Ethnic charm in Wisconsin's largest city
Your tour guide: Jill Florence Lackey, Urban Anthropology Inc.
Who says urban day trips have to be about downtown? Why not try an older back street neighborhoodone that still maintains its ethnic charm and architecture?
Let's take a look at Milwaukee's Old South Side, a neighborhood that was once solidly Polish and is today still Polish, but also Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, Wisconsin Indian, Serbian and Mexican. Sundays would be perfect for this tour. Start out early and find your way to 6th St. and Lincoln Avenue. Now you are looking at the magnificent Basilica of St. Josaphat (414-645-5623). The neighborhood's Poles began building the Basilica with their own hands in 1896 out of materials from a razed post office in Chicago. Travel magazines have called this the most beautiful church in America, and the exterior pales in comparison to the interior. How can you glimpse the interior? Right after the Sunday 10 a.m. mass (which ends about 10:45), a half-hour tour of the interior is provided for the general public. You will also be able to see the wall-sized photographs of the development of the grand church.
When you complete your Basilica tour, head two buildings west to the Old South Side Settlement Museum. This museum, developed by area cultural anthropologists, is accessed through tours that tell the stories of the ethnic groups and families that settled here. You will enter rooms that replicate the living areas of the ethnic families during the founding of the neighborhood, the Great Depression and through the 1950s. Learn interesting tidbits such as how the Poles survived the Depression, how a failed cookie recipe brought a Kashube to the neighborhood, how a neighborhood Indian artist both posed for and illustrated one of the Milwaukee Braves logosand the significance of all of this to a later-arriving family.
Tours are available on the first and third Sundays of each month, and groups can schedule for other times (call 414-271-9417 for reservations) Participants can arrive early to see a documentary on this great neighborhood or look through the extensive photo albums of the history of the immigrants. The tour lasts one hour.
Some time before or after the museum tour, you might want to take a stroll through beautiful Kosciuszko Park directly across the street, where you can watch all the cultural groups interactwhether swimming in the pool, fishing in the lagoon, playing soccer and tennis or picnicking. While there, imagine you are a cultural anthropologist and note which cultural group prefers which activities. You might also want to stroll down Lincoln Avenue and notice how the older Polish storefronts were preserved over the years. Most of the facades are exactly what they were in the 1920s. This was made possible by a series of Main Street grants brought in by the Lincoln Village Business Association that allows businesses to return their store facades to their original designs.
By now, you should have worked up an appetite. The ethnic experience continues through the senses of taste and smell. Within six blocks of Kosciuszko Park, there are a number of ethnic restaurants, including Peruvian, Mexican, Salvadoran, Eastern European and Italian varieties.
For the last leg of your journey, take a short drive down to the Forest Home Cemetery on 27th and Lincoln (414-645-2632). These historical landmark grounds were home to a rare panther intaglio mound (a type of effigy mound) of the Late Woodland Indians. Beginning in the 1850s, most of Milwaukee's pioneer families were buried there. You can access a printed tour guide at the office and take a stroll through much of Milwaukee's history. The walk is beautiful, and I've always felt an almost spiritual presence there. (Ah, but you might want to ask your tour anthropologist back at the settlement museum about the ghost stories tied to these grounds before you venture out.)
This will be a Sunday you will long remember, as it takes you through the layers of ethnic experiences, from Late Mississippian Indians to contemporary urban Native Americans to Poles to diverse Latinosall contributing to the mosaic that is Milwaukee's Old South Side.
Note: Saturday walking tours of Lincoln Village culture, art and architecture are available through Urban Anthropology, Inc. during the summer months. Call 414-271-9417 for more information.