Harry Houdini was legendary for his daring escapes, but he's still never escaped the public's imagination. To wit: AKA Houdini, whose artifacts offer a hands-on glimpse into some of his most infamous tricks. Along with the Appleton-raised illusionist, The History Museum at the Castle's award-winning exhibits focus on other notable Fox Valley natives, including Senator Joseph McCarthy. Dating back to the 1840s, the museum's collection of Fox Valley artifacts includes 35,000 photographs and 20,000 pieces, such as parts of a vintage gas station. At an exhibit tracing the origins of the area's most famous foods, such as frozen custard and fish fries, visitors can even spear sturgeons inside a life-size virtual ice shanty.
These pieces of Fox Valley history are housed inside a Masonic temple listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1923, the temple exemplifies the medieval, Norman Revival style with rough-hewn stone, vaulted ceilings, and fire-breathing dragons guarding its entrance. Designed as a community center, the temple continues to serve that function by hosting the museum's year-round events, including papermaking programs and magic workshops.
Originally opened in 1927, the Genesee Theatre slowly deteriorated over the course of the century until its closing in 1989. But starting in 2001, a $23 million cash infusion from the city allowed 120 volunteers to restore the theater to its Gilded Age splendor. Its elegant trappings include authentic wall fabrics, an exact replica of the original marquee, and a 2,200-pound chandelier that gently spotlights the grand lobby and every audience member passing underneath to show how everyone is a star if you really think about it.
Playful illusionist Mr. D the Magician has been performing magic tricks since he was 14 years old and continues to transform birthday parties, picnics, and other gatherings into whimsical jubilees with an abracadabra-filled mixture of magic tricks, acting, comedy, and audience participation. Future zoologists can study a menagerie of balloon animals while pint-size sorcerer's apprentices assist Mr. D with his madcap card tricks.
The night sky is a vast ocean of celestial objects such as the moon, the bright lights of our closest stars, and the warm glow of neighboring galaxies. Located at the University of Wisconsin Fox Valley, Barlow Planetarium helps uncover the vastness of the universe through a 3-D-capable Digistar projector, which—combined with 10,000 watts of digital sound and a 48-foot projection screen—transports guests into the deepest trenches of space. The facility's star shows include family programs that make astronomy easy to understand as well as feature shows that tickle the minds of more hardened astronomy buffs. Along with celestial exploration, the planetarium transforms with dancing lights and rich sounds during laser shows. These programs add visual touches to music from the likes of The Beatles or Isaac Newton's little-known punk band.
The planetarium also hosts academic programs for grade-school children. These include the Wisconsin Space Academy, in which students build and launch rockets, and the Wisconsin Astronomy Academy, which lets pupils peer through telescopes and discover vending machines floating through space.
The crisp sound of ice skates slicing across fresh ice fills Appleton Family Ice Center, a nonprofit community rink that hosts ice-based sports, skating lessons, and open-skate times. New renovations present visitors with healthier options at the concession stand and a brand-new skating surface as smooth as a silk scarf wrapped around Kenny G. When it’s not hosting birthday parties or serving as the home base for the Fox Cities Ice Dogs or Valley Figure Skating Club, the center also welcomes the public for evening events that include live music, refreshments, and periodic sweeps from a Zamboni decorated like a fire truck.
Super Bowl appeases pin-pulverizers of all ages and experience levels with 48 lanes, a sizeable sports bar and grill, and a live-music venue. Guests can slip out of their rubber fishing galoshes and strap on a pair of rental shoes for a rollicking round of spares, strikes, and follow-throughs. Choose from standard lanes, or pair lightweight balls with kid-friendly bumper lanes to accommodate pipsqueak players. Parties can refuel after ball-bombarding sessions with a 16-inch pizza and a pitcher of a preferred potation from the grill, and fritter away their milk money in one of the center's two arcades.