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Milwaukee Mayhem: Murder and Mystery in the Cream City's First Century

by Matthew J. Prigge

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Milwaukee Mayhem: Murder and Mystery in the Cream City's First Century
By Matthew J. Prigge
Wisconsin Historical Society Press
Reviewed by Karl Wolff

Beer, Lake Michigan, and the Brewers have made Milwaukee a great Midwestern town. Located on the confluence of Lake Michigan and the Milwaukee River, the Cream City is home to innovation, industry, and sensible zoning controls. At least that's what the boosters will tell visiting conventioneers and investors. But every city has its dark side. Milwaukee has had its share of crimes, accidents, and disasters. Milwaukee Mayhem: Murder and Mystery in the Cream City's First Century by Matthew J. Prigge chronicles the lurid underbelly of this American city.

Matthew J. Prigge hosts "What Made Milwaukee Famous," a radio show produced by WMSE, the radio station of the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). He also hosted MONDO Milwaukee boat tours in 2014. His previous books include a history of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and a history of Milwaukee film censorship.

Milwaukee Mayhem divides its brief stories into four categories: Murder, Accidents, Vice, and Secrets. He begins with the famous "Bridge War" of 1845. The last stories come at the tail end of the Second World War. Prigge crafts each tale from newspaper reports from the Milwaukee Journal and the Milwaukee Sentinel, back when the city had two competing newspapers. Most stories are brief and thin on the details, but this is because of the original source material - newspaper clippings - didn't reveal much in the first place. But the point of Milwaukee Mayhem isn't depth, so much as variety. These are random snapshots of the past, stretching from the early nineteenth century to V-E Day. While a more progressive perspective might say this book shows how Milwaukee developed from hardscrabble frontier town to bustling civilized metropolis, more jaded minds might offer a different opinion. Crime, like war, corruption, and hysteria, are eternal. Are we better than our ancestors? Our technology has at least improved. These days America has become barbaric, short-sighted, and vulgar.

Reading Milwaukee Mayhem reminded me of watching City Confidential on A&E. Airing from 1998 to 2005 and narrated by Paul Winfield, it offered lurid stories of murder and corruption in otherwise ordinary cities and towns. Prigge's book offers a good substitute for those seeking a pulpy tabloid read.

Out of 10/9.0

http://www.cclapcenter.com/2017/02/book_review_milwaukee_mayhem_b.html ( )
  kswolff | Feb 18, 2017 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This is the history of a city's one-hundred-year struggle to leave its past behind, to understand, itself, and to make sense of the everyday mayhem of life in a metropolis being born.

Jeffrey Dahmer was called "The Milwaukee Cannibal", but he wasn't the only bad boy in the city. Although most of the criminals written about in this book are most likely unknown or forgotten. Sorted into categories such as "Murder", "Accidents", "Vice", and "Secrets" this is a compilation of true accounts from Milwaukee during it 'growing pains'.

These are very brief accounts. Not extremely detailed but factual. Mr. Prigge records what is know and leaves the speculating to our imaginations. Well written and concise, I would recommend this book. ( )
  BellaFoxx | Feb 28, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
This really excellent book makes it clear that crimes -- major crimes are not just limited to large cities like Boston, LA, or NYC. Prigge's writing is refreshing in that he looks at these crimes from the perspective of citizens of Milwaukee rather than detectives or forensics experts. This helps the reader relate a little bit better to the story.. and makes for a much more interesting read. ( )
  arelenriel | Feb 8, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
My hopes were high as I sped through the prologue of Milwaukee Mayhem, excited to read about the people and places associated with the streets and schools of the Milwaukee area. After the prologue, it was all downhill for me. The remainder of the stories were high-level nondescript abstracts that happened in my city's past. There was no depth though. Each story was a few pages max and there was no association to the people and places of modern day Milwaukee, so to me these stories could have happened anywhere (and they probably did). I think this book would have been improved if there were less stories with more research into the details of the events. As a longtime Milwaukee resident, I cannot recommend this book. ( )
  JechtShot | Jan 24, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
A collection of dark tales from Milwaukee's early history taken from the newspapers, written in the author's own words. Divided into four sections: Murder, Accidents, Vice, and Secrets. The stories have no segues between them and are in no chronological order; they are simply vignettes ranging from a paragraph to three pages long. Themes are arranged together such as all suicides are together, as are fires, poisonings, prohibition cases etc. I had expected more of a flowing narrative than a collection of stories so took off to a slow start, but once I decided to read about 25 pages in a sitting I enjoyed the book much more in the small doses and found many of the stories interesting. Personally, rather than satisfying my interest in true crime, I found the book more satiated my appetite for social history. Much can be glean from these stories on social attitudes at the time. I especially enjoyed the chapter on vice, not because it was salacious by any means, but because of the information I gleaned on such matters as flappers, police procedures, the youth of the day, and a funny story on a crusade to ban kissing not for moral reasons but because of the germs! LOL. The stories range from the 1850s to the 1920s, with some from the '30s and a handful from the war years of the '40s. Interesting for its stories of crime and the underbelly of society in the early 20th century but most fascinating, in my opinion, from a social history aspect of the era. ( )
  ElizaJane | Jan 11, 2016 |
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Book description
From murder and matchstick men to all-consuming fires, painted women, and Great Lakes disasters--and the wide-eyed public who could not help but gawk at it all--"Milwaukee Mayhem" uncovers the little-remembered and rarely told history of the underbelly of a Midwestern metropolis. "Milwaukee Mayhem" offers a new perspective on Milwaukee's early years, forgoing the major historical signposts found in traditional histories and focusing instead on the strange and brutal tales of mystery, vice, murder, and disaster that were born of the city's transformation from lakeside settlement to American metropolis. Author Matthew J. Prigge presents these stories as they were recounted to the public in the newspapers of the era, using the vivid and often grim language of the times to create an engaging and occasionally chilling narrative of a forgotten Milwaukee.

Through his thoughtful introduction, Prigge gives the work context, eschewing assumptions about "simpler times" and highlighting the mayhem that the growth and rise of a city can bring about. These stories are the orphans of Milwaukee's history, too unusual to register in broad historic narratives, too strange to qualify as nostalgia, but nevertheless essential to our understanding of this American city.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0870207164, Paperback)

From murder and matchstick men to all-consuming fires, painted women, and Great Lakes disasters--and the wide-eyed public who could not help but gawk at it all--"Milwaukee Mayhem" uncovers the little-remembered and rarely told history of the underbelly of a Midwestern metropolis. "Milwaukee Mayhem" offers a new perspective on Milwaukee's early years, forgoing the major historical signposts found in traditional histories and focusing instead on the strange and brutal tales of mystery, vice, murder, and disaster that were born of the city's transformation from lakeside settlement to American metropolis. Author Matthew J. Prigge presents these stories as they were recounted to the public in the newspapers of the era, using the vivid and often grim language of the times to create an engaging and occasionally chilling narrative of a forgotten Milwaukee.

Through his thoughtful introduction, Prigge gives the work context, eschewing assumptions about "simpler times" and highlighting the mayhem that the growth and rise of a city can bring about. These stories are the orphans of Milwaukee's history, too unusual to register in broad historic narratives, too strange to qualify as nostalgia, but nevertheless essential to our understanding of this American city.

(retrieved from Amazon Fri, 24 Jul 2015 15:12:35 -0400)

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