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World Series Welcome Sign

"Welcome" sign used to decorate lamp posts in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin during the 1957 World Series.
(Museum object #2007.68.1)

Henry Aaron's 10th inning home run on September 23, 1957 defeated the St. Louis Cardinals and propelled the Milwaukee Braves into their first World Series appearance. While Braves fans celebrated, Milwaukee city officials got busy. Milwaukee had twelve days to prepare a welcome for baseball fans and media from across the country, and the Cream City wanted to put her best foot forward. Among other preparations, Milwaukee's Civic Progress Commission hung dozens of these welcome signs on lamp posts along the city's downtown streets. Made of heavy-duty fiberboard, the signs are six feet high and painted on both sides. While the image chosen was not one of the team's official logos, it effectively expresses local fan sentiment: the Braves on top of the baseball world.

It had been a long while since Milwaukee had been on top of the world. Less than a decade earlier, when Socialist Frank Zeidler was elected mayor, he confronted the effects of almost two decades of economic depression and war mobilization. Housing was extremely scarce, center city neighborhoods were crumbling, and city services were in disarray. Garbage was still being collected by horse carts. Yet Zeidler envisioned a thriving, prosperous city with a modern infrastructure and an honest government serving the needs of all its citizens.

Though Zeidler often faced hostility from Milwaukee's business leaders and daily newspapers, the city began a transformation under his principled leadership. Between 1948 and 1960, Milwaukee built new fire stations and libraries, repaved streets and rebuilt bridges, and constructed 3,200 units of low-income and veterans' housing. The city doubled in size by annexing outlying land for urban growth and funded its earliest freeways.

Many civic landmarks were completed or begun during Zeidler's administration, including the Milwaukee Arena, the War Memorial Center, a new terminal at Mitchell Field and the Milwaukee Zoo. To the delight of Milwaukee sports fans, long-time plans to build a new baseball stadium finally came to fruition. Originally intended to house the minor league Brewers, the brand-new Milwaukee County Stadium drew the Braves from Boston to the Cream City in 1953.

But Mayor Zeidler believed that cities were more than just bricks and mortar. He wrote in April of 1954, "Municipal evolution . . . will eventually make Milwaukee . . . a happier, more beautiful place in which to live and work! A place in which human values can reach greater heights!" If Milwaukee was to become a model city, Zeidler felt, it had to foster the human values and public spirit of a model city.

Early in his first term as mayor, Zeidler created the Civic Progress Commission to help generate that spirit, to improve the city's image, both nationally and among Milwaukeeans themselves. Operated out of the Mayor's Office, the Civic Progress Commission staged events at city parks and planned city-wide celebrations to commemorate such diverse occasions as Abraham Lincoln's 150th birthday and the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

When the Braves clinched the pennant in 1957, the Civic Progress Commission draw upon its previous baseball experience. To celebrate the 1955 All-Star game at County Stadium, the Commission had organized a week-long series of cultural activities culminating in a parade the night before the game. And in 1956 - when the Braves led the National League by two games as late as September 13th – the Commission had prepared a slate of festivities and downtown decorations for the team's presumed World Series appearance. Sadly for Milwaukee fans, these preparations had to be mothballed when the Braves lost the pennant to the Dodgers by a single game on the final day of the season.

In 1957 the Commission's "World Series Welcome Committee" was able to implement its 1956 plans, including these welcome signs. The anglicized features of the brave shown on them do not strike most modern viewers as authentically "Indian," but Braves fans were not concerned with the accuracy of ethnic representations. As the 1957 Series progressed, they cared about Eddie Mathews's batting slump, Wes Covington's brilliant fielding, and Red Schoendienst's injured leg.

When the magnificent Lew Burdette defeated the New York Yankees in the deciding seventh game of the 1957 World Series, delirious Braves fans swarmed through the streets of downtown Milwaukee, and the Civic Progress Commission's welcome signs became instant collectibles. Even today, few artifacts capture the shared delight of that joyous moment as well as these colorful, festive signs.


This sign and many other objects from the 1957 Milwaukee Braves and 1982 Milwaukee Brewers are featured in World Series Wisconsin, a temporary exhibition on display through January 12, 2008 at the Wisconsin Historical Museum, 30 North Carroll Street, Madison, Wisconsin.

[Sources: Frank P. Zeidler papers, collection of the Milwaukee Public Library, Humanities Department; Gurda, John. The Making of Milwaukee (Milwaukee; Milwaukee County Historical Society, 1999); Zeidler, Frank P. "Annual Message of Mayor Frank P. Zeidler" (Wisconsin Historical Society Library Pamphlet collection, PAM 90-3484). Frank Zeidler is often considered the last of Milwaukee's "Sewer Socialist" mayors, for more see www.wisconsinhistory.org.]

DBD


Posted on October 04, 2007

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