Quirky Milwaukee Museum Of Yesteryear Shows Thousands Of Once Everyday Objects

by Andy Soth
| November 17, 2016

Wisconsin Public Television

“What’s a Chudnow?” That’s the first question many visitors to the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear ask, jokes curator Steve Daly. But they soon learn about Abe Chudnow and his years of obsessive collecting that built the museum near downtown Milwaukee.

Chudnow, a Milwaukee attorney and real estate developer, filled his law office with odds and ends he had picked up from weekend trips to flea markets and small town shops.

“He loved history. In particular, he liked memorabilia that belonged in shops, businesses,” explains Dan Chudnow, one of Abe’s children who now heads the museum’s board.

The former Chudnow law office, housed in a nineteenth century Milwaukee home, is now the museum.  Each room has been remodeled as a Milwaukee business from the time of Abe Chudnow’s youth in the nineteen twenties and thirties. Visitors stroll from grocery to pharmacy, into a hardware store and an ice cream parlor.  Upstairs, a barber shop also has a hidden entrance to a speakeasy.

Some younger visitors are surprised to learn of the time when alcohol was banned in the United States. Even more surprising are the products that were once available over the counter in the pharmacy, including heroin.

For older visitors, though, the collection of once familiar items can sometimes spark memories. Dan Chudnow remembers times when seniors with memory issues have come in. “It’s really heartwarming to find out that some individuals have been quiet for years and, suddenly, when they come to the museum, they start to speak.”

That’s possible because the collection emphasizes those objects that were once everyday items. “This is our material culture, says Daly.  “It’s not like a collection of high end glassware, or silver, or china.”

It’s exactly that collection of what was once common that makes the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear so unique today.

Tags: Chudnow / museum / collections / collecting / Milwaukee

Andy Soth is a reporter for the "Wisconsin Life" project who grew up in a neighboring state but now loves Wisconsin because it’s like Minnesota without the smugness.