A man walks into the Pfister hotel and he sees a fashion designer hard at work. This man’s name just happens to be Pfister too – no relation to the hotel. As a way to preserve the legacy of his family, he decides to donate his grandmother’s handmade clothing from the early 1900s, hoping the young designer will find some inspiration.
In Germany, Pfister is as common a name as Jones in America. Pfister actually translates to “baker” in English, the same craft Fred Pfister’s father mastered back in Germany and practiced here in America. This is how our history lesson begins…
A towering stature, but a gentle demeanor, Fred has lived in Milwaukee all his life. He never married, and worked as a policeman for 28 years. There’s a hurried and syncopated cadence to his speech. Timothy Westbrook and I shared lunch with Fred to learn the story behind the marvelous clothing he donated.
History is Fred’s passion. He pulled out his detailed map of Germany to show me where his relatives hailed from in comparison to Guido Pfister’s, proving there was no relation. “It took my father ten years to become a master baker. He came to America and thought he’d earn $10,000 and go back to Germany, but then the depression hit and then the second World War – and no one was going to go back to Germany when Hitler was in charge,” he recounts. He even told me about how he dug up his father’s old recipes for the Milwaukee Journal to share with an interested reader who longed for his father’s famous cake from Militzer’s Bakery.
Fred’s grandmother, Margaret Faubel, came to Milwaukee in 1893 on a steamship from Speyer, Germany at age of 19. She worked as a cook for the Trostel family, six and a half days a week for 15 years. And she still found time to make all of her own clothing. She learned to speak English by singing the song “After the Ball” by Charles H. Harris.
Fred continues to pull out binders filled with laminated pages of black and white pictures of his family from generations past, preserved with the same attention and care a doctor would give to open heart surgery.
In 1908, at age 34, Margaret married a widower named Henry Lange. He was a plasterer and 11 years her senior. She lived in a house at 2542 N. 17th Street for the next 51 years.
Margaret passed away in 1959 at the age of 84. When I asked Fred what he remembered most about his grandma he commented, “She was a really hard worker. She didn’t smile a lot, but was a nice lady.”
See the second half of this story at the end of the week in conjunction with Gallery Night, where Timothy Westbrook and I will reveal photos of Fred’s grandmother’s stunning clothing.