During my time working on the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee, I worked with private collectors to organize, catalog, and digitize their images. While working with a post card collector, I was handed this image and asked “What is that?”
Of course, I had no idea. Hammocks, baby cribs suspended from the ceiling? What is this, where is this? I asked where she found it, in hopes of retracing her steps. The best information she could give me was “In the archives at the library, in a folder that had something to do with Lake Park.” Not the most official citation, but it was a start. Like any modern history student, I started with google. “baby hammocks”- nothing, “lake park cribs”-nothing. I tried using the Milwaukee Public Library Digital Collection search, nothing. Finally, I did what all historians must do, I went to the actual archives. I asked for any folders with black and white images from Lake Park and set to work. After many hours of looking through images, I found what I was looking for, a series of images starting with the “baby hammocks” ending with a wide angle shot of women on the porch of a building I had never seen.
These images were what I needed. The wide angle shot included the top of the very distinctive North Avenue Water tower. At the time, I was living half a mile from the water tower, it was an area I was very familiar with, and from what I could tell from the image the only building that was where this one was, was not that that wooden masterpiece. There was a brick water facility/pumping station.
Armed with hi resolution scans of the images, I started zooming in for clues. One of the benefits of being a historian in the digital age is the ability to take a closer look at an image. Using Photoshop I manipulated the brightness, contrast, colors and various other aspects of the photos to find out even more information.
I returned to google hoping for better luck now that I had found where the building was located. No luck. Sandborn Maps turned up no building in the either the 1894 or the 1910 Milwaukee Editions.
The next step was to return to the archives with the correct information. The Pavilion was listed in articles from 1911, 1915, 1933 and 1974. Most of the newspaper articles discussed the purpose of the building and the different groups responsible for running it, at different points in time. After some initial failed attempts to track down anything in the Univeristy of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Library or the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives, I thought for sure I had hit a dead end. After a brain storming session with Encyclopedia of Milwaukee Editor. Amanda Seligman. we checked a copy of The Healthiest City: Milwaukee and the Politics of Health Reform. We were able to find out the proper name for the "Baby Hammocks:" The Milwaukee Infant’s Fresh Air Pavilion. As it turns out the Pavilion was used as part of the Milwaukee Infants Hospital for children suffering with tuberculosis. The popular belief at the time was fresh air would cure many breathing difficulties, including TB, and by allowing the children to have a safe place free of charge more children would survive childhood illness. The exact date it was built has yet to be determined but it was sometime between 1894 and 1914.
Once I had the correct name, location, and some notable names of groups and people associated with the "Infant's Fresh Air Pavilion, I was able to do a little more research. I recently came across the annual report (to the left) which allowed me do learn more about the valuable work being done.
I have also had the experience of being an amateur archaeologist. The pictures below show the area where the Pavilion was, and what it looks like now. It is worth noting the distinct dormers in the background also helped me figure out almost exactly where the building stood.