Chicago Done in Chicago Style

There is probably nothing I can write about the windy city that hasn’t been mentioned before.  Yet, the thought of the classy Midwestern metropolitan on Lake Michigan, with more than one claim to fame, propels my inner lust for exploring and partaking in all things noteworthy about the country’s third largest town.

I wanted a change of pace, as I have been blogging mainly about  Museums focused on Wisconsin’s heritage and lore.  Chicago’s history is quite unique and I discovered a history museum featuring the city’s past.  However, thanks to a late start and a GPS with a glitch, I never made it to the museum.  The bad luck, although frustrating, turned out to be very fortuitous, as it was a misshapen adventure that provided the quintessential visit to Chicago.

I park at the Museum campus where Shedd’s Aquarium, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, Soldier Field and the Field museum reside.  The price for parking here is two dollars an hour and it is very accessible, being a short walk through Grant Park to the City’s downtown.  I pay eight dollars and am off to explore.

The first thing that strikes me about the town is not pleasant, as the wind from Lake Michigan is brutally raw.  I zip up my jacket and tuck my head, as I trudge through the gales that redden mine and my companions face. After a short walk, we find our way into Grant Park, safe from the wind but chilled to the bone.

Since we’re bypassing the museum, our first mission is to find a hotdog, as neither of us have had a bite to eat today.  I know of a good chain that serves this Chicago specialty.  We ask for direction for the nearest place, yet, on our way, find a smaller eatery with Chicago style dogs first up on their menu.

Devil Dawgs, which is the name of the place, has constant business but is not overcrowded.  Within seconds of ordering our food, a man behind the counter is calling our number, handing over two hotdogs served in a brown paper bag.  The place is lowkey ,yet, there is some pop culture flavor to this narrow rectangular eatery.  With murals of Jimi Hendrix, the Blues Brothers and more adorning the ceiling, neon glowing in the window and Christmas tunes playing overhead, I can relax and be entertained while savoring an awesome hotdog.

We leave Devil Dawgs behind, with warmth back in both our bodies and hearts, and seek out the Willis (Sears) Tower, as it’s not hard to find.  All we have to do, to find the country’s second tallest building, is look for the monster looming in the skyline, as it spreads a little Christmas cheer with illuminated spires of red and green stretching into the sky.  On our way, we stumble upon many imaginative decorations, adding a classy Christmas vibe to the downtown atmosphere.

After a few pictures of Willis Tower, we set off for millennium Park, in search of the down town Christmas Tree.  When we reach it, we are overwhelmed with a sense of warmth and cheer, as smiling people everywhere pose for pictures and take in the perfect and inspirational December setting.  An ice skating rink lies before the tree as childish hearts, both young and old, skate laps in delight.img_1225-2

This is a relatively  new addition to the downtown, as millennium park, itself, is only twenty years old.  The first tree lighting  in millennium park was in 2015 and it is very much like a miniature Rockefeller center.  The city of Chicago got it absolutely right, as there is even a place to rent skates.

In many ways, I’m like my father.  When dad experiences something he absolutely loves he repeats the experience often, till it has run it’s course.  I write this because, as while  we were enjoying the Christmas vibe of Chicago, the desire for another hotdog inside the warm and cozy confines of Devil Dawgs was continuously in the back of my mind.  So, yeah, with in two hours, we are back for seconds.

My constant craving for a hotdog is a great bit of luck.  On our way, we come across a blues club named Buddy Guy’s Legends.  I ask my companion if we can check it out on our way back from the eatery and she agrees.  The Place is simply classic.

We arrive around the end of dinner time but well before the headliner was slated to appear on stage.  In the mean time, for dinner, an acoustic show performed by Fruteland Jackson is offered at no charge.  We sit down, have a few drinks, and enjoy the show.

The performer’s attire is symbolic of the music he plays.  It is down to earth, sometimes grainy, delivered with smooth guitar playing and a voice to match. The whole club, despite guitars that are autographed by legends perched on the walls, is very low key and unassuming.  The beer, of which I enjoy two, is very reasonably priced, no more than a bar in Green Bay.

We Trek back towards our car taking in the beautiful skyline along the shore of lake Michigan.  The many skyscrapers that are endowed with a little Christmas spirit, as many sport green and red lights, add to the magic of the moment.  We gaze off at the buildings from grant park and make the return trip to our car.

It was not what I intended, yet, the only thing I would have changed about the night would have been a longer stay at Buddy Guy’s legends.  I will return for another hotdog, possibly a skate in millennium park, and definitely to see a big named headliner at the blues club, as Buddy himself is said to play there from time to time.  I grade my trip a nine out of ten, only because I could have done with a little less wind in the windy city.

Trying to Find the Holiday Spirit

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You’re looking for a little yule time cheer, yet, the Christmas signing and music at the local box store isn’t working, it could have something to do with the wailing child in aisle twelve.  The drive around the neighborhood to view Christmas lights left you feeling sour because the guy on the corner, having synced his dancing lights with ‘Christmas Sarajevo’, left you feeling inept as an outdoor decorator.  Worst of all, watching Chevy Chase’s house being torn apart on Christmas Eve makes you feel impending doom awaits your own holiday celebrating endeavor.

Ok, I admit, I was definitely reaching with those last two reasons.  However, if you are feeling a little out of sync with holiday spirit, for whatever reason, there are some cures.  One of my favorites, as I’ll list two today, Is strolling the ‘Main Street’ of a vibrant Midwestern downtown setting.  The other attempt at thwarting the holiday blah was actually a failure. However, I will mention it because I think its worth a few words and  will return on a day when there is less of a crowd.2017-12-02 16.23.18First things first, Appleton is the setting of today’s holiday stroll, and it did not disappoint.  It comes complete with store window scenes that inspire warm feelings of Christmas, gold tinsel and light decor gracing the city streets and plenty of shops strictly geared for those that wanted to add Christmas cheer to their home.2017-12-02 16.17.22 As I stroll the city street, I discover shops that seem interesting, from spiritual stores that are selling cut chunks of quartz for five hundred dollars to shops peddling  antique Christmas décor.  It’s fun to just explore the Appleton downtown, let alone during the holiday season.  Amongst the bars, the museums, the bookstores, music stores, antique shops and others there is a holiday vibe that prevails through most of  this portion of College Avenue.

2017-12-02 16.10.01Of the window displays that I find Downtown, the winner is behind the large panes of glass belonging to  Chase Bank.  Rudolph still survives as the classic children’s holiday show, and this window showcases some of the favorite characters from the television special.  I love that they include Charlie in the Box- he usually gets no love. 2017-12-02 16.56.26Appleton is a fairly small town, having a population of roughly 70,000 people, so it may not have the glam of a big city.  Yet, the downtown is hip, with trendy sports bars, the classy PAC, and the Cool neon veneer of the Trout Museum of Fine Art.  There is much to do, as I hear those cliché phrases emanating from my friend over and over, ‘next time’ and ‘one of these days’, after all, there is only so much one can do in an afternoon.

We leave Appleton behind with warmth in our hearts.  Actually, the temperature is not too cold either, being mid to low forties.  If your interested in this town for a little holiday cheer, may I suggest the 16th and 17th of December when the PAC hosts the Makaroff Youth Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker.2017-12-02 16.06.48

We leave Appleton, heading north towards a small town known as Oconto.  If touring a typical Midwestern downtown isn’t inspiring a little christmas glow, a hay ride among a plethora of light displays might be just the tonic for a lack of cheer.

I really don’t know what to expect, the hay ride being my friends suggestion.  She endured the little jaunt through Appleton, not that she was really complaining, so I could humor her desire for a hay ride among lights.  The price for admission were donations.

As I park the car, we catch a glimpse of some awesome sculptures, spying them from a good distance away.  My friend is beyond excited, however, the lines of parked cars along the streets,  before we reach the venues parking lot, is very foreboding.

2017-12-02 18.57.35We drop off our donations and gape at the line of people waiting for a hay ride.  I marvel at the , seemingly endless, lighted Christmas tree sculptures that mark the path on both sides, however, that is all we will enjoy tonight.  We would have waited hours for our chance at a hay ride, seeming a little extreme to witness  Christmas lights.  Unfortunately, we could not walk the park if we chose to bypass the hay ride, safety precautions being the reason.  With all the small children waiting in line and six wagons running through the park, the reason is understandable.

None the less, we are disappointed.  However, the sculptures will remain for the rest of the Christmas season, all is not lost.  We did drink  free cups of hot cocoa that lift our spirits a tad, yet, its a long drive for free hot cocoa.

The night was not a loss, as during the drive we listened to classic Christmas carols from Frank Sinatra crooning ”Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ to songs from the ‘Muppet Christmas Carol.’  I have to say, downtown Appleton’s glow survived, asI feel a little early Christmas cheer running through my veins.




Heritage Hill- a break from everything.

Holiday season is in full swing and I can actually feel my blood pressure rise.  Not to worry, I’m not going to start ranting about how much I hate the holidays.  Actually, I’m quite fond of this portion of the calendar, as I am looking forward to a little Christmas cheer.  Yet, the rushing, planning, visiting and decorating can pile on a mountain of stress.  This weekend, I discovered a novel way that might erode those heaps of tension, if only for an hour or so.

How about a simple walk through a setting that harkens back to a slower paced life?  I relaxed in a historical park, as it was stimulating and refreshing to witness an environment, although not fully operating, showing off the rustic, simplistically classy and painstakingly crafted structures of yesteryear.  It was a leisurely stroll through Green Bay’s Heritage Hill State Historical Park.

I was puzzled when I googled Heritage Hill and found that it offered a ‘Stroll Through the Park’, during the offseason.  So I took a drive to the collection of historical structures, which is literally minutes from my house, searching for answers.  ‘Stroll Through the Park’ is pretty much what I should have expected.  I could walk through the park, however, the buildings would be locked, although looking through the windows was not frowned upon.

I learn this as I pay my five dollars to the courteous young lady behind the counter.  I leave the reception building through double doors and find myself gazing from a hilltop.  Not only the park, but the entire city is spread before me, as I  glimpse a few stubborn leaves clinging to trees on a beautiful, late autumn day.

I begin my trek, delighting in the wide open space that I am left to ramble.  No one is pulling out in front of me on a packed city street, nor is anyone bumping into me in a crowded retail store.  I am left alone with buildings, as they have their stories to tell.  Yet, there is no one in period appropriate attire to aid with their tales.  I’m left to guess their origins and functional purpose in the daily lives of Midwestern pioneers and settlers.

I’ve been through this park many summers ago and remember certain buildings, but  many others remain a mystery.  The first building I come across is, of course, necessary in such a historical park.  With every settlement came the town’s place of worship-this one is the oldest surviving church in Green Bay.

As I wind further down the hill, leaving the church behind, I don’t have to stroll very far to find remnants of Fort Howard.  Fort Howard was constructed by the U.S. Army during the war of 1812, guarding the Fox-Wisconsin Waterway from British invasion.  It was decommissioned before the Civil War took place and only five years after Wisconsin became a U.S. State.

Today I spy the Guard Shack, complete with cells to hold prisoners.  The few other  buildings remaining from the fort, which include a hospital, are rather simple and low-key.  Images of a small army post with whitewashed buildings, pasted in the middle a forested wilderness, dance in my head.  I only wish there were men in period correct U.S. military attire to give life to the setting.

As I leave the military buildings behind, I find other structures such as an old fire house and blacksmith shop.  I know that one of these simplistic buildings is a print shop, I’m aided by my map as I struggle to figure out which one holds a printing press. These buildings housed relevant machines and tools of a bygone era.  Now, their contents, as much as these structures, are left to be marveled.

I now head underneath Riverside Drive, a city street which intersects the park, into the most interesting and rustic part of the place.  Here there is no whitewash, nor is their artistry to the design of the shelters.  Structures like these were once built out of sheer necessity.

A large rock stands before the most rudimentary of log buildings.  Etched in the rock is a date of 1825, as it marks the place where Wisconsin’s first court-house once stood.  Inside this primitive building, I see benches and tables depicting a crude hall of justice in the days of the pioneer.

Other buildings on this side of the street include a fur traders cabin and sugaring shack, not to mention the bark chapel.  This area is more heavily wooded, I’m glad it is, because I’m sure that is mostly what the early inhabitants of buildings, such as these, would have seen.

Now I take a long stroll back to the main portion of the park.  I’m not going to visit the cotton house, as it is probably the grandest of the structures inside the park,  pictured earlier in this blog as the house on the hill.  Instead I’m going to finish my adventure with an investigation of a Belgian Farm.  After all, farming was and is huge in this area as in most of Wisconsin.

Originally, the Belgian settlers constructed their houses with wood.  However,  the Peshtigo fire destroyed many of the homes and, of course, the wood needed to rebuild.  Instead, they used red clay brick, very much like their homes in the old world, to erect new ones.  Many brick farmhouses in the area stand to this day.  I love this setting, as it is the perfect emulation of an American settler’s farm.

I have to say, this is what I needed.  A wide open space and a setting that set my imagination afire, kindling spirits of yesteryear, made me feel carefree and stimulated at the same time.  I’m refreshed and ready to add Christmas decorations to the house.

The price for entry is $5.  However, a park membership, at a cost of $35, allows unlimited access of the park.  I do recommend taking a walk and alleviating stress in the outdoors, why not a quaint little conglomeration of historic buildings for the setting?

The Harley-Davidson Museum-Industry and pop culture.

America’s longest running motorcycle company needs little promotion, as its logo and bikes are Iconic.  Yet, a museum exhibiting a menagerie of bikes it has produced,  its many business ventures, popular sporting events and its place in pop culture makes even the passive fan want to ‘saddle up’ and follow the open road.  At least, that’s how I felt when I left.  In this place, I couldn’t pick just one artifact, or point of interest for that matter, and say, “Yes,that was my favorite.”  It’s hip and cool, plus there is enough bikes and memorabilia to make your head spin.  I’m talking of the Harley-Davidson Museum located near downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

I’ve blogged about a few specialty museum’s related to one industry or another.  However, I’ve never blogged about a place centered around one specific company.  I mean, c’mon, really,  how self-serving is that?   To top it off, the admission was the highest I’ve paid for entrance into any museum I’ve blogged about.  Before you stop reading in disgust, let me just say, this motor shrine left me with the most profound high I’ve felt leaving a facility.

I meander through the doors, impressed by a vast open room that is bordered with black lacquered walls-one lone bike stands at the opposite end.  As I make my way through this refreshing lobby, being a break from traffic on congested city streets, I find the ticket counter and pay a friendly attendant.  She directs me towards a rudimentary, unpainted,  steel grated staircase that I climb to a mostly empty,  glass-paneled hall.

As I wander through the hall, nonchalantly glimpsing a few trophy cases, I stumble upon another attendant who collects my ticket.  I walk in and discover the humblest of specimens, leading off a procession of chronologically ordered vintage motorcycles, as they are centered in a sleek and elegant passage.  I inspect some along with their respective placards, when I  notice Serial Model Number One, cased in glass in an exhibit room behind me.

Serial Model Number One appears as modest as many of the motorcycles leading off the seemingly endless line of bikes. Yet, this piece is a topic for debate. It is claimed to be the oldest Harley Davidson remaining,  However, the engine is like no other Harley of its time and the frame is not original to the bike.  Still, it’s pretty cool.

I now survey the rest of this exhibit area and the adjoining chambers, as this area has the feel of an antiquated museum.  There is a rare collection of bikes, as the many early business endeavor’s and early uses of the company’s motorcycles are highlighted here.  In this place, I’m exposed to trikes for towing automobiles, sidecars for delivering mail and army model prototypes that never saw the  assembly line.  This wide array of vehicles, along with steady government contracts, provided Harley-Davidson stability and growth in the early years.

I find a darkened early motor sports exhibit, which is just as interesting, on the other side of the continuous train of early 20th century bikes.  There are features such as the motordrome,  a large and dangerous banked wood track that mimicked the velodrome used for bicycle racing. Other exhibits include long distance races and hill climbers, all very popular, now largely forgotten novelties.  The company was quick to sponsor talented participants, realizing this was a great promotional tool.In 1933,  a dark time for the company and the country in general, the prices of motorcycles were declining.  As a result, Harley-Davidson could not afford to make technological advancements to their bikes.  From that came the decision to, instead,  focus on the aesthetics of the bike, which actually tripled their sales.  One huge point of interest was the gas tank, which has remained a focal point on cycles to this day.

As I follow the hall lined with gas tanks I find an elevator leading to this room.  An archive, if you will, of motorcycles and memorabilia. 

I now head down stairs, but before I leave the top floor, I have to mention that there is also an exhibit featuring some of the more prolific engines of the past.  I don’t linger here long because I’m really not much of a gearhead.  However, the progression through the ages is quite remarkable.

When I reach the lower floor, I’m amazed.  The parade of bikes continues along the opposite wall, this time featuring the latter half of the 20th century to modern day, as a large exhibit on Harley’s place in pop culture is front and center.  This includes the history of outlaw biker gangs, a bike used in the Marvel Studios movie ‘Captain America’, and a meticulously replicated chopper from ‘Easy Rider’.

Around the corner, as there are exhibits of lesser known ventures such as a failed attempt at the snowmobile market during the 70’s and a successful golf cart line, I discover this bike.

This stands as a haunting testament that, even as early advertisements claimed motorcycle’s were a way to conquer mother nature, the elements still have the upper hand.  This motorcycle was inside a large trailer box when the tsunami that devastated Northeast Japan, in 2011, washed it out to sea.  Over a year later, it was discovered on a remote Canadian Island.  Mr. Yokoyama, the bike’s owner, lost mostly everything, including family members, due to that event.  He has donated the Bike to the Museum as memorial to those who not only lost their possessions, but their lives, on that dreadful day.

I double back, checking the long train of bikes.  From70’s racing bikes  to V-rods, the line showcases the last half of the twentieth century and beyond.  This bottom half of the museum is chuck full of bikes, from dirt bikes to Buels.  It’s hard to take in everything.

At the end, as I realize I must call it a day, I am excited and satisfied. There are so many remarkable bikes, leather jackets, racing shirts and posters I don’t know if there is a way I could remember all of them.  On the grounds, there is also a gift shop filled with great Harley memorabilia and a hip restaurant.  See the museum and experience the bikes and culture that made Harley-Davidson legendary.

History Museum at the Castle-Mystery and lore

The tale and secrets of an enigmatic icon are exposed in the confines of  a historic masonic temple, sure to have secrets of its own.  Sound cool?  How about an exhibit that focuses on the horrors and injustices of the Insane asylums of the late 19th and early 20th centuries? I know,  rather grim.  None of these, however, showcase the museum’s most inquired about piece.  The place is called the History Museum at the Castle and is located in the downtown portion of Appleton Wisconsin.

We had a six-hour window in which we could do whatever pleased our eager brains.  I made the suggestion of visiting Appleton, as it’s a quick scamper south.  That was agreed upon rather quickly, however, besides a few run of the mill attractions, I was pretty much clueless about the town.  Turns out, Appleton has a plethora of genuine Midwest city appeal, although its claims to fame maybe a shade darker than most.

I referred to My Trip Advisor app, thumbing through the ‘things to do’ feature, and discovered a museum that definitely sparked interest.  Located in a historic landmark, the History Museum at the Castle was said to feature Appleton’s most famous resident. The drive could have been three hours, I would have went.

As I enter, I must be wearing a delighted smile.  I feel like I’ve walked into a scene in a Dan Brown novel, spying a masonic symbol above an antique fire-place.  The stone gilded building exemplifies everything I’ve read about the order, being on the National Register of Historic Places.  There are the stained glass windows, the arched doorways, the antique lighting fixtures, winding staircases and creaking wood floors that inspire thrilling juvenile thoughts of what conspiracy theories might surround the place, I rarely take one seriously.

As I’m sure some would say the building was a shroud for secrets, the temporary exhibit on the main floor featured places where many people entered and disappeared from society forever.  That’s a  horrifying thought.  Yet, many endured such a circumstance.

The Insane Asylums of the late 19th and early 20th centuries housed many people for a variety of reasons.  Sometimes, the condition wasn’t really psychological, like epilepsy.  These patients endured experimental techniques such as electro-shock therapy and the use of  highly addictive drugs. Often sterilized, these patients were believed to have traits that would be passed to their offspring.  Not to mention,  straight jackets were frequently used and these asylums were over crowded.

Among exhibits that testify to these accepted forms of torture, I feel my heart sink as I marvel at hand crafted master pieces.  They were constructed by patients locked away from the rest of the world, a talented mind unable to reap the benefits of his labor.

We leave the main floor and follow a winding staircase toward the basement,  as a giant machine from the Appleton Wireworks Company greets us at the bottom.  Here, the exhibits are quite random, showcasing everything from a fully furnished antique bathroom to a gravity fed gas pump looming over a Ford Model T.   There is also a timeline, highlighting significant events in the area’s past.

After a while of perusing the disjointed exhibits I stumble on a black spot that cursed the town of Appleton.  A resident of Appleton, not the one I’ve alluded to in my intro, was the leader of a dark time in political history.  Senator Joe McCarthy’s bronze bust is cased in glass and on display here, personally I’m rather glad it is.

In most Museums I’ve come across, the positive is highlighted while the negative is a side note.  Not in this place.  The leader of the ‘Red Scare’, a witch hunt where many people were accused of being communists who had infiltrated the state department, gave birth to the term McCarthyism.  This bust is an important reminder how political fervor can create injustice. McCarthy was censured for his actions in 1954, he died shortly after in 1957 at age 48.  This piece gets a lot of attention, being the most inquired about artifact in the museum.

I suppose I’ve kept those not familiar with Northeast Wisconsin in suspense long enough.  So, who is Appleton’s Iconic resident?  The escape artist and illusionist Harry Houdini.  The showman seemed to have a supernatural mystique about him, even Houdini’s death on Halloween night sparks a bit of drama.

Houdini is part of the American vernacular.  I’m sure you’ve heard someone say, “he pulled a Houdini”, and other statements to that effect. The magician claimed to be born in Appleton, as he lived in the city until he was thirteen.  However, records indicate he was actually born in Budapest Hungary as Ehrich Weisz.   Even so, he was raised in the town and will forever be linked to Appleton.

Houdini was actually quite a character, while confounding many who witnessed his death-defying feats.  He was friends with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which makes sense, as Doyle’s fictional character Sherlock Holmes professed that behind every great mystery a logical explanation lied.  Houdini’s secrets included, hiding tools in his hair, rectum, and sometimes swallowing and later vomiting the tool when needed.

Houdini published a magazine that revealed the elements of his tricks, this exhibit reveals some of Houdini’s secrets.  While the rest of the museum is artifacts and placards, this portion of the museum is very interactive.  You can perform some of Houdini’s stunts and tricks, as there are explanations on how to accomplish the feats.  For instance, escaping a straight jacket.

There is paraphernalia that Houdini used in his shows included here.  Props, tools, and restraints are all showcased in this colorful and informative section of the museum.  This was the main reason for driving here, as the temple itself falls a close second.  I love the fact that this is the last exhibit because it is definitely the most entertaining.

The price of admission was $8 and I spent about an hour and a half inside the museum.  The insane asylum exhibit is temporary but lasts until next year.  I did not mention, yet it is a great move and shows social conscience, that there is a exhibit on the homeless in the local area.  Go see the Museum, I think you’ll be glad you did.

Wisconsin Historical Museum-A museum in mad town

When Wisconsin was introduced as the thirtieth state in 1848, there was little in the territory besides a forested wilderness.  Since then, much has changed.  As a testimony to some of that change, plus an area dedicated to the inhabitants that have lived in the region a considerable time before statehood, the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison tells the tale of America’s Dairy Land.

What can I say?  I like museums, and when I discovered one standing in the shadow of the State Capitol Building, well, lets just say it was an easy sell.  That being said, I really don’t like navigating the streets of downtown Madison, especially when I’m relying on Siri to find my destination.  However, I arrived safely and was able to relax and examine the exhibits with no stress.

I think the first thing that strikes me, as I enter the building, is how mundane the first floor appears.  I feel my heart drop as I survey a practically empty room, having journeyed all the way to Madison to find nothing but pictures hanging in a vacant space.  As the attendant behind the counter gives me an overview of the Museum,  my disappointment is, most likely, evident.

I’ll explain-it does get better.  The first floor is an exhibit showcasing Wisconsin’s recreational past times.  I believe the only artifact, if you can call it that, is a soft ball uniform.  Besides that, I briefly glance at pictures of hunting and fishing expeditions, as I’m quite disinterested.

I sigh as I enter the elevator and leave the first floor, anticipating much more of the same on the next three levels, at least the entrance fee was only a modest donation.  However, the next floor gradually quenches my thirst for artifacts, not all at once, kind of like a well thought out symphony with the quietest of strings reaching your eardrums, winding its way to a crescendo.

The exhibit starts with meager arrowheads and copper tools, pointing towards the ancient nomadic woodland people. However, as I wander further, there are more elaborate and interesting artifacts.  The floor tells the tale of the Native Americans indigenous to Wisconsin through tools, clothing, musical instruments, weapons and recreated shelters.

Now I’m happy.

Yet, I’m happier when I reach the third floor.  As the elevator opens, I stand face to face with the creature that has bestowed the national Identity of Wisconsin on my native land.  Well, I think he’s just a piece of plastic, but you understand what is meant.  Of course, Wisconsin is not the leader in dairy production anymore, although we hold the title in cranberry bogs.

The third floor is a treat, with details on anything having to do with commerce in the state.  From fur trading to Harley Davidson, this floor features literally any significant home-grown enterprise that, at one time or another, helped residents earn a living.  The artifacts are diverse, I find a lumberjack’s axe, yet, a Nash Automobile(a company that became AMC, eventually bought out by Chrysler) reside on the same floor.

What I love, as I look over a placard, is the story of how Wisconsin became America’s Dairy Land.  The conditions of the region were believed to be Ideal for such an enterprise, Although  many a cash cropper weren’t gung-ho about the Idea.  After all, it was a seven-day a week job with strictly set hours, you can’t simply bypass a milking.  Trust me, as I periodically farmed as a child, that was never an option.

I leave the third floor and head towards the final level, by now, as my head is swimming with Wisconsin borne companies, I forgot what the attendant told me the theme was on the final floor.  My memory is quickly jostled as I spy some football jerseys, political posters, and state fair exhibits.

This floor is probably the most diverse, as it exhibits interesting bits in the realm of politics and entertainment.  There is a lot of information on the Progressive Party, as it once made a bid for the White House.   There is also a State Fair feature, which I find interesting, and a classic interior of a tavern, as a recording of a dated radio show  fills the background.

This is a lot of fun.  I read about state and county fairs, learning of their role both socially and developmentally, as farmers shared methods and information with one another at these events.  It is amazing how most of these, developed in the early years of the state, have survived and evolved.

The progressive party,  of which there is plenty of information and posters highlighting the subject, is another huge topic on this level,   It made a push for the White House during the 1924 campaign, trying to bring about government ownership of the railroads and electric utilities.  Wisconsin Senator Robert M. Lafollete ran on the party ticket and recieved 16.6% of the popular vote in the 1924 election.  You may not agree with the political theory, yet, the fact that he garnered a huge chunk of the vote makes it impressive.

I often wonder why we are stuck with a two-party system.  If a new party rises to power, the one it supplants collapses and disappears from the political landscape.  Call me idealistic, but with 200 million different points of view, it seems hard to believe two parties can represent the entire lot of eligible voters.  I know, that was kind of political.  It’s relevant as I view the Capitol building from a giant window.

I leave feeling enlightened.  I learned new things and reaffirmed my knowledge on other subjects.  I came accross some artifacts that I never realized existed.  Case in point, a native american courting flute used by young men to court women, chicks dug musicians even back then.  Also, although I knew Wisconsin is the national leader, I had no idea 60% of the nations cranberry production happens right here.

If you are in Madison and want to be entertained or learn some interesting facts, I highly recommend this place.  It would be great addition to a tour of the capitol building, as it is literally a stone’s throw away.  There is no price for admission just a voluntary donation for the fee.

Sturgeon Bay- Historic Shipbuilding town.

Different from any other tourist location on the Door Peninsula, Sturgeon Bay is the only city in the county, boasting a population of around 9,000.  Also, the town leans on many blue-collar jobs, most notably that of Bay Shipbuilding, which has been in business for almost one hundred years, albeit under different titles.  As a matter of fact, in its past, Sturgeon Bay has been home to  a lot of shipbuilding, from Yachts, worth twenty times more money than I’ll make in my lifetime, to navy gunboats and minesweepers.  Tourism is a relatively young beast in the city’s economic repertoire, but it is definitely a huge part of the town.

I decided a long time ago that I would blog about Sturgeon Bay, yet, it is tough to pull off, not crazy tough, but difficult.  After all, I’ve worked in this city, my father was employed by Bay Ship and my grandfather was a foreman at Peterson Builders(A naval boat building contractor),  blogging from a traveler’s perspective is tricky for those reasons.  Still, there are resorts, being nonexistent in the Sturgeon Bay I knew as a child, museums and shops all geared toward luring tourism dollars into the city.

I drive into town and enjoy the view I always anticipate, as I turn the corner driving down Green Bay Rd(which turns into Madison Ave).  A fairly historic street stretches towards the canal, as the old bridge and barges stand proudly in the background.  I imagine any visitor introduced to this unique setting  would be thrilled by a vista that screams historic shipbuilding town.

Sturgeon bay was once two cities, on one side of the canal was Sawyer and the other, of course, was Sturgeon Bay.  I can only assume that is why there seem to be two different ‘main street’ portions.  There are the small collection of old buildings that line Madison Ave, but the longer and more prominent stretch lies on Third Avenue, across the bridge.

The first thing that I do, as I have mentioned that Sturgeon Bay was a shipbuilding town, is check out the Door County Maritime Museum.  If you have read any of my previous blogs, you might have stumbled across my piece on the Wisconsin Maritime Museum, a museum in Manitowoc Wisconsin.  While the museum here is nice, the exhibits are nowhere near the ones in Manitowoc.  That being said, there is still a lot of cool features that gain my interest.

The first floor has an antique hard-hat diving suit, which looks like an astronaut’s gear tailored with metal and cloth. Of course, there is an exhibit chronicling the Shipbuilding past of Sturgeon Bay.  Unfortunately, there really are not many artifacts to accompany the great information displayed.   Information is everywhere, classic nuts and bolts are harder to come by these days.

The Second floor features ship telegraphs, an instrument used to send instructions from the captain on the bridge to the engine room. Also, a cool lighthouse exhibit  gives info on Door County’s many lighthouses.  I was fairly surprised to count twelve that were listed, I haven’t toured a single one.  Lastly, and disappointingly, they have a tug boat tour that, on this day, was not available.

I exit the museum and trek along the buildings of Madison Ave.  It’s a curious conglomeration, as I spend a few minutes in an antique store that reminds me more of a thrift shop.  I cruise up the hill and then turn back, making my way to the Old Bridge, passing the Bridge Port Resort and the impressive structure of Sonny’s Pizza as I cross the Canal.

There are two bridges in town.  There is the  younger Oregon street bridge, maybe a decade old or so, I’m not really sure as to the age.  More interestingly there is this bridge, a historic relic that, when the new bridge was being constructed, was in danger of being torn down.  In desperate need of repair, many of the community came together and organized fund-raisers, including a music festival that is held in the city to this day to save this fun little testament of time, which has stood since 1931.  I have to say, it is a great decision, as it fits in with the historic downtown buildings of third avenue.

Third avenue stretches for several blocks, having many points of interest.  There are shops that carry Door County T-shirts, a local hardware store, taverns, restaurants, the Third Avenue Play House and even a Younkers.  Basically, the ‘Main Street’ of Sturgeon Bay is alive with commerce.

They close this street once a year, during september,  for a festival known as Harvest Fest.  Vendors and Bands would be scattered along the street, as at one end of the road a giant classic car show would display everything from 64  1/2 Mustangs to 1990 Ferrari Testarosas.  Of course, this is not the week and third avenue appears as any historic small town ‘main street’ would.

As I stroll to the end of Third Avenue, I come across Center Pointe Marina.  There are  multiple Marinas in Sturgeon Bay, some of the boats docked at these stations are ridiculously stately.  Sturgeon Bay would be a great stop on a Great lakes tour, as the city is split by a canal that connects Green Bay and Lake Michigan.

The canal itself, built between the years of 1872 and 1882, is an interesting bit of history.  It shaved the distance for the ships sailing west into Green Bay, saving them from sailing through a harrowing corridor known as Death’s Door,  a treacherous stretch of water that aptly gave the peninsula its name (Door County)  For it’s time, the feat of digging this 7 mile canal  is very impressive considering the technological limitations of the era.  Today, the corridor still serves a vital role in Sturgeon Bay’s economy.

During the summer, there are boat tours, carriage rides and many other fun attractions in Sturgeon Bay’s historic downtown.  I think the canal, along with the yachts, tugs, Coast Guard ships, and freighters, set it apart from many other cities.  I also have to mention that there are well manicured city parks set in this down town.    Like I said, this place is different from the other tourist towns in Door County,  yet, still great for sightseeing and relaxing.