Milwaukee, Wisconsin: 22-Foot-Long Graf Zeppelin II

The star attraction of the Mitchell Gallery of Flight Museum inside the Milwaukee Airport. Built by someone with a lot of time on their hands. The Graf Zeppelin II was the successor to the Hindenburg, and the largest airship ever built.

Mitchell Gallery of Flight

Address:
5300 S. Howell Ave., Milwaukee, WI
Directions:
Mitchell Gallery of Flight. On the concession level of General Mitchell International Airport, near the C concourse. Parking is available in the airport parking garage. At time of visit, was outside of the security checkpoint and accessible to the general public.
Phone:
414-747-4503
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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Graf Zeppelin.

22-Foot-Long Graf Zeppelin II

The small museum has other model aircraft too!

[Adventures Of Cluckleberry Hen, 08/16/2017]

Graf Zeppelin II model.

Mitchell Gallery of Flight, Zeppelin Exhibit

This is a remarkable and odd little museum tucked into the Milwaukee Airport, off near the C concourse -- not to be missed if you find yourself flying into, out of, or through America's Dairyland. There are collections of photos and memorabilia celebrating astronaut Jim Lovell, General Billy Mitchell, and other figures from Wisconsin's proud history of aviation, including some guy evidently named Major Dick Bong [see more on Bong].

Enchanting as the Major Dick display is, though, visitors may be forgiven for being even more interested in the two standout exhibits. First is a collection of artifacts, tickets, schedules, promotional material, photos and models documenting the golden age of the German airship -- including, remarkably, a 22-foot long model of the airship Graf Zeppelin II, fully tricked out with Nazi swastikas on the fins! Just for scale, a model Boeing-757 jetliner hangs next to it. It seems to have been one guy's private little obsession that got a little out of control over the years: you know, my 22-foot zeppelin just requires me to build this 757. Maybe then the voices will stop.

The second exhibit of particular note documents the efforts of one James Lawson to build the first national airline in a Wisconsin garage in the 1920's. Lawson made his living in the gray area between "aviation pioneer" and "snake oil salesman;" his rickety "Lawson Air Liner" somehow got off the ground and flew to New York and Washington on a promotional tour before crashing. It was underpowered, poorly engineered, and essentially unworkable...and eerily prescient of the DC-3s that would be flying coast to coast only a few years later. There's a spiffy model of the Lawson Air Liner, photos, and interpretive text. Lawson went on to found a pseudo-scientific cult in Iowa, which seems to persist in some form today; a sort of poor man's Scientology.

All in all, one of the best airport wait experiences I can remember. It sure beats waiting at the gate with the crossword.

[Craig Kenneth Bryant, 05/20/2004]

November 2015: Photo added.

Nearby Offbeat Places

Big SteerBig Steer, Milwaukee, WI - < 1 mi.
Giant SteerGiant Steer, Milwaukee, WI - 2 mi.
Crazy Yard, Sinking CadillacCrazy Yard, Sinking Cadillac, Cudahy, WI - 3 mi.
In the region:
Russell Military Museum, Zion, IL - 31 mi.

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