Up in the Rafters at Milwaukee City Hall


The other day my brother called, mostly out of the blue, with an opportunity I had never considered: he wanted to know if I’d like to tour the Bell and Clock Towers at the historic Milwaukee City Hall. 

Of course I said yes. It was a bright, cold day and much of this experience would be on open-air platforms, so I bundled up and headed downtown. I met my brother Bill Arnold (Public Information Manager for Milwaukee Common Council, City Clerk’s Office) in the echoey lobby of the old building and we made our way up to the top (8th) floor of the offices. From there we had to climb a series of staircases.

From the first level we climbed a staircase to the Bell Tower level, which held, you guessed it, the Bell, (the 22k pound bell was named for Milwaukee founder/first mayor Solomon Juneau) and also rooms which, according to Bill, were the Bell Keeper’s apartment back in the day. He (I assume the Bell Ringer was a man) and his family would live up here, and it would be his job to ring the bell and probably also to take care of the clock maintenance. Of course, this reminded me of the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” and I figured this old building must be haunted.

We were on the Bell level when the hour struck, now mechanized with an electric hammer ringer. But — I was allowed to ring the bell using the rope, which requires some strength and momentum. Alas, no pictures of that. But I was proud of my old small self!

From there we had to climb up another level to the clock. This was the circular staircase in the photos below. Tried to position Bill so you could get a sense of perspective on the size of the 4-sided clock.

This trip did not go up as high as we could, which would have been to the cupola, where there’s a space to stand and where the flag pole is — it was just too cold for me and I’m not that great with heights. (The flag was at half mast that day for the murdered children of the high school in Parkland, FL. )

Here are some other views of the City Hall (styled after the Hamburg Rathaus), built in the 1890s. Enjoy, and thanks Billy!