Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Edna who? April 25, 2014

Edna Ferber portrait displayed at the History Museum at the Castle.

Edna Ferber portrait, photographed from a display at the History Museum at the Castle.

WHO IS EDNA FERBER?

Do you know?

I should. I’m a writer.

But I didn’t. Although now I do.

Thanks to an exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin, followed by additional online research, I now know some basic facts about this Pulitzer Prize winning author. In 1925, Ferber won a Pulitzer for her novel, So Big. Set in turn-of-the-century Chicago, the book tells the story of widowed Selina DeJong and her struggles to support herself and her son. That novel is now on my must-read list.

I think I would appreciate the writing of a woman “hailed for sensitively portraying working Americans, for calling attention to women’s roles in American history, and for writing with a journalist’s knack for precise vocabulary and vivid description,” according to info posted in the museum exhibit.

She sounds like one strong woman.

At age 17, Ferber became the first woman reporter for the Appleton Daily Crescent. Seventeen. Her work as editor of her Appleton high school newspaper apparently impressed the Crescent editor.

Over a 50-year span, this prolific writer would pen a dozen novels, 11 short story collections, six major plays and two autobiographies.

Wow.

Her best known works include Show Boat, made into the celebrated musical in 1927; Cimarron, adapted into the 1931 film which won an Academy Award for Best Picture; Giant, a 1956 Hollywood movie; and that Pulitzer novel, So Big.

According to info on the History Museum at the Castle website, Ferber is known for her “wit and perspectives on growing up in a small Midwestern town.”

Now that I can really appreciate.

READERS, have any of you read Ferber’s work or seen the films inspired by her writing?

Click here to read Ferber’s biography published on the Appleton Public Library website.

This quote, showcased in the History Museum at the Castle display, rings true for me as a writer.

This quote, showcased in the History Museum at the Castle display, rings true for me as a writer, too.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin, is housed in an historic former Masonic Temple.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin, is housed in an historic former Masonic Temple.

At my first reporting job out of college, I wrote my stories on a Royal manual typewriter. Like Ferber, I don't write my stories on paper.

At my first reporting job out of college, I wrote my stories on a Royal manual typewriter. In this quote from Ferber, today I’d replace “computer” with “typewriter” when referencing my writing.

CLICK HERE to read a previous post about a Wisconsin food exhibit at the History Museum at the Castle. And check back for more posts from Wisconsin, coming soon.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

If you think Wisconsinites love beer, brats & cheese, you’d be right April 24, 2014

IN THREE YEARS of exploring Wisconsin, I’ve learned a few things:

Wisconsinites are crazy about their Packers.

Wisconsinites love their brats.

Cheese is, indeed, big in Wisconsin.

And, finally, Wisconsin residents love their beer.

Not necessarily in that order.

I base this on observations such as green and gold brat buns sold at an Appleton grocery store where staff wear Packer attire on game day; liquor stores directly connected to grocery stores, walk-in beer coolers at convenience stores and an abundance of bars everywhere, seemingly packed on game day; a decrease in highway traffic during Packers games; frequent homemade roadside signs advertising brat fries; and busy specialty shops focused on selling cheese.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

A banner welcomes visitors to the featured exhibit on food at the History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

Now an exhibit, “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat,” at the History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton (that’s in eastern Wisconsin south of Green Bay) confirms my observations and conclusions about Wisconsin.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter "speared" a catfish instead.

In an interactive portion of the exhibit, in a fish house, visitors can try spearing a sturgeon. In this case, my daughter “speared” a catfish instead by thrusting a “spear” at the shadowy fish lurking below the water’s surface. You best know your fish.

The informative and interactive exhibit—try spearing a sturgeon—explores the origins of iconic Wisconsin food traditions.

foods

Visitors uses post-it notes to list favorite foods reflecting their ethnicity.

“From sauerkraut to egg rolls, each food has a story to tell about our regional values and community-making,” so notes a line in the wealth of exhibit information. I’ll admit that I didn’t read all of the info. I am more a visual and interactive learner in a museum setting. But I appreciate the depth of research summarized here.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

A snippet of the expansive food exhibit.

That said, join me on this photographic tour of “Food.”

Via museum magic, you can actually press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

Via museum magic, you can press the button and smell cheddar cheese wafting from the golden box.

 

Smell the cheese.

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive computer screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed "The Dairyland State."

Test your cow knowledge on this interactive screen. Wisconsin is, after all, termed “America’s Dairyland.”

 

Test your knowledge of cows.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin's "soul food." lots of cheese, brats and beer answers.

See how visitors answered this question about Wisconsin’s “soul food.” Cheese, brats, beer, fish fry… Add your own answer.

Define Wisconsin “soul food.”

Another overview

A portion of the exhibit focuses on place, like burger joints and supper clubs, etc.

Reminisce about supper clubs and burger stands.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Old kitchen utensils for visitors to identify.

Identify old kitchen tools…

Celebrate the food traditions of Wisconsin:

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

Hunting and fishing are a major part of sports and food culture in Wisconsin.

 

Red Dot potato chips

Red Dot potato chips were produced by Red Dot Foods of Madison, Wisconsin, and were once a top potato chip brand.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, area is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

Cookbooks are on display and vintage recipes available for the taking at the exhibit. The Appleton, Wisconsin, region is known as the Fox Valley after the Fox River which runs through the area.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

In the Marketplace, visitors are encouraged to choose healthy fresh foods.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement.

Another display focuses on the empowerment of women via the Temperance Movement. One of the Appleton Police Department’s major objectives in 2014 is to combat domestic violence.

Another

The exhibit on the right focuses on supper clubs. Visitors are invited to write characteristics defining a supper club. Answers included, among many others, pickled beets and herring at salad bar; dim lighting; cocktail hour; tavern in front, buffet in back; and old fashion jukeboxes.

Supper club signage close-ups.

Supper club/bar signage close-ups.

The Pig Fair...

The Pig Fair…

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that's Reddi Kilowatt there on the wall.

A section on electricity highlights Appleton as having the first home electrified by water power in 1882. And, yes, that’s Reddy Kilowatt there on the wall.

And then afterward, grab a cold one. It seems only fitting to honor Wisconsin’s love of brats, beer, cheese and Packers. Cheers.

History Museum at the Castle, 330 East College Avenue, Appleton, Wisconsin.

The impressive and historic History Museum at the Castle.

FYI: The “Food: Who We Are and What We Eat” exhibit continues through the fall of 2014 at the Castle. There’s much more to see here, including exhibits on local history and a permanent Harry Houdini exhibit. Houdini claims Appleton as his hometown.

Don't miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

Don’t miss the incredible stained glass windows in the Siekman Room.

The castle itself is a lovely complex built in 1923 as a Masonic temple and today is on the National Register of Historic Places. Click here to learn more about the History Museum at the Castle.

© Copyright 2014 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