Milwaukee’s Calvary Cemetery
The image you see at the top of this post was taken by me, several years ago, on my first ever visit to Calvary Cemetery. I rediscovered this image yesterday on accident, and it reminded me that Calvary is one of my favorite places in all of Milwaukee.
Old, historic, sprawling cemeteries like this are amazing places. Centuries ago, cemeteries were parks, no different than any other green-space within an urban center, eh, well, other than the fact you buried people there. When people came to grieve and/or show their respects, they’d picnic and relax as well. Nowadays if you take the family for a picnic and in your local necropolis, the townsfolk may regard you and your kin as some sort of deranged Texas Chainsaw Massacre-type clan of psychos. While I’ve never brought P B and J or a basket of fried chicken to a cemetery, I find them amazingly relaxing. They’re quiet, beautiful, and remind you of the fragility of your own existence.
I had a sudden urge to visit Calvary again, but since I no longer live in Milwaukee, I had to settle for “Googling it,” instead. To my surprise (and delight) I learned that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Catholic Cemeteries offers a free self-guided tour of Calvary on their website, printable from your home computer via a PDF file. A roadtrip back down to Calvary is now certainty!
Here’s just a few of the things you can find while touring one of Milwaukee’s most beautiful cemeteries.
Cenotaphs of the Lady Elgin Tragedy
The Lady Elgin disaster is known as the “Titanic of the Great Lakes.” The Lady Elgin was a fast luxury liner, that On September 7th, 1860, left Milwaukee en-route to Chicago with a passenger list thought to number nearly 700 people. The passengers included a who’s who of Milwaukee’s community and militia leaders. The purpose of the daytrip was to hear Presidential hopeful Stephen Douglas speak following a dinner dance (as well as to purchase guns and other needed militia materials). Despite exhaustion and bad weather, the ship’s captain decided to start back to Milwaukee. At around 2:30 AM on the morning of September 8th, the Elgin collided with a schooner near Winnetka, Illinois. About 430 people drowned in the cold water, with barely half of the victims’ bodies being recovered. Cenotaphs (memorials for deceased loved ones not actually interred within the cemetery) can be located all around Calvary, dedicated to these poor lost Milwaukeeans.
The Tomb of Patrick Cudahy
Any Wisconsinite worth their breakfast knows Patrick Cudahy, LLC’s website is “the home of sweet apple-wood smoked flavor,” but only a select few have made the all important pilgrimage to the tomb of Wisconsin’s one true bacon-baron. Mr. Cudahy was born in Ireland in 1849. He came to America with his family only a few months after his birth. At age 14 he got a job as a scaler in a packing house. By 1888 he’d managed to aquire 50% of the Plankington and Armour company. That year Mr. Plankington died, and the rest, as they say, is history. Delicious, crispy, history.
The Grave of Frederick Miller
While I prefer bacon over beer, I’m in the minority here in Wisconsin. If you want to visit the graves of any of Milwaukee’s beer barons, you’d likely want to make Frederick Miller’s number one on your list. Frederick is the man responsible for creating the Miller Brewing Company. Frederick’s Grandson, Fred C. “Freddie” Miller was also a head football coach at Notre Dame and helped bring the Braves to MKE, while also acting head of Miller. Perhaps it’s only fitting Miller Park is located right down the way from Calvary.
The Newhall House Fire Monument
The Newhall House was built in 1857, and was one of Milwaukee’s grandest hotels. President Abraham Lincoln once slept there, and it remained the largest hotel in the city for 20 years. By 1883, the building had deteriorated greatly, and the current owners had no interest in improving the building, which had no exterior fire escapes, and had antiqued fire hoses.
Sometime in the wee hours of January 10, 1883, fireman responded to a fire in the hotel. When they arrived on scene, the building was a blazing inferno. When the firemen tried to use the building’s firehoses, they broke apart as they tried to unroll them. Many of the hotel’s guests had climbed onto the roof to escape the flames, only to discover none of the fireladder’s were long enough to reach the top floors of the Newhall House. The fire department set up nets and encouraged those trapped to jump. Some hit wires on the way down, and missed the nets. Others simply crashed through the nets onto the street beneath. Most of those that did survive were dragged across a ladder used as crude bridge by firemen between Newhall House and a neighboring building. No one knows how many died for sure, but it was at least 71 people, 43 of which were burned beyond recognition.
A 20-foot tall monument to the fire’s victims stands in Calvary. Interestingly enough, 25-inch tall circus and sideshow superstar General Tom Thumb (Charles Sherwood Stratton) and his equally small wife, Lavinia Warren, were guests the night of the fire, but were among those rescued.
These are just four of the nearly 40 points-of-interest on the cemetery’s self-guided tour!
Click HERE to download and print off a copy of the walking tour, which was my primary source for writing this article.
Calvary Cemetery, Milwaukee, WI (map)