Notes: In terms of clarity and disambiguation, the auction described in this blog occurred at the estate of Robert Gaylord, Jr, who was the Treasurer of Ingersoll for 40 years until retirement in the early 1980's. His brother, Edson Ingersoll, was the owner of Ingersoll. Factual information in this article was obtained from The Rockford Register Star, The Chicago Tribune, and public records of the discrimination lawsuit Ingersoll settled in 2001 with the EEOC.
Rockford has a history of being one of the most racist and segregated cities in America. Unfortunately, Rockford also has a present of being one of the most racist and segregated cities in America. The Rock River makes an almost complete separation of black and white in Rockford. The largest employer was the first company sued for racism in the 1980's, and the school board was also sued for racism in recent history.
Last October I went to my first auction. At the estate of one of the heirs of the Ingersoll corporation. The Ingersoll family ran the company into bankruptcy, costing several hundred people in Rockford their jobs before selling to a foreign interest. Researching the family I learned that many had considered them prejudiced in the past, but I was unprepared for what I witnessed at the auction itself. The auction itself was not held at the estate of Edson Ingersoll, the last in the family to run the corporation, but Robert Gaylord, Jr., a family member who had been eased out of the family business in the 1970's, and who had no real controlling interest in Ingersoll policies. It was crowded, and looking for a quiet corner I found a cozy nook in one of the wings of the house, and listened as a woman who had worked as a domestic maid for the family recounted how mistreated she was by the family all those years, and all the slings she endured, and how she had come to this auction merely to wander the estate without being harassed or enduring more abuse.
I felt a certain unease as I wandered the rooms, trying to stake out artifacts I wanted to bid on, and saw mementos of sexism and perceived racism that might have been acceptable in mixed company in the 1950's or 60's when I'm sure they were acquired, but not something most people would want company to see in modern America.
I talked to someone I knew about the estate, and he said he remembered being there with Sears delivery installing a washer and dryer and the lady there said "I sent home the n&**#@ maid today." Not in 1868, or even the 1960's, this happened less than a decade ago in Rockford, Illinois.
When the story was written about and covered in the local media the man was made out to be a hero. The family was lionized. Nobody mentioned anything about the discrimination suits or selling out the people of Rockford. I feel like I want to mention it. Just for a record. Maybe a record nobody cares about.
This is one of the little gems I found at the auction. Along with dolls and Beatles records and board games and all the types of things little rich girls would have had growing up in the 60's. Boxes and boxes of board games and troll dolls and record albums, many of them never even opened. They used to ride skateboards and roller skate in the twisting hallway that runs nearly fifty yards to an underground parking garage. It's a magnificent house designed by famed architect Jesse Barloga. Someone bought the estate the next day, but the sale was rescinded when the neighborhood association balked at that person opening a bed and breakfast there.
The Chicago Tribune did a piece about how the Ingersoll Corporation was symbolic of the fall of Rockford titled Rough Ride In Rockford. And here's the EEOC lawsuit that ruled against Ingersoll in a discrimination lawsuit brought on behalf of "blacks and women."
Having read that and listened to my personal account, you might be surprised when The Rockford register Star wrote about the auction the Gaylord family was lionized as being "big financial contributors to the Rockford community, and the head of the Chamber of Commerce at the time was of course for sweeping the whole thing under the rug. It mentions he was a big game hunter and an influential member of the Rockford think tank The Rockford Institute. Remember them and how the Southern Poverty law center considered them on their radar as a racist organization?
Seems like an ongoing theme with the Gaylord family, but The Rockford Register Star seems to think they're just swell people. This is what we deal with in Rockford. A very thinly veiled history of outright racism that hasn't been put in the past by any degree.
The Gaylord estate. Nice place. But what about the people? Kind of like Rockford. I did well at the Gaylord auction. My favorite thing I bought was an old piece of driftwood that looks magnificent no matter what direction you turn it. I'll never forget being there or what it taught me about digging into the history of the city I was born in. I imagine there are hundreds of stories like this one in the founding of this city. Dozens of places and parks and building that have sordid histories in them we'll never really know about. Digging beneath the surface is something we don't do here, I think because we know it's rotten, and life is already rotten enough around here.
"As early as 1973, Rockford was found to be segregating its black and Hispanic children in inferior schools. The practice festered, touching off an epic court battle that led a federal judge to conclude in 1993 that Rockford had raised discrimination to an "art form." By 1999, the town's taxpayers had spent $238 million on the drastic remedial measures required by the judicial decree--amid bitter resistance in some quarters. Legal fees topped $20 million.
Ingersoll fought a similar battle to its detriment. In 1977, it became the first U.S. company to be barred from federal contracts in a discrimination case, after the government charged it with bias against blacks and women. Edson Gaylord said the company's employment records were private, and he never put much stock in government work anyway." By Greg Burns
Tribune senior correspondent
October 23, 2005