Yesterday’s Milwaukee

Leif Erikson at the Lakefront, About 1910

Not long after Solomon Juneau's statue was erected, a knockoff of a Boston-made sculpture of Leif Erikson was erected in the lakefront park.

By - Apr 28th, 2015 03:40 pm
Leif, the Discoverer

“Leif the Discoverer” and two tourists visiting Milwaukee, around 1910.

The new Juneau Park, established in the 1880s, needed a little extra something. Given who it was named after, the logical thing was to create a memorial to Solomon Juneau, Milwaukee’s first mayor. And so, a 5-feet-by-15-feet sculpture of the city founder was created by artist Richard Hamilton Park, as we’ve previously reported, and the memorial was unveiled on July 6, 1887, and located near where the park meets Kilbourn Ave.

But that’s not this statue. This is a memorial to Leif Erikson, which was erected just a few months later, in November 1887. In the 19th century Norse Sagas about Ericson’s discovery of America were translated into English, and the stories had reached the height of popularity after the discovery of two different Viking ships in 1867 and 1880. And so, in 1887, a statue sculpted by Anne Whitney was erected in Boston on Commonwealth Avenue, to create a symbolic bond between America and Scandinavia.

That apparently inspired Milwaukee as well, which created a copy of the Anne Whitney statue, paid for by donor Mrs. Joseph Gilbert, and it was erected in Juneau Park, near the east end of State St., about two weeks after the Boston statue was erected.

This is a view of the statue circa 1910, a photographic postcard custom-made for the tourists in the photo. The winding paths on the bluff, featured in last week’s featured photo, are clearly visible here. By this time there would also be a much grander Chicago & Northwestern depot to the south of the statue and many more railroad tracks along the lake.

Jeff Beutner is a collector of photographs, postcards and stereoviews of old Milwaukee. This column features these images, with historical commentary by Beutner.

8 thoughts on “Yesterday’s Milwaukee: Leif Erikson at the Lakefront, About 1910”

  1. Mark Manz says:

    This is a memorial to Leif Erikson, which was erected just a few months later, in November 1987.
    Um… You mean 1897, right?

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Mark Manz. Yes 1897… It has now been fixed. Thanks!

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Actually that would be 1887, a few months after Juneau statue erected in July 1887. Now truly fixed, sorry for error!

  4. Brian Jacobson says:

    Also, the statue was moved in the mid-1990s away from the eroding bluff before it fell over the edge (thanks, Diane Buck!). Also, there *may* be treasure buried near the original southern foot. Just saying.

  5. The REV says:

    So where is the Leif statue now?

  6. @The Rev – Still in Juneau Park, follow the end of E. State St. east and you’ll find it near the bluff.

  7. @The Rev – It was moved 20 feet west. Here’s an article about that (although it’s really at the end of State, Juneau is at the end of Kilbourn Ave).

    Here’s an article about the park itself being expanded and homes being moved.

  8. Jeremy Brown says:

    “It was moved 20 feet west…” is there any way to get an exact previous location? Due west?

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