No, the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear does not sound like a real place. And no, I hadn’t heard of it before, either. But my recent visit to this not-so-hidden gem put it right near the top of the attractions I suggest to life-long or day-long Milwaukee residents. Think of it as a more-immersive Streets of Old Milwaukee, but inside a single house.
A man by the name of Avrum Chudnow spent his life collecting artifacts from the 1920s and 1930s and storing them in a well-kept Westown mansion, just off Marquette’s campus. This formative time in the US and Milwaukee’s history is often overshadowed by the book-end World Wars, but neither is mentioned much here. Instead, the Chudnow Museum focuses on this 20-year peaceful period in our country, where Americans finally started having disposable income and leisure time.
While there are certainly similarities between the Chudnow and Streets of Old Milwaukee at the Public Museum, Chudnow seems much more focused. The mansion is filled with real antiques from the time period (not simply tchotchkes) displayed in their natural environments. We wandered through a soda counter, kitchen, general store, and pharmacy (where you can see an advertisement for a heroin prescription) on the first floor. The second floor features a working theater, a doctor’s office, a smoke shop, a barber shop, and a secret surprise room hidden by the barbershop walls. It’s truly amazing to immerse yourself in real products and goods from this time period in Milwaukee.
We were also impressed with the museum staff, who guided us through the entire museum imparting interesting knowledge and answering questions. You can tell they’re invested in this museum, and that they’ve done their research.
While we were going through, a group was setting up for a social event. The entire museum is for rent for parties, as well as for children’s group tours. There’s a small gift-shop on your way out, but it’s not mandatory to walk through like so many attractions nowadays. I encourage it anyway, as we picked up a cool Milwaukee history board-game for only $10!
The pictures don’t do it justice – you’ll have to see it in person to immerse yourself in this well-kept collection of Milwaukee’s yesteryear.