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Author: Carl Swanson

Milwaukee Notebook: Red Arrow, the park that moved

Since the 1920s, Milwaukee has had a park dedicated to local soldiers who fought with the 32nd Red Arrow division of the U.S. Army. The 8-foot-tall divisional insignia was added in 1984. Milwaukee has always considered park names open to change. The strip of greenery in the median in front of Central Library, for instance, was once Washington Park. The present-day Washington Park was originally West Park. Pere Marquette Park is along the downtown riverfront, formerly it was several blocks south and in front of the Milwaukee Road station. The station is gone, but there is still a park...

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Milwaukee Notebook: Gertie the Duck

A statue of Gertie the Duck stands guard over her ducklings on a Wisconsin Avenue bridge pier, seventy-one years after the real Gertie hatched her young on the bridge and captured national attention. The story of Gertie, a mallard duck who hatched her eggs on a bridge piling in the heart of downtown, is a familiar one to many Milwaukeeans. Updates on the duck’s activities front-page news for a full month in spring of 1945. She was featured on the cover of Life magazine, profiled in Reader’s Digest, and was the subject of a prime-time television show in 1963. Last...

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Milwaukee Notebook: Buses, bikes, and forgetfulness

Milwaukee County Transit System buses feature front-mounted bicycle racks. Users simply fold them down, secure their bikes, and, quite often, forget they put them there. In 2009, all Milwaukee County Transit System buses received front-mounted bike racks. The racks are extremely popular – more than 100,000 bikes are carried each year. Although it hardly seems possible, it’s quite common for a bus to return to its depot at the end of the day with a forgotten bike on its rack. Last year about 120 bikes were lost, an average of one every three days. Most are reunited with owners. Strangely, some...

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Milwaukee Notebook: Milwaukee’s lost business district

Fine buildings are reminders of a once thriving and prosperous business district. The six blocks of Martin Luther King Drive between Burleigh Street and Keefe Avenue are like many on Milwaukee’s north side. There are churches and liquor stores. There is a public school and a private choice program school. There are vacant buildings and vacant lots. There is nothing to show this street’s history extends back hundreds of years to Wisconsin’s first inhabitants. The street follows the route of an ancient Indian trail connecting Chicago and Green Bay. One of two historic trails to Green Bay (the other...

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Milwaukee Notebook: Riverwest’s hidden landmark

The massive brick structure on the bank of the Milwaukee River in Riverwest is part of the city’s water utility. When it entered service in 1924, its massive pumps set a world record. On a stretch of the Milwaukee River once home to both ice houses and a lost neighborhood, only one structure remains – a five-story-tall, windowless brick building. Although well maintained and surrounded by neatly mown lawn, no sign identifies it and its purpose isn’t immediately obvious. Here, at the foot of East Chambers Street in Riverwest, the city built a record-setting engineering landmark. This 92-year-old building is the...

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Milwaukee Notebook: Wilkie James and the measure of greatness

Garth “Wilkie” James, brother of the famed novelist Henry James, is buried in Milwaukee’s Forest Home Cemetery. The five children of Henry James Sr. include some of America’s greatest thinkers. Henry’s oldest son and namesake, Henry James Jr., wrote 22 novels, hundreds of short stories, and many volumes of biographies, travel writing, art criticism, and memoirs. A second son, William James, became an eminent philosopher and educator and is considered the father of American psychology. A third son, Robert, a promising artist and writer, was plagued by alcoholism throughout his adult life. Sister Alice taught history but suffered from...

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