By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jan 12, 2022 at 9:04 AM

The 2022 feature exhibit at the Milwaukee County Historical Society, 910 N. Old World 3rd St., will open on Thursday, Jan. 13, and it may look a little familiar.

Initially launched in the hobbled 2021, “Milwaukee: Where the Waters Meet” has been expanded and updated and will get another run.


“We were thinking about this one for a while and finally decided to do it for 2021,” says Director of Collections and Exhibitions Ben Barbera. “We felt that water was an integral part of Milwaukee’s history, but also becoming an important part of who we are today. Unlike most of our exhibits that are primarily historical in nature, this one explores current issues and how Milwaukee is positioning itself as a freshwater hub, as well as looking at the historical role of water.

“Given the difficulties of the pandemic, we decided to bring the exhibit back this year with some enhancements in the hopes that more people would be able to enjoy it.”

Mitchell Park
Mitchell Park lagoon.

The exhibit, broadly, explores the role of water in the history of the county as well as its importance today, including how Milwaukee is establishing itself as a global freshwater center.

The photos, artifacts, interactive elements and text navigate a number of themes, including geography, commerce, wastewater, recreation, drinking water, flora and fauna, and the threats to our waterways and potential solutions.

“In some ways this is a story that is thousands of years in the making,” says Barbera. “We start our looking at how the glaciers shaped our modern waterways and how they have been used by indigenous people for millennia. We then look at how central water was to transportation, economy, and recreation during the 19th century.

Shoot the Chutes and Bechstein's.

“We also have a nice section on Jones Island that ties those themes together. Next we talk about how Milwaukeeans have gotten freshwater and disposed of wastewater over the years. Last we look at threats to our waterways and water species and steps that are being taken to help mitigate them.”

Some of the new elements are a number of kid-focused elements, including a special “Kids’ Path” to navigate the exhibit – hosted by Gertie the Duck – and a children’s learning and play area.

According to Barbera, there are also new interactive elements and a new series of programs – both in-person and virtual – slated for the exhibit’s run. Those are expected to be announced soon.

6th Street
A view from the 6th Street viaduct.

“The exhibit includes several touchscreen kiosks with different games and information, too,” says Barbera, “(and) several audio/visual components, and the kids area with games and activities.”

The exhibit is available for viewing during regular MCHS hours, which are Wednesday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.

“It will be up in its full format through the end of April,” says Barbera, “(and) we will then scale it down significantly as we head into summer.”

Admission is $7 per person, children 12 and under are free.

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Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.