What We Learned When We Visited the Graves of Milwaukee’s Esteemed Beer Barons

Rival beer barons rest in peace, and close together, in Brewers Corner.

The title of the Forest Home Cemetery event, “Brunch With the Barons,” was rather misleading. I assumed the $10 admission would get me a guided tour of century-old South Side greens, where almost every famous Milwaukee brewer (the barons in question) is buried, as well as, you know, brunch. In truth, the tour was self-guided and, at the end, you could buy a bratwurst for $3.

Still, that sawbuck did grant me access to the Blatz family mausoleum, which is almost never open. Blatz was once Milwaukee’s third-largest brewer, but today it stands first in gravesites. The mausoleum is by far the grandest of the barons’ final resting places, a huge, boxy stone edifice that would befit a minor pharaoh. Two Blatz descendants were on hand. I asked why the family had built such a massive crypt. “We have no idea,” said one, in a tone that hinted he was unimpressed by his ancestors’ ostentation.

The late Valentin Blatz rests in an area of the cemetery known as Brewers Corner. His very respectable neighbors include one-time rivals Joseph Schlitz, whose towering obelisk is surrounded by the unassuming headstones of dozens of Uihleins (all related); and Capt. Frederick Pabst, whose monument is relatively modest.

James C. Pabst, a descendant who stood nearby, was not surprised by this. “The Pabsts have always been a quiet bunch,” he observed. (Not like those showy Blatzes.)

As fun as it was to meet a Pabst and a couple Blatzes, they didn’t have much to say about the dead men who had made their surnames famous.

More voluble was the Gettelman scion who stood by the small headstone of his great-grandfather, Fritz Gettelman Sr., who once made one of the most popular beers in Wisconsin. The living Gettelman had a mission. He explained (with visual aids) that the last remnant of the old Gettelman brewery is on the property of the Miller Brewing Co., which wants to tear the building down. (Founder Frederick Miller, an apparent contrarian, is not buried at Forest Home, but he holds sway nonetheless; Pabst now owns Blatz and Schlitz, and all three are made by Miller Brewing.)

I remarked to Fred Gettelman that the beer barons seemed unlucky in keeping their name on their businesses. When brewer August Krug died, his widow married bookkeeper Joseph Schlitz, who changed the firm’s name. The granddaughter of Jacob Best, of Best beer, married Pabst, who slapped his handle on the door. Similar story for Gettelman.

“Daughters,” he said evenly, pinpointing the problem. “None of the beer barons seemed to have any sons.” ◆

‘Last Call’ appears in the October 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning October 2, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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