The number of objects in storage at most museums is astonishing and the same is definitely true at the Milwaukee County Historical Society, 910 N. Old World 3rd St., which is challenged for regular display space.
Curator Ben Barbera is intimately acquainted with the many pieces of Milwaukee history that comprise the society’s vast collections. A desire to share those objects is the impetus for "the museum’s 2020 feature exhibit, Revealed: Milwaukee’s Unseen Treasures," which opens Tuesday, Jan 14.
Displays throughout both levels of the society’s Downtown home are now filled with unique and interesting tidbits from across the city’s history.
"This is a new type of exhibit for us as it doesn’t focus on one major theme such as music, sports or beer, and instead, allows for a rare compilation of artifacts to come together and for their relationship to Milwaukee to be reflected on and explored," says MCHS Executive Director Mame McCully.
"Revealed will provide an interesting representation of our community, not just our history," adds Barbera, "What we collect says a great deal about who we are as individuals, and how we come together to be the people of Milwaukee County."
I went over to take a look and found some interesting things, from a variety of shovels used for groundbreaking events on many Brew City buildings, to giant coffee grinders to a desk used by Solomon Juneau and a giant plaster Wisconsin seal that is believed to have adorned the courthouse that once faced Cathedral Square.
"I took some interns and we grabbed the biggest and heaviest things we could find in the warehouse," quips Barbera, suggesting that a show like this offers a rare chance to show some of these bigger pieces.
"I’ve been looking at these things for five years now," he says. "I figured it was time for others to see them, too."
Here are some of the most interesting objects in the exhibition, which runs through April 25. For more information, visit the Society’s website, milwaukeehistory.net.
Goldmann’s lunch counter and display cases
When Goldmann’s closed in 2007, it was not only a blow to Mitchell Street but to all of Milwaukee, where, as in most cities, department stores once ruled supreme and were magnets for their selections and their eateries, of which the lunch counter at Goldmann’s was one of the most beloved. Now owned by John Dye, who owns Bryant’s, The Jazz Estate and At Random, a portion of the counter, as well as some candy display cases, can be seen in this new exhibition.
Vel Phillips’ Milwaukee Common Council desk
The first African-American and the first woman to be elected to the city’s Common Council was also the first African-American woman to graduate from the UW law school in Madison. She was a pioneer and an inspiration and the exhibit has the desk she occupied in City Hall.
A piece of plane fuselage from the 1954 plane crash that killed Frederick C. Miller, head of Miller Brewing Company
Frederick C. Miller was the grandson of his namesake founder of Miller Brewing and became the company’s president in 1947. Alas, in 1954, his died in a plane crash along with his son, two pilots and two employees. A piece of the fuselage of the plane, depicting the famous Girl in the Moon, is in the exhibit.
Model of Downtown Milwaukee, circa 1900
Ferdinand Aumueller, who worked in advertising in Milwaukee, spent part of his retirement years building scale models of Downtown as it appeared in 1900. Aumueller, who died in 1971, created a 60-square-block mini Downtown from State to Clybourn, 5th Street to Jackson. And, yes, it is very amazing.
Albert the Alley Cat memorabilia
The famous television weather-forecasting cat – a creation of Jack DuBlon – remains a beloved figure in local media lore. The show has a variety of representations of Albert, as well as vinyl records, signed photographs and other ephemera.
Sholes typewriter model
Most of us know that Christopher Latham Sholes designed the prototype for the modern typewriter in Milwaukee, but have you ever seen one? "Revealed" has this 1938 replica of Sholes’ 1870 design.
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 has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.