Friday, March 15, 2013

Where's There: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Until recently before the events of the book, Lewis had lived with his parents in a small town near this large city in eastern Wisconsin [The House with a Clock in its Walls; 4].

Milwaukee is the largest city in the state of Wisconsin with a population around 590,000. Geographically speaking, Chicago is due south on the Interstate and it’s a quick skip across Lake Michigan to reach Lewis’ new home in Michigan. Of course, you can’t see Michigan from the shoreline and to get there you’ve got to spend over four hours on the Interstate. But imagine poor Lewis’ travels all those years ago: before the Interstate highway was completed in the 1950s his route would have been by state highways and over local roads that would have easily pushed his travel time close to eight hours. No wonder he’s tired when the bus pulls into New Zebedee.

The history of the city seems to be built around three varying yet interweaving features: its German heritage, its connection to the Socialist movement, and beer. German and other European immigrants arrived in Wisconsin during the 1840s, fleeing their homeland for religious and political reasons. Forty years later the first signs of the Socialist movement surfaced, culminating in the election of the city’s first (and the county’s first) Socialist mayor, Emil Seidel. The people of Milwaukee successfully elected two more Socialist mayors, the third and final one being Frank Zeidler, whose term coincidently began in 1948.  The Milwaukee County Historical Society notes:
Milwaukee's economy remained strong for several years after the stock market crashed in 1929. However, what was known as the "Milwaukee Miracle" ended with mass layoffs in 1932. The number of wage earners in the city fell from 177,658 in 1929 to 66,010 in 1933. Socialist Mayor Dan Hoan and his administration embarked on a variety of creative solutions to extend some relief to the city's employees. New jobs were created and bonds were issued to city employees that could be used like cash. President Roosevelt's New Deal programs and the various re-employment plans also helped thousands of Milwaukeeans get back on their feet. The Depression years were undoubtedly difficult for the city, but by the end of the 1930s, the city was well on its way to an economic recovery.

The land area of Milwaukee actually doubled from 1946 to 1967 and the population grew from 587, 472 in 1940 to 741,324 in 1960.
As for the beer, the Germans set up their breweries when they arrived and the city been associated with beer ever since. The Miller Brewing Company is the only remaining major brewery in Milwaukee, although it was once home to four major American brewers, including Blatz, Pabst, and Schlitz.

It seems almost a given that Lewis would have been following baseball back home in Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Brewers would have been the big-name draw in town, though that team was actually a minor league team and not the modern day and better known True Blue Crew. Lewis probably would have celebrated the team’s American Association championship four years before, in 1944, and maybe even ventured out with his parents to a game at Borchert Field.

Some other interesting sights:
Some of the small cities surrounding Milwaukee include Cudahy, Glendale, Mequon, New Berlin, and Wauwatosa.  The city of Milwaukee has another part to play in our story, specifically the saga of Mrs. Zimmerman - not the one you’re thinking about.


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