Milwaukee has a long, strange history of alternative newspapers. There’s the Shepherd Express, of course (originally dubbed the Crazy Shepherd), which still graces news racks and restaurant window ledges today. There are countless back-in-the-day examples, too, including the controversial Kaleidoscope, the influential Art Muscle, and the beloved Orbit. Then there’s the Bugle American (later just the Bugle), an alt-weekly that published more than 300 issues from 1970 to 1978. The Bugle American was notable for several reasons: it was founded by underground “comix” superstar Denis Kitchen (among others), and its offices were totally firebombed.
Taking its name from the fictional paper published in the Spider-Man comics, the Bugle American saw Kitchen, Dave Schreiner, Mike Hughes, Mike Jacobi, Judy Jacobi, and a host of writers and artists giving Milwaukee and the rest of the state a weekly dose of arts and entertainment coverage, outsider takes on local issues, and plenty of whacked-out comics (strips from Robert Crumb were frequently featured). Though the paper was far less radical then Kaleidoscope, that didn’t stop someone from literally blowing up its Bremen Street offices in the early morning of February 22, 1975.
In a 2007 piece for the Lake County News, Bugle writer Gary Peterson remembers the incident:
“It is Feb. 22, particularly Feb. 22 at 2 a.m. in the morning in 1975 when I and all my fellow Bugle American staff members received the ultimate letter to the editor.
“Someone, Milwaukee Neo-Nazis or the Milwaukee Police Department (isn’t that or at least wasn’t that an oxymoron? – see The Violent Femmes’ ‘Harold Brier’) blew us up.
“I worked ’til midnight that day in the spacious corporate offices of the Bugle, in an old storefront on Bremen Street where there were still bars on the corners.
“This was Milwaukee, after all.
“I had just fallen asleep when the phone rang. It was judi jacobi (that’s how she spelled it; she chastised me only a few years ago for spelling it wrong), the paper’s news editor. ‘Gary,’ she said, ‘there was a bomb. The building is gone.’
“A lot of us just weren’t the same for the next 48 hours or so, salvaging what we could, receiving visits from many eastsiders, even a contribution by check from George Reedy, Lyndon Johnson’s former press secretary and then Dean of the School of Journalism at Marquette University. He even showed up to help us move and remains a particular hero of mine.
“The Society of ‘Professional’ Journalists’ chapter at the Milwaukee Journal (we called them the Milwaukee Urinal and scooped them a lot) held a special meeting, declared us ‘not a real newspaper’ and voted not to send us their $50.
“You wouldn’t catch me dead at an SPJ meeting to this day.
“It took a week but with a little help from many friends we gathered back copies of the Bugle, a few supplies, the exacto knives we always swore we could put a paper out with. One of those and a piece of sidewalk is all it takes.
“The issue planned for the week of this unscheduled visitation came out only seven days later than it should have.
“That week, Leonard Cohen, another hero of mine, held up a copy of the Bugle and said: ‘Some Things Don’t Burn!’ That was on the cover of the first issue after the big boom.”
That wasn’t the only act of violence directed at a Milwaukee alt-weekly—the car of Kaleidoscope editor John Kois was bombed at roughly the same time. Were the attacks the handiwork of Neo-Nazis, disgruntled readers, or, as Peterson suggests, the MPD’s “Red Squad” (which kept tabs on counterculture figures of the day)? No one knows. To this day, the bombings remain unsolved.