Milwaukee hotels that famous people (briefly) called home
Elvis? The Beatles? Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle? John Fitzgerald Kennedy? Who is the most famous person to have stayed in a hotel in Milwaukee?
While not a mecca for the famous, like New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, Milwaukee has been a temporary home for many famous people.
And not surprisingly, The Pfister Hotel, one of the great hotels in the country, has played host to many of them.
Major League Baseball teams have stayed at The Pfister for decades. Mays and Mantle, Sandy Koufax and a dugout filled with superstars have stayed there.
The Pfister has also been a brief home for every president since William McKinley.
The night of April 5, 1960, was a huge night in Milwaukee as Kennedy made The Pfister his election night headquarters. He had challenged Sen. Hubert Humphrey in the Wisconsin primary, which at the time was the second in the nation.
Humphrey was from Minnesota and was favored, but Kennedy beat him 46 to 44 percent. It is widely seen as the start of the momentum that carried Kennedy to the presidency.
While Milwaukee hotels rightly bask in the bright light of bright stars, there is also some mystery surrounding some of the guests.
On Sept. 4, 1964, The Beatles played at the Milwaukee Arena, and according to "The Beatles Bible" – and many other sources, including newspaper reports published at the time – they said at the Coach House Motor Inn that is now Mashuda Hall, a Wisconsin Ave. dorm on Marquette's campus.
While the Ambassador Hotel claims that The Beatles stayed there during that visit, there is no evidence to support that claim. In fact, according to an August 1964 newspaper article, The Ambassador was not even listed among three hotels actively seeking to host the Beatles – Coach House, The Schroeder and The Knickerbocker – during that visit.
Famous guests have stayed in a number of Milwaukee hotels, but, again, no hotel comes close to The Pfister.
Elvis stayed at the legendary Milwaukee hotel for a April 27, 1977 concert, just four months before he died.
Reviews at the time panned his MECCA Arena performance as being lackluster and without enthusiasm. He needed printed lyrics to get through at least one song – "My Way" by Paul Anka – and apologized to the crowd of 11,854. With top tickets priced at $15, the gross of almost $170,000 was the largest ever for The Arena for a non-charity event.
The Pfister was also the site of a memorable moment when William Howard Taft was a guest.
The former president had lost the election to Woodrow Wilson in 1912. On Nov. 11, 1918, in the midst of World War I, he was staying at The Pfister while on a tour to sell war bonds.
That day, the war ended and by the evening, word has spread that "The Great War" was over. Celebrations took over the streets of Milwaukee, but Taft was sound asleep in the Presidential Suite, which then was on the third floor.
Reporters rushed through the lobby of The Pfister to Taft's room and pounded on his door, waking him so they could get his comments on the end of the war.
And the list goes on for The Pfister. Other famous guests who have stayed there include actors and actresses Sarah Bernhardt, Lillian Gish, Anthony Quinn, Alfred Lunt and Lynne Fontanne, Paul Newman and Jayne Mansfield. Musical guests have included tenors Enrico Caruso and Luciano Pavarotti, conductors Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein, composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, Pete Seeger and Peggy Lee.
Other notable guests include Maya Angelou, Julia Child and author Jack London, as well as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Jawaharlal Nehru and three British Prime Ministers: Sir David Lloyd George, Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher.
I enjoyed that this read provided a proverbial chance to travel back in time to learn about a local slice of life that is often forgotten but fantastically filled with defining memories defining Milwaukee. This trip is a tour - showcasing the history of hotels that have hosted high profile people. Although there is no itinerary - this perpetual path takes us down part of a road spanning decades. The vehicle is virtual and the map is written in descriptive words - documenting destinations of actors, musicians and politicians who have graced our city. These guests were welcomed by our staple establishments for relaxation and slumber during short visits. The climax of this chronicle is constant as we collaborate with the author. The words act as a compass while scenery is illustrated by OUR OWN imaginations. It's comforting to know that 'tomorrow's chapters' of this hotel history manifesto are being lived out tonight at bed and breakfasts nearby.
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