Sunday, February 28, 2016

History Amongst the Tombs: Forest Home Cemetery

You may not know this about me: I love taking photos at cemeteries.  I still get creeped out walking on top of someone who is buried six feet under.  However, the sculptures dedicated to the departed are some of the best art you can find for free.  Today, since it was an unusual 60 degrees in Milwaukee for a February, I went down to Forest Home Cemetery, a place I've wanted to photograph for a long time.  This cemetery, the largest in Wisconsin and home to many prominent residents, is located south of I-94 near a vastly Latino community, but has been around since 1850. 

The claim-to-fame of Forest Home Cemetery is that a lot of Milwaukee's founders are buried there.  More specifically, our beer barons.  Pabst, Schlitz and Blatz, the names that built Milwaukee into what it is today, have grave markers or mausoleums on the grounds.

The Blatz Mausoleum

The Schlitz grave marker

The Pabst family grave marker

In addition to the beer barons, many other famous names have made the cemetery their final resting place.  Names such as Arthur Davidson (Harley-Davidson):

Guido and Charles Pfitster (owners of the Pfister Hotel):

Frederick Vogel, a tanner and State Assemblyman.  Vogel Hall in the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre is named after him:

Fredrick Usinger, creator of the best sausage/bratwurst in America:

Charles Allis, founder of Allis-Chalmers and whom the city of West Allis is named for:

And Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne, a very famous theatre couple who resided in Genesee, Wisconsin.  I have visited Ten Chimneys, their primary residence, which reminded me a lot of Graceland.  I will do a blog post on my visit later this year, when tours are available, around May.

Besides the famous grave stones, there are a lot of interesting markers that are artistic in nature.  I think it's great that the departed (or their relatives) have endowed these amazing sculptures as their markers.  More common is the obelisk, a marker that goes back to the ancient Egyptians and symbolizes the sun God Ra.  I know they became popular after Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in the 1700's, but why have they sustained such popularity prior to the Civil War and afterward?  If anyone knows the reason, feel free to post in the comments.

In addition to the famous residents and the obelisk markers, many of the departed had sculptures created for their final resting place.  I find those the most interesting.  I have never been to the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but it is a dream of mine (and not just to see Jim Morrison's final resting place).  This cemetery had a lot of interesting sculptures to celebrate the lives of their departed family members.

Last, but not least, there is the grave marker of Henry Clay Payne, Postmaster General from 1902 to 1904 when Theodore Roosevelt was president.  From the very nice words on his grave marker, he was not only a statesman but a "kindly neighbor", a "loyal friend" and a "benefactor of the deserving."  Basically, an all-around good guy.

For more information on the Forest Home Cemetery, click here.


Saturday, February 6, 2016

Snow Time: National Snow Sculpting Competition

Did you know that Lake Geneva, Wisconsin is the home of the United States National Snow Sculpting Competition?  Not only that, but that they have hosted this event for the last 21 years?  I didn't until I found out about it this morning on Twitter.  Since the temperature this February has been above normal, I headed down to Lake Geneva to get photos of the competition before a thaw set in.  In fact, when I was down on the lakefront, I saw that they allowed cars to park on the frozen lake due to the popularity of the event and lack of parking downtown.  Hours later, as I was working on my photos, the sun came out, the lake got warmer, and many cars that were parked on the lake plunged into the water due to the melted ice. 

But, the competition itself was a fun event. When I got down to the lakefront, I felt like it was Groundhog Day.  Not the holiday, the movie (one of my all time favorites).  They even played "The Pennsylvania Polka" while I was there, which reinforced the film's similarity.  I half-expected someone to come up to me asking "Here to see the snow sculptures?"

The sculptures themselves were amazing!  I am still in awe of what the competitors came up with for their sculptures.  I will let the photos speak for themselves.

The snow sculptures will be on display this week as long as the temperature keeps them from melting.  I'm thinking 3 to 4 days tops.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Monster Invasion: Mitchell Park Domes Garden Railroad Show

Every year, Milwaukee's Mitchell Park Domes presents its garden railroad show, and each has a specific theme.  This year's theme is "Monsters" as in movie monsters. 

The main set is always the same with bridges, a desert area, a monorail, and a colorful residential area.  But this year, they added a cityscape (where a giant gorilla hung from a skyscraper), a drive-in theatre (where, strangely, Elsa from "Frozen" was on an adventure with the pair from "Monters, Inc.") and fake movie posters featuring the monsters, as well as Thomas the Tank, around the perimeter.

I loved both the cityscape with its Town Square and soldiers on the rooftop.  I also enjoyed the colorful town.

There's still plenty of time to visit this year's garden railroad show.  The Mitchell Park Domes is open seven days a week and the show runs until March 6.

**Update: The Mitchell Park Domes is closed indefinitely due to "falling concrete".  I never experienced this problem, but it is serious enough for the county to close one of its most famous tourist attractions until further notice.  Such a shame, but I hope they can fix the problem quickly and safely.