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Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 51, Number 3 (Summer 2005)

Hayes, Paul G.
Hallowed ground,   pp. 29-36


Page 33

enld i er. hnme 
People still visit graves of loved ones buried there. 
July, cannons thundered and a grand dis- 
play of fireworks ended the day. 
A military band played regularly at 
the home, and its bandstand concerts 
were part of the summer weekend enter- 
tainment. The theater booked both 
homegrown and professional plays and 
concerts. The old soldiers lined up early 
for shows, got in free, and comprised a 
tough audience, Corbett said. 
"They liked girls, gaiety, and jokes," 
she wrote. "They despised anything talky 
or highfalutin'; most dramatic conflict 
and practically all pathos bored them." 
During Corbett's life at the home, 
three presidents, William McKinley, 
Theodore Roosevelt, and William 
Howard Taft visited the home. The the- 
ater remained active for 80 years, bring- 
ing in minstrel shows, temperance 
lectures, melodramas, and variety acts. 
Veterans of later wars as well as civil- 
ian patrons from Milwaukee were 
treated to appearances by Will Rogers, 
Bob Hope, George Jessell, Burns and 
Allen, Sophie Tucker, and a young 
pianist from nearby West Allis named 
Liberace. 
But Marquette's James Marten 
describes a starker side of life at the 
home. Relying on sketchy surviving 
records from the home, Marten derived 
a picture of men who bore emotional as 
well as physical scars of war. 
Alcoholism was pervasive. The old 
soldiers could buy beer on the grounds, 
but for serious drinking patronized a 
row of saloons that opened on National 
Avenue. 
"In 1896, for instance, more than thirty 
clustered near the northern and south- 
ern entrances, many with names like 
'Lincoln,' 'Sheridan,' and 'Sherman,"' 
writes Marten. 
"A Milwaukee Sentinel correspondent 
claimed that 'the baser sort from the 
city' haunted these saloons, shrewdly 
getting veterans to buy them drinks and 
then, after the old men were 'stupidly 
drunk on vile whiskey,' robbing them in 
the street," his account continues. 
Drunkenness and other offenses were 
punished by courts martial at the home. 
While the records are fragmentary, 
Marten was able to document violence, 
fights, and sexual frustration and mal- 
adjustment. Punishment ranged from 
extra duty to fines to confinement. 
Originally intended to admit only 
veterans so physically disabled that 
they could not care for themselves, in 
1884 Congress removed that restric- 
tion and opened the home to any eld- 
erly veterans. 
WISCONSIN  ACADEMY  REVIEW  SUMMER  2005  33 


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