Fischer, Joan (ed.) / Wisconsin Academy review
Volume 51, Number 3 (Summer 2005)
Hayes, Paul G.
Hallowed ground, pp. 29-36
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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