A man obsessed with collecting left behind rich evidence of the city's past.
The Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear (839 N. 11th St., Milwaukee) looks out of place, facing Interstate 43. Or is it the interstate that doesn’t belong?
The museum is housed inside an ornate Italianate home built in 1869, long before the highway cut a swath through several 19th century neighborhoods in the city. The house’s last owner, Avrum Chudnow, a lawyer and businessman, used it as an office for his law firm while partially filling it with an extensive personal collection of the mundane and marvelous – a horde that touches on day-to-day life in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s with such treasures as unopened boxes of soap, bottles of Swamp Root (for medicinal needs), and a toy builder set called Lincoln Bricks (instead of Logs), which invited children to mix their own mortar using water and a powder provided in a small packet.
After Chudnow’s death in 2005, his family made good on his wish to open a museum by converting the house on 11th Street into a tidy little vault that’s now open to the public Wednesday through Sunday. About a third of the collection turns over each year with new exhibits, and at any one time, only about 5 percent of the full inventory is on display.
Long-running exhibits include an old-time grocery and drug store, where a vintage RenuLife Violet Ray Health Wand is featured, essentially an electrified glass wand that you wave over your diseased body.