Voices from the Grave: Rathskeller’s storied past not to be missed

By Kathi Kersol
Local Historian, Haunted Rockford Paranormal events

The Der Rathskeller Restaurant on Auburn Street has been known for its tasty food and unique atmosphere since the 1930’s. Many people have visited the beautiful Bier Garten since its addition in 2009. This place is a wonderful combination of Rockford’s German history and the present day quest for good food and drinks at reasonable prices.  What may surprise some people is that it also houses a few “spirits” of the paranormal kind.

The history of Der Rathskeller goes back to the early 1930’s. Fred Goetz, a Merrill Wisconsin native, came to Rockford when he was drafted in World War I.

Fred was German himself and didn’t want to fight in the European Campaign against his fellow countrymen so he was listed as a conscientious objector and served his time at Camp Grant as a Quartermaster Corps sergeant. He fell in love here, first with his soon to be wife Irma and then with the city itself.

Fred decided to settle here after the war and worked for a time as a Burroughs Adding Machine Company salesman. Fred loved the Rockford area but there is one thing he missed about Wisconsin- good sausage.  He searched in vain for the kind of sausage that he had enjoyed as a child but that did not stop the industrious Fred.

Fred decided that if Rockford didn’t have it then he would bring it here. He ordered the sausage from Milwaukee, first for himself and then, as word spread, for his friends. The idea took off in a big way and by 1931, Fred was ordering sausage for 800 households!  Fred was a smart man and decided that he would open his own shop.

Fred gave up his job selling adding machines and began to sell meats at his own Sausage Shop on Auburn Street. He sold other things besides sausage including breads, caviar, and cheeses. Fred noticed that many people would buy his sandwiches and stand outside to eat them so he decided to expand. He set up a couple of tables with some chairs for his patrons to enjoy their food. Before long, he had to expand into the basement and with a nod to his German heritage, Der Rathskeller was opened.

Rockford’s population swelled during the World War II years and Fred and Irma’s little place grew with it. They introduced other foods, including the lyonnaise potatoes that would become one of the signature dishes. Fred also added imported beers to complete the German experience.

Der Rathskeller passed into other family members’ hands until it was finally sold in 1976 to Betty Giesen, her husband Dick, and her son, Michael DuPre. They have continued with Fred’s vision, selling their own homemade sausages as well as Usinger brand meats.

Fred loved owning his restaurant and from staff accounts, he is still there making sure that Der Rathskeller continues in good hands. Staff members have experienced enough odd incidents that make them very aware that Fred is still around. The wait staff has experienced the sound of foot steps, shadows and many little pranks played by an unseen jokester.

Haunted Rockford will be visiting this active location on March 21 for a Paranormal Evening from 7-9 p.m. Kathi Kresol will share the building’s history, Michael DuPre will share the staff experiences and psychics Sara Bowker and Paul Smith will give their impressions. The price for this event is $20 in advance and registrations can be made at www.hauntedrockford.com or by calling Kathi at 815-871-4239.

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