Milwaukee Mayhem: Murder and Mystery in the Cream City’s First Century
By Matthew J. Prigge
Review by Peggy K. Potter, retired Library Director
This history of Wisconsin’s largest city is written in four parts: Murder, Accidents, Vice and Secrets. By reading this book, one will learn that there are more ways to kill others or oneself than ever imagined. In four months time in 1876 there were fifteen suicides in Milwaukee, all different methods, all different reasons. In 1852, Mary Ann Wheeler publicly shot and killed her lover John Lace. When the police arrived she confessed. At Wheeler’s trial her guilt was not questioned, only her sanity. John Lace’s character was described as being so poor that the jury claimed Wheeler’s actions, “…to be not merely those of an insane person but one whose madness was of divine origin.” In other words God made her do it. She was declared innocent and set free.
The Accident section describes the ship, the Alleghany, that brought typhoid fever to Wisconsin from Buffalo, N.Y. Upon arrival 200 of the 260 passengers were dead. The 1929 fire at City Hall is described in detail. Vice was the most all encompassing section. “A city built on desires: the mad lusts to rule and conquer, the heartfelt needs of community and companionship, the fevered drives for freedom and democracy.” Vice covered the “Great Flapper Controversy” – young women with short skirts, bobbed hair and rouged faces who spent their money on “cold drinks and hot jazz.” Men who spit tobacco juice, beggars, profanity, fortune tellers, drunkenness, opium use by the elderly, dive saloons for the youth and Chicago sending their vagrants north to Milwaukee.
The book is well organized and easy to read. The photographs of Milwaukee in her first century are wonderful.