The Milwaukee (Library) Lion

In talking about my “Carnage at the old Washington Park Zoo” post over dinner last week with my friend and fellow blogger Karen Spivey, we started to reminisce about Milwaukee and its close relationships with favorite animals.

For example, consider Samson the gorilla, who made front page news (complete with ginormous above-the fold headlines) in the local newspapers when he died. I had just moved to Milwaukee and was both amused and awed by the city’s collective devotion to this animal. Little did I know 🙂

Samson came to Milwaukee as a baby in 1950 and thrilled zoo-goers for the next 31 years, particularly with his penchant for rushing toward visitors and pounding his fists on the exhibit enclosure’s windows. He broke four of them over the years. Today Samson’s skeleton and his taxidermy-like “recreation” (i.e., not his real skin) reside at the Milwaukee Public Museum. Here’s an excellent blog post from the Milwaukee Public Library about Samson (link).

Let’s not forget either about Gertie the Duck, now immortalized with her ducklings in bronze down on the Riverwalk near the site of her nest in the pilings under the Wisconsin Avenue bridge next to Gimbels during World War II. Gertie and her brood were relocated to the Gimbels storefront display windows, which probably kept them a little safer and definitely made it easier for passersby to get a look. Gertie was so cute that she actually made international news and got a feature in Life magazine!

Nor should we neglect to mention the “Milwaukee Lion” that first appeared in summer 2015 and has perhaps reappeared in nocturnal security-camera footage periodically since then.

CNN ran a feature on this story, as well, embellished with a few humorous touches.

I thought I was pretty well informed on the history of Milwaukee’s animal celebrities, but Karen has lived in Milwaukee her entire life, so she has far greater knowledge than I do about the city’s more famous animals.

New to me was her mention of a lion that once lived on the roof of the Milwaukee Public Library.

The lion’s name was Simba (which means “lion” in Swahili), and he came straight from Africa, where he had been found as an orphaned cub during an expedition sponsored by the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1929. Simba lived on the roof of the library (which also housed the museum at that time) until he was transferred to the Washington Park Zoo after injuring his teeth on a wooden bowling ball he’d been given as a toy. He lived at the zoo for the rest of his life, after which time he was returned to the museum, where he was stuffed and mounted and can now be seen in the Savanna Bush African diorama.

Here are two good Milwaukee Public Library blog posts on Simba:

The second post is longer and has more background details, but the first has some video footage of Simba drinking from a bottle in Africa and then frolicking on the library roof with safari leader Carveth Wells.

It’s so strange to think about zoos in the early 20th century and how so many of their animals were originally brought from Africa via ship and unloaded at the docks. This was also roughly the era of former President Teddy Roosevelt’s 1909 African safari. Although Roosevelt’s official purpose was to collect specimens for American museums, he also wrote about how all the hunting and shooting of big game “made our veins thrill.” Roosevelt compiled a list itemizing the 512 animals killed by him and his son, Kermit.

Again, that’s 500+ animals killed in the name of conservation.

Most specimens were donated to museums, but as Roosevelt noted in his book (African Game Trails: An Account of the African Wanderings of an American Hunter-Naturalist), he and his son did keep about a dozen “trophies” for themselves. You probably recall the widespread outrage that greeted photos of President Trump’s sons posing with their own “trophies” from an African hunting trip.

How our collective sensibilities have changed!


Posted in History, Life, Milwaukee, Nature, Science | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Carnage at the old Washington Park Zoo

I was doing research on something else today when I came across a Milwaukee Public Library blog post from October 2015 about a whole slew of bear deaths/killings in a mixed species/order exhibit at the old Washington Park Zoo from 1932-1935.

Here’s that MPL post if you’re interested in reading more:

The zoo director always seemed to be conveniently out of town when the horrifying attacks occurred. Hmmmm. And I have to wonder how well his “bears will be bears” nonchalance would go over with the public today.

It’s always amazing to stumble across stories like this that bring history to life in a new way.

Posted in History, Life, Milwaukee, Nature, Popular culture | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

New Milwaukee Bucks Arena – Entrance at Juneau and 6th

Progress on the new Milwaukee Bucks arena (official name: Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center, or WESC, Wikipedia article here) has been slow but steady. Here’s what appears to be an entrance to the complex at the corner of Juneau Avenue and 6th Street.

That sign with the deer logo is really just a series of wires, which you can see in the photo below.

It has been fun to watch this little section of the new arena come together over the past year. Below is that same area before the entrance “annex” was added onto the main building. See the interior staircase? And see the tiny man walking up that staircase? It kind of lets you experience the scale of the building!

By June of last year they’d pretty much closed up that wall.

By the end of September last year (2017), they’d built this little “box” attachment.

By the end of November they’d hung the white sheets, presumably so they could work inside during the winter. See the little construction workers in their chartreuse jackets up on the roof of this entrance annex?

And finally here are a few photos I took in the last week of the nearly-finished area.

The picture below was taken during the evening rush hour in early May. The cars are going north on 6th Street, and I’m sitting on Highland a block south of where I took all the other photos. (They’ve closed Vliet/Winnebago/Juneau, my usual route, to do sewer/utilities work under the street . . . no doubt related to the new arena and sports medicine facility.) You can see the “annex” entrance area at the far left (and far north) end of this photo. The other lower structure appears to be a loading dock, hence the large garage-type doors. They hadn’t even really started building that when I took the photo above last November.

Below is a photo I took two days ago (Wednesday 7/11). Since May they’ve put some kind of brick/tile facade onto the loading dock. This week Wednesday was also the first time I noticed the wire infrastructure that turned out to be the “sign” that carries the deer logo in this post’s first photo. When I first saw it,  in fact, the sign was a weird neon aqua, the whole mass of wires illuminated with the same color. Then the entire mass switched over to red. I tried to grab a picture of the color blocks, but by the time I had my phone ready, it was just plain old wire. And then the traffic light changed and I had to drive on.

So that’s this week’s little update on the new Bucks arena. There is SO MUCH construction happening in Milwaukee right now. We’re a happening place, I guess 🙂

In fact, check out this Vogue magazine article (link here) on “Why Milwaukee Is the Midwest’s Coolest (and Most Underrated) City.” We knew it all along, of course, but it’s nice to get a shout-out when others discover us, too.

Posted in architecture, Milwaukee, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Color and Composition

I liked the sudden coalescence of color and composition that caught my eye while I was walking down the hill to Starbucks this morning.

Posted in Milwaukee, Photography | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

When seeing is disbelieving

Sitting in a waiting room this week, I picked up the November 2017 issue of National Geographic and opened to the cover story about “happiness.” It was a good article, and I was reading and learning and taking it all in . . .

Until I came to this page with the world map of smiley faces purporting to show the places on this earth where people are happiest.

And suddenly, even though the underlying data set came from Gallup, I just couldn’t buy it. If Central America were really so much happier and healthier than the U.S., why would so many people from those countries keep risking their lives—and more significantly, their children’s lives—to cross the border into America? It just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe I was reading it wrong?

If you’re interested in seeing for yourself, the National Geographic article is here.

And I found the map posted not in the online version of the article itself but on a cartography buff’s blog, here. (I was able to link straight to the image of the map itself.)

Posted in Life, News, Political Analysis | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

You knew me when :)

Oh hey, I’m famous sort of.  I’m quoted in an article that went out over the AP wire nationwide today about the new Foxconn plant that just broke ground in southeastern Wisconsin.

It’s so strange how this all came about, too. I had gone down to Starbucks for some coffee a couple days ago and on the spur of the moment decided to sit at one of the “bar” chairs and scroll through my Twitter feed for a few minutes before heading back up to my office. That’s when the reporter approached to ask if I’d be willing to answer a few questions. I guess you never know what interesting turns your day might take 🙂

You can read the entire article HERE. This is the New York Times version, but because the story went out over the wire, you’ll also find it in the Washington Post, etc.


Posted in News | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Weather Channel’s amazing new “Immersive Mixed Reality”

The Weather Channel this week introduced new technology that will add astonishing visual effects to their broadcasts. Check out this Co.Design article, with video, where you can see a demo in which the anchorman barely escapes being crushed by a flying car and struck by a downed power line during a tornado. It’s startlingly realistic.


Update: The article link is no longer good. But I found the video on YouTube.

Posted in Creativity, News, Popular culture, Technology, Television | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments