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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Pabst Mansion gives us cold-brewed local history

It is a huge part of Milwaukee history, spans a whopping 20,000 square feet, hosts about 40,000 people every year in tours – and it sits right on Marquette’s campus.

The beautiful piece of architecture I’m referring to is the Pabst Mansion.

I had never been on a tour of the grand estate, and as a senior, I felt like I should experience this unique piece of history before I graduate in the spring. So this past Sunday, I met up with Marquette’s Phi Alpha Theta History Honors Society for an hour-long tour of the iconic place that rests next door to Mashuda Hall on 20th Street and Wisconsin Avenue.

When I walked through the massive front doors of the Pabst Mansion, my first impression was twofold: grandeur and a step back in time. The first floor is almost completely restored to its original appearance. The first three rooms are presented with all their original furniture from the mansion’s construction in 1892.

Each room is extravagantly decorated – silk-covered walls, furniture crafted from the finest woods and oil paintings in intricate frames. The first floor is the area of the home that guests would see, so Captain and Mrs. Pabst made sure it was well-kept. The dining room table, when fully extended, can seat 22 people. Beside it sits a very fancy spherical cooler that would keep four bottles of wine chilled during the couple’s dinner parties. (It’s interesting to note that Captain Pabst was more of a wino than a beer snob, despite his business.)

The adjacent room was probably the most-utilized place in the home. Known as the music room, it housed the family’s piano but also served as the venue for holiday celebrations, weddings and funerals. It was probably the equivalent of today’s great room, just much fancier.

Captain Pabst’s study/smoking room is truly an early version of today’s “man cave.” This was the place he would do business, smoke his favorite cigars and enjoy a drink or two. The built-in structures of the room hide 14 secret compartments, perfect for stashing important documents and expensive liquor. The room is decorated with motivational phrases painted on the ceiling, drinking horns and artwork reminiscent of the Captain’s German hometown placed throughout.

The second floor contains the family’s bedrooms and is in a state of mid-restoration. Restoring each room back to its original décor and condition is a pricey and time-consuming task but well worth it to preserve such a significant piece of history of our city.

The Pabst Mansion was built in 1892 as the grand estate of Captain and Mrs. Pabst. Photo by Sarah Elms/[email protected].

Our tour guide, John Eastberg, got his masters degree in 19th-century history from Marquette in 2000 and has been working at the Pabst Mansion for 18 years. I’ve heard from Marquette professors that Eastberg is one of the best guides you can get, and I can see why. He really knows his stuff.

He explained the history behind the mansion — how it was built for Captain and Mrs. Pabst, served as the Milwaukee Archbishop’s home for over 60 years after the Pabsts passed away and is now preserved as a piece of history — and why it is still such a draw to history buffs everywhere. He even allowed us a special glimpse of the third floor, an area usually closed off to the public.

Possibly the most significant element of the mansion is actually what now functions as the gift shop. This structure was erected at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893 for the purpose of Pabst Brewing Company to display their beer products. I learned that Pabst was given a gold medal for beer at the World’s Fair, not a blue ribbon! I guess Pabst Blue Ribbon is just an advertising gimmick.

The tour was a lovely and rather informal way to get to know an incredible piece of Milwaukee history. I now know a little more about the family behind one of my favorite beers, and I only had to walk six blocks from my apartment to get the scoop.

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