11 Zany Collections That Prove Wisconsin's Quirkiness: 50 States of Wonder - Atlas Obscura

50 States of Wonder
11 Zany Collections That Prove Wisconsin's Quirkiness

Pick an object. It could be a bottle of mustard. Or a life-size troll sculpture. Or a metal sculpture with big Victorian-steampunk energy. It doesn't really matter, as long as you collect or create so many of them that your collection becomes a roadside attraction and a cherished local landmark. A remarkable number of Wisconsinites have chosen this life path, and the result is a truly remarkable collection of collections scattered across the state.

As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

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The dizzying carousel at the House on the Rock. vincelaconte/CC BY-SA 2.0
Accidental Attraction

1. House on the Rock

In the 1940s, Alex Jordan discovered a 60-foot chimney of rock in the beautiful Wyoming Valley and decided to build a house there. He intended it to be a weekend retreat, not a tourist attraction, but people kept coming to see the architectural wonder, and Jordan started asking for 50-cent donations. The 14-room house eventually evolved into a complex of many buildings, exhibits, and garden displays. It’s nearly impossible to see everything in just one day, but the curiosities include the world’s largest carousel, which boasts 269 carousel animals, 182 lanterns, more than 20,000 lights, and hundreds of mannequin angels hanging from the ceiling all around it. (Read more.)

5754 WI-23, Spring Green, WI 53588

Museum

2. L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum

A wonderful example of bringing science to life, the L.R. Ingersoll Physics Museum contains 70 giant physics experiments and toys, each of them interactive and designed by students and faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's physics department. The offerings, which include a large Newton’s Cradle, along with less-familiar and wildly original exhibits, can interest visitors of any age. A hidden gem, the museum is housed in two small rooms inside a university building full of lecture halls, classrooms, and the occasional laboratory. Step in and explore the forces of the universe. (Read more.)

1150 University Ave, Madison, WI 53706

What pun you'll have at the Mustard Museum! McBeth/Used with permission
Museum

3. National Mustard Museum

In 1986, a lawyer named Barry Levenson was crying because his favorite baseball team had narrowly lost the World Series. Then he had a revelation: He needed a hobby. Countless bottles of mustard later, his hobby had become a beloved local museum. Still going strong decades later, the National Mustard Museum houses an extensive collection devoted to what staff call “the king of condiments, the collegiate Poupon U, and a gift shop that offers hundreds of mustards ranging from fruity to super hot. All can be sampled on request. (Read more.)

7477 Hubbard Ave, Middleton, WI 53562

Warning: Sculpture may transport you to another dimension. sporst/CC BY 2.0
Art Installation

4. Dr. Evermor's Forevertron

For most of his life, Tom Every was an industrial wrecker, thrashing old factories, breweries, and any other building that stood in the way. But when he retired, he dedicated the rest of his life to being a creator: Dr. Evermor, to be exact.

Dr. Evermor was imagined by Every as a Victorian inventor from Eggington, England, with a backstory involving a Presbyterian minister father and a traumatizing lightning storm. Dr. Evermor manifested his creativity in the Forevertron, a massively sprawling sculpture park in rural Wisconsin, one that Every (or, rather, Dr. Evermor) said would send him “into the heavens on a magnetic lightning force beam.” (Read more.)

S7703 US-12, North Freedom, WI 53951

Each mold has at least one twin somewhere out in the world. Jen Lukehart (Atlas Obscura User)
Outdoor Art

5. FAST Fiberglass Mold Graveyard

A company called Fiberglass Animals, Shapes, and Trademarks (FAST) makes giant elephant statues, huge frogs whose tongues are waterslides, and other gargantuan beasts. Behind FAST's factory, you can find the molds from hundreds of commissioned projects. The outdoor space has become a graveyard of sorts, strewn with giant skulls and colossal dogs, as well as oversized Santa Clauses and titanic mice. The operators of FAST welcome visitors to stroll through. (Read more.)

14177 Co Hwy Q, Sparta, WI 54656

The view is lovely from the fish's jaws. Bobbylight/CC BY 2.0
Hall of Fame

6. Shrine to Anglers

Of FAST's many creations, only one is a 143-foot fish that enthusiasts can use as a wedding venue. That is the Shrine to Anglers, which stands at the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame. The giant fish's innards are a museum containing hundreds of outboard motor models, more than 400 mounted fish, and vintage and historical artifacts. (Read more.)

10360 Hall of Fame Dr, Hayward, WI 54843

Outdoor Art

7. Mount Horeb Trollway

At the troll capital of the world, visitors take photos with the troll sculptures, purchase troll-like gifts and paraphernalia, and eat and drink at the Grumpy Troll Brew Pub. Many of the sculptures scattered around the town’s main street, also known as the “trollway,” are carved from solid wooden logs and tower over their human admirers. Inspired by many residents' Scandinavian heritage, the troll theme has been embraced by the entire town. (Read more.)

 

County Highway Jg, Mt Horeb, WI 53572

Here be dragons. Luke Spencer
Archive

8. The American Geographical Society Library

Within the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is a geographer’s treasure trove: More than a million artifacts from the American Geographical Society, one of the most incredible collections of maps, atlases, and globes to be found anywhere in America. It's an inconspicuous home for a storied collection, but when the the illustrious American Geographical Society fell on hard times in the late 1970s, the university stepped up and promised to keep the collection intact. 

Entering the library, the first thing that strikes you is the number of globes: Hundreds are on permanent display, including one dating to as early as 1613. The notable items in the collection include a hand-drawn navigation map from Charles Lindbergh’s record flight in 1927 (in his own hand), one of the incredibly detailed “President's Globes” made during World War II, and a world map from 1452 that shows only Europe, Asia, and Africa. (Read more.)

2311 E Hartford Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53211

Come for the bobbleheads, stay for the bobbleheads. Kathrynnicole (Atlas Obscura User)
Museum

9. National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum

At the world's only museum entirely dedicated to bobbleheads, you can learn about the history of this singular head-nodding doll, browse through the thousands of bobbleheads on display, and even design a custom oversized plastic head in your own likeness. 

The museum has been open since February 2019, but the co-founders, Brad Novak and Phil Sklar, have been collecting bobbleheads since 2002. Once they announced plans to open a museum, bobblehead collectors began adding to the assortment. Today the collection numbers more than 10,000 bobbleheads, with some 6,500 currently on display. (Read more.)

170C S 1st St, 2nd floor, Milwaukee, WI 53204

Museum

10. A World of Accordions Museum

In the small town of Superior, you’ll find a haven for accordion fanatics located in a repurposed Presbyterian church. A World of Accordions Museum is one of largest accordion museums on the planet, and the only building in the United States to be dedicated entirely to the humble accordion. The collection includes more than 1,300 accordions of all shapes, sizes, colors, and designs, placed in chronological order to show the instrument’s evolution over time. The accordion emporium also features the Accordion Research Center Libraries, home to two rooms of accordion music, accordion periodicals, and accordion history. And if your accordion is in need of repair, you can stop by the Accordion-concertina Repair and Technicians’ School, which will fix your instrument and teach you accordion manufacturing techniques in the process. (Read more.)

1401 Belknap St, Superior, WI 54880

The "Wanted" posters so often seen in western flicks were printed with this style of wood type. Jessica Fiess-Hill/CC BY 2.0
Museum

11. Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum

Wood type has fallen in and out of favor many times since it was developed in China a millennium ago, but you can still try your hand at it. Visitors to this museum, owned and operated by the Two Rivers Historical Society, can peruse 1.5 million pieces of wood type displayed on walls and in drawers (which guests are invited to open and explore), and give this printing technique a try inside the museum's workshop, which also serves working artists and offers residencies. (Read more.)

1816 10th St, Two Rivers, WI 54241

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