In the late 19th century, deep in the Northwoods of Wisconsin, where the winter winds sweep down from Canada and the cold settles into the earth long before the snows fall, there arose rumors of a mysterious creature roaming the forests. As loggers came to fell the trees that would supply America’s voracious appetite for building materials, these hardy woodsmen began to report sightings of a strange creature. Witnesses spoke of an animal that appeared to have the body of a dinosaur with a beastly head. They gave it a name: the hodag. A group of men tracked one and killed it, having to resort to dynamite when guns and hunting dogs failed. Another one was captured by Wisconsin land surveyor Eugene Shepherd… except, when a group of scientists from the Smithsonian Institute proposed to come examine the monster, he admitted that his captured creature was a hoax (via
Yet, a curious thing happened after this… the legend of the hodag lived on! Instead of fading away over time, this creature has become the official mascot of the town of Rhinelander, Wisconsin! The hodag’s face can be found on billboards, water treatment plants, and souvenir t-shirts. Several hodag statues are located throughout town, and the creature is also the mascot for the local high school. Fortunately for the intrepid staff of The Open Road Ahead, our fates were destined to intersect with this mysterious beast, as we were attending a wedding in the Northwoods area!
What follows is several days spent in Wisconsin visiting a fascinating garden, a terrific museum, attending a baseball game, seeing several roadside curiosities, enjoying a beautiful wedding, and then setting off in search of a mythic beast. Devoted readers, I give you… Hodag Hoedown:
Playing Tourist in Milwaukee:
Setting off on a mid-afternoon flight, our first destination would be Milwaukee for a day of playing tourist before driving northward to the upper reaches of Wisconsin.
Except things didn’t quite go according to plan. Our 4:30 pm flight out of Newark International Airport was delayed several times, eventually becoming late enough that we would miss our connecting flight in Detroit. We were transferred to another airline for a direct flight to Milwaukee, but then that flight was delayed for almost two hours. In the end, we didn’t take off until almost 11:00 pm, arriving in the wee hours of the morning the next day. At least we had time for a leisurely sushi dinner at Newark Airport.
When you arrive at the car rental station a few minutes before closing, your time to choose a vehicle is severely limited. The available choices were a Chevrolet Cruze, Impala, or Equinox. We opted for the Equinox… I’ll give my thoughts on this vehicle a bit further down in this post.
We woke up a bit bleary eyed, but after a good breakfast and a trip to Starbucks for some caffeine reinforcement, we decided to go explore. Our first stop was Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, best known by its nickname: The Domes.
Built in 1959, these domes were built in a beehive shape, which is termed a conoidal dome (as opposed to the more-well known geodesic dome).
Each of the three domes has a distinct climate and showcases different types of plant life. The Show Dome (pictured) changes themes periodically. The dome’s current theme is “Fathoms Below,” which uses different plants to create a view inspired by the ocean floor.
These plants were part of the “coral reef” in the Show Dome’s ocean exhibit.
You can even see fish (bottom) floating around the Show Dome’s display.
The Tropical Dome features plants and trees found in the warm and wet climates of the tropics. Here you can find two trees that produce immensely popular beans. First, the cacao tree; its cocoa beans give us all things chocolate…
…and perhaps more important to helping my wife and I wake up after an abbreviated night’s sleep – the coffea arabica tree, whose beans will eventually make its way into your next cup of coffee.
The Arid Dome was our final stop. The dome was filled with plants and trees from desert climates.
One of my favorites plants was this desert rose.
This yucca plant looks like something from an alien planet.
If you are going to visit The Domes, I would strongly suggest you do so in the near future. The domes have been deteriorating, and while efforts are being explored to find ways to maintain and preserve them, a recent study of the domes conducted by an architectural firm recommended demolishing the structures and replacing them with a new building. The domes are deeply impressive to see in person, and I would highly recommend a visit.
We next decided to stop by the shores of Lake Michigan. A heavy fog had settled in over much of the coastline.
Being a couple of lighthouse hounds, my wife and I walked over to Pierhead Lighthouse. Built in 1872, Pierhead is a guide for ships approaching Milwaukee Harbor.
Across the harbor entrance from Pierhead Lighthouse is Breakwater Light. Built in 1926, this art deco-style building sits on the Milwaukee breakwater. Using my zoom lens, I was able to capture a shot as the fog lifted just enough to make the lighthouse visible.
And sometimes nature just likes to show off and give you great views to photograph!
After the lighthouses, my wife and I discussed where to go next. While Milwaukee has several large museums such as the Harley-Davidson Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum, our choice was something off the beaten path, a bit quirkier and smaller than those large institutions… and much more our speed: the Chudnow Museum of Yesteryear.
The Chudnow Museum houses memorabilia from the period between World War I and World War II, highlights the 1920s and 1930s of the United States. Each of the rooms feature recreations of famous businesses from Milwaukee’s history. Across from the museum entrance is Wonderland Park, an old time soda fountain. And yes, you can still buy soda here!
Near the soda fountain is a temporary display of historic comic books, on loan from a local collector. If Superman #12 (center), which was published in 1939, ever came up at auction, it would be expected to fetch over $17,000. It originally sold for ten cents.
H. Graufman Grocery Store is a recreation of an actual store that existed in Milwaukee in the early 20th century. During the Great Depression, neighborhood stores like this would often allow customers to purchase items on credit (called “buying on the book”), a valuable lifeline for families at a time when money was scarce.
Bay View Drug Store – a turn of the century pharmacy. Before the 1930s, many of the drugs sold in the pharmacies around this country distributed medicines that were either useless or downright harmful.
Speaking of downright harmful, check out this ad from Bayer Pharmaceuticals for a “miracle drug” from the early 20th century. I’ll let the ad speak for itself.
Across from the pharmacy counter was this working 1910 scale. Enter a penny and you are given your weight. I tried it and the scale is definitely accurate.
Union News Company. While the shelves were stocked with candies from the 1920s-1930s, I was more interested in these copies of the Milwaukee Journal, which had headlines from events of World War II.
As both my grandmother and my wife’s grandma worked for Bell Telephone, we appreciated this display of a 1940 switchboard, along with the old telephones.
The barbershop held a secret – slide back the mirror to reveal a 1920s-era speakeasy! Milwaukee was long a brewing center of the United States, and while alcohol was prohibited in this country from 1921 until 1933, numerous illegal bars (speakeasies) thrived throughout the city.
I appreciated the level of detail at the Chudnow museum, such as these 1920s beer and liquor bottles from the Prohibition era.
The speakeasy also displayed these actual wanted posters for the mob leader Al Capone and notorious bank robbers Bonnie and Clyde. These posters are not reproductions – they are part of the museum’s collection of over 275,000 artifacts.
My favorite board game of all time – Monopoly! An interesting fact I learned at the museum was that the game was invented in 1904 by Lizzie Maggie, who wanted to teach people about the dangers of monopolies (when only one company has dominant control over an industry). She sold it to Parker Brothers in 1935 for $500. It has since gone on to be Parker Brother’s most valuable game.
Our last stop was a 1920’s hardware store. Another fact I learned – during the 1920s, the average woman spent 75 hours of her week engaged in household chores, with 44 hours devoted to preparing family meals and cleaning up afterward. The museum was a fascinating exploration of the early 20th century, but we had to depart in order to make our next event…
Take me out to the ballgame! We had tickets for an afternoon baseball game at Miller Park, where the hometown Brewers were playing the visiting Atlanta Braves.
Opened in 2001, Miller Park has a retractable roof to allow games to continue during inclement weather. Despite a heat warning for Milwaukee, the shade from the retractable roof and a steady breeze kept us comfortable during the game.
It’s the sixth inning… which means it is time for the Johnsonville Sausage Race! Milwaukee is famous for its bratwurst and sausages, and what better way to show it then to have different sausages race each other around the park! And speaking of food, my wife and I had a great lunch at the park. While she had a pork tamale (which was excellent), I had a bratwurst. Pro tip: when in Miller Park, skip the hot dog and go straight for the bratwurst. It’s really good! Chevrolet Equinox? How about EquiNOT.
Allow me to offer a few thoughts on the Chevrolet Equinox, a vehicle that competes with the other Crossover Utility Vehicles (CUV) such as the Toyota Rav4, the Honda CR-V, and the Ford Escape. We had our Equinox for five days, and during that time, I was ultimately unimpressed.
I will offer that its center console was well-designed and easy to use. Controls were logically laid out, the system did a nice job of making it easy to pair your smartphone to the vehicle, and the menus were intuitive. The sound quality wasn’t too bad, either. One downside? The fan controls don’t seem to have a “low” setting. The lowest notch on the control blows a torrent of air, and increasing the fan speed eventually results in a small hurricane whirling around the cabin. Another quirk I noticed? The passenger’s seat sits far lower than the driver’s seat, making whoever is next to the driver feel like a little kid (and also making the sun visor absolutely useless, as you sit too low for it to block any sun from your eyes).
In theory, the turbocharged engine of the Equinox sounds like a good idea. A turbo allows smaller engines to produce more power, while also burning less gas. However, in my opinion, this engine still has some kinks to work out. The biggest flaw is the turbo lag – the delay between when you press the gas and when the turbocharger does its work to provide more power. In my non-turbo Accord, for instance, mash the throttle and you are rewarded with instant power. In this Equinox, mash the throttle and then count to 10. At some point, the power will decide to eventually show up. Around town, the engine is decent, but highway driving was endlessly annoying thanks to the lag.
You know you’re in the Midwest when there is a snow brush/scraper in your car in July. I was surprised by the lack of cargo space in this vehicle. While putting the seats down would have certainly increased space, with the seats up I had a harder time fitting our luggage than in my Honda Accord’s trunk. Do I have anything positive to offer for this vehicle? Well, its all wheel drive system wasn’t too bad. I had to park in a muddy field, and it did an admirable job pulling itself up a pretty messy slope when I was leaving.
Overall, the car was a big bag of “meh.” It is the vehicle for someone who does not enjoy the act of driving and simply wants to get from A to B with little to no effort. My verdict? As a week long rental, it was fine, but there is no way I’d spend my own money on one of these. There are better options in the market. Destination: Green Bay
Our next destination took us over two hours north of Milwaukee, to the town of Kewaunee, to see the World’s Tallest Grandfather Clock.
Greetings From Belgium… Belgium, Wisconsin, that is! I geek out on stuff like this (see also, Poland, New York and Wyoming, Rhode Island!).
Title for this photo: “You know you’re in Wisconsin when…” As we were heading north, we passed this enormous cow statue outside the Cedar Crest Ice Cream Parlor.
After over two hours of driving, we arrived at the World’s Tallest Grandfather Clock! This 36-foot tall grandfather clock was built in 1976 to commemorate the nation’s 200th anniversary. Since being constructed it has been moved twice, arriving at its present location in 2014.
I pulled the Equinox in front of the clock to provide a sense of scale. The clock still works – it chimed (loudly) at 5:45 pm. The clock also marks the trailhead for the Ahnapee State Trail. It certainly makes for an interesting location to begin a hike!
Next door to the clock is the small Kewaunee Fire Museum, which has fire equipment from the early 20th century.
Across the street from the clock is Kewaunee Harbor Park. Tug Ludington, a WWII-era US Army tugboat, was used after the war to help build and maintain many of the harbors on the Great Lakes. It is now a museum ship and is open for tours.
Across from the tug is this old US Life Saving Station. Now in the hands of private owners, the life saving station was in commission from 1893 until 1947. Numerous life saving stations dotted the coast of the Great Lakes, crews ready to row out at a moment’s notice to save the passengers of vessels that were in danger. Given that storms on the Great Lakes can be violent and sudden, the job was not for the faint of heart.
Before departing, we stopped by Kewaunee Pierhead Lighthouse. Built in 1891, this light aids ships as they enter and exit Kewaunee Harbor.
Leaving Kewaunee, we headed west to the city of Green Bay, where we would be spending the night. Our first stop, of course, was Lambeau Field – hallowed ground for any fan of football.
Lombardi. Starr. Hutson. Nitschke. The Ice Bowl. Favre. Holmgren. White. Rodgers. The Green Bay Packers have won 15 NFL championships since their inception in 1919. This is Titletown.
My wife’s brother had recommended we eat at Kroll’s West, a Green Bay institution for over 80 years.
Sadly, we have no food photos from Kroll’s – we were too busy eating! My wife had a chicken dinner but I went with a cheeseburger which is Kroll’s signature dish. Each burger is grilled over charcoal, slathered with condiments, and served on a buttered roll. Healthy? No way. But it was the best burger I have ever had in my life. Period.
Before we could leave, brownies appeared on our table. Sensing our befuddlement, our waitress explained that Wednesdays are free dessert night. This place was great!! Finishing dinner, we left to head to our hotel to get some rest before our journey to the north of Wisconsin the next day. To the Northwoods
The final leg of our journey would take us to the town of Rhinelander, and beyond.
On Friday morning we headed to the town of Woodruff to pick up some rental items for my wife’s brother’s wedding. As we were driving into town, my wife spotted a sign for the World’s Largest Penny, so of course we had to check it out!
The penny statue was built in honor of the Million Penny Parade, a local fundraising effort to collect over a million pennies to fund the completion of a local hospital. The collection was the work of local schoolchildren, who ended up collecting pennies from 48 states and 26 countries. I parked my brother-in-law’s Chevy Silverado in front of the penny to give a sense of scale.
The night before the wedding, violent storms blew through town. This photo was taken shortly after the rain and wind ended – I have never before seen a sky this color.
Before the wedding, I took a drive through town in search of the mysterious Hodag. The town’s welcome sign (right) let me know I was getting closer!
HODAG! This guy, the largest of the hodag statues around town, spends his days hanging out in front of the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce.
Heading to the wedding festivities Saturday night, I enjoyed a quiet stretch of country road… although I did keep an eye out for any hodag that might peek out from behind the trees!
Our fun-filled time in Wisconsin at an end, my wife and I boarded our plane to head home on Sunday night.
Despite the number of cool places we saw in Milwaukee, we spent very little money during our travels, proving that if you plan well and are willing to go a bit off the beaten path, you can find all kinds of interesting spots to visit. The
Domes at Mitchell Park are open Monday through Sunday from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Tickets are $8 for adults, $6 for children ages 6-17 and persons with a disability. Children 5 and under can enter for free, and the Domes are also free for everyone the first Thursday of every month. The Chudnow Museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, and Sundays from 12:00 pm until 4:00 pm. Tickets cost $7 for adults, children ages 7-17 are $5, college students with ID are $5, and seniors (ages 62 and up) are $5. Children six and younger can enter for free, and on Sundays, the entire family can enter for $12. The World’s Largest Grandfather Clock and the World’s Largest Penny are both free to visit and open year round.
As for the hodag, is it simply a man-made myth, one man’s attempt to perpetrate a hoax on an unsuspecting public? Native American peoples from the Northwoods area have long held a belief in
Mishipeshu, a magical creature also known as the Underwater Panther. Pictographs of these creatures, drawn by Native peoples, were created thousands of years ago. The hodag and Mishipeshu look strikingly similar. Who knows what slumbers in the deeps of the Northwoods? I suppose you’ll just have to channel your inner Fox Mulder and Dana Scully and head to Wisconsin to explore for yourself!
Thanks for coming along on yet another journey down the open road ahead!
‘Til next time.