Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Exploring the magic of Appleton, Wisconsin November 7, 2013

IN THE PAST THREE YEARS, since my second daughter moved to Appleton, Wisconsin, to start her job as a Spanish medical interpreter, I’ve enjoyed exploring the Fox Valley area south of Green Bay and an hour west of Lake Michigan.

I remember my first visit to downtown Appleton, where this building is located, and my surprise at seeing tall buildings located there.

I remember my first visit to downtown Appleton, where this building is located, and my surprise at seeing tall buildings located there.

Although I’ve tried to convince Miranda to relocate nearer than 300 miles from her hometown, I understand why she’s reluctant to leave Appleton. From my observations, this metro region of some 236,000 residents in 19 communities along the Fox River appears to have a lot going for it in a landscape and lifestyle that can change quickly from urban to rural.

A farm place in the middle of urban housing on the north edge of Appleton, in Grand Chute if I'm correct.

A farm place in the middle of urban housing on the north edge of Appleton, in Grand Chute if I’m correct.

This is a busy and growing region, but one which has not lost its rural roots connection.

A display outside a downtown Appleton gift shop.

A display outside a downtown Appleton gift shop.

Although I’m not much of a shopper, there’s an abundance of shopping options from the Fox River Mall to one-of-a-kind local shops in the heart of an historic downtown. Plus, Appleton has a fantastic farmers’ market, which I’ve perused twice.

Cheese shops. Check. I’ve been to Simon’s Specialty Cheese and Lamers Dairy.

Ethnic and other dining choices abound in the Appleton area.

Ethnic and other dining choices abound in the Appleton area.

Great places to eat, too, like the best pizza accompanied by on-site brewed beer at the Stone Cellar Brewpub and delectable Indian cuisine at Sai Ram. Whenever my brother-in-law Marty, a long distance trucker, travels to Appleton, he’ll phone Miranda and she’ll pick him up and they’ll go to the Stone Cellar for pizza.

Now showing at The Trout Museum of Art, a collection of Katharine Hepburn's costumes.

Showing until December 15 at The Trout Museum of Art, a collection of Katharine Hepburn’s costumes.

On our most recent trip to Appleton, we not only celebrated my husband’s birthday at the Stone Cellar, but earlier in the day explored nearby High Cliff State Park and afterward checked out the Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen exhibit at The Trout Museum of Art. Appleton offers plenty of cultural opportunities at places like the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center (which I have yet to visit and which my daughter wishes had more affordable ticket prices) and Lawrence University.

For some time now, I’ve wanted to visit the Trout. The museum’s name has nothing to do with fish, but with Dr. Monroe and Sandra Trout, who gifted 150 museum quality works of art and left a $1 million endowment. I was excited to see the Trout Collection.

But it was not to be. Apparently I misunderstood the information on the Trout website and the only collection shown was Katherine Hepburn’s costumes on loan from the Kent State University Museum in Ohio. Now if I was into film and Hepburn and fashion, this certainly would have held my interest. But I am not, nor are my husband and daughter. We breezed through the exhibit in 30 minutes under the scrutinizing watch of a security guard. When I asked if there was more to the Trout, the man at the admissions desk said we’d seen it all.

OK, then. To add to my disappointment, no cameras were allowed inside the Hepburn exhibit. I rather expected that, but I was hoping otherwise.

The recently revamped Houdini Plaza, a central gathering spot in downtown Appleton that features summer concerts, etc.

The recently revamped Houdini Plaza, a central gathering spot in downtown Appleton that features summer concerts, etc.

I settled for shooting photos outside the Trout of the beautiful new Houdini Plaza, honoring escape artist Harry Houdini who called Appleton his childhood home. A permanent exhibit on Houdini is housed in the nearby History Museum at the Castle, where I once saw an interesting Leonardo da Vinci exhibit.

I wish we’d gone to the Castle to tour the current temporary exhibit, Food: Who We Are and What We Eat. That might have been entertaining considering I’ve spotted green and gold brat buns at Festival Foods in Appleton.

If I’ve learned anything in the past three years about Wisconsin, it’s that Wisconsinites like love their beer, brats and Packers.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Details on Houdini Plaza.

Details on Houdini Plaza.

Steel, stone, marble and brass comprise the first seven floors of the Irving Zuelke building constructed in  1931. An additional five stories were added in 1951.

Steel, stone, marble and brass comprise the first seven floors of the Irving Zuelke building constructed in 1931. An additional five stories were added in 1951.

I discovered this bronze monument to Civil War Union soldiers near Houdini plaza, tucked between a parking ramp and a building.

I discovered this bronze monument to Civil War Union soldiers near Houdini Plaza, tucked between a parking ramp and a building.

FYI: To read previous posts from Appleton, and there are many, simply type Appleton into the Minnesota Prairie Roots search engine. Also, photo ops on this visit to downtown Appleton were limited given the intermittent rain.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Houdini magic in Appleton, Wisconsin January 17, 2013

Illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini.

Illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini.

WHAT DRAWS US to the magic of a magician?

I expect the attraction begins subtly when we are babes playing peek-a-boo. We frown as the face we love disappears beneath our beloved blankie. But when Mom or Dad reappears, so does our smile. It’s magic.

And then, at some point, we discover card tricks and colorful scarves growing from sleeves and rabbits pulled from top hats. And the fascination with magic dances in our childish brains and never quite vanishes.

The History Museum at the Castle, home to the Houdini and other exhibits.

The History Museum at the Castle, home to the Houdini and other exhibits.

I suppose that is part of the attraction visitors find to the “A.K.A. Houdini Exhibit” at The History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton, Wisconsin, the city illusionist Harry Houdini falsely claimed as his birthplace. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, came with his family to America in 1878, settling briefly in Appleton where his father was the city’s first rabbi.

A snippet of the Houdini exhibit.

A snippet of the interactive Houdini exhibit.

As you would expect, you’ll learn detailed facts about Ehrich Weiss, the illusionist and escape artist known to all of us as Houdini. The name is a tribute to his illusionist idol, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin.

Be sure to pose with the lion head, a tribute to Houdini's early fascination with traveling circuses.

Be sure to pose with the lion head, a tribute to Houdini’s early fascination with traveling circuses. That’s my second daughter, who lives and works in the  Fox Valley (Appleton) area.

But you’ll also experience hands-on interactive activities that will uncover the magic which isn’t really magic at all. Not to worry; you won’t be sawed in half or stuck in a straightjacket.

Tools of the escape artist profession.

Tools of the escape artist profession.

The museum collection includes artifacts gifted by an escape artist protege of Houdini’s escape artist brother, Theo. Sort of a tongue twister sentence there, I know. Some of Houdini’s tools of the trade seem rather archaic, almost barbaric, in a clanking metal and chains sort of way. But given the time period, you would not expect sleek and shiny.

A Houdini bust in the museum.

A Houdini bust in the museum.

Therein, perhaps, lies the genuine appeal of this exhibit. In learning about Houdini, you are honoring a man who entertained the masses in unprecedented, daring and fearless ways as he wrote magic into history and into our hearts.

Upon his death, Houdini was buried in a stage prop, his "buried alive" casket, introduced on his final tour in 1926. He escaped the staged burial in under two minutes.

Upon his death, Houdini was buried in a stage prop, his “buried alive” casket, introduced on his final tour in 1926. He escaped the staged burial in under two minutes.

The circus wagon in the exhibit is a nod to Houdini's circus association. He first performed for a neighborhood children's circus as tight roper walker "Prince of the Air."

The circus wagon in the exhibit is a nod to Houdini’s circus association. He first performed for a neighborhood children’s circus as tight roper walker “Prince of the Air.”

A sculpture outside The History Museum at the Castle.

A sculpture outside The History Museum at the Castle.

FYI: The History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, is open from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Sunday, closed Mondays and holidays. Admission prices are free for 4 and under; $10 for ages 5 – 17; $15 for ages 18 – 64; and $13.50 for those 65 and older.

A blurry image to emphasize the "Leonardo da Vinci Machines in Motion" exhibit. It's a must-see.

A blurry image to emphasize the “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion” exhibit. It’s a must-see.

Admission to the museum also covers the “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion” temporary exhibit which has been extended through February 3, and other exhibits. You can click here to read my previous post about the da Vinci exhibit. From 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. on Thursday, January 31, the museum will host “Arrivederci, Leonardo!”, a gala event celebrating the success of the exclusive da Vinci showing in Wisconsin. Cost for the gala, which covers a da Vinci exhibit tour plus light refreshments and fine Italian wine, is $20 for non-members and $10 for museum members.

You can check out all the museum has to offer by clicking here.

ADDITIONALLY, APPLETON is currently raising monies to redo Houdini Plaza, a downtown gathering spot reminiscent of the town squares of yesteryear. To read about that project, “Recapturing the Magic,” click here.

READ MY PREVIOUS post about The History Museum at the Castle by clicking here.

CHECK BACK  for a post on a great place to eat in Appleton. Like the museum building, this restaurant exudes history.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating the history of, and in, Appleton, Wisconsin’s “castle” January 16, 2013

The History Museum at the Castle, 330 E. College Ave., Appleton, Wisconsin.

The History Museum at the Castle, 330 E. College Ave., Appleton, Wisconsin.

CONSTRUCTED OF STONE and anchored by a center tower, the impressive multi-story structure commanding the corner of College Avenue and Drew Street in downtown Appleton, Wisconsin, presents an almost formidable exterior presence.

Aptly named The History Museum at the Castle, this sprawling castle-like fortress embodies the essence of history from the outside in. History seems meant to be showcased here. And it is, in this, the home of The Outagamie Historical Society.

Windows in the Siekman Room depict the history of the Fox Cities from the days of the early explorers until modern times.

Windows in the Siekman Room depict the history of the Fox Cities from the days of the early explorers until modern times.

Perhaps it is a matter of personal taste. But I prefer to learn about history within the walls of a place aged by time rather than in a sterile, modern facility. From the heavy wooden double front entry doors strapped with metal to the woodwork woven throughout the interior to the detailed wall scones, fireplace, paintings and stained glass windows, this museum exudes yesteryear.

More Fox Valley history in art.

More Fox Valley history in stained glass art.

Its history dates back to 1923-1924 when Waverly Lodge No. 51 constructed the complex for use as a Masonic Temple, according to Kathy Voigt, community engagement manager for the museum. Says Voigt:

Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the building is constructed in the Norman Revival style, characterized by the use of rough-hewn stone and other features reminiscent of medieval castles and churches, such as vaulted ceilings, heavy beams and leaded windows.

Artwork above an auditorium stage hints at the building's past as a Masonic Temple.

Artwork above an auditorium stage hints at the building’s past as a Masonic Temple.

In the mid-1980s, after the Masons could no longer afford to maintain the temple, the building was sold to the local historical society.

Windows depicting the region's early fur trading history.

Windows depicting the region’s early fur trading history.

Today this building houses, among other exhibits, rotating and permanent, the history of the Fox River Valley, a region stretching from Green Bay on the north to Neenah on the south. The area was once home to the Fox River Valley Indians, AKA the Meskwaki/Mesquakie, who relocated to Wisconsin from the East around 1650.  “Tools of Change” highlights the Fox Valley’s tools, people, work and everyday life between 1840-1950.

And because I notice details, be sure to look for these incredible light fixtures in the main Houdini exhibit room.

I noticed these incredible wall sconces in a Houdini exhibit room.

Other exhibits feature Senator Joseph McCarthy, born and raised in Appleton; Nobel Prize winning writer Edna Ferber; the work of local noted photographer Andrew J. Mueller; and, upstairs, a more extensive exhibit on illusionist and escape artist Harry Houdini, who lived in Appleton as a child. I’ll post about the “AKA Houdini” exhibit tomorrow.

While the Leonardo da Vinci signage likely catches your eye first in this photo, look to the left and notice the fireplace.

While the Leonardo da Vinci signage likely catches your eye first, look to the left and notice the fireplace, the lights, the floor.

But currently drawing the most interest is the museum’s temporary “Leonardo da Vinci: Machines in Motion” exhibit which opened late last year and has now been extended through February 3. You can read about “Machines in Motion” in a previous post by clicking here. This show was my primary reason for touring the museum in early October when my husband and I were in Appleton visiting our second daughter.

Another view of the historic museum.

Another view of the museum, from early October.

The historic Masonic Temple housing the museum rates as a bonus to the history inside. I wonder how many visitors, when they tug at those heavy front entry doors and then enter the castle, pause to appreciate the building they are standing within.

BONUS IMAGES:

Given my love of photography, the "From My View: The Photographs of Andrew J. Mueller" exhibit especially interested me. Mueller worked for the local newspaper.

Given my love of photography, the “From My View: The Photographs of Andrew J. Mueller” exhibit especially interested me. Mueller worked for the local newspaper, beginning as an artist there and becoming the paper’s full-time photographer in 1950. He approached photography from both artistic and journalistic perspectives.

Given my journalism background, an old printing press also caught my eye.

Because of my journalism background, an old printing press also caught my eye.

Would any Wisconsin museum exhibit be complete without a cow? Here you can perch on the stool and pretend to milk this Holstein.

Would any Wisconsin museum exhibit be complete without a cow? Here you can perch on the stool and pretend to milk this Holstein.

FYI: For more information about The History Museum at the Castle, click here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Oh, Wisconsin, I do love thee April 27, 2011

I was expecting downtown Appleton to look like historic Faribault with a pedestrian-friendly two-lane central street. Instead I found big city bustle and a busy four-lane running through the heart of downtown.

My husband and I, along with our son, spent Easter weekend in Appleton, Wisconsin, with our second oldest daughter.

IF YOU READ my Monday blog post, you know about the “Guess that state” contest that offers no prize. The prize is knowing you could (maybe) figure out where I celebrated Easter.

That would be in Wisconsin.

Yes, my husband, son and I spent the Easter weekend just east of Minnesota, in the Dairyland state, the home of the Green Bay Packers.

Specifically, we were in Appleton, the birthplace of Harry Houdini and the current home of my second oldest daughter. It is a 5 – 5 ½- hour drive from Faribault depending on how fast you drive and how many bathroom breaks are taken.

It is interesting how, when you travel in another state, you feel kind of like a foreigner. My husband and I tend to notice the details that distinguish regions. Of course, in Wisconsin, cheese and Packers’ green and gold stand out above all else.

But we also noticed, in the central area of the state where we drove along Wisconsin Highway 21, all of the small-town taverns and unincorporated towns, the buggy tracks and horse poop along the shoulders of the highway, the deer stands, the areas for growing potatoes and cranberries, many “for sale” signs on wooded properties, and lots and lots and lots of deer carcasses in the ditches and along the roadway. Oh, and for one short section, the dead muskrat may have outnumbered the total dead deer count for 100 miles.

Aside from those observations, we saw some interesting signage. For example, in school zones, “when children are present,” the speed limit is 15 mph.

The Willow Creek Cheese Factory Outlet was shut, not closed, according to this sign.

One particular business was not “closed,” it was “shut.”

A parcel of rural real estate, what we would term a “hobby farm” in Minnesota, was dubbed a “Farmette for sale.”

Dead-end streets in Appleton were posted as “No outlet.” It took me awhile to figure out that meant dead-end.

Brat fries were the big weekend fundraiser at Appleton grocery stores. The term “brat fry” was new to us. It means grilling.

We were especially amused by this sign in a field: “Certified weed-free hay.” Now, I wonder what the farmer was smoking when he wrote that sign. Cheddar cheese?

Oh, Wisconsinites, I really do like your state so I hope you take this post in humor, as it’s meant. If you want to cross the border and poke some fun at us Minnesotans, feel free. You’re always welcome here. Just leave the green and gold attire at home.

If you’d like to bring some cheese, do. I love Wisconsin cheese.

A small sampling of the cheeses available at Simon's Specialty Cheese in Little Chute. I'll take you inside this can't miss store in a future post.

NOW FOR THOSE READERS who are wondering where I shot the images in my “Guess that state” post published on Monday, here are the answers:

1.  HELICOPTER:  On the outskirts of Tomah just off I-94

2.  SHIP ROCK:  Near Coloma in Adams County

3.  BRAU HOUSE:  Downtown Appleton

4.  WE SALUTE OUR DAIRY FARMERS:  Simon’s Specialty Cheese Retail Store, Little Chute

5.  NEON ORANGE BUILDING:  A Mexican restaurant (sorry, didn’t get the name) in Wautoma

6.  STONE BUILDING:  The History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton. Magician Harry Houdini claims Appleton as his birthplace.

7.  AMISH FARM:  Near Coloma

8.  BRAT FRY SIGN:  Along an Appleton street

9.  GOLD FIRE HYDRANT:  Appleton

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Guess that state April 25, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 9:17 AM
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I’M BACK, READERS.

After two days without posts, which rates as totally out of character for me, you may be wondering why I haven’t written. Well, simple. I’ve been in another state for the Easter holiday.

Where have I been?

I could just tell you. But I’d rather make you guess. So today we are going to play “Guess that state.”

Scroll through the photos and clues below and then submit your guess. If you guess correctly, you do not win a prize. Rather you can take pride in the knowledge that you have learned more about one of our 50 states.

So…, let’s get started.

This helicopter on a trailer offers minimal info as to the identity of the mystery state. But it was the only photo I took as we drove here Friday afternoon, through rain, for more than three hours. On Saturday, some areas of this state were under a flash flood warning. Sirens wailed in the town where we were staying.

This natural rock formation known as the Ship Rock is located near the middle of the state.

Beer and bars. No additional words needed.

Residents of this state appreciate their dairy farmers.

Ah, nothing like the tropics to brighten my mood after a long winter. OK, you got me. This is actually a Mexican restaurant in a resort town in the central part of our mystery state.

At this museum, you will see an exhibit featuring magician Harry Houdini, who claims this state as his birthplace. If you know the name of the town, you score bonus points for your smartness. Do not cheat by googling.

Pockets of Amish, or maybe it's Mennonite, or both, reside in areas of this state. I was fortunate to capture this image Sunday afternoon while driving past this farm place.

This photo offers three clues: snow, brats and Piggly Wiggly. Along this stretch of highway on Saturday afternoon, we could have stopped at three brat fries at three grocery stores. (The husband did purchase a brat at The Festival Foods brat fry fundraiser for the Boy Scouts.)

This photo clue should be the clincher. Fire hydrants in the town where my family stayed are painted gold and sometimes green and gold.

PLEASE SUBMIT your guesses along with any comments you wish to make regarding these images or these clues or this state.

Good luck!

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling