Books Wisconsin Tourism

SECRET JOURNEYS: E.C. Couple’s Book a Guide to Wisconsin’s Most Obscure Attractions

from the Yo-Yo Museum to the Gravity Hill, ‘Secret Wisconsin’ will get you off the beaten path

Tom Giffey |

The long, sunny days of summer serve as an invitation to hit the road and see some of Wisconsin’s many amazing sights. But where to begin? If tried-and-true options like the Wisconsin Dells, Door County, or the House on the Rock don’t hold their appeal this year, why not try something a little more quirky?

How about “Gravity Hill” near Shullsburg, where your car will be mysteriously pulled uphill on a rural road? Or perhaps the fiberglass mold graveyard in Sparta, where oversized incarnations of Bucky Badger, Big Boy, and even Satan himself rub shoulders? Maybe you’ll want to get a selfie with Milwaukee’s waterfront “Bronze Fonz” or scope out the spot in Madison where Elvis Presley demonstrated his kingly karate prowess in defense of a gas station attendant?

All these and scores more can be found in the pages of Secret Wisconsin: A Guide to the Weird Wonderful, and Obscure by Eau Claire-based husband-and-wife travel writers Tom Manus and Kristi Flick Manus. The book, published last fall by Reedy Press of St. Louis, is full of fascinating attractions, oddities, and tales the couple have gathered while criss-crossing the Badger State.

“We’ve lived all over the country and we’ve seen 48 states, and Wisconsin is by far the quirkiest state,” Tom said in a recent interview. “No matter where you go, there’s a lot of ingenuity and freethinking.”
Kristi agreed: “Wisconsin is notorious for people wanting to talk,” she explained, and that suits the couple’s mode of travel: Getting off the beaten path – and beyond the first page of Google search results – and finding the unique attractions and stories that folks in every Wisconsin town will tell you about if you take the time to ask.

“We get tired of seeing the same things over and over,” Tom says. “What you see when you Google something is paid for by people who have advertising dollars. We love road trips on back roads and two-lane highways because you never know what you’ll find in small towns.”

We love road trips on back roads and two-lane highways because you never know what you’ll find in small towns.


co-author, with his wife, kristi flick Manus, of "Secret Wisconsin"

Kristi (a Wisconsin native) and Tom (who grew up in Texas and North Carolina) have been together for 29 years and have been traveling for most of that time, feeling their way through places around the nation and world. They write freelance travel articles as well as for their own website. Secret Wisconsin is their first book – although several others are in the words, including one about things to do in Eau Claire.

The book was a true collaboration: Each spouse identified sites they’d like to visit and write about, and then they edited each other’s work. “She’s got one half of the brain and I’ve got the other,” Tom says.

Naturally, among the nearly 100 spots in the book, the authors have some favorites. “I have two. Actually, I have three,” Kristi says, “or four.” These include include Oliver’s Bakery in Kenosha, famed for its Friday morning – yes, morning – fish fry, in which people line up at 7:30 for fried cod, shrimp, and donuts.

Another highlight is the Yo-Yo Capital of the World Museum in Luck: In the 1950s, the Duncan Yo-Yo company relocated from Chicago to the tiny northwoods town because of an availability of maple wood and workers.

Authors Kristi Flick Manus, left, and Tom Manus. (Submitted photo)
Authors Kristi Flick Manus, left, and Tom Manus. (Submitted photo)

The list of Tom’s favorites is topped by the Cozy Inn in Janesville, the second oldest Chinese restaurant at the same location in America. “People that know about it travel from all over the country to come back to Janesville to buy their egg rolls,” he said. “It’s a family recipe, it takes two days to make. They will actually get coolers and order up to 100 at a time and take them back.” Another source of amazement: The restaurant’s current owner, Tom Fong, is the son of a man – Wing Sun Fong – who was one of six Chinese survivors of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912!

“We want people to get out and see things, to take road trips. When we wrote the book, we did it the old fashioned way: We put pins in a map,” Tom explained. Those pins are spread throughout Wisconsin’s 65,000 square miles, meaning most Cheeseheads are only a short drive from something worth hitting the road for: Close to Eau Claire, for example, the book covers the Wisconsin Logging Museum and the Hank Aaron statue, both in Carson Park, while a road trip of an hour of so will get you to Chatty Belle, the world’s largest taking cow, or the infamous Rock in the House in Fountain City.

“We’ve found the things that have the most and the best memories – and what we talk about the most – are the things that we had no idea were out there,” Tom says.

Follow along on Tom and Kristi’s travels on their website, Secret Wisconsin is available from a variety of online and in-person booksellers, including The Local Store, 205 N. Dewey St.