By Jim DeRogatis


 Though my wife and I live on the North Side of Chicago, we visit Milwaukee once or twice a year for a quick, fun weekend getaway—we love to stay at a funky-cool boutique hotel called The Iron Horse—we never took in the Milwaukee Public Museum until our last jaunt to the west this September. Now that Greenfield News and Hobby and Panther Hobby Supply are both closed, we had to find something besides record and thrift-store shopping to do, and though the admission price is a bit steep ($18 for adults without the Imax show, which is extra), we found plenty to pique our interest over the course of an afternoon, and some exhibits that will be of special interest to readers of The Scabbard.


The first thing that greets visitors upon entering is a large, intentionally retro natural history display meant to invoke the sort of exhibit one would have found in a museum during the Victorian era. The detail is wonderful, and the effect does indeed transport you back to the 1800s, which is refreshing for us history buffs at a time when many museums are going all high-tech digital (as we bemoaned in these pages of the revamped Waterloo Museum).


On the same floor as the Victorian museum are two less successful—or at least a lot cheesier—nods to the past: Recreations of the “Streets of Old Milwaukee” and a European Village circa 1875. The mannequins populating these houses and shops are super-creepy, and historical accuracy does not seem to have been a top priority; more like the curators just wanted a Disney-like recreation of a past that never really existed, so the kids could run around in it for a bit. But the vintage toy store did have a neat cabinet full of toy soldiers for those of us who love them.


More scientifically accurate are the natural history exhibits that comprise two-thirds of the museum. These rival those at the celebrated Museum of Natural History in New York, which I visited often as a kid growing up across the Hudson River in New Jersey, with wonderfully rendered scenes placing Native Americans and animals in their natural settings, and some of the best taxidermy I’ve ever seen. (Until recently, the museum employed one of the only full-time taxidermists in the U.S. a master of the art; sadly, her hours recently were cut back, as noted in this Chicago Tribune story last May.)


Interspersed with the life-size dioramas are smaller, approximately 75mm scenes that add more context to the subjects at hand. While not exactly up to Shep Paine box diorama standards, they are nonetheless better than many I’ve seen at museums around the world. Think bronze- or silver-medal work at the MMSI Chicago Show.

The Milwaukee Public Museum is located at 800 W. Wells St. Open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit it on the Web at www.mpm.edu, or call (414) 278-2728. Admission to the Weapons: Beyond the Blade exhibit featured below adds $3 to the $18 admission.




On exhibit October 7, 2017—January 1, 2018

Instruments of destruction.
Tools of defense and survival.
Powerful, awesome, fascinating.

Personal weapons have always been more than objects of hostility. They are symbols of both singular might and national identity, creations to be admired, and essential tools needed for our very survival. MPM is excited to present our new cutting-edge exhibit, Weapons: Beyond the Blade, coming Fall of 2017. This temporary exhibition will highlight over 180 stunning examples of weapons from over 50 countries throughout history.

Visitors will have the opportunity to explore the many meanings and incredible variety of weaponry from our vast collection. From the ingenious shark-tooth swords of Micronesia to the rare Apache revolver, discover why weapons are some of the most complicated objects ever created, and what they say about our evolution -- from 10,000 BCE through the 20th century.

At Weapons: Beyond the Blade, you’ll see…

  •        Rare and unusual weapons
  •        One of the earliest bows in existence
  •       Weapons used by Wisconsinites
  •       Weapons used by women
  •      Weapons made from or inspired by animals
  •       Life-sized figures of warriors and hunters
  •       Renaissance armor
  •       19th century Japanese chainmail you can touch
  •       And more! En garde!