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Cream City Chronicles: Stories of Milwaukee's Past

Cream City Chronicles: Stories of Milwaukee's Past
Cream City Chronicles: Stories of Milwaukee's Past
Paperback: $18.95
320 pages, 77 b&w photos, 5 1/2/ x 8 ½
ISBN: 9780870207587

Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press

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Price: $18.95
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Product Details
By: John Gurda

This new paperback edition of historian John Gurda's classic collection of Milwaukee history shares lively stories about the people, the events, the landmarks, and the institutions that have made the "cream city" a unique American community. These stories, each featuring a historic photograph, represent the best of Gurda's popular Sunday columns that have appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel since 1994. Find yourself transported back to another time, when the village of Milwaukee was home to fur trappers and traders. Follow the development of Milwaukee's distinctive neighborhoods, its rise as a port city and industrial center, and its changing political climate. From singing mayors to summer festivals, from blueblood weddings to bloody labor disturbances, Cream City Chronicles offers a generous sampling of tales that express the true character of a hometown metropolis.


John Gurda is a Milwaukee-born writer and historian who has been studying his hometown since 1972. He is the author of twenty-one books, including histories of Milwaukee-area neighborhoods, churches, and industries. He is also a photographer, lecturer, and local history columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gurda is an eight-time winner of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Award of Merit. The common thread in all his work is an understanding of history as "why things are the way they are.”

Interview with John Gurda

Wisconsin Historical Society PressWhat motivated you to write about Milwaukee's history?

I'm a native of Milwaukee's South Side and grew up in a household that blended European ethnicity (Polish for my dad, Norwegian for my mom) with more general patterns of the American middle class. The old connections were always important to me, and I began my career writing about the history of Milwaukee's South Side. I've broadened my focus in the last 35 years all the way out to the county lines. If I live another 50 years, maybe I'll expand to southeastern Wisconsin!

WHS PressWhat do you find most surprising about Milwaukee's past?

The dominant Germanism of its formative years. The citizenry's willingness to turn over their government to Socialists. The city's ability to thrive in the deep shade of Chicago.

WHS PressDo you have a favorite story in the collection?

I hope they all contain something of interest for the reader, but I like some of the more self-contained set pieces: To Green Bay the Long Way, Unplugged, Meltdown at the Iron Mill, The Cost of the Eight-Hour Day, Close Call for Mr. Roosevelt, Winter at the Edge of the World, and Feast of Christmas Past (tallow stuck to the gums and all).

WHS Press: What aspects of Milwaukee's history do you find most interesting?

The persistence of the past in our landscape and culture. The power of the past to explain our present. Mayor Dan Hoan's administration. Charlie Whitnall's work on parks. The unimaginably long and distant Native American period.

WHS PressWhat do you want people to take away about Milwaukee's history?

That it's not an antiquarian subject but something of vital relevance to the present. Most of all, I want them to see THEIR stories in the larger context of OUR story. History educates, enriches, and motivates.

WHS PressWhat qualities make Milwaukee unique?

Paradoxically, its intense Germanism and its world-class diversity. The crucial role that manufacturing once played. Its human scale. Its blend of big-city attributes (problems as well as resources) and small-city manageability.

WHS PressWhat are the most dramatic changes Milwaukee has experienced over the courseof its history?

Moving from commerce to manufacturing in the later 1800s, with the corresponding ethnic shifts. Trading corrupt political hacks for squeaky-clean Socialists in 1910. Evolving from a comfortably European-American city to a not-so-comfortable multi-ethnic city in the post-WWII years. Losing a major share of manufacturing jobs in the 1980s and '90s and transitioning to a service economy, a transition that is far from over.

WHS PressWho do you see as the audience for "Cream City Chronicles"?

The general reader interested in local history, plus students, teachers, and anyone else with an openness to the past