Living in Milwaukee, you hear about urban legends all the time. Every city has them -- rumors and gossip that seem just too good to be true. Fortunately, the Milwaukee experts at OnMilwaukee.com took the time to track down the scoop on a bunch of these tall tales, but the list is too long for just one article. Here's part two of a series on the real, fake and unconfirmed Milwaukee urban legends debunked.
Happy Days' drive in based on Kopp's: Partially true
If you're from Milwaukee -- or Wisconsin, for that matter -- you're probably aware that the sitcom "Happy Days" was set in Brew Town (although it wasn't actually filmed here). But what you may not be aware of is that viewers everywhere were actually getting a fairly accurate peek into 1950s Milwaukee.
To make the show authentic, series creator Garry Marshall modeled Arnold's Drive-In -- the official hangout of the Fonz and crew -- after two Milwaukee restaurants, The Milky Way and the Pig 'n' Whistle. Both establishments have since closed, with the Pig 'n' Whistle (1111 E. Capitol Dr.) becoming the Riverbrook Family Restaurant, and The Milky Way (5373 N. Port Washington Rd.) being remodeled and opening as Kopp's Custard in 1978.
The current manager of Kopp's in Glendale, Scott Borkin, tells the story: "The creator of 'Happy Days' used our original building as the idea behind the exterior of Arnold's because, at the time, it was a real drive-in with carhops. But the interior was inspired by the Pig 'n' Whistle because it looked more like a diner inside."
In the sitcom, Richie, Potsie and their gang attend Jefferson High School in Milwaukee. It's been said that their school colors -- light blue and white -- were lifted from the nearest high school to The Milky Way at the time, Nicolet High School in Glendale.
Only Milwaukeeans say "bubbler": False
While it's true that the rest of the Midwest says water fountain, there's at least one other place where "bubbler" is the word of the choice: Rhode Island. According to Jeremy Smith, a 30-year-old Midwestern transplant, the Rhode Islanders, too, think they have exclusive rights to the colloquialism.
"After I moved to Rhode Island I got a laugh out of hearing 'bubbler' -- or as the Rhodies say, 'bubblah' -- since I'd only heard 'water fountain' or 'drinking fountain' previously," says Smith. "It's funny to hear that Milwaukeeans think they're the only ones saying it, because Rhode Islanders seem to have the same sentiment!"
UWM Professor of Linguistics Bert Vaux says no one is sure why southern New England and Wisconsin are the only places in America that say "bubbler," but it may have its roots in the settling of the region.
"It is easy to trace the 'pure,' i.e. non-diphthongized vowels, of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota to the German and Scandinavian settlements of those areas, but identifying the roots of Milwaukee speech in particular is difficult," says Vaux. "The 'soda' and 'bubbler' variants (also spoken in parts of New England; soda is also used in New York) are especially suggestive, since they link Milwaukee (to the exclusion of the rest of the middle of the country) with the Northeastern U.S. My guess is there, as has been documented linguistically for St. Louis (which is also a linguistic island), was a wave of influential settlers from New England who came to Milwaukee."
Tattooing was not legal in Milwaukee until 1998: True
For one reason or another, Milwaukee wasn't a tattooing-friendly town till '98. Prior to that year, you could only get inked up in Waukesha and surrounding areas. Shops like Black Dragon and American Tattoo were the places to go for body adornment, until '98 when Milwaukee exploded with tat shops. Among the first to open was Adambomb, originally in the Walker's Point neighborhood but later moved to Martin Luther King Drive. Although some shops fell to the wayside after the initial boom, many remain in Brew City and continue to adorn Brew City bodies on a regular basis, including Body Ritual, Body Gothic, Nile and more.
Marquette's Johnston Hall is haunted: Unknown
A true testament to the mythology of urban legends is how often the story changes. At Marquette University, the rumor of the Haunting of Johnston Hall has undergone many adaptations, but the general story remains the same: in the 1960s, two Jesuits committed suicide from the fifth floor balcony and have wandering the rickety halls of the Communication building ever since. Many students think the sudden climate drop on the fourth and fifth floors signify the ghostly presence. Others believe the ghosts to be harmless, if not annoying, pranksters who are responsible for messing with the broadcasting equipment and locking doors or stealing keys. Some students even claim to see two pale faces peering out from the fifth floor windows.
Though the university has no official comment on their ghostly guests, the story is widely known among the students. A few years ago, a handful of brave staff members from the Marquette Tribune newspaper spent the night on the closed-off fifth floor, and reported freezing temperatures, strange voices, and even capturing a shadowy figure on film. Real or not, that is some spooky stuff!
Some Packers kept secret love nests at a downtown bar: True
Back in the Packers' glory days of the mid '90s, it's common knowledge that several stars made regular trips to the big city of Milwaukee for nights out on the town.
Rumor has it, many Green Bay Packers players came into downtown Milwaukee almost every home weekend during the big 1996 Super Bowl season and often drank for free at one East Town lounge. The bar, which is still in business, was one of the first upscale bars downtown -- a place to see and be seen before the city was filled with monosyllabic swanky lounges.
But some players did more than just drink Miller Lite (a certain future Hall of Famer's favorite brew). Others used a back room downstairs for extracurricular activities, so to speak.
"Let's just say they were not sneaking into the storage room to take inventory or tap kegs," says one former staffer.
We don't want to be sued for libel, so we can't tell you who the players were, either -- but if you think real hard, it's pretty obvious. It's safe to say the Packers of the '90s weren't just scoring on the field.
Read part one of the urban legends series here.