Everyone has them. Some people embrace them, while others want to forget about theirs and move on — or establish new ones.
Spending time at the Pfister makes me think about my roots. There’s something about being in such a regal, historic building — one that’s a cornerstone of my hometown — that makes me think about my ancestors who established roots in Milwaukee.
Did my great-grandfather Adrian ever have a reason to step foot in the Pfister? Did he share beers with his fellow Jones Island fishermen in the lobby bar?
Or did my great-grandfather Montgomery, a professional photographer, ever shoot elegant parties in one of the ballrooms? Did he take photos of his three daughters, including my grandmother, in front of the intricate check-in desk?
Everyone’s roots start somewhere.
The family of sisters Dee and Alice first established roots in central Illinois. Although Dee now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, and Alice is in Grayslake, Illinois.
Even Milwaukee provides a sense of history to them. Alice noted that, as German-Americans, they’d travel north and eat at Karl Ratzsch, one of the city’s former mainstays for classic, hearty German fare. Over the weekend, the ladies convened in downtown Milwaukee, where they were “kicking around,” checking out breweries and marveling at the Pfister’s interior.
Strolling around the Pfister and gazing at the remarkable artwork and elegant chandeliers, I thought again about my family members and how they established their roots in Milwaukee.
My fisherman great-grandfather was a second-generation German-American. The story goes that his grandfather fled Prussia during wartime and landed in England, where he took on a new last name to conceal his Prussian identity (and forever have his descendants be asked if Adrian is a first or last name).
And my photographer great-grandfather, who had Scottish ancestry, moved his family from Minneapolis to Milwaukee in the 1930s, establishing roots on the city’s west side.
How does one establish roots?
Often, it comes because of the union of two people. And the Pfister is no stranger to weddings. I’d venture to guess there is at least one wedding at the hotel each weekend — and if nothing else, it at least houses a newly minted bride and groom for the evening.
Ron was staying the weekend for his son’s wedding. His 28-year-old son, originally from central Wisconsin, now lives in Milwaukee where he and his still-fiancée-at-the-time had established their roots.
Ron — a Marshfield, Wisconsin, resident — was a bit frazzled by the day’s events: lots of traffic and endless construction around downtown and a late-to-the-rehearsal wedding party. Despite these stresses, he spent some time reflecting on where his family got started.
Ron’s a fellow German-American with a bit of Swedish and Norwegian blood. He chatted about the role his eldest son is taking in establishing his and his new bride’s roots and the start of their new life together … if they ever make it to the rehearsal.
With 124 years under the hotel’s belt, the Pfister’s roots are firmly planted in downtown Milwaukee. And the hotel not only embraces its roots but also documents, through photos like the one above, its history to educate travelers and locals alike about the building’s storied past. Through these historical reminders, the Pfister stirs up curiosity in those walking through its lobby and sleeping in its beds — those who are establishing their own roots.