From Retro Toys and Houdini to
Electrified Mansions and German Glass
I had a chance to visit America’s heartland a few months ago. Specifically, I was in the area known as Fox Cities, Wisconsin, a collection of 20 towns that reside along the shores of Lake Winnebago and the Fox River. The area has long been a center of paper making and printing and is considered to be one of the top fifty manufacturing regions in the nation.
I centered my focus on two of the towns, Appleton and Neenah. Appleton is a community of artists and offers the quaint types of coffee shops, restaurants, bars, shopping boutiques, art galleries, and hotels that you would hope to find in such an idyllic setting. If you interested in doing a little more than relaxing in the ambiance that surrounds you, there are three museums that should definitely be visited: The Trout Museum of Art, Hearthstone Historic House Museum, and the History Museum at the Castle. The latter holds many artifacts that relate to the history of Fox Cities. One of its largest collections is of Harry Houdini’s performance paraphernalia and includes locks, keys, handcuffs, and an assortment of picks used by him to make his great escapes. Houdini’s family moved to Appleton when he was a toddler and, therefore, he always referred to it as his hometown. The museum also has a large collection of old toys with which visitors are able to play. You may set a Slinky on its course down a flight of stairs, get constructive with Happy Builder Blocks and Tinker toys and draw with an Etch A Sketch. The exhibit also includes vintage television toy commercials from the 1950s and 60s. The Trout Museum of Art has nothing to do with fish but is named after the museum’s benefactors. Art enthusiasts will enjoy a collection of 150 pieces of American, European, Asian, and African paintings, sculptures, and decorative objects, some of which date back more than 400 years. The Hearthstone Historic House and Museum has the distinction of being the first residence to receive electrical service in the United States from hydroelectric power in 1882, thanks to the country’s first hydroelectric central power station based on Thomas Edison’s new innovation. Appleton was once home to several toy companies. Just a few blocks down the street from the History Museum is the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, also known as the PAC. The center is home to the Broadway Across America (BAA) where the premiers of Disney’s The Lion King, The Producers, Wicked, Jersey Boys, Billy Elliot, Les Miserables, Kinky Boots, and The Book of Mormon were hosted. Another interesting place to visit is the Paper Discovery Center because Wisconsin has a long history as the premier papermaking state in the United States. The museum allows you to explore the world of paper through exhibits, interactive activities, hands on interpretive displays and an opportunity to make your own piece of paper. About 20 minutes from Appleton is the town of Neenah, situated on the picturesque banks of Lake Winnebago. The town boasts the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass which has the largest collection of glass paperweights in the world. You can find 19th Century glass paperweights from the finest glass houses in Italy, France, Germany, England and the United States. In addition, there is a Germanic glass collection that spans three centuries of northern European glass making (1593-late 1800s) and contemporary glass sculptures on permanent exhibit. I had never been to this part of the country and aside from its phenomenal natural beauty, which is a sufficient reason to visit, it has more to see than I imagined. There are things to see here that simply cannot be seen anywhere else.