Spring Green, Wisconsin
Aug 11, 2010
|Hopefully you are ready to read or at least scan because this has been the busiest week since we hit the road 26 months ago. Not counting the day we arrived, we have had 6 full days with 6 different adventures. Normally we don’t try to cram so much into one week, but once here we discovered that there were more unique attractions in this area than we had expected.
A beautiful day saw us heading out on the bike to New Glarus about 50 miles from the campground. The town was founded in the 1840’s by a small group of immigrants from Switzerland. It works hard to maintain its heritage by hosting 11 different festivals during the year. We enjoyed walking the town, checking out the various small shops, and listening to the clear sound of the carillon on the Swiss United Church of Christ. What we found the most intriguing were the painted cows. There are 15 scattered around town at different businesses. We saw and photographed 11 of the 14 we found [one was gone for repainting].
We ended our time in the area with a trip to the New Glarus Brewery. There was no structured tour; you just walked around the operation on your own. It is almost totally automated. We spoke with one employee who was completing 4 major tasks in the brewing process just by using his computer. The cleanliness of the operation was amazing. Tony got to sample three different beers with strange names like Totally Naked, Fat Squirrel, and Spotted Cow. They produce around 2.5 million gallons of beer a year, and it is all sold in Wisconsin. Although Totally Naked was our favorite, it had no additives to change its taste, we did not increase their sales.
In 1884 the Ringling Brothers Circus was founded in Baraboo, WI - less than 40 miles from where we were camped. The circus wintered in this town until 1918. The 64 acres was made into the Circus World Museum which includes 8 of the original buildings. Since it supposedly has the largest collection of circus memorabilia, we decided it was worth a day to go investigate for ourselves. The collection of antique circus wagons, there are over 200, was the most outstanding feature of the museum. The detail, colors, and size were amazing. There is no way to describe their beauty. I would have loved to have included another dozen pictures of the various wagons. The winter production of new wagons was a major economic contributor to Baraboo. The second most memorable collection was the old costumes. They were extremely detailed and well made, and they were so heavy. They were mostly made of satin, velvet, thick cord and glass beads. There were numerous exhibits of programs, posters and brochures from the early circus venues. Although the museum depends on materials from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum &Bailey’s past, there was still a great deal of information from many smaller circus companies.
While there we did attend a single ring circus show which had several very impressive acts. We also went to a tiger adventure show where the most interesting part was the youngest tiger’s interest in the small children in attendance. A roust-about had to admonish the little kids in front of us to sit absolutely still so that the tiger would lose interest in them.
A visit to The House on the Rock left us numb. Hopefully you have seen some of the documentaries on TV concerning this amazing destination. I really don’t know how to describe it, that is why I have included two websites. It is unique, awesome; it totally overwhelms your senses. It is exhausting both physically and mentally. The self-guided tour is divided into three parts. We attempted all three sections in one day [5 hours] and know we missed more than we saw. Alex Jordan, an artist and collector, began the house portion in the 1940s and finished it in the 60s. It was suppose to be his weekend retreat and a place to house his MANY collections but from what we understand, he never lived there but immediately opened it as a tourist attraction. Simply put, the house is unusual to the extreme. The most well known feature of it is the “Infinity Room”. The house was constructed before there were building codes, and this room really illustrates why codes are needed. It bounces as you walk! The remaining buildings, we believe there are 16, are all aluminum in order to meet code; however, the landscaping makes it so you rarely see the outside. Inside the buildings are the collections - with the majority of the items not labeled. It is fairly dark, so pictures are relatively hard to take. The spaces are so mammoth there is no way you can see everything. The walls, ceilings, and floors are covered with objects. Items are not displayed or arranged like a museum. Just a few examples: there is a collection of Madonna statues next to a collection of suits of armor. There are Faberge egg creations next to string puppets which are next to beautiful feather masks which are next to a gigantic steam engine which is by carved ivory. He collected everything in large quantities. Throughout the entire complex there are dozens of these things where you drop in tokens and all sorts of musical instruments play. They are as large as 50’ long and 40’ tall. There is one that is an entire orchestra with full size “people“ playing their instruments! There is a 4 story doll carrousel! There is the largest human carousel ever built. It has 18 chandeliers with 20,000 lights and 169 animals - none of which are horses. It weights 36 tons; is 80’ wide and 35’ tall. It is valued at $4.8 million dollars. There are hundreds of ship models from a few inches to 30+ feet long. They are located around a life size whale with a life size boat in its mouth. I could have spent hours just looking at the collection of doll houses. Did you know that in 1900 a car was invented that you “drove” like a horse? It had reins. If you let them go the car would slow down then go in reverse. The harder you pulled on the reins, the faster the car would go - until it got to 20 MPH. You pulled on the reins to make it turn. One of these is on display.
If there is one unifying element throughout the entire three areas, it is the stained glass lamps, windows, coffee tables, etc. There are the traditional but also very unique designs. There is also a lot of intricately carved wood lattice used for walls and doors that is lit from behind.
I wish I were a more creative writer because there is no way I can really impress upon up the magnitude of this place. It is definitely a “must visit” site. You could tour it dozens of times and not see everything. If we were to come again, we would probably divide it up into three days doing only one section a day and spend most of a day in each section. The only draw back is that there is no written guide brochure and so much is unlabeled. Much of the information I have shared came from talking with the volunteers you occasionally find throughout the complex. We hope you will take time to check out some of the photos in the following websites.
A visit top the National Mustard Museum was much less mentally, physically and emotionally challenging. It is located in Middleton, WI and results from the efforts of Barry Levenson. On display are over 5,200 different containers of mustard from all 50 states and over 60 countries. We had no idea every state made mustard! There is also an extensive collection of what he calls mustard pots - I would have called them fancy covered dishes for serving jams and jellies but to each his own interpretation. The museum contains a mustard store where 450 different mustards are sold. You can sample as many as you wish; we tried 8 and bought 3.
A hot, muggy day saw us taking the bike to the Cedar Creek Cheese Factory and Living Machine. The tour consisted of a busty young girl reading some posters to us outside a couple big windows where we could watch workers on the other side. The owner did come and answer some of our questions. We tried fresh cheese curds and bought some that are flavored with garlic and dill. They seem to be unique to the Minnesota/Wisconsin area and are the curds left over after the rest are pressed together into blocks of cheese. They are squeaky and chewy when you eat them. I think I like them more than Tony - probably because they don‘t have the consistency of cheese, and I am not a lover of cheese. We also did a self guided tour of the Living Machine Greenhouse. It is a series of large plastic tanks where the cheese manufacturing waste water goes through 10 tanks to clean it using microbes and hydrophilic plants. The water is then returned to a stream. It takes 3 - 4 days and the water is cleaner than the stream to which it is being returned.
The last excursion I did without Tony. He realized he would be very uncomfortable if he tried to take the tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Taliesin home just south of Spring Green. It is best he didn’t go since we spent the first hour out in the hot sun/high humidity and the second hour inside a house with no AC. The grounds are very nice although mostly just large mowed lawns with non-structured flower beds. You weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the house. He was an eccentric man. Because of natural balance, door knobs are at height of my shoulder; his favorite wood is plywood. Since he was only 5’4”, most everything was built to fit him. Chairs are very low to the ground as are things like his desk. The dining room table/chairs and conference table are normal. He didn’t believe in covering windows or showy staircases. He didn’t want people to loiter in the foyer, so the ceiling is less than 6’ high. His furniture and rooms have very clean lines and use a lot of natural materials. It is an interesting home - not opulent or extremely ostentatious. A large amount of the 37,000 ft. he made into rooms and apartments for his assistants and instructors at his architectural l college located on the 600 acres. Sometime we have to visit his western home in Scottsdale, AZ.
As you can see, it has been a very busy week. We are headed to the east side of the state and will be near Lake Michigan again. We expect it to be a quieter just enjoying nature.