8 Quirky Wisconsin Museums
Whether it’s mustard, accordions, or angels, Wisconsinites have a unique way of taking a hobby and turning it into an exhibit hall. Our state is home to an eclectic mix of museums that go beyond the ordinary and are the product of a passionate person with a vision: a vision so strong that erecting a museum is quite simply the most reasonable option.
Both entertaining and educational, these museums offer an out-of-the-box perspective. Use this list, compiled by Travel Wisconsin, to plan your summer road trips.
1. If Rocks Could Talk
House on the Rock, Spring Green
No words can truly describe House on the Rock in its entirety, but we’ll try. This classic Wisconsin museum features hundreds of eclectic displays and out-of-the-ordinary collections. The world’s largest carousel, standing 35 feet tall and illuminated with more than 20,000 lights, is a rare masterpiece. Another spectacular display is the daring Infinity Room, a glass-walled structure that projects 218 feet over the Wyoming Valley, which lies 156 feet below. There’s also a giant sea creature longer than the Statue of Liberty. Is your mind spinning yet? This is a “see it to believe it” destination where the creativity of late founder Alex Jordan lives and thrives. And seeing as he built the house by dragging stones to the top of a 75-foot chimney of rock, one at a time, that’s dedication we simply can’t ignore. Bravo Mr. Jordan, you put House on the Rock at the top of our list.
The House on the Rock • 5754 State Highway 23, Spring Green • (608) 935-3639 • open daily May 4-Oct. 18 • email@example.com • www.thehouseontherock.com
2. All Roads Lead to Hartford
Wisconsin Automotive Museum, Hartford
Go from zero to amazed in three seconds at this museum. Dale Anderson is the driving force behind the Wisconsin Automotive Museum in Hartford. Twenty-nine years ago, Dale, with the help of the community, opened the museum to showcase the city’s history and connection with car making. The Kissel, a high-caliber custom automobile was manufactured in Hartford from 1906 to 1931. Of the 35,000 produced, only 200 exist today and many are on display here. But you won’t just see cars here, you’ll see trucks, an airplane and even a 250-ton operating steam locomotive – with tracks that run right into the building! Wisconsin car enthusiasts will also appreciate the display on the Nash, a car manufactured in Kenosha in the early 1900s. In fact, there is no other Nash museum in the U.S.
Wisconsin Automotive Museum • 147 N. Rural St., Hartford • hours May 1-Sept. 30: 10am-5pm Monday-Saturday, noon-5pm Sunday • (262) 673-7999 • www.wisconsinautomuseum.com
3. And All Snowmobile Trails Lead
to Eagle River
International Snowmobile Hall of Fame, Eagle River
Though Wisconsin can’t take credit for inventing snow, we can take credit for inventing the coolest thing to do in the snow. Snowmobiling has deep roots in Wisconsin, which is why it comes as no surprise that our state is home to not one, but two snowmobile halls of fame and museums. The International Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Eagle River shows the history and the people who have helped make snowmobiling one of the world’s premier winter sports. Eagle River is the Snowmobile Capital of the World, and the museum is just a snowball’s throw (literally 200 feet!) from site of the World Championship Snowmobile Derby, which is held each January. Visitors to the museum can take a self-guided tour that includes vintage sleds and groomers such as the 1953 Ellison all the way to the high-tech models of today.
International Snowmobile Hall of Fame • 1521 N. Railroad St., Eagle River • 10am-4pm Monday-Saturday • (715) 479-2186 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.ishof.com
4. Music in the Ear of the Beholder
World of Accordions, Superior
Whether it’s polka music or simply the romantic tune of “That’s Amore,” there is nothing quite like an accordion to turn a song from “nice” to unforgettable. Walk into the World of Accordions museum in Superior and you’ll see how these “squeeze boxes” have transformed throughout the years. Helmi Harrington is the living and breathing force behind the World of Accordions. At her Harrington Arts Center in Superior, she maintains the museum, repair shop, technicians’ school, and concert hall focused solely on the accordion. And this isn’t just a “nice” museum either; it’s incredible, and features the world’s largest collection of accordion family instruments and cultural artifacts. But the music doesn’t stop there. The accordion repair school is the only one in the U.S. and the concert hall, which was once a church altar, is now the stage for accordion performances. Scholars from as far as Austria have come to use the museum’s archives. If you visit, you may be lucky enough to receive a short performance from Helmi herself.
World of Accordions Museum • 1401 Belknap St., Superior • usually open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, but calling ahead is recommended • (715) 395-2787 • email@example.com • www.accordionworld.org
5. Sweet or Spicy? Taste Your Pick
National Mustard Museum, Middleton
Standing in an all-night supermarket looking for the meaning of life, National Mustard Museum founder and curator Barry Levinson heard a voice, “If you collect us, they will come.” That experience led to this most improbable museum, and a museum that now houses more condiments than you ever thought possible. Levinson has amassed more than 5,600 mustard varieties from 50 states and 70 countries. The museum is also home to hundreds of items of great mustard historical importance, including mustard pots and vintage mustard advertisements. Visitors can purchase mustard off the shelves at the museum, or from the first-ever mustard vending machine. The museum also includes a tasting bar with free samples. The best part? Admission to this wacky museum is free. And Barry or Mrs. Mustard (aka Patty, Barry’s lovely wife) may be around to give a tour.
National Mustard Museum • 7477 Hubbard Ave., Middleton • 10am-5pm daily • (800) 438-6878 • www.mustardmuseum.com
6. Heaven Sent
Angel Museum, Beloit
Every time a bell rings in this museum of 11,000 angel figurines, you can only imagine what happens. A love affair with an Italian bisque angel discovered in Florida by Joyce Berg was the impetus that began the world’s largest angel figurine collection. Housed in St. Paul Catholic Church in Beloit, today the Berg Collection has more than 13,600 angels – 11,000 of them on public display. Ranging from one-eighth-inch to full-sized, the angels are made in more than 100 different materials from fine porcelain to macaroni. The museum also features a collection of 600 African-American angels donated by Oprah Winfrey, who was given the angels by her fans.
The Angel Museum • 656 Pleasant St. (Highway 51), Beloit • 10am-4pm Thursday-Saturday • (608) 362-9099 • www.angelmuseum.org
7. The Birthplace of Heavy Metal
Castlerock Museum, Alma
For a rare look at some of the most intricate and artistically fascinating armor out there, a Renaissance fair just doesn’t cut it. You really need to visit the Castlerock Museum in Alma. It all began when Gary Schlosstein, at age 10, acquired a Civil War musket for $3. Now his museum, which arose out of his personal collection and lifelong pursuit of historical weaponry, is the most complete arms and armor display in the Midwest. The museum takes you through 2,000 years of history and hundreds of pieces of arms and armor. Start with Rome, make your way through the Dark Ages, Crusades, and the Renaissance. You’ll be an expert by the time you leave the museum – a real knight in shining armor.
Castlerock Museum, 402 S. Second St., Alma • 1-4pm Friday and Saturday (year round) and Sunday (Memorial Day to Labor Day) • (608) 685-4231 • www.castlerockmuseum.com
8. Three Rings Make a Right
Circus World Museum, Baraboo
Baraboo is home to a deep circus history; in fact, the three largest circuses in the world were all located in Baraboo at one time. Today its history is preserved for future generations at the 64-acre Circus World Museum, the vision of a Ringling family attorney. Located on the original winter quarters of the Ringling Brothers Circus, visitors to this National Landmark Site can explore decades of circus history and a brand-new animated miniature circus. A trip to the Circus World Museum includes walking around the campus to various buildings and seeing circus advertisements and artifacts. Did you know that Circus World is home to two-thirds of the world’s surviving circus wagons? We’re not clowning around.
Circus World Museum, 550 Water St., Baraboo • open weekdays through May 21, and daily May 22-Aug. 30 • (866) 693-1500 • firstname.lastname@example.org • www.circusworldbaraboo.org
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