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Don't Overlook Milwaukee's 'Little' Museums

Apr. 11, 2017
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Bob Paquette Microphone Museum

We all know the city’s big museums, the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum, Discovery World and Betty Brinn Children’s Museum. And then there is the “Museum Mile” whose components include the Charles Allis Art Museum, Jewish Museum Milwaukee, North Point Lighthouse, Museum of Wisconsin Art at Saint John’s on the Lake and Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum. But the city holds other venues dedicated to preserving aspects of our past, too. Here are a few of the lesser-knowns—including a pair of digital museums that dream of becoming brick and mortar.

Bob Paquette Microphone Museum
107 E. National Ave.

Much of the beauty of this museum is in its tucked-away surprise: innocuously located within the reliable and excellent Select Sound rental facility sits a private collection of more than a thousand microphones that go back to, well, nearly a time before microphones. Its contents go beyond its namesake, though: There are (tangentially?) related items like preamps, radios and even telephones that are electronic marvels, either because of (or in spite of) their relatively primitive—yet still complex!—nature. It’ll make you want to break, or at least break open, your smart phone. Admission is free. (Franklin K.R. Cline)

Milwaukee Fire Historical Society Museum
1615 W. Oklahoma St.

Located in a blink-and-you’ll-miss it space on Oklahoma Avenue that originally housed a fire station built in the aftermath of the Great Depression, the MFHS has a very cool array of exhibits, ranging from emergency vehicles from the 1920s-1940s (some of which were originally used by the Milwaukee Fire Department) to a turn-of-the-century alarm system and a functional pre-Depression kitchen. Open 1-4 p.m. on the first Sunday of each month, the MFHS provides an interesting peek into the history of a vital public good that many of us take for granted. Admission is free. (Franklin K.R. Cline)

Mitchell Gallery of Flight
Mitchell International Airport

Given its location, the Mitchell Gallery of Flight is unlikely to ever be a destination for anyone not waiting for (or just off of) an airplane. But aside from the “Recombobulation Area” sign, it is easily the airport’s most interesting stop. The gallery honors many local aviation heroes, including Captain James Lovell and General Billy Mitchell, both of whom grew up in Milwaukee. The gallery also features mementos from Charles Lindbergh’s visit to the airport, then known as Hamilton Airport, shortly after it opened in 1927. A replica of Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis hangs just outside the entrance to the gallery. (Matthew J. Prigge)

Thomas A. Greene Geological Museum
3209 N. Maryland Ave.

The Thomas A. Greene collection is comprised of minerals and fossils that Greene, an amateur Milwaukee geologist, collected over his lifetime. Greene acuminated more than 75,000 specimens, mostly in the 1880s-’90s. After Greene’s death, his heirs commissioned a building to house the collection, and in 1913 the Alexander Eschweiler structure, located at 3367 N. Downer Ave., opened to the public. The collection has since been relocated to the Lapham Building on the UW-Milwaukee campus. The original museum building still stands—now home to UWM’s Stahl Center for Jewish Studies. (Matthew J. Prigge)

Online Only Museums

Museum of Beer and Brewing

Very much a work in progress, the idea seems like a slam dunk for a town nicknamed Brew City: the development of a brick-and-mortar museum (and a comprehensive virtual one) that celebrates Milwaukee’s history of brewing up suds. The website features an interesting look at a mostly forgotten brewery, Obermann, by Erik Peterson, one of the city’s foremost champions for the establishment of the museum. It also has a clickable floor plan that highlights a few notable items in each area—all three floors. It’s a tantalizing taste of what could, and should, become a reality. (Franklin K.R. Cline)

National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

Forget having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame or receiving a Congressional Medal of Honor. Having a bobblehead in your likeness means you’ve made it into the zeitgeist. Bobbleheads are more than just Tuesday-night giveaways at the ballpark; they’re uniquely American enshrinements. The National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum—which projects to open a physical location in 2017—reminds us of this. The website features a very cool 3D tour of its most recent physical incarnation, and a custom bobblehead section in which you could order a bobblehead of your own likeness. Immortality is just a few clicks away! (Franklin K.R. Cline)

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