As the founder of Gothic Milwaukee and creator of the Walking Milwaukee self-guided tour, Anna Lardinois knows Milwaukee history like the back of her (very spooky) hand. We talked to her about starting a business in Milwaukee and must-see spots for history buffs who like a touch of the supernatural.
What made you choose Milwaukee as your home/the focus of your business?
I grew up in the western suburbs and nothing made me feel more sophisticated and grown up than trips to Milwaukee. I loved the bustle and the opportunities to be creative and try new things. When it was time for me to begin my adult life, Milwaukee and all of its promises of new adventure was the perfect place for me to develop roots.
People say we are a big small town, and I love Small-waukee! I look forward to creative events, knowing I will run into people I know and like, and will have the opportunity to meet new people who will be future collaborators and friends.
It thrills me that I was able to create a business that showcases my unique talents and celebrate the city that I never stop falling in love with. I am amazingly lucky to be part of this community. I am so glad to be here, among friends - those I know, and those I have yet to meet!
What’s a must-see for people who want to experience the spooky side of Milwaukee?
Milwaukee loves a great story and there is no shortage of spine-tingling tales and spooky locations to visit. My choice for an essential stop for lovers of ghosts and history is the St. Joan of Arc Chapel on the Marquette University campus.
Estimated to have been built sometime around 1420, it is easily the oldest building in Milwaukee. The church had fallen into disrepair by the time of the French Revolution and had been long abandoned when it was rediscovered and restoration efforts started in 1920.
The renovated church was brought to the US, brick by brick, by an American socialite and Francophile who was devoted to St. Joan. Once the building was reconstructed on her Long Island estate, she had the church officially renamed to honor the Maid of Orleans. The building is a fascinating relic and at once the visitor is taken by the scale and impressed by how much the human body has changed since the 15th century.
Those who love supernatural intrigue will be titillated to learn the woman who brought this Gothic style church to the State has a relic of St. Joan installed into the masonry of the building. Found in France, the socialite purchased a stone it is believed that Joan kneeled upon in prayer before going into battle. It is reported that Joan kissed the stone when she completed her prayer. Many believe the stone is an earthly connection to the divine and has properties that reveal its otherworldliness. The stone touched by the saint, now part of the wall behind the altar, is said to be noticeably colder than all of the stones around it. To add further intrigue to the church, there are those who believe St. Joan may have at one time prayed in the church, despite there being little historical evidence to support the claim.
The church is an unexpected surprise in this town with a rich German heritage whose recorded history begins more than 200 years after the church was built. It is a gem that never fails to delight.
What’s something surprising about Milwaukee?
Through my tours, I connect with a number of visitors, and they are always surprised about how much there is to do and see in Milwaukee. They come ready for the breweries and cheese curds, but they are always shocked at our exciting independent restaurant options, our rich and varied theater community, and our diverse and talented music scene. It is impossible to find a night in Milwaukee where nothing is happening. If you are not having fun here, it is because you don’t want to - Milwaukee knows how to have a great time!
What’s something that everyone who visits Milwaukee has to do?
I am in love with the lake and think every visitors needs to spend some time on its shores. I am enchanted by the way Lake Michigan looks different every single day; some days she has steely grey waves, and the next day it could be sun-dappled Caribbean blue ripples. The ever-changing lake never fails to awe, and it is my very favorite part of our city.