September 20, 1946 – Nat King Cole Takes Milwaukee


Before he became the iconic musician known around the world, Nat King Cole and his trio toured in the mid 1940’s. The post-war era, in particular, was amazing in Milwaukee, which became a stop for many singers and musicians who would later become household names. The King Cole Trio already had a huge hit in 1945 with “For Sentimental Reasons” and was booked on September 20, 1946 in the Circle Room of the LaSalle Hotel on North 11th Street and Wells street. In a series of events which, at the time, probably seemed common, the show was broadcast live on WEMP at 10:30 that night. The show was also recorded and can be heard in its entirety on Youtube. The sounds of clinking glasses and the chatter of some lucky Milwaukeeans’ grandparents are too awesome.

The hotel still stands as Cobeen Hall at Marquette University and why there isn’t a plaque for this show, only heaven knows.


Blatz Gum 1927

In the middle of Prohibition what was a brewery to do to keep in operation? I would not have guessed making grape flavored gum but you gotta do what you gotta do!

Just a note to stop by the Milwaukee County Historical Society to see their fantastic Brew City Mke exhibit. Going on now through April 30th.


Black History Month – The Star Trek – Milwaukee Connection


Charlie Washburn became known in the late 1960’s with his first job as a second assistant director for the original Star Trek series. His work with the series made him an essential part of the team so that he eventually was brought back as an assistant director several episodes of the Next Generation in 1987. His IMDB page shows the wide variety of films and tv shows for which he worked.

Although he was originally from Tennessee and received a degree from Kentucky, he came to Milwaukee to visit an old professor. While here he liked it and stayed for awhile to attend the University of Wisconsin and then the Milwaukee Institute of Technology where he found a love for directing. He went on to work on a master’s degree and taught telecasting in Syracuse before he headed to LA to become a director’s apprentice. After 400 days of apprenticeship he became a member of the Director’s Guild and began his career, the first African-American to be admitted and graduated from the apprenticeship program. He started with Star Trek in 1967 and quickly became a part of the team. He later went on to continue making his mark on Hollywood.

Charlie Washburn died on April 13, 2012 in Hollywood.


The Original Polar Bear – James G. Brazell

As many get ready to dip into the icy lake for the New Year’s Day tradition, we should look back at the hardy men and women of yesteryear who began the annual tradition. According to a Milwaukee Sentinel article from February 16th, 1919, printer James G. Brazell was the originator of the swim, starting it in 1910 and swam every Sunday through the winter. His compadre and fellow pioneer polar bear was Frank Sutter. By 1919, even women like Amy Jacobs, the “Nymph of Boreas”, jumped into the water for a swim. During the great Milwaukee blizzard of ’47 Brazell jumped with wild abandon into the dark waters of McKinley Beach.

The sport grew slowly, like an icicle from the roof, but popularity waned by 1928 when Brazell was the only one to hit the waters. Before he kicked all the no-shows out of the club he critiqued, “Some people like to brag about their hardiness, but it’s a different thing when they are called on to prove it!”

Read Jim Stingl’s column from December 30, 2008 for more history of the swim.


Know Your Milwaukee

From the Milwaukee Journal of February 18, 1936:


Gallagher’s Restaurant

Downtown of the 50’s and 60’s had many interesting small clubs and restaurants. Several of these were owned by the infamous Balistrieri brothers, Frank and Peter, including the Downtowner, Melody Room, Tower, The Scene, and Gallagher’s. The Balestrieri’s were well known as the “Milwaukee Mob” and owned many smaller hotels, strip-clubs, and taverns downtown and on the east side. Despite their main business of organized crime they operated these businesses that were iconic parts of mid-century Milwaukee history.

Gallagher’s was located at 829 N. 3rd St. and was the tavern portion of the Gilpatrick which was torn down in 1941. The one-story tavern was re-roofed, remodeled and began its new life. It was originally called the White Pub in the 1940’s, then when the Balistrieri’s bought it in 1954 changed to the Beachcomber before a lawsuit by the owner of the national chain forced the name change to the Trade Winds. Again, that name caused a lawsuit because it too was a popular national chain of restaurants. It finally became Gallagher’s in October 1958 and changed to a steak house/supper club. It is not know if it was an official franchise of the New York Gallagher’s although there appears to be a pattern in the choice of names.


The idea for Gallagher’s was to try to bring in a younger crowd for dinners downtown by offering quality entertainment and bands from national circuits. It featured blues and jazz groups such as Jonah Jones, Dakota Staton, Oscar Petersen, Lonnie Mack with Troy Seals, Mel Torme, and many others. Not all of them were playing standard dinner music but they drew in the crowds and added to a robust live entertainment and club scene.

Gallagher’s closed in October 1969 and the building was torn down in July 1970.


The Milwaukee Six-Day Bike Races

The Riverwest 24 bike race starts on Friday but the hardcore riders of yesteryear competed in a grueling six day race.

According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal of February 26, 1939, the first professional six-day race in the United States was held at the West Side Roller Rink in August 1880. Those early races were ridden on the large wheeled Columbia “specials” with front wheels 60-inches in diameter. E.M. Hicks of New York won that first race after riding 72 hours over six days and covering 656 miles. The professional sport did not gain interest in Milwaukee at the time due to the focus of the Milwaukee Bicycle Club on recreational rides instead of racing.


The Eagles Club sponsored the first modern race in 1931 from 9pm on January 6th until midnight on January 12. New York City had already been holding these races for twenty years prior so it was becoming a national sport with its own circuit. Ten two-man teams raced in twelve hour shifts over the six days on a specially built track in the Auditorium. At intervals there were sprints which gave points to the teams but otherwise it was a solid grind of pedaling around the track.

Governor Phil La Follette was on hand to fire the starting gun. Sellout crowds came over the weekend to see the cyclists and cheer on the teams. The Canadian-Irish cycling team of Torchy Peden and Polly Parrott won the race after cycling 2,367 miles and gaining a total 1,079 dash points over the six days.


The race series was successful enough to continue as an annual event for many years and was part of a nationwide circuit. By WWII, the popularity of the races dwindled and it eventually disappeared.

Bringing Back the Forst Keller

The big news unveiled today was the announcement that Pabst will once again be brewed in Milwaukee. The location of this new microbrewery and tasting room is the former Forst-Keller in the Pabst brewing complex. Several newspaper articles over the years tell of its long history including this one from 1953.


This 1973 article tells of the final closing of the restaurant.

Milwaukee Journal, September 2, 1973

Landmark Cafe to Close

The Forst-Keller, a German restaurant at 1037 W. Juneau Ave. and an official Milwaukee landmark, will close Sept. 15.

The Pabst Brewing Co., which has since owned the restaurant since the late 1890s, plans to turn the building into a brewery museum. The restaurant, originally a German Methodist Church, was built 100 years ago. In July it was designated an official landmark by the Milwaukee Landmarks commission.

The restaurant has had a long and colorful history. Over the years it has been a meeting hall for three singing societies – the Milwaukee Liederkranz, the Lieder Tafel, and the Bel Canto Chorus. The restaurant has also been a popular eating place for Courthouse judges and employes and for brewery workers.

The Forst-Keller closed for six months in 1971. It was reopened in December of that year and has been operated ever since by Karl Skacel and his wife, Gretchen. The Skacels formerly operated Karl and Gretchen’s Supper Club on Lake Nagawicka.

The restaurant was operated from 1937 to 1960 by two brothers, Richard and Fritz Baumann. Their wives did all the cooking.

Between 1964 and 1971 Adolf (Adi) Binder ran the restaurant. Binder’s mother, known as “Mutti” to customers, was the chief cook.

During World War II the Forst-Keller and other German style restaurants in the city were believed to be gathering spots for Nazi supporters. It was said that FBI agents began frequenting the restaurant in the line of duty during the war years.

No date has been set for its reopening as a museum. A brewery official said the company would refurbish the building. It will house Pabst’s collection of old beer steins, antique brewing equipment and other mementos.

And finally this newspaper story from 1901 sheds a more humorous light on the history of the Forst-Keller. Hope to have a beer there with you when it opens!

The Iroquois Influence on the United States


One of the lesser-discussed influences on the founding of the United States we celebrate this weekend is that of the five nations confederacy and their form of government. The 1936 article quoted below sheds light on that influence and this Youtube video goes into more depth about Chief Canasatego. Happy Fourth!

Milwaukee Journal March 26, 1936
Indian Origin of Constitution

Iroquois’ Idea of Government Was Unique, Investigator Says

The germ from which the American Constitution grew may have been planted by an almost unforgotten Iroquois Indian orator.

J.N.B. Hewitt, student of Indian history and customs, after years of research among records of the early Iroquois, announced Thursday that he had found a direct chain of evidence connecting the Constitution with an eloquent plea made by an Iroquois statesman named Canasatego at a conference held at Lancaster, Pa., in 1744. The conference was called to settle differences over land rights and for mutual defense against the French invaders.

Quotes Tribal Sage

The Indian told delegates from the then British colonies of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland to unite on their own initiative under the principle that government rested on the consent of the governed, not the rulers.

Canasatego quoted from the words of the historic founder of the Iroquois confederacy of five nations, Deganawida, including the eloquent phrase:

“We, the Mohawk, the Seneca, the Onondaga, the Oneida, and the Cayuga people, set up this tree of government.”

Hewitt pointed out the close resemblance to the phraseology with which the federal Constitution begins:

“We, the people of the United States, in order to from a more perfect union…”

Idea Made Impression

He found that records of the Lancaster conference greatly abbreviated Canasatego’s speech, although evidently it made an impression. The idea that he advanced was new to the colonists, trained in the European tradition that the authority of government came from above – that is, the throne. The Iroquois confederation was the only place in the world during the eighteenth century where a different idea was in operation, Hewitt said.

Thirty-one years later, in 1775, representatives of the five nations of the Iroquois and delegates from the continental congress met to sign a treaty which would keep the Indian confederacy neutral in the war with Great Britain.

Hewitt points out that in a formal speech, Col. Turbot Francis, one of the colonial representatives, told the Iroquois that the colonists had remembered the advice of Canasatego and finally had acted upon it.

Do You Remember the Old Whitefish Bay Excursion Boat?


Local writer and historian Carl Swanson wrote a history of the Whitefish Bay resort on his blog. It brought to mind this article written by Frederic Heath back in 1920 about the excursion boats that serviced the resort from downtown. Heath’s article fills in some of the details of the resort.

Milwaukee Leader, April 13, 1920

By Frederic Heath

Whitefish Bay as a resort for city-baked people seeking the cooling influence of lake, woods and grass in the good old summer time, is now merely a memory. The old steamboat pier is almost washed away, just as the old piers off Huron and other early streets also disappeared.

Afternoon and night crowds flocked to the resort north of the city and from the high terrace viewed old Michigan by day, or hunted pebbles on the beach below, and at night sat at the open air tables, drank their beer, munched their caviar sandwiches, and chatted or watched the lights on steamers and schooners passing to and fro on the black waters out in the lake.

Excursions Years Ago.

It is the criticism of strangers coming to Milwaukee that our people act as though the lake were merely to be tolerated, and they wondered why excursions on the bay and to near-by points are not a part of the city’s enjoyments. This criticism would not have held good years back, for there was a Whitefish Bay boat making regular trips that was well patronized. It was 25 cents a round trip and there was always a comfortable crowd on board when the weather was at all favorable.

The view given today is of the Cyclone, one of the steamers that successively handled the bay excursion business. It had its dock just north of Grand Ave. bridge, alongside the old No. 2 Grand ave., which was for many years the old Pollworth Home restaurant. The river at this point could tell many historical facts, had it the power of speech. For years and years Old Abe Muehlendyke rented rowboats at the lakeshore, off the present Juneau park. But the memory of man goes back a little further to the days when Abe’s boat livery was originally situated on the shore of the river, also near the Grand Ave. (Spring St.) bridge.

Park System Blamed.

It is altogether likely that the passing of Whitefish Bay can be laid to the door of the development of the city park system. Lake park, with its cool shades, its beautiful view of the lake, its accessibility and its band concerts and other attractions, became a powerful competitor to Whitefish Bay before motor vehicles became common, and even afterward they do not appear to have put the bay back into favor, as might have been expected.

Whitefish Bay is getting nearer and nearer to town. A few years ago the county was offered, free of charge, a strip along the lake shore in Whitefish Bay village, just north of the turn on to the county loop (Silver Spring Rd.) for park purposes, but there were enough wise ones in the county board to block its acceptance. It was a narrow strip and the edge of the bluff was close to a Whitefish Bay street, which would have to be protected from landslides at some cost, but even so, a par at that point would have given the people access to the lake. Now the Whitefish Bay resort is gone and the public cannot reach the beach without becoming trespassers. All of which is sincerely to be regretted.