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Milwaukee's Best
By Karen Kruse
All Text and Photographs on this web page Copyright 2000
Karen L. Kruse. All rights reserved

Cemeteries by their very nature record the past. Some do it better than others.

Being a fan of Victorian cemeteries, I have come to appreciate a well documented cemetery to enhance my explorations and learning. I often "haunt" Rosehill and Graceland Cemeteries in Chicago where the early movers and shakers of the Windy City are buried. Both of these fine places of rest, est. in 1859 and 1860, respectively, offer maps for their visitors, pointing out where the famous lie, but for overall ease of discovery, the award goes to Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee, WI.

The angel and the cross are typical examples of Victorian funeral art, here combined in one piece.

Forest Home was established in 1850 and contains the final resting places of beer barons Blatz, Schlitz, and Pabst, William Davidson, the co-founder of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, fifteen Milwaukee mayors, and five Wisconsin governors, among other famous Milwaukee residents. Forest Home is typical of Victorian cemeteries in its park-like setting with lush greenery and winding roads. The grounds are kept in impeccable condition.

This magnificent monument to Joseph Schiltz (1831-1875), is known as a "cenotaph", since his remains are elsewhere. In 1875, he was lost at sea off the coast of England, when the steamer "Schiller" went down in the north Atlantic.

Beer baron Frederick Pabst (1836-1904), built his Pabst Brewing Company into the largest in the nation.

I was particularly impressed by how the cemetery is documented for visiting grave hunters. In the office a publication entitled "Self-Guided Historical Tour" can be obtained at no charge. The front cover folds out to reveal a map of the cemetery grounds, clearly marked by section and a suggested driving route. This map can be left folded "out" while turning the remaining pages to read the biographies of over one hundred famous residents interred on the grounds.

The Newhall Monument commemorates the deaths of 71 people in the Newhall House hotel fire January 10, 1883.

General William "Billy" Mitchell (1879-1936), proved the superiority of air power over sea power in the U.S. military. Milwaukee's Mitchell Airport is named in his honor.

Leaving the cemetery office and heading for the first site, a yellow line becomes evident, painted on the edge of the roadway to the right. As the driving tour indicates turning, the line also turns. This makes it easy to "keep your place", knowing you haven't left the preferred path to see everything. Graves easily seen from the car, are marked on the map with green numbers. Graves which require leaving the car to view them are indicated on the map as black letters. In addition to the map being accurate as to placement of the sites, each section corresponds beautifully, clearly marked by an elegant metal pole with a numbered tab hanging from it. Figuring out where you are is a snap. The graves indicated on the tour guide have a green flag stuck in the ground next to their marker. This makes finding the historic graves extremely easy and very rewarding.

Orville Cadwell (1828-1850), was Forest Home's first resident on August 5, 1850. Notice the green flag to mark this special grave.

Many of the grave markers are unique to the owner buried beneath them. Matthias Stein (1808-1896) was Milwaukee's first gunsmith, thus on his headstone two rifles are engraved in relief. Above them, and below a three-dimensional likeness of Matthias himself, the words "First Gunsmith in Milwaukee" are engraved. Finding interesting graves like this enhances the tour.

Matthias Stein (1808-1896), was the first gunsmith in Milwaukee, as his headstone proudly proclaims.

In sheer size, the most impressive burial site belongs to Valentin Blatz (1826-1894), located near a pastoral lake, and several of his contemporaries. His mausoleum looks very much like a two-story building. Even "window" openings can be seen on the upper level on the sides of the building. This solid, but intricately carved stone structure will definitely stand the test of time. This mini-mansion looks as if it could be used as a stately summer home, but make no mistake about it, this is definitely a mausoleum, complete with sealed front door and heavily chained gate protecting its inhabitants.

Valentin Blatz (1826-1894), is buried with other family members in this very ornate mausoleum. He produced Milwaukee's first bottled beer.

Forest Home also houses the Hall of History. This unique mausoleum also contains changing exhibits chronicling the lives of famous Milwaukee residents buried on the grounds. It is the only structure of its kind, combining interment and quiet reflection space with an area for learning the history of Milwaukee.

The Chapel Garden Crypts features this beautiful ivy-covered Abbey as its focal point.

The two-tiered garden is a beautiful place to pray and reflect, while visiting interred guests.

Across the road from the Hall of History is the Chapel Garden Crypts. This outdoor resting place is a two-tiered rose garden with extensive landscaping and attention to detail. Flowers and foliage abound in this beautiful lush setting, perfect for contemplation and visiting loved ones. Fountains and statuary compliment the pastel marble walls housing its residents. The focal point of the garden is the Abbey with its majestic colonnades covered in ivy.

The individual crypts in the Chapel Gardens are beautiful in verigated pastel colors. Residents are also interred in the floor.

Within the gardens, elegant white statues give a formal, respectful feeling to the grounds.

Every cemetery has its charms and unique features. Forest Home does it in an elegant manner, showing reverence for its residents while providing a real sense of history. I urge you to explore this living memorial to the past while visiting the Milwaukee area.

Perhaps this marker for a fireman killed in the line of duty says it all, "Sleep Well."

Please email Karen Kruse and let her know how much you enjoyed her article! Better yet, for more of Kiki's work please visit
Cemetery Walk and Ghosts of History Live in Rosehill Cemetery

To see more of Kiki's cemetery pictures, go to Kiki's
"FindAGrave Credits"

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