When the Pfister Hotel was built in 1893, it was billed as a “fireproof hotel.” Many believe that sensational claim was made, in part, as a response to the tragic Newhall House fire of 1883. A luxurious hotel when it was built in 1856, the landmark was reduced to ashes and rubble due to an early morning fire that raged through the wooden structure. The calamitous events of that terrible night left its mark on the city and people wanted to believe such a tragedy could never occur again. The Pfister’s stone and brick construction, paired with its modern safety features, eased the minds of a city still reeling from the destructive fire.
Milwaukee author and historian, Matthew J. Prigge, wrote a book on the Newhall House fire and its aftermath titled Damn The Old Tinderbox: The Gilded Age Fire that Shocked America. Exploring the history of the hotel from its creation to its demise, and the ultimate impact it had on Milwaukee as it grew, Prigge creates a narrative that appeals to both Milwaukee history enthusiasts as well as those who simply enjoy a gripping story. The book, published by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press, was extensively research in the UW-Milwaukee archives, and Milwaukee Co. Historical Society.
Prigge, with an advanced degree in Urban History, has been passionate about history since childhood, recalling his enthusiasm when a librarian came to his Madison Elementary School classroom to share with students the history of their school. Unlike many of his peers, the future historian was eager to learn more about the storied school house, and from there his interest in exploring the past only grew.
When asked about the future, the author shared that he is considering a fiction project for his fifth book. Spurred by the positive reviews of his contribution to the upcoming Milwaukee Noir, Prigge is considering expanding his submission to the book in which a now defunct downtown theater takes center stage.