Everything and anything related to Milwaukee.

Historic Milwaukee

Where is underground Milwaukee?

Many U.S. cities have some sort of hidden underground.1 Seattle has its underground downtown,2 Portland has its Shanghai Tunnels,3 Kansas City has a 5 million square foot office and industrial complex inside a network of reclaimed limestone mines,4 and Cincinnati even has a sealed-off subway system (with six completed stations) that never opened for business.

Given the number of hidden urban undergrounds around the US, I had to wonder whether my hometown — Milwaukee — has its own secrets beneath street level. …

  1. In this article, I mean “underground” in a completely literal sense. I’m not talking about the black market, or hidden subcultures or anything like that. “Underground” means stuff below the surface of the city. []
  2. The Seattle Underground consists of original ground level building entrances, sidewalks, etc. which ended up underground when the city raised the downtown street level one to two stories following the 1889 Seattle Fire. []
  3. The Shanghai Tunnels run under Portland’s downtown and were used to supply hotels and businesses from ships docked on the Willamette River. Despite their name, historians continue to debate whether the tunnels actually were used for the practice of shanghaiing drunk sailors. []
  4. “SubTropolis, U.S.A.,” Steve Nadis, The Atlantic, April 13, 2010. []
Natalie and Jamie prepare to kick some alien butt.

Natalie Ryan a fun dash through space-time

The new play “Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler” (NR2) at Bay View’s Alchemist Theater1 delivers a fun science fiction romp that outshines many of today’s bigger budget stage, film and TV science fiction offerings.

Natalie Ryan program

The play — written by Vince Figueroa and Beth Lewinski — is a sequel to their 2011 collaboration “Natalie Ryan and the Brain Thieves” (NR1). This second Natalie Ryan installment is a well-written adventure with a sharp sense of humor. Time travel stories are often filled with plot holes large enough to fly a DeLorean through and are frequently not well thought out, but Figueroa and Lewinski have crafted a story that is both internally consistent and enjoyable. In addition, the main characters are complex and well written, while the secondary characters have enough quirks and personality to lift them above the all too frequent norm of two-dimensional supporting characters.

So who is Natalie Ryan? If you didn’t see the first play — NR12 — Natalie is a young girl from 1947 who manages to invent one form of time travel at her high school science fair.3 Now Natalie travels time and space righting wrongs and foiling evil alien plots. …

  1. Natalie Ryan and the Rogue Traveler” is being performed at the Alchemist Theater through Sunday August 26, 2012. Tickets can be purchased online ($15) or at the door ($18). []
  2. I unfortunately didn’t see the first Natalie Ryan play either, and after seeing NR2, I’m very disappointed to have missed the start of the saga. But fortunately, the program for NR2 contains a synopsis of NR1 to bring those attending this second play up to speed. []
  3. How come the only experiments at my high school science fair involved mundane things like cross-breeding peas or constructing model volcanoes? []

The Milwaukee airship sightings of 1897

Airship over Milwaukee City HallIn 1896 and 1897, before the first successful dirigible flight had even occurred,1 people across the U.S. reported seeing mysterious “airships” flying over major cities and rural communities alike. While in grade school, I remember reading how one of the most intriguing sightings occurred in Milwaukee where “thousands of witnesses” claimed to have observed a “machine” or “airship” fly in over the city, hover over the new2 City Hall for 15 minutes, and then fly away in the direction from which it had come.

When I recently took Milwaukee Ghosts’ Third Ward Walking Tour, I was reminded of the Milwaukee airship mystery. After the tour, I dug out the old boxes of books, magazines and newspaper clippings I had collected as a child,3 with the goal of seeing what — if anything — had been historically established or generally accepted about this strange Milwaukee incident. …

  1. Most historians date the first successful dirigible flight to November 3, 1897 near Berlin, Germany. A dirigible employs a rigid structure, in contrast to balloons or modern blimps which hold their shape because of the pressurized gas they contain. []
  2. Milwaukee’s City Hall had just been completed in 1895 and at the time it was the world’s tallest habitable building. []
  3. During grade school, I was fascinated by the subject of UFOs (no doubt because of the cool technology they appeared to employ) and at that time I also collected information about Milwaukee’s 1897 airship sightings. I had intended at some point to use that research to either write a nonfiction book about the Milwaukee airships, or perhaps use it to spur a historical novel exploring the (fictional) secrets behind the airships. Now that I’ve dug out all of this material, my childhood desire to write a book about the Milwaukee airships has been partially rekindled. []

The ghosts of Milwaukee’s Third Ward

Milwaukee GhostsLast evening, I finally1 took Milwaukee Ghost’s Third Ward Walking Tour. It was an entertaining, intriguing and educational 90 minutes. The tour currently includes 15 stops and covers such historical stories as the Great Third Ward Fire,2 the shipwreck of the Lady Elgin,3 the Milwaukee River serpent4 and the airship sightings of 1897.5

Regardless of whether you’re a skeptic or a believer in ghosts and the paranormal, this walking tour is a fun way to spend an evening. Ghost walks of the “Bloody Third” Ward are available most Fridays and Saturdays (and by appointment) from May through November. The cost is $10 per person.

  1. I’ve been curious about this haunted tour ever since I first heard about it. []
  2. On October 28, 1892, fire destroyed sixteen city blocks and 410 buildings in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. []
  3. On September 8, 1860, the passenger steamer Lady Elgin collided with the schooner Augusta and sank off the shores of Waukegan with over 300 Milwaukee residents on board. It is estimated that one in every three Third Ward residents lost a family member or friend in the tragedy. []
  4. Beginning in 1867, various witnesses reported seeing a “serpentine creature” swimming in the Milwaukee River. []
  5. On the night of April 13, 1897, police and residents near downtown Milwaukee reported seeing blinking lights from “an airship” moving above the city. The sighting was one of dozens reported across the US during 1897. []

Steampunk Milwaukee style

This article originally appeared on

Steampunk NightAn event that looks to be the social affair of the year (1872 that is)1 will take place on Thursday, August 20 when the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre hosts Steampunk Night in conjunction with that evening’s performance of “Around the World in 80 Days”.

In Which Steampunk Comes to Milwaukee2
Steampunk Night promises to impart the very latest in 19th century music, theater and entertainment.3

  1. Yes, this post is being written entirely in character, so hang on to your goggles and top hat! The footnotes, however, will pull you out of your suspension of disbelief and provide 21st Century perspective and details. []
  2. If you are familiar with the original Jules Verne novel, you’ll recognize this as the terminology Verne used for his novel’s chapter titles. []
  3. Given that I read — and occasionally write — Steampunk fiction, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of a Steampunk event right here in Milwaukee. []