Out for a walk this weekend on the County Grounds, I came across the old Milwaukee County Asylum Cemetery. Considering how many folks were walking, jogging and biking past the little stand of trees with a mulch path, a couple benches and a historical marker, many of you have seen it, too.
I stopped and read the plaque:
"The ground before you contains the mortal remains of approximately 200 souls who died at the Milwaukee County Asylum / Hospital for the Insane. These burial grounds were open from March 1880-November 1914. Patients without financial means or family to claim them found a place of eternal peace here."
On Memorial Day weekend, I took special note of the fact that, "Among them is Civil War veteran Albert Melms, 3rd Class Musicians of the 24th Illinois Infantry."
Melms was on my mind as I walked through the stand of trees, overgrown with brush, and noticed, here and there, simple makeshift shrines of stones and wildflowers. A couple numbered markers could also be seen.
Also on my mind was my great-grandfather, Luigi Ravizza, who had come to America when he was 15. After time spent in New York City and working in the mills (and maybe the mines) of Western Pennsylvania, he fell ill and was hospitalized. Luigi lived out his life in that hospital – 38 years – and was buried in its cemetery.
When I saw the historical marker, I immediately thought of him. When I saw the numbered markers, I thought of the more than 40 years his remains lay beneath an anonymous four-digit code engraved into a brick (once we found him, we laid a proper stone on the site).
We didn’t linger long in the cemetery on the County Grounds. My son noticed the flowers laid in some of the shrines and he looked at me. We picked some nearby dandelions and put them next to a marker bearing the number 19.
I gave a thought to Albert Melms, 3rd Class Musician, to Luigi Ravizza, whose blood is my blood, and I gave a thought to approximately 199 other souls swirling around this site.
As we walked on, I told my son the story of his great-great-grandfather.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.