It's a tradition we've all grown to love, but where did this fun run get its start?

Storming the Bastille, Bastille Days Milwaukee 2017

Photo by Maria Christianson

Milwaukee has plenty of rich, long-running traditions that will hopefully continue for years to come. One that continues to grow each year is the annual Associated Bank Storm the Bastille 5K run/walk in memory of the 18th century attack on the Bastille prison in Paris.

As for the run itself, around 5,000 people will enjoy the fun run together on Thursday, July 12, starting at 9 p.m. Yup, you heard that right: 9 o’clock at night. While the timing may seem odd, assistant director of East Town Association, Emily McElwee, says that’s one of the things that makes the event so special in the first place.

“I think people really look forward to [it] after a hot summer day, when the sun starts to set and it finally starts to feel a little cool. Maybe they’ve had a beer; maybe they’re looking forward to having a beer after the run,” McElwee says.

Another reason this fun run stands out from the others is the route itself. Although of course we love all runs and races that wind through beautiful Veterans Park, Storm the Bastille takes place right near Cathedral Square Park. “We run through the heart of our downtown, which is super special,” McElwee says.

2018 Storm the Bastille Route; Courtesy of East Town

The festival of Bastille Days itself began in 1982 when Francois Nivaud, the general manager of the Pfister Hotel at the time, decided to start what is now a Milwaukee tradition. “It was just a teeny, tiny little street parade in front of the Pfister,” McElwee says. Storm the Bastille began three years later, so 2018 marks the 34th year of the race.

Bastille Days; Photo by Melissa Miller

Although Bastille Days and the race have changed and grown since its humble beginnings, McElwee notes that the route itself has changed very little since she has been at East Town (at least 10 years). If anything, McElwee notes that Milwaukeeans have only grown to love and embrace the tradition even more. “There’s so many people who grew up doing it with their parents who are now bringing their children, so it’s just such a neat tradition for the city,” she says.

The tradition of Storm the Bastille and Bastille Days grows each year and shows off the diverse culture of the city of Milwaukee. “We’re the city of festivals, and every other culture is really well represented with cultural festivals. Even though there is no longer a huge French population here, it’s still really fun and important to look back and celebrate that,” McElwee says.

If you’re still interested in registering for the race, online registration is closed, but you can still register the day of the race for $30 at the intersection of Jefferson and Wells from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Bastille Days takes place July 12 through July 15 at Cathedral Square Park.