I was telling a friend about visiting our daughter in downtown Milwaukee, and she was smiling and nodding until I mentioned a specific detail of our walk along Milwaukee’s riverfront.
“We saw the Bronze Fonz.”
Her face lit up. The polite interest disappeared. In its place was a wide smile and “Oh, wow!” enthusiasm.
There’s something about the Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzerelli character from the 1970s TV show “Happy Days” that’s still cool. For proof, you don’t have to look further than the statue of his likeness along Milwaukee’s RiverWalk.
The downtown statue shows the Fonz in classic thumbs-up stance, dressed in his trademark leather jacket, white T-shirt and jeans. From what we saw on a November afternoon, he’s rarely alone.
Visitors stop for a photo op, taking turns standing next to the statue with thumbs held high. The statue was wisely made to be life-size, not a towering larger-than-life figure. The 5-foot-6 statue is on a small pedestal, and you can easily put your arm around him as if he’s your best friend.
For my husband and me, that’s definitely part of the appeal. For a few minutes we’re taken back to our 1970s childhoods, when “Happy Days” reigned on TV and everyone wanted to be like the Fonz.
In summer, my sisters and I loved doing the “Fonzie jump” off a raft at our family’s cottage. We’d rev our motorcycles, run, and jump with thumbs raised. “Aaaayyyyy!”
So a chance to stand next to the Fonz for a few minutes, like I just ran into an old friend, is cool indeed.
Boomers also feel a sense of Wisconsin pride that he’s here in Milwaukee. When we were young the city was at the heart of two of the most popular sitcoms on TV: “Laverne and Shirley” in addition to “Happy Days.” And my mom had actually lived in Milwaukee in the late 1950s. What could be cooler than that?
Downtown Milwaukee has changed since the Fonz rode around the city on his motorcycle and dated the Aloha pussycats. But his appeal spans generations. Our Millennial offspring and their friends excitedly posed with the statue during a summertime visit to the city and knew right where to find him when my husband and I visited.
Our daughter loves that the statue seems randomly placed next to the river. One minute you’re walking past restaurants and rows of apartments and the next, hey, there’s the Fonz!
But the Fonz’s statue was our must-see destination. Because, as our daughter said, “He’s aaaayyyy great guy.”
I hadn’t expected the Fonz to be such a highlight of the weekend, but we were all pulled in by the power of nostalgia and the Fonz’s perpetual charisma.
It helps that actor Henry Winkler has artfully stepped away from the character. Winkler can be admired for creating the Fonz and also for the admirable way he’s handled his life and career. Most recently, my husband and I loved his turn as an acting coach in the HBO dark comedy “Barry.”
He’s moved on so the Fonz can stay frozen in time. This allows us to spend a few minutes with a reminder of “Happy Days” and to create a memorable bridge between our generation and the next.
Now that’s cool.
How do I find the Bronze Fonz?
The Bronze Fonz is on the Milwaukee RiverWalk path, just south of the Wells Street bridge. The statue was placed there in 2008.