5 Under-the-Radar Outdoor War Memorials to Mark Memorial Day This Year

Here are a few places to go if you want to pay tribute to fallen soldiers this Memorial Day.

SINCE THIS YEAR calls for a more thoughtful Memorial Day featuring fewer hot dogs and hamburgers, here are some lesser known places tying the city to the day.

1. Site of a Beardless Lincoln Speech

13th and Wells Street

The exact square foot has been lost to time, but a “clean shaven” Lincoln delivered a thoughtful campaign speech on labor and agriculture, hereabouts, at the Wisconsin State Fair on Sept. 30, 1859. While Lincoln is best known for serving as president during the Civil War, he did previously serve in the Illinois Militia, though he never saw combat.

Apparently you got paid for campaign speeches in those days as he received $150 for the 1859 performance in Milwaukee. The associated Spring Street Hill/Brockway Grounds are now part of the Marquette area.

2. Restored George Washington statue

Wisconsin Avenue

As part of a trio of war memorial sculptures on Wisconsin Avenue, across from the Central Library, the George Washington bronze statue received a much needed laser cleaning in 2018 and returned to its post. The 10-foot G.W. weighs 3,000 pounds and continues to stand burnished bronze instead of patina green. The restoration cost about $100,000 in public and private funding.

Elizabeth Plankinton gifted the statue to the city in 1885, and in more recent times, it’s been easy to drive past without noticing the bronze mother and child at the base, motioning upward from the level of pedestrians. They also underwent cleaning and make the towering monument more human.

Despite being the subject of endless legends and myths, and debate over his skill as a military leader, Washington definitely played an important role in the Revoluntary War and went on to become the country’s first president.

3. American Gold Star Mothers Flagpole

Wood National Cemetery | 5000 W. National Ave.

There are many flagpoles in the city given special significance, but this one, erected in 1956, is one of the most special, dedicated to mothers who lost children to war. It’s not far from the area honoring the unknown soldier, “veterans whose remains have not been recovered or identified, were buried at sea, donated to science, or cremated and the ashes scattered.”

Anyway, Wood is the real epicenter of Memorial Day in Milwaukee. Most people have at least noticied the white headstones driving back and forth on I-94.

4. Zeidler Union Square

Michigan and 3rd Street

There’s a plaque at Zeidler Union Square, the city’s oldest park, honoring former mayor Carl F. Zeidler (not the socialist one, his brother). Carl was a wildly charismatic, 1,000-watt lawyer who toppled venerable socialist mayor Daniel Hoan and then … went off to war. He served only two years before joining the U.S. Navy during WW2.

His almost madcap style of campaigning sank along with all the other hands on board his merchant ship in November 1942. Frank ran in 1948 and won in part because of the recognizability of the Zeidler name.

5. Plankinton Building

133 W. Wisconsin Ave.

WWII General Douglas MacArthur used to live inside the former Shops of Grand Avenue. Well, the Plankinton Building. That’s where the Plankinton House hotel was located and where his family lived from 1897-1898 while he attended West Division High School. Later, he attended West Point but continued to list Milwaukee as his official home address during WWII.

There’s also a tall, bronze sculpture of him (almost as tall as Washington’s) at the lakefront in Veteran’s Park.

For a more complete list, see the Milwaukee Historic Preservation Commission.

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Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.