10 Milwaukee Secrets You Didn’t Know Existed
You may think you’ve got a good grasp on all that goes on in Milwaukee, but if you consider the Safe House as Milwaukee’s biggest secret, think again. Here are 10 secrets about MKE you can use to impress even the most know-it-all friend.
1. There's hidden treasure buried here
Author Byron Preiss wrote a puzzle book in 1982 called The Secret. He buried casks in 12 cities, waiting to be found with clues from cryptic images and verses in the book. Only two have been solved, and we know one was buried somewhere in Milwaukee, thanks to the silhouette of MKE City Hall in an image. The book is out of print, but there’s a ton of information and potential solutions online. Your reward for digging up a cask: a jewel, as long as the cask hasn’t been destroyed by construction work, or Preiss’ widow hasn’t lost the jewels again... fame would be pretty cool too.
2.There’s a shipwreck right off the coast of Bay View
And we mean right off the coast. Lightship 57 was built in 1891 and stationed at Gray’s Reef, at the northeastern tip of Lake Michigan. Eventually she started falling apart, and was brought to Milwaukee where she was moored to South Shore Beach, renamed Gray’s Reef, and used as a clubhouse. That’s where the ship sank during a storm in 1924, and it lies in 6ft of water just along the shore.
3. We have the oldest certified bowling alley in the US
The two sanctioned lanes inside Holler House opened in 1908. They’re still going strong with the original wood surface and neighborhood kid pinsetters. It’s a great tavern for drinking and hanging out, plus now there’s a ton of bras hanging everywhere (but you knew about Victoria’s Secret).
4. Teddy Roosevelt was shot on the site where the Hyatt now stands
Spoiler alert: he survived. After an assassination attempt from a saloonkeeper opposing Roosevelt’s run for a third term, the president famously went up to deliver his planned 90-minute speech with A BULLET IN HIS CHEST. His opening line: "Ladies and gentlemen, I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose." Bad. Ass. There’s a plaque commemorating the event in the hotel.
5. There’s a continuously running public well in Bay View
The Pryor Avenue Iron Well was dug in 1882. Anyone can stop and fill up containers of mineral water for free, though it tastes heavily of iron. Officials still check the water regularly for safety, and it was one of the only sources of safe water during the big cryptosporidium parasite outbreak in the '90s.
6. Milwaukee City Hall was the tallest habitable building in the US when built in 1895
The fame only lasted four years, but we’ll take it.
7. Forget Chicago, we’ve had our fair share of mobsters
MKE’s very own Sicilian crime family started with Vito Guardalabene in 1918 and it’s still going strong. The most notorious member was Frank Balistrieri, who was boss from ‘61-’93. He had the nickname "Mad Bomber" for his use of IEDs (before they even called them IEDs), and was convicted of skimming Vegas casinos and tax evasion. If you go to an old Italian restaurant in Milwaukee, chances are there’s some mob ties to the Balistrieri or Alioto family.
8. There’s a 15th-century building on Marquette’s campus
The Joan of Arc chapel may look cozy where it stands, but it was actually built in France sometime around the 15th century. The daughter of a railroad tycoon had it moved to New York in 1927, and when she died, her heirs gifted it to Marquette in 1964. Some artifacts inside the chapel pre-date it by more than a century, meaning the place absolutely must be haunted.
9. Hubbard Park in Shorewood used to be an amusement park
Well, first it was a resort for high society types, but around 1900 it was turned into a public amusement park called Coney Island (very original). The name was eventually changed to Ravenna Park, and it had three roller coasters: L.A. Thompson Scenic Railway (must be the boring one), the Jollier, and the Dazy Dazer. It closed in 1917 and most of the land was sold and turned into residential parcels. Tunnels, built in the 1890s for traffic and a creek, are still in operation in Hubbard Park.
10. There’s a lake under Downtown
While it’s widely known that Downtown is built on swampland and slowly sinking, there’s actually a lake under there too. Lake Emily lies below the Northwestern Mutual building at Wisconsin and Cass. It exists in drawings of the area before Downtown was developed, and no one knows who “Emily” was. The building is supported by thousands of wood pilings that are driven through the lakebed. Since they are in water, they must be kept that way in order to avoid rotting. So in the basement of the building, workers regularly check the level of the water under the floor, adding water when it gets too low. Weirdly enough, we’re actually preserving a lake under a building.
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Lacey Muszynski is a Milwaukee writer who knew her dad would be the best person to ask for weird MKE facts. Follow her @worthhersalt.