By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 10, 2022 at 11:25 AM

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The other day I stopped at Neeskara Elementary School, 1601 N. Hawley Rd., to peek at the Green and Healthy Schoolyard Redevelopment Project that's underway. Later, I learned that the work has turned up some cool old playground toys.

For a few years now, Reflo has been working with partners to green the seas of asphalt at Milwaukee Public Schools and this year's construction cohort includes Franklin, Hayes, Hawthorne, Zablocki and Neeskara.

You can see the work that's going on at the West Side school in this detailed website, which also has information on the projects at all the schools.

The fence and the storage cabinet behind.

During the work at Neeskara this week, workers removed a chain link fence that spanned an area between two bays that jut out of the building and found a low metal cabinet secured with a padlock.

"The cabinet was located for decades behind chain link fencing until the schoolyard redevelopment project removed the fencing for a mindfulness space," notes a Reflo social post.

cutting the lock
Cutting the padlock.

"The cabinet keys have long gone so after the chain link fence was removed, a bolt cutter was needed to open it up."

What they found was some super cool old schoolyard play vehicles including a police tricycle, another trike and a "Dude Wagon."

The Reflo folks guessed the objects – some of which had been "baked into the asphalt surface below" – to more than 60 years old.

Fused to the asphalt.

A comment on the post saying a former student remembered playing with those toys in the mid-1960s seems to back up that assumption.

Another commenter believes the toys were used by students in the Binner School of the Deaf program, which was moved to Neeskara in 1950.

Over the years I've come across all sorts of interesting stuff at schools, like the super-old nurse's office equipment at Lloyd Barbee/Garden Homes, the old running track in the lower level of MacDowell/Juneau and dated Cold War water barrels in civil defense shelter tunnels at Fernwood.

The Dude Wagon.

But this stuff just might be the most fun of all!

Now that this cool stuff is found, the question is what to do with it?

"We're thinking about creating some sort of exhibit," Reflo's post says. "What do you think?"

I think that's a fabulous idea and I hope the toys stay at Neeskara.


Read a little more about Neeskara School here. And you can learn a bit more about the Reflo school projects here and here.

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 can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.