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THE VETERAN

Page 16
Download PDF of this full issue: v32n2.pdf (11.5 MB)

<< 15. Taking the Hard Way Out17. John Kniffin (1940-2002) >>

Welcome to Milwaukee: 35th Anniversary Opening Remarks

By John Zutz

[Printer-Friendly Version]

I'd like to welcome you to the 35th anniversary of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

I want to apologize for any difficulties or delays getting through security here at the Tasting Room. I know the metal detectors are a hassle. And the bomb sniffer broke down briefly. It's been repaired now, and we will be checking you on your way out.

I want to take a moment to give a special apology to those of you who were strip-searched. I want to assure you that it was totally random that you were all women. It had absolutely nothing to do with profile ... profiling.

It's my job today to welcome you all to Milwaukee. We are happy and proud to have all of you here. For those of you from out of town I'd like to give you a little background.

Milwaukee is still a small town. In fact, "important" Milwaukeeans tend to have somewhat of an inferiority complex about that fact. Avis recently began using their old commercial about second place trying harder. Well 24th place tries even harder. Our civic leaders are desperately afraid that when the outside world looks at Milwaukee, they only see brats and beer. Their desire to appear to be more cosmopolitan is the reason why we built a new baseball palace, and a new art castle.
I've lived in Milwaukee almost 30 years and I've discovered a few things that most people don't know. You won't find these facts in history books, and they aren't taught in school, so pay close attention: this information will be included on the final exam.

As the last glacier retreated about 12,000 years ago the Paleoindians moved into the area we call Milwaukee. They were followed by modern tribes such as the Ho-Chunk, Potawatomi, and Menomonie. They were all nomadic hunter-gatherers until they made their fatal discovery.

Seeping from the side of a bluff was a brownish-colored liquid. Nobody had seen anything like it, and many of the bravest warriors were afraid of this unusual fluid. They called for the bravest of the brave; Indian legend says his name was "Mikey."

Mikey was suspicious at first, but then decided to go ahead and taste it. Then he tasted it again. And again. The other Indians were amazed. They looked at each other and said, "He likes it!"

Yes, you've probably guessed by now: Mikey had discovered the first beer spring. Once they began looking, the tribesmen found many of these springs scattered around the area.

The discovery of beer had a profound effect on the primitives. Beer consumption caused them to develop large bellies - and even larger bottoms. This made it difficult to walk. Their nomadic days were over. They were forced to develop bottling lines so they could trade their precious commodity. As boxcar loads of beer went out across the continent, trade goods and valuables came in. Wisconsin burials from 2,000 years ago contain obsidian from Wyoming and turquoise from Arizona. I understand a 1,500-year-old pop top was recently discovered in an Arizona kiva.

Meanwhile, they constructed elaborate "breweries" to distract potential rivals from their valuable beer springs. All the stuff you might hear about malted barley and hops is pure malarkey. We tell it to tourists to keep out the poachers.

Of course the breweries attracted traders and tourists demanding a brewery tour - along with a free sample (or two). Realizing that this practice would soon bankrupt them, the Indians developed a way to recoup their losses. They built casinos.

Trade was thriving and everything was going fine when the first European landed in Green Bay in 1634. Jean Nicolet climbed from his canoe dressed in a grand robe of China damask. He fired his pistols into the air. In Milwaukee his memory is honored at midnight on New Year's, when many residents symbolically fire their weapons. Nicolet was greeted by the local natives who presented him with their highest honor: a Brett Favre bobbing head doll. This simple gesture kept Europeans away for 50 years.

In 1673, Louis Joliet and Father Jacques Marquette journeyed from Green Bay up the Fox River, then down the Wisconsin and Mississippi Rivers. By 1700, this was the main trade route. Milwaukee was just a convenient camping spot on the way to Chicago. Since much of what is now downtown was a swamp, you could say Milwaukee was a literal backwater, and the secret of the beer springs was secure.

While trade kept the community flourishing, trade was also devastating. Smallpox, cholera, measles, typhoid, scarlet fever, and influenza decimated the tribes. It's also interesting to note that the first recorded mention of a trader in Milwaukee (in 1741) is also a report of alcohol abuse.

Jacques Vieau opened the first trading post in 1795 and continued trading into the 1830s. In honor of his 40 years of commerce, Milwaukee has named a street after Vieau. It is a total of one block long.

In 1822 an army lieutenant reported, "I arrived on the 17th of July and found the Indians too much intoxicated to assist me in crossing the river." Soon the Indians lost not only their land but also their treasured beer springs.

By the 1830s the land east of the river, controlled by Solomon Juneau. was known as Juneautown. The land west of the river was known as Kilbourntown (after Byron Kilbourn), while the south side, founded by George Walker, was known as Walker's Point. The first courthouse was built in 1836: the same year Wisconsin became a territory. By that time speculation had turned Milwaukee into a boomtown with Juneau, Kilbourn, and Walker selling the real estate.

Cross-river rivalries built over the years. In 1840 the Wisconsin Legislature required Milwaukee County to build a drawbridge. This was so convenient that soon three more bridges were built. By 1845 the years of competition exploded into what is known locally as the Bridge Wars. Shots were fired, men were wounded, cannon fire was threatened. The results can still be seen today: downtown streets don't align; every bridge runs at an angle. That spirit of unity and cooperation continues in Milwaukee to this day.

Until this point the immigrants to the area were of French and Yankee backgrounds. That was about to change. In the 1840s, 50s and 60s a large influx of German immigrants changed the face of Milwaukee and the world. The Germans formed a wide variety of social groups, and their key social lubricant was beer.

Though the first brewery in town (technically) was organized by a group of Welshmen in 1840, its product found few takers among the Germans. Luckily, Hermann Reutelshofer arrived in 1841 and began producing lager beer in Walker's Point. By 1856 there were more than two dozen breweries in Milwaukee, all owned and operated by Germans.

The Germans followed the ancient practice of building "breweries" to disguise where the beer actually came from. They liked Wisconsin because the countryside reminded them of the fatherland, and they brought with them the seeds to plant the first sausage fields, just like the ones in Germany.

I know everyone has always wondered what is in sausage and how it is made. Well, today I can tell you: sausage is a tuber. They grow underground and are dug up in the late fall. The old-time Germans told people there was meat in them to increase sales. Today, with the sausage shortages, we encourage vegetarians to avoid them so there will be more for us.

After years of cross-pollination and modern grafting techniques, Wisconsin sausage plantations today harvest a wide variety of sausages. Franks, bratwurst, Vienawurst (known today as wieners), liverwurst, summer sausage and braunschweiger are only a few of the many varieties available. Many of the "lunch meats" on your grocer's shelf came from the sandy soil of Wisconsin.

More importantly the Germans brought with them the secret of good beer: the beer well. That's right - drilling for beer.

You have all heard of aquifers: underground water. Through modern technology, sonar mapping et cetera, we know Milwaukee is atop the world's second largest sudsifer (the largest sudsifer is in Germany). We also realize that beer comes in different weights. That's the reason Bud Light is found so near the surface, where it's often discovered by college students.

The Germans' first beer wells produced Pilsener-style beers. As they drilled deeper and deeper they tapped more robust beers like Bocks and Scotch ales. They realized at that time that the deeper they drilled, the thicker and heavier the beer became. They kept at it to finally reach the barleywine level. The Germans were happy in Milwaukee.

Things flowed (get it? - flowed) smoothly until the 1900s, when some people thought society's problems were caused by alcohol. Carrie Nation came to town in 1902 and expressed disgust at being "in the town where all you hear is 'beer, beer, beer.' If there is anyplace that is hell on earth, it is Milwaukee." Nobody paid much attention till June 1, 1919: Prohibition began.

When the boys came back from World War I, they couldn't even have a beer. Milwaukee went into mourning. Millions of dollars of modern brewing equipment stood idle. Thousands of workers were unemployed. The breweries tried to stay in business making and selling other things as diverse as soda water and snow plows.

Beer was still available, however. Though the government might be able to cap the beer wells, the beer springs were still gushing. A number of enterprising Milwaukeeans were injured attempting to dig backyard beer wells.

Finally, the farce was recognized. On April 7, 1933, Prohibition ended. Milwaukee was ready to party, but at the request of clergymen the celebration was postponed until after Lent. The day after Easter - April 17 - even though the taverns had been open for ten days, 15,000 hungry, thirsty Milwaukeeans jammed the Auditorium. 5,000 more were turned away. This party was so successful it was decided to do it annually. The Midsummer Festival attracted millions of citizens over eight years and became the forerunner of today's Summerfest, where it is remembered in the many beer tents.

So now you understand that Milwaukee is much more than beer and sausage. The rest, as they say, is history.


<< 15. Taking the Hard Way Out17. John Kniffin (1940-2002) >>



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