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In Movies & TV Commentary

Bobby Tanzilo's book tells a story of urban terror.

OnMedia: A story of terror in old Milwaukee

One of my interests is the immigrant history of the early 20th century, so I was naturally attracted to the newly published book by my OnMilwaukee.comrade, Bobby Tanzilo, who has tackled an immigrant tale with echoes of the modern day.

Tanzilo's regular readers here at, know of his intimate knowledge of all things Italian. That insight helps him shift through the surprisingly complex layers of Milwaukee's Italian immigrant community in his "The Milwaukee Police Station Bomb of 1917."

Ostensibly, the book is the true story of a horrific tragedy that hit Milwaukee on Nov. 24, 1917, when a bomb detonated at the central police station, killing 9 policemen and a civilian.

As Tanzilo writes sparely, "At 7:30 p.m., the station went dark and an eerie silence pervaded the area."

Up until Sept. 11, 2001, it was the highest toll of American police officers in a single incident.

But that dramatic blast is only the exclamation point in a story of the competing forces that battled for the hearts, minds and souls of Milwaukee's Italian community in the Third Ward and Bay View: anarchism, Protestant missionaries and, of course, traditional Roman Catholicism.

While Tanzilo focuses on the Italians, his well-researched story is a template for the history of other European ethnicities that settled here. Coming from homelands where both tradition and oppressive political systems prevented much individual expression, the immigrants came to much freer society with various temptations.

And while the story is more than 90 years old, it has a contemporary feel in its account an immigrant community with a small segment involved in terrorism against the government. It's simplistic to say history repeats itself, but Tanzilo's book demonstrates that history's echoes can provide modern insights.

"The Milwaukee Police Station Bomb of 1917" is available at area bookstores for $19.99. Tanzilo will read from the book at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 7 at Mequon's Next Chapter Bookshop.

You may need a DVR for tonight's Christmas viewing: Two of the big-three traditional Christmas specials air tonight at 7. The stop-action "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" airs on Channel 58 and the animated "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" is on Channel 12.

Here's a link to a master-list of holiday TV specials.

And here's a snippet from "Rudolph":


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