Milwaukee graves

Five favorites for Doors Open Milwaukee

Doors Open Milwaukee was held Saturday and Sunday, September 19th and 20th. About 200 locations, many normally closed to the public, were open for visitors. Here are five of my favorite places to visit during this annual event.

1. Former Pabst Brewery

Although the area is undergoing rapid development, some of the original Pabst buildings remain. Photo illustration by Carl Swanson

Although the area is undergoing rapid redevelopment, some of the original Pabst buildings remain. Photo by Carl Swanson

Tour a speakeasy (actually, the former plant infirmary and ancient storage tunnels) at the Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, 901 W. Juneau Ave. The speakeasy is open if the red jelly jar light is illuminated at the doorway marked “J.C. Haertel Real Estate & Financial Consulting.” The Pabst Brewing Co. was the subject of this Milwaukee Notebook post. (more…)

The man who started Milwaukee

Solomon Juneau stands on the shore of Lake Michigan and looks across the city he founded. The first permanent white settler of the city, Juneau was also a friend to the Menomonee Indians, the city's first mayor, and the father of 15 children. Photo by Carl Swanson

Solomon Juneau stands on the shore of Lake Michigan and looks across the city he founded. A fur trader turned city founder, Juneau was also a friend to the Menomonee Indians, the city’s first mayor, and the father of 17 children. Photo by Carl Swanson

A recent Saturday visit found Juneau Park host to an interesting cross-section of the city. A man admired the view of Lake Michigan from a bench, a couple kissed under the trees one of them recording the moment with a video camera held at arm’s length. At a picnic table a man dressed in many layers of shabby clothing, surrounded by boxes and bags of his belongings, quietly read a newspaper. Three people tossed a Frisbee in an open area. And a strolling couple paused to look at an imposing statue. “Who’s Solomon Juneau?” one asked, reading the name on the pedestal.

Milwaukeeans. Photo by Carl Swanson

Juneau’s memorial accurately depicts his customary garb. The sash shown around his waist was a favorite garment. Vivid red in color, it was a treasured gift from his Indian friends. Photo by Carl Swanson

The short answer: He was a fur trader who turned a lone cabin in the wilderness into a thriving city. He developed the downtown and the East Side parts of the city, He built the first courthouse and donated it to the city. He was Milwaukee’s first mayor and its first postmaster.

And that’s just scratching the surface. He made a massive fortune and lost it all. He had 17 children. When he died, chiefs of the Menomonee Nation served as his pallbearers.

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Decoration Day

May 30 was once set aside as a day to remember those who died in the Civil War, such as U.S. Navy Boatswain's Mate Michael McCormick, who was born in Ireland in 1833 and died on May 19, 1865 at the age of 32. He is buried in Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee. Photo by Carl Swanson

May 30 was once set aside as a day to remember those who died in the Civil War, such as U.S. Navy Boatswain’s Mate Michael McCormick, who was born in Ireland in 1833 and died on May 19, 1865 at the age of 32. He is buried in Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee. Photo by Carl Swanson

In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran’s organization for Union Civil War veterans, called for May 30th to be observed annually as a day to remember the 620,000 Americans killed in the Civil War. Originally called Decoration Day, the May 30th holiday gradually became known as Memorial Day. In 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, moving four holidays, including Memorial Day to specified Mondays to create three-day weekends.

On this Decoration Day, take a moment to remember U.S. Navy Boatswain’s Mate Michael McCormick, who served aboard the U.S.S. Signal, a 190-ton stern-wheel paddle steamer of the type derisively called a “tinclad” for the half-inch steel armor protecting its main deck, sufficient to stop a rifle bullet but offering no protection against cannon shells. Under the plating, the ships were entirely made of wood, Tinclads were cheap, expendable, and, in the words of one naval historian, “complete fire traps.”

The U.S.S. Signal was a “tinclad” paddlewheel steamer built in 1862. Disabled by Confederate artillery fire on the Red River in Louisiana on May 4, 1864, the ship was burned by its crew to prevent its capture. Photo courtesy U.S. Naval Historical Center

The U.S.S. Signal was a “tinclad” paddlewheel steamer built in 1862 and destroyed in battle on May 4, 1864. Photo courtesy U.S. Naval Historical Center

On May 4, 1864, the Signal, was proceeding downstream on the Red River in Louisiana when it was fired upon by Confederate cavalry. A running battle ensued for the next four miles until the Signal encountered sister ship U.S.S. Covington and the John Warner, an Army transport ship. Trapped near Dunn’s Bayou near Alexandria, Louisiana, the gunboats exchanged point-blank cannon fire with Confederate field artillery on both banks. At one point in the uneven fight, the Signal was hit 38 times in four minutes.

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Cemetery chapel harbors a mystery

Milwaukee Calvary Cemetery Chapel exterior view, east side of building

The mausoleum beneath the 1899 Cream City brick chapel in Milwaukee’s Calvary Cemetery seems an ideal last resting place. The elegant little chapel features soaring arches rising to a domed ceiling, a rose window, and a high altar. It was designed by Erhard Brielmaier, the same man responsible for Milwaukee’s Basilica of St. Josaphat.

It’s location is significant too. Overlooking today’s Miller Park, the chapel stands at the eastern edge of Calvary Cemetery atop one of highest elevations in Milwaukee. Called Jesuit Hill, it is largely given over to burial places of clergy and members of Catholic religious orders. It was the location of a large wooden cross until the chapel’s construction.

The cemetery itself contains a great deal of local history. Consecrated in 1857, it is the oldest major Catholic cemetery in the city. The grave of Solomon Juneau, co-founder of Milwaukee, is here, along with brewer Frederick Miller, meat packer Patrick Cudahy … and architect Erhard Brielmaier.

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