From accordions to yo-yos, here’s a roundup of some of the badger state’s most curious museums.
Greetings from House on the Rock, Spring Green
Best-selling author Neil Gaiman calls it “a monument to kitsch and wonder and madness and uncertainty” and writes that he had to “tone down” his description of it in his novel “American Gods” in order “to make it believable.” What started as a curiously designed home open to the public for tours, gradually has grown into a vast network of rooms and warehouses housing the most unusual collections, from an unnerving room full of dolls to a giant whale and sea monster tangled in battle. The massive carousel spins around with 269 creatures—from lions and elephants to centaurs, mermaids, and other mythological beasts—but not a single horse.
Greetings from Spinning Top & Yo-Yo Museum and Logic Puzzle Museum, Burlington
Don’t just show up: this museum with videos, demonstrations and some hands-on top spinning requires a ticket for each scheduled program. Spinning top expert Judith Schulz has appeared on “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” and guides kids and adults on a 2.5-hour tour through the world of spinning things. The collection of tops, yo-yos and gyroscopes numbers over 2,000. Alternating in operation times is her Logic Puzzle Museum, a 90-minute program of hands-on brain teasers. It’s good, classic fun.
Greetings from the National Mustard Museum, Middleton
Barry Levenson, a former Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General, originally opened this condiment-focused exhibition and collection because his beloved Red Sox lost the World Series and he found himself morose in a grocery store standing in front of mustard bottles, being told “if you collect us, they will come.” (Or so he claims.) The collection features over 6,000 varieties from over 70 different countries and all 50 states—and the place has no shortage of visitors. The display of old mustard pots is impressive. And yes, you can sample mustards. Expect to be entertained and educated, and don’t leave without getting your diploma from Poupon U. A visit here should only be considered if you can “mustard” the strength to face a lot of puns.
Greetings from National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame & Museum, Hayward
Set on seven acres along the Namekagon River, this museum houses over 50,000 lures and 1,000 vintage motors, plus rods and other antiques related to fishing— but only in fresh water. Executive director Emmett Brown admits the world record musky mount is a reproduction but the real mounts include “some tremendous lake trout from the mid-50s.” That’s pounds, not the year caught. The Hall of Fame honors more than 400 men and women who have made significant contributions to the sport. But the show stealer might be the four-story tall, half-a-city-block-long musky statue outside. Climb up into its mouth for a photo.
Greetings from Ten Chimneys, Genesee Depot
Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne were already big names on Broadway and in the international theatre community in the early 20th century when they came to live in Wisconsin. Built in stages from 1913 into the 1940s, their Genesee Depot estate is better known for the number of chimneys among its three buildings. Famous guests Laurence Olivier and Noël Coward have bedrooms named for them, and a long list of other stars have stayed here. The music room, with its detailed murals, chandeliers, plush armchairs and grand piano with a painting beneath its lid, could be the set of a period play. The entire place with its artifacts, artwork, murals, and antiques is like something from a fantasy world, and the museum foundation itself likens the complex to a personal diary, carefully designed by the Lunts.
Greetings from A World of Accordions Museum, Superior
“Accordions touch nearly every family in the United States,” says Helmi Harrington, the curator of this collection of over 1,300 instruments dating back to the accordion’s invention. The guided tour is informative and over 130 exhibits reveal the evolution of the accordion, its various styles and elements, and the countries they originated in. A library dedicated to the subject occupies two floors. A concert hall hosts regular events, and group tours include a performance there. Most visitors spend about an hour, but Harrington says “we also get people who come and stay for a year.” Indeed, some may stay for extensive research or to help out in the on-site repair workshop, which even has a program to train accordion repair people. Call ahead for hours of operation.
Greetings from The National Brewery Museum, Potosi
Situated inside the refurbished historical Potosi Brewery is an impressive collection of breweriana, collectible items regarding the history of breweries; whether that be cans or coasters, serving trays, tap handles, branded glasses, old beer barrels or brilliant neon signs. Watch short documentaries and various classic commercials. A vintage Pabst lithograph on display is worth over $15,000. Sharing the same building are the Transportation Museum, the Great River Road Interpretive Center and the modern Potosi Brewery Restaurant. Across the street is a giant replica of a vintage Potosi cone-top beer can, the world’s largest.
This article originally appeared in the 2018 fall/winter issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.
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