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African World Festival

A drummer and dancer perform at the first African World Festival held in 1983 on the Summerfest Grounds.
African World Festival celebrated the development of African culture and heritage in Africa as well as the Americas, from the age of the Atlantic slave trade to the modern era. Attendees could learn about African history through performances of traditional African dance, drumming, and storytelling. A replica of an African village was also constructed on…
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America’s Black Holocaust Museum

America’s Black Holocaust Museum is a one-of-its kind institution dedicated to documenting the history of violence against African-Americans. It was founded on Juneteenth Day, 1988, by Dr. James Cameron, who as a teenager in 1930 narrowly escaped being lynched in Marion, Indiana. The museum initially was located at 317 West Wright Street, but later moved…
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Arab World Fest

Arabs are an ethnic linguistic group who trace their cultural heritage to one or more of the twenty-two modern Arab nation states. They began to settle in Milwaukee in late nineteenth century and since then have contributed significantly to the cultural, social, economic, and political life of the city and its surrounding regions. The Arab-Syrian…
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Asian Moon Festival

In 1994, the Wisconsin Organization for Asian Americans announced the creation of Asian Moon Festival. Named after the festival in Amy Tan’s children’s book, The Moon Lady, the multi-day celebration took place at the north end of the Henry Maier Festival Grounds and offered visitors the opportunity to experience a variety of Asian cultures through…
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Bastille Days

A man balances a tray with wine and wine glasses as he takes part in the Bastille Days waiters' race in 1983.
As the only Milwaukee ethnic celebration that operates as a genuine street festival, Bastille Days has been held in the Cathedral Square neighborhood on the East Side every July since 1982. The multi-day festival is inspired by Bastille Day, the French national holiday, which commemorates the storming of the eponymous prison on July 14, 1789,…
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Bel Canto Chorus

Milwaukee’s Bel Canto Chorus originated in the city’s numerous German singing clubs of the 1930s, a tradition brought to the area by nineteenth-century immigrants. One group, the “Festival Singers of Milwaukee,” founded in 1931 as a small a capella chorus, featured eight volunteers who performed sacred music. The organization evolved into the Bel Canto Chorus,…
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Betty Brinn Children’s Museum

The Betty Brinn Children’s Museum reflects a larger national trend of educational institutions embracing a child-centered design. Since 1975, the number of children’s museums in the U.S. has grown from approximately 38 to nearly 350 in 2015. By that year there were at least ten children’s museums in Wisconsin alone. Opened in April 1995, Milwaukee’s…
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Boerner Botanical Gardens

Postcard created between 1932 and 1945 illustrating the administration building and landscaping of the Boerner Botanical Gardens.
The Botanical Gardens, a highlight of Milwaukee County’s nationally-recognized PARK system, are a product of Depression-era labor. CHARLES WHITNALL, a long-time member of the County Park Commission, pushed for the acquisition of park land in the 1920s. He envisioned such space as an escape from urban life. The gardens were built in the park named…
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Carl Sandburg

Photograph of Carl Sandburg sitting with his typewriter at his home in Illinois, circa 1917-1918.
Poet, journalist, novelist, and biographer of Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sandburg came to Wisconsin from Chicago in late 1907 to be a political organizer in rural Wisconsin for the state’s Social Democratic Party. Sandburg rose rapidly among Milwaukee’s SOCIALISTS between 1908 and 1912 because of his enthusiasm for the local brand of socialism and his powerful…
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City of Festivals Parade

Inspired after witnessing the parade and pageantry that commences Munich’s Oktoberfest, Mayor Henry Maier envisioned something similar to kick off Milwaukee’s festival season. Beginning in 1983, the City of Festivals Parade opened Milwaukee’s summer festivals and celebrated the city’s ethnic diversity. Every June, high school bands and floats featuring ethnic dances and musicians wound their…
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Milwaukee’s tradition of performance has been nurtured by a mix of professional companies focused on modern dance and ballet. Because dance has been marginal in Milwaukee’s arts economy, educational institutions such as the Wisconsin College of Music and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts (UWM) have been crucial to sustaining the field…
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Discovery World

Photograph of Discovery World on Milwaukee's lakefront, a popular site for hands-on scientific and technological learning for people all ages.
Officially opened in 1984, Discovery World emphasizes hands-on learning and scientific exploration for both children and adults. Its founder, Robert Powrie Harland, Sr., was inspired to create such a facility following Apollo 13 astronaut James Lovell’s visit to Milwaukee. Harland, director of the Todd Wehr Foundation, worked with business leaders to establish the original museum…
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Festa Italiana

Photograph of the 1980 Festa Italiana procession winding through a crowd of people. The procession features flags, religious and cultural figures, and people in traditional clothing.
Festa Italiana, held annually since 1978, represented the first of Milwaukee’s modern ethnic festivals and an effort to recapture the spirit of a vanishing community. In the 1960s, Milwaukee’s urban renewal plans led to the demolition of Our Blessed Virgin of Pompeii Church in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. By the time the little pink church had…
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Three men stand beside a booth selling festival buttons for one dollar in 1941. The purchase of a button gave fairgoers admission to some of the festival's paid attractions and a chance to win a car.
Festivals have long been a major part of the cultural, social, and economic fabric of Milwaukee. Early festivals were often celebrations of a shared ethnic heritage. As the turn of the century approached, city leaders recognized the potential of these events to draw visitors from across the nation, and Milwaukee began to emerge as a…
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Florentine Opera Company

As one of Wisconsin’s oldest professional music organizations, this company earned the city national recognition for over seventy years. Formed in 1933 as the Italian Chorus at the Jackson Street Social Center, according to one source, the group originally intended to attract immigrants to English language classes that would prepare them for American citizenship. Their…
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Horse-drawn carts full of produce line Commission Row on Broadway Street.
Even though it is a brutally cold December day in the city, the Milwaukee Public Market—an indoor collection of close to twenty food and drink vendors that opened in 2005—is packed. It is lunchtime, and men and women who work downtown are taking advantage of the market’s proximity to the office towers that they will…
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Frozen Custard

Photograph of Leon's Frozen Custard stand and drive-in, located on South 27th and Oklahoma.
Frozen custard caused a sensation at the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago. Although similar to ice cream, custard contains more cream and less milk, along with egg yolk and butterfat, which gives it a smoother texture and richer taste than ice cream. Following the fair, Wisconsinites brought it north, opening custard stands in the greater…
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In August 1980, Usinger's Famous Sausage celebrated its 100th year of business with a block party.
“Gemütlichkeit” is a term mostly untranslated by contemporary U.S. American observers, although it is sometimes interpreted as “geniality.” It is a character trait that Germans and in particular German-Americans defined as specific to themselves. “Gemütlichkeit” can include any number of activities, generally revolving around having fun: relaxing, enjoying beer and (German) food, music, and dance…
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George W. Peck

Portrait of George W. Peck. Peck served as Milwaukee's mayor in 1890 before being elected as Wisconsin's governor, a position he held for four years.
George Wilbur Peck bridged major developments in the cultural and political maturation of Milwaukee and Wisconsin in the late nineteenth century. The oldest of three children, Peck was born in Henderson, New York on September 28, 1840. He moved with his family to Cold Spring, Wisconsin where he left school as a teenager to learn…
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German Fest

Musicians dressed in traditional German garb perform at German Fest in 2007.
German Fest, one of many ethnic celebrations in Milwaukee, honors the city’s rich German cultural heritage. When then-Milwaukee mayor Henry Maier challenged the city’s local German groups to create a German gathering akin to other ethnic festivals being organized at the time, they responded by forming German Fest. Their primary goal was to promote German…
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