The Lady and the Pirate

I meet an accountant. She tells me about her career hobby: her involvement with the Society For Creative Anachronism (SCA) where she is known as ‘Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill, recipe ’ which means ‘dark horse.’ What is the SCA? “Basically we do 600 to 1600 (a.d.) everything, from Middle Ages to the Renaissance period. We cut off right before the Victorian era starts.” The SCA has similarities to those Renaissance Faires you may have heard about where they speak in old English and wear period costumes. “Where we differ is that our events and fights are not choreographed. They are real time, in life. I have no idea what my opponent is going to be doing and I have to move and judge accordingly.” These real battles consist of traditional archery, heavy weapons fighting, rapier, trebuchets and siege weapons.

A trebuchet.


The SCA is also devoted to supporting crafts such as fiber arts, weaving, metal smithing, spinning, hand sewing, coin making… “If it happened during the middle ages, we have someone within our 30,000 worldwide membership who knows something about it and can recreate it.”


Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill first became involved in the organization when she was 15. Now she is the archery captain for the Madison chapter, but no one calls it the ‘Madison Chapter,’ they call it ‘The Barony of Jararvellir.’   “We use live tip steel arrows in our practices. You can get killed playing this game.” I ask her if she has ever seen that happen. “I have come across quite a few people who have had some very close calls. We have a very large event in Pennsylvania that’s two weeks long.” Approximately 15,000 people show up for this every summer, ready to cast aside modern times for a good ole European middle age lifestyle. “I have seen individuals fall on the battle field from heat stroke. I have heard of heart attacks. I’ve heard of broken bones. Bruises are absolutely beautiful when you get hit by a rattan sword— even if you’re wearing two sheets of metal.”


At last year’s gathering Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill was listening to the frogs call when “a group of Frenchmen from France in full regalia stumbled past me singing drunk French songs.” That was a quintessential moment for her, and precisely why she goes every year.


Today she has opted for the Victorian hotel experience of the Pfister because she is celebrating her one-month anniversary with her boyfriend. She’s known him for years as a neighbor, but until a month ago they both “honest to God hated each other,” as he put it. Up until last month Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill assumed her neighbor, the very social, ‘good-with-children’ single male was actually a danger to her teenage daughter. “I thought he was a pedophile.” Hearing this explanation her boyfriend both groans and grins, “Thanks.” Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill defends her former assumption by describing herself as a mama bear. “Very overprotective and mean!” agrees the boyfriend. Then, a month ago, he came over to help her clean her house. While he was there they hit it off: talking some sci-fi, some 80’s, some 90’s, some steam punk, some reenactment…


And that is how Lady Aiofe Cno Capaill began her romance with Berisat the Air Pirate.

Sevens And Apples


Right now in the Mystery that is the Pfistery,

there is a basket out in the lobby

a tisket, a tasket of apples,

all sized small


to keep inside my blazer pocket


my pocket’s apple is named King David

cause I’m told these are King David’s Apples

an heirloom variety individually selected

by the hotel’s own king executive chef, Brian Frakes

who has decreed them the Hotel Apple

for the month of November you can taste

the Pfistery essence for yourself

it has a deep red flavor that doesn’t go all the way

down the dark path with declarations of feral passion

in the way heirloom red apples sometimes will,

this one stays sweet and neat, with a dry flesh

that would be good sliced thinly over oatmeal,

or as they do it here, served with duck

probably similar to the way my family served it

seven generations ago in Poland

I’m thinking of this ’cause

Chef Frakes told me King David’s sibling,

the Arkansas Black apple was discovered

in 1893, the same year this hotel first opened,

which was approximately seven seeds ago,

as he put it,

“If a seed is approximately 20 years,

we are now in the seventh seed at the hotel.”

I’m reminded of a poster in the bathroom

of my college’s liberal arts building,

that had a picture of wilderness,

and a quote about making all decisions

with consideration for those

who will live on this planet

seven generations from now.

Screen shot 2014-11-20 at 1.53.31 PM


I am in my 27th year of life,

my seventh month

as the seventh Pfister narrator,

the voice the comes up behind

three guests from Dallas

to describe the Victorian painting they are looking at,

a scene, “The Eternal Apple of Eve,”

two friends peeling apples, peeling with laughter,

a painting that was bought by Guido Pfister,

the man who planted the first seed of the Pfistery

that feels so luxurious to explore on my own,

passing the rooms where meetings have been held,


candies half unwrapped on the table,

notes taken on the complimentary pads,

complimentary pens strewn, chairs pushed back,

the intensity of multiple thoughts,

has yet to be swept away by the staff

I hear coming down the hall with their cart,

so I leave to inspect the 23rd floor

and run into the Dallas Trio again,

yes, I am the disembodied voice that narrates

the window view for these three flight attendants


who are unaware that they are admiring the world’s only

inland freshwater sea.

These flight attendants take three-day trips every week,

before Milwaukee they stayed in Canton, Ohio,

“It was almost as good as this,

but this, is a step above even that.”

They tell me there is nothing so historically grand

in all of Dallas

the only thing that comes close

is the Pyramid Room,

a hotel still in its first seed.


I could end the story here

but then I’d miss how

on this day of apples and sevens

I was passing the elevator when

Peter, the concierge, asked me

if I was following him

to get his apple.

I did not know he had an apple,

he did not know I was thinking about apples,

but he stuck his arm out

as the elevator doors began to close

just his head and hand could be seen,

His head told me, “It’s a Jonamac!”

His hand held it out for me,

I accepted it so he would not be guillotined.

This is a comely apple.


A Room Full of Barometric Gages

Inside the rouge ballroom is a top-secret gathering of the stylish.


The nation’s first four-year fashion program (Milwaukee’s own Mount Mary College!) is holding a reception for AIDS awareness. There is to be a conversation between Timothy Gunn, American fashion icon who hosts the television show, Project Runway and Sister Aloyse Hessburg, SSND, who founded the fashion design program at Mount Mary fifty years ago.


It is the hob-nob hour before Mr. Gunn and Sr. Aloyse speak, so I nob my hob over to the table of fashion majors to find out what trends they are all about. Petal sleeves! A recent assignment challenged them all to create a bunch of sleeves out of muslin fabric. The results were stapled to the wall and became something known as “the wall of sleeves.”


There are two kinds focus for fashion majors at Mount Mary, the merchandise department is for those who want to open a boutique, and the design department is for those who want to create the stock for their friend’s boutiques.


I ask them if they all draw pretty ladies in their free time.

“You SHOULD draw pretty ladies in your free time if you’re in fashion!”


Fashion design majors.
Fashion design majors.

Tori, a junior in the designer program loves to knit, but has never crocheted. She tells me that after graduation she is going to move to either New York or London and get her masters in knitwear.



“I like posh New York style business wear,” says Pakou, a sophomore who gets a lot of her influences as a designer from Alexander McQueen. “I love his drama and tailoring.” Pakou made up her own henna design and applied it to her hand with a toothpick. She wants to stay in Milwaukee after graduation, but is thinking about using a different name as a designer because “Pakou is a very common Hmong name.” I shake my head, “But just think of all the women named Pakou who will want to buy your clothes and wear them because you share the same name!” Pakou smiles and admits that she’s never thought of it that way.


She applied the henna with a toothpick.
She applied the henna with a toothpick.

Two moments stand out in the dialogue between Sr. Aloyse and Tim Gunn. One is the story of how Sr. Aloyse studied fashion in New York and still had to wear her full floor length habit of a Catholic nun that covered all of her hair and much of her face. Many people on the streets and in elevators assumed she was a beggar.


The other moment occurred at the end of the discussion when Timothy Gunn said, “There is a profound difference between being a fashion designer and a clothing designer. The world needs clothes, it doesn’t need fashion. As a fashion designer you’re really a barometric gage of your culture. And if that sounds highfalootin’ and grand— it is! You are working in a context as the societal, cultural, historical, political and economic. You are that gage of what is happening in this particular time and place. That’s your role and you need to accept responsibility for it. It’s not just about the pretty dress.”


The Pfister Hotel seeks next “Narrator in Residence”

The historic Pfister Hotel in downtown Milwaukee, which is owned and managed by Marcus® Hotels & Resorts, is in search of its next writer in residence, known as the Pfister Narrator. The chosen candidate will spend time in the hotel’s lobby, speaking with visitors and guests and sharing their stories through a blog on the hotel’s website.

“The Pfister Narrator program has served as a great way to honor our guests and their experiences at the hotel and beyond,” says Joe Kurth, general manager of The Pfister Hotel. “The exposure and success of the program is continually growing.”

The person chosen next for the position will be the hotel’s fourth narrator, and will replace current narrator, Ed Makowski. He has been blogging from the hotel since November 2011; his stories can be found at

“During my time at the Pfister, this unique narrator position has given me a space to expand and develop my writing and story gathering skills,” says Makowski. “All at once the hotel has been a comfortable living room and big artistic playground. I’ve been a traveler among travelers. It will be exciting to meet the next writer to take on this fantastic position.”

The new Pfister Narrator will work a minimum of 10 hours per week over the course of a six-month period and will publish a minimum of two blog posts per week. In return he or she will receive his or her choice of a $1,000 monthly stipend, scholarship for continuing education or donation to a charity of his or her choice in his or her honor, in addition to complimentary parking and meals within the hotel’s cafeteria. The Narrator’s blog posts will later be published in a narrator book series. The first narrator Julie Ferris’ book is currently available in the hotel’s gift shop.

To be considered, applicants will need to submit an application form, current resume, 2-3 writing samples of recent work, a cover letter and two professional letters of recommendation to Six finalists will be asked to write two sample blog entries and participate in a video interview. Deadline for submissions is March 1, 2012. The Pfister Narrator will take his or her post the week of May 1, 2012, and will remain the hotel’s storyteller through October 2012. A review panel will evaluate the applications and ultimately choose the Pfister Narrator. More information and the application form can be found at

Since 2009, the hotel has been a member of the Alliance of Artist Communities,, an international association of artists’ communities and residencies featuring a diverse field of more than 1,000 programs worldwide.



Finding Your Roots in Milwaukee

Joe, the newest addition to the lobby bartending staff, is standing behind the green marble countertop, polishing a glass; his black pants, stiff white tuxedo shirt and black vest with gold-threaded “ThePfister” monogram crisp in its newness.  “I just had the best calamari in the city,” he says, “at Umami Moto.”

The female half of a couple, seated nearby, jumps in, “We’re from Seattle, we can’t do sushi anywhere else.  Where does it come from out here?”

Joe, with his earnest smile, ever striving for perfection, giving his all to this new position (previously he was a food runner), replies with enthusiasm, “They ship it in fresh from Hawaii daily!”

“How old are you?,” the mustachioed man asks, as he gestures for Joe to refill his drink, noting Joe’s young appearance.

“Old enough,” he laughs, confirming the man’s cocktail choice and delivering it with speed and grace.

The couple introduces themselves as Fred and Anita, of Whidbey Island.  Anita is shorter than her husband, her curly hair a perfect complement to her bubbly, chatty nature.  She turns towards me and says, “the customer service here is impressive. I feel like if I wanted a wheatgrass shot, someone here would go grow the wheat, cut it, seed the grass, and press it.”

Fred, tall with glasses, has the air of a reserved, distinguished gentleman, but who quickly becomes easy to tease – clearly the jocular sort that is always good for a story.

Though they’d just come from watching the Packers game at a pub down the street, Fred and Anita spent the majority of their day among tombstones at Forest Home Cemetery.  As it turns out, the reason this pair, married for over 30 years and widely traveled, is in Milwaukee for the first time, is because of genealogy research that Fred is doing, begun over two years ago.  While tracing the lineage of his mother, he found a link to the Pfister – in his own family!  His maternal line, worked its way through the Falk family, directly into the Vogels, and the Pfisters  The link was distant, and a little labyrinthine, but worth noting as it firmly placed his generational history into footprints that have left indelible marks on the Cream City.

Branching Out

The tree looks a little like this:  Guido Pfister and Frederick Vogel, cousins, moved to Milwaukee and started a leather goods company together, incorporating in 1872 as Pfister & Vogel.  Guido’s vision for a “grand hotel of the West” was seen to fruition thanks to his son, Charles.  Guido’s daughter, Louise, married cousin Frederick’s son, Frederick Jr. Their daughter Elizabeth married Otto H. Falk, of The Falk Brewing Co.  Otto’s brother Frank married Margaret Jacobs whose sister, Mathilde, married Dr. Edgar Neymann.  Their daughter was Fred’s mother, Margaret Eleanor Neyman Smyth.

Not only do the branches sweep over some of Milwaukee’s most historic institutions, but also drops leaves at the corner of 27th & National where Margaret Jacobs’ father, William H. – a Colonel and commanding officer of the 26th Wisconsin Infantry (the Sigel Regiment) during the Civil War – built a columned mansion referred to as “The House That Rang With Music.”  A nod to the grand southern plantation houses, featuring an artesian well, greenhouses, orchards and stables, its fame was in the rooms within that provided both home and performance space for Milwaukee’s musicians.  A musician in his own right, Col. Jacob’s daughter Emma married Eugene Leuning, an orchestral and choral conductor.  The Leuning’s son, Otto went on to become a composer and music professor at Columbia University in NYC.

They’ll head out the next day for a family reunion in one of the adjoining counties, to meet people they never knew existed before this week.  Anita tells me, “we were going to visit Chicago for a few days, after the reunion, but we’re extending our stay here because we just love it in Milwaukee!  The attitude here – everyone is so warm and welcoming.  We were in Hartland yesterday to meet some cousins and some old guys at the bar shouted to us while we were leaving, ‘Come back again! The first drinks are on us!'”

Speaking of drinks: the three of us order a round of drinks, Joe delivers beautifully, and we toast the Smyth’s new home, Milwaukee.

The Turk’s Head

Turk's Head Knot bracelet1

Jimmy McManus sits at a table in the lobby bar, having a beer.  He’s heavily bearded, gruff and scruffy, in a t-shirt featuring a skull & crossbones, drinking a nice pint of beer.  His appearance indicate you might not want to run into him in a dark alley, but he has the biggest, friendliest smile on his face.  Jimmy is a regular visitor to the Pfister, but only for beer because his home, at least for the summer and early Fall, is the S/V Denis Sullivan, the world’s only re-creation of a 19th century three-masted Great Lakes schooner, where he serves as 2nd Mate.  Peter, who introduced us, explains that the 1st Mate is the one putting the banana peel under the Captain while elbowing the 2nd Mate out of the way.

Having grown up sailing 14′ Hobey Cats in the San Diego Bay, Jimmy was 20 yrs old when he saw an advertisement for a “cannon battle.”  Intrigued, he checked it out.  In it, tall ships try to outmaneuver each other as they sail in a manner that mimics a high seas battle.  Drawn in, Jimmy started out as a volunteer, provided only with room and board.  Within a week and a half, he knew it was what he wanted to do: six years later, he got his Captain’s License.  Since then, he’s served as mate of Lady Washington, mate of the Lynx (where he sailed from San Diego to Florida by way of the Panama Canal), and as synchronicity would have it, as Captain of the Hawaiian Chieftain, the tall ship on which I celebrated by 18th birthday (a good number of years ago).

Most tall ships travel from port to port, upwards of three per week, but the Denis Sullivan parks in Milwaukee all season.  Its home is Discovery World, where there’s an entire workshop in the basement devoted to sails, supplies, repairs and work needed to keep the Denis Sullivan in tip-top shape.

A recent shipboard tour with Jimmy–where he regaled us with stories of a German count who served as a raider, of old clocks and compasses used on newer ships–gave us a glimpse into life on a tall ship.  Bunks below deck don’t offer much more than a simple place to sleep, which is fine when there is so much work to be done.  Whether you’re the Helmsman, assisting the Captain at the helm; or the “Idler,” not responsible for much more than delivering coffee, grabbing supplies, etc.; or serving on Bow Watch, standing at the bow, keeping a wary eye out for whatever might be missed by those at the back of the boat, where the wheel is but with a very limited perspective: all this is primary to the demands of cleaning, cooking, maintaining engines or plotting courses.  Deckhands may sit around, appearing to relax, but closer examination reveals minor, vital work, such as braiding large knots for use in hauling lines and sails (ten of them, with a total of 4300 square feet of rigging).  The floors are wood, waterproofed with cotton and “oakem” underneath pitch that must be re-applied every few years.  Even with all the new technology available, navigation of large bodies of water still relies heavily on traditional methods of work: the steering uses a King’s Spoke, string & weight rigging that helps the Captain line up the 3 ton rudder accurately every time.  The GPS may go askew, or stop working, but the boat will still run true.

Mostly an educational tool, the Denis Sullivan does day and sunset sails for the public, but concentrates its work with school groups.  Captain Tiffany Krihwan is especially proud of their program, which is essentially an “introduction to field science,” giving kids an opportunity to drop specialized containers into the water to examine the health of Lake Michigan via water quality and sediment examination.  Their extended trips teach first-hand energy conservation as the kids must eye up how much fresh water they have available, or amount of electricity they use each day, and how to ration each resource.  Jimmy has great stories from these overnight trips.  Like the time they were anchored offshore of Port Washington and motored to shore via dinghy for “emergency” cheese curds, or when an unexpected stop in Kewaunee meant a hike into town for peanut butter custard.

Jimmy lives an old life that we may be unconnected to in our modern age, his is encompassed by the humbling experience of being hundreds of miles offshore, where 23,000 lives have been lost to the ravages of nature, leading to a feeling of insignificance.  But in that feeling there is a sense of wonder that can only occur in such isolation and vulnerability.

One recent weekend, as the Denis Sullivan was making its way back from Sturgeon Bay, a thunderstorm having already delayed their departure once, the ship encountered a late-evening storm developing around them as they reached the precarious middle of Lake Michigan.  At the last minute, the storm split around them, going both North and South, revealing a clear, moonless sky above them.  The storm surrounded on all sides, but directly above was the brilliant sparkle of the entire Milky Way.


Don’t just take my word for it!  You can visit the Denis Sullivan for FREE, as a part of Historic Milwaukee’s upcoming event, Doors Open Milwaukee, on Saturday, September 24th.  Take a tour of the ship, and hear the stories of 19th century Great Lakes life.

1The “Turks’ Head Knot” is an intricate, ornamental knot woven seamlessly from a single line of rope, braided to resemble a Turkish headband.  Jimmy got his from the first boat he worked on and has worn it ever since.

Fall Right Through

Gwen and Adam are seeing their daughter off to college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. They’re in town to help their daughter settle in to her new life here, as well as renovate a cottage near Oconomowoc for future visits.  Originally from Waukesha, Gwen met Adam, an Ohio native, and they moved to West Palm Beach, Florida where they now make their home.  Gwen says she misses Wisconsin, with its mild summer and changing seasons.  While staying at Hotel Metro, they come to the Pfister for drinks nearly every day, on top of seeing other Milwaukee sights.  In fact, sporting Brewers wear, they talk about the game they just came from (vs. the Cubs), and plan to see more before they fly back south.

Somehow we get onto the topic of California, my home, and they tell me about their vacation to Santa Barbara where they fell in love with a restaurant in the mountains that was one of the first stagecoach stops upon entering the golden state: Cold Spring Tavern.

Adam says about Cold Spring Tavern as they try to describe its ramshackle, historic appearance to me, “It’s almost like you’re going to fall right through the floors–”  She interjects, “The floors are just wooden, and sloped, you couldn’t fall through them .”  He states “You could in some places! Wasn’t there a place roped off –?”  Gwen cuts him off, in that emphatic, final way only a wife can, “No. They were just crooked,” and she turns away to answer her phone.  As she’s turned away, Adam whispers, a wink in his voice, “You could fall right through them.”

History on display in Pfister

Established in 1886, a mere seven years before the Pfister, Cold Spring Tavern was a relay station where coaches could stop off, get water and rest before continuing westwards using an additional pair of horses to get the coaches up over the mountain via San Marcos Pass.  It still has the “gang house” where the toll road construction workers bunked, as well as a jail house for troublemakers and ne’er-do-wells.   The walls of the buildings are made of stone and wood, ivy covers everything, broken wagon wheels are propped up all around, and original signage marks its history, all flanked by ancient, large Sycamore trees.  It’s been owned by the same family for 70 years.

It’s interesting to consider the convergence of time with these two historic places.

Cold Spring Tavern started out being frequented by travelers and pioneers: common folk forging a new life in the “Wild West” as part of America’s “Manifest Destiny.”  Now, while still maintaining a presence for travelers and the everyman, it is regularly frequented by celebrities of all types and is so popular, reservations are encouraged.

The Pfister was built and presented as the “Grand Hotel of the West” with its glistening, colorful marble, wide halls and individual room thermostats.  A stop in Milwaukee, as part of “the West,” indeed, but one for the wealthy, the powerful, and the famous.  While still the first stop in town for stars, it has become much more accessible over the years, opening its doors and its bar to anyone who wants to stop in for a tasty morsel, refreshing drink, or a place to lay a head.

With all this in mind: the convergence of history and geography, the past falling right through into the present, I leave you with this quote from Lyndon B. Johnson.  “Is our old world gone? We bid it farewell. Is there a new world coming? We will bend it with our will to the hopes of man.”

The Pfister Recommends: Cathedral Square

Just steps away from the Pfister Hotel, view Cathedral Square in the East Town neighborhood is a vibrant community with multiple events throughout the year.

East Town Association produces a variety of events to get you even more involved with your community including the East Town Market, Jazz in the Park, Bastille Days and more.

Get a brief history of the square from Peter and learn a little more about what the neighborhood means to Milwaukee.


History in the Air (Pt. 2)

<continued from Part 1>

“Every Sunday – it was a must – they’d take walks together, down to the lake.  There wasn’t a house or building there, it was all grass.  Just imagine how beautiful that was.  One time they were walking through an alley together, as a group, joking and having fun – and my mother said, ‘Oh, look at the red light there, isn’t that pretty?’  It was kind of high up on the building and one of the guys laughed and laughed and said, ‘Don’t you know what’s that for?’ and my mother said ‘No, no, it’s so pretty up there.’ Of course, they were talking about the red light district.  I’ve often gone down there, walking around, looking at the buildings and wondering which one it was.

“One day Teddy Roosevelt was in town, having lunch there, and he asked the waitress, ‘who made this beautiful, this wonderful salad?’  He said ‘I’m a salad person and this is the best salad I ever had, I have to meet whoever made it.’  So my mom came out of the kitchen to meet him.  They shook hands; he gave her a kiss and congratulated her on her salad.”

The photo, with Blanche's handkerchief and gold bracelet stamped with her initials

“She went on to be a nanny for a Doctor’s family before getting married and starting her family.  She was always a good cook – her food was delicious, very delicate – she would bake cookies for us to take to school.  Then people in the neighborhood started getting laid off – during the Depression.  I remember so many sad people. My folks’ nature was: ‘We have to feed these people.’ And so my mother was cooking day and night, making meals for so and so and so and so, and my sister and I would deliver on the coaster just like the snowstorms. But, that’s how we were brought up and it’s still that way in the family. You got to take care of people.”

I stayed for two more hours while El told me more stories about her life in Bay View – working for Bucyrus during WWII and waiting for the bus in the snow when her shift ended after Midnight; about marrying her childhood sweetheart (Dan, the butcher’s son with whom she attended elementary school and “did everything together – played together, fought together); all the garden clubs she worked with; going on a fishing trip to Canada for her 25th wedding anniversary; her kids and grand-kids and five great grand-kids (“One is going to be a writer!”).

We wandered around her yard, as she gathered dirt and a spare pot to send me home with wild onion bulbs to grow in my apartment.  She showed me the banners hanging in her yard, which lie in the flight path of the airport, honoring the 128th Air Refueling Wing and the 440th Airlift Wing – her husband, Dan, served in the war with the signal corps – and every time the signature sound of those military planes is heard, El rushes out to her backyard to salute them.

So this weekend, as jets and bombers buzz the shores of Lake Michigan for the Milwaukee Air Show, I’ll be thinking about Eleanore Hinich and her husband Dan’s service during WWII, as well as her mother’s kindness and generosity and how El so warmly embodies that nature and spirit.

I’m certain Teddy Roosevelt would have been pleased to find out that years later, Blanche was still making delicious food, only this time to feed the hungry mouths of families in Bay View who were forging through the Great Depression.

As for that onion bulb in the little ceramic pot?  It’s already sprouted up, getting ready to be chopped up and added to a delicious meal which I’ll be sure to make for a friend.

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.”  -Theodore Roosevelt


History in the Air (Pt. 1)

“Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.”  -Theodore Roosevelt

I park in front of the Bay View home of Eleanore Hinich, admiring her vast garden of butterfly plants and wildflowers as I approach to ring the doorbell.  She’s expecting me, because she has a story to tell me.  I’m meeting her at her home because, at 93-years-old, she doesn’t drive anymore.  The door opens and a very slight woman greets me in khaki shorts, tennies and a Bucyrus Museum shirt with “Eleanor” stitched on it.  Her shirt is tucked into her shorts, and a brown leather belt is cinched tight to the last possible hole.  She blinks at me through her dainty metal-rimmed glasses, runs a hand through her cropped hair and, upon my introducing myself, flings wide her door, “Come in!  Come in!”

She apologizes for her attire, as she’s been working on her garden.  We talk briefly about how hot it’s been, and then she says, “So, you’re here to ask me about my mother?” as she escorts me into the kitchen, offering me a seat at her table where a milk jar holds an array of wildflowers from her yard.  The walls are painted a sunny yellow, and the window is framed by white eyelet lace curtains, overlooking the backyard where there’s a pool and some banners hung on the fence.  I nod, explaining that one of the security managers at the Pfister had told me about meeting Eleanore (‘El’) some time ago when she came in with some family members and an old photograph.


El jumps up.  “I’ll get the photo.”  She zips out of the room, reappears within moments, a folder in her hand.  She places a photograph on the table.  It’s 8.5 x 11, glossy, and black & white capturing three lines of people in kitchen whites and serving aprons.  Printed at the bottom are the words “Pfister Hotel” and the year – 1914.  Seated in the front row is a woman whose face is circled.  Her ankles are crossed, her hands clasped in her lap.

“She’s so beautiful,” I say.

El nods, “she was a beauty – auburn hair, more chestnut than auburn.  She was very fussy about everything.”  She pauses.  “So, what do you want to know?”

I pull out my notebook and pen, ask, “What was her name?”  And so we begin.

Blanche Mrowinski (nee Rykowski) was born around 1892.  For a brief time she worked as a salad girl for the Pfister Hotel.  As El told me stories, she rarely sat still, getting up to make coffee, set out chocolate chip cookies, and work at getting the ground out from under her fingernails (“not coffee grounds, real earth, from outside!”).

“I think she stayed at the Pfister when she first started – they had rooms – instead of walking or taking the streetcar, because she lived on the South Side.  One of those ladies [in the photo] was her best friend. She talked about this friend of hers a lot. They were very close.  They were all like sisters and brothers –a big family, there. They were kind of nice to each other, setting each other up on dates. She had boyfriends from there – she’d tell us about the dates, and where he lived – this one and that one… They had so much fun together.

“Some of the girls who worked in the dining room would come home with blue ribbons, from the beers, and one girl would collect the blue ribbons and make pretty little things out of them.”

(Me:”Actual blue ribbons came with the Pabst Blue Ribbon beer?”  El: “Yes!  Do we still have a Pabst Blue Ribbon?”  Me: “Yes, they still make it, but I don’t think they’ve actually won a blue ribbon in a long time.  I think the first one was the only one.”  We both burst out in laughter over this bit.)

<to be continued…>

Tune in tomorrow for Part Two…