The Lady With The Hats

A box with twenty hats were left for me at the front desk the other day.

Kenneth at the front desk went through them all and had already selected his favorite.
Kenneth at the front desk went through them all and had already selected his favorite.

Miraculously, all of them fit my head. I would like to end this story here and imply that I have a secret admirer, but I know who gave me the hats. I was introduced to her in the Mason Street Grill recently. She wore a white hat. As one hat-wearing lady to another often will, I told her I thought her’s a stunning sculpture. Instantly, as if I had just told the queen fairy that she had a nice crown, she announced that she would gift me her many hats. “Please do,” I said but didn’t quite believe her, since people make those sorts of statements all the time and rarely follow through.


Kathy meant it because she is moving and must simplify her hat collection…


The beach, obviously.
“Michael Howard 100% Wool Made in the U.S.A. Includes chin strap.
Made in China. (The only one that says that.)
Miss Bierner, Michael Howard 100% Wool Made in the U.S.A.
This one was clearly never worn before as the plastic tag still hangs from it.
Made in France, “Pure Laine.”
Kenneth from the front desk’s favorite of the hats. Kathy says she never wore it.
My mom models the Betmar, made in Italy.
Kathy wore this hat with a gold bathing suit on her yearly excursions to Mexico.
Chelsea Campbell, 100% Wool, Made in Italy.
One of these things. Looks good on the bannister.
Elegantly Yours Miriam Lefcourt, Handcrafted in Italy
Betmar New York

DSCN7110  DSCN7123 DSCN7121 DSCN7115 DSCN7114 DSCN7173


Black hats are Kathy’s favorite kind of hat because they go with everything. The day she met me I was wearing my black and white hat and “It was a signal, whoa!” She knew she could entrust them to me, a terrific alternative to the thrift store.

The hats were bought on trips all over the world including, London, Paris and New York. They represent the past 25 years of Kathy’s adventures. Once, while in New York, she visited a boutique in Trump Tower and saw a s!n!a!z!z!y! black hat with a wide scalloped brim. The boutique owner informed Kathy that Ivana Trump recently bought that very same hat. “If it was good enough for Ivana Trump, then its good enough for me,” decided Kathy. She did not give me that hat. She also held onto “two felt hats with long pheasant feathers coming off of them.” She has never worn them before but now that her collection is smaller she plans to debut them this winter.

Gardeners all over Milwaukee know her as “The Lady With The Hats.” Kathy founded both the Milwaukee and South Milwaukee factions of the Federated Garden Club 24 years ago. Generally she wears a hat on when out because she is a short woman and “doesn’t want to get stepped on.” Though on weekends after she gets her hair done she prefers to go without a hat. When Kathy runs into a fellow gardener on the weekend, frequently they exclaim, “I thought you didn’t have any hair!” Of course they mean it as a joke because The Lady With The Hats has been known to occasionally attend meetings without one just to “treat them.”

Kathy steams her own hats to make sure that it is done right. They can lose their shape after visiting the dry cleaners. She also stocked up on hatpins the last time she was in London because “there’s no better place to buy hatpins.” She wears two pins on each side of her head and a few in the back too so that in case someone hugs her “the hat won’t roll down the street.”

Though she gave me half her collection she will soon be adding to it. Kathy told me. “Spring hats really take a beating, I tend to wear them all the time. It is time to order another one from London. I’d rather put the money into a hat than to go there.”


DSCN7147 DSCN7141

I Will Get To Wear Tights & Meeting Two Presidents

The lobby

wears red roses today

when I meet Caroline

from South Carolina.

Tomorrow Carolina’s Caroline will

toss plant pluckings on the floor

as flower girl for a wedding.

She tells me

I will get to wear tights

she tells me

there will be champagne!

Who told this kid to get excited about champagne?

Perhaps Harry or Dick?

Those lobby lions have

watched a centuries worth

of revelry

their manes are worn

by a century of child fingers

right now

Harry is getting stroked by Harry, search

Caroline’s little brother

whose shoulder droops

from wearing a plastic shopping bag

containing hot cocoa powder,

I tell them

there will be hot cocoa!

Caroline has decided

the other lion’s name

is not Dick as they say

but really it is Caroline.



This is a poem

in which I must mention

“international association of administration professionals”


of which

Mary of Kansas

is division president

she does something

financial for work

but on the side

with the pickle

she has iaap


like this one

with seminars on juggling.

That topic peaks my interest

until I learn they mean

juggling as an expression

for responding to three bosses

rather than three burning tennis racquets

or three rusty nail studded baseball bats

or even three plush bean bags,

however, IAAP transformed

Bonnie of Texas

from a timid woman who

at the time she joined the association

stared at the floor enough

to tell me that there were

forty-two tiles between the elevator

and her desk at the oil and gas company

to the Bonnie who approaches strangers

with typewriters at hotels

to make conversation

about what it is like to be

Houson’s division president.

Both presidents

Bonnie and Mary share corporate gossip:

Google’s bosses must remind

the young workers

to wear shoes,

but pajamas in the office

Mary, President of Kansas on the left, Bonnie President of Texas on the right. In the background, a stranger.

are okay.

I’ve Met The Following People

I am walking outside along the outdoor customers of the Mason Street Grill when I witness a woman in her thirties fly up from her seat to stand before her friends and wildly gesture with her whole body. Her four friends shriek and howl with laughter so I stop to watch too, sickness but it the story stops. I ask the woman if she will continue to tell the story and she says that she will have to tell me a different story.   None of us wants to hear a different story, so I continue down the sidewalk.


A girl and her doll wear matching outfits and are about to eat a cookie.
A girl and her doll wear matching outfits and are about to eat a cookie.


“It had to be you, stuff it had to be youuu…” is being played on the lobby piano when Jennifer and Joe, a long married couple announce that they have been on vacation for a full week just to see if they can put up with each other for that long. They drove all the way around the lake, passing Keweenah (the tippest toppest point of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula) to get here from their home in Michigan. They did not have cell phone reception for a large portion of their journey. Just Joe and Jennifer together without distractions. They got into the Pfister an hour ago, case have never been to Wisconsin before today, but they tell me that they don’t ever want to leave. The piano is playing, the lighting is warm and they both have a glass of wine.


A soccer team from Wales.
A soccer team from Wales.

Mary Kay worked in government for eighteen years. She wanted a change. She wanted to do something that would involve “Having people be in love, stay in love and fall in love.” So she opened a bed and breakfast in Plano, Illinois. By day she still works in social services, connecting jobs to people who have been in jail and helping underserved youth in the juvenile system.


Two women with similar faces sit on the couch wearing sunglasses.
Two women with similar faces sit on the couch wearing sunglasses.

Two women with similar faces sit on the couch wearing sunglasses. Yes, they are sisters. Judy and Jean. They grew up in Minnesota but now they are residents of Baltimore and Denver, respectively. They see each other once a year. This year they decided to meet halfway between their cities, and selected Milwaukee. They are sharing a room in the hotel for six days. The first place they plan to visit this week is St. Josaphat’s Basilica.


I ask two men with similar faces at the bar if they are brothers. “We are not related but both broth-uhs of Omaha.” The brothuhs of Omaha are here interviewing people for open Milwaukee-based positions in their small medical company. The brothuhs tell me I look like an artsy type and ask me if I ever do nude paintings of middle aged men. I deflect the question by asking them how often they dissect cadavers. The brothuhs say they get to dissect cadavers about six times a year.


Come Here You Big Lug

One suited man sees another suited man.

“Come here you big lug.”  Exclaims the other man, decease “What do you mean ‘a big lug?!’”

The two of them proceed to do the manly anti-hug where they grab each other’s arms and smack each other on the back. The smack is so loud it echoes in my ears. Smack, smack, smack…

DSCN6439A man swaggers through the lobby wearing a vest and a brimmed cap of matching black leather. Is he a patrolman or a rock star? A white guitar case sits atop the bell cart. The man swaggers past again and I observe that it is the saunter-swagger of a rock star, help not a cop. There is a difference.

A woman who is on a working vacation walks behind me down a corridor. She says “Hello,” very kindly. I turn around to say hello back to her and I see she is on a cell phone. She asks me how I am doing and so I turn around, and notice again that she is on her cell phone. Fooled twice! “That’s okay, advice ” I tell her in my head, “I’m good, very, very good.” She says, “Awesome.”

There is a man who comes for a drink at the lobby bar about once a week. He is a cook and tells me he prefers to eat his food slightly charred from the grill. Even lettuce! At the kitchen where he works (no, he’s not a member of the Pfister staff) they won’t let him grill his lettuce, even though it only takes three seconds. I ask him about other vegetation that he might like to eat grilled. Pineapples, yes. Apples, yes. Cilantro, yes. Blueberries and strawberries? “Hmm, not yet. That’s a good idea though; I should try that this weekend. Perhaps I should grill the berries first and then make them into a syrup for my pancakes.” He will grill the pancakes too because “Anything that you cook on a stovetop or range can also be grilled, all you need is aluminum foil. It gives it a bit of a metallic taste, but you can do it.” He has been grilling on an open fire since he was ten years old.

The ice is being shoveled behind the bar. If I heard that sound alone, I would guess there to be a whole train boxcar of just ice behind the bar. It probably takes a whole boxcar to sustain the thirsts at this lobby oasis each day.


“I traveled 86,000 miles with my dog,” says an author thrusting her business card into my hand. Jean Whatley doesn’t have time to chat with me, she has a private meeting in the lounge, but she wants me to inform you, the readers of this blog of her new travel memoir, “Off The Leash.”


Northwestern Mutual is holding a conference. The attendees look like members of an ethnic tribe. They sport the longest multicolored lanyards I have ever seen. I talk to a few and they say that each year, they earn a new distinction in the company and that corresponds to receiving a new colored tag for their lanyard. You can tell who the tribal elders are: their lanyards nearly touch the floor as they walk.




















A yoga instructor and a fashion designer walk into the Pfister. They are from Portland. This is not a joke. Well, generic maybe it is. Kimberlee and Ashley pose with baby Quinn in front of the painting of kittens in a basket. Quinn wants to hold my hand (and her mother’s hand) so that she can walk down the hallway backwards. They inform me that walking backwards is a metaphor. Everything is a metaphor. I already observed and wrote about this (we think alike!), ed but they point out to me how the marble steps look just like salami. The meat steps look downright appetizing though they are vegans. “They just need to add some olives to these steps.” I think about the sandwiches my Italian-American mother packed for me as a kid and remember that there is an olive relish that tastes really good with this kind of salami (I have determined the steps are made of capicola my mother’s favorite salami, not genoa which is my favorite) but I cannot remember the name of the relish.

Hey, I need a refill on this tea I am drinking.


In the café a woman wears a watermelon t-shirt and dines upon a fruit cup. On the table beside the fruit cup is a banana. Her sweater is pink and looks ripe. Her name is Donna.  She lives in Chicago but has come to stay at the Pfister every summer for the past 29 years to attend Festa Italiana. The woman is FBI, full-blooded Italian, third generation. She doesn’t know the language and has never visited Italy, but she does know that the fried calamari at Festa is delicious. But at Festa even the nightly fireworks are delicious.

Every summer she and her family will rent 3 or 4 rooms at the Pfister. This year her two daughters and their families will join her. A total of nine grandchildren will be present. To amuse the kids, Donna buys unusual graphic t-shirts (such as the watermelon shirt she currently sports that has tiny cartoon ants crawling on the sleeves) at Festa and only wears them once a year when she stays at the Pfister.

Donna’s husband is a retired restaurateur, but she says he is running a stand at Festa that sells military sweatshirts (he donates the proceeds to the USO), stuffed olives and giardiniera. GIARDINIERA! Hey, that’s the name for the stuff that I was thinking of a half hour ago! If you are like me you are wondering if the restaurant that Donna’s husband owned served Italian cuisine. It did not. He owned Moon’s Sandwich Shop, a popular inner city Chicago diner that has been around since 1933. It has 18 stools, a line of people waiting to sit on those stools and closing time of 2:30p.m. “It looks like a broken down pawn shop, but they make everything fresh everyday,” Donna reassures me.

Pineapples Visit Sauerkraut Boulevard

Mark and Delores (who have a German last name) are here from Miami. They are getting the German Milwaukee experience. They toured the Pabst Mansion, did a beer tasting and are asking who Captain Pabst (Pabst beer’s founder) was close friends with. Honestly, I don’t know.* Delores bought a T-shirt from Mader’s, Milwaukee’s classic German restaurant.  She is debating as to whether she can wear it when she returns home when Germany plays in the soccer finals. Most people in Miami are Brazil fans. “You don’t have a lot of Germans in Miami,” I joke. They shake their head, “Actually we do, Germans are everywhere, and you can spot them a mile away with their thick socks and sandals.” Delores confides that similar to a German tourist, she brought some socks with her to wear with her sandals in preparation for Milwaukee’s nippy 85 degree weather.

Back in Miami when a soccer game day comes around, “30% of people on the street will be wearing a jersey of some sort.” Mark & Delores arrived at the hotel on Friday and watched the game in the bar with four other people. “But if this were Miami, there would have been 200 hundred people and they all would be wearing costumes, too.”

Mark has on a polo shirt with refreshing teal stripes. Quite the tropical look. Delores is in pink. Incidentally, teal and pink were the two favorite colors of a close friend of mine in college who hailed from Miami.

Though he is now retired, Mark recounts for me his work history; he toured banana and pineapple plantations all over the world for Del Monte. When he started out in the business, all pineapples sold in the states were shipped in from Hawaii. Hawaiian pineapples have a sugar content that changes throughout the year, and sometimes the fruit is more tart than sweet. Eventually a hybrid variety of pineapple was developed to ensure a sweeter fruit all year long. That variety is grown in Costa Rica. Most American stores now carry pineapples from Costa Rica.

A year ago Mark & Delores were on vacation in North Carolina. They met a truck driver (who sold tractors) in a bar and he insisted that they visit the natural wonders of the Wisconsin Dells. He provided an argument so convincing that Mark and Delores are heading there next after inspecting the Circus World Museum in Baraboo.

*I’ve since asked our resident historian and concierge, Peter the question of who Captain Pabst liked to hang out with. Peter told me, “There was a whole cadre of people who lived in the Highland neighborhood that the Yankee aristocracy looked down on as “Sauerkraut Boulevard.” The Highland neighborhood was full of German mansion families such as the Uihleins, the Vogels, the Gettlemans and the Schusters. They all knew each other and intermarried. What’s more important a point to Peter when considering who Captain Pabst spent time with is how “Today we tend to have fewer friends and acquaintances, but back then community was central to the idea of how the world worked. You didn’t have just a few best friends.” Captain Pabst and his contemporaries thought more about what they could give back to the community they interacted with every day. Captain Pabst gave Milwaukee the Pabst Theater, Frederick Layton gave Milwaukee the Layton Art Museum, Guido & Charles Pfister gave Milwaukee the sumptuous Pfister. “The sense of themselves was part of the city. In the culture of the commonwealth they built their homes by worker’s cottages, there was no shame to live by the people who worked for them.”

Ambassadors of Rugby

Do you remember the poet who died at age 25? The famous one named Rupert Brooke who wrote during world war one? Rugby. Salman Rushdie, ampoule Lewis Carroll, Rugby School. Yes, we know Rugby is a sport, but it is a place with roads and soil too. Val and her husband Ray explain this to me since Rugby is their home.

“1832, thumb ” says Ray. He has memorized the year they invented the game. They are ambassadors in the same way I always become an ambassador for the bubbler and Lake Michigan whenever I leave this state. They tell me I can visit the Rugby Museum with its Museum Store where hand sewn leather rugby footballs are sold. They tell me this with such urgency that I feel like I ought to go over to England and get myself one while they are still available, before the whole world knows of the secret of Rugby. Maybe I should go over there even and buy more than one, stock up. But then what would I do with them? Keep them on top of my bookshelf? Use them as a paperweight?

To be exact, Ray has lived in Rugby his whole life, but Val grew up on a “small holding,” a farm with chickens, pigs and Oxo the horse. Oxo was a great big carthorse that transported goods 12 miles to Coventry. Coventry was where they built the ammunitions in world war two. Germany figured that out and demolished Coventry.

The jet engine was invented in Rugby, didj’ya know?

These British ambassadors then move onto the topic of Boxing Day. Boxing Day is the holiday right after Christmas. It was started hundreds of years ago when London gentry would take some of their good leftover holiday scraps and give them to their servants who would then get into fights over them, thus the name.

Next, I get a knife lesson. I’m told that before the typewriter, back when everyone still used quills to write, they would have to carve the end of the quill with a knife… the “pen knife.”

Val changes the topic, “Do you know what happens in three days time? We’ll have been married 57 years!” Ray corrects her, “56!” Val looks a tad relieved, “That’s right, we haven’t been married that long.” They got married on the solstice, June 21st, 1958. Val was 19 and Ray was 20.  I see I am posting this on Solstice, so Happy Anniversary, Val & Ray!


Soaring through happy hour with flight attendants

As flight attendants, treat Jamie and Quin land all over the country. Including, recently, in Milwaukee.

I met them during Happy Hour at Mason Street Grill and asked them what, if anything, they like about Brew City.

“The Public Market,” Quin says immediately. “I love it. Love the gourmet food. I visit every time I’m here.”

Jamie says she liked the city, too, but being a Bears fan – both she and Quin live in Chicago – makes her experience here sometimes a bit unsavory. Especially when she’s wearing her Chicago Bears gloves.

“The Green Bay fans give me sh-t about these all the time,” she says.

Personally, I have always been fascinated by the lives of pilots and flight attendants. As a person with terminal wanderlust, it seems like a really exciting and enriching job.

“It is,” says Quin. “It’s like being on vacation every day. You don’t have to see the same boring people every day and work in the same boring office. And I was in Ft. Lauderdale last night.”

I am clearly in the wrong profession.

“The best part is that I have friends all over the country, and I get to see them, when I’m working,” she says.

Have they ever experienced “scary moments” in the sky?

“There have been a few,” says Jamie. “But I’d still pick flying over driving or taking a train any day.”

Do they still serve any special snacks on their flights?

“Cookies in the morning!” says Jamie.

Favorite places to fly?

“San Diego. It’s where I’m from,” says Quin.

Jamie’s response surprises me a bit. I never thought of this place as an all-time favorite destination.

“Portland, Maine,” she says. “I love the seafood – the restaurants are phenomenal – and the scenery is beautiful.”

OK, Portland, Maine, you are now on my Travel Bucket List. Thanks, ladies, and happy trails to you.

In search of Uncle Sigurd’s story

It was research and the love of family that brought Norwegian genealogist Egil Johannessen to the Pfister.

Egil visited the hotel with his wife, Jeanne Marie, and their 12-year-old son, Trygve Johann. The family lives in Larvik, Norway, a small town in the southern part of the country.

They took a vacation this summer to the Midwest to visit Jeanne Marie’s family, she is originally from Indiana, and to attempt to find more information about Egil’s great uncle, Sigurd, who had a connection to the Pfister.

Sigurd was the brother of Egil’s great grandmother, Johanne, and he traveled from Larvik to Milwaukee in 1907 on the Hellig Olav. He was 17-years-old.

SS Hellige Olav

According to the U.S. City Directories, Sigurd started working as a department manager at the Pfister in 1933.

“And thus I wanted to see the place and had hoped the hotel had some more information about him,” says Egil.

It turns out the hotel does not have personnel files from that long ago.

After leaving Milwaukee, Egil and his family traveled to Racine and then to Plainfield, Ind. to visit Jeanne Marie’s relatives. They visit the United States about once a year, but Egil remembers when he was familiar with the US only as a return address on packages.

“Growing up, I remember I got presents for my birthday and Christmas sent from the USA, including the gown I was baptized in. This gown is still in good shape and my son, my sister’s children and her grandchildren were also baptized wearing it,” says Egil.

Sigurd's draft registration card.
Sigurd’s draft registration card.

But perhaps visiting the Pfister was a blessing in disguise for Egil and his family.

“We met a very nice gentleman, the concierge – unfortunately I don’t remember his name – and he was kind enough to listen to my story and then told us the story about the hotel and gave us some written, useful documentation,” says Egil. “He also told us we could stroll the hotel as much as we would like, take pictures and enjoy the culture and art. We had an exquisite lunch at the cafe and toured the hotel with joy. We took some wonderful pictures and also met the lovely Stephanie (Barenz) and admired her art.”

Sigurd Mathison Gravestone Wood Nat Cem

How to be a lady

Elyse is only four years old and she’s sitting in the Pfister lobby with her grandparents, ambulance Irene and Keith Wells, learning “how to be a lady.” (Some of us are 40 and may or may not be clear on the details of lady-dom, but that’s another blog entirely.)

The Wells are from Sydney, Australia, but are here for their annual visit to the Midwest to visit their Chicago-based son, recipe daughter-in-law and two granddaughters. They brought Elyse, their eldest granddaughter, to Milwaukee via train for a two-day get-away.

Although staying at a nearby hotel, they chose the Pfister as their locale for brunch and lady lessons.

So what does it mean to be a lady?

“It means no feet on chairs. Sitting nicely in chairs. Not talking loudly. Not running in the halls. And keeping our fingers clean,” says Irene.

(Phew! Maybe there’s hope for me yet. I seem to do most of these things on a regular basis.)

But despite the “rules” involved in acting like a lady, the rest of their visit to Brew City is spontaneous and free spirited. The trio have enjoyed their time, going on “discovery walks” where they explore Downtown at their leisure.

So far, they have discovered, aptly, the Discovery World Museum, as well at the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, a Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra concert and the lakefront’s War Memorial. Consequently, Elyse is referring to her sausages as “soldiers.”

She is also quite fond of the “angels” on the ceiling mural in the Pfister’s lobby.

The Wells are in the United States for a month. Their son and his family visit them every year for a month as well.

“We do OK. We get to see each other quite a bit considering the distance,” says Irene. “And there’s always Skype.”

Keith and Irene’s son came to the United States on business 10 years ago. He met the woman who would later become his wife at church. However, his first visit to the U.S. was at age 15 when Keith and Irene took him to see the Sears Tower in, coincidentally, Chicago.

“Little did we know 20 years later our son would return and get married,” says Keith, a now-retired engineer who traveled to Milwaukee in 1992 on business to study the control systems at Rockwell Automation.

Keith went on to ask me a bunch of questions I could not answer about the Rockwell Automation four-sided clock, called the Allen Bradley Clocktower as well as “The Polish Moon” to locals.

I told him even though I could see the clock from my front porch, I had to consult with Google to answer his inquiries. Keith, I hope you’re reading this.

His first question was whether or not the clock was still the largest in the world. I knew it was not, but could not remember the details and rediscovered it was the largest in the western hemisphere until Abraj Al Bait Towers was built a couple of years ago in Saudi Arabia.

He also asked me the dimensions of the clock tower, which I did not know, either. But, alas, Google later told me it’s 281 feet tall.

Keith didn’t seem too bothered by my lack of information. I offered to look it up on my phone immediately, but he chuckled and shook his head softly. Elyse climbed on his lap and rested her head on is chest. He took a sip of his orange juice.

“I’m living the easy life now,” he says.