By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Dec 20, 2023 at 9:01 AM

Every town thinks it’s at least a little weird, and Milwaukee is no exception.

You could celebrate the city’s uniqueness with a quirky T-shirt or bumper sticker, but a better way is to grab a copy of “Secret Milwaukee: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful and Obscure,” by Jim Nelson, for yourself and as a stocking stuffer this holiday season.

Secret MilwaukeeX

Nelson – a veteran MPS history teacher and author of a number of other books – collects information and photographs of interesting sites, people and events, including things like Milwaukee’s connection to “The Exorcist,” the much-sought-after buried treasure in a local park, the vanishing town of Root Creek.

There’s so much in this paperback from Reedy Press that will have you saying, “huh, who knew?!”

In advance of his Wednesday, Dec. 27 free event at Boswell Book Co. on Downer Avenue (details and required registration link here), we caught up with Nelsen to ask him about the new book.

OnMilwaukee: The book's subtitle, "A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure," could be pretty all-encompassing. How did you decide what to include?

Jim Nelsen: The publisher wanted a variety of topics on the geography, entertainment, transportation networks, architecture and colorful stories. I tried to write about places people can still visit and enjoy. Each topic contains tourist information.

Presumably you had space limitations, so was it difficult to narrow down what to include? Were there things you had wanted to include but couldn't?

I addressed nearly all the topics I wanted to, but each topic is limited to a two-page spread, which means I had to cut some material for each topic. The upside is that I saved whatever I cut from the book for future publications.

Do you have a favorite or favorites in the book?

I had never heard of the Byron Preiss treasure until I started the research for this book. Now I cannot understand why more people are not looking for it. I definitely enjoyed counting the steps at Lake Park as I tried to retrace Preiss's directions. I also got to research some mafia history, which was fun. The site of the old mafia headquarters is now a kayak rental.

I know every city thinks it's "weirder" than others, but do you think Milwaukee is weirder or just averagely weird?

Jim Nelsen
Author Jim Nelsen.

Weird is in the eye of the beholder, and weirdness varies from topic to topic. I think we are pretty average, but most cities cannot say they buried a priest from “The Exorcist.” In fact, our cemetery history is exceptionally weird.

What are the weirdest thing, the most wonderful thing and the most obscure thing in the book?

To me, the weirdest thing is probably Lake Emily under the Northwestern Mutual building. The most wonderful story is about the Caradaro Club, home of Milwaukee's original pizza. Of course, I had to try it out, and it is now my favorite pizza. I also got to check out some obscure cemeteries, such as Lavies Cemetery, in Root Creek.

You've been busy with the books in recent years. Is there another one in process that you can tell us about?

I have two books coming on next year. One is on Milwaukee oddities, which will tell more weird stories about Milwaukee, but I go into greater depth and focus on people and things that are not here anymore. My other book is a middle school textbook on Milwaukee history. It will be published by the state historical society. I am hoping to get it into school in fall.

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.