I’m planning a trip to the Milwaukee Public Museum with Will and Emmy on Will’s spring break in a few days. The Museum and I go way, way back, and I figured that Emmy is old enough to appreciate some of my old haunts in that place.
My earliest memory of the MPM is as a third grader when my class first traveled downtown for a visit. Over the years, the permanent exhibits became a part of the fabric of my life as I returned again and again every school year and then countless times as an adult.
My favorite exhibit has always been the Streets of Old Milwaukee. The museum recreated a street scene from the late 19th century complete with cobblestone streets, a pharmacy, bakery, dress shop, tavern, dentist’s office and a house where a grandmother sits on the porch, rocking back and forth in her somber black dress. (That mannequin used to terrify my sister when she was little as it rocked back and forth…)
In the Streets of Old Milwaukee there is also a Usinger’s Sausage shop with a lady (mannequin) hard at work behind the glass. I realized the other day that the Usinger Sausage Lady has always been there every time I have visited since I was little–one small piece of continuity in a constantly changing world.
Each time walking the halls of the museum, I get deeply nostalgic about the past. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was a school girl in knee-socks by the Plains Indian exhibit? There was the visit there when I was expecting my first baby, Charlie. The nostalgia hit me even back then, making me teary-eyed at the realization that girlhood was gone and motherhood was upon me. No school bus awaited outside to take me back with my class.
Around each corner, I keep expecting to see little Charlie and Sammy who visited with me so many times. Then I remember a miniature Will and Mary pressing their noses on the glass by the Solomon Juneau exhibit that has been there as long as I can remember. Will was about Emmy’s age when he saw a dead deer in one exhibit and proudly shouted, “doggy!”
The European Village exhibit is another of my favorites. There are little houses decorated as they would have been in various European countries in the old days. The Scandinavian houses and the Dutch house, I think, are the prettiest with all the vibrant colors of the folk art and painting on the furniture.
Then there’s the terrifying T-rex scene where a giant replica is devouring another animal, complete with sound effects. When Charlie was small, he was afraid of that exhibit, so we had to skip that one for a while.
They rebuilt part of the museum and added a food court and other things back in 1996 or so. I was a little sad about it changing at all, but many of the exhibits that were there when I was a girl are still there. I always salute the Usinger Sausage Lady when I walk by. She and I are old friends. When we moved back from South Carolina, I had to visit the museum again and was glad to see she was still there, making sausage as usual.
The museum nearly went under financially a few years back, but they somehow kept the doors open and have had some excellent temporary exhibits since then. They are currently featuring an exhibit of mummies from all over the world.
I have to introduce Emmy to the Sausage Lady in the Streets of Old Milwaukee. They have a little old-fashioned candy and gift shop in there where I once bought Will a Daniel Boone coonskin hat. The kids will be my excuse to go back and buy some of those striped candy sticks they sell. Some things, thankfully, haven’t changed, and that includes my sweet tooth!