone they’ll ne’er be seen.

 

He came and went, hither and yon,

Today he is here, tomorrow gone –

A peripatetic dog was he –

Peace be to his ashes eternally.

 

Tramp’s part in Rockford’s history provides insight into the evolution of animal welfare and reminds current dog owners of the importance of proper care and healthy feeding of their pets. Today’s veterinarians and animal-enthusiasts know the medical dangers to over-weight pets and can offer treatments. Animal shelters and humane societies across the country work tirelessly to take in homeless pets that are exposed to dangerous elements when left on the streets and find them new, loving homes.

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“Plenty of Bread Here”: Rockford’s Bit in the Making of the White Loaf

1922 toaster

1922 Universal electric toaster

Take a minute and think about what you had for breakfast this morning. Maybe your eggs or pancakes came with a side of toast. Did you have a sandwich for lunch? Perhaps dinner will be accompanied by bread and butter. How often do you have bread with every meal? These days chances are pretty slim as bread is often a sidekick to our meals, and many people have gluten-free diets. Even though bread is still considered to be one of our staple foods, one that is usually high on our grocery lists with milk and eggs, we are eating far less bread today than even just sixty years ago.

1910s-1920s Ekcoloy Silver Beauty bread tin

1910s-1920s Ekcoloy Silver Beauty bread tin

During the Medieval period, most people received 80% of their calories from bread – imagine eating just bread as at least two of your meals! By the 19th century, bread still constituted 30% of daily calories. At this time, most bread was made at home or purchased in small, artisan bakeries. Bread factories were seen as dirty places where the baker might use sawdust or some other filler to cut costs. As food-borne illnesses like cholera and typhus became apparent in the meat and dairy factories, and Upton Sinclair’s graphic exposé The Jungle was published at the turn of the century, Americans feared their food. Even though bread was not a carrier of the contagion, it too was scrutinized. When consumers turned away from the factories, their only other option (besides making it themselves) was the neighborhood bakery. Many were operated by southern and eastern European immigrants, who were stigmatized as “undesirable,” and therefore made undesirable food. In this way, the fear was not really about the bread itself, but of whose hands were making it.

Daily Register-Gazette - May 11, 1925

Daily Register-Gazette – May 11, 1925

So bread factories got their act together. They presented themselves as clean, modern, and efficient. Their factories were industrialized and spotless as if saying this was a safe place to manufacture food. And they choose white bread as their “flagship” for purity and modernity, implying that anything else was subordinate. The white loaves were even referred to as “chaste” and dark loaves as “defiled” by food reformers.

 

White bread gained popularity quickly, and bakers scrambled to find the recipe for the perfect loaf. In an effort to find out consumer preferences on the white pan breads, the USDA conducted a study in Rockford between 1954 and 1955. Why Rockford? In 1949, Life magazine declared Rockford to be the most typical city in America. Market researchers came in droves to the shores of the Rock River. During the study, 600 households in Rockford were interviewed about their bread-eating habits and anyone 16 years and older could participate in taste tests. Their results were deemed to be fairly typical of American families across the nation.

WWI era Camp Grant postcard

WWI era Camp Grant postcard

According to the study, 95% of households bought bread once a week. People in Rockford ate 1.5 pounds of bread per person per week, regardless of age or economic class. Light bread was always chosen over denser bread as consumers preferred the sweeter, fluffier bread. However, one third of housewives described it as “doughy; gummy; soggy; not well baked.” Some thought it just tasted terrible, and 60%-75% of housewives registered complaints against the bread. Newspaper and magazine articles didn’t have much good to say about the industrial bread either. Despite these issues with the light, white bread, people still bought a whole lot of it. Most households ate bread at all three meals. In 1954, Americans consumed about 8.6 billion loaves of store-bought white bread. Most ate 3 to 7 slices per day, or more.

The Keig-Stevens Baking Co. participated in the study. William H. Keig opened his bakery at 405 W. State St. in 1885. In the 1900s photo above, Keig’s niece Ethel Shaw works as a clerk. Keig was a popular bakery, selling many different types of bread like Vienna, sweet rye, French twists, as well as rolls and buns. Customers could also purchase treats like orange pies, fried cakes, macaroons, caramel squares, angel cake, jelly rolls, lady fingers, and many other sweets. After taking over the failing Forest City Baking Co. in 1910, he brought on his brother-in-law Webbs Stevens as his partner and together they operated the highly successful Keig-Stevens Baking Co.

The Keig-Stevens Baking Co. participated in the study. William H. Keig opened his bakery at 405 W. State St. in 1885. In the 1900s photo above, Keig’s niece Ethel Shaw works as a clerk. Keig was a popular bakery, selling many different types of bread like corn bread, sweet rye, and French twists, as well as rolls and buns. Customers could also purchase treats like orange pies, fried cakes, macaroons, caramel squares, angel cake, jelly rolls, lady fingers, and many other sweets. After taking over the failing Forest City Baking Co. in 1910, he brought on his brother-in-law Webbs Stevens as his partner and together they operated the highly successful Keig-Stevens Baking Co.

Why did consumers still choose to buy so much of the fluffy bread, even though they didn’t care for the taste? The industrial white bread was part of the post-war enrichment campaign that claimed the bread “built strength for the individual and national defense.” Rockford’s study confirmed this – depending on the year, 96%-100% of the USDA’s sample believed the bread to be highly nutritious.

Bread and its design have rarely been about the bread itself. It has carried with it anti-immigrant and racist feelings that shaped its form and consumption. Post-war campaigns steered the choice of bread to the white loaf in the name of strength and, essentially, nationalism despite its too-sweet taste. Today, about 72 million loaves of bread are sold each year in America – a dramatic decrease of 99%!

Do you make your own bread? How often do you buy a loaf in the store? What kinds does your family enjoy?

1910s Thanksgiving postcard

1910s Thanksgiving postcard

Happy baking!

I first heard of the Rockford study while listening to an episode of 99 Percent Invisible, an excellent podcast about the invisible design and architecture that shapes our world. Check them out by following the link below.

References:

Bobrow-Strain, Aaron. White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. Beacon Press: Boston, 2012.

Mars, Roman. “Episode 127: Good Bread.” 99 Percent Invisible, October 22, 2014. Accessed October 22, 2014. http://99percentinvisible.org/episode/good-bread/.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, Consumer’s Preferences among Baker’s White Breads of Different Formulas: A Survey in Rockford, Illinois (Marketing Research Report No. 118) (Washington, DC: USDA, 1956).

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Preheat Oven to 350°

Have you been spending more time in your kitchen than any other room in your house?  Do you find yourself seeing strange shapes, like stars, angels, and snowmen?  Are your face, hair, and clothes covered in a generous dusting of flour?  Do you have a colorful selection of sprinkles that would make a rainbow jealous?  Then you’ve probably been busy making Christmas cookies!

Perhaps you’ve been making one of the most popular and traditional of Christmas cookies, the spritz.  German in origin, the spritz, or spritzgebäck, is a pressed cookie with a rich and buttery flavor.  Spritz presses come with discs of  varying designs, such as trees, wreaths, and flowers.

Late 19th Century Spritz Press

Late 19th Century Spritz Press

The discs are stored at the end of the press.  Due to age, the end is unable to be opened; however, several of the discs can be seen here.

The discs are stored at the end of the press. Due to age, the end is unable to be opened; however, several of the discs can be seen here.

This cookie press is likely from the 1940s-50s.  This press has a turn handle.

This cookie press is likely from the 1940s-50s. This press has a turn handle.

These vintage cookie cutters are unique.  An axe is at the left.  In the center are the playing card symbols: a spade, heart, club, and diamond.  A moon shaped cookie is at the right, as well as a biscuit cutter.

These vintage cookie cutters are unique. An axe is at the left. In the center are the playing card symbols: a spade, heart, club, and diamond. A moon shaped cookie is at the right, as well as a biscuit cutter.

Want to make your own spritz cookies?  Get inspired from these beautiful cookies here: Spritz Cookie Recipe

Happy Holidays from Midway Village Museum!  Time to get baking!

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