Understories are short essays about how we researched the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee or that expand on an idea in the main body of an entry. We call them Understories because they are located after the main text of an entry and because they show some of the intellectual foundations of the main text. If you are reading an entry and there is a book icon under the “Explore More” button after the “For Further Reading” suggestions, click on the plus (+) sign to get access to the Understory and other additional content. Or you can click on the titles or the words “Read more” below.

Showing 1-20 of 33 understories

A Peek into Editing the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee

Do you ever wonder how an entry in the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee (EMKE) moves from the author’s draft to its published form? Looking at a single sentence in the Kenosha County entry opens a window in the EMKE research and editing process. The first paragraph of the original draft of the Kenosha entry explained why US Census Bureau’s statistics associate Kenosha with Chicago, Naperville, and Elgin in Illinois instead of with Milwaukee, Racine, and Kenosha.… Read more

Acknowledging Dick Golembiewski’s Research

Without the able research work of Dick Golembiewski, the history of television in Milwaukee would be a black box. As the staff of the Shepherd Express noted, “It’s hard to imagine anyone else dedicating themselves as completely to documenting such an esoteric subject, but if Golembieski hadn’t, much of that information might have been lost to history.” Golembiewski died an untimely death in 2009 shortly after publication of his comprehensive history, Milwaukee Television History: The… Read more

Charles Whitnall in Riverwest

One of the early residences just off today’s Humboldt Boulevard—at Locust Street—was that of florist Frank Whitnall, a Cream City brick residence now at 1208 E. Locust Street. Whitnall, who began building that house in 1851 near what was then the Humboldt Plank Road, had about twenty acres there, with extensive greenhouses growing plants for his downtown store. The property was referred to as Whitnall Knoll. Whitnall’s son Charles, born in that house in 1859… Read more

Climbing the US Bank Center

Anticipating the climb up Wisconsin’s tallest building. The StairMaster did not prepare me for this! My legs feel like they’re made of lead, my lungs are burning, and my heart is pounding harder than I knew it could. “12 more floors,” I manage to wheeze in the general vicinity of a friend I somehow convinced to partake in the American Lung Association’s Fight for Air stair climb at the U.S. Bank Center. And so we… Read more

Communal Histories about South Milwaukee

South Milwaukee’s history has been recorded in several books, displayed and publicized by informative markers, and preserved by the city’s historical society. Most of this historical memory is drawn from anniversary pamphlets and the writings of local historians, including “History of the Oak Creek Township,” an unpublished manuscript by Mrs. Alfred J. Meyer, at the Oak Creek Historical Society, and After Thirty Years, a pamphlet published by the City of South Milwaukee on the occasion… Read more

Counting the Hmong

Population numbers give the reader a sense of certainty and clarity, but sometimes it is useful to take a look at where they come from and how they might be interpreted. The data in the entry derive from the U.S. Census of Population from 1980 to 2010 and from the American Community Survey (ACS). The census and ACS ask several different questions that can be used to identify a race or ethnic group, including a… Read more

Counting the Victims of the Lady Elgin Disaster

In the days after the sinking of the Lady Elgin there was chaos and confusion in the early reporting of victim names and victim count, similar to the experience following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. But in the weeks following both disasters the names and numbers of victims and survivors came into focus. However, as the years passed, reports of the number of people on the Lady Elgin burgeoned. At the time of the… Read more

Deciphering the Google News URL

The availability of Milwaukee newspaper archives through Google News is a real boon to research for the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee. Writers can delve into their entry research through a precisely targeted search; they no longer have to wade through reels and reels of microfilm in search of a few relevant articles. Fact-checkers can hone in on exactly the articles they needed to see to verify or disconfirm particular pieces of information. Readers who follow the… Read more

Discovering Hidden History: The Case of the Missing Baby Hammocks

Sometimes something comes across your path and even though it is fascinating, there either isn’t time to study it as deeply or you don’t have a clue where to start. For me, the missing “baby hammocks” fell in to both categories. I was fortunate enough to work with a private collector who wanted to share everything she knew about Milwaukee, especially Lake Park, with me. As I collected images from her postcard collection, she shared… Read more

Fairy Chasm

It may go without saying, but historians owe a deep debt of gratitude to people who record their actions and save their materials. While we sometimes delve into subjects with little written or visual record, most of historians’ work builds upon the work of earlier record keepers and documentarians. Sometimes, as happened when I began researching the Village of Bayside, we researchers encounter a treasure trove of historical information that we just cannot quite use… Read more

Garbage in the Suburbs

Like many entries in the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, the information and analysis in this entry depend on the existing scholarship on the topic in question, in this case the years of research and writing by author Kate Foss for her University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Urban Studies doctoral dissertation and book Hard Water. We hope that making that research accessible here will prompt further work. For example, careful readers of this entry, as well as the entry… Read more

How Do Histories Merge?: The West Bend Company

When entities merge, what happens to their histories? As I have been writing for the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, this is a question that keeps percolating in the back of my mind. Where does the history of North Milwaukee belong, for instance? The first village incorporated from the Town of Granville, this suburb later merged with the City of Milwaukee. Where does its early history fit? In the Granville entry? In the Milwaukee entry? In its… Read more

How Microfilm and the Internet Get Along: A Demonstration

I was presented with a quest. A quest to journey to the depths of microfilm department of the Golda Meir Library at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Working with microfilm really makes me feel like a true detective of history. You have to use the old film, with the clunky machines. The way the documents look on a microfilm machine has such a classic feel to it. There is nothing quite like working with an old… Read more

Learning More about Quarlls

There is more to be learned about Quarlls’ life and her escape from Milwaukee. The Burlington Historical Society, Burlington, Wisconsin, has some details. We still do not know much about Quarlls’ brief time in the city of Milwaukee, which was dramatic and interesting. Who betrayed or assisted her (especially the two African American males, about whom less is written than the white males)? What impact did this episode have on the later political positions of… Read more

Milwaukee’s Neighborhoods: Not Only a Question of Where, but When

Milwaukee is often affectionately known as the “City of Neighborhoods.” To reflect this moniker, the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee (EMKE) features a number of entries on these diverse communities that form integral parts of the city’s larger whole. Some neighborhoods are identified by a landmark structure or style of homes, like the historic lighthouse in the North Point neighborhood or the Arts and Crafts bungalows of Washington Heights. Others, like Bronzeville, are defined by their complex… Read more

Newhall House Fire Victim Count

When disasters occur, counting the number of victims is a difficult task. First responders focus on rescuing the living; news media rush to disseminate information quickly. Sometimes only meticulous later research can establish precisely how many people were killed and injured. Accounts of the Newhall House Fire routinely mention 71 victims, but my review of the evidence suggests that the total was actually 72. The Newhall House fire occurred on 10 January 1883, and before… Read more

News Coverage of Gertie and Her Ducklings

Are you as entranced by the story of Gertie and her quinducklets as much as the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee staff is? Would you like to read about her adventures as they unfolded at the end of World War II? Follow the citations and links below to read more about Milwaukee’s most beloved family of ducks. If you find contemporary news coverage not on this list, please let us know! “Mallard Sets an Eggs-Ample in a… Read more

Polish Flats in Riverwest

The immigrants were generally poor, and many built budget houses in the new neighborhood—including at least one for only $150. Some of the houses had what Milwaukeeans call POLISH FLATS, basement apartments under single-family or duplex houses. The housing form was found often in Polish neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s South Side as well. Craig Reisser described the way these apartments were installed in his 1977 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee master’s thesis, “Immigrants and House Form in Northeast… Read more

Remembering John Schmitt, 2015

I’ve known John Schmitt (“Schmitty”) since 1962, when as a chief officer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO he led a group of other unionists to join our picket line at the Milwaukee Sentinel during a particularly critical moment. From that moment on, I was convinced that his main motivation was to serve the causes of working people and their families, even though many sometimes criticized him for being too conservative. To many he came across… Read more

Research on the Life and Work of Mathilde Franziska Anneke

In the late 20th and 21st century, scholars and the public, particularly in Germany, have rediscovered Mathilde Anneke’s life and work. Despite spending half her life in the United States, her writings are almost exclusively in German. Some of that oeuvre has been translated into English and several recent scholarly treatments of her life and work have been published. See the bibliography below. There is likely more to be learned. The Anneke Papers, available through… Read more