This week I’m ranking my favorite statues in Milwaukee County. I’m fascinated by statues. A city’s statues tell a lot about a community. They’re tangible evidence of the values and the history of a place and its people. I grew up in Chicago, which seemed to have statues on every corner and major public art in every city block. I’ve always liked the juxtaposition of Chicago’s Lincoln Park having a statue of Ulysses Grant and Grant Park being home to a statue of Abraham Lincoln. Milwaukee has its own statue history both old and new.
Last week I set out to photograph all the public (and many of the private) statues I could track down in Milwaukee County. Using leads from the internet, my personal knowledge and instinctive searching, I tracked down more than five dozen statues. I think I found most, if not all of the major ones, and many of the secondary statues. There certainly are some I missed – there are hundreds of religious statues alone afterall. To rank my favorite Milwaukee statues, I put them into nine categories and ranked them in each category using the following admittedly personal and biased criteria:
Elk, Elks Lodge #0046 on Good Hope Road
Raccoon, Riverside Park
Gertie et al, Wisconsin Avenue Bridge
George and Dandy, 16th Street, South of Greenfield Avenue
Camels, Tripoli Shriners Temple
8 Lions, Lake Park
Barkley the Pig, Major Goolsby’s
This is my favorite category. It takes a special story to commit to making a statue of an animal. While I love the august honor of a statue for the common raccoon in Riverside Park and the populous lore of Gertie the Duck, the elk’s history, relocation and majesty earned the top spot in the animal category for me. Gertie is currently missing, while the Wisconsin Avenue bridge is being replaced, but a few of her ducklings remain on the west side of the river, including Freddie, Black Bill and Rosie.
Barkley the Pig had its day in the sun, but now is relegated to hanging from the rafters at Major Goolsby’s. The lions in Lake Park and camels at the Tripoli Temple are both made of concrete and create formidable entry points. The monument R.D. Whitehead erected in 1910 on South 16th Street to George his horse and Dandy his dog would likely have taken the top spot if it were a true statue. The engraved bronze rendering of his favorite animals, however is more a relief, built originally as a water trough, than a true statue. The engraving on the back also memorializes his other dogs Jim, Flora, Pet, Punch, Judy and Shorty, his cats Frank and Henry and his birds Browney and Dick.
Captain Frederick Pabst, Best Place Tavern
Solomon Juneau, Juneau Park
John Plankinton, Grand Avenue Mall
Patrick Cudahy, Grant Park
Pere Marquette, Pere Marquette Park
Leif Erikson, Juneau Park
Pere Marquette, Marquette University
Monument to Immigrant Mothers, Cathedral Square
There are eight statues, three modern and five very old, honoring those that laid the foundation for Milwaukee centuries ago. Leif Erikson never got close to Milwaukee, but he was probably the first European to set foot on North America. Milwaukee’s Scandinavian community honored him with Milwaukee’s most spectacular modern era statue in 1995.
Early explorer Pere Marquette has two statues, one where he camped along the Milwaukee River and the other on the campus of the Jesuit university that took his name in 1881. Meat packing tycoons John Plankinton and Patrick Cudahy are both memorialized in metal. Plankinton’s statue has one of the finest settings among Milwaukee’s statues. It rests in the center of a spiral staircase leading to the Grand Avenue Mall’s Plankinton Arcade lower level. Cudahy was an Irish immigrant from Kilkenny County who was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1849. A shamrock is engraved on his statue’s base to commemorate his heritage.
My two favorite founder statues are beer purveyor Captain Frederick Pabst and Milwaukee founder and first mayor Solomon Juneau. Juneau’s statue rates for me due to the picturesque location overlooking Lake Michigan and the four historic reliefs sculpted into the sides of the statue’s base. Pabst takes the category though, because it is set in the historic Pabst Brewery welcome center and public photos with the beer meister are welcomed.
I thought about forcing these two statues into other categories to reduce the total categories to eight, but governmental leaders should be a very important category and none of the others seemed to fit for Abe or Ben.
I should note that several statues cross over and could go in two or more categories. George Washington for example could have gone here, but the statue has him as a soldier and his monument is in context with other soldier statues on Wisconsin Avenue across from the Wisconsin Club. Abe easily took this category for several reasons. It’s a much older statue, has a better display and Abe actually spent time in Wisconsin. I’m surprised there aren’t more statues of politicians.
Civil War Monument, Wood National Cemetery
General Tadeusz Kościuszko, Kościuszko Park
Frederick Von Steuben, Steuben Square near Washington Park
Brigadier General Erastus B. Wolcott, Lake Park
George Washington Monument, Wisconsin Avenue
Douglas McArthur, McArthur Square
Volunteer, Spanish-American War Memorial near Wood National Cemetery
Spanish American War Memorial, Wisconsin Avenue
Soldiers’ Monument, Civil War memorial on Wisconsin Avenue
Spanish Cannon, originally in Juneau Park. No longer there.
I don’t think we honor war heroes anymore. There are surely reasons for that, but I doubt we’ll see a statue of any drone operators from the Afghanistan war in the future. McArthur was a Milwaukee native and World War II hero. All the other statues honor wars from the 18th and 19th centuries. There are two statues each that honor the Spanish-American and American Civil Wars. Kościuszko, Von Steuben and Wolcott are traditional war statues with all three men on horseback. Tradition (or myth) would tell you that Von Steuben and Kościuszko were injured in battle as indicated by their horses having one leg in the air. Wolcott, a Wisconsin surgeon general, is riding a horse with all four feet firmly planted on the ground meaning he was not injured in battle. Two horse feet in the air is said to indicate its soldier died in battle. Alas, Cecil Adams debunked this myth in 1989 showing that there is little correspondence between the number of horse legs in the air and the fate of the statue’s rider.
My top selection for soldier statues is hidden in the middle of the Wood National Cemetery west of Miller Park. The statue itself is simple enough - a life size union soldier. The soldier however is standing on top of a thin round 30-foot monument. He is facing east surrounded by a sea of identical white grave markers indicating the final resting place of thousands of veterans who fought to preserve our nation’s freedom. Veteran’s Day is this Friday, and the date is 11/11/11. Here’s a moving story about a veteran who hoped to live to see this day.
It almost seems silly to make athletes immortal by building statues of sports stars and calling them heroes in comparison to brave soldiers, explorers and martyrs who risked, and in some cases lost, their lives. Milwaukee has four statues honoring locals for their contribution to sport and few could quibble about the right of immortality for any of them.
Like their adopted city, Aaron and Yount were humble and hard working. Selig, while not an athlete and at times polarizing, single handedly galvanized a community twice to make Milwaukee a major league city. The first time by acquiring the Brewers and the second time by building Miller Park, which allowed the team to stay. Similarly, his consensus building of MLB owners occasionally rankled baseball’s disparate constituency, but also fostered America’s past time through rough waters into a bright future.
Top of the sports chart for me is the Al McGuire statue. Certainly I’m biased as a Marquette grad, but I truly believe it’s the best sports statue in town. The artist, Omri Amrany, really captured the coach’s emotion. The statue also includes dozens of names of McGuire’s friends and colleagues who were instrumental to the Marquette basketball program’s success during his tenure.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Walnut Street and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive
Mahatma Gandhi, India-America Friendship Park
King Gambrinus, The Best Place Tavern
The Bronze Fonz, Milwaukee River Walk South of Wells Street
Robert Burns, Prospect Avenue and Knapp Street
Goethe/Schiller Monument, Washington Park
Ione, Centennial Hall
Greek God and Goddess, Paul Mitchell Salon
Frankenstein, Times Theater
Spillover II, Atwater Park
Face of the Golden Justice, Milwaukee County History Center
This is a very competitive category. It has several great classic statues (Burns, Goethe/Schiller, Ione – made of alabaster and salvaged from the Wisconsin Theatre - and the Face of the Golden Justice). There are also several wonderfully kitschy statues - King Gambrinus, the Bronze Fonz and Frankenstein. The Times Theater, which is the home of the Frankenstein statue, has temporarily loaned its Alfred Hitchcock Statue to the Town Theater in Watertown.
Despite the competition from the classics and the kitsch, two modern statues, both honoring 20th century peace makers, topped the Cultural Category for me. It was very difficult to choose one over the other. Both statues evoke emotion and have wonderful added elements.
The base of Gandhi’s statue includes representative quotes from his life including these from Gandhi the peacemaker and General Douglas McArthur the warrior, whose own statue is mere yards away from Gandhi’s:
“Truth is my religion and ahimsa (nonviolence) is the only way of its realization.”
“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is the mightiest of the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”
“In the evolution of civilization, if it is to survive, all men cannot fail eventually to adopt Gandhi’s belief that the process of mass application of force to resolve contentious issues is fundamentally not only wrong but contains within itself the germs of self-destruction.”
General Douglas McArthur
The base of Dr. King’s statue appears standard from a distance, but upon closer examination reveals he is standing on a base of classic books authored by the likes of Aristotle, Plato and St. Augustine. This extra element was enough to give this statue the nod over Gandhi’s statue. The statue has been moved from its original location and is now looking out over the 1600 block of his namesake street.
Shriner and Child, Tripoli Temple
The Last Alarm, Milwaukee Fire Department Headquarters
Letter Carriers, Plankinton Avenue and Wells Street
Children Pledging Allegiance, O’Donnell Park
Workers, at Miller Park
There is real quality top to bottom in the Civic Category. I really like every one of these and really couldn’t go wrong picking any of them in the top spot.
The statue of three workers at Miller Park is often confused by people as the three workers who died in the crane collapse during Miller Park construction. The three workers in the statue are actually intended to be representative of all those that worked on Miller Park’s construction. An honor wall nearby commemorates the three who died as well as listing the names of all the workers on the Miller Park project.
The Children statue near the lakefront has a Norman Rockwell feel to it. The letter carriers monument commemorates the 1889 founding of the National Association of Letter Carriers union just across Plankinton Avenue.
The Last Alarm is a touching memorial to Milwaukee’s fallen fire fighters. I chose the Shriner and Child as my favorite in this category, because it’s so unique to see a statue of a man with a fez holding a child with a crutch. The Shriners fund great work through their children’s hospitals. The setting for this statue is also special. The statue stands in the shadow of the Moorish revival Tripoli Temple, which was based on the design of the Taj Mahal. This category topper highlights the Shriners' good works and beats out four other excellent statues.
Mother Teresa, Marquette University
Pope John XXIII, St. John’s Cathedral
Pope John Paul II, St. John’s Cathedral
Our Lady of Pompeii Statues, Festa Italiana
Our Lady of Guadalupe, 9th and Washington Streets
Angel of Peace, Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima, 68th and Stevenson in Milwaukee
Jesus and Mary Magdalene, St. John’s Cathedral Courtyard
St. Peter, Cathedral Church of All Saints St. Josaphat, St. Josaphat’s Basilica
St. Giuseppi, On Exhibit at Milwaukee County History Center
St. Ignatius, Marquette University High School
St. Francis de Sales, St. John’s Cathedral
Maria, Old St. Mary's
Inviting Christ, Our Saviors Lutheran ChurchMary and Baby Jesus, St. John’s Cathedral Courtyard
St. Mary, St. John’s Cathedral
Jesus, United Methodist Church of Whitefish Bay
Jesus and his Mother, St. John’s Cathedral
I almost excluded religious statues, because they are omnipresent. I am certain I am missing some very good ones, because there are so many and most churches are locked when not being used for services, so I wasn’t able to look inside many of the churches that looked like they would have good statues.
Seven statues on this list come from St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Cathedral. One is out front, three are inside and three are in the courtyard adjacent to the Cathedral. I included one from the United Methodist Church of Whitefish Bay, because this is a Whitefish Bay-based blog and it was included in a post card in the 1970s. The list also includes an exterior statue from Old St. Mary’s where I was married and former Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps would go to pray whenever the Fighting Irish were in town to take on the Warriors.
Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Rosary at Fatima are both in beautiful garden settings. The many statues from Our Lady of Pompeii are lumped together and are only available for public viewing at Festa Italiana. The destination is worth the trip to see the many colorful statues from the Little Pink Church in all their glory including the martyrs. My personal favorite is St. Bartholomew who displays his flayed skin symbolic of popular belief that he was flayed alive and crucified head downward.
My top three are all 20th century Roman Catholic leaders. Statues of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII are both at St. John’s Cathedral. Topping my list is Mother Teresa – an Albanian nun whose birth name was Agnes. Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta and was later beatified by Pope John Paul II. Mother Teresa received Marquette University’s Discovery Award in 1981 and visited Milwaukee to accept the award.
The statue is in a very nice garden setting just west of the St. Joan of Arc Chapel. A bit of trivia, the chapel was built in France before Columbus arrived in the New World then later dismantled, shipped to the United States in the 1920s, then later reassembled in 1964 on Marquette’s campus. The long journey and history makes it the oldest building in North America made by non-indigenous people.
Solomon Juneau, Milwaukee County History Center
Fred Pabst - at Pabst Theater
Billy Mitchell, Mitchell International Airport
Fred Pabst - at Pabst mansion
Pfister-Vogel at Milwaukee County History Center
Horace Rublee at Milwaukee Public Library
Henry Weber at Milwaukee Public Library
Alfred James at Milwaukee Public Library
Unidentified busts, at Milwaukee County History Center
Charles Dickens at Milwaukee Public Library
Shakespeare at Milwaukee Public Library
Unknown at Milwaukee Public Library
In my quest for Milwaukee’s statues I came upon a fair number of busts. The Milwaukee Public Library has at least six of them in seemingly random displays.
The library has plenty of random art including a painting of the Edmund Fitzgerald ore carrier in the Frank Zeidler Humanities Room. My favorite busts though are the Fred Pabst bust at his namesake theater and a huge Solomon Juneau bust in the basement of the Milwaukee History Center that appears to be in jail as it is behind bars.
Milwaukee has plenty of plaques including one to commemorate former Israel Prime Minister Golda Meir’s elementary school. The Wisconsin Athletic Walk of Fame is a plaque lover’s dream. One can wander through the maze of 129 plaques for hours reading details on many of this state’s greatest athletes from Hank Aaron to Bob Zuppke.
Inspired Artisans, 9th Street and National Avenue
The Li'l Friar Basilica Gift Shops, 7th Street and Lincoln Avenue
All of these statues have to be made somewhere and the near south side seems to be zoned for statue makers. Inspired Artisans and the Li’l Friar Basilica Gift Shops both specialize in religious statues and are open to the public to tour or to shop.
Captain Frederick Pabst, link is the view from behind
Solomon Juneau, link shows different (incorrect?) way to write out 1846 in Roman numerals
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., link is close up of books statue stands on
Civil War Monument at Wood, link is long shot including graves
Elk, link is Elk Fountain at its original Juneau Park location where it was placed in 1901
Al McGuire, link shows detail on statue base recognizing his friends and colleagues
Shriner with Child, link shows identical statue at a Shriner Hospital location in Chicago
Mother Teresa, link is a close up
Abraham Lincoln, link is me dressed as Lincoln for a Milwaukee Admirals promo in 1985
Like a dog show that brings the best of each breed together at the end to select a Best of Show, I’ve made an effort to do the same with each statue category winner. Picking the best of the best wasn’t easy, but I went with statues of the two most historically connected men to Milwaukee.
The statue of Solomon Juneau, the city’s founder, first mayor and founder of its first paper (the Milwaukee Sentinel) is my runner up and my old favorite Captain Pabst (he was an actual steam boat captain on Lake Michigan ships shuttling passengers and cargo between Milwaukee and Chicago) takes my prize as best statue in Milwaukee. There are very few things I would rather do than sit with good friends in the Best Place courtyard drinking the Captain’s Blue Ribbon beer on a warm summer afternoon with Fred himself watching over the festivities.
Did I miss any statues in Milwaukee County? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments below.