Kern Park

Revisiting Kern Park’s “Lover’s Lane”

This early 1900s postcard shows Milwaukee's "Lover's Lane." Carl Swanson collection

This early 1900s postcard shows Milwaukee’s “Lover’s Lane.” Carl Swanson collection

An antique postcard adds a fresh perspective to a post from last year on the end of Kern Park’s “Lover’s Lane.” Read it here.Carl_sig

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In 1911, Kern Park housed tuberculosis patients

Photo by Carl Swanson

Once the summer retreat of the wealthy Kern family, Kern Park in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood was briefly the site of a tuberculosis hospital. During the winter of 1911, patients were housed in tents erected in the park. Photo by Carl Swanson

Tuberculosis isn’t particularly feared today but in the 19th century it caused more deaths than any other disease. If you were living a century ago, you probably were inflected by the tuberculosis bacillus. Between 70 and 90 percent of Europeans and Americans were infected and in some major cities the rate was closer to 100 percent. If your infection happened to develop into active tuberculosis – often called “consumption”– you had a 20 percent chance of surviving the illness. It was a terrifying and deadly epidemic.

The flood of desperately sick people stressed city health care systems to the breaking point. So much so that, if you became ill in Milwaukee around 1911, you may have been hospitalized in a temporary “sanatorium” located in Kern Park in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood.

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In 1931, frisky Milwaukeeans flocked to Kern Park’s lovers’ lane

This early 1900s postcard shows Milwaukee's "lover's lane." The card was mailed by a man named Albert to a Miss Evaline Beecher of Sauk City and reads, "Ain't this a nice place to spoon. This is Eva waiting for Al." Let's hope it worked out for those crazy kids, 106 years ago. Carl Swanson collection

This early 1900s postcard shows Milwaukee’s “lover’s lane.” The card was mailed by a man named Albert to a Miss Evaline Beecher of Sauk City and reads, “Ain’t this a nice place to spoon. This is Eva waiting for Al.” Let’s hope it worked out for those crazy kids, 106 years ago. Carl Swanson collection

The Milwaukee Notebook has a few loose pages, minor items that don’t amount to much in the life of a city but are still worth mentioning. Here’s an example: In its August 19, 1931 edition, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported:

Lovers’ lane in Kern Park is doomed. That dark, alluring walk under the trees beside the Milwaukee River – illuminated by no more than the moon – won’t be that way much longer.

A thousand dollars worth of lights are to be strung along the walk the park board has decided. It approved a recommendation by Al Riemenschneider, park engineer, to include that sum in next year’s budget.

“We need the lights from a moral standpoint,” explained Otto Spidel, acting park superintendent.

I checked the other day. The lights are no longer there. However, I didn’t see any lovers either so, from a ‘moral standpoint,’ we must be behaving ourselves these days.

Eighty years ago, this riverside pathway in Milwaukee's Kern Park had a naughty reputation. Carl Swanson photo

Eighty years ago, this riverside pathway in Milwaukee’s Kern Park had a naughty reputation. Carl Swanson photo

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