“Take a trip back in time and experience Milwaukee between the
world wars.” So states an invitation, extended through
promotional literature from the new Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear.
Built in the
Italianate mode as a single-family home in 1869, the edifice was
renovated into a German Renaissance Revival style duplex in 1906
and later harbored a doctor’s clinic, boarding house and office
space for philanthropic attorney-realtor Avrum “Abe” Chudnow.
sizable structure at 839 N. 11th St. houses the late Chudnow’s
extensive collection of everything from vintage toys and games, to
kitchen and office equipment and to campaign buttons bearing state
icons William Proxmire
and Frank Zeidler.
perhaps 1,000 items are on display at the CMY, Executive Director
Steve Daily said. Formerly with the Milwaukee County Historical
Society, Daily and CMY curator Joel Willems were interviewed at
the museum recently.
The two are
CMY’s only paid employees and joke that they function as
janitors, as well as administrators. Local college history
students act as interns; among their duties is cataloguing some of
the Chudnow collection’s estimated 250,000 pieces, a portion of
which will be added to artifacts now displayed. The cataloguing
could take another decade, Daily guessed.
of artifacts began several years ago, with Abe Chudnow’s hiring
of Wisconsin Lutheran College history graduate Willems.
an assistant to help him catalogue the collection,” Willems
explained. “He wanted to exhibit it here, at his place.”
Chudnow also wanted the collection kept intact, the curator said,
providing funds to that end. The CMY is a nonprofit organization
whose board of directors consists of Chudnow’s daughter and
seems, was in Abe Chudnow’s blood. The Milwaukee-born and bred
alumnus of North Division High School and Marquette Law School was
the son of a junk peddler who plied his trade in a horse-drawn
wagon (precursor of the Chudnow Iron & Metal firm). Born in
1913, Abe Chudnow lived into his 90s. He visited scrap yards, as
well as stores, to enhance his eclectic collection.
attorney-realtor’s CMY legacy is remindful of the Milwaukee
Public Museum’s permanent “Streets of Old Milwaukee” exhibit
a few blocks to the east of the Chudnow Museum. As on those
“Streets,” mannequins watch over segments of the Chudnow
collection. CMY visitors encounter a uniformed train porter, a
menacing-looking bartender and Sen. “Fighting Bob” LaFollette
(for whom a new head is reportedly being fashioned in Hollywood by
a prop man buddy of Daily’s). Unlike the “Streets,” where
the visitor typically views artifacts through windows, one “can
walk into all the rooms” which display memorabilia at the CMY,
Willems said. “More of an immersion type of thing,” he added.
What about the
CMY’s emphasis on the 1920s and ‘30s?
was “Milwaukee’s golden time,” Daily said, a time when
“sewer socialism” and then-Milwaukee Mayor Daniel Hoan (who
gave his name to that landmark bridge of today) held sway in the
and ‘30s was really a dynamic time for Milwaukee and the whole
country,” Daily continued, as he led a reporter on a tour of CMY.
“This was a time of change,” a time when “the rise of
labor-saving devices (like electric vacuum cleaners) freed up
women;” a time when women’s fashions were changing notably and
the car was replacing the train as the transportation mode of
choice; a time when European immigration continued, but Milwaukee
was experiencing an “identity shift from (being) the most German
city in America.”
That time is
reflected by two maple-floored stories of display rooms at the CMY.
Among other exhibits are a toy room, grocery store, ice cream
parlor, barbershop, train depot and bookstore-fronted speakeasy
(it was the age of Prohibition, after all).
with the contemporary notion of a museum, the first floor contains
a gift shop. The second floor boasts a theater with seating for
about 20; audiences for lectures and films can readily spill over
into an adjoining room. Public lectures are being delivered about
once a month, on Wisconsin-related topics, by area historians.
Classic movies are being screened approximately monthly, as well.
Slated for late April will be a talk about a Milwaukee County Ku
Klux Klan connection some nine decades ago, plus “And Then There
Were None,” a film based on an Agatha Christie mystery.
specialized in archival management while earning his history
master’s degree at Marquette, cited Eagle’s Old World
Wisconsin and Janesville’s Tallman House as personal favorites
among established Badger state museums. Of the CMY, which opened
last August, he said, “For Milwaukee, I think this is truly a
As to whether
live costumed guides might one day supplement the mannequins, the
push button-activated recordings and the interpretive panels that
dot the CMY’s display areas at present, Daily smiled and said,
“I think anything’s possible.”
At a glance
Museum of Yesteryear.
Where: 839 N.
11th St., in downtown Milwaukee.
Ample street parking and limited offstreet parking are
available. Notable neighbor: historically significant former
Masonic temple, now unoccupied, next door to the south.
When: Open for
guided or self-directed tours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays
through Saturdays, and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays. Also open
occasionally for moderately priced evening lectures and classic
film screenings - with exhibit-viewing opportunities.
are $5 tours, seniors and school-aged youngsters are $4, and
children under 6 are free. A family rate of $10 applies on
Sundays. As for visiting senior citizens, “A lot of them really
get talking” over the artifacts, according to CMY Executive
Director Steve Daily. “It kind of sparks those reminiscences, if
In January, the CMY was the site of a reception at which nearly 50
Milwaukeeans welcomed the Chicago-based French consul. (In the
planning stage: a “Bootleggers’ Ball” fundraiser, featuring
appetizers, cocktails and perhaps costumes that evoke the
414-273-1680 or www.chudnowmuseum.org.