Sunday, December 1, 2013

Day 203 - Visiting the Pabst Mansion

I have never been to the Pabst Mansion Museum. Although I have been aware of the museum resting in the historic former residence of the founder of the Pabst Brewery for some time, I never set aside time to make the trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin and experience the home first hand. This was the case despite the periodic comments of the home’s unique architecture and elaborate interior I would hear in passing conversation. Each time my curiosity about the place would spike, but the low priority of such a visit meant it quickly fell out of mind as I trudged through my routine life.

Of course, that reality changed in a big way with the onset of my “I have never...” journey, which bucked nearly every routine I had in my life. Realizing my journey provided the perfect time to finally experience the Pabst Mansion firsthand, I set aside time to visit the museum at the onset of their holiday celebration this weekend. Although the event wasn’t the most exciting way to spend a Saturday, I eventually convinced Rachael to join me on the trip, which set into motion my “I have never...” plans for the day. As a result, I kicked myself out of bed this morning, grabbed my camera, and hopped into the car to make the drive to Milwaukee for what I knew would be a great experience with Wisconsin beer history.

Hangin' at Captain Pabst's place

Upon arriving at the Pabst Mansion, Rachael and I took some time to take in the grandeur of the building’s exterior. Although the structure was clearly a massive home, its position between two modern office buildings in a neighborhood very near the heart of Milwaukee made the mansion seem deceptively small. Regardless, the massive stone face of the building and the ornate accents the ringed nearly every angle on the building were a sight to behold. Although I could have spent hours looking over the details of the copper fixtures, the carved pillars and doors, and the beautifully designed window frames, Rachael was anxious to get out of the cold. As a result, we headed into the mansion to purchase our entry and wait for two friends I had roped into joining us on the mansion tour, Ray and Ala.

Rachael and I took our time looking over the variety of Pabst memorabilia lining the shelves of the mansion’s visitor’s center as we waited briefly for Ray and Ala to arrive. The seemingly unending ways the PBR logo was worked into jewelry, clothing, hats, and other trinkets was enough to give me a few chuckles, but I was actually astounded by the creative ways it was worked into some of the historic pieces lining the shop. As a result, my time spent looking over the items for sale easily occupied me until Ray and Ala arrived, which permitted us to tackle the main part of today’s experience, the tour of the Pabst Mansion’s interior.

With all of our tickets purchased, Ala, Ray, Rachael, and I made our way through the heavy, intricately carved wooden doors of the mansion’s main entrance. Upon entering a subtle scent of pine and spices rushed toward us as a volunteer provided us a welcome to the home. As I glanced around the home’s grand entrance, my eyes met one beautiful feature after another. Wood and stone fixtures came together in elegant walls, baroque moldings, and a beautifully crafted fireplace. The walls of the space were lined with pieces of classic artwork and fixtures that rivaled some of the most extravagant I have ever seen. It was absolutely amazing, and it was only the entrance hall.

Could you imagine living here?

Anxious to see more of the home, the four of us slowly walked forward into the heart of the building and began taking an arbitrary path through the home. Unfortunately, as we walked the woman at the entrance reminded advised us no photography was permitted in the mansion, which frustrated me a bit but didn’t deter me from taking in the full experience. As we moved from room to room it quickly became clear each portion of the home was bound to a unique Christmas theme. The sitting room, the music room, the dining room, the study, and the kitchen on the first floor were all decorated differently, and nearly all of them had a lavish Christmas tree serving as the center of each design. Like the entrance hall, each of the rooms was donned with opulent fixtures and fine materials. The surroundings were an epicurean’s dream, and they made it obvious the Pabst family lived in the lap of luxury during their reign as Milwaukee’s first family.

Eventually, our path led us to the second of three floors in the Pabst Mansion. There we wondered through a variety of bedrooms, closets, and bathrooms large enough to rival those of today’s largest homes. Each of them maintained the theme of magnificence and adornment that had flowed through the first floor, but the rooms each retained a touch of the people that once claimed the space as their own. The master bedroom showed signs of achievement and weathered class in the artwork and fixtures that lined the walls. The bedroom of Captain Pabst’s youngest daughter still had a light, youthful wallpaper that accompanied a photo of the girl and her massive, handcrafted dollhouse, and the bedroom of Pabst’s eldest daughter still held her desk and dressmaker’s dummy. For me, the relics made the idea of the Pabst family calling the museum home a little more real, which left me wondering what it must have been like to live in such a place at the height of America’s gilded age.

After wandering the second floor, Ray, Ala, Rachael, and I met at the center of the second floor and talked about our plans. With the third floor of the mansion closed to the public, we decided to wrap up our tour of the building and grab a bite to eat in downtown Milwaukee. At Ray and Ala’s recommendation, we made the short trip to the Comet CafĂ©, where we ordered a quick bite to eat and sipped on a few PBRs in recognition of our time at Captain Pabst’s former residence. Following our meal, Rachael and I parted ways with Ray and Ala and decided to start our trek home. With the afternoon pressing toward evening, we made quick work of the journey and slipped back into our weekend routine.

A few PBRs... Courtesy of the Captain

As the night set in I thought about our experience at the Pabst Mansion and the beauty of everything it contained. While a part of me wanted to know what it would be like to live among such elegance, I realized the things around me were more than enough to give me everything I need. I have an amazing woman by my side, some furry, expressive dogs that make me happy every day, and a house that any 30 year old man would be happy to call his home. On top of all of the other things I have that make my life comfortable, that’s all I know that’s all I really need. While I don’t know how Captain Pabst lived from day to day, it’s clear the love I have in my life makes me feel as rich a man as he was. Knowing that, all I can do is smile.

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