There’s No Place Like Home

It’s official.  Post-Vacation depression has finally set in.

I found out how I was missed when I went back to work.  I went down to the cafeteria and the guy behind the counter ringing me up for a Snapple asked where I had been.  I told him I was on vacation in California.

“Connecticut?” he asked.

“No, California,” I repeated because he doesn’t speak English well.  He then pointed to my T-shirt which had Connecticut on it.  I smiled and told him that was last year’s trip and that I hadn’t gotten around to doing laundry yet.  It reminded me that I am sort of like a walking billboard sometimes.

I love being on the train almost as much as my vacation destinations.  When you go to the dining car, they seat you with other people so they have full tables and there is room for everyone.   It’s interesting to discuss with the other passengers where they are headed, their experiences and, almost as if it’s required, why they are traveling by train.

Sometimes conversation starts slow. During dinner my 2nd night on the train trip home, I was seated at a table across from an elderly gentleman and next to a middle aged woman.  The southwest chief Amtrak train was actually heading northeast at this point.

“You must be going to Milwaukee,” the man said finally breaking the ice.  It also broke a wide smile across my face as I thought about home.

“I am.  I was on vacation in California,” I replied.  The train originated in Los Angeles so a lot of us had boarded in Cali.

“I was in San Francisco for a reunion of my ship’s crew.  I served on the USS LITTLE ROCK,” he told us.

“The LITTLE ROCK?  The one that’s in Buffalo?” I asked and was correct.  He was impressed and a little proud that someone of my generation would know that particular ship.  I explained my interest in all things Maritime.

Once our meals arrived and after a brief hiatus in conversation the man asked me if I knew what the best part of being on vacation was.  I was a little puzzled and thought since we were at dinner it might have been the fact that you didn’t have to cook or do dishes.

“The best part of vacation,” he clarified, “is coming home.”

I smiled again.  I had been away from my family for 2 weeks and was missing them terribly.  It made me a little teary as I agreed.  I love to vacation in California and other places I’ve been, but I would never choose any of those places over Milwaukee.

“I’ve never been to Milwaukee really.  Took a plane through there,” the man said and then he asked me what made Milwaukee so great that I’d leave sunny California for it.

“I love Milwaukee,” I looked down at my shirt.  It was black with the image of a Godess-like woman leaning on a globe that says Milwaukee Feeds and supplies the World.  It may have at one time, but even me as Milwaukee’s biggest bolster, would have to admit that it doesn’t anymore.  To me the shirt always emitted a tone of Socialism

“If I were a tourist there where should I go?” he asked.

I explained how our art museum “The Calatrava” is known throughout the country, as well as our Summerfest, which is the largest music festival.

I was asked if those were my favorite since I mentioned them first.  I admitted they weren’t but that it was something that was supposed to make Milwaukee popular.  I said I would choose the Milwaukee Symphony or the Milwaukee Repertory Theater over the art museum. 

“Then what makes you smile about Milwaukee, the way you did when I first mentioned it?” he asked.  

I love Milwaukee’s architecture.  It has an old world charm in that many of the buildings are still in use from the 1800’s having survived the urban blight when industrialization when out the window (or should I say to China).  So many of our old buildings have been given a new life in the form of condos and office buildings such as the Pabst and Schlitz breweries.  It’s neat to see an expertly built brick building butted up against a clearly modern structure.  Old meets new.  That’s what Milwaukee is about.

But if looking for free things, Wisconsin is so pretty in every season that if I moved I would miss hiking and biking through the State Parks and along the lake front.  We’re lucky to have 2 Great Lakes for our borders.  My personal favorite is finding historical landmarks and it’s so easy to travel around Wisconsin compared to California.   I said I like to vacation in Wisconsin and go to places like Holy Hill, The Dells, Cave of the Mounds, Apostle Islands and The House On The Rock.   

The man was really intrigued until I started telling him that there were once pyramids in Wisconsin in Aztalan (A.D. 1000 and 1300. The people who settled Aztalan built large, flat-topped pyramidal mounds and a stockade around their village. )

Wisconsin DNR photo of Aztalan

I thought I needed to reel the man in again so he knew I wasn’t just telling wild tales because he had never been there before so I began to tell him the story of the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company and the 28 submarines that were built on Lake Michigan during WWII.  I figured bringing it back to the Navy side of things would get him back into the conversation. 

The lady who had been quiet til now decided to mention the trouble with the police shootings.  I think she was tired of hearing me go on and on (She was from Chicago…. I think there might have been a rivalry there) so it ended my Chamber of Commerce lecture. But just because she stopped me from talking, it doesn’t mean I won’t go on and on if you want me to 🙂



Sewer Socialism

Milwaukee has deep German roots going back to the 1800’s with the City seeing the boom by a wave of immigrants who left Germany for political reasons in the 1840’s .  Prior to the German immigration, the City had a population made up of French fir traders and trappers like Jacques Vieau and Solomon Juneau. Milwaukee also saw an influx of ethnicity such as Poles, Scandinavian, Irish, Jewish, and (Yankee) British, however the numbers of these groups could not top the Germans.

They brought with them intellectualism, art, their politics and of course beer (Schlitz, Blatz, Pabst and Miller Breweries).  Even in present day Milwaukee, you can see the remnants of the past in our architecture.  Notice the helmet like spires atop the Brumder building as well as the gazebo along the Milwaukee River.  Old World 3rd Street has seen the old buildings preserved and still hosting many German businesses.

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The brand of democratic socialism brought to Milwaukee from the late 1800’s up to 1960 was not radical like Marxism or National Socialism, but rather a type of constructive socialism that was all for clean, honest government and clean living. The political ideology was for a democratic political system that combined socialist economics like cooperatives.  Many farms and dairies in Wisconsin were run as cooperatives.   Locally, the Socialist Party of America was called Sewer Socialism in Milwaukee because of how our sanitary system became modernized and it was something that the party members boasted about regularly.

In 1910, the Socialists won most of the seats in the Milwaukee city council and county board. The first Socialist Mayor, Emil Seidel, in the United States was in Milwaukee.  Under his administration, the working minimum wage was raised and workers saw the enforcement of an 8 hour work day.  This was after the bloody Bay View Rolling Mills Strike.   However, Republicans and Democrats alike did their best to discredit the Socialists and Seidel was defeated for re-election, and the corruption returned with Mayor Daivd S. “All the Time Rosey” Rose.

The 2nd elected Socialist Mayor in Milwaukee was Daniel Webster Hoan, who governed until 1940 with honesty and efficiency.  Mayor Hoan’s term was a golden age in the Milwaukee’s government.  Milwaukee won a number of awards as the healthiest, safest and best policed big city in the United States.

Believe it or not, but the Socialist Party of America were pacifits.  Their anti-war platform coupled with their predominantly German heritage got them in trouble during World War I.  Because they didn’t support war of any kind, patriotic Americans saw them as being Pro-German and feared a German take over on the home front.


DW Hoan
Milwaukee Mayor Daniel Webster Hoan on the cover of the April 6, 1936 TIME magazine. The inside article is titled Wisconsin: Marxist Mayor. Hoan was the 2nd elected Socialist Mayor serving from 1916-1940


During The Great Depression, Milwaukee did what they could to stay a float.  The City started work relief programs which built public parks and recreation centers, libraries and when money was short they derived their own Red colored Milwaukee Municipal Script.

This good outcome of governance certainly doesn’t seem to be the kind of Socialism that the country wants to remember, (because in the eyes of most, Socialism is always bad) but it is in fact part of our political history.  And I’m proud to have been born in such a city with a solid past.

After Hoan, Milwaukee had Frank P. Zeidler, a 3 term Mayor, and the last Socialst to serve from 1948-1960