5 Fascinating things at the Chippewa Valley Museum's huge new exhibit

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

The Chippewa Valley Museum unveiled a major new (permanent) exhibit on Sunday, Dec. 7. Changing Currents: Reinventing the Chippewa Valley covers more than 350 years of local history. "The exhibit shows that our communities have always been changing and developing as new people arrive," says Curator Carrie Ronnander. Here are just five fascinating  things you'll find …

1. Perrault's Trading Post

The trading post is a recreation of one operated in the 1790s by Jean-Baptiste Perrault on the Red Cedar River near present-day Menomonie. Amid shelves of blankets, baskets, and other goods available in trade for beaver pelts, you’ll meet an interactive computerized version of Perrault himself, animated by UW-Stout students. Don’t worry, even though he’s French, Perrault speaks English – with Ojibwe subtitles!

2. KKK Activity?

Museum director Susan McLeod says those who have seen the new exhibit are frequently surprised to find that the Ku Klux Klan had a presence in the Chippewa Valley in the early 20th century. The exhibit discusses how the Klan targeted local Catholics for discrimination, and how a Cornell priest, Father Peter Minwegen, successfully crusaded against their bigotry in the 1920s.

3. Emma Wahl

An otherwise ordinary Wisconsin woman, Emma Wahl’s story is made amazing by the consequences of her marriage – consequences that are inconceivable today. The Menomonie woman married a German immigrant, Ernst Wahl, in 1877 – and in doing so automatically forfeited her American citizenship! Her husband didn’t pursue citizenship until it was too late, which meant that American-born Emma had to register as an alien in her own country during the anti-German hysteria of World War I.

4. Who's That Girl?

Several years ago, the Chippewa Valley Museum adopted a new logo: an image showing a 1920s-era woman with bobbed hair in front of a tent and a vintage car. The artwork was taken from a piece a product packaging that’s now on display in the “Vacationland” part of the exhibit. To find out what unusual product this woman was advertising, look in the glass case just to the left of the entrance to the Clear Water Lodge.

5. Little Ben

Chippewa Vallians of a certain age like to reminisce about the region’s original shopping mall, London Square, with its department stores, fountains, and scale model of London’s fabled clock tower, which the locals dubbed “Little Ben.” Long a part of the museum’s collection, you’ll again find Little Ben tucked away in memory of the defunct mall.