MILWAUKEE— Few things are more synonymous with Wisconsin culture than beer.
In the 1800s, Milwaukee became the epicenter of German culture, as it welcomed German immigrants.
Schlitz, Pabst, Blatz, Best, and the list goes on. Wisconsin’s German beer pioneers are still remembered today, though more about their history is discovered every day.
In this case, history took the form of 350 letters, found in an old metal box back in 2005. They were buried in a closet in Oconomowoc at Pabst Farms.
“Fred Pabst Jr. started Pabst Farms at the turn of the 20th century and these were actually found in a closet,” said Pabst Mansion curator of collections Jocelyn Slocum. “These were untouched for over a century and then brought here.”
The letters are now archived at the Pabst Mansion, Captain Frederich Pabst’s foamier home that he shared with his wife, Maria Best.
The letters are written by members of the Pabst and Best families, often to one another. The two families founded what is now known as the Pabst Brewing Company. Two members of the Best family also founded what is now know as the Miller Brewing Company.
Read more of the history here.
Through a partnership with Pabst Mansion and UWM’s Translation and Interpreting Studies program, the letters are being translated.
Student Marisa Irwin, who has German roots herself, did the translating with fellow student Nastassja Myer.
“I had about 25 pages worth of letters to transcribe, translate, and research,” Irwin said. “I definitely took the full eight weeks to do the full project.’
For Irwin's professor, Viktorija Bilic, this is personal as well. She came to Milwaukee from Germany seven years ago.
“It doesn’t get much more authentic than this, to read these letters in German that’s even an antiquated style in German,” she said.
This style of writing is called "current script," which even native speakers like Bilic have difficulty reading.
“To be able to have that glimpse into Milwaukee history when 75% of the people in the city spoke German and many of them German only," she said.
The letters were written between 1841 and 1887. Bilic is hopeful the translation process for the rest of the letters will be completed in the next three to five years.