The exhibit opened in January 1965 under Carl Borhegyi, museum director at the time. Borhegyi’s inspiration for the exhibit came from a 19th century barbershop and drugstore exhibit located in the museum’s library building. Museum artist Edward Green led the design of the original exhibit, which aimed to guide visitors through a fall evening set in the early 1900s.
As the museum enhances the exhibit later this summer, it will incorporate more sensory experiences, such as new soundscapes, new sights and smells, and new “secrets” to uncover.
Most exhibits showcase history, Dennis Kois, president and chief executive officer of the museum, said in an announcement. “‘Streets’ has become part of Milwaukee’s history. We’re very excited to build on that history by implementing changes that will enhance not only the Streets themselves, but deliver the kind of visitor experience contemporary museum-goers expect.”
The redesigned exhibit will also feature new technological components. Visitors will enter the exhibit on a life-sized streetcar that will move along tracks and, with technology, appear to travel back in time. Visitors will be able to take in new storefronts and businesses, overhear conversations carried on by “Streets” residents and take part on hands-on activities. One of those activities will allow museum-goers to climb on a penny-farthing high wheeler.
Throughout its time at the museum, the “Streets” exhibit has undergone renovations and received additions. In the late 1990s, the museum outfitted the exhibit with three new units, including the Watson Family House, which introduced an African-American perspective to the exhibit. That house showcases objects from the home of freed Virginia slave Sully Watson and his wife, Susanna.
“The ‘Streets of Old Milwaukee’ is probably the most popular exhibit in Wisconsin and is certainly so for residents of Milwaukee,” Kois said. “The renovation of ‘Streets’ gives us an incredible opportunity to both enrich the experience already there by taking visitors deeper into the magical experience of going back in time, but also to weave into that experience the viewpoints of people who were living in the city at that time but whose voices were left out.”
The museum expects to reopen the exhibit in December.