COVID-19 Updates: The Wisconsin Historical Society hours have changed. See a full list of COVID-19 Closures and Events HERE.

Share Your Voice: Kenosha | Wisconsin Historical Society

General Information

Share Your Voice: Kenosha

Residents discuss ideas for a new Wisconsin history museum

Share Your Voice: Kenosha | Wisconsin Historical Society
Ken Germanson, president emeritus of the Wisconsin Labor History Society, enjoys a laugh with Wisconsin Historical Society Director Christian Øverland (right) and Kristen Leffelman of the Society during the "Share Your Voice" session in Kenosha.

Ken Germanson, president emeritus of the Wisconsin Labor History Society, enjoys a laugh with Wisconsin Historical Society Director Christian Øverland (right) and Kristen Leffelman, Milwaukee Outreach Coordinator, during the Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha. 

Story and photos by Dean Witter
Wisconsin Historical Foundation


KENOSHA — Community pride was on full display at the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Share Your Voice” new museum listening session May 22, 2019, at the Civil War Museum as residents of the Kenosha area served up one great example after another when asked what the rest of Wisconsin and the world should know about their city and its history.

The first suggestion was clearly visible through the room’s windows: Lake Michigan and the city’s beautiful waterfront area.

But that was just the beginning.

American Motors Corporation. Nash automobiles. Simmons mattresses. Snap-On tools. All-American Women’s Baseball. Actors Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane”), Don Ameche (“Cocoon”), Daniel J. Travanti (“Hill Street Blues”) and Mark Ruffalo (“The Avengers”). Jockey underwear. The QWERTY keyboard.

All products of Kenosha.

The rapid-fire suggestions brought smiles to faces across the room and kicked off the first of several informative discussions at the session, which was one of dozens the Society is holding across the state to offer residents a chance to share ideas and provide feedback on early plans for a new $120 million Wisconsin history museum the Society plans to build on the state’s Capitol Square.

EnlargeNick Wiersum, Curator of Natural History Education for the Kenosha Public Museums, welcomes guests to the Civil War Museum in Kenosha for the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019.

Nick Wiersum, Curator of Natural History Education for the Kenosha Public Museums, welcomes guests to the Civil War Museum in Kenosha for the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019.

“Amelia Earhart visited Kenosha a couple weeks before she vanished to give a lecture at a Kenosha high school,” a guest said.

“Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke here in 1966,” added another.

Others chimed in:

“Roy Rogers’ daughter went to school at (Kenosha) Tremper, which was a girls school.”

“John Kennedy campaigned here and went to the bars, and I’m pretty sure someone from his campaign was from here.”

“The last execution in the state of Wisconsin happened here.”

“We were making cars in Kenosha before they were making cars in Detroit.”

The session was one of more than 40 “Share Your Voice” community listening sessions the Society is conducting around the state, including at all 12 American Indian nations of Wisconsin. There are also eight multicultural sessions being held, with African Americans in Beloit, Madison and Milwaukee, the Latinx communities in Milwaukee, Madison and Wautoma, Asian Americans in Milwaukee, and the Hmong community in Eau Claire. In addition, the Society is gathering feedback from PK-12 and teen students to incorporate their ideas into museum planning, too. 

EnlargeChris Allen, Executive Director of the Kenosha History Center, talks about the history and mission of his organization during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Kenosha.

Chris Allen, Executive Director of the Kenosha History Center, talks about the history and mission of his organization during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session on May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

The new state-of-the-art museum would replace the current aging and undersized Wisconsin Historical Museum — housed since the 1980s in a former hardware store — and open in 2024 or 2025.

Kenosha’s session began with welcome remarks from Nick Wiersum, Curator of Natural History Education for the Kenosha Public Museums, and Chris Allen, Executive Director of the Kenosha History Center.

Wiersum explained how Kenosha Public Museums consists of three Smithsonian-affiliated facilities: the flagship Kenosha Public Museum, the Dinosaur Discovery Museum, and the Civil War Museum. The Dinosaur Discovery Museum focuses on connections of dinosaurs to current-day birds, while the Civil War Museum focuses on the regional history of seven Midwest states that sent over a million men to fight in the Union Army and provided much of the needed food and supplies.

Allen noted that the Kenosha Historical Society was formed in 1878 and that the Kenosha History Center serves 2,500 students each year, teaching kids about their community’s long history and proud industrial heritage.

EnlargeChristian Øverland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, discusses the new museum project with guests at the "Share Your Voice" listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Christian Øverland, the Ruth and Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, discusses the new museum project with guests at the "Share Your Voice" listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Allen then introduced Christian Øverland, the Ruth & Hartley Barker Director of the Wisconsin Historical Society, who facilitated the session.

“The goal of these sessions is to visit communities and listen to you,” he said. “This isn’t a behind-the-podium moment. This isn’t about us; it is about the communities. It is about what is important to you.”

Øverland introduced a Society video about the new museum project and its central storytelling theme — “What Makes Wisconsin, Wisconsin?” — after which he began the first activity.

“Rather than sitting in a room in Madison with curators and archivists to plan a museum, we want to hear from you,” Øverland said.

Guests used Post-It notes to write things that they feel should be included in the new museum or that they feel the rest of the state and world should know about Kenosha, which led to the spirited opening conversation and flurry of suggestions.

There was a lot of discussion about the city’s industrial history, especially its time as home of the American Motors Corporation plant, which produced the Nash automobile (among others) and helped Kenosha come to be called the “Midwest Motor City.” 

EnlargeKen Germanson, president emeritus of the Wisconsin Labor History Society, laughs during the "Share Your Voice" session in Kenosha. “When you’re talking about industry, you have to talk about the working people,” he said.

Ken Germanson, president emeritus of the Wisconsin Labor History Society, laughs during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha. Germanson spoke up to make sure workers' stories would be shared in the museum. “When you’re talking about industry, you have to talk about the working people who produced the product,” he said.

Ken Germanson, president emeritus of the Wisconsin Labor History Society, spoke up to make sure the stories of workers — and their unions — would be represented in a new museum.

“When you’re talking about industry, you have to talk about the working people who produced the product,” he said, “and the way that their lives have changed through their unions. Kenosha was a strong union town.”

Germanson also provided a written statement to elaborate on his views.

“There is a unfortunate tendency when developing a museum of any type at focusing on building structures, because they are easy to portray,” he wrote. “There's even greater tendency to focus on industry leaders or politicians, while neglecting the people who have toiled to produce the goods and services and who have gone on to foster collective actions through unions and other organizations to improve the living standards for everyone.”

“It is only fitting,” Germanson continued, “that these workers and their collective organizations be prominently enshrined within the walls of the proposed new … museum.”

Andrea Bell-Myers, a longtime elementary school teacher in Kenosha, talked about living in Chicago after she graduated college and discovering that people there couldn’t wait to visit Wisconsin.  

EnlargeAndrea Bell-Myers, a longtime elementary school teacher in Kenosha, talked about living in Chicago and discovering that friends "were running" to visit Wisconsin. “They said ... 'Wisconsin is our great escape.’”

Andrea Bell-Myers, a longtime elementary school teacher in Kenosha, talked about living in Chicago and discovering that people she knew "seemed like they were running" to visit Wisconsin. “They said ... 'Wisconsin is our great escape,’” she recalled.

“I couldn’t figure out why all of the Illinois people seemed like they were running for Wisconsin,” she said. “… So I asked some people I knew and they said, ‘We’re escaping the city. Wisconsin is our great escape.’”

The anecdote led Øverland to joke, “That’s why that highway is becoming wider every year.”

Øverland introduced attendee Susan Crane, a member of the Wisconsin Historical Foundation’s Board of Directors, who said that she lives in the nearby town of Brighton.

“Thank you all for coming and representing Kenosha,” she said. “It’s heartwarming to hear all of the stories of our community.”

Guests then had an opportunity to review a packet of concept exhibit design renderings. Øverland explained each one and asked guests to vote for which ones they liked, or didn’t like, and asked them to explain why.

The first two renderings depicted an “Introduction and Orientation Area,” a large, open space which will welcome museum guests and surround them with a 360-degree digital image wall.

One rendering showed how visitors could be greeted by a wall filled with dozens of photos. The other showed how the space could be transformed with seating into a program area that could digitally connect cities (or classrooms) across the state with guests at the museum. In the example, Society underwater archaeologists are broadcasting from a shipwreck on the bottom of one of the Great Lakes and are able to take questions from guests gathered in cities across the state. 

EnlargeSusan Crane, a member of the Wisconsin Historical Foundation’s Board of Directors and resident of the nearby town of Brighton, attended the session in Kenosha. “It’s heartwarming to hear all of the stories of our community,” she said.

Susan Crane, a member of the Wisconsin Historical Foundation’s Board of Directors and resident of the nearby town of Brighton, attended the session in Kenosha. “It’s heartwarming to hear all of the stories of our community,” she said.

Most guests loved the idea, though a couple worried about it being too overwhelming.

“I look at the picture and I say, ‘This is pretty busy,’” said Mike Thompson, “but it also can create excitement for people coming into the museum and seeing it first thing.”

“I like it,” added Crane, “because it can be used for special events, so in a way, we’re able to teach history without people even realizing they’re [learning] because they’re coming to use our venue.”

“It’s like a trick of childhood, right?” laughed Øverland. “We’re gonna give you the vegetables but we’re going to put some pancakes and applesauce with them.”

“I think it creates a great remote learning opportunity,” said Chris Allen. “Kids from around the state can get together and learn about something that may not otherwise be accessible.”

“It’s hard for some schools to get out and do field trips, so it’s nice that they’ll be able to access this from their classroom,” added a woman.

“It provides a more intimate, meaningful experience that will be memorable for students,” said Bell-Myers.

“It was too busy,” Darlene Chiappetta said of a rendering of the area before it was converted for programming, because it had too many images on the screen. “It would be overwhelming. I’d be exhausted before I even walked in.”

Bell-Myers, the teacher, however, saw the “busy” screen as an advantage.

“For a group of fifth graders, which I have, it’s a hook,” she said. “You say that’s too busy, but [the kids are] busy. That’s going to get their attention. They’ll be in awe, because they go a thousand miles per hour.”

A rendering titled “Agricultural Ingenuity” had examples of wild ricing and cranberry harvesting.

“I liked it and I think it’s important, but when I look at that picture it just reminds me of so many other museums in Wisconsin,” said Rita Kemen. “It’s like I’ve seen it before.”

“I’m a farm girl,” added Susan Shemanske, “and I think it’s important for kids to know where their food comes from. So many think it’s the grocery store, or Mom makes it.”

“I think it’s so very important because so many people who came to Wisconsin came for the land,” Crane said. “… It’s so core to who we are as a people. Even if we aren’t farming anymore, our ancestors, at one point or another, came for that beautiful land.”

“I’m just wondering if there’s a way to connect it to the urban population to help them understand how the food gets to them,” a man suggested.

“That’s a great idea,” Øverland said.

A rendering called “Industrial Innovation” displayed a recreation of a large turbine Allis-Chalmers manufactured for Niagara Falls within a large machine shop exhibit, with children creating objects at a lathe.

“I like the hands-on feature [of the lathe],” said Allen. “I think hands-on learning is important. I see a lot of value there.”

“It kind of reminds me of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago,” added a woman.

Said Thompson: “The industrial innovation can involve many different cities and areas of the state.”

Like at most previous sessions, guests were split over a rendering of an art installation depicting a giant cow made out of objects representing all 72 counties of Wisconsin.

“It looks a little cluttered,” a woman said, and the concept of 72 counties isn’t clear. Maybe if it was in the shape of the state of Wisconsin, she said.

“When I see a cow, it makes it seem like everything in the state is dairy-related,” Bob McGill said. “And I don’t think that’s the concept we’re looking for. I like the idea of a state symbol rather than a cow.”

A rendering called “Natural Resources” showed an outdoor scene with a cabin, maple syrup being tapped from a tree, and a Packers ice fishing shanty, among other items.

“I swing both ways on it,” a woman said. “I think if you’re a Wisconsinite, you appreciate this. But for [visitors or people new to the state], I don’t think they’d appreciate it the same. So I think you have to tell the story so both sides of the coin understand it. For us, it reminds us of memories. … But how do people who [haven’t had those experiences] understand the narrative?”

The concept of a “Supper Club Experience” produced an enlightening racial perspective that perhaps surprised some in the audience.

“I think Wisconsin’s noted for their supper clubs,” said Thomas Sentieri. “When you think of Wisconsin, you think of supper clubs and being up north in the woods by a nice friendly fireplace and having an Old Fashioned and a nice fish fry. I mean, that’s living.”

“That’s why it’s important to have different voices in the room,” said Bell-Myers, who is African American. “Because this supper club thing is not my experience at all. … African Americans in a lot of [those] places were not welcome. … A supper club experience is not my experience and not my grandparents’ experience at all. … That does not even register with me.”

“That’s why it’s great that we’re having these conversations,” Øverland said. “Supper clubs mean different things to different people, like Andrea was saying. And there are communities with supper clubs up north that were sundown communities, which didn’t allow African Americans to go out after dark. So we have to be sensitive to that.”

“I like the idea of the supper club because it’s nostalgic,” a woman added. “It’s a part of history that you don’t find anymore. Now it’s fast-food restaurants and everyone’s in a hurry. At a supper club, you could sit down with an Old Fashioned and a fish fry and relax and you were in heaven.”

Finally, guests discussed a “Laboratory of Democracy” rendering, which features a window looking across the street to the Capitol and digitally projected historic newspapers on screens high on the walls.

The idea drew mixed reviews.

“I think it’s all technology and no real artifacts like we have at some of the other museums,” a woman said, mentioning some of the Society’s 12 historic sites and museums spread across the state, which feature carriages and farm equipment. “All I’m seeing here is computerized, digital technology things.”

Øverland assured guests that there would be a lot of artifacts, large and small, throughout the museum, drawing from the Society’s world-renowned collections, which can’t be displayed in the current museum either due to their size or because they require specific environmental conditions to preserve them.

“Your point’s well-taken,” Øverland said. “One of the reasons we did [the renderings] this way is because this is the kind of stuff you normally don’t see in our museums. We will have lots of artifacts ... this is just a new idea.”

Another woman said “it’s hard to get kids to read books,” so it’s unlikely they’ll want to read digitized newspapers.

Earlier, Øverland had pointed out the fact that the Society has the second-largest collection of newspapers in North America, behind only the Library of Congress, dating back to the 1600s. Those would be among the treasures digitally accessible.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s the best way to do this so people can have a great archive experiences and we can bring in things that can’t fit in,” Øverland said.

Germanson was all for including digitized historic newspapers and the concept of a Laboratory of Democracy.

“I think this is the most important part,” he said. “The reason I say that is that Wisconsin really has been the so-called cradle of a lot of the more progressive ideas. And it wasn’t an easy struggle. … So we’ve got to figure out some way to make sure that people understand how they got what they’ve got today as far as our democracy if we’re going to save it.”

A woman said digitizing newspapers and documents is necessary.

“Artifacts and real things are fine,” she said, “but newspapers don’t hold up, and letters don’t hold up, as a lot of people are paging through them. So this is how we keep it.”

Germanson added that it was vitally important for these materials to be accessible in a new museum.

“When you talk about the extent of [the Society’s] archives,” he said, “this is a way to let the public share in it.”

Word Cloud from the Kenosha "Share Your Voice" listening session
Suggestions made on Post-It notes during the May 22, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Kenosha were turned into this word cloud, with the most suggested words in the biggest type.


Suggestions made on Post-It notes during the May 22, 2019 "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Kenosha were turned into this word cloud, with the most suggested words in the biggest type.

 
Photos from the Kenosha "Share Your Voice" listening session
Cynthia Nelson offers her thoughts during a discussion at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Cynthia Nelson offers her thoughts during a discussion at the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Darlene Chiappetta enjoys a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 in Kenosha.

Darlene Chiappetta enjoys a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 in Kenosha.

Andrea Bell-Myers talks about how most African-Americans won't relate to an exhibit about a supper club. "That’s why it’s important to have different voices in the room,” she said. “… African Americans in a lot of [those] places were not welcome."

Andrea Bell-Myers talks about how most African-Americans won't relate to an exhibit about a supper club. "That’s why it’s important to have different voices in the room,” she said. "Because this supper club thing is not my experience at all. … African Americans in a lot of [those] places were not welcome. … That does not even register with me.”

Rita Kemen studies a rendering of a concept new museum exhibit of an art installation in the shape of a cow, with objects representing all 72 counties of Wisconsin.

Rita Kemen studies a rendering of a concept new museum exhibit of an art installation in the shape of a cow, with objects representing all 72 counties of Wisconsin.

Mike Thompson examines a packet of concept exhibit design renderings for a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session in Kenosha.

Mike Thompson examines a packet of concept exhibit design renderings for a new state history museum during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session in Kenosha.

Susan Shemanske writes her thoughts about concept museum exhibits on a packet of renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum session at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Susan Shemanske writes her thoughts about concept museum exhibits on a
packet of renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice"
new museum session at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Holli Rosenberg makes a comment during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Holli Rosenberg makes a comment during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice"
new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Rita Kemen chuckles while she writes down suggestions on a Post-It note during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Rita Kemen chuckles while she writes down suggestions on a Post-It note during the
"Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Bob and Julie McGill enjoy a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Bob and Julie McGill enjoy a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Thomas Sentieri laughs after commenting on a supper club exhibit concept. “When you think of Wisconsin, you think of ... being up north in the woods by a nice friendly fireplace and having an Old Fashioned and a nice fish fry. I mean, that’s living.”

Thomas Sentieri laughs after commenting on the concept rendering of a supper club exhibit during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session in Kenosha. “When you think of Wisconsin, you think of supper clubs and being up north in the woods by a nice friendly fireplace and having an Old Fashioned and a nice fish fry. I mean, that’s living.”

 
Susan Shemanske shares her thoughts about a concept exhibit rendering during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 in Kenosha.

Susan Shemanske shares her thoughts about a concept exhibit rendering during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 in Kenosha. 

Meredith Jumisko examines a packet of concept exhibit design renderings during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Meridith Jumisko examines a packet of concept exhibit design renderings during the "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha. 

Mike Thompson makes a comment as Darlene Chiappetta listens during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Mike Thompson makes a comment as Darlene Chiappetta listens during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Jackie Michetti considers the comments she'll write on a packet of exhibit design renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Jackie Michetti considers the comments she'll write on a packet of exhibit design renderings during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha. 

Chris Allen, Executive Director of the Kenosha History Center, enjoys a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

Chris Allen, Executive Director of the Kenosha History Center, enjoys a laugh during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" new museum listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

 

 

Guests wrote thoughts about the Kenosha area and suggestions for museum exhibit ideas during the "Share Your Voice" listening session on May 22, 2019.

 

Post-It notes with guest suggestions of what should be included in a new state history museum fill theme boards during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" American Indian Engagement Session Feb. 19, 2019 in Madison.

Examples of Post-It notes with guest suggestions of what should be included in a new state history museum fill theme boards during the Wisconsin Historical Society's "Share Your Voice" listening session May 22, 2019 at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha.

 

Share Your Voice statewide map

"SHARE YOUR VOICE" STATEWIDE SESSION LOCATIONS