Something I try to do each holiday season is visit a Victorian mansion all decked out in grand style. This year it was the Pabst Mansion in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As we toured the three-story home, we were treated to beautiful decorations in all of the main rooms.
The Pabst Mansion opened to the public in 1978 and welcomes thousands of visitors a year. We had an excellent guide, Carolyn, who shared many stories about the Pabst family and their home.
Captain Frederick and Maria Pabst completed their thirty-seven room mansion in 1892. It was built in the Flemish Renaissance Revival style of architecture that reflected their German heritage. Frederick Pabst began his adult years as a river boat captain, but is best remembered today for his company that brewed Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.
Success with his business ventures allowed Pabst to build a luxurious home. Along with the brewery, he had a real estate empire that included hotels, theaters, and resorts. Pabst and his wife only enjoyed their mansion for about twelve years before they passed away. By then, the neighborhood was changing, and their children choose to sell the property out of the family. The buildings and grounds were purchased by the Milwaukee Roman Catholic Archdiocese in 1908. They owned it for almost seventy years until a non-profit group, Wisconsin Heritages, Inc., bought the home in the mid-1970s. To this day, they continue to restore the mansion and offer tours on a daily basis.
Captain Pabst’s study was a splendid room. The intricate ceiling was stained with several different colors to give the appearance of inlay. Four of the Captain’s favorite German proverbs were worked into the ceiling design.
A feeling heart suffers pain.
Bread eaten with thankfulness inspires a joyful heart
Never have I found anything more priceless than a quiet and true heart.
Never soft, never loud what a friend has told you in confidence.
In the study, our guide also gave us a handout to read later. It was a copy of a letter written by Pabst in 1899 to his children. He kept it with his will, and it was to be read in the event of his death. The letter was encouragement and advice. By all accounts, Frederick Pabst was a decent man and had these last words for “My dear Children” – two sons and two daughters:
“Be generous and unselfish to each other in Case of need and above all, be honest and noble, in all your dealings, not only with each other, but with the World.
I want you to always have a good Name.
It is better than riches, and your greatest happiness will come from your Knowledge of doing right.”
One surprising thing I learned is that although Pabst would drink beer and had a thorough knowledge of beer brewing, he actually preferred wine. In the basement of the home is a wine cellar that held an extensive collection of bottles. A display sign on the cellar door reads: “The inventory from the estate of Mrs. Pabst in 1906 lists the contents of the wine cellar – 261 cases of wine plus 219 miscellaneous bottles for a total of 3,351 bottles plus one case, valued at over $2,500. Not a single bottle remains – we checked.”
We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the Pabst Mansion and seeing all the beautiful holiday decorations. But it would be a worthwhile tour any time of the year. Frederick Pabst was about much more than beer brewing.