by TERRY KONKLE
President, Rockford Area Historical Society
Last week’s “Nugget of Rockford History” question solicited many correct answers and also brought out a lot of information. So far, 18 people have contacted me, and all of them knew that Clayton Cahill was the well-known Rockford constable who had a bear caged on his property on Jericho Street. But the bear is just a part of the Cahill saga. Let me relate what people have told me!
Mr. Cahill had two bears plus other animals. Several responders remembered a donkey, and many recalled monkeys. In addition there were foxes, wolves, a horse, a bobcat and at least one pet raccoon. Terri Gogo Byrne mentioned that the donkey could be heard often and that the animal had a name: “Teal.” Bud Graverson, who managed the Corner Bar for 20 years and the hotel for 15 said that the monkeys got loose and could be seen “swinging through parts of town.” Others also spoke of the monkeys getting out.
Many told me that Mr. Cahill had animals in his house, including the raccoon. Ken Ploeg, who knows much about Mr. Cahill’s menagerie, said that when Constable Cahill went on night patrol, he would sometimes take the raccoon with him. Chief Lyle Ford, who worked during the day, did not appreciate the mess left by the raccoon in the police car (Rockford only had one police vehicle then).
Many people mentioned that the Cahill property was often referred to as the “Rockford Zoo,” and that families would sometimes drive by to view the animals. I know that I drove my kids by the place more than once. Apparently at one time there were two cages on the property with one larger than the other. A few mentioned a white fence around the front cage.
Bernie Young called from Florida to tell me about the bear. From his house on Fremont Street his family could see the bear in his cage and guests sometimes wondered what they were seeing when stopping by for cocktails. It was fun stopping at the Youngs’ residence for an opportunity to view the “bear in the zoo.”
Whatever happened to the two bears? Next week I will recount the details as given to me by Jim Eadie, Ken Ploeg and Bernie Young. The bears are a part of Rockford history, and their story is both interesting and presents some “food for thought.”
My thanks to Carole Baker, Carole Christensen, Sally Judson, Jim Blanchard, Jim Eadie, Tom Lindquist, Dave Hutchings, Yvonne Osborn, Marilyn Drumm, Gene Berry, Bob Boyer, Ken Ploeg, Beryl Bradley, Bud Graverson, Teri Gogo Byrne, Bernie Young, Nancy Simonis and Henry Glass for contacting me.
Finally, when you attend the Start of Summer Celebration this weekend, check out our table near the present museum. We have some interesting things there for readers to consider, as we continue to work on the positive museum move. Call me with any questions at (616) 866-0530.